A new exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History in D.C. offers an intimate look at some of Earth’s most extraordinary aquatic creatures. I mean really intimate. X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out cuts through layers of scaly flesh to reveal the complex internal biology of everything from seahorses to prehistoric coelacanths through 40 X-ray images.
It’s breathtaking stuff–proof that anything, even a bulbous deep sea angler, looks better zapped by an X-ray machine.
More than just eye candy, though, the show makes a crucial point about the role visualization plays in bolstering scientific research. Ichthyologists (fish experts) have long used X-rays to better understand underwater ecosystems. With minimal harm, an X-ray can illuminate a wealth of biological information, whether it’s what a species eats for breakfast or how it survives drastic environmental shifts. This has taken on grave new import in the age of global warming. Per the museum:
These features are crucial in a world with increasing environmental changes. Before the discovery of the X-ray, scientists could only obtain these insights through dissection, which took time, energy and was ultimately destructive to the specimen. X-rays give fish experts… a fast, easy and nondestructive way to enhance their research.
Think of it this way: In the fish researcher’s world, a picture is worth a thousand scalpels.