Skin: Living Armor, Evolving Identity
This exhibit was on view June 14, 2019–January 20, 2020.
Uniquely personal yet universal, skin forms a living interface between organisms and their environment—and is our public face to the world. Skin: Living Armor, Evolving Identity invites guests to explore the beauty and sophistication of this organ through rarely seen scientific specimens, fascinating interactives, and thought-provoking investigations of a challenging subject that’s far from black and white.
Tough skin, fragile future
Enter the exhibit—and look one of conservation's most urgent challenges right in the eye. Behold a massive black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), a research specimen donated to the Academy in 1952. With its all-keratin horn, powerful hooves, and extra-thick hide, this herbivore’s skin adaptations help protect it from the harsh conditions and fierce predators of the African savannah—but not from its most formidable foe. As human-driven habitat loss and poaching push the black rhino closer to extinction, we hope displaying this specimen will inspire guests to learn more.
Examine incredible specimens from the Academy’s scientific collections and see (and feel!) firsthand how skin has ingeniously evolved to armor and camouflage its owners—from a snake’s scales to an otter’s fur to a shark’s skin.
From “ouch!” to “ahhh!” to “eww!,” we depend on the super-sensitive receptors in our skin to tell us what we’re touching. Visit the exhibit's Sensation Station for a hands-on lesson in how skin responds to stimuli like temperature, texture, vibration, and pressure.
The science of skin color
A photo installation of the “sepia rainbow” of skin tones provides a mesmerizing backdrop for the investigation of a complex topic, and a visual reminder of the inherent beauty in diversity. Through interactive maps, historical artifacts, and exquisite dioramas, see how humans have used skin color as a basis for bias for millennia—and how understanding the origins and persistence of racism can help us build a more equitable, colorful future.
The Academy celebrates our multilingual region by translating the Skin exhibit into Chinese (中文), Filipino, and Spanish (español).
To translate calacademy.org into over 100 languages, click "Select Language" at the bottom of any Academy webpage.
Learn more about the other organizations and businesses featured in the exhibit that are working to advance racial and economic equity in the Bay Area and beyond, including the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Brown Girl Surf, Cycles of Change, La Cocina, mak-'amham, Outdoor Afro, Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, and YAH! Bay Area.
Susan and Nicholas Pritzker and Family
Dr. Garry Rayant and Dr. Kathy Fields
Mary and Jerome Vascellaro