Skin—it's deeper than you might think. Discover the shape-shifting, color-changing, and ever-evolving nature of this complex organ in the Academy's newest exhibit.

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.

Black rhinoceros specimen with horn against stark black background

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.

Read about Mozambique's battle to save its rhinos in bioGraphic.

Macro photograph of brown and white rattlesnake skin

Epic epidermises

​​​​​​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.

Macro photo of bumpy-textured, multi-colored chameleon 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.

A digital photo mosaic of faces with silhouetted people in front

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.

Read the Academy's philosophy on Skin.

A multilingual exhibit

The Academy celebrates our multilingual region by translating the Skin exhibit into Chinese (中文), Filipino, and Spanish (español).

To translate into over 100 languages, click "Select Language" at the bottom of any Academy webpage.

Special thanks to our community partners

The Academy is grateful to Facing History and Ourselves and Youth Outside for hosting a series of trainings and workshops to help staff, guests, and the community approach difficult topics like racism and prejudice with respect, sensitivity, and empathy.

Generously supported by:

Susan and Nicholas Pritzker and Family

Dr. Garry Rayant and Dr. Kathy Fields

Mary and Jerome Vascellaro