Make a Face

Part of Exhibition: Code name: DNA

Topic: Life Sciences Subtopic: Heredity & Genetics

Case Study

of an Exhibit

by Diana Issidorides

Published on June 12, 2007

  • Description and goals

    Scientific concepts:
    • inheritance of traits
    • homozygous versus heterozygous genes
    • dominant versus recessive genes
    • genotype versus phenotype

    Like Family Tree (see separate case study), Make a Face is an exhibit on the inheritance of traits and part of NEMO’s exhibition on Genetics. Two visitors, role-playing a ‘mother’ and ‘father’ respectively, sit in front of a console, facing a screen [picture 1]. Together, they create their virtual child’s face by experimenting with the laws of heredity and selecting which of their respective genes they will pass on.

    Each player has control over 7 pairs of traits [picture 2]. Each trait pair is labeled and represented by two push buttons. Each button represents a particular gene (eg. gene for blue eyes [recessive] or gene for brown eyes [dominant]).
    Additionally, ‘mother’ has control over two buttons marked X and X respectively (female sex chromosomes), and ‘father’ over two buttons marked X and Y respectively (male sex chromosomes). These buttons control the gender of the virtual child. Gender is played first [pictures 3 and 4].

    Then, playing from left to right, visitors indicate which of their genes will be passed on to the child for each of the 7 traits in front of them. They do this by pressing one of the two gene-buttons of a trait. Each choice is entered in the appropriate slot on the computer monitor, for the players to see as they go along. After both ‘mother’ and ‘father’ have pushed on the gene button of their choice for a particular trait, the computer ‘paints’ the consequence of that choice on the face (eg: girl with brown eyes and curly brown hair – picture 5). This is repeated for each of the 7 traits.
    Picture 6 illustrates one of the many ways the face looks when choices re sex chromosome and the 7 traits have been made.
    At certain points in the game, the on-screen child teases: “can you change my eyes to brown, please?”, or “I want full lips!”, and so on.

    Exhibit copy introduces the game and gives instructions. It also provides interesting assignments as “food for thought”. Most importantly, exhibit copy stress that:
    1. genetic inheritance laws are simplified for purposes of the game, and
    2. in normal reproduction, the gene that is passed on is the result of a random process
    [picture 7]

    Players are encouraged to experiment with the different traits and explore which combination of genes (genotype) results in which combination of traits (phenotype), and why.

    This exhibit has been very effective in illustrating difficult concepts, due both to its intuitive game flow and to the direct feedback players get on-screen, each time they make or change a choice. Even young kids – party hats and all – quickly get the gist of it [picture 8].

    In developing this exhibit, we were aware of the potentially sensitive nature of human inheritance exhibits for visitors whose children or parents are not genetically related. The decision to include or exclude exhibits on human inheritance in our museums and science centers is one that each institution must make.

  • Exhibit Opened: 2002

  • Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands

  • Estimated Cost: $10,000 to $50,000 (US)

  • Website(s):  http://www.e-nemo.nl

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