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Creatures of Light app review

Five chapters in fascinating nonfiction app Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence (2012) offer an introduction to bioluminescence. Developed by New York City’s American Museum of Natural History in conjunction with their exhibit of the same name, the app gives intermediate through adult users a working knowledge of this naturally occurring glow and a brief overview of its many forms.

“Enchanted Evening” explores how fireflies communicate — and even purposely miscommunicate — with rhythmic flashes of  bioluminescence, while “Light on Land” discusses the few cases of bioluminscent fungi and insects.

Appropriately, much of the app is devoted to bioluminescence in the ocean, where it is most abundantly found. “A Sparkling Sea” tells how tropical single-celled plankton called dinoflagellates create entire bays of glowing water. “Altered Light” details fluorescence and phosphorescence in fish and jellies, then discusses how scientists use their fluorescent proteins in research to “literally illuminate biological processes” like cell growth and neural transmission. In “The Deep Ocean,” users learn how animals in the deep sea use luminescence to camouflage themselves from predators or disguise themselves from prey.

A sixth segment contains photos of the “Creatures of Light” exhibit and a mini making-of documentary, which shows the researchers photographing/videoing bioluminescent creatures and building larger-than-life models.

In addition to eerily beautiful, high-quality photos, each section features maps, diagrams, discussion of the various chemical reactions in play, and video of bioluminescence in action. Pages advance horizontally for the most part, but occasionally progress vertically, allowing for exploration of life at different ocean depths or anecdotes about an individual scientists’ research in bioluminescence.

The goal here is breadth, rather than depth; still, information is fairly detailed and clearly presented. A clean design, straightforward navigation, and atmospheric instrumental music support the app’s content.

Though the exhibit is long gone from the American Museum of Natural History (it’s currently on view at the Field Museum in Chicago, and will move to the Canadian Museum of Nature next year), the app certainly stands alone — but don’t be surprised if, after exploring the app, you find yourself wanting to visit “Creatures of Light” for yourself.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 4.3 or later); free. Recommended for primary users and up.

For more on light, including bioluminescence, check out Bobo Explores Light, another highly recommended nonfiction app.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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