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The Power of Poison app review

power of poison menuApps make great companions to museum exhibitions, serving both as supplements to enhance visitors’ experiences and as substitutes for those who can’t see exhibits in person. (We’ve reviewed several of this type of app: Color Uncovered and Sound Uncovered by the Exploratorium; Dinosaurs and Creatures of Light by the American Museum of Natural History. The AMNH has another excellent nonfiction app in The Power of Poison (2013), a companion to its current exhibit of the same name.

This short but sweet app educates amateur sleuths about various toxins as they Nancy Drew their way through three hypothetical cases of accidental poisoning: “Vet Detective: Mystery of the Poisoned Pooch,” “Sick at Sea: The Case of the Queasy Captain” (based on the first recorded pufferfish poisoning, suffered in 1774 by Captain James Cook and his crew of naturalists), and “Forest Files: The Case of an Owl Afoul.” A brief video introduces the circumstances of each poisoning, then users explore the scene of the poisoning for suspect toxins and review the victim’s symptoms.

power of poison vet

On the “solve” page for each case, users compare the six possible poisons with the symptoms and propose a solution for the poisoning.  Tap “learn more” icons for a pop-up window with more information about each of the toxins.

The main case-solving aspect of the app is based on an activity in the actual exhibit, while an “exhibition tour” section previews other topics covered in the exhibit — including venomous and poisonous animals; poisons in myths and legends; historical cold cases which may have been poisonings (such as Napoleon’s death); and how toxins may be used in medicine.

The kitschy case titles, intentionally low-tech animation, and old-fashioned design elements keep the tone light and give the app an Agatha Christie vibe. Unobtrusive sound effects accompany some of the animated elements, and a the videos feature a pleasant narrator and well-chosen background music. Straightforward navigation and clean design enhance the fascinating content.

The Power of Poison exhibit will run through August 10th, then will relocate to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for a 2016 showing. More supplemental information about the topics in the exhibit can be found on AMNH’s website.

Summer is prime museum-visiting time. What museums are you visiting this summer, and are you using apps to extend your visit experiences?

Available for iPad (requires iOS 6.0 or later); free. Recommended for primary users and up.


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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