NHGRI logo
Genome: Unlocking Life's Code logo

NIH Display of Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code Exhibition Pieces

The Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code exhibition opened in June 2013 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, DC. A collaborative effort between the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and NMNH, the high-tech, high-Intensity exhibition commemorated the 10th anniversary of the completion of the Human Genome Project and the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA. The exhibition examined the complexities of genomes (particularly the human genome), chronicled the remarkable breakthroughs that have taken place since the completion of the Human Genome Project, and highlighted both the benefits and challenges that genomics brings to modern society. After a year-plus stay at NMNH, the exhibition travelled to 12 states and Canada. It returned to NMNH in October 2021 for a final stay in the museum of its origin. Over its lifetime, the millions of people who visited the exhibition gained an unforgettable exposure to the wonders of genomics. The exhibition closed in November 2022.

Five pieces of the Genome: Unlocking Life's Code exhibition are now on display on NIH’s Bethesda Campus.

Locations of Exhibition Pieces

You’re a Superorganism!     
Building 31, Floor 2C  Elevator Lobby


You're a Superorganism!


Explore how microorganisms and your microbiome affect your health and influence your risk for many disorders.



What’s in Your Genome?     
Building 31, Floor 4C Elevator Lobby


What's In Your Genome?


Explore the human genome – the three-billion part instruction manual written in the twisting, ladder-shaped molecule known as DNA.



Where It All Began    
Building 38A, Lister Hill Center


Where It All Began?


Learn about the history, timeline, challenges, and achievements surrounding the Human Genome Project.

What Genomics Might Mean for You  
Building 31, Floor 3C Elevator Lobby


What Genomics Might Mean for You


Discover how scientists unraveled the code of DNA and completed the first human genome sequence.



What’s Your Risk?     
Building 31, Floor 5C Elevator Lobby


What's Your Risk?


Learn about health risk factors. Genes make a difference, but how much of a difference depends on many factors – including lifestyle choices, diet, environment, and age.

Virtual Tour

Bring the Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code exhibition into your home and classroom.  Take a virtual tour of the exhibition and explore the various exhibition design elements and the high-tech environment of the entire 4,400-square-foot exhibition.

Launch the Virtual Tour
Exploring our Genetic Ancestry at the Smithsonian Exhibition of Genome: Unlocking Life's Code

Genome: Unlocking Life's Code: Video Gallery

HISTORY® Channel








Medical Mysteries






The Animated Genome



Exhibition History

Unlocking Life's Code


The Genome: Unlocking Life's Code exhibition was a collaboration between the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the National Institutes of Health. The exhibition examined the complexities of the genome — the complete set of genetic or hereditary material of a living organism — and chronicled the remarkable breakthroughs that have taken place since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003.

With cutting-edge interactives, 3D models, custom animations and engaging videos of real-life stories, the exhibition examined both the benefits and the challenges that genomics presents to modern society. From the moment visitors entered the approximately 2,900 square-foot exhibition, they found themselves immersed in an interactive, futuristic environment that communicated the revolutionary nature of genomics. The exhibition gave visitors a window into genomes that provided new ways of looking at themselves as individuals, as members of a family and a species, and as part of the diversity of life on Earth.

News stories:


Educational Programs

To complement the exhibition, NHGRI, the National Museum of Natural History, and The Smithsonian Associates partnered to develop a series of educational programs, including lectures, symposia, discussion panels and informal gatherings.

The programs were designed to spark lively conversations among the public and genomics leaders, scientists, scholars, and the arts community about relevant and timely subjects in the genomics field. Programming was made possible thanks to generous grants and gifts made through the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health.

Genome: Unlocking Life's Code Exhibition Closing Symposium: Genomics and Global Health: What does the future hold?
The symposium, in partnership with NHGRI, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health focused on how genomics can prevent, diagnose, treat, and cure diseases for individuals, their families, and global populations; and what the next decade holds in terms of genomic advances.

A Spectrum of Perspectives: Native Peoples and Genetic Research
This symposium was co-hosted by the National Congress of American Indians, the National Human Genome Research Institute and the National Museum of the American Indian as part of the Genome: Unlocking Life's Code exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. It demonstrated the range of perspectives in Native communities on genomics and highlight key topics for ongoing community conversation.

Q?rius Presentation: What Exactly is the Human Genome?
A decade ago, scientists announced that they had completed the Human Genome Project. But, what exactly is a genome and how is it important to your health? Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Eric Green, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, explored the science of genomics and turning our discoveries into health.

Finding our Inner Neanderthal: Evolutionary Geneticist Svante Pääbo's DNA Quest
Can the DNA of extinct humans provide a clue to our origins? Noted researcher Svante Pääbo discussed a groundbreaking investigation that led to new genetic and geographic connections between Homo sapiens and our ancient ancestors.

Q?rius Presentation: The Dog Genome: Shedding Light on Human Disease
Dogs have been called a person's best friend, but they also can tell us a lot about human disease. Dr. Elaine Ostrander discussed how her lab at the National Human Genome Research Institute studies the genes of canines (dogs) in order to better understand human diseases, such as cancer.

Q?rius Presentation: Know Your Family History - Improve Your Health
A demonstration of how your ancestry, family culture, and lifestyle choices can influence your future health. Learn how to use one of the most powerful genetic tools, your family health history, to identify specific ways to stay healthy. Let us dispel common myths about genetics and inheritance, and learn how to recognize what information matters. Leave knowing how to get the information, services, and resource tools you need to assess your risks and take charge of your health.

Is Genetic Information Different?
New and often-complex ethical and medical questions have emerged as genetic testing becomes more widespread. Two debaters with extensive experience in genetics and genomics - Robert C. Green and Susan M. Wolf - addressed the issues in a lively event in which the audience plays a key role. NHGRI Director Eric Green moderated.

Last updated: April 18, 2023