The Power of Poison

An actress pretends to work in a lab.

This exhibit is now closed. See current exhibits.

Ever consider the possibility of being poisoned by your own hat? Or how a venomous snake could possibly be used to save lives? Come explore poison and its surprising role in our natural and cultural history through immersive environments and engaging interactives. From fairy tales to modern medicine, The Power of Poison explains what's real, what's myth, and what remains a mystery. 

  • Explore a remote Colombian forest and meet live animals that use poison in their daily struggle to survive and thrive.
  • Investigate some of history's most intriguing poisoning cases, many of which remain unsolved to this day.
  • Find out which tales of illness, enchantment, or death by poison—from Shakespeare to Snow White—contain kernels of truth.
  • Learn how studying poison's effects on human cells helps scientists figure out how to protect, repair, and heal us.
  • Watch a live theatrical performance, Poison Live!, that examines a real-world poisoning case from the 1830s

Explore Colombia’s Chocó forest, where Poison in Nature will show you how golden poison arrow frogs, Brazilian wandering spiders, aggressive bullet ants, toxic caterpillars, and paralyzing vines use poison in their daily lives. 

Move on to Poison in Myth and Legend and you will be transported to a time when those familiar with poisonous plants were considered a source of magic. Interact with an “enchanted” book of ancient botanical knowledge, in which animations of poisonous plant species come to life at the turn of each page.

In Villains and Victims, some of history’s most notorious poisonings are examined and solved. Since toxicology only came about in the late 1800s, mysterious deaths—including those of Cleopatra and Napoleon—are still considered by some to be the results of poisonings.

Poison Live!, a theatrical performance in The Power of Poison at NHMU.

Poison Live! is a 12-minute theatrical and multimedia show that tells a dramatic story about the beginnings of toxicology. You will be presented with a real-world poisoning from the 1830s and follow the scientific methods used by investigators to solve the crime. Then, take on the role of detective and solve three other cases by yourself, linking various toxins and poisonous creatures to your victims’ symptoms.

(Be sure to catch our other live theatrical performance outside the exhibit: Extreme Plants Traveling Sideshow is a high-energy piece that examines the highly evolved defense mechanisms of plants).

Finally, step into Poison for Good to see how plant and animal toxins have helped researchers develop ingredients for life-saving drugs. See a live Gila monster, whose venom has been found to stimulate insulin production and is now being used in a treatment for diabetes. 

From murder to modern medicine, see for yourself how The Power of Poison has changed history and will shape our future. 

Presenting Sponsor

Zions Bank

Major Sponsor

R. Harold Burton Foundation

Exhibit Sponsor

Wheeler Machinery Co.

Community Sponsors

Lawrence T. & Janet T. Dee Foundation

Marriner S. Eccles Foundation

Institutional Support

Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks

The Power of Poison is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (