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Deutsches Technikmuseum - October

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Exhibit of the Month October 2015

Photo: The molt shell of a lobster: The empty exoskeleton with five walking leg pairs and the long antennae are well preserved.

The molt shell of a lobster: Its shell mainly consists of chitin. © SDTB / Photo: C. Kirchner

Empty moulted shell of a lobster, 2013

When the shell of a lobster becomes too tight it casts it off and develops a new, somewhat larger one. The emptied covering is called an exuviae by biologists.

But why is an object from the animal world found in the collection of the Deutsches Technikmuseum? In November 2013, this freshly discarded exuviae was procured from the Zoo Aquarium Berlin and hung out to dry, because it was intended for our new permanent exhibition about sugar.

Such additions to the already existing Sugar Museum collection were necessary because the new exhibition is to be about more than just the production and cultural history of table sugar. It will also deal with the importance of different sugar molecules for nature, people and technology.

A large proportion of the exoskeletons of crabs, spiders, insects and the like consists of chitin, which in turn is made up of nothing more than slightly modified glucose. Chitin is the second most common biopolymer on our planet, which should come as no surprise considering the multitude of fungi and creepy-crawlies living in it and on it. People can use chitin as a raw material for various applications – say, for producing audio speaker membranes or gauze dressings against bleeding.

In the meantime the empty lobster has been replaced as the symbol for chitin by a much more impressive object in the new exhibition. And yes, the most common biopolymer on earth is naturally also a sugar compound.

More about this in "Sugars and beyond! Food – Matter – Energy", opened November 26, 2015.