Stories tagged science museum of minnesota

Compost for you: Moving from right to left, you can see how microbes deconstruct organic garbage into compost.
Compost for you: Moving from right to left, you can see how microbes deconstruct organic garbage into compost.Courtesy Thor
That's right. There is something rotten, smelly, nasty happening right in the lobby of the Science Museum of Minnesota. We've got compost on display. You can see the three phases of compost from fresh organic garbage to midway decomposed waste to finished compost. And you can learn all about the science that makes it possible to turn trash into ground-enriching treasure. Here's the link to the web content that accompanies this exhibit. Oh, and don't worry about the smell. The case the compost is presented in has special filters to keep any nastiness from getting out!

Dec
27
2011

The Finishing Touches: When last we saw the mammoth, the base had been completed but still had to be painted and the tusks had to be attached.
The Finishing Touches: When last we saw the mammoth, the base had been completed but still had to be painted and the tusks had to be attached.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Specialized Inserts were Created for Each Tusk: This is the view from the underside of the mammoth's left tusk.
Specialized Inserts were Created for Each Tusk: This is the view from the underside of the mammoth's left tusk.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Attaching the Mammoth's Left Tusk: A bolt is attached to the tusk and is threaded through the insert inside the tusk cavity.
Attaching the Mammoth's Left Tusk: A bolt is attached to the tusk and is threaded through the insert inside the tusk cavity.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Tightening the Bolt from Above
Tightening the Bolt from AboveCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

The Insert for the Right Tusk is Built into the Skull's Actual Tusk
The Insert for the Right Tusk is Built into the Skull's Actual TuskCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Attaching the Right Tusk
Attaching the Right TuskCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Tightening the Screw for the Right Tusk
Tightening the Screw for the Right TuskCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

The Finished Skull: Check back to see how the skull is installed for exhibition!
The Finished Skull: Check back to see how the skull is installed for exhibition!Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Mar
31
2011

Taxonomy

There's a great article on the Science website that brings up the issue of taxonomy. Taxonomy is the science dealing with the description, identification, naming and classification of organisms. Due to declining funding and a lack of professional practitioners, the article proposes that amateur taxonomists could make significant contributions to understanding the Earth's biodiversity.

The article highlight's the Science Museum's own "professional-amateur" entomologist Ron Huber. Ron's been volunteering his time at the museum since September 1964 and has written a number of scientific publications based on his research on the museum's collection.

Ron Huber
Ron HuberCourtesy Rebecca Newberry, SMM

With 1.4 million animal species scientifically described and with an untold number still to be discovered and described the role of taxonomy is more critical than ever. But there definitely is debate as to whether amateurs are the solution to the problems facing taxonomy. What do you think?

Mar
24
2011

Behind the wall: The wall protecting the bottom floor of the museum is made of two rows of cement barriers with dirt packed between them. Next door at District Energy, they're using sand. I wonder which will work better?
Behind the wall: The wall protecting the bottom floor of the museum is made of two rows of cement barriers with dirt packed between them. Next door at District Energy, they're using sand. I wonder which will work better?Courtesy JGordon
If you've been following Science Buzz (of course you have!) you know that St. Paul is gearing up for a flood!

It's still unclear as to how high the water will rise, but given all the snow we got this winter, the Science Museum is preparing for the worst. The worst is unlikely, but even not-quite-the-worst would be pretty bad, so the museum is building some defenses against the water.
A red tailed hawk keeps an eye on the proceedings: Which, frankly, is ridiculous. What do hawks know about flood management?
A red tailed hawk keeps an eye on the proceedings: Which, frankly, is ridiculous. What do hawks know about flood management?Courtesy JGordon
The hawk takes flight!: Good riddance. What were we even paying him for?
The hawk takes flight!: Good riddance. What were we even paying him for?Courtesy JGordon

Our Science House is being surrounded by a wall of thick, solid concrete blocks, like a fort. And we're building a wall of Jersey barriers packed with dirt through the Big Back Yard to protect our first floor, should the water get that high. The museum's first floor, by the way, is not where you enter. The first floor is way below that, and it's where we build exhibits and keep all of the machinery that maintains the climate in the building, so it's important that it doesn't get too wet down there.

Here's a slide show of the pictures I took of the construction this afternoon. For descriptions of what's happening in each, click on the photo (or go right to the Flickr photoset).

Mar
17
2011

Wire Mesh Forms the Base: Most of the time, fossils that paleontologists find are incomplete.  In this case, about half of the skull was missing.  In order to provide a better understanding of what the skull looked like, paleontologists reconstruct the missing portions based on other similar specimens.
Wire Mesh Forms the Base: Most of the time, fossils that paleontologists find are incomplete. In this case, about half of the skull was missing. In order to provide a better understanding of what the skull looked like, paleontologists reconstruct the missing portions based on other similar specimens.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Sculpting: Plaster and other materials are sculpted on to the wire base.
Sculpting: Plaster and other materials are sculpted on to the wire base.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Sculpting Foam: To recreate larger sections, foam pieces are sculpted.
Sculpting Foam: To recreate larger sections, foam pieces are sculpted.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Comparing the sides of the skull: Measurements for the reconstructed side are based on the preserved half of the skull.  The preparators try and make the skull as symmetrical as possible.
Comparing the sides of the skull: Measurements for the reconstructed side are based on the preserved half of the skull. The preparators try and make the skull as symmetrical as possible.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Finished Foam
Finished FoamCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Covering the foam: The foam is painted with grit to make it appear like a fossil.
Covering the foam: The foam is painted with grit to make it appear like a fossil.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Tusks: The actual tusks are too heavy for the skull to support.  Lightweight foam tusks were made and will be attached to the skull.
Tusks: The actual tusks are too heavy for the skull to support. Lightweight foam tusks were made and will be attached to the skull.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Front of the Nearly Finsihed Skull
Front of the Nearly Finsihed SkullCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Back of the Nearly Finished Skull
Back of the Nearly Finished SkullCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Feb
04
2011

Field Jacket is Half Off: Last week we left off with the skull at the beginning of the cleaning /preparation process.  This photo shows what the skull looks like when half of it has been cleaned! Once the whole skull has been cleaned the skull will be ready to be oriented in it's anatomical position.
Field Jacket is Half Off: Last week we left off with the skull at the beginning of the cleaning /preparation process. This photo shows what the skull looks like when half of it has been cleaned! Once the whole skull has been cleaned the skull will be ready to be oriented in it's anatomical position.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Attaching the Mount: In order to get the skull upright, a special mount is created.  The mount is attached to the skull via steel pins which are embedded in plaster.  This photo also shows the reconstructions of one of the skulls molars and portions of the reconstructed maxilla.
Attaching the Mount: In order to get the skull upright, a special mount is created. The mount is attached to the skull via steel pins which are embedded in plaster. This photo also shows the reconstructions of one of the skulls molars and portions of the reconstructed maxilla.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Raising the Skull: Once the mount has been firmly attached to the skull the entire apparatus has to be lifted with a forklift so it can be oriented correctly and attached to the mount’s base.
Raising the Skull: Once the mount has been firmly attached to the skull the entire apparatus has to be lifted with a forklift so it can be oriented correctly and attached to the mount’s base.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

The Upright Skull: The mounted skull has been securely attached to its standing platform.  Check back next week to see the mount disappear as portions of the skull are reconstructed in the final blog post of this series.
The Upright Skull: The mounted skull has been securely attached to its standing platform. Check back next week to see the mount disappear as portions of the skull are reconstructed in the final blog post of this series.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Jan
27
2011

How does a fossil go from being discovered to being a part of the Science Museum’s collections? In this first in a series of three posts, we’ll track a mammoth skull from being discovered in the field through the initial cleaning and processing at the museum. Check out the photos and the brief description of the process.

Lyle Excavation: In 1997, William Lyle discovered a fossil eroding from an embankment on his farm located just outside of Albert Lea, MN.  Museum staff were contacted and a salvage excavation was conducted.
Lyle Excavation: In 1997, William Lyle discovered a fossil eroding from an embankment on his farm located just outside of Albert Lea, MN. Museum staff were contacted and a salvage excavation was conducted.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Mammoth Skull: A close inspection of the skull reveals that it’s a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius).  The skull is believed to be from an adult male due to the large size of the skull and tusks, the large number enamel ridges on its molars, and the concave slope of the forehead.
Mammoth Skull: A close inspection of the skull reveals that it’s a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius). The skull is believed to be from an adult male due to the large size of the skull and tusks, the large number enamel ridges on its molars, and the concave slope of the forehead.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Field Jacket: Once the skull and tusks have been excavated, they have to be prepared for safe transport back to the museum.   A plaster field jacket is wrapped around the skull and the adjacent sediment.
Field Jacket: Once the skull and tusks have been excavated, they have to be prepared for safe transport back to the museum. A plaster field jacket is wrapped around the skull and the adjacent sediment.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Removing Field Jacket: Back in the lab, the first step is to cut away portions of the plaster field jacket.
Removing Field Jacket: Back in the lab, the first step is to cut away portions of the plaster field jacket.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Removing Matrix: Next, museum volunteer Neva Key removes the loose sediment matrix that surrounds the skull.  This is often a very labor intensive job and can take months to finish.
Removing Matrix: Next, museum volunteer Neva Key removes the loose sediment matrix that surrounds the skull. This is often a very labor intensive job and can take months to finish.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Check back next week for part two of the three part series on the Lyle Mammoth, when the challenge of creating a mount for the skull to stand upright will be discussed.

Mar
26
2010

Recently, I was sitting at my desk asking myself, “With the Mississippi River flood of 2010 past-peak, now what?” I mean, if I can’t obsessively check the latest crest predictions or watch the Science Museum's flood cam, what am I supposed to do with all my free time??

Thankfully, Pat Nunnally and Joanne Richardson of the Institute on the Environment's program River Life agreed to meet with me to discuss how I can keep up on the Mississip’ all year long.

The whole purpose of River Life is to help people like me and you collaborate on issues of river sustainability. You say: “Hold up. What's ‘river sustainability’?” Good question! I asked Pat and Joanne myself and they said river sustainability is the study of how to continue urban living without harming the natural processes of rivers. Put another way, river sustainability is the study of maintaining harmony between human, aquatic, and terrestrial ecology. But don’t take my word for it, Pat speaks for himself about River Life in the Institute on the Environment’s, River Reflections:

The Mississippi RIver Watershed: The Mississippi drains almost half of the continental United States (and some of Canada)!
The Mississippi RIver Watershed: The Mississippi drains almost half of the continental United States (and some of Canada)!Courtesy National Park Service

Did you know the Mississippi River is considered among the world’s largest watersheds? Me neither! A watershed is a geographic area within which all water flows into the same stream. The Mississippi River watershed covers about 40% of the continental United States. As part of River Life, this and other fascinating river facts will compose a River Atlas. This River Atlas is a work in progress set to debut fall 2010 and will eventually contain scientific data, videos, photos, art, and people’s stories about rivers.

The River Atlas section about people's river stories is called – no surprise here! – River Stories. Pat says river stories are important because they inspire people into action. While that’s certainly true, river stories are also simply fascinating in themselves. For example, did you know the upper landing area upstream from the Science Museum was known as “Little Italy” until the flood of 1952? After that, the city used the area for a scrap yard and then a parking lot. Today, it has been developed into high-rise apartments.

River Life’s dream for the Mississippi River is that people will learn how to engage the river in a mutually meaningful way. What does that really mean? It’s all about the river sustainability principle we talked about earlier: living with the river instead of against it. Pat’s example of a mutually meaningful river engagement is Harriet Island who’s flood-resistant social space is a great city amenity that also respects the natural process of flooding.
Harriet Island: This place is a beautiful example of how a city can live alongside its river.
Harriet Island: This place is a beautiful example of how a city can live alongside its river.Courtesy St. Paul, Minnesota

Apr
19
2009

Colony collapse
Colony collapseCourtesy Kevin Cole

SMM volunteer and bee enthusiast receives grant

Marjorie Bolz Allen was a lifelong museum volunteer at the Science Museum of Minnesota. In her memory a Marjorie Bolz Allen Grant is awarded to a SMM volunteer to develop an activity that will directly enhance our museum visitors' experience about a science, technology, engineering or mathematical (STEM) discipline. I hope the following links will help my fellow volunteer (A.Z.) in developing her activity about bees.

News about bee colony collapse disorder

  1. The Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research Extension Consortium (MAAREC) has links to press releases, research updates, and articles about CCD.
  2. The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) also has a web page with links to related sites and articles about colony collapse disorder.
  3. An April 16 Ars Technica article titled "A cure for colony collapse" claims that "new research has proposed both a concrete cause for bee colony collapse disorder, as well as a cure". The abstract of the source paper titled, "Honeybee colony collapse due to Nosema ceranae in professional apiaries"

Previous Science Buzz posts about bees

Joe did a Buzz burst April 8 titled More on the vanishing bees and linked to a great article in Scientific American titled Solving the Mystery of the Vanishing Bees"
Click this link for all Science Buzz posts about bees.

While commuting to the Science Museum of Minnesota last week I heard paleontologist, Kristi Rogers talking about her dinosaur research on the Minnesota Public Radio Midmorning program. I appreciate that MPR has an audio link allowing me to listen to the remainder of Kristi Rogers talk on MPR when I got home.