Stories tagged History and Nature of Science

Aug
16
2007

A cross section of the neck area: In this faithful reproduction of a lithograph plate from Gray's Anatomy (the book, not the TV show), the epiglottis is clearly shown.
A cross section of the neck area: In this faithful reproduction of a lithograph plate from Gray's Anatomy (the book, not the TV show), the epiglottis is clearly shown.
So, if you’ve been following along with my previous posts (there must be someone who can’t wait for “Joe” to make another post…hi mom) I am the person at the Science Museum who collects the paper questions for the Scientist on the Spot. Some questions are really funny, some are totally random, a lot of people want to know where babies come from and some are just good questions that have simple answers. Here are a bunch of questions that are of that last type.

Q: What is dry ice made of?
A: Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide. I didn’t know this until just now - the term “dry ice” is a generalized trademark, meaning it is a brand name that has become the general term for a product – like Kleenex. Also cool about dry ice is that is goes through sublimation at room temperature – meaning it goes straight from a solid to a gas.

Q: Why can’t you breathe and swallow at the same time?
A: Because of the amazing epiglottis. The epiglottis is a flap in your throat that normally points up (allowing you to breathe), but during the act of swallowing it flops down and covers the trachea and directs food down to the esophagus. The picture above should make it all clear.

Q: How fast is light?
A: 1,079,252,848.8 kilometers per hour. Very, very fast.

Q: What causes the force between two charged particles, i.e. why does Coulomb’s Law work?
A: Coulomb’s Law simply states,

The magnitude of the electrostatic force between two point charges is directly proportional to the product of the magnitudes of each charge and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the charges.

Yeah, I have no idea, though these people seem to know the answer.

Q: Why do we have shadows?
A: You can guess the age of the visitor asking this question both by the type of question and by their handwriting. I can just imagine a parent saying, “I don’t know why we have shadows Maria, why don’t you ask the scientist?” Anyway, we have shadows when we block a source of light from getting directly to a place. So when I am standing on the sidewalk on a sunny day, part of me is blocking the light of the sun and the part that is blocked is the shadow. Vampires don’t have shadows, but since this is a science blog I feel obligated to also mention that vampires don’t exist. Which I guess makes it true that they don’t have shadows then…

Jul
12
2007

Frozen find: Researchers look over the new find from Siberia of a wooly mammoth baby carcass. A reindeer herder found the frozen specimen while doing is normal rounds.
Frozen find: Researchers look over the new find from Siberia of a wooly mammoth baby carcass. A reindeer herder found the frozen specimen while doing is normal rounds.
Here we go again with another round of Jurassic Park hypotheticals. What’s triggering it? Earlier this spring a reindeer herder in Siberia discovered a fully intact frozen wooly mammoth baby carcass. It’s believed to have been frozen for around 10,000 years since the end of the last ice age.

Other portions of adult mammoths have been found frozen in Siberia. But researchers say that this specimen is the most complete one found to date.

Back in 1997, portions of an adult wooly mammoth were found in another portion of Siberia. Cloning scientists at that time said that they’d be able to have a mammoth/elephant baby hybrid cloned within the next 22 months. So far, however, no dice.

The only significant blemish on the new mammoth discovery is that a portion of its tail is missing. It’s trunk and eyes are intact and some of its fur is still on its torso. It measures just over four feet tall, weighs an estimated 110 pounds and is believed to be about six months old.

Work being done to prepare the carcass to be transferred to Japan for further study. There are some scientists hoping that there could be preserved sperm or other cells with viable DNA that could be used to restart a new version of mammoths.

Researchers are also happy that they – and not others -- have their hands on this new specimen. There’s a growing black market for frozen wooly mammoth artifacts that have been found in Siberia. A one-inch strand of mammoth hair can be sold on the black market for $50.

Mammoths first appeared in the Pliocene Epoch, 4.8 million years ago. And while the species was mostly extinct by the time of the end of last Ice Age 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, one population of mammoths lived on in isolation on Russia's remote Wrangel Island until about 5,000 years ago.

Jul
08
2007

Great Wall of China, one of the world's New Seven Wonders.: Public domain photograph, c. 1907.
Great Wall of China, one of the world's New Seven Wonders.: Public domain photograph, c. 1907.
More than 100 million citizens of planet Earth have voted in a new list of Seven Wonders of the World.

Winners include the Great Wall of China, Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue, Machu Picchu in Peru, Chichen Itza in Mexico, India’s Taj Mahal, the Roman Colosseum in Italy, and Jordan’s Petra.

The Great Pyramid at Giza: The sole surviving member of the original Seven Wonders of the World list. Wikipedia Creative Commons photo by Nina Aldin Thune.
The Great Pyramid at Giza: The sole surviving member of the original Seven Wonders of the World list. Wikipedia Creative Commons photo by Nina Aldin Thune.
Surprisingly, Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza, the only existing member of the original Seven Wonders of the World list, didn’t make the cut this time around. Thor wrote about this controversy in an earlier posting found here. Other losers included the Statues of Easter Island, the Acropolis in Greece, New York’s Statue of Liberty, England’s Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and Japan’s Kiyomizu Temple.

The New Seven Wonders were announced during an Official Declaration ceremony held in Lisbon, Spain on July 7, 2007, hosted by actors Ben Kingsley and Hillary Swank.

Bernard Weber, a Swiss filmmaker came up with the idea for new wonders list in 2001, after the Taliban in Afghanistan had toppled the huge Buddha statues at Bamiyan. Part of the funds garnered by the dedication ceremony will go to rebuilding those giant sculptures.

Not everyone shares Weber’s enthusiasm, however. Christian Manhart, press officer for UNESCO, the UN body for cultural oversight, complained that the list should have included more.

“All of these wonders obviously deserve a place on the list, but what disturbs us is that the list is limited to just seven," he said. “Seven were adequate in antiquity because the antique world was much smaller than today.”

The original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were all located in an area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. That list was comprised around 200 BC.

Egypt’s head of antiquities, Zahi Hawass was unimpressed by neither the new list, nor by it’s failure to include the Great Pyramids of Giza.

"This contest will not detract from the value of the pyramids, which is the only real wonder of the world," he said. "This competition has no value because it is not the masses who write history."

LINKS

New Seven Wonders website
Related Story in The Australian

May
30
2007

Visitors to the Science Museum will get to pick a name for at least one of the peregrine falcon chicks in the High Bridge power plant nest box. (Last year, we got to name one. Your pick? Starshadow.)

The challenge? Each chick in the nest box program gets a unique name. No repeats. So here's a list of all the names that are "taken" already:

Abby, Alice, Allie, Alpha, Amanda, Amilia, Amy, Andrea, Andy, Angel, Anton, Apryl, Athena, Barbara, Belinda, Bend, Berger, Bern, Bert, Bertha, Beta, Bolt, Bomber, Bor, Brice, Britta, Burt, Buzz, Candy, Cassie, Charlee, Charlie, Cherokee, Chicklet, Chris, Cleo, CoCo, Cole, Colleen, Coz, Craig, Crystal, Cyndi, Dale, Dana, Danberg, Davey, Dawn, Delene, Delta, Diamond, Diana, Diane, Dick, Dixie Chick, Donna, Doolittle, Dot, Ed, Eileen, Elaine, Electra, Esperanza, Faith, Fast Track, Fluffy, Fran, Frank, Gamma, George, Gib, Gloria, Gold, Gretta, Grunwald, Harmony, Hickey, Hippie, Hope, Horus, Hotshot, Howard, Hunter, Huske, Irvine, Isabel, Jackie, Jacob, Jan, Janice, Jasmine, Jay, JB, Jenny, Jessy, Jim, Joe, Judy, Julie, Kali, Karlsen, Katraka, Kester, Kitty, Kidy, Kramer, Krista, Laura, Leo, Leon, Leona, Leonard, Liberty, Lightning, Lily, Linton, Lolo, Lon, Lora, Loree, Loretta, Lori, Louise, Lucky, Mac, Mae, Maggie, Malin, Manthey, Mapper, Marie, Marshall, Marty, Mary, Laude, Mew, Mica, Michael, Michelle, Minnie, Miranda, Miss, Miss Pam, Mulder, Murphy, Neil, Nero, Nicole, Nora, Oar, Orville, Oscar, Pam, Pamella, PF Flyer, PaTao, Pathfinder, Penelope, Penny, Phyllis, Polly, Porky, Prescott, Princess, Putnam, Quark, Queen, Rachael, Ralph, Razor, Red Ed, Rick, Rochelle, Rocket, Rocky, Romeo, Ryan, Ryu, Sarah, Scarlett, Screech, Scully, Seminole, Shakespeare, Sharky, Sheri, Sheridan, Sherlie, Smoke, Smokey, Sonic, Sophia, Speedy, Spider, Spirit, Spivvy, Starshadow, Static, Stephanie, Sue, Survivor, Swoop, Terri, Thelma, Thunder, Travis, Tundra, Vector, VernaMae, Veronica, Waldo, Wanda, Warren, Wayne, Webster, Wilbur, Willie, Wood, Younger, Yugi, Zack, Zippidy

Have a name you think would suit a falcon? Tell us. We'll turn the list of submitted names into a visitor poll, and the names with the highest number of votes will go to the chicks.

One other thing: last year, the number one name was "Santa's Little Helper," but it was too long. Keep the names short, if you want yours to be the one!

May
15
2007

Israeli archaeologists think they've discovered King Herod's tomb. (The original article has video and a map.)

Herod, elected "King of the Jews" by the Roman Senate, was a prolific builder. He expanded the Jewish Second Temple in Jerusalem. But he's also, according to the New Testament, the king who ordered the slaying of all infants in Bethlehem.

No skeletons or other remains have been found, but the archaeologists did uncover a sarcophagus--smashed to pieces by ancient vandals. The scientists think that Jewish rebels--in an act of symbolic vengeance against the Roman rulers they came to hate--probably destroyed the tomb some 70 years after Herod's death.

Check out the May "Object of the Month"--it's a Roman glass bottle found in Caesarea Maritimas, in Israel. (You can see photos of the ruins, and a map.) Caesaria was one of several cities built by King Herod

May
06
2007

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Huckleberry Finn and Jim, on their raft, from the 1884 edition, that copied from English Wikipedia.  Source: Project Gutenberg
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Huckleberry Finn and Jim, on their raft, from the 1884 edition, that copied from English Wikipedia. Source: Project Gutenberg
I moderate the queue for the Scientists on the Spot and Dr. Alan Goodman was asked a really good question about Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn. It's getting a lot of great feedback, so I thought I would move the thread over here where other folks can chime in on the discussion.

Here was the original question:

A high school student in Minnesota recently raised concerns about reading Huck Finn as part of required curriculum for their English class. Their concern is Twain's use of racially charged language. What are your thoughts on educational standards that involve "classic" works, literary-historic-artistic value to culture that include language and sometime arguments and ideas that can be experienced as bigotry by today's students?

Dr. Goodman's reply:

Although I do not teach fiction and literature, I actually have the same sorts of concerns with historical sources and even science books and articles. For example, students in my class frequently critically read scientific and popular writings from the 19th and early parts of the 20th century that are virulently racist. While such writing can cause pain, I think in the end the worse problem is to ignore the past. There are many valuable lessons.

I have a couple of thoughts about how to present “racist” literature. It is important to put the work in its historical context and in the case of fiction, to provide a sense of what the author’s intentions and motivations may have been. I think it is also critical to understand what was acceptable and common in the past. Finally, these are the ideas and worldviews that shaped our society. Such racist language – and the thoughts behind the language – are still around today. Reading Huck Finn could lead to a valuable class discussion about how the forms of acceptable language have changed compared to the underlying idea about race and racism.

What do you think?

Apr
30
2007

We're #5!  Minneapolis-St.Paul is ranked as the fifth cleanest city in the world: Photo by kevinthoule at flickr.com
We're #5! Minneapolis-St.Paul is ranked as the fifth cleanest city in the world: Photo by kevinthoule at flickr.com

Forbes magazine has an article on the world’s 25 cleanest cities. Minneapolis comes it at #5.

The list comes from studies conducted by the Mercer Human Resources Consulting which rate quality of living in various cities. They looked at things like producing sufficient energy cleanly, handling waste responsibly, encouraging recycling, and efficient transportation.
According to the article:

It is interesting to note that size does not appear to be a factor either in terms of size of population or physical size of the city. The most common trait in common to each is a focus on high tech, education and headquartering of national and international companies along with an extensive public transit system.

The ecotality blog notices something interesting – all of the top 25 are in industrialized democracies. Normally, we think of industry as being very dirty. But writer Bill Hobbs suggests that

“…industrialization created wealth which, in turn, buys the things (mass transit, especially) and pays for the policies that create a cleaner environment.”

I would add that, in democracies, citizens can pressure government and business to pass laws protecting the environment. The actions necessary to make a clean city require money and political will. Clearly, capitalism is good for the environment!

Apr
30
2007

The Warner Nature Center is offering a Project NestWatch workshop to teach you how to monitor birds nesting in your neighborhood. Become part of an exciting national pilot program to create “citizen scientists.” You'll learn how to collect valuable data on nesting birds in your neighborhood that will be studied by some of the world’s most renowned bird scientists. And you'll learn more about the birds local to your neighborhood, where they nest, how you can make your backyard more bird-friendly, and how to submit your nest observations to a national online database.


Falcon chicks: In the spring, museum visitors can watch baby peregrine falcons on our FalconCam. (Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Mourning dove: This one was nesting in my backyard. You can see the messy nest and a chick's head peeking out. (Photo by Ken Kornack)
Mourning dove: This one was nesting in my backyard. You can see the messy nest and a chick's head peeking out. (Photo by Ken Kornack)

Call 651-433-2427 to register or ask questions. (Please register by May 2.)

**NestWatch is a project led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Apr
13
2007

Two years ago, everyone was talking about the work of paleontologist Mary Schweitzer: she noticed that thin slices of a 68-million-year-old fossil femur from a Tyrannosaurus rex looked like they still contained soft tissue. (See photos of the bone.) Using antibodies to the collagen protein, she showed that the bone still contained intact collagen molecules—the main component of cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.

Hello, dinos?: A new study shows that preserved collagen from a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex is similar to that of chickens. (Photo courtesy Danelle Sheree)
Hello, dinos?: A new study shows that preserved collagen from a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex is similar to that of chickens. (Photo courtesy Danelle Sheree)

She used antibodies to a type of collagen extracted from chickens. The fact that the antibodies stuck suggested that T. rex collagen is similar to that of birds. And when she compared the preserved soft tissue to that of modern animals, the closest match was an emu—a flightless bird.

To learn more about the collagen in the T. rex bones, Schweitzer worked with John Asara, a chemist at Harvard University, to analyze it using mass spectrometry.

The Economist describes the technique this way:

This technique identifies molecules (or fragments of molecules) from a combination of their weight and their electric charges. Knowing the weights of different sorts of atoms (and of groups of atoms that show up regularly in larger molecules, such as the 20 different amino acids from which proteins are assembled) it is usually possible to piece together fragments to form the profile of an entire protein.

When Asara compared the profile he'd created to proteins from living animals, the closest matches were to chickens and ostriches. (Schweitzer and Asara's study was published in the April 13, 2007, issue of the journal Science.)

Many paleontologists already believed, based on fossil bones, that birds are dinosaurs or their descendants. But this new paper provides even more evidence of the fact.

Buzz stories on the subject from last year:

Recent news articles:

Apr
03
2007

The 2007 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1 and runs through November 30.

Two hurricanes: This satellite image, captured 8/30/05, shows Hurricane Iris in the central Atlantic Ocean, with Tropical Storm Karen to the southeast. (The original image, from which this is cropped, also showed Hurricane Humberto moving northeast across the Atlantic.)
Two hurricanes: This satellite image, captured 8/30/05, shows Hurricane Iris in the central Atlantic Ocean, with Tropical Storm Karen to the southeast. (The original image, from which this is cropped, also showed Hurricane Humberto moving northeast across the Atlantic.)

Check back often for the latest predictions, forecasts, and discussion.