Archive for June, 2010

Science Wednesday: I Spy, With My Third Eye, a Black Hole

By Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

I tell you, packing for space travel is a lot of work. You need a spacecraft, breathing apparatus, a lifetime supply of Tang and astronaut ice cream, and now it seems having a third eye would be handy, too.

Back in April, researchers Andrew Hamilton and Gavin Polhemus of the University of Colorado, built a computer model to simulate what entering a black hole would look like.

However, the simulation only works so far. Hamilton and Polhemus realized that once you’re inside the black hole you’d no longer be able to judge distances because of our pesky binocular vision. With two eyes, we’re able to see the same object from slightly different angles. Combining those angles allows us to triangulate the object’s distance. In a black hole, where space is so strongly curved, everything gets messed up. At least, until you get a third eye. Hamilton speculates that having a third eye would allow you to compensate for the gravitational distortion and you’d be able to see.

Until you get destroyed in the singularity, that is.

From the Archive: Historical figures I’d love to meet

by Tiffani Righero, Research Assistant, Fort Collins Local History Archive

Over the years, I have compiled a mental list of historical figures I would love to meet. Most of them are average people. Some had large impacts on social and cultural lifestyles. A few are ancestors. Only one was a political leader, and none were presidents. Recently I came across a series of portraits in the Local History Archive and decided I must add William Clifford “Cliff” Brollier to this list. Brollier may not have been a prominent Fort Collins figure, but he knew how to have fun. From the suave gentleman (bottom left), to the goofy joker (bottom right) to the casual dog-friendly man (top middle right), Brollier looks like quite a character.

These portraits, taken around 1907, were donated to the Local History Archive by Brollier’s daughter Doris Greenacre. She clarified that the dog did not belong to him and said these were just some fun pictures he had taken.

As I dug through the archive, I found a little more about Brollier’s life. According to census records and city directories, he was a bookkeeper for an oil company and lived at 307 Mathews St. with his wife and two daughters. Another photograph in the archive of Brollier shows him on a bicycle in front of the old Elks building at the corner of Linden Street and Walnut Street.

As you might guess from the plethora of flags, this shot was captured during a 4th of July celebration circa 1913. Even on the bike, Brollier has a smirk on his face for the cameraman.

From these photos, Cliff Brollier looks like an interesting fellow; I have added him to my list of historical figures I would like to meet. Who’s on your list?

June 26th Partial Lunar Eclipse

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Partial lunar eclipse

I’m setting my alarm clock for 5:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. I don’t know if I’ll actually be able to get up (as I’m still a firm believer that there’s only one 5:00 in the day, and it comes just before dinner), but if I can, I’m in for a treat. So are many of you, if you’re better at being an early riser than I am.

Early, early tomorrow morning, June 26, a partial lunar eclipse will happen when the moon passes through the southern portion of the Earth’s shadow. The best place to see this eclipse will be in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Sadly, Africa, parts of Europe, and even the eastern edge of New England won’t see anything, but out here in Colorado we’ll be able to see a “bite” taken out of the moon as the moon is setting at the end of the night.

The moon will slide into partial eclipse at 4:17 a.m. MST, and will be deepest in shadow at 5:39 a.m. MST as the moon sets in the southwest and the sun begins to rise. It’s sure to be a pretty sight – a partially eclipsed moon in the predawn twilight.

A bit of trivia for you: Lunar eclipses can only happen when the sun, Earth, and moon are aligned very closely. Hence, there’s always a full moon (when the moon is closest to the Earth) when there’s a lunar eclipse. The next full lunar eclipse will happen on December 21, 2010.

The buzz on vuvuzelas

by Toby J Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

Vuvuzelas. Photo from Wikimedia Commons, by the Dundas Football Club

The vuvuzela has an interesting history tied to the South African Shembe Church. Introduced by the prophet Isiah Shembe in 1910, the vuvuzela has been used in religious ceremonies for the past one hundred years. Similar to the kudu horn (made from the horn of a kudu antelope, of course) the vuvuzela was originally created from cane wood. When used properly, the horn is believed to produce miracles including the healing of the ill and injured.

One may ask, “If the vuvuzela can work wonders in the church, then why not on the football pitch?” Many members of the Shembe Church would carry their horns to the football matches that often followed their morning services. Some would compose songs for the vuvuzela to cheer on their favorite team. By the late 1980s, the elongated horns had become a regular sight at many matches throughout South Africa.

The ubiquitous plastic versions, frequently seen and constantly heard during World Cup matches, wouldn’t be introduced until the 90s when Neil van Schalkwyk began to manufacture the horns commercially.

The sound of the vuvuzela is produced by blowing a “raspberry” into the mouthpiece of the flared instrument. This causes the lips to open and close more than 200 times a second, setting up resonance within the horn. Producing sound at a frequency of roughly 235 hertz, the shape of the horn can set up harmonics ranging from 470 to 1630 hertz.

In the hands of a trained musician, the vuvuzela can produce pleasing tones much like a trumpet. Several thousand sports fans blowing into cheaply produced plastic versions of the horn can, on the other hand, sound like a swarm of slightly inebriated bees. This is where the problem lays.

Our hearing is a form of warning system that alerts us to potential danger. Constant sound may simply fall into the background as our brains process it as harmless white noise. Sudden changes in sound, however, may indicate danger and keep us more alert. The variations at which a large crowd of vuvuzela tooting football fans may be playing creates a constant shift in the sound, or droning, that makes us very aware of its presence. In the absence of any immediate danger, this sound becomes merely annoying.

Of course, the vuvuzela may present a danger itself. (No, I’m not talking about what you’d like to do to Mr. van Schalkwyk for introducing the instrument to the masses.) The danger comes in the sound levels produced by just one vuvuzela, let alone thousands playing in unison. Flared instruments, such as trumpets or saxophones, produce much louder notes than their straighter brethren the clarinet. The vuvuzela is capable of reaching 116 decibels at one meter, much louder than is recommended for extended exposure. Audience members tested directly after a match have shown signs of temporary hearing loss.

If you plan on attending a live match during World Cup, I recommend some form of hearing protection. If you’re trying to enjoy the match from home, there are a few measures you can take to increase your enjoyment and decrease your desire to stick your fingers in your ears and make “lalalala, I can’t hear you!” noises.

First, check your television to see if you can adjust the audio. Turning down the treble may work wonders in dampening a good portion of the drone. If you have a surround sound system, turning down the left and right speakers will eliminate most of the crowd noise while the game announcers will likely be directed through the center speaker. The internet is also offering a variety of solutions including MP3 files of white-noise designed to cancel out the vuvuzela , and programs intended to filter out the range in which the “buzzing” occurs. Be careful in what you try, as some of the internet remedies reportedly are more irritating than the situation they claim to fix.

World Cup is a fantastic event that allows people from around the planet to share not only in sport, but also history, culture, and science. Now, if we could just get a few other countries to participate in the World Series…

Make Way for Ducklings

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

Photo by Bonnie Dudley

I experienced my own personal Make Way for Ducklings recently. As I was leaving the Museum one the evening, I spotted a mama Mallard marching purposefully across Library Park in a northeasterly direction, followed closely by her ducklings. They were tiny!

Mama Mallards try to lay their eggs in nests well protected from potential predators, such as raccoons and coyotes. This means that mothers sometimes nest as much as a mile away from water. Given the size of the ducklings and their presence here in Library Park, I believe these were newly hatched ducklings being lead by their mother to water for their first swim.

I watched mama lead her offspring eastbound on the sidewalk of Oak Street, across Peterson (in the crosswalk no less) to Whedbee, where again she crossed in the crosswalk north bound towards (oh no!) Riverside. She followed a wooden fence on the west side of Whedbee until she reached the T intersection.

What a nightmare! It was 6pm on a Friday evening, traffic whizzing by on Riverside, a very busy, 4-lane street, filled not just with regular auto traffic but semis, too, taking a short cut off of I-25 to connect with 287 to Laramie, Wyoming – all of the vehicles easily traveling 50 mph or more.

I sat in my car across the street from her and watched. She approached the intersection and upon hearing a vehicle approach, she dashed back against the wooden fence, ducklings hot on her webbed toes. She would crouch low, only the top of her head showing. She blended in so well to her surroundings that sometimes I lost her, even though I was trying to keep a close eye on her! After many false starts, she took the plunge, so to speak, off the sidewalk, six ducklings in a row behind her.

I appointed myself Officer Mike in this life-imitating-art crisis. With cars coming from both directions, I gunned my vehicle into the road, figuring those other drivers were more likely to see me in my car than the little fluffy balls in the street. And I was right – as I yelled and held up my left hand at the driver of a large white SUV to make him stop, he looked surprised, if not a little angry, to see me in his right-of-way. I knew the instant he saw the ducklings, through, because he broke out with a big grin!

The ducklings safely crossed the street and I let my car idle at the curb where they attempted to jump up onto the grass to follow their mother. One, two, three made it up. Three didn’t, jumping over and over and landing on their backs almost every time. To my horror, they took off on their own, following the gutter north. I drove slowly behind them with my hazards blinking so that people would pass me on the left and not come close to the little hatchlings on the right. They made it to the entrance of the auto repair shop on the corner of Mountain and Riverside and ran up the ramp. I pulled in after them, hopped out of my car and “herded” them back in the direction I last saw mama.

(The person who started the saying “it’s like herding cats” obviously never herded ducklings.)

I didn’t see mama again; however, ducklings are known to become separated from mothers. Most times, mama will circle back through an area “calling” for the ducklings, who constantly peep. In this way they can reunite.

Since my adventure, I’ve done some reading about ducklings. Most websites I read stated that it is best not to interfere with mamas and ducklings beyond stopping traffic when they attempt to cross a street. By interfering, you can unintentionally make a bad situation worse. My herding may have done just that but I’ll never know.

I am contemplating, though, putting a little “duckling ramp” on the north side of Riverside in case mama Mallard nests over here next year, which is likely, because females usually return to their own hatching locations for nesting as adults.

Kickin’ it Old School; or, Yes, but does it come in black?

by Toby J. Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

Photo from Scientific American

This story has it all; history, science, footwear.

A team of archaeologists have found a leather shoe dating back to 5,500 years ago, while working in an Armenian cave at an elevation of 10,000 feet. The cool, dry conditions of the cave, described as being lined with sheep dung, created an almost perfect environment to preserve the leather material. The cave has proven to be a warehouse of discovery and the team has catalogued a variety of other well-preserved artifacts including a broken pot and sheep horns – that dung had to come from someplace. They’ve also come across a variety of containers holding dried apricots and barley.

So well-preserved was this shoe specimen that the scientists have been able to determine that the maker used vegetable-based oil in the tanning process. While DNA analysis has not been viable with the leather sample, a close  examination of the material’s pores indicates that the leather most likely came from a cow. The style of the shoe has been compared to “Pampooties,” a lace-up bootie worn in the Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland until the 1950s. Similarities to footwear found throughout Europe indicate that this style was in wide use for thousands of years and suited to a variety of environments.

This discovery predates the previous record holder for oldest leather shoe by a few hundred years. Found in 1991, the iceman known as Otzi to the general public (and “Frozen Fritz” to his close friends) sported a pair of leather shoes that dated back roughly 5,300 years. Of course, the oldest shoes currently known were more akin to socks; woven out of grass and wrapped in leather thongs made from deer and bear hide. What they may have lacked in style, they made up for in originality — dating back to more than 7,400 years before present. These were discovered in Arnold Research Cave, located in Callaway County in mid-Missouri.

Editor’s note: I was startled as I read Toby’s post to find Arnold Research Cave (ARC) invoked — as an anthropology undergrad at the University of Missouri, I did my archaeology field school at ARC in the summer of 1981. The shoes found at ARC were uncovered by a previous expedition; we were on the lookout for more, but didn’t uncover any additional specimens during that summer. Nor did we have any idea how old those shoes would turn out to be — they weren’t definitively dated until the late 90s. Small world!

More about Arnold Research Cave: http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/arnoldcave.html

Digital Media Coordinator Terry Burton (back right) at Arnold Research Cave, 1981. Now that's old school!

“Trails of Northern Colorado” website launches

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Now that summer is here, it’s time to get serious about getting out and seeing some sights. If you live in northern Colorado, or are planning on visiting us, we’re excited to announce a new Google Maps-based driving tour that will take you to some of the truly outstanding places in our area.

The Trails of Northern Colorado” is a website created by the Museum as part of a U.S. Park Service Preserve America grant. Literally over 12,000 years in the making, the website offers three different driving tours of the distinctive regions of northern Colorado — the foothills, the river, and the plains. Each tour consists of multiple stops, each with its own unique cultural and natural history story to tell. Taken together, the tour reveals many stories and hidden gems that even long-time residents may not be aware of.

I don’t want to give too much more away, other than to say “Go explore!” We really hope you’ll enjoy this great new resource.

You can read more about the project on the Museum’s website.

From the Archive: Patrick Dempsey at the Lincoln Center

by Tiffani Righero, Research Assistant, Fort Collins Local History Archive

As the Lincoln Center prepares for their upcoming renovation and expansion, they cleared some files out of their space and sent previous show programs our way. The Local History Archive is excited about this new collection, which contains items like the 1985 program for Brighton Beach Memoirs starring Patrick Dempsey.

It was April 3, 1985 to be exact when Patrick Dempsey graced the stage of the Lincoln Center, playing Eugene in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs. At age 19, a young “Dr. McDreamy” developed his acting skills on the national tour of Brighton Beach Memoirs, which stopped in Fort Collins for a one-night performance. The Coloradoan reported a few days before the show that this coming-of-age comedy was “virtually sold out,” but that a few tickets “may be available the night of the show.”

Although Dempsey started acting at age 15, this was one of his early roles on stage. Playing the lead role and protagonist, Dempsey had an impressive performance according to reviewer Frank DeCaro. DeCaro’s review appeared in the Coloradoan the morning after the show with praise for Brighton Beach Memoirs saying it “evoked waves of laughter and washed away every fear that [Neil] Simon’s humor had all but dried up.” DeCaro commended Dempsey’s vocal and physical strength as the lead role and even called him “superb.” Within a few years of Dempsey’s presence on the Lincoln Center stage, he landed roles in TV movies and appeared on the big screen by the late 1980s. Most of Dempsey’s fame has evolved from his role as Dr. Derek Shepherd on the television show “Grey’s Anatomy.” McDreamy fans everywhere can trace his acting roots back to early performances like Brighton Beach Memoirs.

Anyone remember going to this show? Anyone wish they were around to see McDreamy on the Lincoln Center stage when he was just 19 years old?

New museum update: Two-fer

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

We’ve got a double dip for you on this month’s installment of “New Museum Update.” First, we recently launched a whole batch of new website pages that cover some of the highlights of the new museum, including the digital dome, new classroom spaces, and the expanded Archive, among others. Check out these pages to see building schematics, exhibit designs, and architect’s renderings. These are just the beginning — we’ll have more and more to show you as we continue to create this amazing new museum.

To see the new pages, start with “About the New Museum” and then explore the buttons you’ll find on the right. If you have any comments or questions, please let us know!

Second, you may have seen on our Facebook or Flickr pages photos from our now-official construction site. On Monday June 7th the construction fence went up around the site, and since then the construction trailer has been moved in and hooked up with phones lines and electricity. Just between you and me, that construction trailer is bigger than my house! It’s niiiiice. Once everything is in place, they’ll start working on prepping the site for actual construction to begin — soon! See more photos on Flickr.

Construction trailer at the new museum site, June 10, 2010

Happy Bloomsday!

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Diagram of a Quark

As my fellow literary nerds out there might already know, today is Bloomsday. June 16th is the day that all the events in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses take place, and Bloomsday, named after Ulysses’ main character Leopold Bloom, is a day of celebrating all things Joyce. Common celebrations include readings, enactments, and usually a lot of drinking. Some ambitious participants even attend complete readings of Ulysses, which can take upwards of 36 hours to finish!

Why are we at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center happy it’s Bloomsday? Well, most people don’t know this, but James Joyce invented the word “quark.” Quark first appeared in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, in the sentence

Three quarks for Muster Mark

Sure he has not got much of a bark

And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.

Joyce wasn’t referring to the elementary particles that are the building blocks of the universe – those hasn’t been discovered yet. But when Murray Gell-Mann proposed the model of a quark in 1964, and wanted to name it after the sound a duck makes, he was going to use the spelling “kwork” until he came across Joyce’s alternative. Here’s Gell-Mann’s telling of the naming:

“In 1963, when I assigned the name ‘quark’ to the fundamental constituents of the nucleon, I had the sound first, without the spelling, which could have been ‘kwork.’ Then, in one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, I came across the word ‘quark’ in the phrase ‘Three quarks for Muster Mark.’ Since ‘quark’ (meaning, for one thing, the cry of the gull) was clearly intended to rhyme with ‘Mark,’ as well as ‘bark’ and other such words, I had to find an excuse to pronounce it as ‘kwork.’ But the book represents the dream of a publican named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Words in the text are typically drawn from several sources at once, like the ‘portmanteau’ words in Through the Looking-Glass. From time to time, phrases occur in the book that are partially determined by calls for drinks at the bar. I argued, therefore, that perhaps one of the multiple sources of the cry ‘Three quarks for Muster Mark’ might be ’Three quarts for Mister Mark,’ in which case the pronunciation ‘kwork’ would not be totally unjustified. In any case, the number three fitted perfectly the way quarks occur in nature.”

I do love it when literature and science fit together. Happy Bloomsday to all – did anyone go out and celebrate?


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