Archive for August, 2010

A visit with Dr. Temple Grandin

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Dr. Temple Grandin (r) talks with Annette Geiselman (l) and Jean Lamm at the Museum

(See more pictures of Dr. Grandin’s visit on Flickr …)

Think back to when you were a kid – what kinds of things fascinated you? Sparked your curiosity? Turned you on to exploring your world? Yes, it was a long time ago, but remembering my childhood fascinations with the space program, dinosaurs, and the ancient past puts a smile on my face. I can still feel the feelings of wonder and excitement.

Getting kids turned on to exploring and understanding their world – that’s one of our core passions here at the Museum. Last week we were honored by a visit from Dr. Temple Grandin, author, animal behavior pioneer, and autism advocate, who inspired us with her own experiences as a scientist and some great advice on engaging kids.

The key, according to Dr. Grandin, is to get kids “turned on” when they’re young. “If you don’t expose kids to interesting things, they’re not going to get interested in interesting things, “ she said. “You’ve got to get them out and take them to places.”

When we shared with Dr. Grandin our plans and ideas for the new museum, she was enthusiastic. “I think it’s just wonderful that you’re building this museum,” she told us. “We have got to get school kids into the museum. The little kids, we’ve got to get them in there, because I can remember visits to the science museum when I was a kid, and, you know, it made a big impression on me.”

We were curious to hear her thoughts on our approach in the new museum, where we will be taking scientific phenomena and hands-on experiences and putting them in a cultural context – bringing in the history side of things and showing science in action. “That makes total sense,” she told us. “That’s a really good point. You’re telling me you’re going to study how gears work. I’ve seen those exhibits where they show you how gears work, but then what do you use gears for? Well, your bicycle is a good example, so why are gears important? – bicycles have them, you’ve got them in the car, too. We need to show how it works in the real world.”

Dr. Grandin is also a champion of hands-on learning. “What we’ve got to do to get kids enthusiastic about science is that we’ve got to expose them to hands-on science when they’re little kids,” she said. “You know there are programs where, even in elementary school, kids can go out and collect water samples and then they can actually be used to detect pollution levels. That’s real science. Third and fourth graders can collect water samples. We need to make science relevant. When I was a child, science is what enables you to go to the moon. I can remember when Sputnik flew overhead and everyone was all revved up about, we’ve got to really learn science because we have to get to the moon before Russia gets to the moon! It motivated the whole country.”

Dr. Grandin’s already busy life – in addition to teaching at Colorado State University, she travels extensively as an animal welfare consultant and a speaker at autism conferences – has become even more hectic since the HBO movie “Temple Grandin” came out (the movie recently was honored with seven Emmy Awards). While acknowledging the many demands on her time, Dr. Grandin said that “One thing I have tried to do is answer all the letters, especially when little kids write in to me. Make sure I answer all of those and tell them to study hard and achieve your dreams.”


In the Days of the “High-Morning Moon”

by Jeff Bowell, guest blogger

This time of year, weather permitting, you’re in for a treat: the morning moon. You can spot the moon by looking up high in the west when you go outside in the mornings. The late (past-full) moons of late summer and early autumn follow a track across the sky that makes them easy to spot throughout the morning, and often well into the afternoon.  On September 1st, the last quarter moon will be passing in front of Taurus, a part of the Zodiac that is very high in the Northern Hemisphere, and that moon will be just about directly overhead right around the time you start your breakfast…see for yourself!


The term “last quarter moon” can be confusing. It’s not that you’re seeing only 1/4 of the moon, but rather that you’re seeing the moon in the last quarter of its cycle. What you will see is a half moon with a curve towards the east/left. As long as the weather cooperates, you’ll be able to see this moon start to swing down to the northwest after lunch.

In astronomy, there’s the idea that “Everything is its own opposite.” This idea isn’t as complicated as it may first seem. For example, when you see a full moon, it’s in the part of the sky where the sun will be six months and twelve hours later. A summertime full moon is pretty low, regardless of what hemisphere you live in, and it marks the spot where the sun was back six months (and twelve hours) ago in winter. And, in comparison, a full moon in winter is in the part of the sky where the sun was six months (and twelve hours) ago.

It’s the same with the first-quarter and last-quarter moons. For example, the last-quarter moon that you see overhead on the morning of September 1st here in the Northern Hemisphere is in just about the same part of the sky that the first-quarter moon will be in six months and twelve hours time: half a year and half a day away.

But wait, there’s more. The last-quarter moon you see on September 1st just before dawn is in the same part of the sky where the full moon will be around midnight three months later, where the first-quarter moon will be around sunset six months later, and where the sun will be around noon nine months later (so you won’t see the moon at all then). As Shakespeare said, “So now ’tis clear, as is the summer sun.” – Henry V

Getting back to high morning moons, there was a time years ago when I was looking at a late-morning moon of September through my telescope.  A neighbor spotted me and asked what I was doing.  She was shocked that the moon would be “out” in the daytime, and a little bit concerned as well:

HER:  “Uhh…is everything all right?”

ME (With quiet assurance): “We’re keeping an eye on it…”

Actually, daytime moons – early rising and late setting moons – can be spotted lots of times during the year, if you know where to look and when.  Your local newspaper should give moonrise and moonset times for your region.  For me, daytime moons, particularly “High-Morning Moons” always have been favorites, and I hope you enjoy them too!

As always, happy seeing!

Science Wednesday: Return of the Blob

by Toby J. Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

One of the Museum’s popular offerings at this last weekend’s New West Fest featured a non-Newtonian fluid (in the form of cornstarch dissolved in water) and an old subwoofer. While this may seem like an unlikely combination, the two work rather well together in a wacky mix of kitchen chemistry and the science of sound.

First off, this particular non-Newtonian fluid acts like a solid when pressure is applied to it; you can even roll it into a ball as long as you keep the pressure up. Think of the particles of corn starch as people on a crowded sidewalk – if you move slowly through the crowd you may be able to flow between the people and move fluidly. On the other hand, if you simply try to run straight through the crowd you will quickly meet with resistance. The same holds true when dealing with the cornstarch and water mixture, you can easily push your finger tip into it with little resistance; however, if you tried to slap your whole hand down on the surface you would discover that it acts more like a solid than a liquid. This is due to the sudden pressure that your hand applies to the substance.

Sound waves can also produce pressure, especially in the lower bass registers, with some interesting effects on our non-Newtonian fluid. Check out the video for an example of what I’m talking about.

History Mystery Registration- Last Call!

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

2009's Not-Quite-Champions "Deaf Leopards" Debating a Clue

For you last-minute slackers (sweet and well-meaning though you may be), Thursday (August 26th)* is the deadline to register your team for this Friday’s History Mystery Challenge.

Come and compete in a 90-minute race of a scavenger hunt throughout Old Town. Who will solve the most clues? Who will be sure to enjoy the yummy hors d’oeuvres and beverages? Who will walk away with our oh-so-cheesy door prizes?

All the registration information for The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center’s 2010 History Mystery Challenge can be found here. See you on Friday!

For coverage of last year’s Challenge, read on here and here.

*The original deadline was Wednesday, August 25th. But we love you so much, we’re giving you an extra day.

From the Archive: Double the Fun: Cherry Pie for Two!

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

A recent museum staff recent pie baking competition got me thinking about pie contests from the past.  In the archive, we have a series of newspaper articles, pamphlets, and recipes for local and national cherry pie baking competitions from the 1950s.  Twins Karen and Sharen Smith of Loveland were involved in the local competitions and featured in multiple newspaper articles.  Their mother, Helen Smith, arranged the local and state contests and served as the secretary of the Loveland Canning Corporation.  Their grandfather, J.W. Berry, was the director of the National Red Cherry Institute which sponsored the annual national Cherry Pie contest in Chicago.  It seems that cherry pie baking was in their genes! Here are Karen and Sharen at age six at the state contest held in Loveland.

At age nine, Karen and Sharen were photographed in the newspaper again. As you can see, they are still chomping on cherry pie.

The twins were finally able to compete in the state contest at age seventeen.  They had lots of preparation and practice prior to the contest. Not only did they spend childhood years attending and acting as unofficial taste testers at the contest, they also spent a whole summer baking and selling pies.  The sisters were stationed just west of Loveland on Highway 34 and sold about thirty cherry pies a day. After baking a total of 2,250 pies in one summer, they should have perfected their cherry pie baking techniques.  This newspaper photograph shows the twins again, but they are no longer eating pie; instead they are showing off their scrumptious creation prior to the competition.

Expanding the Triceratops Family Tree

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Meet Triceratops, a dinosaur with three horns and a short frill on its head.

Triceratops Skeleton

Meet Torosaurus, a dinosaur with a large, two-holed frill on its head.

Torosaurus Skeleton

They look like different species, don’t they (especially with the differences in their frills)? Well, it turns out, they might not be…

Since the late 1800s, paleontologists thought Triceratops and Torosaurus were two separate species. But now, some paleontologists think that Torosaurus is just an old Triceratops.

After studying dinosaur skulls for years, paleontologists John Scannella and Jack Horner at Montana State University noticed something strange: Triceratops skulls were always from younger individuals, and Torosaurus skulls were always from older ones. The fossil record is spotty, but probably not so spotty that no individuals of a specific age group would ever appear to be preserved. Unless, of course, the species’ appearance changes so dramatically as it grows that a juvenile and an adult of the same species look like two different species.

This isn’t a new idea in science; in fact, it happens a lot. Think about caterpillars and butterflies, tadpoles and bullfrogs. Because we’re able to observe these animals developing, the extreme physiological changes (though still surprising and fascinating) make sense. Dinosaurs and other prehistoric organisms can only be observed through the fossil record, which makes understanding physical changes from birth to death much more difficult.

Scannella and Horner examined Triceratops and Torosaurus skulls from museums around the world, and found evidence that Torosaurus may be Triceratops at later growth stages, rather than a separate species. The researchers measured skull length, width and thickness, and also examined the microstructure, surface textures and shape changes of the frills. These analyses revealed that the Triceratops and Torosaurus specimens came from the same species and that tissues of Torosaurus were heavily remodeled compared to Triceratops, which is what happens as bones continue to grow.

Left: Younger Triceratops; Right: Older "Torosaurus"

So what’s going to happen to Triceratops and Torosaurus now? Well, if continued research provides sufficient evidence to convince the scientific community that Triceratops and Torosaurus are one and the same, the name Triceratops, which was coined before Torosaurus, will be applied. Thank goodness; I’m still coming to terms with the demotion of Brontosaurus!

Trails Thursday: Museo de las Tres Colonias

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Sugar beet workers, circa 1926. Photo from the Fort Collins Local History Archive

It’s almost sugar beet harvesting time, and if you’re not a long-time resident of Fort Collins (and I mean really long!) or a local history buff, you may have no idea how big a beet can be in the life of a town. Curious? Explore the Museo de las Tres Colonias, one of the stops on the Trails of Northern Colorado cultural heritage driving tour.

The sugar beet is at the heart of a story that helped bring two major ethno-cultural groups to Fort Collins: Germans from Russia (also sometimes known as the Volga Germans), and Hispanics. Both groups were brought here in the early decades of the 20th century to work in the sugar beet fields and processing plants owned by the Great Western Sugar Company, and both groups — first the Germans from Russia and then the Hispanics — lived in the small neighborhoods near the Great Western Plant that we know today as Andersonville, Alta Vista, and Buckingham: the tres colonias.

The Hispanic heritage and stories of these neighborhoods, and the part they played in the growth of Fort Collins, is preserved at the Museo de las Tres Colonias. The Museo is open on the 3rd Saturday of each month, from 12:30 to 3:00, and is located at 425 10th St.

Friday the 13th

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Well, what do you know? Another Friday the 13th. We had three Friday the 13ths last year but, sadly, the only one for 2010 is today.  So if you suffer from a wee touch of Triskaidekaphobia, be sure to stay away from black cats sitting under ladders next to broken mirrors, and take a trip back through our blog’s archives to learn a little more about the history of this much-noted day.

Update: Thanks to those of you (both in-museum and online) who reminded us that it’s also National Left-Handers’ Day. Here’s wishing our (at least) two southpaw staff members and the rest of you lefties out there a great day, and hoping that none of you have Sinistrophobia, the fear of left-handedness or things on the left side.


by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

While at the movies this weekend, I saw a preview for the upcoming movie version of The Smurfs. Since the Smurfs are made up characters, the likelihood of seeing one in Central Park (the premise of the movie) is pretty slim. However, there is always a chance you may meet someone with Argyria, also known as Smurf Syndrome.

US Senate Candidate Stan Jones

Argyria, a medical condition that can result in a person’s skin turning blue, is caused by overexposure to chemical forms of the element Silver (Ag). Prolonged ingestion and absorption of high levels of silver can lead to this condition, and because silver accumulates in the body, any resulting blue coloration is permanent.

So why would people ingest silver? The most common intentional reasons are because of silver’s known toxic effects on bacteria, viruses, fungi and algae. As far back as 300 B.C., Greeks and Romans knew about the benefits of using silver. Hippocates, the “father of medicine” wrote about the element’s healing properties, and Roman soldiers who ate their food off of silver plates found they were generally healthier and lived longer than those companions who did not. Settlers heading west across America in the late 1800s and early 190ss would put silver dollars in their milk pitchers to keep the milk from spoiling during the long treks between towns.

Silver’s antimicrobial properties come from the ionized form, Ag+ (ionization is the process of converting an atom or molecule into an ion by adding or removing charged particles, like electrons). The silver ion forms strong molecular bonds with substances in the human body that bacteria use for respiration, including sulfur, nitrogen and oxygen. When Ag+ bonds with these molecules, bacteria are unable to use them and eventually die.

The development of antibiotics almost wholly replaced using silver to treat infections because antibiotics were easier to regulate in dosage and they did not come with the risky side effects of using silver, including turning blue. Argyria turns your skin the blue because the accumulated silver particles trapped under your skin darken when they’re exposed to light, the same way silver is used to develop photographs.

There are still people who self-medicate with silver today, the most common being ingesting collodial silver, a suspension of silver particles in water. However, the FDA and the EPA do not recommend self-medicating with silver, as there are potential health risks and it’s far too easy to overdose and end up looking like a perfect extra for The Smurfs.

Perseid Meteor Shower

by Jeff Bowell, guest blogger

Since meteor showers are a favorite of sky watchers worldwide, viewers in North America are in for a treat – weather permitting!- around August 10 – 12th. The annual Perseid (“Purr-see-yid”) Meteor Shower will occur as the earth passes through the remnants of Comet Swift-Tuttle.

Perseid fireball meteor

The Comet Swift-Tuttle

The Perseid meteors got their name because the point in the sky they appear to come from, also known as the radiant, lies within the constellation Perseus. The meteors are the debris in the tail of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which got its name from the two American astronomers who independently (as often happens with comets) discovered it in the 1860s. Swift-Tuttle was later “rediscovered” (as also often happens with comets) in 1992. Historians have traced Swift-Tuttle’s orbit around the sun back nearly 2,000 years, and it’s believed that the comet was observed in 188 A.D. and possibly as early as 69 B.C. Because Swift-Tuttle has a very long orbit, the comet won’t pass close to Earth again soon. However, the pass that will happen in 2126 is predicted to be spectacular, so be sure to have your great-grandchildren mark their calendars!

Swift-Tuttle Path

Viewing the Perseid Meteor Shower

Certain things can interfere with the viewing of meteor showers. Two of the big ones are moonlight and light pollution. The moonlight won’t be an issue during this year’s Perseids; the moon will be new on August 10th and will set soon after sunset for the days of the meteors. However, there’s not much you can do about light pollution except finding a site with suitably “dark skies;” that is, an area far (or as far as possible) from cities, industrial plants, airports, etc.

If you live near Fort Collins, two of the city’s Natural Areas will be hosting meteor shower-watching programs: from 7:45 pm to 11:00 pm on Thursday, August 12th at Bobcat Ridge Natural Area and from 7:45 pm to 11:00 pm on Friday, August 13th at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. Visit the Natural Area’s website for more details and registration information.

Once you’ve got a dark skies site already picked out, the next step is determining where to look. Locating Perseus isn’t difficult. The constellation isn’t the brightest in our night sky, but it’s located just “below” a bright and distinctive constellation, Cassiopeia (“Cass-ee-O-pea-yah,” or “Cass-ee-o-PAY-yuh,” your choice).


Here’s how you find Cassiopeia:

  • First, locate when and where the sun sets from your viewing location; your local newspaper will have sunset information.
  • Then, stand with the sunset on your left shoulder. The sun sets in the northwest at this time of year. If northwest is on your left shoulder, then you’re facing northeast.
  • Establish some landmarks – a tree, etc. – to remind you which way northeast is.
  • Once it gets sufficiently dark (about an hour after sunset), go outside and face northeast.  Cassiopeia will be low in the northeast and rising.  Along with the Big Dipper and Orion, Cassiopeia is one of the most easily recognized constellations in the northern hemisphere, for at this time of year it resembles a raggedly-drawn letter “W.”  Perseus is just “below” Cassiopeia.  Once Cassiopeia has risen so that it’s well over the trees and rooftops, look below it so see a small magician’s-hat shape of stars.  That’s the head of Perseus, and the rest of the constellation will follow!

Now comes the hard part – waiting.  You won’t need a telescope or binoculars to see the meteors, but you will need some patience. To watch the meteor shower, you’ll need:

  • A comfortable chair. Preferably one with a place to rest your head.
  • Bug spray.  This won’t be like viewing the Leonid meteor shower in November; the mosquitoes still will be out unless it gets cold, in which case having some sweatshirts or jackets is a good idea.
  • Patience.  You should sit and face the shower’s radiant, the place in the sky where the meteors appear to come from. Facing Cassiopeia is close enough. And then you have to wait: maybe a long time, maybe not. Keep your eyes relaxed – you never know when or where you might see a meteor.

What You’ll Be Seeing

While still in space, the debris from Swift-Tuttle are called meteoroids. These meteoroids are fast, entering the Earth’s atmosphere (at which point we start calling them meteors) at 70 kilometers/second (slightly faster than 45 miles/second). Most of the meteors are the size of a grain of sand, but some can be as big as a marble. Once in the Earth’s atmosphere, the meteors heat up, reaching more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 degrees Celsius). Most meteors vaporize in the extreme heat, creating what we call shooting stars. Any meteors that do reach the Earth’s surface before being completely burnt up are called meteorites.

While you’re meteor-spotting, treat yourself to some other sights of the night sky.  You might have to refer to a constellation chart for these, so it would be wise to do your reviewing before you leave the house.

  • Using your NW-NE reference, face halfway between those directions and you’ll be facing north.  The “Big Dipper,” everybody’s favorite group of stars in the northern hemisphere, will be high in the NW (your upper left) and swinging down towards the horizon.
  • Our “Home” galaxy, the “Milky Way,” will be passing immediately overhead.  If you’ve never seen the Milky Way – and may people haven’t – look for a broad, hazy-looking band, almost looking like a band of faint, thin clouds.  If you follow the band down to the south, you’ll be looking directly at the heart and center of the galaxy.
  • Just above the southern horizon, look for a single, bright reddish-orange star.  This will be Antares (“An-TAHR-ayz”), the “Rival of Mars” (which is what Antares means), in the heart of the constellation Scorpio.
  • If you’re up late enough, the planet Jupiter will be rising in the southeast.  Jupiter will appear a creamy white color, and if you’ve got a small telescope or binoculars with you, you might be able to see some of Jupiter’s larger moons, looking like tiny stars on either side of the planet.

Weather and other conditions permitting, here’s wishing you “Good seeing!”

August 2010

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