Archive for January, 2011

Friday Quick Links

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Arc Attack


An interview about the new Native Arts exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. In this exhibit, the focus shifts away from an encyclopedic representation of Native art to a look at the career of one artist.

A 19th century house in France that was sealed up for 100 years has now been opened as a museum.

John Scapes spent thirty years creating a replica of a 1895 Chicago “Main Street” in his basement.

A little jelly called the “Pink Meanie” is so different from other jellies that scientists have created a whole new Family – Drymonematidae – to classify it.

Paleontologists have found the first “one-fingered” dinosaur.

If you really want to, research now shows you can go up to 15 months without washing your jeans and not have any serious health risks. If you really want to…

The Artful Amoeba compares the British and American versions of Life, and I have to say I agree with her conclusions.

Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about the astronomy inaccuracies in Titanic, and how he got James Cameron to re-edit the night sky.

The performance group Arc Attack performs the Dr. Who theme using two giant Tesla coils.

Film editor and sound engineer Walter Murch explains, using physics, biology and evolution(!), why 3-D movies make our brains work too hard.

Colorado State University is developing video cameras that work like the human brain.


On the Discovery Docket: Vi Hart, Mathemusician

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Vi Hart


Vi Hart is one cool lady. And more than just being cool herself, she has the oh-so-special ability of making math cool. That’s right, math. Using simple visuals that include doodles, balloons, food, and a seemingly never-ending supply of Sharpie Markers, Vi takes math and abstract mathematical concepts and makes math make sense.

Technically, Vi Hart calls herself a mathemusician, because she’s also a composer. But for today, we’re going to focus on her mad math skills.

First, her Doodling in Math Class series. For example, want to know how to always doodle a perfect snake? Math!

And then there’s The Story of Wind and Mr. Ug, a compelling saga (that took two months to make!) of life on a Möbius strip.

Next, balloons! Specifically, Mathematical Balloon Twisting. Vi’s website gives step-by-step instructions on how to make octahedrons, hyperbolic planes, a tangle of six squares, and even Serpinski’s tetrahedron.

And finally, just because it’s so fun, mathematical ways to eat candy buttons.

Still want more Vi Hart? Check our her instructions for how to cut your food mathematically, her fascinating mathematical Twelve Days of Christmas, and much more on her website.

P.S. While many of Vi’s videos suggest doodling as a way to pass the time in boring math classes, the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center does not support ignoring your teachers. But, if you must, just try not to get caught 😉

Science Wednesday: Science – Sesame Street Style

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Two of my favorite posts from last month were The Success of the Scientific Method and You’re Never too Young to be a Scientist. Then I discovered this Sesame Street video, which is the perfect complement to both those stories. In the video, Cookie Monster and his friend Emma show you how to design an experiment testing whether objects float or sink in water, and then invite you to conduct the experiment along with them.

Major kudos to Sesame Street for using the terminology of the scientific method (it’s really cute to hear Cookie Monster talk about hypotheses).

Be sure to share this video with any budding scientists in your life and, when you’re done, why not design an experiment of your own?

Friday Quick Links

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Have you read the book Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania and Other States That Never Made It? It’s a great book, and is now even better because it’s a YouTube channel all about the almost-history of Lost Dakota, Deseret, Lincoln and more.

An inventor has designed a new amusement park ride called “Rings of Saturn.” I get queasy just watching the model!

Curious about what would Celtic beer have tasted like 2,550 years ago? Archaeobotanist Hans-Peter Stika of the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart has found evidence of how it was made.

Scientists have figured out how to impose mind-control on nematodes using lasers.

Looking for food in Siberia? 19th century indigenous nomads raided rodent caches for stores of seeds, nuts, roots and bulbs (and the occasional rodent).

Want to study physics through the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics? Well you can, and for free!

Amoebas may be the world’s smallest farmers (note: these amoebas are commonly known as slime molds, making slime molds good at both farming and urban planning).

Evidence of the oldest domesticated dogs in North America has been found…in ancient human poop.

From the Collection: Military Currency: It’s a Small World After All

by Ashely Houston, Museum Coordinator

As the months pass by and we get closer to the opening of the new museum, the collections staff has been hard at work behind-the-scenes making preparations for the big move. It has been an exciting opportunity for the collections department because we have been able to take the time to do a thorough examination of the objects in our collection. These objects, stored carefully on shelves and in cabinets, have so much history behind them. Each and every one of them is getting their chance to jump out at us and demand our attention. Most recently, some paper currency caught our eyes.

The museum has a small collection of bills from around the world. What struck me as I was going through these was the blending of cultures represented on different bills. Take this one for example: “The Japanese Government- One Peso.”

If it’s a Japanese bill, why is it written in English? And why is it a Peso instead of Yen or another form of Japanese currency?

Other bills led to similar questions. “Italy 1 Lira?” Why isn’t it in Italian?

A little research revealed that the answer has to do with war. During World War II, an occupying military force would often print and circulate their own money in the area they were controlling. This money could be used alongside the occupied-country’s existing currency. Doing this allowed the military to pay their troops in currency they could use locally, pay the occupied territory for supplies and other services, and ultimately  manipulate the economy. In the case of the Japanese Government Pesos, this money was issued by Japan and used in the Philippines. Due to hyperinflation in the Philippines, though, the money was nearly worthless and was deemed “Mickey Mouse” money.

It might seem a little strange to have money that was issued by one country and used in another to end up in our locally-focused museum. However, the great thing about this currency is that it represents how war reaches people around the world, including those who lived right here in Fort Collins and brought it back after serving oversees.

On the Discovery Docket: Proteus

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

On the Discovery Docket is the blog’s on-going series of book, film, television and experience recommendations.

Haeckel Illustration of a Radiolaria

Many of us grew up with the idea of space as “the final frontier.” But 200 years ago, while there were plenty of people imaging the possibilities of the heavens, there was a much closer, and just as mysterious, frontier here on Earth: the oceans.

The oceans were places where the imagination still reigned and mermaids and kraken were still possible. And as the technology of the microscope improved in the 19th century, the mysteries of the water compounded again. Not only were there marine creatures that were unknown because they hadn’t been seen before, there were creatures that were unknown because they couldn’t be seen before.

Proteus, the 2004 documentary by David Lebrun, tells the history of how 19th century naturalists discovered and began to explore that unseen ocean world.

Much of the story focuses on Ernst Haeckel, a German biologist, naturalist, doctor, philosopher and artist. Haeckel is famous for his extensive, meticulous and amazingly beautiful drawings of microscopic marine life, and the darlings of his work radiolaria. Radiolaria are single-celled marine organisms with incredibly complex mineral exoskeletons and, in his lifetime, Haeckel discovered, named and classified almost 4,000 species.

In Proteus, Haeckel’s amazingly intricate and mesmerizing illustrations are combined with the images of other nineteenth century painters, photographers and scientific researchers to create a film that is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, both in the stunning animation and the remarkable story of life it tells.

They are like an alphabet of possibilities, as if the ancient sea were dreaming in its depths all the future permutations of organic and invented form. From backbones to bridges, and from the earth to the stars – Proteus

Temple Grandin: The World Needs All Kinds of Minds

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

If you watched the 2011 Golden Globes last Sunday, you may have spotted Dr. Temple Grandin in the audience. The HBO movie about her life, Temple Grandin, was up for more awards (and Claire Danes won for her portrayal of Dr. Grandin) after walking away with seven Emmy’s last year.

In a year in which so many people were exposed to Dr. Grandin’s work as an animal scientist, author and autism activist, we consider ourselves very lucky to have such a fantastic (and famous!) resource and supporter of the new museum right here in Fort Collins.

Here’s Dr. Grandin’s inspiring 2010 Ted Talk on why the worlds needs all sorts of thinkers.


From the Archive: Looking at the Past Through…Yellow-Colored Glasses?

by Lesley Drayton, Curator, Local History Archive

Have you ever opened an old family album only to find that the vibrant hues from your color photos have turned a sickly yellow and orange? Well, you’re not alone. Many historic color photographs, especially those from the early days of snapshot photography when color film was first widely available for personal use, have faded due to unstable color dyes, photo papers, and/or processing techniques. Exposure to years of light if the photos have been on display often exacerbates discoloration and fading of color pictures.

While I was looking through some historic photos of Loveland last week, I came across a group of lemon-yellow photographs. Here are two examples:

Loveland High School
Lake in Loveland

The backs of the photos indicated that they were processed in 1951 on Kodacolor film. I decided to do a little research on Kodacolor using my trusty copy of The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs by Henry Wilhelm.

Wilhelm has no affection for Kodacolor film. In a section of the book entitled “The Totally Lost Kodacolor Era of 1942-1953” he states that he “does not know of a single Kodacolor print taken from 1943 until 1953…that survives today in reasonable condition; all have faded and developed an ugly, overall orange or yellow stain regardless of whether they were exposed to light on display or kept in the dark in albums…These hundreds of millions – or perhaps billions – of Kodacolor prints and negatives represent the first great era of color photography to be totally lost.”

Wilhelm cites unstable magenta dye-forming color couplers that remained in the prints after processing as the chief culprit in the yellowing effect. Conversely, most images made from the famous Kodachrome film seemed to have fared far better than their Kodacolor counterparts.

Do you have any Kodacolor prints in your family albums? How about Kodachrome slides? How have they held up over time?

Google’s Science Fair

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

This April, the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center will have the fun and the honor of coordinating and judging Poudre School District Elementary School Science Fair (read about last year’s here and here). While the event is always interesting, exciting, and I end the day smarter than I began it, sometimes I feel a bit of melancholy, too. None of the schools I went to ever had science fairs, and I often think about all the light bulbs I could have lit using a potato and wonder what might have been.

As a way to connect more students to the process of experiment development, execution, and an audience to see what they’ve done, Google has created the first global, online science competition in which students ages 13-18 anywhere in the world can compete. The deadline to register and submit your project is April 4, 2011.

For complete details, visit the Google Science Fair homepage.

Friday Quick Links

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

The hidden irridescence of a fly's wing

The world has known many vampires. From Dracula to Twilight to the Count on Sesame Street, we’re no stranger to people with fangs. But what about vampire tadpoles? Rhacophorus vampyrus, a new species of flying frog discovered in Vietnam, has tadpoles that have a pair of hard black hooks that look a lot like fangs protruding from the undersides of their mouths.

Have you ever tried to walk in a straight line while blindfolded? Give it a try, and you may be surprised to see where you end up. Here’s a hint, it involves circles.

Do you know the old saying about monkeys, typewriters and Shakespeare? Replace “monkeys” with “mosquitofish” and “Shakespeare” with “counting,” and you have the results of a new study that shows that fish are as smart as college students when it comes to numerical skills.

For years entomologists thought that the iridescent quality of wasp and fly wings was random – changing colors like you see in a soap bubble. But a recent study has shows that the color patterns in fly and wasp wings are deliberate, just like the patterns seen on butterflies and moths.

NASA is auctioning off over 400 “space artifacts,” including a telegram from Werner Von Braun, a Strawberry Cereal Cube, and a quarter that flew on Apollo 13.

Speaking of NASA, one fan of the space program, frustrated at NASA’s recent marketing plans, has created a new video for the organization using Carl Sagan’s narration from Pale Blue Dot.

Plants generating energy from sunlight is nothing new, but insects? The Oriental hornet is able to produce electricity using built-in “solar cells” in its body.

In more glowing news, a parasitic nematode causes its caterpillar host to turn red and glow.

The top-ten engineering designs inspired by insects.

Explore the largest digital color image of the sky.

January 2011

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 48 other subscribers

Flickr Photos