Archive for the 'Discovery Docket' Category

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 😉


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

On the Discovery Docket: A Darwinian Theory of Beauty

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

With the season of gift giving upon us, I find myself surrounded by advertisements for “beautiful” things. A diamond necklace, a new car, a flat screen television: all these objects ultimately end up being called “beautiful.” This somewhat cavalier use of the term “beauty” over such a broad spectrum of objects leads me to wonder about the real meaning of the word. What is beautiful, and how do we know?

Dennis Dutton, a professor of Philosophy at the University of Cantebury in New Zealand and the editor of Arts & Letters Daily, has an idea for an answer. What is beauty? Dutton argues that it’s a core part of our human nature – one with deep evolutionary origins that began before we even had the ability to speak.

In his fascinating and wonderfully illustrated Ted Talk, “A Darwinian Theory of Beauty,” Dutton explores the idea of a universal understanding of beauty. According to Dutton, it is possible to discover an evolutionary history of our artistic and aesthetic tastes, and to see how what we presently call beautiful is the result of millennia of influence from the environments our ancestors lived in and the situations they encountered.

My favorite part of Dutton’s talk is his discussion of Acheulian hand axes. Teardrop-shaped stone tools made 1.4 million years ago and found throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, Dutton argues that these are tools that became the first known works of art, functioning as sexually selective fitness signals of skill and intelligence the way a male peacock displays his feathers.

The next time you come to the museum, be sure to stop by our exhibit on the Lindenmeier Archaeolgical Site and look at the display of artifacts. It’s easy to look at the artifacts as stone tools: a projectile point, a knife, a scraper. It’s much more awe inspiring, however, to also look at the artifacts as works of art and things of beauty. You’ll be surprised just how much your perspective changes.

So, is anyone planning on giving a hand axe to someone special this year?

Read a transcript of Dutton’s talk here.

On the Discovery Docket: A Short History of Nearly Everything

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

You’re all a bunch of lovely smarty pants, so I assume most of you have already read Bill Bryson’s fantastic book A Short History of Nearly Everything. But have you read the Special Illustrated Edition?

Just when you thought that a book about naming Pluto, the Akesian laughing gas society, political cartoons, dinosaur bones and everything else you could possibly imagine couldn’t get any better, they added pictures!

And if you need a version of this book for a younger audience, try Bryson’s A Really Short History of Nearly Everything.

Introducing: On the Discovery Docket

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Amongst the staff and volunteers at the museum, our passions for all things history and science doesn’t stop when we leave work for the day. Awesome nerds that we are, we’re forever telling each other about new books and magazine articles we’ve read, radio programs we’ve listened to, and documentaries we’ve watched.

Since it’s not fair for us to keep all this good stuff to ourselves, we want to include you in these conversations. So we’re launching a new feature on the blog: On the Discovery Docket. On the Discovery Docket is our place to connect you to resources beyond the museum that will feed both your mind and your imagination.

What can you expect to find? Well, in the upcoming posts, be on the lookout for recommendations on

  • an exciting, interesting and funny history of the periodic table (who would have thought that gallium could cause so many giggles?)
  • a selection of podcasts sure to spark new conversations
  • a short documentary on perspective that will have you double-checking to make sure you’re not actually suspended from the ceiling.

Curious to know more? You’ll just have to come back!

And, as always, we want your input for more history and science resources. Know of a book that we just have to read? What about a movie or television show? Recommend them!

And since we don’t want to make you wait too long for the first official On the Discovery Docket post, here’s a short film to get you started.

Did you ever wonder how they inspect high-voltage cables? Watch a professional high voltage cable inspector and learn about Michael Faraday, hot suits, and how a half a million volts of electricity can pass over a man’s body safely. Absolutely beautiful.

March 2023

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