Cave painting by Charles R. Knight: Evidently fossil artwork goes way back.
Cave painting by Charles R. Knight: Evidently fossil artwork goes way back.Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
I didn't enter anything this year but despite the 16 day government shutdown the 4th annual National Fossil Day Art & Photography Contest had plenty of submissions from other folks around the country. This year's theme was "Your nomination for a National Fossil". I'm not sure everyone's artwork expressed that but there are many fine pieces.

The winning entries can be viewed here.

This week Time has an amazing feature showing time lapse satellite images taken from space document land-use changes over 30 or 40 years at significant locations around the world. Watch a lake practically dry up in Asia. See the retreat of the Columbia Glacier in Alaska. View the sprawl of Las Vegas across the Nevada desert. And there's much, much more including an option to select a spot on Earth you especially care about. Cool stuff.

Oct
24
2013

Ever since I was a kid I've loved playing with magnets. They're just so amazing! Remember those nifty, magnetic Scottie Dogs you could buy? Often one was black and the other was white but sometimes they were the same color. You could set them up on the table and push one away with the other until the loose one flipped around and the two joined together with a dull snap. Or how about using a magnet underneath the table to move a paperclip around the tabletop? That was always fun. I still like playing with magnets. When I worked in the Dino and Fossils gallery here at the museum, I carried a magnet with me and would demonstrate the magnetic properties of iron ore, especially the very magnetic mineral, magnetite.

I've been watching some videos lately about magnets and magnetism, and an oddball magnetic liquid called ferrofluid, which you can make in your kitchen. Anyway, I've gathered some videos here to share with our Buzz audience. The first (above) is about the strongest magnet in the world! The next is a levitation demonstration using neodymium magnets, followed by a couple videos utilizing ferrofluid, and ending with instructions on how to make your own at home.

Oct
23
2013

With the announcement of the Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants of Gondwana exhibit comming to the Science Museum of Minnesota, I was thinking back to all the questions I have had regarding dinosaurs. Tyrannosaurus rex: the Tyrant Lizard King on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta.
Tyrannosaurus rex: the Tyrant Lizard King on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Questions like: "Who gets to name Dinosaurs?" "What is this dinosaur named after?" and "What does this name mean?". I thought that I'd take some time here to answer these questions.

Oct
22
2013

Fun Facts about Archaeology: Excavation Day: KAYSC Bilir, Nge, and Malcolm screening material
Excavation Day: KAYSC Bilir, Nge, and Malcolm screening materialCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

-It's not paleontology. Paleontology is when you dig up bones, etc from dinosaurs. You don't dig up dinosaurs.
-Archaeology is basically digging up people's cultural artifacts. People's everyday items.
-Archaeology is not just digging up the dirt; it's digging up some one's everyday life and their past and their every day items. it is a fine art of digging up things slowly, patiently, and gently.
-If you find gold or money or anything else, you have to turn it in and report it.
-You have to ask permission from the state archaeologist to do a dig, even if you are a famous archaeologist.
-When you become an archaeologist, you learn a lot of new things. I have enjoyed learning how to clean artifacts and how to learn how to tell the difference from artifacts in the screen at the excavation.

My favorite thing we have done is going to the excavation. It was the hardest thing we've done because we had to work in the hot hot sun all day.

Okay, California's weird enough as it is usually. But they've been finding some very weird stuff along the California coast this week, including an 18-foot oarfish and a 15-foot saber-toothed-whale.

Oct
16
2013

Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura): an ugly yet somewhat majestic raptor species often seen soaring around Hawk Ridge in Duluth, Minnesota during the annual fall migration.
Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura): an ugly yet somewhat majestic raptor species often seen soaring around Hawk Ridge in Duluth, Minnesota during the annual fall migration.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Birds seem to be a big part of my recent experience, so I thought I'd put together a little post of events featuring our fine, feathered friends.

Here at the Science Museum of Minnesota, an antique model of Archaeopteryx originally created by modelmaker Gustaf Sundstrom in 1934 is on display once again as Object of the Month for October. Archaeopteryx model by Gustaf Sundstrom
Archaeopteryx model by Gustaf SundstromCourtesy Mark Ryan
Archaeopteryx has long been considered the earliest bird - it lived around 150 million years ago during the Late Jurassic - sharing the world with giant sauropods and vicious therapods such as Apatosaurus and Allosaurus, respectively. Even though Archaeopteryx has been recently re-categorized from being a "dinosaur-like bird" to being a "bird-like dinosaur" (I'm not sure what the difference is but I suspect it has do do with percentages) - anyway, it still ranks as one of the great transitional fossils. You can see the Object of the Month display in the Collections Gallery on the 4th floor of the Science Museum of Minnesota all this month.

Another bird-related story deals with naturalist and artist John James Audubon and his artistic masterpiece Birds of America, both which I've covered before here.

Audubon's Whooping Crane: plate no. 226 from the artist's masterpiece Birds of America.
Audubon's Whooping Crane: plate no. 226 from the artist's masterpiece Birds of America.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Back in the early 19th century Audubon, tramped around the American frontier seeking just about every kind of bird he could find, shoot, and paint for his masterpiece natural history tome, Birds of America. The original edition featured 435 exquisite plates of birds drawn in natural size, were etched in copperplates (along with some engraving and aquatint), then printed in black and white and printed on large double-elephant folio-sized (30 x 40) handmade paper. Each of the large black and white prints were hand-painted in watercolors by a team of skilled colorists and bound into two volumes. Long considered one of the greatest collections of natural history illustration, only some 200 sets were completed in the mid-19th century. Of those only about 100 remain in existence. The rest were either destroyed or disassembled and sold off as individual prints. Because they were hand-colored, these large first editions are considered "originals" and are quite valuable. Smaller, more inexpensive prints and editions were later created and sold.

Audubon exhibit: Preview Night at the Bell Museum
Audubon exhibit: Preview Night at the Bell MuseumCourtesy Mark Ryan
Lucky for us one of the original Double Elephant Folio sets is held by the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis. Even luckier for us, the Bell has just opened a brand new exhibit, called Audubon and the Art of Birds, which is centered around some of these beautiful originals of Audubon's wonderful illustrations. I attended the preview a couple weeks back and let me tell you, it is a chance in a lifetime to see these rare and beautiful natural history illustration masterpieces. The exhibition opened on October 5th and runs in two sections. Right now, 33 of Audubon's mammoth prints grace the walls of the exhibit (along with illustrations by other bird artists) then other restored mammoth prints of Audubon illustrations will be rotated in during a two week shutdown in January, and the exhibit's second half reopens on February 1st. Find more information about the exhibition here.

On the lookout for birds: Visitors to Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory scan the skies for migrating raptors above Duluth, Minnesota.
On the lookout for birds: Visitors to Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory scan the skies for migrating raptors above Duluth, Minnesota.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Last week, my wife and I took a day-trip to Duluth and stopped at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, located on Skyline Parkway overlooking the east end of the city. The site is a favorite autumn destination for bird-watchers of all kinds. Snared and tagged raptor: Hawk Ridge volunteer Jessica displays the wing of a sharp-shinned hawk.
Snared and tagged raptor: Hawk Ridge volunteer Jessica displays the wing of a sharp-shinned hawk.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Official bird-counters were still there tabulating hawks, eagles and other raptors migrating south for the winter. The count will continue through October. Set and release: a lucky Hawk Ridge visitor launches a banded sharp-shinned hawk back into the wild.
Set and release: a lucky Hawk Ridge visitor launches a banded sharp-shinned hawk back into the wild.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The birds don't like crossing the wide expanse of Lake Superior on their way south, so they funnel into Duluth to cross there. We only saw a couple birds in the air while we were there (some 680 had been counted earlier in the day), but a couple of hawks snared just down the road were brought up to the ridge overlook for banding and release. Volunteers tagged and recorded the hawks (a goshawk - Accipiter gentilis - and a sharp-shinned hawk - Accipiter striatus), then enlisted the help of a couple of lucky onlookers to release them back into the wild. It was a beautiful afternoon on the Ridge.

LINKS
Object of the Month
Audubon and the Art of Birds
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory
View Birds of America prints via the University of Pittsburgh

Have you ever wondered what the night sky would look like if our Solar System's planets replaced the Moon? Me neither but that doesn't mean someone else hasn't been pondering the question. Kind of cool, actually.

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Oct
15
2013

Artifact Cleaning: kayscElias cleaning artifacts on Level 4 in the Collections Gallery
Artifact Cleaning: kayscElias cleaning artifacts on Level 4 in the Collections GalleryCourtesy Amanda
Did you know that artifacts must be cleaned once they are taken from an archeological site? Every category of artifact must be cleaned in a different way, as to prevent damage. Lithics (stoneworks) can be scrubbed vigorously and can be soaked with water unless it has a worked edge which may have residue that can be identified. Pottery should be scrubbed less vigorously and cannot be submerged, as the pottery would absorb the water and disintegrate. If pottery is larger than a quarter, it should not be scrubbed on the interior, as it may have some residue that would be helpful. Faunal (bone) artifacts must be cleaned very carefully, like pottery, or it will become soft and brittle. Charcoal contains certain carbon isotopes, like carbon-14, that we can use to date when the item was burned, allowing us to learn a lot from small artifacts. Charcoal also preserves anything living, like seeds or wood. Artifacts are scrubbed with a wet toothbrush and put on a newspaper to dry. Once the artifacts are dried they are cataloged and put in the collection for research.

Oct
15
2013

Carbo loading: The conventional wisdom in sports nutrition has been to "carbo load" on foods high in carbohydrates before a contest. But now some are saying avoiding gluten carbs can actually enhance athletic performance.
Carbo loading: The conventional wisdom in sports nutrition has been to "carbo load" on foods high in carbohydrates before a contest. But now some are saying avoiding gluten carbs can actually enhance athletic performance.Courtesy cyclonebill
The arrival of fall each year brings leaves changing colors, apples ready for the picking and a host of long-distance races contested in more temperate conditions. And with those marathons and other distance tests come the pre-race rituals of "carbo loading," the practice of eating a high carbohydrate meal of pasta to fill a body up with extra energy.

But several elite athletes are now shaking up that conventional wisdom. They're saying that they're feeling better and performing more efficiently by focusing their pre-performance meals on the right kind of carbohydrates: gluten-free carbs.

Tennis champion Novak Djokovic, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the entire Garmin cycling team are now crediting gluten-free diets as helping them feel and perform better. Djokovic went gluten free in 2010 and has now climbed to become the No. 1-ranked player in men's pro tennis and he credits his new diet with giving him better focus, more endurance and avoiding injury.

However, all these benefits so far are anecdotal. There have been no research studies done on the impact of a gluten-free diet on athletic performance. But some nutritionists point out that gluten, evolutionary speaking, is a pretty new entry into the human diet, having only been around 10,000 years. Our digestive systems don't know how to deal with it, so we get no nutritional benefit from it. For most of us, our immune system handles the gluten in our digestive track, just like stray microbes, and works it into our waste. About six percent of the population is gluten sensitive and has to avoid these types of foods entirely.

Does this new information change your thoughts about "carbo loading?" Do you avoid gluten foods even if you're not sensitive to them? Share your thoughts with other Science Buzz readers.