Stories tagged Scientific Inquiry


Why not dig a dinosaur this summer?
Why not dig a dinosaur this summer?Courtesy Mark Ryan
After exploring the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit here at the Science Museum of Minnesota, you might say to yourself, "Gee, I wish I could be on one of those swell dinosaur digs."

Of course, the movies and other media have created the impression that working on a dinosaur dig is a romantic and thrilling endeavor full of excitement and constant discovery. In reality, it most likely involves long, sweaty hours with a shovel, removing tons of overburden, walking for miles and finding nothing or lying in the dirt, under a boiling hot sun, carefully uncovering crumbling fossil bones or wrapping them in a sticky concoction of burlap strips dipped in plaster. Afterwards you get to help lift several 3/4-ton blocks of encased bones and rock onto the back of a flatbed truck. If it happens to rain during your time in the field, you'll spend hours, maybe days, stuck inside a humid tent getting to know all about Larry from Cedar Rapids' chronic hip pain, and eating hard tack. Sounds like a blast, doesn't it?

So, if you're still interested, then you'll be happy to learn that there are lots of opportunities available out there to join an actual dinosaur dig. Here's a list of several organizations that will be more than happy to let you pay them to do their manual labor for them. Most are located out West where conditions and rock exposures are most ideal for dinosaur fossils but some digs originate with a museum or fossil related organizations in the East or Midwest.

Now that I think of it, it does sound like a blast. And who knows? Maybe, if you're lucky enough, you'll stumble upon something completely unknown like a Haplocanthosaurus skull or even the next, great "largest dinosaur ever found" (there seems to be a new one each month).

io9 story

Additional Digs
(PLEASE NOTE: Neither I nor the Science Museum of Minnesota endorse the above or following field trips. The links are offered only as a service. Readers are responsible in ascertaining that each organization listed is reputable before sending any money for deposit or downpayment.)
Judith River Dinosaur Institute
Baisch’s Dinosaur Digs, LLC
ZRS Fossils Field Trip
Frommer's suggested digs
Paleo World Research Foundation
Wild West Vacations & Travel
The Hideout in Shell, Wyoming
Prehisoric Planet
And for all the homebodies out there.


Stegomastodon: This artist's rendering shows what stegomastodons likely looked like.
Stegomastodon: This artist's rendering shows what stegomastodons likely looked like.Courtesy Margret Flinsch
So these young dudes at a bachelor party earlier this week in New Mexico suddenly discovered something really old. And it wasn't Bill Murray (who's been known to pop up unannounced at bachelor parties these days).

Cavorting about the sand mounds of Elephant Butte Lake State Park, the guys found something odd sticking up a few inches above the surface. And of course they did what most young guys would do, they started digging.

Bill Murray: He was not found at this bachelor party
Bill Murray: He was not found at this bachelor partyCourtesy Christopher William Adach
What they discovered was a near fully-intact skull and tusks of a stegomastodon, a species which dates back about 3 million years. They contacted the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, which then set up a more organized system of unearthing the skull. (The link above shows photos of the excavation work taking place.)

Stegomastodons were forerunners to the Ice Age mastodons and today's elephants. And according to paleontologists working on the project, the newly-discovered skull is one of the best skulls to be unearthed. Stegomastodons stood about nine feet tall and had curling tusks that extended up to 11 feet. Bill Murray, on the other hand, stands about six feet tall, has no protruding tusks and is believed to be somewhat younger than 3 million years old.


Contributed by Haley Harada

We see headlines, newspaper articles, and television specials almost everyday—“Oil Spill in South America”, “Bird Species Endangered”, and “Temperatures At All Time High Due to Global Warming”. Environmental catastrophes and problems are undoubtedly a major world issue. While we are likely aware of some of the various environmental challenges global citizens face, preserving and restoring Earth’s delicate environment often leaves us with more questions than answers. Mahatma Gandhi once advised, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. But progress is impossible if we do not understand or realize what those changes should be.

After participating in an environmental outreach program between ‘Iolani School and Ala Wai Elementary, I’ve begun to see the importance of environmental education. Awareness is the first step towards action. Children especially, should be taught about their surroundings in order to become educated voters, innovative scientists, and productive members of an environmentally conscious society. Teaching children about anything, from the trees in their backyards to the earth’s atmosphere, can broaden their perspectives of organisms and the systems in which they operate. Although the saying is cliché, it is undoubtably true: children are the future. Ultimately, they are the ones who will propagate change and answer our questions.

When we first started introducing ourselves to the students at Ala Wai Elementary, they seemed nervous and a bit confused about the purpose of the outreach project. One concept that we really wanted the students to understand was the connectivity of all living and non-living things, from animals and plants to water and weather. Although in the allotted time period it was impossible to go in depth about each subject, it was most important for the students to see the connection between the concepts. We also brought up ideas that the students were already familiar with and tried to get them to think about each in a new way. As the project continued, the students became more comfortable and seemed to gain at least some environmental insight. It filled me with joy to watch them playing with fish and looking through microscopes at things that they had never seen or paid attention to before.

The most rewarding part of the project was bringing the Ala Wai surroundings, often taken for granted, to life. Showing students that experiments can be interesting and fun might encourage them to seek environmental learning opportunities in the future. My hope is that students realized that there is an endless amount of things to see and learn about in their world. In the process of trying to teach younger students, I myself became more aware of the importance of bringing the outside world into the classroom. Children need to put down their iPads and cell phones once in a while to understand and appreciate the world around them. In the future, they'll be thankful they did.

Haley Harada is a high school senior at 'Iolani School. She wrote this blog post as part of a final project for AP Biology.


NanoDays is a nationwide festival of educational programs about nanoscale science and engineering and its potential impact on the future.

Most events will be taking place between March 29 - April 6, 2014.
NanoDays 2008-2014 map
NanoDays 2008-2014 mapCourtesy NISE Network

NanoDays events are organized by participants in the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Network) and take place at more than 250 science and children's museums, research centers and universities across the country from Puerto Rico to Hawaii. NanoDays engages people of all ages in learning about this emerging field of science, which holds the promise of developing revolutionary materials and technologies.

To read more about NanoDays visit:

To see a full list of organizations hosting 2014 events visit:

2014 Events in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, MN:

To learn more about nanotechnology, science, and engineering, visit:

To see other nano stories on Science Buzz tagged #nano visit:


At the Sheffield site we encountered many different kinds of lithic material that the Oneota used at this site. As we sort through our findings there are multiple different types of lithic material that have been identified. Lithics are stone artifacts and it consists of items such as stone tools or stone flakes. There were fragments of all different colors and luster and density to them. Going through all these different kinds of tools and flakes may lead someone to think: “Where did these rocks come from?”
Prairie Du Chien Chert
Prairie Du Chien ChertCourtesy SMM
Tongue River Silica
Tongue River SilicaCourtesy SMM
Hixton Orthoquartzite
Hixton OrthoquartziteCourtesy SMM

The most common lithic we found at Sheffield was Prairie Du Chien Chert, which makes sense because quarries can be found throughout the southeastern part of Minnesota. Another kind of lithic material we found was Tongue River Silica and this rock can be found on the western side of Minnesota. One stone that was particularly interesting to me though is Hixton Orthoquartzite since it is sparkly. We believed the lithic material made of Hixton came from quarries in west Wisconsin.

These are just three of the many lithic materials we found at Sheffield, these lithic materials are significant because of where they originate from. The Sheffield site is located along the Saint Croix River which acted as a means for transportation. Did the Oneota move from place to place and collected these rocks in their travels?

Lithics are an important part in archaeology and not just because the tools made from them look cool. The material that makes up the stone can have as much information as how the lithic material was made into a stone tool. We are not just looking at rocks, but the more we know about what types of material were being used the more we might know about the people who lived at Sheffield.


New science to old question: New science is helping answer questions on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
New science to old question: New science is helping answer questions on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.Courtesy Victor Hugo King
Fifty years after the fateful day in Dallas, Texas, people are still working to find definitive answers to the details of the shooting of President John F. Kennedy.

What if the current forensic investigation techniques would have been available then? That's a question the Discovery Channel recently posed in producing the show "JFK: Inside the Target Car." Here's a quick summary of things they learned through their experiments. Click here to get more details about how this all was done.

The Dallas motorcade scene was recreated with modern-day, high tech dummies situated in a car. The dummies were made of materials that have similar properties to human flesh, bone and blood. Sharpshooters then shot the surrogates from the model depository, the grassy knoll, and four other plausible locations that are part of assassination theories.

Two forensic experts, who had no knowledge that the situation was set up to recreate the shooting in Dallas, examined the evidence. Their finding was that shots came from above and behind the pathway of the car, a finding consistent with the location of the Texas Textbook Depository.

Up-to-date science was also applied in making a 3-D animated simulation of the assassination scene based on angles of possible bullet paths, information from the Zapruder home movie of the motorcade, and also wind speeds and directions. Based on blood spatters created through those simulations, the origin of the fatal shots had to be from the textbook depository.

Experts add that while modern science more accurately determine where the shots were fired from, they still cannot determine without doubt if Lee Harvey Oswald was the shooter.

How do you feel about this new application of science to this dark moment of American history? Does it answer your questions on the assassination? Share your thoughts with other Science Buzz readers.

Here's a link to the Discovery Channel's website for the show.


Mystery Mandible
Mystery MandibleCourtesy SMM
In an area called Kasota, a kid found a mysterious mandible in the riverbed. A mandible if you don't know is the lower jawbone of an animal. My friends and I all believed it to be a cow, elk, or a moose skull. After researching and comparing it to other skulls we found out that it was indeed a cow skull.
Cow Mandible with Mysterious Mandible
Cow Mandible with Mysterious MandibleCourtesy SMM

We went to the Science House in the Science Museum of Minnesota to compare our mandibles to the ones in their collection. When we compared it to the elk mandible, our mandible was the same length but it was obvious that bone between the teeth and the bottom of the mandible was narrower on the elk mandible. Our mandible was too big to be any deer mandible so we were certain it was not a deer mandible. When we were comparing it to the moose our mandible seemed a little too small to be a moose mandible. When we compared it to the cow mandible it was almost a perfect match. So we concluded that it was the mandible of a cow.


Bang, zoom! Straight to the Moon, Alice!: Actually, not to the Moon. Straight to space, though. This is one of China's Long March rockets, which carried the Taikonauts to Tiangong-1 yesterday.
Bang, zoom! Straight to the Moon, Alice!: Actually, not to the Moon. Straight to space, though. This is one of China's Long March rockets, which carried the Taikonauts to Tiangong-1 yesterday.Courtesy AAxander
The International Space Station, the pride of low Earth orbit, lives up to its name for the most part—work there is the joint effort of a fifteen-nation partnership. So it’s not just NASA up there, there’s also the Russian Federal Space Agency, and, uh … probably some other things too. (JK. The Japanese, European, and Canadian space agencies are all involved.)

When the partnership built this cool orbiting clubhouse, however, they hung a sign above the rope ladder, reading “No guRlz aLoud!!!” Except instead of “gurlz” it said “China,” and presumably the spelling was a little better. Also, there was no sign or rope ladder, because that would be ridiculous. But the sentiment remained: China is not part of the ISS partnership, because Congress has banned NASA from any contact, collaborations or partnerships with China, because of concerns over technology transfer.

In response, China has gone ahead with a space station program of their own. China has plans to build a full size space station in the not too distant future, but for the time being, they already have an orbiting module—sort of a mini space station. The module, “Tiangong-1,” has actually been in service for almost two years already, and China launched a three-person “taikonaut” crew to practice docking with the module yesterday. This will be China’s fifth manned mission to Tiangong-1, and it includes the second woman from China to travel into space.

What do y’all think? Exciting news? Would we be better off collaborating with China in space? Or are you all for a little competition? What’s the coolest name: astronaut, cosmonaut, or taikonaut? Let everyone know in the comments!


Science & law: The concept known as the Minnesota Protocol has helped lead to genocide convictions against a former leader of Guatemala.
Science & law: The concept known as the Minnesota Protocol has helped lead to genocide convictions against a former leader of Guatemala.Courtesy Captain Budd Christman, NOAA Corps
How does Minnesota factor into the recent judgment against political genocide actions in Guatemala? The findings that have brought justice in the case relied on "The Minnesota Protocol." The full report on how the protocol was used in Guatemala can be found in this article in the St. Paul Pioneer-Press.

Work on the protocol started in Minnesota 30 years ago by a team of lawyers concerned with growing international strife. They created a format for neutral scientific third parties to investigate claims of assassination and genocide after it was becoming apparent that in many offending countries, those investigations were being done by groups sympathetic to the leaders being accused of the crimes. The concepts were adopted by the United Nations in 1989 as a global standard to use to investigate such situations.

In the Guatemalan case, former military dictator Efrain Rios Montt was recently found guilty of ordering actions that claimed the lives of at least 1,700 indigenous people during the 17 months after he seized power in a military coup in 1982. A key pieces of evidence were found in a mass grave of 50 bodies found underneath a soccer field that were eventually examined by Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala using principles of the Minnesota Protocol.

Similar investigations using the Minnesota Protocol have led to genocide convictions in other corners of the globe such as Rwanda and Bosnia.


The Science Museum of Minnesota is a partner with the University of Minnesota on its Islands in the Sun project, which is monitoring the urban heat island in the Twin Cities to find ways of lessening its effects through landscape design. More than half the global population now lives in cities and so there is urgent need to understand and mitigate urban heat islands, especially during heat waves when the risk of heat-related illness and mortality can increase dramatically.Islands in the Sun temperature sensor
Islands in the Sun temperature sensorCourtesy Courtesy Department of Soil, Water and Climate, University of Minnesota

Islands in the Sun is setting up temperature sensors throughout the Twin Cities Metro Area. This temperature network when completed will be one of the densest in the world. Would you like to be a part of this effort? Islands in the Sun is especially interested in volunteers willing to have a sensor installed on their property and who live in the following locations -- downtown Minneapolis, downtown Saint Paul, Saint Paul – east of Rice St, West Saint Paul, South Saint Paul, Mendota Heights, Inver Grove Heights, Eagan, Oakdale, Woodbury, Cottage Grove, northern Roseville, Arden Hills, and Plymouth.

Information about the sensor and its placement can be found here. If you are still interested after reviewing this information, then fill out and submit a volunteer form. Please note that your interest does not guarantee that a sensor will be installed because each site must meet certain criteria. If selected, a temperature sensor will be installed at a location on your property acceptable to you with the expectation that it will remain onsite collecting data for up to four years. A technician will visit the sensor every two to three months to download data.

Thanks for considering being a part of this ground-breaking research project.