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Benjamin Franklin [sculpture] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

view Benjamin Franklin [sculpture] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son) digital asset number 1
Artist:
Zorach, William 1887-1966
Subject:
Franklin, Benjamin
Type:
Photograph
Date:
Ca. 1939
Notes:
Photographed at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair.
New York Public Library, Digital Gallery, Record ID 1791034.
Topic:
Portrait male--Full length
Occupation--Science--Inventor
Occupation--Political--Postmaster
Occupation--Political--Statesman
Image number:
JUL J0029402
See more items in:
Photograph Archives
Data Source:
Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum

NSA Metadata Collection Is Unconstitutional, Judge Says

view NSA Metadata Collection Is Unconstitutional, Judge Says digital asset number 1
Creator:
Smithsonian Magazine
Type:
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Conversations and talks
Blog posts
Published Date:
Tue, 17 Dec 2013 15:10:10 +0000
Blog Post Category:
Smart News
Smart News Ideas & Innovations
Description:

In the first court ruling related to the National Security Agency's phonecall metadata collection program—one part of the widespread government surveillance efforts detailed in documents leaked by former NSA contract analyst Edward Snowden—U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the program violates the U.S. Constitution.

Starting back in June, the leaked documents have revealed how the NSA is collecting phone-call metadataemails, web searches, and other communications in a massive global surveillance program. In this court case, two men, Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, argued that the NSA's surveillance programs violate the Fourth Amendment, the part of the Constitution that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

Judge Leon agreed and decided that the NSA could no longer collect the two men's phone records. But he also put the injunction on hold, knowing that his ruling won't stick, says the Associated Press. The case, says the Guardian, will likely ultimately end up in front of the Supreme Court.

Since it's likely facing an appeal, it seems that Judge Leon's ruling has no real power. But, says Kevin Bankston, who works for the Open Technology Institute, a Washington-based thinktank, to Bloomberg, Judge Leon's verdict still has some clout:

“It robs the government of its talking point that the courts have never found there to be a meaningful privacy interest in phone records,” he said. “This decision absolutely should shift the debate.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

The NSA Was Spying in World of Warcraft
No, Really, the Government Can Read Your Email
How the NSA Stopped Trying to Prevent the Spread of Encryption And Decided to Just Break It Instead

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Smithsonian Article Database
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Smithsonian Magazine

Keuffel & Esser 1802 12" Drafting Triangle

view Keuffel & Esser 1802 12" Drafting Triangle digital asset: Keuffel & Esser Drafting Triangle, Model 1802
Physical Description:
rubber (overall material)
Measurements:
overall: 7.5 cm x 30.5 cm x .2 cm; 2 15/16 in x 12 in x 3/32 in
Object Name:
triangle
Place made:
United States: New York, New York
Date made:
ca 1890-1918
Description:
This 12" 30°-60°-90° hard rubber triangle has a small triangular opening in the interior. On one side, the short side is marked: KEUFFEL & ESSER CO. (/) NEW YORK (/) AND (/) CHICAGO; 12. K&E's eagle trademark is to the right of the number 12, above the word TRADEMARK. On the other side, the short side is marked: S. T. [in script] (/) A. R. O. That side also has three concentric circles near the hypotenuse of the opening.
By 1890 Keuffel & Esser was making the shape of the hole in its hard rubber triangles triangular instead of circular. The 12-inch size of model number 1802 sold for 90¢ from 1890 to 1909 and for 75¢ in 1913. By 1921 the firm no longer offered hard rubber triangles, perhaps due to shortages of the material during World War I as well as improvements in the manufacture of plastic. The mark suggests that the object's date can be narrowed to 1892–1894, since that was the period when Chicago was K&E's only branch office.
References: Catalogue of Keuffel & Esser Co., 21st ed. (New York, 1890), 135; Catalogue of Keuffel & Esser Co., 33rd ed. (New York, 1909), 202; Catalogue of Keuffel & Esser Co., 34th ed. (New York, 1913), 200; Hoboken Historical Museum, "Triangle: pearwood framed drawing, [group of] 3," http://hoboken.pastperfect-online.com/32340cgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=5D8ED8D1-A698-42D7-AA97-396737757553;type=101.
Location:
Currently not on view
Subject:
Mathematics
Drawing Instruments
Credit Line:
Gift of Danny Morris
ID Number:
MA.333826
Catalog number:
333826
Accession number:
304759
See more items in:
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Squares and Triangles
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

Albree Trulog Duplex Circular Logarithm Table

view Albree Trulog Duplex Circular Logarithm Table digital asset: SLIDE RULE - ALBREE TRULOG DUPLEX
Maker:
Albree, G. Norman
Physical Description:
paper (overall material)
plastic (cursor material)
Measurements:
overall: .1 cm x 15.4 cm x 15.2 cm; 1/32 in x 6 1/16 in x 5 31/32 in
Object Name:
slide rule
Place made:
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
Date made:
after 1948
Description:
Aeronautical engineer George Norman Albree (1888–1986) designed airplane components and slide rules. This is an example of his Duplex slide rule, which he intended to be used by grade school children. It is printed on both sides of a cardboard circle and consists of a logarithmic spiral scale for numbers from 10,000 to 32,100 on the front or "A" side and numbers from 31,170 to 100,000 on the back or "B" side. A rotating clear plastic indicator wraps around both sides.
On both sides, the center of the spiral is marked: ALBREE TRULOG DUPLEX (/) MODEL 18. Inside the fifth ring of the spiral on the front, the instrument is marked: ©1945 (/) G. NORMAN ALBREE (/) BOSTON MASS. The instrument arrived with a plain square paper case, an instruction manual, and a green paper bag. The cover of the manual reads: MANUAL (/) of the (/) TRULOG DUPLEX (/) Precision Pocket Calculator (/) Multiply - Divide - Raise to Any Power - Extract Any Root. The booklet was copyrighted in 1948. The bag is marked: THE (/) TRULOG DUPLEX (/) With Right Hand Instruction System.
Albree renewed the copyrights for the Albree Trulog Duplex (R560370) and Albree Trulog Spiral (R560371) in 1973. See also MA*335486 and MA*335487.
References: Timothy Hughes, "The George Norman Albree Papers," New England Ancestors 5, no. 3 (2004): 46, http://www.americanancestors.org/PageDetail.aspx?recordId=134553447; Library of Congress, Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 4, n.s. 40 (1945 index): 287; Catalog of Copyright Entries: Books: Part 1A, 3rd ser. 2, no. 1 (1948): 313; Library of Congress Copyright Office, Renewal Registrations: Works of Art (July-December 1973): 476; Henry W. Syer and Donovan A. Johnson, "Aids to Teaching," Mathematics Teacher 43, no. 5 (1950): 215–221, on 220; accession file.
Location:
Currently not on view
Subject:
Rule, Calculating
Chart, Logarithmic
Education
Mathematics
Credit Line:
Gift of G. Norman Albree
ID Number:
MA.335484
Catalog number:
335484
Accession number:
321674
See more items in:
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Slide Rules
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Additional Online Media:

Ecco Wallet Case of Drawing Instruments Sold by Keuffel & Esser

view Ecco Wallet Case of Drawing Instruments Sold by Keuffel & Esser digital asset: Keuffel & Esser Anvil Set of Drawing Instruments, Case Open
Distributor:
Keuffel & Esser Co.
Maker:
Ecco
Physical Description:
synthetic leather (overall material)
fabric (overall material)
german silver (overall material)
steel (overall material)
plastic (overall material)
Measurements:
overall: 2.5 cm x 25.4 cm x 11.5 cm; 31/32 in x 10 in x 4 17/32 in
Object Name:
drawing instruments, set of
Place made:
Germany
Date made:
1927-1942
Description:
This cardboard and wood folding case is covered with black imitation leather and lined with green velvet. It fastens with decorative snaps. The front left corner is marked with a serial number: 9226. The back is marked: GERMANY. A white celluloid plate screwed inside the case is marked: "ANVIL" (/) KEUFFEL & ESSER CO (/) NY. Except for a missing joint tightener, the set is complete and contains:
1) 6-1/4" German silver compass with bendable legs and interchangeable pencil and pen points and lengthening bar. The side of one leg is marked: ECCO Co GERMANY.
2) 6-1/8" German silver and steel dividers with removable point. The side of one leg is marked: ECCO Co GERMANY.
3) 4-9/16" and 5-9/16" steel drawing pens with black plastic handles. Both handles are marked: ECCO Co (/) GERMANY.
4) 3-1/2" steel bow pencil, bow pen, and bow dividers.
5) 1-3/8" cylindrical metal case with three needle points and one pencil lead.
In 1927 Keuffel & Esser, the prominent New York manufacturer and retailer of mathematical instruments, began to sell drawing instruments made in Germany by the Ecco firm as its Anvil product line. These were marketed to students and others who needed quality instruments at a reasonable price. This set was sold as model number N996; it was priced at $13.75 in 1927 and $18.00 in 1936. K&E's ability to import these instruments was interrupted by World War II. When the company began selling the Anvil line again by 1954, this set was not advertised in K&E catalogs. The Smithsonian acquired the set before 1984, when it was found in the collections.
References: Catalogue and Price List of Keuffel & Esser Co., 37th ed. (New York, 1927), 153; Catalogue and Price List of Keuffel & Esser Co., 38th ed. (New York, 1936), 154, 166; Hoboken Historical Museum, "Drawing set, similar to Anvil N996," http://hoboken.pastperfect-online.com/32340cgi/mweb.exe?request=record&id=58540708-A327-4DCB-833F-741904390220&type=101.
Location:
Currently not on view
Currently not on view
Subject:
Mathematics
Drafting, Engineering
ID Number:
1990.0316.02
Catalog number:
1990.0316.02
Accession number:
1990.0316
See more items in:
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Drawing Instruments
Data Source:
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Additional Online Media:

Population Growth Can Warm a City As Much As Climate Change

view Population Growth Can Warm a City As Much As Climate Change digital asset number 1
Creator:
Smithsonian Magazine
Type:
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Blog posts
Published Date:
Tue, 31 Mar 2015 16:51:51 +0000
Blog Post Category:
Smart News
Smart News Science
Description:

Climate change is not doing well by California. But there’s another factor expected to heat up the state's Central Valley—a growing population, and the urban development that goes along with it.

If current trends hold, millions more people will live in the area by 2100, which will mean more buildings and roads to accommodate them. And this infrastructure will trap the sun’s heat and, according to a new study, raise the local temperatures by an extra one to two degrees Celsius during the already hot summer months. That's double the warming expected from climate change.

Pacific Standard reports:

The heating comes from the so-called urban heat island effect, which describes how the dark, metal-and-asphalt materials of a city absorb and trap warmth from the sun. The urban heat island effect makes cities hotter than they would be otherwise, if they weren’t developed. The Central Valley now is highly agricultural, but the United States Environmental Protection Agency predicts that by 2100, a lot of that farmland will have been converted to buildings. [Study author Matei] Georgescu used the EPA's model as a basis for his own calculations for what urban heat island effect Central California will experience in 2100.

There are relatively simple solutions that can help ameliorate the heat island effect—painting rooftops white or planting greenery on them significantly reduces the amount of heat buildings absorb. (A lighter color makes the surface more reflective, and plants remove heat from the air via transpiration.) The Central Valley's currently an agricultural area, and green roofs could also help keep the area’s farming tradition alive as the fields get plowed into concrete. They might even be able to do something about the air quality, too.

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Smithsonian Magazine

Small Airplanes of the Near Future May Run on Natural Gas

view Small Airplanes of the Near Future May Run on Natural Gas digital asset number 1
Creator:
Smithsonian Magazine
Type:
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Blog posts
Published Date:
Thu, 01 Aug 2013 16:51:05 +0000
Blog Post Category:
Smart News
Smart News
Description:

Like Dylan, cars and buses are going electric. But planes are having a harder time making the transition. Electric planes exist, but they’re tiny. But electric planes are not the only option for greener flight, Wired reports. In Wisconsin, Aviat Aircraft just debuted the first aircraft that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG).

While still a greenhouse gas, natural gas is less polluting than the low-lead fuel many planes run on today. It’s also cheaper, meaning pilots may be pretty eager to adopt the potential new fuel alternative.

While the cost savings is an added benefit, CNG will dramatically reduce the pollutants emitted by smaller airplanes that are now burning the typical aviation gasoline known as 100 low lead.

Aviat converted one of its Husky airplanes to fly on both 100LL and CNG, and they flew it to Oshkosh from the factory in Afton, Wyoming. The airplane is equipped with both tanks and can run on either fuel at the flip of a switch.

Aviat told Wired that the plane actually ran better when using natural gas rather than aviation gasoline—the engine remained cooler.

Around 190,000 small aircrafts are flown in the United States, whether for crop dusting, recreation or travel. The biggest impediment to getting the industry to adopt compressed natural gas, Wired reports, are the infrastructure challenges, like installing new tanks in airplanes and fueling stations at airports.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Perils of Bird-Plane Collisions  
A Small Plane Lines Up with the Moon 

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0
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Smithsonian Article Database
Data Source:
Smithsonian Magazine

The FDA Just Declared War on Cookie Dough

view The FDA Just Declared War on Cookie Dough digital asset number 1
Creator:
Smithsonian Magazine
Type:
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Blog posts
Published Date:
Thu, 30 Jun 2016 20:33:24 +0000
Blog Post Category:
Smart News
Smart News Science
Description:

It’s a dangerous world out there—from geopolitical turmoil to new epidemics, it can sometimes seem as if potential hazards lurk around every corner. But don’t try to handle the fear by licking the beaters while baking or burying yourself in a bowl of homemade cookie dough. As Allison Carter writes for the Indianapolis Star, the Food and Drug Administration is warning Americans to put down the raw cookie dough or risk severe health consequences.

In a recent consumer update, the FDA warns consumers to stop indulging in raw dough in any form—regardless of whether it contains eggs. Jenny Scott, a senior adviser in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, says that “eating raw dough or batter—whether it’s for bread, cookies, pizza or tortillas—could make you, and your kids, sick.”

You can thank E. coli bacteria—and the flour industry—for the recent warning. FDA officials recently found a Shiga toxin-producing variety of the nasty bug after news that consumers in 20 states were hospitalized or sickened after handling or eating raw dough. An FDA investigation traced the bacteria back to a batch of General Mills flour produced at a Missouri facility in November 2015. General Mills cooperated with the investigation and recalled a variety of flour products, including Gold Medal all-purpose flour and Wondra. The recent outbreak isn’t the only time E. coli has been found in flour: A 1993 study found that a full 12.8 percent of commercial samples contained the pathogen.

Shiga is no laughing matter: The toxin can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms including bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and even kidney failure in some patients. As with many toxins, the very young and very old are at particular risk, as are people with compromised immune systems. Also known as verotoxin, Shiga has no antidote. That means that doctors can only treat symptoms—not the underlying cause.

According to the FDA, “flour, regardless of the brand, can contain bacteria that causes disease.” Baking, boiling, microwaving, roasting and frying can kill the bugs, but dough that hasn’t gone through that heating process puts consumers at risk, the agency says. Translation: Any and all dough that contains flour poses a risk—even licking the beaters could be an exercise in culinary danger.

That’s sad news for those who thought they could get around raw dough dangers by just snacking on dough that doesn’t contain eggs. (Raw or undercooked eggs cause the majority of Salmonella infections in the United States.) Especially in an age of Pinterest, egg-free recipes for things like homemade craft dough and a million kinds of delicious doughs made for snacking or stirring into ice cream, the recommendation might feel hard to swallow.

As Carter writes, it may be time to “weep for a tiny sliver of happiness that has evaporated in the name of adulthood and safety.” Or drown your sorrows in a pint of ice cream instead—after all, cookie dough ice cream uses specially pasteurized dough that the FDA classifies as “safe to eat.”

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Smithsonian Magazine

UPDATED: Small Victory for Science -- Previously: Texas Science Education Stands at the Edge of the Abyss

view UPDATED: Small Victory for Science -- Previously: Texas Science Education Stands at the Edge of the Abyss digital asset number 1
Creator:
Smithsonian Magazine
Type:
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Lectures
Blog posts
Published Date:
Thu, 26 Mar 2009 12:55:32 +0000
Blog Post Category:
Articles
Blogs
Surprising Science
Science
Our Planet
Description:

UPDATE: According to a report from the Dallas Morning News, the Texas Board of Education rejected  restoring the "strengths and weaknesses" proposal by a 7-7 split vote. A final vote will come on Friday, but the vote is expected to remain deadlocked.

My freshman year of high school, when the teacher reached the section about evolution, he began by telling us that though there may be alternative explanations, they were not science and would not be discussed in class. He would be happy, however, to speak with any students about them after class. The evolution chapter then proceeded like any other lesson, with lectures and labs and an exam at the end.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that my experience may have been somewhat rare, particularly for conservative Indiana. I once met an elementary school teacher who feared being asked questions about evolution and wouldn’t answer them, telling her students to ask their parents instead. One friend’s high school skipped over the topic completely. But by this point in my life, I wasn’t surprised by these stories, having seen efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in Georgia, Kansas and Pennsylvania (and since then Louisiana). Avoiding the topic seems somewhat mild compared with efforts to foist creationism or its cousin, intelligent design, on students.

The battle has now moved to Texas, where this week the state’s Board of Education is considering requiring teachers to instruct high school students on the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories, particularly evolution. Weaknesses, though, is simply code for “evolution is wrong.” Those who pull out that argument do not argue for science; they want creationism or intelligent design taught in its place, though they have learned to be circumspect about their goals. You can see from this liveblog of the board’s meeting this week, by a Houston Chronicle reporter, that several of the people who spoke out on the first day for the “strengths and weaknesses” language had a religious agenda. And they have half of the board on their side, including the board chairman, who believes the earth is only 6,000 years old.

You would think that a board of education would have education (i.e., teaching children things that are not false) be their first priority, but it appears that the Texas board, or at least part of it, does not. Of course, the really scary bit of all of this is that where Texas goes in textbooks, so does much of the country. Because it's such a big market, textbook publishers try to make their books fit Texas's standards. If Texas requires weaknesses to be included, those false arguments could end up in your child’s schoolroom, even if you live thousands of miles away.

So, Texans, speak up. Teach your children about the wonder of evolution. Tell the board to leave out that silly “strengths and weaknesses” line. If you live elsewhere, keep a lookout for efforts like these.

Some resources:

National Center for Science Education

Evolution Resources from the National Academies

Science, Evolution and Creationism (free PDF download)

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Smithsonian Article Database
Data Source:
Smithsonian Magazine

A Coal Fire May Have Helped Sink the 'Titanic'

view A Coal Fire May Have Helped Sink the 'Titanic' digital asset number 1
Creator:
Smithsonian Magazine
Type:
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Blog posts
Published Date:
Thu, 05 Jan 2017 19:43:06 +0000
Blog Post Category:
At the Smithsonian
Smart News
Smart News History & Archaeology
Description:

The sinking of the Titanic has long been a cautionary tale about the dangers of hubris. But after more than a century, a new documentary offers evidence that the iceberg wasn’t the only reason for the sinking of the “unsinkable ship.” Instead, the floating mountain of ice may have happened to strike the exact spot where the hull had been weakened by a coal fire blazing in the bowels of the passenger ship.

In "Titanic: The New Evidence," which airs on the Smithsonian Channel on January 21, Irish journalist Senan Molony argues that the hull of the infamous ship was compromised weeks before it set sail. Through researching photos and eyewitness testimony from the time, Molony contends that a fire spontaneously lit inside one of the Titanic’s enormous coal bunkers and critically weakened a crucial segment of the ship’s hull.

"The ship is a single-skin ship," Molony tells Smithsonian.com. By that he means that while modern ships contain two hulls, at the time, the Titanic, like most ships of its day, just had the one. Because the bunkers where the crew stored coal for the engines sat right next to the hull, the heat from the fire would have transferred directly to the skin, damaging the Titanic's structure.

For Molony, who has spent decades studying the Titanic, the "smoking gun" came in a recent discovery of a trove of photographs documenting the ship’s construction and preparations for its maiden voyage. The photos had been taken by the engineering chief of Harland and Wolff, the Belfast-based company that built the doomed vessel. About four years ago, Molony and a collaborator purchased the photographs from a descendant of the company’s director, who had found them stored in an attic. As they pored over the images, Molony was shocked to see a 30-foot-long black streak documented on the outside of the Titanic’s hull, close to where the iceberg struck its starboard side.

“We asked some naval architects what this could be, and nobody knew and everybody was intrigued,” Molony says. “The best suggestion at the time was that this was a reflection." But Monology disagrees because, at the time the photograph was taken, he says, there was no road or dock on the shore which could have been reflected on the hull.

According to engineers from the Imperial College London, the streak in the photograph may have been caused by a fire in one of the Titanic’s coal bunkers—a three-story-tall room that stored much of the coal that fueled the ship’s engines. Molony believes that the fire had started as early as three weeks before the Titanic set out for its maiden voyage, but was ignored for fear of bad press and the desire to keep the ship on schedule.

“Britannia rules the waves,” Molony says. “They’d been facing massive competition from the Germans and others for the valuable immigrant trade. You don’t want don’t want a loss of public confidence in the whole of the British maritime marine.”

Just after survivors made landfall, several people who worked on the ship’s engines cited a coal fire as the cause of the shipwreck. An official inquiry by British officials in 1912 mentioned it, too, but Molony says the narrative was downplayed by the judge who oversaw it.

“He was a shipping interest judge, and, in fact, he presided at a toast at the Shipwrights' Guild four years earlier saying ‘may nothing ever adversely affect the great carrying power of this wonderful country,’” Molony says. “So he closes down efforts to pursue the fire and he makes this finding that the iceberg acted alone.”

An article from the New York Tribune published shortly after survivors made landfall. (Via Senan Molony)

Molony’s theory has its skeptics. Over the years, all sorts of people have offered up alternative theories to explain why the Titanic sank, ranging from being struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat to being brought down by an Egyptian mummy’s curse, Dan Bilefsky reports for The New York Times. While a coal fire is certainly more plausible than a murderous, undead pharaoh, others still contend that the iceberg was the decisive factor in the ship’s sinking.

“A fire may have accelerated this. But in my view, the Titanic would have sunk anyway,” Dave Hill, a former honorary secretary of the British Titanic Society, tells Bilefsky.

Still, Molony stands by his findings. After all, that same inquiry stated that the Titanic had sunk fully intact, while it was later found broken in half on the sea floor.

“Just because an official finding says it, doesn’t make it true,” Molony says.

Many details of what happened on that fateful night in April 1912 may be lost to history, but if nothing else, these findings present an interesting new angle to the infamous, and it would seem unsinkable, story.

Titanic: The New Evidence airs January 21 at 8 p.m. ET on the Smithsonian Channel.

Editor's Note, January 22, 2017: This story originally referred to the source of this new research as being from the Royal College of London. They are from Imperial College London. 

Image by (Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center). From the National Museum of American History:
When the ocean liner Carpathia arrived at the spot in the North Atlantic ocean where Titanic sank, all the rescuers saw by the light of the moon was some wreckage and lifeboats with passengers. Many of the passengers had come up on deck in their nightclothes from their bunks aboard Titanic, and they were totally unprepared to climb directly into the lifeboats. The survivors were struck by the cold outdoor temperature, and they were suffering from exposure, extreme stress and shock by the time Carpathia arrived on the scene. The rescue ship was able to pick up 705 survivors, and as they boarded, they tossed their life vests into piles on the deck and were handed heavy, warm clothes by Carpathia's sympathetic passengers. (original image)

Image by Image Source: National Archives Online Public Access. This photograph was taken by a passenger of the Carpathia, the ship that received the Titanic's distress signal and came to rescue the survivors. It shows survivors of the sinking of the Titanic in a notably sparse lifeboat. (original image)

Image by Photo by Bernice Palmer, courtesy of the National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center. From the National Museum of American History:
Titanic struck a North Atlantic iceberg at 11:40 p.m. in the evening of April 14, 1912 at a speed of 20.5 knots (23.6 MPH). The berg scraped along the starboard or right side of the hull below the waterline, slicing open the hull between five of the adjacent watertight compartments. If only one or two of the compartments had been opened, Titanic might have stayed afloat, but when so many were sliced open, the watertight integrity of the entire forward section of the hull was fatally breached. Titanic slipped below the waves at 2:20 a.m. on April 15. The Cunard Liner RMS Carpathia arrived at the scene around two hours after Titanic sank, finding only a few lifeboats and no survivors in the 28 degrees Fahrenheit water. Bernice Palmer took this picture of the iceberg identified as the one which sank Titanic, by the survivors who climbed aboard Carpathia. The large iceberg is surrounded by smaller ice floes, indicating how far north in the Atlantic Ocean the tragedy struck. (original image)

Image by Photo by Bernie Palmer, courtesy of the National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center. From the National Museum of American History:
Bernie Palmer sold rights to her Titanic iceberg and survivor pictures to Underwood & Underwood of New York for only $10.00, not knowing any better. This picture identifies the young facing couple as honeymooners Mr. & Mrs. George A. Harder of Brooklyn, New York. The woman with her back to Bernie's Brownie camera is Mrs. Charles M. Hayes; her husband was President of the Grand Trunk Railway. He died in the shipwreck, but Mrs. Hayes and her two daughters were rescued by Carpathia. (original image)

Image by Photo courtesy of The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Over two hours after the disaster the RMS Carpathia arrived in the area and began rescuing survivors from their lifeboats. (original image)

Image by Photo by Stephan Rehorek, Image Source: Wikimedia. According to the BBC, this is a photograph of the iceberg that sank the Titanic, taken by Stephan Rehorek. If you look closely you can see traces of paint from the side of the ship left behind on the iceberg. Stephan Rehorek was a passenger on a ship that sailed through the waters where the Titanic sank on April 20th aboard the Bremen. Once in the area of the disaster, the people on board could see wreckage and the bodies of more than a hundred victims floating in the water. (original image)

Image by Photo courtesy of The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Less than a third of those aboard Titanic survived the disaster. Some survivors died shortly afterwards; injuries and the effects of exposure caused the deaths of several of those brought aboard Carpathia. (original image)

Image by Photograph courtesy of The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. From the Encyclopaedia Britannica:
Although the Titanic's number of lifeboats exceeded that required by the British Board of Trade, its 20 boats could carry only 1,178 people, far short of the total number of passengers. This problem was exacerbated by lifeboats being launched well below capacity, because crewmen worried that the davits would not be able to support the weight of a fully loaded boat. Lifeboat number 7, which was the first to leave the Titanic, held only about 27 people, though it had space for 65. In the end, only 705 people would be rescued in lifeboats. (original image)

Image by Image Source: Wikipedia. Titanic's lifeboats at the White Star Lines' Pier 54 in New York City after sinking. (original image)

Image by Image Source: Wikipedia. From the Encyclopaedia Britannica:
Titanic's passengers numbered around 1,317 people: 324 in First Class, 284 in Second Class and 709 in Third Class. There were 107 children aboard, the largest number of whom were in Third Class. The ship was considerably under capacity on her maiden voyage, as she could accommodate 2,566 passengers. (original image)

Image by Image Source: Wikipedia. From the Encyclopaedia Brittanica:
According to testimony given afterward at approximately 11:40 p.m., April 14, 1912 about 400 nautical miles (740 km) south of Newfoundland, Canada, an iceberg was sighted, and the bridge was notified. First Officer William Murdoch ordered both the ship “hard-a-starboard” (to the right) and the engines reversed. The Titanic began to turn, but it was too close to avoid a collision. By reversing the engines, Murdoch actually caused the Titanic to turn slower than if it had been moving at its original speed. Most experts believe the ship would have survived if it had hit the iceberg head-on. (original image)

Image by Image Source: Wikipedia. Stateroom B-59, decorated in Old Dutch style. (original image)

Image by Image Source: Wikipedia. From the Encyclopaedia Brittanica:
There were stark differences in the survival rates of the different classes aboard Titanic. Although only 3 percent of First-class women were lost, 54 percent of women in Third class died. Similarly, five of six First-class and all Second-class children survived, but 52 of the 79 in Third class children perished. (original image)

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Scientists Turn Packing Peanuts Into Battery Components

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Mon, 23 Mar 2015 11:27:30 +0000
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In a scientific breakthrough that would be the envy of George Washington Carver himself, scientists may have come up with the most ingenious use of the peanut yet. But these are not the popular legume that Carver fashioned into foods, dyes and cosmetics—they are packing peanuts. A team of chemical engineers at Purdue University has now developed a fascinating way of reusing packing peanuts for the manufacture of carbon anodes, a component of rechargeable batteries that outperform competitive batteries in the market.

Packing peanuts have proven to be incredibly helpful in ensuring the safe arrival of bulky parcels with negligible added weight. However, they are a devil to dispose of. Because they take up so much space and are expensive to transport, many curbside recycling services no longer accept peanuts. As a result, only a fraction of packing peanuts are properly recycled.

The remaining majority gets dumped in landfills where they can pose a significant environmental threat. In addition to taking multiple generations to decompose, polystyrene (Styrofoam being the common brand) based peanuts contain chemicals that are believed to be carcinogenic. In response to criticism of these harmful environmental effects, manufacturers introduced non-toxic starch based, biodegradable peanuts. Yet, the researchers at Purdue claim that this “green” alternative may also contain potentially hazardous chemicals that are used to “puff up” these peanuts.

Vilas Pol, an associate professor at Purdue’s School of Chemical Engineering and lead author of the study, says his inspiration for the project came while ordering materials for his new experimental battery research lab. “We were getting a lot of equipment and chemicals contained in many boxes all full of packing peanuts, and at some point I realized that all these peanuts were going to waste,” says Pol. “We wanted to do something that was good for society and the environment.”

Lithium-ion batteries primarily consist of a positive electrode (cathode) made of a lithium-based substance, a negative electrode (anode) made of carbon, a polymeric membrane separating them and an electrolyte fluid substance that can carry charge through the membrane. When the battery charges, positive lithium ions move from the positive cathode to the negative anode and are stored on the carbon. Conversely, when the battery is in use, the lithium ions flow in the opposite direction, generating electricity.

After an initial analysis revealed that the primary components of packing peanuts are carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, the team sought to develop a process that could utilize the carbon to create an anode for a lithium ion battery. By heating the peanuts under specific conditions, the team was able to isolate the carbon, taking special care to dispose of the oxygen and hydrogen through the formation of water vapor, so as not to create a by-product that was hazardous to the environment. The team then applied additional heat to the remaining carbon, molding it into very thin sheets capable of serving as an anode for their battery.

Surprisingly, the new “upcycled” battery vastly exceeded the scientists’ expectations—storing more overall charge, by about 15 percent, and charging faster than other comparable lithium-ion batteries. It turns out that the team’s unique manufacturing process inadvertently altered the structure of the carbon to their advantage. Further investigation revealed that when water was released from the starch, it produced small pores and cavities—increasing the overall surface area capable of holding the lithium charge. Pol and his colleagues also discovered that their process increased the spacing between the carbon atoms—facilitating a faster charge by allowing the lithium ions more efficient access to each carbon atom. “It’s like you have a bigger door for lithium to travel through,” says Pol. “And this bigger space motivates lithium to move faster.”

In addition to the inherent positive environmental impact of reusing peanuts that would otherwise crowd landfills, the isolation of pure carbon from the peanuts requires minimal energy (only 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit). By contrast, the temperature required to produce conventional carbon used for battery anodes is between 3,600 degrees and 4,500 degrees Fahrenheit and takes several days, states Pol.

The researchers have applied for a patent for their new technology, in hopes of bringing it to market in the next two years, and plan to investigate other uses for the carbon, as well. “This is a very scalable process,” says Pol. And “these batteries are only one of the applications. Carbon is everywhere.

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Japan Testing "Space Tether" to Knock Junk Out of Orbit

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Over the weekend, Japan’s Kounotori 6 re-supply vehicle began a four-day journey to the International Space Station. At the end of that mission, it will begin its decent towards Earth, extending a cable as long as six football fields, which is designed to knock chunks of potentially harmful space debris out of orbit, reports Bill Chappell at NPR.

According to JAXA, Japan’s space agency, the anti-space junk measure—known as the Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiment (KITE)—will be tested for a week before Kounotori burns up in Earth’s atmosphere. The 2,296-foot line is weighted at its outer end by a 44-pound mass. Its movement through Earth's magnetic field generates an electric current that can help redirect space junk towards the lower atmosphere, where it is destroyed.

It's one of many projects aimed at dealing with space junk, a problem that is growing worse year by year.

NASA and the Department of Defense currently track 500,000 pieces of space debris in orbit, with 20,000 of those pieces larger than a softball. Over the decades, Earth has developed a blanket of space debris, including everything from paint flecks from spacecraft to used up rocket stages. And the problem is getting worse—in 2009 a defunct Russian satellite collided with an American satellite, creating 2,000 new pieces of space debris. In 2007, China used a missile to blow a satellite out of orbit, creating a 3,000-chunk mess.

The problem has gotten so bad that in 2011, The National Research Council announced that space junk has reached critical mass and that NASA and other space agencies have not acted quickly enough to address the problem.

“The current space environment is growing increasingly hazardous to spacecraft and astronauts,” Donald Kessler retired head of NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office and chair of the committee that authored the report said in a release. “NASA needs to determine the best path forward for tackling the multifaceted problems caused by meteoroids and orbital debris that put human and robotic space operations at risk.”

We’ve reached a critical threshold knon as Kessler Syndrome, according to Clara Moskowitz at Space.com. There is so much space debris that collisions between these bits and pieces will create more debris, resulting in a cascade effect that creates more and more debris. This process generates space junk faster than it decays, making working in orbit extremely hazardous.

Last year, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden admitted NASA is not moving quickly enough reports Michael Casey at FOX. “We are among those [space agencies] that’s not putting a lot of money into debris removal,” he said. “We work a lot on what we call debris mitigation, making rules that say when you put something in space it has to have enough fuel to, when its mission is over, you can either put it into a parking orbit where it won’t come back for a hundred years, or you can safely de-orbit it into the ocean. But that’s not the answer. The answer’s going to be debris removal, and we’ve got to figure out how to do that.”

There are many projects in development. The European Space Agency is considering a project called e.Deorbit, a satellite that would capture and redirect other satellites using a net or robotic arm, but that project won’t launch until 2023 at the earliest. Researchers at Texas A&M have come up with a concept that would capture and slingshot space debris towards Earth’s atmosphere. CubeSail is a project from the University of Surrey, which uses solar radiation pressure to power a large sail that would drag debris into lower orbit. None of those, however, are currently under construction, making the KITE program an important step toward cleaning up our mess in space.

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Beyond Raspberry Berets: What Prince Left Behind

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If you want to talk about Prince, you could talk about his five No. 1 singles. Or his epic contract disputes with more than one label. Or his bevy of protégés. Or his supposed archive of thousands of unreleased songs. Or the fact that he briefly changed his name to a symbol. Anything to avoid talking about the fact that the music icon died today at age 57.

Others can assess the overall legacy of Prince Rogers Nelson, who was undeniably one of the greatest pop music composers and artists of all time. But for a sense of the artist’s true passion—his music—you need only glimpse into the collections of the Smithsonian Institution itself.

Portraits and possessions of Prince can be found in the National Portrait Gallery, where his visage was featured in the 2014 exhibition exploring “American Cool,” and the soon-to-be-opened National Museum of African American History and Culture. But perhaps the most evocative is a guitar designed especially for Prince’s over-the-top performances: a custom-made yellow cloud guitar in the collection of the National Museum of American History. (The guitar will be on view April 26-Sept. 5, 2016.)

From the collections of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. is this 1993 photograph of Prince Rogers Nelson (1958-2016) by Lynn Goldsmith, now on view through June 1. (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Jimmy Iovine © Lynn Goldsmith)

First seen on film in the 1984 movie Purple Rain, Prince’s choice cloud guitars were built by David Rusan and Barry Haugen at the Minneapolis firm Knut-Koupee Enterprises, Inc. A white cloud was reportedly destroyed at the last gig played by Prince and the Revolution, but the end of that band didn’t calm Prince’s love of clouds. The cloud held in the collections of the American History Museum was made in 1989, just in time for Prince’s out-there Diamonds and Pearls era, which featured a new band, the New Power Generation, and plenty of sexually charged songs to go along with Prince's not-so-slightly suggestive guitar.

"It's artistically innovative and custom-made," says Eric Jentsch, deputy chair of the American History Museum's division of culture and the arts. It’s not often that a guitar immediately conveys the identity of its owner, he notes—"It tells lots of stories." Among those stories, says Jentsch, are tales of what Prince represented for his fans. "He's part of being an American to many," Jentsch says. "It's not just about Prince as a performer, it's also about how Prince and his work have become part of our American culture."

Kevin Strait, historian and museum specialist at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, agrees. Prince’s sound, he says, “was unique enough to draw in multiple audiences,” making his career one that was both deeply rooted in African-American musical history and entirely its own. He notes that one of the museum's inaugural exhibitions, "Musical Crossroads," will contain a tambourine played by the artist, as well as rare concert footage and photographs. Prince’s legacy is one of many iconic objects, Strait notes. “There are so many iconic objects like his boots and the Purple Rain motorcycle that would speak to millions of people,” he says.

So what should we talk about when we talk about Prince? It turns out that it’s almost impossible to skirt the legacy—even moments after his death was announced.

“Identifying what made him so unique is almost a futile exercise,” says Strait. “He incorporated so many different influences and fused together so many sounds and made something creative and unique virtually every time he recorded. That’s a testament to the scope of his genius and the scope of his vision as an artist.”

Looking at the artifacts he left behind only tells part of the story—but it serves as a good starting point to honoring the passing of a legend.

Editor's Note, April 23, 2016: Prince’s cloud guitars were built by David Rusan and Barry Haugen

The National Portrait Gallery will display the 1993 photograph of Prince Rogers Nelson (1958-2016) by Lynn Goldsmith through June 1, 2016. The yellow-cloud electric guitar will be on view at the National Museum of American History beginning April 26 through September 5, 2016.

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Girls CAN Do Math (Duh)

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Thu, 04 Jun 2009 15:09:10 +0000
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In 2005, when then-president of Harvard (and current Obama advisor) Larry Summers posited that biological differences might be one reason why women have not been as successful as men in math and science careers, he was only the latest man to make that suggestion. Back in 1887, George Romanes declared that mental abilities were secondary sex characteristics related to brain size (i.e., girls were stupid because their brains were too tiny).

I wasn’t the only person who thought that Summers was nuts in 2005, even if his theory had such a long tradition.

A new study in this week’s PNAS adds to the evidence that girls' brains are just fine. Psychologist Janet Hyde and oncologist Janet Mertz of the University of Wisconsin set out to answer three questions: Do gender differences in mathematics performance exist in the general population? Do gender differences exist among the highly mathematically talented? And do females exist who possess profound mathematical talent?

The answer to the first question is “no.” There are no longer any differences in math performance between girls and boys in the United States and several other nations.

For the second question, the answer is “sometimes.” There is a gender gap between males and females in the top percentiles of math performance, but it is not found in some ethnic groups and nations. The presence of a gap, they write, “correlates with several measure of gender inequality. Thus, it is largely an artifact of changeable sociocultural factors, not immutable, innate biological differences between the sexes.”

As for the third question, all the researchers had to do was go out and find some of the top-performing female mathematicians. And they didn’t have to look very hard.

The conclusion: girls can do math just as well as boys.

The timing of this study is interesting, because I’m currently reading Women in Mathematics, a 1974 book by Lynn M. Osen, and a gift from my mom, a math teacher. Women have been mathematicians as long as men, and it’s really only women’s circumstances throughout history (mostly uneducated, often unseen) that prevented all but a few from pursuing the field:

In almost any age, it has taken a passionate determination, as well as a certain insouciance, for a female to circumvent the crippling prohibitions against education for women, particularly in a field that is considered to be a male province. In mathematics, the wonder is not that so few have attained proficiency in the field, but that so many have overcome the obstacles to doing so. We can only speculate about the multitude who were dissuaded from the attempt—the Mary Somervilles who never had a fortunate accident to discover their talent, the Agnesis who lacked a mathematically trained parent to nurture their genius, of the Mme du Châtelets who were seduced completely by a frivolous salon life.

But perhaps the larger tragedy is that, even today, we can find remnants of the elitist (or sexist) tradition that has so often surrounded mathematics in the past. It should be acknowledged that during the present century, there have been many women who have achieved remarkably successful careers in fields drawing heavily on mathematics, but to use these women as exemplars of what is possible for any woman who “really tries” is one of the crueler sports of our day. That so many of the resolute do survive speaks to their capabilities and circumstances, as well as the caprice of luck and nature. Far too many fail even to see the reasons they were dissuaded from the effort.

Girls can do math. Can we now move on to making sure that career opportunities are the same for each? That’s a tangible, fixable, problem.

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Good-bye, Gas Guzzlers

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Thu, 23 May 2013 03:00:00 +0000
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Giant leaps of vehicle technology are the stuff of dreams: flying cars, sunmobiles that run solely on solar power or two-wheeled helicars held in balance by gyroscopes. But the path toward cleaner cars will be walked in tiny steps. There’s a place for all-electric and even semi-autonomous vehicles, but tweaks to designs that burn gasoline will deliver much of the fuel-economy gains expected in the coming decades.

Guzzlers are on their way out. This spring, the average fuel economy of all newly purchased cars climbed as high as it’s ever been, to 24.6 miles per gallon, according to an analysis from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). Fuel economy will surely climb even higher: By 2025, national standards demand that automakers achieve a fleet average of at least 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light trucks.

Better fuel economy can help reign in oil consumption and the more than 1.5 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions coughed out annually by U.S. highway vehicles. And although cars and trucks with the best fuel economy often sell at a premium, improved gas mileage can help motorists save money at the pump, where a typical American household now spends about 4 percent of its annual income.

When gasoline prices exceed $4 per gallon, fuel economy tends to rise to be one of the top things people consider when purchasing a vehicle, says Bruce Belzowski, a research scientist at UMTRI. Prices have hovered around that mark nationally—though the national average has not crossed it since 2008--and shoppers are showing an appetite for better fuel economy. “Consumers may be saying, ‘We gotta get more outta this tank,’” Belzowski says.

A recent report from the National Research Council finds that it’s technically feasible to reduce petroleum use and greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles by 80 percent by 2050, compared to 2005 levels. Improving the efficiency of conventionally powered vehicles, however, will not be enough on its own to deliver such dramatic reductions. Cars would have to average upwards of an astonishing--and extremely unlikely--180 miles per gallon to reach that target based on efficiency gains alone. That’s where alternative fuels and all-electric vehicles will come into play. 

All vehicles, no matter their power source, must become much more efficient if those goals are to be realized, but improving the efficiency of those that run on petroleum could have the biggest impact in the near term. These cars make up the vast majority of vehicles on the road today, consuming roughly one-third of all oil used in the United States. And there’s plenty of room for improvement, with as little as one-quarter of the energy in fuel for today’s cars actually being used to move them down the road. Most of the rest is lost as heat in the engine. Minimizing the amount of work that a gas engine must perform is one of the easiest and least costly ways to save fuel. Scientists, researchers and automobile manufacturers believe this can be accomplished through multiple strategies, many of which are catalogued below:

New Tire Technology

Tweaking tire designs can also deliver gains by cutting rolling resistance, or the force caused by the flattening of a tire as it rolls along the road. Cyclists know that a flat tire demands noticeably more legwork to roll along at a respectable clip. Similarly, minimizing the amount of flattening or deformation of a car tire through advanced materials and design can reduce the amount of energy required just to keep it rolling.

Engine Innovations

The most dramatic improvements, though, will probably come from changes to the engine transmission, says Alan Crane, a senior scientist for the National Research Council’s Board on Energy and Environmental Systems and the study director for the NRC report. Transmissions with a higher number of speeds, dual-clutch transmissions and friction-reducing coatings could help engines run at higher efficiency and cut energy loss. 

A technology known as cylinder deactivation is one option for carmakers that desire a less thirsty product. This essentially kills half the engine when it’s not needed—during highway cruising, for example—but keeps the extra power on tap for acceleration, big climbs, boat hauling or other situations requiring a more powerful engine. “So you go from a six cylinder engine to a three,” says Brandon Schoettle, a researcher at UMTRI. Running on fewer cylinders lets drivers have it both ways, prioritizing power when you need it, and economy when you don’t.

Downsizing the engine is another way to gain efficiency, and it no longer has to come at the cost of performance. In conventional gas cars, the internal combustion engine takes a mixture of gasoline and air into a cylinder. A piston moves up to compress this mixture, and then a spark ignites it, producing an explosion that drives the piston downward. A valve opens for exhaust to leave the cylinder, and the cycle begins again: intake, compression, combustion, exhaust. Turbocharging, which forces extra air into an engine’s cylinders, can make it possible for smaller engines to generate more power from each of these tiny explosions. 

Smaller usually means lighter, and a 10 percent reduction in a car’s weight yields about a seven-percent reduction in fuel economy, notes Crane. By 2050, the NRC report concludes cars could weigh 40 percent less. “That’s even without involving a great deal of [lightweight] carbon fiber,” Crane says. “Right now, almost everything in the car is just plain steel.”

Replacing Heavy Steel

Iron and steel alloys make up about 45 percent of most cars’ weight. But increasingly, advanced materials can be applied in a jigsaw fashion, with lightweight pieces inserted into various places in the steel structure. “You can reinforce the parts that are critical,” says Bill Reinert, national manager of advanced technology vehicles for Toyota. High-strength steels are being swapped in as thinner, stronger alternatives to ordinary steel, and aluminum content is on the rise. Carbon fiber and magnesium composites are relatively expensive and difficult materials to work with today, but further down the road they could help cut the weight of some components by as much as 75 percent.

Shedding weight can also have domino effects as few parts in a car run in isolation. “If you can save 100 pounds, you may be able to switch to a lighter, smaller engine, or reduce the size of the brakes,” says Crane. In turn, a smaller engine can mean simply less stuff under the hood, which allows more flexibility for aerodynamic design, leading to even better efficiency.

Optimized Part Production

Advances in computer-assisted design are making it easier to optimize individual parts and systems for a desired outcome. “The tools are improving,” says Crane. “When [automakers] come up with a revision for a car, they can feed a lot more information into the computer, and figure out what the best compromises are for fuel economy, as well as other factors.”

Tweaks to the curves and angles of a car, and the addition of active grill shutters that block air flow when it’s not needed for engine cooling, can minimize as much as 5 percent of a car’s drag at high speeds, enough to reduce a vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions by about 1 gram per mile and yield extra fuel economy. But external changes needn’t be dramatic for cars to achieve 50 or more miles to the gallon. A fuel-sipper of the future, Crane says, “should look pretty much like current vehicles.”

Close inspection or a spin behind the wheel may reveal some differences, however. “Because it’s significantly lighter weight, [a more-efficient car of the future] may feel somewhat different. It’ll handle better, it’ll whip around a corner better,” Crane says. In analyzing the possible pathways to those 2050 goals, the NRC team assumed vehicles would continue more or less in their current form. Those cars will “be a little more windswept-looking,” Crane says, but nothing radical. Vehicles “don’t get smaller or so swept back that you can’t fit anyone in the back seat.”

A Helping Hand From Computers

More than a decade after the U.S. introduction of the Prius, hybrids still make up only a tiny sliver of the overall auto market—about three percent of vehicles sold in the United States. But some of the technology in today’s hybrids could help a broad swath of tomorrow’s cars get better gas mileage. One of the most important pieces is start-stop technology, which shuts off the engine when the vehicle is at rest, and then restarts when the driver steps on the accelerator.

In hybrids, this is often combined with regenerative braking, which harnesses kinetic energy during slowing and braking to charge a battery. The stored electricity can then be used to restart the engine. “Regenerative braking and start-stop are going to be basically very common design elements in the next few years,” Crane says.

Of course, when it comes to fuel economy, driver behavior matters, too. The difference in fuel use between an aggressive, lead-footed driver and an even-keeled, conservative one can be as much as 20 percent. To some extent, technology could nudge drivers away from their more wasteful tendencies. While autonomous driving is unlikely to result in driverless cars, at least not any time soon, the chief executive of Renault-Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, said at a recent event at Stanford University, “you’re going to see a lot of cars with less input from the driver.” Those cars can be optimized for fuel economy and efficient routing.

In the more distant future, intersections could be places where cars are programmed to slow down and weave their way through, rather than slamming the brakes or navigating roundabouts, UMTRI’s Schoettle suggests. “If no one is stopping, you’ve improved fuel economy,” he notes.

“It would be great if there was some magic bullet,” says Toyota’s Reinert—some technology that could turn a dirty car clean without us ever noticing a difference in performance, choice, convenience or pricing. The reality is multiple technologies in the right combinations can go a long way toward cleaning up our vehicles. “All these things are little,” Reinert says, “but it all adds up.”

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Franken Berry, the Beloved Halloween Cereal, Was Once Medically Found to Cause Pink Poop

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Franken Berry cereal was originally released in 1971 by General Mills with his monster-buddy Count Chocula. Photo by the author.

In 1971, Walt Disney World had just opened in Orlando, Florida. Led Zepplin was about to blow our minds, a prison riot had been shut down at Attica, and all across America, kids were pooping pink. Hundreds of mothers hospitalized their children for fecal testing out of fear of internal bleeding. Within that same year, not-so-coincidentally, General Mills released their classic monster cereals Count Chocula and Franken Berry. The latter was colored red using “Food, Drug and Cosmetics” (FD & C) Red No. 2 and No. 3., originally and chemically known as amaranth, a synthetic color named after the natural flower. The synthetic dye can’t be broken down or absorbed by the body.

A 1972 case study, “Benign Red Pigmentation of Stool Resulting from Food Coloring in a New Breakfast Cereal (The Franken Berry Stool),” published in Pediatrics explains the phenomenon later known as “Franken Berry Stool.” A 12-year-old boy was hospitalized for four days after being admitted for possible rectal bleeding. “The stool had no abnormal odor but looked like strawberry ice cream,” Payne reports. Further questioning of the mother revealed that the child had enjoyed a bowl of Franken Berry cereal two days and one day prior to his hospitalization. By the fourth day, they did a little experiment: They fed the boy four bowls of Franken Berry cereal and for the next two days, he passed bright pink stools. But other than pink poop, there were no other symptoms, Payne reports, “Physical examination upon admission revealed in no acute distress and with normal vital signs…Physical examination was otherwise unremarkable.”

At the time of the study, the product had only been on the market for a few weeks. The author warns that “physicians should be aware of its potential for producing reddish stools.” Other monster cereals at the time also used dyes that caused stool to change colors. Booberry, which debuted in December of 1972, for example, uses Blue No. 1 (a dye currently banned in Norway, Finland and France) and turns stool green. Apparently, green stool seems less life-threatening than the reddish hue caused by Franken Berry.

But pink poop wasn’t always the worst side effect from colored confections. Ruth Winters’s A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients details the history of commercial food dyes, including those later used in Franken Berry. At the turn of the 20th century, with virtually no regulation of more than 80 dyes used to color food, the same dyes used for clothes could also be used to color confections and other edibles.

In 1906, Congress passed the first legislation for food colors, the Pure Food and Drug Act, deeming seven colors suitable for use in food: orange, erythrosine, ponceu 3R, amaranth (the color later used in Franken Berry cereal), indigotin, naphthol yellow, and light green. Since then, upon further study, several of these choices have been delisted.

More than 20 years later, in 1938, Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which gave these colors numbers instead of chemical names—every batch needed to be certified by the Food and Drug Administration, though some problems still arose: in the fall of 1950, many children became ill from eating an orange Halloween candy containing one to two percent FD&C Orange No. 1, for example.

Red Dye No. 2, the one used by the original Franken Berry cereal, was one of the most widely used color additives at the time, until a 1971 Russian study reported that the dyes caused tumors in female rats.  Years of research led the FDA to find that even though the Russian study was extremely flawed (the FDA couldn’t even prove that amaranth was one of the dyes used), the agency would remove the dye from its Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) list in 1976. Between public outcry against the dye and the chance that trace elements could potentially have carcinogens, the FDA banned a number of other dyes as well. According to the FDA, 47 other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, still allow for the use of Red Dye No. 2.

That same year, Mars removed their red M&M’s from the candy-color spectrum for nearly a decade, even though Mars didn’t even use Red No. 2; the removal of the red candies was a response to the scare, livescience.com reports:

The red food coloring in question was not actually used in M&M’s chocolate candies, according to mms.com. “However, to avoid consumer confusion, the red candies were pulled from the color mix.”

Inquiries to General Mills as to when the Franken Berry ingredients switched to less poop-worrying dyes, were not responded to. These days, the only red colors accepted by the FDA are Red No. 40, which appears in all five of the General Mills monster cereals, and Red No. 3, typically used in candied fruits.

The symptoms of “Franken Berry Stool” were pretty benign compared to other more notable confectionary mishaps in history: The accidental poisoning of more than 200 people in Bradford, England in 1858 comes to mind. The sweets were accidentally made with arsenic. Let’s be thankful there’s a bit more regulation of food dyes these days.

Another stool scare in cereal history: Smurfberry Crunch Cereal, released in 1982 by Post Foods, turned the poop of those who ate it blue—the ultimate Smurfs experience. Post then changed the formula and re-released the cereal in 1987 as Magic Berries Cereal.

Looking for a sugar high now? You’re safe. When you open your celebratory, Franken Berry or any of the other monster cereals this Halloween, , expect a sugar high—without the pink poop aftermath. We tasted all five of the cereals and Count Chocula is the best by a long shot.

The best part is when the chocolate “sweeties,” as the marshmallows were called in the original commercials in 1971, are all gone: the plain milk becomes chocolate milk. Let’s be real, what child—or “adult”—prefers regular milk to chocolate? I haven’t met this kind of person.

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The Long, Unfortunate History of Racial Parody in America

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At the onset of the Great Depression, a time when financially distressed Americans eagerly sought entertaining escapes from their economic woes, a radio program based in 19th-century stage traditions of blackface minstrelsy became a favorite broadcast over the country’s airwaves. 

For more than 30 years, between 1926 and 1960, white comedians Freeman Fisher Gosden and Charles J. Correll wrote and performed “The Amos 'n' Andy Show.”  As many as 40 million people—over half of the nation’s radios—tuned in each week to hear the adventures of Amos Jones (Gosden) and Andrew Hogg Brown (Correll), the hapless proprietors of the “Fresh Air Taxicab Company of America, Incorpulated.”

In a professional studio photograph from around 1935 and now in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Gosden stands at right, one hand gripping the lapel of a slightly rumpled suit coat worn over shabby, wide legged pants. A cigar is clamped tightly between his teeth and his free hand rests authoritatively on the shoulder of Brown, who dejectedly sits beside him on a barrel. Both men have covered their faces and hands with black makeup made of burnt cork, taking care to outline their lips in bright white paint, and each wears a wooly black wig that mimics an African American hair type. Gosden’s eyes peer haughtily down his nose from beneath the bowler hat that completes his all-business outfit of suitcoat, collared shirt and tie. 

In contrast, Correll, is dressed in shirt sleeves and a vest, threadbare trousers and boots. He wears a comedic, hangdog expression, frowning as though deeply weary from the unfair trials that the world has repeatedly set before him.

Begun as a local 15-minute show out of Chicago before being picked up by CBS and then NBC, which lengthened it to 30 minutes, the aural format of the “The Amos 'n' Andy Show” allowed Gosden and Correll to transform the comedic component of traditional minstrelsy performance into something new. While pre-radio minstrelsy featured a variety of vaudevillian segments including songs and dance performances, with their radio show, the two men stressed the oral aspects of form, since in the visual, physical and stage-bound components could not be accommodated by radio’s aural format.

In so doing, “The Amos 'n' Andy Show” became a precursor of the situation comedies that would soon come to dominate non-musical radio programming and, later on, much of television as well. (Surviving episodes of “The Amos 'n' Andy Show” are in the public domain and are available for streaming.)

“The Amos 'n' Andy Show” became a precursor of the situation comedies that would soon come to dominate non-musical radio programming and, later on, much of television as well. (unidentified artist, NPG, gift of an anonymous donor)

Every Halloween, amidst the year’s annual parody of political figures and pop-culture heroes are the less welcome costumes. With faces covered in brown makeup and dreadlocked wigs; buck-toothed “ninjas” wielding fake nunchakus; “bad hombres” wearing bandoliers, serapes, and sombreros; and “Indian maidens” in beaded buckskins, feathered headdresses, and moccasins, these insensitive choices make masquerade of whole groups of people and their ancestors. Based on mythic or exaggerated ideas of ethnic and cultural difference, they also have painful performative origins deep in American history and culture.

On-stage, blackface minstrelsy was most popular immediately following the post-Civil War period of Reconstruction, when the country was trying to grapple with reforming itself and adapting its social hierarchy following the end of race-based slavery. However, its revenants have persisted and evolved well into the 21st century. 

In his landmark studyLove and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, scholar Eric Lott argues that familiar practices of racial crossdressing and public performance emerged from colonial carnivals, election day festivals and the theatrical distractions created by Irish American working class men in mid-19th century New York City. Lott says that blackface minstrelsy was as much about the desire to appropriate an exaggerated idea of black performance as it was in socially repressing and demeaning those communities it emulated.

When eager Americans gathered around their radios each week to listen to “The Amos 'n' Andy Show,” they leaned in to hear voices that performed exaggerated ideas of blackness. In their scripts, Gosden and Correll relied on grammatical acrobatics, malapropisms, and the exaggerated mispronunciation of words, which supposedly demonstrated the intellectual and cultural inferiority of their characters.

In Voice Over: The Making of Black Radio, scholar William Barlow recounts contemporary criticism from African American leaders who condemned the show’s dialog as crude, demeaning and moronic.

Barlow also notes the contributions that the show made to American vernacular English, including the saying, “Holy Mackerel,” which soon became a part of everyday slang.

Despite its offensive nature to many audiences, the popularity of the show was widespread and led to the production and consumption of all sorts of promotional products from candy and lapel pins to paper dolls.

While their contemporary radio audience would have immediately known Gosden and Correll by their distinctive voices, recognizing their physical appearance was less assured. Therefore, in order to create and inhabit their characters for publicity photographs, the actors presented themselves for the camera fully costumed and in ubiquitous blackface makeup. In this way, they were able to materialize the culturally conditioned fantasies of their listeners.

The performative tradition that Gosden and Correll adapted in “The Amos 'n' Andy Show” had reached its zenith before either man was born, but its legacy persists long after their deaths and well into our present day. It was not until the late-1950s, when the rise of photojournalism and the spread of television gave greater visibility to national civil rights protests, that the kind of blackface performance, which featured burnt cork makeup and bright white lips all but ceased to be reproduced in American visual culture.

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Unfortunately, only slightly milder forms of blackface and its equally degrading cousins yellowface, redface and brownface, still make frequent reappearances in popular culture and in the entertainment industry.  

Whenever a white actor’s features are deliberately changed and their mannerisms are exaggerated in order to inhabit the role of an ethnic minority in films and television we see the reappearance of this highly problematic practice. 

Instances of racial masquerade also appear in contemporary music and on talk radio with disturbing frequency. 

But it is on Halloween, that most American of holidays, that the ghosts of Amos and Andy rise again, to walk the earth, and haunt our dreams of one day living in a truly post-racial society.

Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw is a professor of History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania. She has organized the upcoming Richardson Symposium at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on November 4 and 5, 2016, which will feature a keynote address “Racial Hauntology in the Age of Obama,” by Eric Lott.  

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Ebola Vaccine For Chimps Could Help Save Wild Populations

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Ebola virus is a pretty scary disease for humans, but it’s equally scary for great apes. Since 1994, massive outbreaks in Africa have hit chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and killed an estimated third of the world’s gorillas (Gorilla sp.).  For the endangered chimps and critically endangered gorillas, the problem now rivals poaching and habitat loss.

“Ebola virus has done an extraordinary amount of damage in gorilla and chimpanzee populations in Africa over the last 20 or 30 years. We’re talking tens of thousands of apes,” says Peter Walsh, a primate ecologist at the University of Cambridge. Walsh and his colleagues think they have a solution: develop a vaccine that works in captive chimps to save those in the wild. The results of their successful vaccine trial were published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The prevailing theory is that fruit bats carry the virus without symptoms and somehow give it to apes. But where the virus goes between outbreaks is unknown as is how chimps and gorillas get it. The only way scientists have known about outbreaks is through ape carcasses that turn up and documented population losses in areas where a known Ebola outbreak has occurred. In some of these outbreaks, large colonies of apes suddenly disappear—an outbreak in Gabon and the Congo killed an estimated 5000 gorillas from 2002 to 2003. 

A colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of an Ebola virus virion. (Image: CDC/Frederick Murphy)

With so many unknowns, the most realistic—and affordable—solution to stemming Ebola’s spread in great apes may be vaccination. Although a lot of work has focused on developing an Ebola vaccine for humans, Walsh thinks that some vaccines that didn’t make the cut for humans could work for chimps.

The most affective vaccines contain live versions of the replicating virus itself. Live vaccines come with a higher risk of infecting the animal and a real danger of spreading the disease. However, a virus-like protein (VLP) vaccine just contains a piece of the protein coating that envelops the virus. It trains immune systems to recognize the protein and produce the requisite antibodies to fight the virus without the risk of infecting the animal.

“Later on if you’re actually infected your immune system says, ‘Aha I know what that is,’ and it kills it,” says Walsh.

The team chose a VLP vaccine that had protected captive macaque monkeys and mice against the dangerous Zaire strain of Ebola. They then worked with six research chimpanzees at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. They administered the vaccine to each chimp in three doses over 56 days and tested the animal’s blood for specific antibodies and virus-fighting T-cells after each dose. The chimps showed no signs of symptoms, but they did produce a substantial immune response.

Next, the researchers injected groups of mice—one with saline solution and one with chimp blood samples flush with Ebola antibodies and T-cells. Then, they gave the mice Ebola. Mice injected with the blood had a much higher chance of survival, while those injected with the saline solution all died from the disease.

The team’s larger motive is to prove that the technology works before they conduct field trials in Africa. To inoculate a wild chimp or gorilla you’d need to deliver the vaccine via dart three times, and that’s where things get complicated.

“Any vaccine that would require three immunizations—that’s going to be a logistical nightmare,” says Tom Geisbert, a vaccine expert at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Deep in the forests of central Africa darting the same animal three times seems like a long shot.

It’s also unclear how long that immunity would last, too, though Geisbert suspects no more than a year. In contrast, the riskier live vaccine typically only requires one dose to protect the individual for a decade in some cases and would confer longer immunity. And if the one dose—whether of live or VLP vaccine—could be taken orally, that would be even better,  

Improvements in vaccine technology might make oral vaccines a reality in the next decade or two. Nonetheless, Walsh is pushing for a short-term solution because wild apes may not have decades.

Efforts to develop ape vaccines are embroiled in a larger debate over the use and treatment of chimpanzees in research laboratories, including the New Iberia facility where this trial was conducted. Last summer, the National Institutes of Health announced plans to retire over 300 of its 360 research chimpanzees, partly because some researchers think that chimps are now largely unnecessary in human biomedical research thanks to better animal models for testing medicines. Animal rights groups also argue that the caged conditions the animals are kept in during trials are unsanitary and inhumane.  

Captive chimpanzee at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana, where the Ebola vaccine trial for wild chimp conservation was conducted. (Photo: Jeremy Breaux/New Iberia Research Council)

The soon-to-be-retired research chimpanzees are used to test human vaccines. But now, “Animal welfare is trumping the survival of these species,” Walsh says. The authors argue that perhaps we owe it to chimps to maintain humanely housed captive populations devoted to conservation research.

Others see the research populations as unnecessary. “I don’t think that’s a justification for keeping chimpanzees in that setting, that in and of itself. There are other animals that can be utilized as proxies,” says Karen Terio, a veterinary pathologist at the University of Illinois in Urbana who was not affiliated with the study. Macaques, other monkey species, and more sophisticated mouse models could adequately demonstrate the safety of the vaccine for wild ape population use, she argues. Although some groups still feel the use of other animals is inhumane, these animals are commonly viewed as not capable of the same psychological trauma that testing may have on ape subjects.

At the very least, the trial raises awareness that poaching and habitat destruction aren’t the only troubles that chimps face. Ebola also isn’t the only disease that infects great apes; simian immuno-deficiency virus (SIV or the ape version of HIV) and malaria are two others that threaten these endangered wild populations. Humans can transmit other viruses to apes, as well. Ironically, many apes living in protected or sanctuary areas catch respiratory viruses from humans—conservationists, researchers, tourists even.  

Walsh hopes that the trial opens the door for vaccinating chimps and other apes against these other pathogens too. “To conserve them, we’re killing them,” says Walsh. “It becomes more difficult to justify not doing it [vaccinating them] on emotional grounds.”

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Why Orchids Belong in an Art Museum

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For more than 20 years the Smithsonian Gardens annual winter orchid show has usually alternated between the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the U.S. Botanic Garden, which collaborates on the event. 

This year, the annual winter show of tropical color is being staged at an art museum.

Art and sculpture have long depicted the ornate, exotic petals of the orchid, dating back to the ancient Greek and Chinese. But the show titled “orchids: A MOMENT” with its odd capitalization, is instead inside the distinctive rounded walls of Washington, D.C.’s home for cutting edge contemporary art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

On a 14-foot shelf installed along the concave curve of the interior lobby glass, up to 100 plants display the dizzying variety of orchid species and hybrids. 

Like some of the art found in the two floors above, there are bursts of color in the display, surprises in juxtaposition and the repetition of kaleidoscopic patterns and textures. It is also, like some pieces of contemporary art, entirely ephemeral. Blooms fade, so fully 40 percent of the plants are replaced each week. Before it ends in May, an estimated 1,000 plants will be used.

As the plants slowly evolve before our eyes (sped up in three accompanying screens of slow motion action), it’s tempting to think of it all as performance art.

But if orchid fans find the Hirshhorn an usual place for their beloved show, museum director Melissa Chiu thinks it’s a fine fit.

“The Hirshhorn’s unique modernist architecture offers a striking backdrop for the orchids’ brilliant color,” Chiu says.  “When presented in such an intricate and unexpected installation, they set a tone for the rest of your visit, hinting you’re about to be transported somewhere extraordinary.”

The January opening of “orchids: A MOMENT” came between two major exhibitions at the Hirshhorn that contained similar elements. The first U.S. museum retrospective of Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson featured a woman strumming an E minor guitar on a revolving platform behind a glitter curtain (the performers had to be switched out every 2 1/2 hours).

The anticipated Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibition that opens February 23 will involve environmental installations and organic repetitions of items such as pumpkins. It’s expected to be so popular, there will be timed entry passes and lines in the lobby.

“How wonderful to have these beautiful plants for people to see and enjoy while they’re waiting to go into the Kusama exhibit,” says Tom Mirenda, the Smithsonian Orchid Collection specialist, who has been planning the show for a year. 

“This is a real departure for us,” says Mirenda. But he adds, “I love the contrast of the worldly world of plants with these other-worldly plants that Kusama is going to feature.”

The annual orchid show was extended a month longer than normal, through May 14, to coincide with the Kusama show.

Before that opens, visitors will find only a couple of echoes of the orchids in the museum, though there are flowers in say, Horace Pippin’s 1945 folk art painting Holy Mountain III. The spots of color in a 1958 Alexander Calder tabletop sculpture 29 Discs might bring to mind the tiny bursts of the Cattlianthe Blazing Treat. The extending proboscis of Alberto Giacometti’s Nose may recall the organic extensions of the Dendrochilum wenzelii. 

There is one piece of video art in the Suspended Animation show currently on view through March 12, entitled Orchids, or a Hemispherical Bottom. The 19-minute video by British artist Helen Marten eventually shows, among its many artifacts, an orchid placed on the hindquarters of a computer generated figure.  

“You wonder how much overlap there is between natural history and a modern art museum like the Hirshhorn, so this allows us to sort of explore that,” Mirenda says. “And who knows? Maybe we’ll turn on some new people to orchids. Maybe we’ll turn orchid people on to modern art. 

Even so: “It’s taking us a little bit outside our comfort zone in terms of how we exhibit orchids,” he says. “We decided to go with a completely different aesthetic and idea. Basically, we’re presenting the orchids as art objects rather than as these wild untamed things, and talking about their biology and how they interact with pollinators, and things like that.”

Indeed, there aren’t even labels on the plants—though representatives from Smithsonian Gardens are on hand to interpret and answer questions. In addition, a changing grid at a website will show which species is in which cubby hole at any given time. 

Because 40 percent of the plants have to be subbed out each week, it may be necessary to keep up. But it also provides a bit of a chore for people like Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist Melanie Pyle, who must find the right sized-cubby for the right sized plants each week, and then move them around to make sure they work well together. It’s like a puzzle, she says. Plus they have to keep in mind what’s blooming.

“The reason why the orchid show is at the time of year that it is because this is when the largest number of plants are in bloom,” Pyle says. “With that comes the timing of certain individual species. For example, one variety of orchids will be in bloom this week, and then next week they won’t. And then the next Friday, another variety of orchids will be in bloom. So you are trying to represent the wide variety of the orchid family. But some weeks, we’ll have a larger numbers of one, like more phalaenopsis this week, and then next week you won’t have so much; you might find more lady slipper orchids. 

“So that always comes into consideration: how to spread them out throughout the exhibit so they’re not all located in one area, and you’re not just showing that variety of orchids, you’re trying to get as many different plants in there as possible.”

The Smithsonian Orchid Collection, housed in Suitland, Maryland, grew from five plants in 1974 to close to 8,000 plants. Still, its holdings may be exhausted by the end of the exhibit.

Not every kind of orchid will be represented either. “There are over 25,000 species of orchids, and probably 10 times the amount of hybrids,” Mirenda says. “The hybrids tend to be longer lasting, because they’re just stronger, and have more vigor.”

The lobby wasn’t thought to be an optimum place for a flower display—the two entry doors let in cold air regularly. “But we actually tested the winter before and took temperature readings where we knew the plants would be, and realized it wasn’t going to be an issue for the plants,” he says.

A bigger issue is humidity, which is usually kept low at museums to protect the art work. 

“But everyday, horticulturists mist the plants and make sure that they’re happy,” Mirenda says. “If they’re not doing well, we take them out as soon as we discern that.”

And in placement, there’s yet another consideration rather than how it appears. “We try and place the orchids that are fragrant at eye levels or below so people can actually smell them,” Pyle says. Such proximity wasn’t always available at the Natural History museum, where the flowers would often be behind barriers.

But at the Hirshhorn, she says, another art museum taboo has been broken. “We don’t really mind too much if they touch them, as long as they’re not pulling them off the shelf.” 

orchids: A Moment continues through May 15 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. 

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How Dorothy's Ruby Slippers Came to the Smithsonian

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On a spring day in 1970, as MGM studios was clearing out its famous backlot property in Culver City in advance of its sale to a developer, a costumes worker named Kent Warner slipped into the deep storage on the third floor. He crept up the stairs to the lady’s character wardrobe.

On a dusty shelf, he found what he was looking for—a collection of ruby slippers that Judy Garland wore for her portrayal of Dorothy Gale for the filming of the 1939 Wizard of Oz. These were the famous shoes that only needed to be tapped three times and that touched so many hearts with their magical theme—“There’s no place like home.”

There were several sets of ruby slippers on the shelf, plus a curly-toed test pair. Warner had been told to destroy all but one. The single remaining pair were to be offered for sale at the seminal multi-day MGM Studios auction, where 350,000 costumes were to be sold, including the loin cloth worn by Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan and Gene Kelly’s sailor hat from the 1949 film On the Town

Warner picked out a pair of ruby slippers for the sale. But on the sly, he stuffed the others in a bag and walked them off the lot. 

The pair that Warner delivered to MGM for the auction sold for an astounding $15,000 to an anonymous buyer, who donated them to the Smithsonian Institution nine years later.

Today, we know that the Smithsonian’s Ruby Slippers are a mismatched pair, with a half-size difference. To the critical eye, they’re almost underwhelming. Under low lights and displayed on a mock yellow-brick road carpet, the roughly 2,400 cellulose nitrate sequins sewn onto the heels are a duller shade of red than you might expect, and the bows are slightly different.

But the millions of visitors that come to the National Museum of American History annually to stand transfixed before them—smudges on the heavy glass vitrine must be routinely cleaned—seem not to notice that age is taking its toll.

Dawn Wallace, the objects conservator who cares for the slippers, says that the delicate threads—frayed a little on the right toe—and the imperfections that betray a human touch are part of the appeal.

Earlier this year, the museum launched a Kickstarter campaign to clean and study the fragile sequins, and build a custom state-of-the-art case to preserve the shoes. A similar crowdsourcing project last August raised $719,779 to pay for the conservation costs of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 Apollo 11 spacesuit and the suit worn by Alan Shepard during the 1961 Mercury flight. (Among the rewards for contributions is a signed poster by Broadway costume designer William Ivey Long and a hand-sewn replica pair of the slippers by bead artist Randy Struthers.)

Image by NMAH. (original image)

Image by NMAH. (original image)

Image by NMAH. (original image)

Image by NMAH. (original image)

The ruby slippers are, of course, one of the most iconic relics of the golden age of Hollywood.

“They’re a portal—a promise that you can click your heels and go home,” says Morgan White, the director of the acclaimed 2016 documentary, The Slippers that premiered at this year’s South By Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas.

The ruby slippers that Kent Warner lifted were just one of thousands of pieces he rescued—or stole—from trash bins and off racks.

From The Wizard of Oz film, he carried off Dorothy’s signature blue gingham dress, as well as a sepia-toned iteration that was used for the scenes before the film burst into Technicolor. But he also carried off dresses worn by Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire’s shoes, even—allegedly—Humphrey Bogart’s trench coat from Casablanca.

“He recognized Hollywood’s history before anyone in Hollywood really did,” says Rhys Thomas, the reporter who discovered Warner’s story and author of The Ruby Slippers of Oz, the 1989 account of where the other ruby slippers skipped to after Warner took them.

Of course, Warner’s motives were not always altruistic. He often saved items by selling them off. In doing so, he is credited with launching the lucrative, somewhat shady aftermarket for Hollywood memorabilia. But a pair of Ruby Slippers that he kept for himself—the best pair—was his crown jewel.

But what happened to the others?

Before the auction, MGM gave one away as second prize in a 1940 contest to name the ten best movies of 1939. Roberta Jeffries, a high school junior in Memphis, Tennessee, won them and didn’t think much of it until she read about the 1970 auction, though she had shown the shoes at libraries and schools. When she came forward to verify that her pair was bona fide, she caused a huge stir—most people didn’t know there was more than one pair. "It was real exciting," she told Thomas in 1988, in an article for the L.A. Times. "I called the paper right away and said, 'I have a pair of the ruby red slippers' and that's when all the commotion started."

She sold them in 1988 for $165,000, and a private collector owns them now.

Another pair was stolen while on loan to the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in 2005 and disappeared. Police searched the surrounding area, even diving into nearby Tioga Mine Pit Lake on the hunch that they may have been chucked in the water after the crime, but found nothing. Even a $1 million reward failed to shake them loose.

Warner parted with his pair in 1981 for just $12,000 to an anonymous buyer. He was one of the first men on the west coast diagnosed with AIDS, and he was struggling to pay his medical bills. He died in 1984.

But the shoes, at last, will get the kind of celebration he always wanted for them.

His pair were sold to Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg in 2012, to be displayed at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which opens in 2018 in Los Angeles.

The 80-year-old Ruby Slippers at the Smithsonian have since become one of the most popular and treasured of its artifacts. It’s an ending that would have pleased the man who saved them, says Morgan White. “Kent was the man behind the curtain.”

UPDATE: 12/15/2016: Following the success of the Kickstarter Campaign, changes were made to this article.

UPDATE: 10/24/2016Just before midnight on October 23, after only seven days, the National Museum of American History announced that its goal of $300,000 on its first Kickstarter Campaign had been met. More than 5,300 financial backers stepped up with small donations from between $25 and $7,000 to help the museum's conservators restore the Ruby Slippers worn by Judy Garland in her role as Dorothy Gale in 1939 movie classic, The Wizard of Oz. Dubbed #KeepThemRuby, the campaign now has another 23 days to go; and the museum will announce later today its stretch goal, suggesting that another character that journeyed down the Yellow Brick Road in the popular film will be its next focus. Brains, courage or heart? But of course, one only needs not much of a brain to guess; given which of the three costumes the museum holds in its collections. —Ed

The National Museum of American History invites donations with a goal of $300,000 to protect the Ruby Slippers from environmental harm and to slow deterioration. Funds will also be used to build a state-of-the-art display case for the famous shoes. Donations can be made at the museum's Kickstarter page through November 16, 2016. 

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