September 9, 2012
Sadly, Bill Moggridge, director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City, died yesterday, at the age of 69 years old. According to the museum, he died after battling cancer. His visionary leadership will be sorely missed by the Smithsonian community and surely the design world at large.
“All of us at the Smithsonian mourn the loss of a great friend, leader and design mind,” said Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough. “In his two short years as director of Cooper-Hewitt, Bill transformed the museum into the Smithsonian’s design lens on the world, and we are forever grateful for his extraordinary leadership and contributions.”
In recent years, Moggridge described his career as having three phases. Early in his professional life, he was a designer. In 1982, he developed the first laptop computer, known as the GRiD Compass. Later, Moggridge was leading design teams, having co-founded IDEO, a design and innovation consulting firm with David Kelley and Mike Nuttall in 1991. In the last decade, he considered himself first and foremost a communicator, sharing his ideas about the role of design in everyday life in his books (Designing Interactions, published in 2006, and Designing Media, in 2010) and lectures.
The Cooper-Hewitt honored Moggridge in 2009 with its National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement. A year later, he joined the museum as its fourth-ever director. In his two years of direction, Moggridge encouraged lively conversation about all realms of design, engaging the field’s best and brightest—YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, Google CreativeLab’s Robert Wong and architect Michael Graves, among others—in an interview series called Bill’s Design Talks. He was also overseeing the ongoing $54 million renovation of the Cooper-Hewitt, which is due to reopen in 2014.
“During his tenure, Bill led the museum to the highest exhibition attendance numbers on record, pioneered bringing design into the K-12 classroom and dramatically increased digital access to the collection through vehicles like the Google Art Project,” said Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture. “His innovative vision for the future of the museum will be realized upon reopening, and his foresight will impact museum visitors and design thinkers of tomorrow. He will be greatly missed.”
I had the great opportunity to interview Moggridge in early 2011 for Smithsonian magazine, after he had received the 2010 Prince Philip Designers Prize—Britain’s most prestigious design award—for his contributions to the field. Design, he said in the interview—”It’s all about solving problems.” What I remember most though was Moggridge’s adoration for the simplest of designs, and his eloquence when it came to describing them.
“I love something as uncomplicated as a paper clip, because it is such a neat way of solving a problem with very little material,” he said. “If I think about something more sensuous, I’ve always been interested in the perfect spoon. It is delectable in a multisensory way: the appearance, the balance and feeling as you pick it up off the table, then the sensation as it touches your lips and you taste the contents.”
July 26, 2012
In her fifties, Cuban crocodile Dorothy is now the proud mother of two new baby crocs. Surprising everyone at the National Zoo, the elderly animal was presumed to be done laying eggs. “We thought our window was kind of lost,” supervisory biologist Matthew Evans told the AP.
The zoo has not been able to successfully hatch Cuban crocodile eggs since 1988, making the birth of two new hatchlings a critical achievement. Of the 26 eggs Dorothy laid, only 12 were fertile. Those were taken to incubators where only two made it to hatching. With only 4,000 remaining in the wild, the Cuban crocodile is endangered.
Other Cuban crocodile babies have been born in zoos around the country, but the species is still very rare. “To actually have offspring that we’re sitting here looking at is just — I can’t express to you how cool and exciting that is,” Evans said.
The Zoo says it may display one of the babies to demonstrate its conservation efforts. Known for being feisty, the animals can even be aggressive toward each other and necessitate a great deal of care.
Before the public gets a chance to view the critters in person, check out the Zoo’s flickr page for more photos.
July 25, 2012
The National Zoo’s baby cheetah cubs are growing up so fast. Don’t worry though; at three months old, their level of cuteness has not diminished with age.
“They are growing very big and they are playful, running around the yard and getting used to everything,” says Lacey Braun, the head of the cheetah care team. “It’s really good that they have each other to interact with. Hand-raised cheetahs are really hard to breed in the future, but since they have each other, it will be easier when the time comes.”
And the big news is that starting Saturday July 28, the little cubs, which were born in April out in Front Royal, Virginia, at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, will make their first in-town debut when they are released into their new yard at the National Zoo.
But these cats aren’t here just for their close up. Braun was there the night the cubs were rescued from the brink of death and says the pair is nothing short of a miracle in the cheetah-breeding world.
“Cheetahs are one of the most difficult cat species to breed,” Braun said. “We still don’t know a lot about them, so we are constantly learning.”
There are only an estimated 7,500 to 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild, and Braun says that the work and research efforts in the breeding program is integral to creating a self-sustaining cheetah population in the wild.
So sports fans, here’s another cheetah highlight. For those of you getting hyped for the Olympics, the Zoo is going to name the cubs after the winners of the 100-meter dash competition. The fastest American male and female Olympiads will be shortly sharing names with the fastest land mammals in the world.
Zoo visitors can come check out the cubs at the Cheetah Conservation Station every day at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., at hour-long intervals at first. How long they romp about will be up to the cubs, but visitors should be ready with their cameras.
January 12, 2012
The Smithsonian Institution, since its earliest days, has focused on one technique for learning about science, art, history, music and a wide range of other fields: asking questions. When James Smithson left his fortune to the U.S. government to create a at Washington an institution for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge,” he had this ideal in mind—the use of the scientific method to find out information and the importance of always asking questions to explore the world. Today, Smithsonian scientists, historians and curators continue this tradition, using the power of the question to better understand their field.
Now, with ‘Ask Smithsonian,’ Smithsonian magazine gives you the chance to ask your own questions—and have them answered by the Smithsonian’s remarkable group of experts and researchers. Submit your own big questions—whether in the sciences, humanities, or any topic you’ve been wondering about—and give these experts the chance to ponder all sorts of things. For each month’s issue, we’ll select a batch of reader-submitted questions and publish them in the magazine, along with answers from the experts.
We’re looking for complex questions. Discover the opportunity to go beyond an Internet search and dig deeper into the vast realms of information the Smithsonian has to offer. You may even have questions that our experts have never considered—so submit your questions via the ‘Ask Smithsonian’ submission form and collaborate with curators as part of this unique opportunity.
September 16, 2010
In August of 2007, we started this blog as an off-shoot of our popular department in the magazine, also called “Around the Mall.” Since then, a host of interns and staff writers (more than 20!) have covered all things Smithsonian on our way to our 1000th post, which we published last week. Our goal has always been to let you all know what’s going on at the Smithsonian museums in D.C. and New York, whether it be new exhibitions or newborns at the zoo. So without patting ourselves on the back too much, here are the 10 most popular posts since we started blogging here at Around the Mall:
1. A Secret Message in Abraham Lincoln’s Watch — ATM Editor Beth Py-Lieberman attended a special unveiling of a new object in the American History Museum’s collections…a pocket watch belonging to Abraham Lincoln that may not have been opened in over a century.
“And so a small crowd gathered in an elegant back room chamber at the museum. Cameras crowded around jeweler George Thomas of the Towson Watch Company, who was seated at a makeshift craftsman’s bench. As the hour approached, curator Rubenstein solemnly stepped forward. The gold pocket watch was delivered to the bench….”
2. Night at the Museum: The Video Game — Former intern Joseph Caputo interviewed video game developer Jeremy Mahler about his work on the Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian video game.
“We started by taking a trip out to the Smithsonian and taking 8,000 photos. We drew up schematics of the real museums, so we could give the team back home the closest thing possible to having seen it for themselves.”
3. Julia Child’s Pots and Pans are Back in the Kitchen — Everyone loves Julia Child, including you, apparently. Just in time for the release of Julie and Julia, the curators at the American History Museum hung up the famous chef’s cookware as a new addition to the exhibit.
“From their new perch in the museum, after being tenderly cleaned and arranged by white gloved curators, the pots and pans are gloriously polished. And there for the ages they’ll remain.”
4. Bidding Farewell to National Inventor’s Month — Posted just a couple of weeks ago, this quick rundown of some of the most famous (and oddest) inventions in the collections of the Smithsonian was written by frequent contributor (and magazine editorial assistant) Megan Gambino.
“The Wizard of Menlo Park” has many inventions to his credit—an electric vote recorder, the phonograph, a telephone transmitter—but his most famous was the light bulb. He scribbled more than 40,000 pages full of notes and tested more than 1,600 materials, everything from hairs from man’s beard to coconut fiber, in his attempts to find the perfect filament.”
5. The Technique Behind Martin Schoeller’s Photography — Abby Callard, another former intern, snagged the enviable opportunity to interview Martin Schoeller, the portraiture photographer known for his head-on shots of politicians and celebrities.
“I think sometimes photographers don’t want this intimacy. You’re much closer to your subjects than other times. It’s a reflection maybe of my personality that I feel comfortable being close to somebody. I always felt that it really was the most essential part about a person, stripping away the clothes, stripping away any backgrounds, really focusing in on that person.”
6. A Holiday Proposal — Everyone is a sap for a good marriage proposal story, so when we heard about this charming tale of love in the forensic lab at the Natural History museum, we could not resist.
“He had started planning the behind-the-scenes proposal in October, having to special order the laser-engraved microscope slide from a scientific device company in Illinois. But the tough part, says Plagmann, was tearing Walski away from the exhibit.”
7. Rodents of Unusual Size Do Exist — Anytime you get the chance to reference The Princess Bride, you take it. This post about very large rodents found by Smithsonian scientists in Papua New Guinea was no exception.
“Evidently, it was a rodent of unusual size, weighing a whopping three and a half pounds and measuring an incredible 32 inches from nose to tail. It wasn’t found in the Fire Swamp, but in a crater of an extinct volcano in Papua New Guinea.”
8. Dan Brown’s Smithsonian: Fact or Fiction — Dan Brown’s bestseller The Lost Symbol reached book stores in October 2009 featuring, for better or worse, the Smithsonian. We pitted Brown’s fiction against reality to help Brown fans discern the truth behind the story.
“Dan Brown asserts that the Museum Support Center, a storage center for objects in the Smithsonian collection not on display, houses more pieces than the Hermitage, the Vatican Museum and the New York Metropolitan, combined.
Fact: The MSC houses 55 million objects and specimens”
9. Juneteenth: A New Birth of Freedom — Pegged to an exhibition at the Anacostia Community Museum, former summer intern Ashley Luthern wrote a post on the lesser known American holiday Juneteenth (celebrated each June 19) and spoke with Dr. William Wiggins Jr., professor Emeritus of Folklore at Indiana University and author of Jubilation: African-American Celebrations in the Southeast.
“One of the popular legends associated with that is that Lincoln dispatched Union soldiers to move throughout the South to spread the word, and it took until the 19th of June. But I think on the other end, you could perhaps say it took so long because of the resistance to emancipation itself. Texas was one of the last outposts of slavery and Galveston is sort of the epicenter.”
10. Warning: Extremely Cute Pictures of the New Clouded Leopards at the Zoo — Big shocker, but a post about cute animal babies made it into our top ten. We haven’t checked in on the leopards in a while, but former intern Erica Hendry led us in a staff-wide, “Awwww” with these photos.
Born on Sunday evening at the Smithsonian National Zoo’s Front Royal, Virginia campus, the two cubs (which are not yet named) weighed about a half pound each. As they become adults, they will grow to between 30 and 50 pounds each and measure up to five feet in length.
These sort of milestones also present a good time for us to undergo a reevaluation of what we do as well. What would you like to see more of? Less of? What do you enjoy reading? Let us know in the comments!