October 20, 2010
Just Close Enough To The Sun—This week, the folks at the “AirSpace” blog treat us to a few photos of that fiery red giant near and dear to our hearts, the sun. Using a telescope from the Public Observatory Project made especially for looking into the sun’s harsh light, solar imaging expert Greg Piepol instructed blogger Erin Braswell on how to account for turbulence in the earth’s atmosphere that often obscures photographs of the sun. The resulting pictures show a crisp outline of the star, including sunspots and a “prominence,” or protrusion of hot matter coming from the sun’s surface.
Piano Podcast—Michael Asch, son of Folkways Records founder Moses “Moe” Asch, hosts Smithsonian Folkways: Sounds To Grow On, a 26-part radio program of music from the label’s original collection. Interspersed throughout the show is the story of Asch’s father, who started his own record company in 1948, the products of which were later donated to the Smithsonian. Episode 23, Piano, features a variety of jazz and blues piano music from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Download the podcast from Folkways, along with the your pick of the 22 preceding installments.
Warhol Meets Jackson—In 1984, pop artist Andy Warhol did a portrait of Michael Jackson, which was published as the cover of Time magazine in March of that year. “Face to Face” has entries from Warhol’s diary of those days, which provide a window into the mind of one of the 20th century’s most famous artists. After reading the story behind the work, you may just be enticed to head on over to the Portrait Gallery to see the actual silkscreened portrait, which is hanging in the “20th Century Americans” exhibit.
Archives Fair—In conjunction with the month-long blogathon for American Archives Month, this Friday the American Archives will be hosting an archives fair, (free and open to the public) from 10 to 5 at the S. Dillon Ripley Center. The event will include lectures from the archivists about preserving, cataloging and ensuring accessibility to the precious collections at the Smithsonian. Today, “SIRIS” has posted interviews with Anne Van Camp, Director of the Smithsonian Archives; Wendy Shay, curator at American History, Archives Center; and Freer/Sackler archivist Rachael Christine Woody.
September 29, 2010
For the record, October is American Archives Month—To celebrate, the Smithsonian Collections blog, SIRIS, is hosting a 31-day blogathon, where Smithsonian museums and affiliates will be blogging about their archives, giving an insider’s look at what goes into preserving and storing so many precious artifacts. The Institution is also hosting the “Ask the Smithsonian” program, where members of the community can set up appointments to bring in objects and learn how best to care for them. An online version of the program will be available on the Smithsonian’s Facebook page.
Cell Phones and Far Beyond—You know that nifty feature on your iPhone that flips your display vertically or horizontally depending on how you hold it? According to a post this week on the AirSpace blog, that mechanism is called an accelerometer, and consists of a tiny chip inserted into the phone that can sense the acceleration of gravity. This technology has apparently been used for years in automobiles, video games and even ballistic missiles, and was designed in 1970 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by Charles Stark “Doc” Draper.
Skating Through the Week—It might be time to dust off those old roller skates and take them for a spin. As we emerge from the dog days of summer and enter early fall, there couldn’t be a better time for National Roller Skating Week, which the Smithsonian Libraries blog let us know about yesterday. They also posted a charming trade advertisement of Plimpton’s Patent Roller Skates from around 1879 (Plimpton’s roller skates were patented in 1863 and 1866).
It Has Been Fifty Years… Since Vice President Richard Nixon faced off with John F. Kennedy for the first ever nationally televised presidential debate. The Portrait Gallery’s Face to Face blog has two posts on the debates, and we published an article about the changing dynamics of debating on television this month as well.
Unexpected New Bird Species—Smithsonian researchers at the Conservation Biology Institute and Natural History have discovered that the magnificent frigatebirds living on the Galapagos Islands are genetically distinct from those living on the mainland of the Americas, and have been for over half a million years. This comes as quite a surprise, as frigatebirds are able to travel hundreds of miles and are not particularly isolated from those on the mainland.
September 22, 2010
More New Lion Cubs! Three weeks ago, the National Zoo’s 5-year-old lion Shera gave birth to four healthy cubs. This morning, Shera’s sister Nababiep gave birth to three more lion cubs to add to the growing pride! Check out a clip of the new babies on YouTube.
Happy Birthday, George Gustav Heye—This week, SIRIS celebrated the birth of George Gustav Heye, the namesake for the Smithsonian’s Heye Center in New York City, part of the National Museum of the American Indian. Born on September 16, 1874, Heye developed an affinity for collecting Native American cultural objects after buying a hide shirt from a Navajo woman in Arizona. From there, Heye’s collection slowly grew to eventually contain over 225,000 objects made by indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere. In 1916, Heye founded the Museum of the American Indian, where he displayed his collections. In 1990, Heye’s museum became the National Museum of the American Indian, with the museum here on the Mall opening in 2004. The SIRIS post includes silent footage of Heye at work cataloguing artifacts in his office. Apparently, smoking cigars while handling artifacts was not unacceptable at the time.
Fashion at Your Fingertips—American fashion designer Cynthia Rowley is known for creating flirty dresses in vibrant colors. Now, she’s taking on an as-yet untapped niche of the fashion market: adhesive bandages. Rowley, who just showed her new clothing line at New York City’s Lincoln Center, also has a new line of “dress-up” Band-Aids. The Design Blog reports that the bandages are available in the Cooper-Hewitt museum store and Cynthia Rowley stores, in case you want some bandage bling for that pesky paper cut.
Saving the Coral Reefs—Last week on ATM, we looked into the coral sperm bank that a few Smithsonian scientists have created in Hawaii. This week, the Smithsonian Science Web site has posted a video interview with one of the lead researchers on the project, Mary Hagedorn. The first to ever try out cryopreservation on coral, Hagedorn discusses how she’s been freezing and preserving coral sperm, eggs, embryos and stem cells to ensure the future of many different Hawaiian coral species.
Rebuilding Haiti’s Cultural Heritage—This past week, the American History Museum hosted a choir of 30 school children from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who are on a goodwill tour of the country to gain support for rebuilding their music school. The choir, featured this week on Oh Say Can You See, is singing traditional Haitian songs to communicate the country’s rich musical history and hope for the future. An article in the September issue of Smithsonian magazine covers the Smithsonian’s initiative to recover and preserve Haiti’s artistic culture after the devastating earthquake in January, 2010.
September 8, 2010
(Ed. Note — This is our 1000th post. More to come later, but thanks to everyone for getting us this far!)
It’s a Big Year for Natural History—We’ve mentioned that the Natural History Museum turns 100 this year before, but as part of the celebration, they’ve been giving us a peek into their diverse staff by posting video interviews of them on the museum’s Web site. Some are already available to watch, including interviews with photographer Chip Clark and Carole Butler, Chief of Collections for NMNH. My personal favorite is a video of some NMNH staff members tasting a smorgasbord of crunchy crickets, cockroach cookies and other buggy delicacies.
Labor Day Has Come and Gone… To ring in the start of school, the Ocean Portal blog recommends getting passionate about exploration. They’ve compiled a list of the best known ocean explorers, from Robert Ballard, who explored the Titanic shipwreck, to John Walsh and Jacques Piccard, the only two humans ever to descend the depths of the Challenger Deep, part of the Mariana Trench.
What Would You Have Asked? A couple weeks ago, we announced that several Smithsonian museums would be taking part in the Twitter-hosted Ask a Curator Day. Whether or not you participated, Pushing the Envelope has posted the best questions and answers asked of their curator at the event. What’s the rarest stamp at the Postal Museum? Do curators get scared being in museums at night? What letter from throughout American history do you wish the museum had?
First the Bureau of Bureaucracy, and Now… The cabinet of curiosities! Aside from alliteration, what curiosities are contained in this new furnishing acquired by the Smithsonian Institution Archives American Art Museum last fall? According to Bigger Picture, the cabinet’s doors open to reveal rows of 35 millimeter slides of Smithsonian artifacts and buildings. The cabinet recalls the mass of images (likely over three million) in the Smithsonian Institution Archives from before the dawning of the digital age. Though it is not currently on view, Bigger Picture does have some photos to share.
Cholesterol Through the Ages—The second installment of a two-part post on Oh Say Can You See features everyone’s (least?) favorite heart-stopper. An intern at the National Museum of American History describes the trials and tribulations of telling the story of cholesterol through documents and objects of the past.
This post has been updated. The “cabinet of curiosities” is not among the collections of the American Art Museum. It was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution Archives. ATM regrets the error.
August 18, 2010
The Secret Life of Anthropologists—Along with the entomologists, oceanographers, biologists, physicists and other scientists in the Natural History Museum are the anthropologists, who work furiously to research, curate and put order to the vast collections at the Smithsonian museums. Right now on the Natural History Web site are video podcasts of six Smithsonian anthropologists, who speak about how they got into the field, where their primary interests lie, and what they do from day to day.
Smithsonian Channel App Launch—Now, you’ll be able to watch some of your favorite episodes from the Smithsonian Channel’s original series, in addition to tons of video clips and documentary footage with the newly launched Smithsonian Channel app for iPhone and iPod Touch. Available on the channel’s Web site are iPhone screenshots, showing a few of the offerings included with the app, such as “HydroTech: Venice,” “Zoo Vets” and “Batwomen of Panama.”
Seven-Year Spam? Seven years is a long time in cyberspace, so you have to give an e-mail message that AirSpace is calling a “spectacular hoax” at least a bit of credit for surviving so long. This prank e-mail originated in August, 2003, when Mars came closer to Earth than it had in 60,000 years, yielding an enlarged view of the Red Planet. But as astronomy educator at the Air and Space museum Shelley White clears up for us, this astronomical event came and went, while that pesky email has resurfaced every August since then.
Shoo Fly, Power My Clock! Many of the most inspired innovations featured in the Cooper-Hewitt’s continuing National Design Triennial draw on the natural world for solutions to everyday puzzles and problems. But did you ever imagine someone would invent a clock that captured and killed flies, converting their biomass into mechanical energy? Learn about this and other natural power sources being utilized by designers on the Design Blog.
Climate Change and Phytoplankton—Posted on the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s Shorelines blog is a video about SERC’s photobiology lab, where scientists are exposing phytoplankton—tiny marine plants responsible for making about half of Earth’s oxygen—to UV radiation in order to assess how cosmic radiation, and climate change, might affect life on earth.