March 4, 2011
For a few weeks between late May and early June, horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay storm the shoreline to spawn, and it’s a spectacle that spoke to the creative side of photographer Nick Tucey. “I wanted to capture the action of waves crashing upon a pod of horseshoe crabs,” Tucey says. “This photo is important to me because it captures an amazing wildlife event that occurs in the mid-Atlantic for only a brief time each year. My wife and I enjoyed watching and photographing this ancient species—which predate the dinosaurs—as they came ashore. We also assisted a number of horseshoe crabs that were stranded in the rocks and stuck upside down so they could crawl back into the Bay to continue their life-cycle.”
Tucey’s snapshot is one of 50 images selected as finalists in Smithsonian magazine’s 8th annual photo contest. You have until March 31, 2011 to vote for your favorite photographs, and the winner—along with the category and Grand Prize winners chosen by Smithsonian editors—will be announced July 1, 2011. And if you’re an aspiring shutterbug yourself, consider entering your work into the 9th annual photo contest, which is open for submissions until December 1, 2011.
October 15, 2010
Most everyone here in D.C. would prefer to forget the Snowpocalypse of 2010, but with autumn upon us, winter—and the weather that comes with it—is just around the corner. Don’t get me wrong: snow is quite pretty when it’s freshly fallen. But at this point I’d just as soon admire the stuff from afar. As far afar as humanly possible.
Other people are more amenable to snow and ice, such as Isobel Wayrick, who shot the above photo during a pleasure trip to Antarctica. The image garnered her a finalist spot in Smithsonian magazine’s 6th annual photo contest. (See even more award-winners from the 7th annual contest.)
“I had chosen the trip to Antarctica as a 70th birthday present to myself,” Wayrick recalls. “I’ve been fortunate to travel to many wonderful places in my lifetime, but the Antarctic scenery and wildlife is always the place that stays in my memory. I saw a small group of chinstrap penguins climbing up a beautiful and unusually sculpted iceberg, just tinged with hints of blue. The trip to Antarctica was the special birthday present I gave myself, and the image of the iceberg and penguins was the Antarctic’s very special gift to me.”
And if you’re a shutterbug with a sharp eye and have captured a picture-perfect moment, consider sending it in to Smithsonian magazine’s 8th annual photo contest. Check out more information about the rules and categories as well as an archive of past winners and finalists. You have until December 1, 2010 at 2:00 PM EST to send in your work. (But worry not: if you miss the deadline, the 9th contest is currently slated to begin again on March 1, 2011.)
October 14, 2010
Introduced in 1973, Shrinky Dinks had kids (and crafty adults) creating artwork on flexible sheets of plastic that, when popped in the oven, would magically shrink down to approximately 1/3 their original size. You were then supposed to play with whatever it was you made, but frankly, the entertainment value was all in coloring pictures of your favorite cartoon characters and then watching them crinkle up in the oven and then mysteriously lie down flat again.
But, as much as it breaks my heart to have to tell you this, magic isn’t behind the toy’s quirky properties. The sheets of plastic you get in a Shrinky Dinks kit is polystyrene—the same stuff as recycled plastic #6, which is commonly used for those clear clamshell containers you see in cafeterias. When manufactured, raw polystyrene is heated, rolled out into thin sheets and then rapidly cooled so that it can retain its shape.
By nature, the polymer chains within the polystyrene are bunched up and randomly clumped together, but the heating, rolling and cooling process forces them to straighten out and get into a more orderly configuration. All the polymers want to do is bounce back into their more disorderly arrangement and they are able to do this when the polystyrene is heated again—like when you pop a cookie sheet full of Shrinky Dinks into the oven. However, for marketing purposes, the term “magic” works pretty darn well.
Furthermore, Shrinky Dinks are moving beyond their reputation as a kid’s toy and scientists are finding practical applications for the whimsical sheets of plastic—namely, according to a recent study from Northwestern University, in the world of nanotechnology. It’s a branch of science that looks at the properties of materials on very small scales. For instance, glass, usually used to insulate electronic material, conducts electricity on the nano scale while metals like gold can appear red or blue. In the real world, this branch of science is being used in the manufacture of solar cells, high-density displays and chemical sensors.
Scientists who want manipulate the properties of certain materials work with nano-scale patterns printed with those materials. However, the printing process takes time and is grievously expensive. New printing technology can print those patterns on Shrinky Dink plastic—and scientists can then shrink the plastic so they can further their nano-scale investigations. The technology is cost effective to the point where any laboratory can independently produce as many copies of these test patterns as they need. Crafty, no? There really is a Shinky Dinks kit for everyone.