Tag Archives: science

Creatures of Light Exhibit at the Museum of Natural History

Creatures of Light Sign

You know what’s cool? Animals and insects that light up on their own. The ability to do that is called Bioluminescence, which is a good word to know. If you have ever seen a group of iridescent green fireflies blinking and flitting about on a dark summer evening, or a rainbow jellyfish glowing like carnival sideshow in a public aquarium, you know that it is a fairly delightful thing to observe. Bioluminescence!

Right now, the Museum of Natural History is hosting a special exhibit called Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence, which has been on my “To Do” list since I first read about it a few weeks ago. This weekend, my brother was in town visiting from Arizona, and since his a big Science geek, I dragged him along with me to the museum to check out the rooms full of glowing animals. Or so I thought.

Located on the fourth floor of the museum, Creatures of Light is set up in a connected series of dark galleries that wind around through the different little exhibit stations where the various animals that bioluminesce are featured. The thing is, with exception of one tiny collection of Flashlight fish, that glowed bright green as they swam in a pitch black tank, all of the other animals and insects in the exhibit are models, not real animals. This is bogus. How difficult would it have been for the American Museum of Natural History to pull a few strings and get a tank or two of real glowing jellyfish for the exhibit? My guess: Not terribly difficult. Jellyfish are not an endangered species or anything. I do not know why they saw the need to phone this in, but I call shenanigans!

Also, out of necessity there is a lot reading to do. A lot of reading. Every two feet there is something else to read so you can understand what you are looking at, and what chemicals make it light up and blah blah blah. Reading! When I go to the museum, I want to look at cool things but I don’t want to stand around reading.

Creatures of Light doesn’t flat out suck or anything. It’s certainly worth going to if you’re not expecting to see any live animals. But I think I was hoping for that, so I was disappointed. Did I learn about how Fireflies attract mates, and did I see giant plastic models of somewhat glowing jellyfish hanging from the ceiling? Yes, yes I did. Was it worth the additional $12.50 you have to pay, in addition to whatever you pay to get into the museum? Meh. I am not going to whine too much about that because the museum needs the money so, it’s going to a good cause.

After we left the Creatures of Light Exhibit (by the way, your entry time is predetermined, so you have to go, I think, within 15 minutes of whatever time gets stamped on your ticket) we saw the Dinosaurs, The Hall of Ocean Life and the Hall of Gems and Minerals, all of which made my brother’s head explode. So, that was pretty cool.

Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence Runs through January 6th, 2013 at the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West and 79th Street on NYC’s Upper West Side.

RIP Dr. Benoît Mandelbrot


“The Butt”

Benoît Mandelbrot, the French-American mathematician known for his work with fractal geometry, died on Thursday, October 14th, at the age of 85. Mandelbrot lent his name to the Mandelbrot Set — the very beautiful, stoner-friendly mathematical object seen in the above picture. When I was younger, I enjoyed referring to the Mandelbrot Set as “The Butt because, well, because it looks like a butt.

Mandelbrot didn’t discover the Mandelbrot Set, but it was named in his honor thanks to his extensive work with it. He also coined the the term “fractal after spending time thinking about what should be a fairly simple question: How long is the coast of Britain?

The answer, he was surprised to discover, depends on how closely one looks. On a map an island may appear smooth, but zooming in will reveal jagged edges that add up to a longer coast. Zooming in further will reveal even more coastline.

“Here is a question, a staple of grade-school geometry that, if you think about it, is impossible,” Dr. Mandelbrot told The New York Times earlier this year in an interview. “The length of the coastline, in a sense, is infinite.”

In the 1950s, Dr. Mandelbrot proposed a simple but radical way to quantify the crookedness of such an object by assigning it a “fractal dimension,” an insight that has proved useful well beyond the field of cartography.

The coastline is infinite! How cool is that? RIP Dr. Mandelbrot.

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day!


Ada Lovelace

Tuesday, March 24th is a day for bloggers to honor and acknowledge the achievements of women in technology under the banner of celebrating Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was a brilliant metaphysicist and inventor. The daughter of the great romantic poet Lord Byron, she is considered to have been the first software programmer. The Science Museum in England has more information on Ada Lovelace Day at this link.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa

In honor of Ada Lovelace Day I’d also like to give a shout out to another modern American woman achieving great things in technology, Dr. Ellen Ochoa (B. May 10, 1958). Ellen Ochoa has invented and holds patents on two different optical systems; one used for quality control in the manufacturing of various intricate parts, and a second which can be used to robotically manufacture goods or in robotic guiding systems. In addition to being an inventor, Dr. Ochoa is also a research scientist and astronaut for NASA. She has logged over 719 hours in space and is a veteran of three space flights – her most recent mission being 10 days aboard the space shuttle Discovery in May of 1999.  Ellen Ochoa also holds the distinction of being the first hispanic astronaut. In other words, she rocks.

An Octopus with a Rubik’s Cube

Marine experts have given 25 octopuses (octopi?) a Rubik’s Cube each in a study aimed at easing their stress levels in captivity. Scientists believe the intelligent sea creatures have a preferred arm out of eight that they use to feed and investigate with. They are now testing this theory with a month-long observation project in which the octopuses will be given food and toys to play with. Read the full story here.

Thanks to Dark Roasted Blend for the tip!

None More Black

The Blackest Metal Ever
The Blackest of the Black

Move over Dethklok, there’s a new Black Metal in town that is blacker than the blackest of black. Boston College Physicist Willie J. Padilla and a team from Boston College and Duke Univ. have nanoengineered a material that absorbs all the light that strikes it. How much more black could it be? None more black. Check it out right here.