There are lots of great things to love about fall. There’s cooler weather, apple picking, Halloween… but arguably one of the best things is the natural art show that deciduous forests put on. Every fall these forests turn from their typical green to vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow. It’s a spectacular site to see and one that people travel miles to visit (in Vermont we call them leaf peepers). But what’s the story behind this beautiful show of color, and why don’t all trees do it? As always, there’s some pretty cool science happening behind the scenes.
There’s nothing lovelier than the first snowfall of winter. Fluffy white flakes slowly drift down to cover your hair and clothes in their crystalline patterns. Just like all of nature’s most beautiful things, we can describe the beauty of snow with science! With the help of a turn of the century scientist and knowledge of crystal formation, we can crack of the code on these snow crystals. Including the big questions: Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike?
In the winter, when the days get shorter and the weather gets increasingly colder, it can seem like the Sun has forsaken us. I mean, after all, that’s when we are farthest from it—both physically and emotionally—right? Well, not exactly. While it might make sense to think that colder days equals farther distance from the Sun, it’s really not quite so simple.
If you live in a rural area, or near a park, you’ve probably observed this unique squirrel behavior. When the weather catches a chill, these bushy-tailed creatures begin what looks like preparation for a wide-scale scavenger hunt. In great numbers, these squirrels begin to bury nuts! Squirrels hide nuts this way as preparation for cold weather when otherwise food will be scarce. This kind of proactive stashing raises a lot of questions for squirrel enthusiasts—the most pressing being how do the squirrels find their nuts again?
It’s been just over 110 years since Einstein published his groundbreaking papers in 1905 that revolutionized physics as we know it and ushered in the quantum age. Among these papers were his theories on special relativity (not to be confused with general relativity, which he published 10 years later in 1915). His theories on special relativity discussed such strange things as length contraction and time dilation when an observer moved at speeds approaching the speed of light (3 x 108 meters per second, or c).
When it comes to pushing the boundaries of science, you need to look no further than the European Organization for Nuclear Research (or CERN). Based in Geneva, Switzerland, CERN is a complex of particle accelerators and detectors—the most well-known being their Large Hadron Collider (or LHC), which is the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. Now, you might reasonably ask, “Why are we accelerating particles?” At the core of these experiments is one true objective: to find out what the Universe is made of.
We’re sure that you’ve played (and can’t stop playing) our physical science game BumperDucks. In case you haven’t, here’s the gist: in BumperDucks your job is to help a wayward band of ducks reach their final destinations – tasty treats! With the help of collisions and rebounding you can slingshot these ducks to victory. BumperDucks is all about the laws of motion and how we can utilize their effects once we figure out how they work!
Summer's over, but birds are still chirping, and the Sun is still shining! Well… sometimes at least. It was a rainy summer here in Washington, DC, but with rain comes prime conditions for one of nature’s greatest shows: rainbows! The majestic, multicolored bows of light that lead to pots of gold and appear after rainstorms as if by magic—except it’s not magic, it’s physics! It might seem intimidating to unravel the secret of rainbows, but it’s actually really simple and so rewarding!
Creative inspiration can be found anywhere—especially in science! Science is an amazing way to spark inspiration and curiosity and this poem by Gavin does just that. Our poet hails from the Greater Chicago Area and, at the age of only 11, has written a beautiful poem inspired by his awe of bioluminescence in nature. We loved Gavin’s poem so much that we wanted to ask him a little more about his process.
At the end of May, astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) were able to install a new module to the station—by just inflating it! This new addition, known as the BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) is the first of its kind when it comes to inflatable habitat technology. Delivered to the station at the beginning of April the BEAM has deflated dimensions of 2.16 meters (7.09 feet) in length and 2.36 meters (7.75 feet) in diameter but has now grown to a whopping 4.15 meters (13.16 feet) in length and 3.2 meters (10.5 feet ) in diameter.
Dr. Carol O’Donnell welcoming NC educators to the Smithsonian Image: Sarah Wells/Smithsonian Science Education Center
Editor’s Note: The following is a transcript of an interview conducted with Kim Van Eaton. Some answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
Here at the Smithsonian Science Education Center, we’re passionate about science communication and creating an infectious love of science. As part of this mission, our director, Dr. Carol O’Donnell, met with science teachers in Washington State this June to talk about the importance of science education. While there she meet 6th grade teacher Kim Van Eaton from Marie Curie STEM Elementary School. Kim had nothing but kind words to say about STCTM and how the kit had changed her teaching of science! It’s always heartwarming to hear that your work has impacted someone’s life in a positive way. We wanted to know a little more about how Kim has been affected by STC and SSEC, so we got in touch to hear more of her thoughts.
Happy Pollinator Week! We can all appreciate the beauty of blooming flowers and budding trees, but we don’t always take a minute to be thankful for their silent helpers. Nine years ago the U.S. senate declared a week each June to be National Pollinator Week. This weeklong event is not only to celebrate the pollinators who make summer beautiful but to raise awareness. Populations of pollinators are in decline, and without these pollinators the fragile ecosystems they live in will fall into disarray.
Director Matthew Brown’s newest film, The Man Who Knew Infinity, opened in April to positive reviews from critics and shed light on the life of a little known mathematician: Srinivasa Ramanujan. Born in Erode, India, in 1887, Ramanujan had a veracious love and instinctual understanding of mathematics. Living poor in South India with no college degree, Ramanujan was able to gain recognition for his inventive theorems and began a correspondence with a Fellow, G.H. Hardy, at Trinity College of the University of Cambridge.
It’s an indisputable fact that as a society, we have fallen head-over-heels for pandas. Whether it be at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, or the Wolong National Nature Reserve in China, these furry giants steal hearts wherever they go, except maybe in their own backyards. Giant pandas are an endangered species, with only 1,600 living in their natural habitats in China’s mountain ranges and 300 in captivity around the world.
International Conference on Improving the Learning of Biology
During April 13th through 16th Dr. Carol O’Donnell and the Director of Professional Services Dr. Amy D’Amico attended an International Conference on Improving the Learning of Biology and Other Related Science in the K-12 School Year in Santiago, Chile. The conference focused on inquiry based science education, and Dr. O’Donnell presented the results of the Smithsonian Science Education Center’S 5-year research trial of the LASER model.