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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
What do you think of when you hear the word “plastic”? The term has become synonymous with being fake, superficial or cheaply made. Plastic has gotten a bad reputation, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the innovations plastics have brought.
What makes something “plastic”?
It’s the spunky little Pomeranian yipping at shadows from their human’s lap.
Image: Marjee Chmiel/Smithsonian Science Education Center
“Are we there yet?”
Even people who love road trips will occasionally get bored during a long drive. Cutting down travel time helps to make traveling to different parts of the world easier and more accessible. There is a lot of interest in exploring technologies that can make travel fast and safe. A vehicle known as a maglev train is one type of transportation technology that seems to hold a great deal of promise in that respect.
Take a look at the picture below. You are looking at an underwater forest comprised of giant bladder kelp. Giant bladder kelp. Sounds delicious, right?
OK, maybe not so much, but through some straightforward chemical changes, a molecule found in this and other kelp makes its way to a variety of food, pharmaceuticals, and dental materials you are sure to be familiar with.
For most in the Northern Hemisphere, winter is a time for building snowmen, skiing, and hoping for a snow day. Although many of us are counting down the days until holiday break, there is still time to investigate a few winter science questions! Grab some cocoa and your favorite blanket, and investigate winter from the comfort of somewhere warm.
Ghost bats, witch fish – it seems like animals all over the world are permanently dressed up for Halloween! Thanks to the Encyclopedia of Life, supported by the Smithsonian, we found seven of these ghoulish creatures in honor of October 31st. If you thought this holiday was just for bats and spiders, think again!
“I’m working with our app, Leafsnap,” the scientist said.
I hesitated before joining her. Visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History for a before-hours event, I had wandered into the room hoping the butterfly pavilion would be open early. (It wasn’t.) Instead, I found a lone scientist working with her iPhone and a few plants.
“Leafsnap is a free app based on facial recognition software,” she elaborated, gesturing to her phone. “You take a picture of a leaf, and it tells you what kind of plant it is.”
I stopped. It did what?
Teachers are often asked the following question, "What makes someone a scientist?" Students in all grades ask this question a lot. Although there is no one clean answer, we hope to provide a little clarity for our teacher friends out there.
Being a scientist means being curious, passionate, and resourceful. Being a scientist means using evidence to make claims. It's a way of thinking. It's a mindset, but where does this scientific mindset come from? Is there a special combination of internal ingredients necessary for one to develop a scientific mindset?
Brain freeze, sunburns, and bug bites -- welcome to summer! While summer in the Northern Hemisphere often conjures up images of swimming pools and beach umbrellas, it also comes with a few pains. While scientists can't make them go away (yet), they can at least tell us why we have to suffer through them! Maybe brain freeze, sunburns, and itchy bug bites can somehow be a good thing?
What causes brain freeze?
Scientists at the University of California in San Francisco have been studying clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPRs for short, in prokaryotic (single-celled) organisms such as bacteria.
Watch this video. WATCH. IT. If you're anything like me, it will leave you with your mouth hanging open, slightly unsettled, at one of nature's most incredible, disconcerting, skin-crawling species:
The latest episode of SSEC's Good Thinking! series, Fired Up About Energy, features a new classroom guide: Bunsen the (you guessed it) Bunsen burner. The episode focuses on teaching and discussing energy in the classroom, and explores common student misconceptions related to the topic.
Featuring Dr. Alan Stern
Poor Pluto is finally getting a visit! To the disappointment of stargazers everywhere, the icy space rock, only 1/6 the size of Earth, was downgraded to a "dwarf planet" in 2006 as we learned more about our solar system. While we may not quite be over Pluto's "ex-planet" status, we have at least one thing to celebrate: Almost 90 years after its discovery, we're finally visiting Pluto!
Meet New Horizons
Some scientists think Earth's oceans formed when icy comets hit the planet. But new research suggests a different origin for the oceans: they simply seeped out of the center of the Earth.
The finding, published in Science, suggests that a reservoir of water is hidden in the Earth's mantle, more than 400 miles below the surface. Try to refrain from imagining expanses of underground seas: all this water, three times the volume of water on the surface, is trapped inside rocks.
A Morpho butterfly looks like this.
The word is difficult to parse. Try this: bio-mimic-ry. Though not so easy on the eyes, the word lucidly explains its own meaning: biomimicry is the imitation of designs and processes found in nature. It asks how we humans can benefit from mimicking the intricate and graceful systems displayed by life forms all over the world.
From their lookout in the White Mountains of the western United States, the bristlecone pines have seen it all. They watched from afar as the Confederates suffered heavy losses at Union hands; they heard the scratch of Shakespeare's quill; they heard the first fireworks bang at their invention in China; they listened to the grinding of stones as the Egyptians erected the Great Pyramid at Giza. Through practically every point in human history -- for the last 5,000 years -- these trees have remained steadfast witnesses, rooted in the soil.
On a daily basis, entomologists scoop up tarantulas lovingly and avidly spear dead beetles with pins. But there is one type of bug that no amount of affection for creepy-crawlies can redeem in their eyes: the brown marmorated stink bug.
Sitting on a picnic blanket on July 4, you stare up at the star-studded sky. It is a dusky deep blue, still glowing faintly by the light of the recently set sun. The grass and trees below are similarly dimly lit, all painted shadowy gray. Suddenly, a boom and flash of light announce the arrival of an intruder into this monochrome world: RED. The color sprouts up above, like a fountain pen spattering an inky hue that stains the sky.
When it comes to bugs, I'm pretty squeamish. So when Bob Matthews, a Professor Emeritus of Entomology at the University of Georgia, handed me two clay tubes fused together and told me to break them open with tweezers to look for paralyzed spiders, fly cocoons, and live wasp larvae, I really didn't want to do it.
Imagine lying on the forest floor at night, staring up into a canopy twinkling with jewels. Some are bright, hard gold. Many are emerald green, or shine like a polished granny smith apple under a spotlight. A very few are ruby red. You reach up to pluck one of them from the dark trees. But as you extend your hand, the gem whirs away to a point out of reach.
Anticipation mounted before the birth of Bao Bao the giant panda at the National Zoo. With populations dwindling to dangerously low levels worldwide, the zoo was eager to see another bear added to the family. Consequently, Bao Bao's healthy arrival last August was cause for celebration. Michelle Obama made a video when she was named, and crowds gathered at the zoo to catch a glimpse of her sleepy, furry form.
Bees are known to be highly intelligent creatures, but in a way, they are entirely oblivious. Buzzing among plants, a bee searches for pools of nectar to eat, slurping the stuff out of flower centers. But while carrying out this humdrum foraging routine, the bee inadvertently acts as a transport mechanism vital to hundreds of organisms. In making its way into plants' nectar repositories, a bee brushes past the flower parts that produce pollen. Sticky granules lodge among hairs on the insect's hind legs; the bee takes off with these miniscule stowaways attached.
Social media and science education are not two phrases that often intersect. However, here at the Smithsonian Science Education Center we are working on digital initiatives to help provide new types of teacher resources through various social media channels. Since the SSEC's mission is to improve the learning and teaching of science for all students in the United States and throughout the world, going digital is a great way to enhance our print resources and reach more people. Social media platforms can provide teachers a multitude of resources and guides to teach various materials.
Do you know where the red-eyed tree frog calls home? Play our newest game based on animal habitats to learn! Explore the desert, coral reef, jungle, and marsh to discover where many animals live by matching each animal to their correct habitat!
Also, check out our infographic below to see an example of what you can expect to learn while playing HABITATS!