Take a survey to help scientists improve indoor air quality

Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are studying how the seemingly innocuous things we do in our homes and offices can have big impacts on our health. One of those things is cooking, because the way we cook can affect the air we breathe. Scientists are trying to figure out how to make houses safer, but to do that, they need to understand how people use houses — what we cook in them and how we cook it. You can help by taking this quick, anonymous survey.

Moon boxes and mystery men

See the box in this photo? It's more interesting than it looks. This is a box that went to the Moon.

Astronauts used the boxes to collect and bring back to Earth nearly 50 pounds of moon rocks and soil ... Each of the boxes was machined from a single piece of aluminum, "seamless except for the lid opening, which had a metalized gasket that firmly sealed when closed."

The photo comes from the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn.—a research facility that participated in the Manhattan Project and later was involved in designing equipment for the Apollo Project. Journalist Frank Munger writes about Y-12 and other parts of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the Knoxville News Sentinel.

This photo, which he posted on his blog, is also interesting because nobody knows who the three guys in the photo are. Munger was hoping that Boingers might be able to offer some leads.

Read Frank Munger's blog post

Quick! Apply to taste Mars mission food during 120-day study in Hawaii

Yes, the deadline is tomorrow. But I know this is the perfect opportunity for at least one of you, so hop to it! Cornell and the University of Hawaii are putting together a series of studies aimed at finding out what it's going to take to keep people well-fed (both in the physical and psychological sense) during a trip to Mars. The research culminates in a 120-day analogue mission, during which subjects will live in a "Mars-like habitat", where they will eat nothing but rehydratable and instant space foods and will record data on factors like bodily odors and emotional well-being. If you've got a bachelor's degree in the sciences or engineering, a desire to contribute to the future of space travel, and a strong stomach, this might be the study for you! Here's the information on how to apply. (Via Paleofuture)

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": The Bishop's Rectum

Earlier this week, I challenged readers to send me photos of their favorite museum exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. Over the next few days, I'll be posting some of these submissions, under the heading, "My Favorite Museum Exhibit". Want to see them all? Check the "Previously" links at the bottom of this post.

It's "My Favorite Museum Exhibit"—celebrity edition. Marc Abrahams is the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, the journal that awards the annual Ig-Nobel Prizes. He sent me this: An actual rectum cut from the corpse of the Bishop of Durham. It resides in London's Hunterian Museum.

Here's the museum's description of Object RCSHC/P 192, as quoted by Abrahams in a 2010 Guardian column:

A rectum showing the effects of both haemorrhoids and bowel cancer. The patient in this case was Thomas Thurlow (1737-1791), the Bishop of Durham. Thurlow had suffered from some time from a bowel complaint, which he initially thought was the result of piles. He consulted John Hunter after a number of other physicians and surgeons had failed to provide him with a satisfactory diagnosis. Hunter successfully identified the tumour through rectal examination, but recognised that it was incurable. Thurlow died 10 months later.

Previously in this series:


My Favorite Museum Exhibit: Arab Courier Attacked by Lions

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Arab Courier Attacked by Lions

Earlier this week, I challenged readers to send me photos of their favorite museum exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. Over the next few days, I'll be posting some of these submissions, under the heading, "My Favorite Museum Exhibit". Want to see them all? Check the "Previously" links at the bottom of this post.

Who says a diorama has to be boring? Sam Donovan's favorite museum exhibit is "Arab Courier Attacked by Lions", on display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. Built by Jules Verreaux for the Paris Exposition in 1867, it was purchased first by the American Museum of Natural History—which quickly thought better of it*—and was then sold to Andrew Carnegie in 1898 for $50. Today, it can be purchased in snow-globe form** for $40. Inflation is a bitch.

The lions preserved here are Barbary lions, a subspecies that went extinct in the wild in the early 20th century.

The "Arab courier", thankfully, is a mannequin. However, that might not have always been the case. Jules Verreaux had previously stuffed and mounted the corpses of non-Europeans before he made this diorama. Meanwhile, the man who was preparator-in-chief at the Carnegie Museum at the time they purchased "Arab Courier" once wrote that the courier "might have been real prior to 1899 when it was refurbished." So, yeah. Historical racism. How about that?

There are often problems associated with how natural history museums traditionally collected and displayed artifacts. The history here actually ends up being a great example of how culture and social norms and influence how we think about science. The facts may not change, but our interpretation of them does. For instance, the Dyche Museum at the University of Kansas, my childhood natural history museum, owns the taxidermied body of a U.S. cavalry horse that was the only member of the 7th Cavalry to survive the Battle of the Little Big Horn. For decades, this horse was billed as "the only survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn." Which, for obvious reasons, is both wildly inaccurate and pretty racist.

*The AMNH, while acknowledging the skill it took to produce a diorama like this, wasn't quite sure it lived up to their standards as a display of scientific educational value.

**Yes, there is something a little weird about snow falling on this scene.

Image: Flickr user happy via, via CC license.

Scientists: How do ethics and culture shape your work?

Recoding Innovation is a National Science Foundation-funded documentary that's basically about the anthropology of science and engineering.

If you're a scientist or an engineer, you can participate. How does your culture, values, and beliefs make your work happen? The idea here is that ethics aren't something that hold science back. Instead, applying ethics helps scientists and engineers be innovative. It's a cool idea, and I'm looking forward to watching the finished documentary. The video above includes a short example of the kind of stories the editors are looking for.

Submit your story by January 1.

Video Link