Photo by Gideon VanRiette
The Kansas University Natural History Museum's panorama exhibit is an epic example of 19th-century taxidermy, with flora and fauna from all the biomes of North America gathered together in one display. The Rocky Mountain habitat (pictured above) flows into temperate forests, which fade into tundra, and eventually become polar bear-filled Arctic landscapes. In the other direction, you can find the prairie and the desert and the Central American jungle. Originally built for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, it's one of my favorite museum exhibits.
It's also in need of some serious conservation work, which explains all the folks in hazmat suits, tromping around the biosphere like a cross between Merry Maids and Ancient Aliens. Read the rest
Like the T. rex skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History, the blue whale model at London's Natural History Museum is the institution's unofficial mascot. The life-sized model (28.3 meters long) is now 75 years old. New Scientist tells the story of its birth: Read the rest
Back in 2011, I posted about the planned Center for PostNatural History, the Pittsburgh, PA wunderkammer of organisms altered by humans, from GloFish® to GMO corn to a genetically engineered goat. It's the brainchild of Carnegie Mellon University art professor Richard Pell. This week's Science News includes a feature about the museum, now open to the public. Read the rest
The Black Museum of Scotland Yard is a cabinet of crime curiosities. Founded c.1874, it contains evidence, contraband, and artifacts ostensibly displayed to help educate new law enforcement officers. The collection includes the above letter allegedly written by Jack the Ripper and sent "from hell", umbrellas outfitted with secret guns, and the pots (in a kitchen crime scene recreation) that serial killer Dennis Nilsen used to boil his victims. Unfortunately, the Black Museum is closed to the public but that may be changing. Meanwhile, please enjoy this 1952 radio series hosted by Orson Welles, featuring an item from the museum each episode and a dramatic retelling of the dark tale behind it. "The Black Museum" (Internet Archive) Read the rest
This is the second story in a four-part, weekly series on taxonomy and speciation. It's meant to help you as you participate in Armchair Taxonomist — a challenge from the Encyclopedia of Life to bring scientific descriptions of animals, plants, and other living things out from behind paywalls and onto the Internet. Participants can earn cool prizes, so be sure to check it out!
On the sixth floor of New York's American Museum of Natural History — far away from the throngs of tourists and packs of schoolkids — there is a cold, white room, filled with white, metal cabinets.
The cabinets are full of dead things; leeches, sea anemones, lobsters ... any kind of invertebrate you can imagine. Even a giant squid. All of them have been carefully preserved. Each soaks in its own, luxuriant ethanol bath. Here they sit, some for a hundred years or more, waiting for scientists to pull them out into the light.
It's a bit like the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but for slimy, crawly, spineless things. There are collections like this all over the world, containing every species of animal, plant, and microscopic organism. Together, they serve as a record of Earth's biodiversity, a library of life. In them, you'll find more than just random specimens. Some of the individuals are special. Called "type specimens", they serve as ambassadors for their species, real-world models that define what each species is. For instance, the leech species Myxobdella maculata is both a group of leeches and exactly one leech — A leech that I got to meet on a behind-the-scenes tour with invertebrate curators Estefania Rodriguez and Mark Siddall. Read the rest
Famed grindcore band Napalm Death were slated to play a unique concert at the Victoria and Albert Museum on Friday night, but the museum cancelled the show fearing that "the high level of decibels generated by the performance would damage the historic fabric of the building." The group was to play through a sculptural ceramic sound system built by artist Keith Harrison. The sculpture was expected to crumble under the volume of the performance.
"Sound as a weapon - or a weapon of change - is a very interesting concept and I think that the whole process of our sound gradually degrading clay sculptures is captivating," Napalm Death vocalist Mark "Barney" Greenway said last week. "The noise element of music should never be understated and this exhibition at the V&A will hopefully demonstrate that music can do interesting things beyond the realms of clipped production techniques."
According to the V&A, the museum "is committed to an exciting programme of exhibitions and events but the safety of our visitors and building remains our priority at all times."
Above, Napalm Death's "Suffer the Children" from their 1990 album Harmony Corruption, the first album to feature Greenway on vocals.
(via BBC News)
What does a sonic blaster ("less-lethal" audio weapon) feel like ... Make your own $1 million vomit-inducing flashlight for $250 - Boing ... Testing infrasound thrills and chills with a double-blind randomized ... Infrasound Experiment - Boing Boing Read the rest
Chicago's Field Museum isn't just a science museum. It's also a research center, especially for archaeologists and anthropologists who come to the museum to make use of its extensive collections of artifacts — only a tiny fraction of which is on public display at any given time. Unfortunately, the museum is currently up to its neck in debt, and part of the current administrators' plan to deal with that problem is to restructure the research department and cut back on curators and staffing there. Read the rest
Last week, I got to visit the Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City. It's an amazing collection — well worth driving out of your way to see. I was expecting just a selection of different animal skeletons. The actual collection was a lot bigger and more awesome than I'd guessed it would be, and included some really nice exhibits on evolutionary adaptation, convergent evolution, deformed skeletons of both humans and animals, and the process of stripping a body down to a clean and shiny bone structure.
One of the things I found really fascinating was the skeletal features that you can't see just by looking at the outside of an animal. Take this Indian Rhinoceros, for instance. You'll notice that his horn is not a part of the skull. That's because the horn isn't really bone. The "horn" isn't a horn, at all.
Horns are made of bone. They're hard on the outside thanks to a thin layer of keratin — the stuff that makes up your fingernails and hair. But the majority of that material is living bone. Rhinos, on the other hand, have "horns" that are almost 100% keratin. They're really thick bundles of protein fibers.
That's a pretty well-known fact. But it's one thing to know it intellectually, and another thing entirely to see the place where that keratin horn attaches to the animal's actual bone structure. The intricate, lacy network of spongy bone was absolutely fascinating to me. It reminded me of the way ceramic artists will attach one piece of clay to another by scoring little cuts into both pieces and then applying a layer of thin, goopy clay that cements the cuts together as it dries. Read the rest