Babes and Chicks: Museum Style

While I was out having a “babe” of my own, look what the Education department had…

A chick!

Now, the collective “awww”…

This little chick is an end result of a Dissection Lab called “The Yolk’s On You.” Yes, dissection, but the class was about eggs – not chicks. In addition to dissecting both hard boiled and raw chicken eggs (unfertilized), students were able to observe fertilized chicken eggs in an incubator. One of the demonstrations the teacher did was to place raw eggs in vinegar a few days before class. If you haven’t tried this at home, you ought to, it’s really neat.

It is even more interesting to take an egg once soaked in vinegar and place it in corn syrup. I won’t tell you what happens, since hands-on science is way more fun! From an educational standpoint, it is a good activity to illustrate diffusion and osmosis.

Of course, I wouldn’t recommend eating any of the eggs soaked in vinegar or corn syrup, but if you dissect the hard boiled kind with a kitchen knife, you can always make sandwiches! Bon appetit!

The Great Raise Houston – Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.

Since The Real World debuted in 1992 (currently in it’s 21st season – there’s a fact to make you feel old) people have been saying the “reality show” genre was a flash in the pan. Now, dramas and sitcoms are becoming endangered species, and we’ve moved (over almost 20 years) from The Bachelor to Rock of Love III – I guess we can say it’s a genre that’s here to stay.

And though most reality shows tend to get increasingly ridiculous – there is one that I love.

LOVE.

And it’s The Amazing Race.

Image Credit:
© dabawenya ©
(who’s ready for a hunt?)

Most shows leave you wondering – who would fight to date someone who’s also dating 30 other people? Who would let Simon Cowell pass judgement on them publicly? Who would willingly sign up for a show literally titled Wife Swap?

Not so with The Amazing Race. Who wants to white-water-raft in Chile, navigate with Magellan’s Map, or rappel down the face of a Portuguese cliff? Everyone. Because that’s awesome.

And now, the experience has come to town, in the form of “The Great Raise Houston” – a special that follows ten teams as they run, jump, dive, fly and speed through the city on a three-day, 350-mile trek. From kayaking on the bayou to skydiving to ax throwing, the contestants will rely on creativity and common sense to keep them in the race. Part of the trek is a visit to the Houston Museum of Natural Science!

Best of all, the teams competing in “The Great Raise Houston” will be raising funds for the Houston Food Bank – Kid’s Café and Casa de Esperanza. The second half airs tomorrow night at 7 p.m. – don’t forget to tune in!


“The Great Raise Houston” was created by Uchenna and Joyce Agu, the Houston couple who took home the $1 million prize on the 7th season of the CBS reality hit, “The Amazing Race.”


100 Years – 100 Objects: Smithsonite

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Joel, the Museum’s President and Curator of Gems and Minerals. He’s chosen spectacular objects from the Museum’s mineralogy collection, which includes some of the most rare and fascinating mineral specimens in the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

Tsumeb Mine, Tsumeb, Namibia.

Among the most beautiful of all smithsonite specimens found anywhere in the world are the apple-green to emerald-green crystals from Tsumeb. The color comes from trace amounts of copper and is so distinctive that cuprian smithsonite from Tsumeb was, for a time, given its own name, “herrerite” (named for the local Herrero tribe) before it was proven to be a variety of smithsonite.

The extraordinary 8.1-cm example pictured here is perhaps the finest known example of the variety, showing deep color, unusual transparency, brilliant luster, interesting crystal shape, and a fine, large grouping of crystals.

Marvel at the world’s most spectacular collection of natural mineral crystals in the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see larger and more detailed images of this rare specimen – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the photo gallery on hmns.org.

In fide constans… Always loyal [Lucy's Legacy]

The model of Lucy created for
the Lucy’s Legacy exhibition.
Photo by reality photography

The Lucy’s Legacy exhibit was reviewed in early February by a representative of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which promotes Creationism and Intelligent Design. In the following paragraphs, I would like to add my observations to the statements found in this review.

Let me start with a few general remarks. First, a favorite approach by Creationists is to cast doubt on the subject of evolution, particularly human evolution and to drive a wedge between faith and science. This policy, known as the Wedge Document, is publicly acknowledged by the Discovery Institute as being theirs. Second, a favorite approach of Creationist writers is to represent issues in stark black and white terms.

The 2000-word document is sprinkled with terms that drive the message home: the study of human evolution fails as a belief system; the evidence is scarce and the interpretations fast and loose and not widely accepted. Moreover, some of the evidence is misrepresented.

The writer of the document stated that there is a “paucity of actual hard evidence for human evolution.” An interesting statement, but one which considering the presence of an actual fossilized hominin fossil, fails itself to carry any water. What harder evidence can one want, but for an authentic fossil, I wonder. The same author also quotes a statement that “unless more fossils are recovered (…) there is likely to be a continuing debate on Lucy’s posture…”  Two thoughts come to mind here. It is always good to have more fossil evidence. In fact, for years paleoanthropologists have continued to find fossils every year. Our database of fossilized early humans continues to grow, courtesy of an ongoing scientific effort. This growing database has led to the formulation of answers to old questions while at the same time giving rise to new questions which we need to answer. That is the essence of scientific research; it is a never ending quest for better insights in what we can observe.

These statements, using the terms “paucity” and “until more fossils are recovered,” are misleading. One wonders if the author knows that the remains of 300 Australopithecus afarensis individuals are known to the scientific community, making Lucy and her kind the best known of all of early human ancestors.

Turkana Boy
Creative Commons License photo credit: ideonexus
Turkana Boy

Another lament found in the document is the “incompleteness” of her (i.e. Lucy’s) skeleton.” The author continues “only 40% was found” and “very little useful material from Lucy’s skull was recovered.” I suppose one could say that everything is in the eye of the beholder. Of course, 50% or more would have been even better. However, another way of referring to Lucy and the preservation of her skeleton is that it is amazing that so much was preserved, considering she died more than 3 million years ago. 

Factually incorrect is a statement that “Lucy still represents the most complete known hominid skeleton to date.” There are currently older and better preserved fossils, including some of the same species as Lucy. Baby Selam for example, is much better preserved. More recent than Lucy, but better preserved is an early hominid known as Turkana Boy. Lucy is still the earliest known and most complete adult Australopithecus afarensis. Things were different in 1974, when scientists could say that she was the oldest known and best preserved skeleton of a distant human ancestor. The fact that this statement now has to be qualified to reflect more recent discoveries is a testimony to the dogged work carried out by teams of paleoanthropologists in Africa. It is also an insight that ought to have been included in the Discovery Institute document, as I am sure that this is something they are aware of.

Photo by reality photography

We also get to read that Lucy’s bones were found scattered across a hillside, a vague reference to an old creationist claim that Lucy’s bones do not all belong to the same individual. The fact that this claim has been debunked does not stop creationists from repeating it. The author – it seems – seems to prefer that Lucy’s bones would have been found together as a contiguous skeleton. Aside from the fact that intentional burial did not exist in Lucy’s time and that she did die more than 3 million years ago, it would have been a miracle (pardon the pun) if she had been preserved completely intact and as a contiguous skeleton. One should not, however, raise the reader’s hopes by presenting this a something that should have happened.

I would like to end by referring the author of the Discovery Institute piece as well as all the readers to this latest development: Lucy was scanned at the University of Texas, Austin campus, after the exhibit in Houston had ended. I have no doubt that scientists will be pouring over this new dataset and that this effort will result in improving our understanding of who we are and where we came from.

Loyalty to a cause is admirable; having the ability to see countless shades of grey instead of only black and white is even more desirable.