Explore Movie Monsters this Summer with All-New Special FX Camp

When I was a kid, I lived a couple of years in Singapore. There, at the time, the media was somewhat censored, so your TV viewing options on a Saturday afternoon were limited. Consequently, I have seen the 1981 film Clash of the Titans approximately 60 times. It was on the approved media list, apparently.

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This cinematic masterpiece was produced by Ray Harryhausen, who was known for his special effects techniques well before CGI. What made his techniques fun was the use of stop-motion animation. This made things that would not have otherwise been possible suddenly within the realm of possibility and gave inspiration to some of today’s most famous directors such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Tim Burton.

 

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For those of you born more recently, Monsters, Inc. threw back to the original Harryhausen. Think you can remember the reference? Here’s a photo of Harryhausen while you think about it…

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Time’s up! “Harryhausen’s” was the name of the restaurant that Mike and Cecelia were canoodling in before Scully and an uninvited Boo interrupted their dinner. Did you get it right?

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This summer, we will be introducing a new generation to the wonders of monster movie magic with a new camp called Monster Movie Maker. Campers will spend part of the day discovering the myths surrounding some of our favorite monsters and doing a little myth-busting with some science experiments; they will also learn the art of stop-motion animation as they create some monster movies of their own. Here are two non-monster related stop motion videos I made for practice.

Finally, they will spend the last part of the day learning some tips and techniques for monster transformation. Check out HMNS’s very own Kelsey, who was transformed from a regular gal to a sassy vampire. As the week progresses, so will the transformations. By the end of the week, campers will be working on applying prosthetics as part of their makeup magic.

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Got a camper between ages 10 and 12, doesn’t have a latex allergy, and wants to come create with us? Click here and sign up for camp! There are only a handful of spots left!

Are you a grown-up who is too old for camp, but still wants to come play monster? Check back here in October. We will be posting some tutorials for some of the simpler monsters make-overs.

Already a monster but want to up your game? We will be offering some Monster Make-Over Classes for some of the more complex monsters this fall. Look for the September-October Museum News, the blog in September or the e-blasts in October for more information.

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No Bones About It: Forensic Workshop Provides Evidence for an Awesome New CSI Summer Camp

At the Houston Museum of Natural Science, we understand the value of education, as it is an integral part of our overall mission. The value placed on education extends to museum employees as well. Whether through offering CPR training to employees or encouraging participation in continuing education in disciplines in which they are already trained, there is always opportunity for growth. I benefited from this forward-thinking mindset in April. Let me tell you a little bit about this amazing opportunity.

I participated in the Forensic Anthropology and Skeletal Recovery workshop presented by the Forensic Science Center. This 40-hour experience was spent learning to identify bones as human or animal, creating biological profiles using skeletal remains, and recovering buried remains along with associated evidence. In addition to furthering my education, I was able to meet some interesting people, like my new friend pictured here.

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Forensic anthropology is the application of anthropology to criminal investigations. The forensic anthropologist is often called in to help in the recovery of skeletal remains and to create biological profiles using bones to help identify an unknown individual. Let me tell you a little bit about how it works.

First thing’s first — if what looks like a bone is found, whether it could be something else must be determined. There are a surprising number of things that look like bone. Even anthropologists can be fooled from a distance. Below is a picture taken on my trip to Saudi Arabia; the item is about the size of a half dollar.  At first glance, I thought it was bone, but on closer inspection, I decided it was not. It is most likely a piece of coral, fashioned into a circular shape many years ago, by human hands. So, not bone . . . still cool. I can live with that.

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The fact that it was found next to the piece below, which is absolutely bone, made it much more likely to assume the above piece was bone as well.

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Once you determine the specimen is a real bone, you need to find out if it is human or from some other type of animal. This is harder than you might think. All mammals have the same skeletal template. This means all mammals have all of the same bones, in approximately the same places. However, the morphology of the bone, which is its shape, and how the bones relate to each another, differs between humans and other animals. Bone is classified as human or not by considering its size, shape, and structure. 

We examined two tables filled with all kinds of bones, both human and other. What an amazing experience! You can read about identifying human bone, but you really don’t get a feel for the process until you’ve had the opportunity to touch them and hold them in your hands. Check out one of the tables, filled with long bones.

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Ok, great, let’s assume the bone we’ve been talking about is real and it’s human. Now what? Well, we need to establish what elements of the skeleton are present and how many individuals are associated with the burial. This is done by laying the bones out in the order you would find them in a living person. This is called the anatomical position. When done, you will know what parts are missing and it also allows the opportunity to scan each bone for trauma.

Turns out that laying out a skeleton isn’t too hard, until you get to the ribs (and hands and feet, but we weren’t required to do that). My partner and I get points for being clever. We discovered a number on the side of each rib. This made things go much faster! What can I say? I’m competitive. Given time, we would have gotten it right without the help of numbers; I say work smarter, not harder.

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The next question — are the remains modern or ancient? Police will not be interested in an ancient Native American burial, but they will be interested in any human remains less than 50 years old. Whether bones are ancient or modern can often be determined by associated artifacts. Cell phone? Most likely modern. Pottery shards? A good bet it’s ancient.

The next order of business is to identify the person to whom the skeleton belongs. This is done by creating a biological profile, which includes the estimated age, sex, ancestry, and stature of the individual. Knowing this information helps investigators narrow the amount of potential candidates from the missing persons database. When possible matches are found, dental X-rays or unique identifiers such as healed fractures or bone abnormalities are used to make a positive identification.

Next, we reviewed how to determine probably ancestry and sex using the skull, and then worked with a variety of specimens of varying ancestry, both males and females. This particular skull was a real challenge.

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Some were a little easier.

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And some skulls were as interesting as they were simple to identify. Check out this awesome specimen. It was modified into a teaching aide. Sections of bone were removed and then replaced with hinges so they could open to reveal substructures and close to observe surface structures. Notice where a portion of the jaw was removed to illustrate the root structure of the teeth. Absolutely fascinating!

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Later we took a field trip to the crime scene house where they train law enforcement personnel. So cool! We worked on surface recovery of skeletal remains in the yard surrounding the house. This included gridding out the entire crime scene into one-meter squares using stakes and string. Then we got busy documenting the scene using photography and sketches.

After the initial preparations, we cleared the entire area of grass and debris. This was quite an undertaking, but I did discover three .22 shell casings because of our careful work. Our skeleton was rocking some awesome boots, as you can see below.

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The last two days we spent on the recovery of skeletal remains from a clandestine burial. This is hard work! The first step was to find the grave using a probe to penetrate the ground looking for disturbed soil. Disturbed soil is more loosely packed than undisturbed soil, making the probe slide easily into the ground. Once located, we gridded out our work space, removed grass and debris, and collected surface evidence. Pink flags indicate the likely outer limits of the burial site.

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It was then time to move a ton of dirt, a little at a time. All dirt was sifted, after removal, to collect evidence that may have been missed during excavation. Precise measurements were taken for anything found associated with the burial. It could be tedious at times, but it really got exciting when things started to turn up! We found our skeleton about four feet down. That’s a lot of digging when using a hand trowel, a paint brush, and bamboo skewers!

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I’m excited to put my new training to work as I prepare brand new forensic science Labs-on-Demand classes and a brand new CSI camp experience for Xplorations Summer Camp 2017. It will be amazing for students to be able to interact with real bones and engage in the kinds of processes used by practicing forensic anthropologists!

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Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 5/23-5/29

Last week’s featured #HMNSBlockParty creation is by Makinley (age 9): 

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Want to get your engineering handwork featured? Drop by our Block Party interactive play area and try your own hand building a gravity-defying masterpiece. Tag your photos with #HMNSBlockParty.

Memorial Day Weekend Hours:
HMNS – Hermann Park – May 27-30: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
HMNS at Sugar Land – Monday, May 30: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Lecture – Lunar Exploration, A Captivating Science by David Kring
Tuesday, May 24
6:30 p.m.
A compelling case can be made that exploration of the Moon is the shortest and least expensive route to a fundamental change in our understanding of our origins. The capability being developed with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew vehicle provides the nation with an outstanding opportunity to reinvigorate its space program beyond low-Earth orbit. A decade-long series of studies have identified the best landing sites and traverse routes to maximize scientific return in missions that could be conducted throughout the 2020s. The lunar farside and specifically the Schrödinger impact basin is the highest priority target.
This program is sponsored by The Lunar Planetary Institute.

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A Story of Workday Blues, or, How HMNS After Dark Improves Your Week

Monday inches along like a tectonic plate, and you feel the weight of the week on your shoulders. Mildred made the coffee wrong, but your boss doesn’t like waste, so you had to suffer through two mugs of the bitter swill because no one else would drink it and you’re the only one in the office with a caffeine addiction this strong. You hear Andrew yell at the copier again, and you wonder whether life wouldn’t be more exciting if we were raptors.

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What you wish the office looked like.

You remember it’s been nearly a year since you’ve been to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The last time you were there, you learned raptors weren’t at all like the ones in Jurassic Park; those CGI characters were closer in size to Deinonychus. Velociraptors were only as large as a cat, and you remember wishing the little guys were still around so you could have one as a pet, then wondering what you might feed it — cats, maybe? ALF ate cats.

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What you see when you imagine raptors eating cats.

Dude! You think. I’d totally rather be looking at dinosaurs than the walls of this cubicle right now. And the more you think about it, the stronger your urge to feed your scientific curiosity with a visit to HMNS.

By the time you’re about to punch out, you’ve already decided to venture to the museum to improve your mood. It’ll be a great way to unwind a little before heading home to walk the dog for your significant other. The dog can wait another hour or so; you need some time to yourself. This day has been awful. You send one last email, and with a huff, you swing your bag over your shoulder and you march out the door, your good-byes disingenuous.

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The walk to your car.

It’s raining again, but with dinosaurs on the brain, it’s an acceptable discomfort. In fifteen minutes, you’ll be standing below a magnificent 40-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex. You round the corner onto Hermann Park Drive. Your heart thumps, faster, faster as the concrete building looms above you. The butterflies in your stomach remind you of the explosion of color at the Cockrell Butterfly Center, and the thought of color reminds you of the sparkling Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals, and then, finally, you’re at the parking garage!

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What you wish you could un-see.

Which is closed. It’s 5:25, and the museum has been shut down for the day. Worst Monday ever.

You get back home, walk the dog, take a shower with the water as hot as you can stand it, then go online to check the museum’s hours, dreading that you’ll have to wait it out until the weekend. But, lo and behold! They’re offering a new service — something called HMNS After Dark.

“You asked, and we answered,” you read. “For everyone who has wished for access to the museum in the cool evenings after work, here’s your chance… HMNS will stay open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 25!”

Holy cow! That’s this week! Bless my lucky stars!

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What you wish you could always see.

You rub your eyes and double-check to make sure. But this ain’t no fiction, buster. This is the real thing! Everything’s awesome, and everything’s open. Looks like you won’t have to wait until the weekend after all.

That very night, you make plans with your significant other to come out to HMNS After Dark. Tuesday and Wednesday speed along after that.

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