About Guest Contributor

From distinguished lecturers to scientific scholars to visiting curators to volunteers to leaders in their respective fields, we often invite guest authors to contribute content to our blog. You'll find a wealth of information written by these fascinating individuals as we seek to expand your level of knowledge with every post.

Home Front: Lecture examines Texas history in WWII

By Guest Blogger Mike Vance, Houston Arts and Media

To picture the home front during World War II is to summon memories of drives for war bonds and scrap metal and rationing of sugar, meat and shoes. To be sure, it was a time that included all of those sacrifices and more. It was also, however, the beginning of a shift that would change Texas from rural to urban as half a million Texans moved to cities to fill industrial jobs.

Those industries were thriving from the war effort. Manufacturing in Texas quadrupled during WWII. Pipelines, refineries and petrochemicals blossomed on the upper Gulf Coast, and factories in the Metroplex churned out aircraft. Synthetic rubber was manufactured in the state, wood pulp operations were revived and Liberty ships were born on the Houston Ship Channel.

The state was home to a myriad of military bases. Tens of thousands of Americans were inducted or discharged in Texas. Training took place from one end of the state to the other, especially for the Army Air Corps, be it aviation mechanics in Wichita Falls, pilots in San Antonio or aerial gunners in Harlingen.

Scattered around Texas was the largest number of German prisoner of war camps in the United States. While much of the farm labor pool was away in the service, these captured Germans picked fruit and tended the fields and livestock.

All along the coast were anti-aircraft guns, concrete bunkers and even reconnaissance blimps. German U-boats did indeed ply Gulf waters, looking for Allied shipping.

Yet, the stories of Texas during the War don’t end with the effort to defeat the Axis powers. The early 1940s brought stirrings of social change. Women, still not allowed to serve on a jury, were suddenly doing essential work in factories or petrochemical labs.

Race relations showed signs of change, too. 1944 also saw a landmark Supreme Court case that ended the all-white democratic primaries in the state. When veterans of African or Mexican descent returned to their home state, they were much less inclined to silently accept the second-class status to which they had been relegated prior to the war.

Home Front: Texas in WWII is the fascinating, multi-layered story of soldiers, sailors and civilians selflessly working to fulfill a patriotic duty. It’s also politicians, civil rights, and young love. It is a story 70 years old that resonates loudly with the making of modern Texas.

Historian Mike Vance of Houston Arts and Media will give an overview of Home Front: Texas in WWII at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on August 26 in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre.

Home Front: Texas in WWII
Tuesday, August 26, 6:30 p.m.
Mike Vance, Historian
Tickets $18, HMNS Members $12
Purchase tickets: online by phone 713-639-4629 or at the HMNS Box Office.

Sharing The Love: HMNS Outreach fan mail shows kids and teachers agree, hands-on science is FUNdamental

Editor’s Note: This post was written by HMNS Outreach Presenter Sahil Patel.

Even with a brand new school year just around the corner, students, teachers, and parents alike are still raving about last year’s HMNS Outreach programs. During the 2013-14 school calendar, HMNS Outreach conducted about 500 presentations, helping foster a love of learning and science in thousands of children. But you don’t have to take our word for it; check out these comments, pictures and thank you notes, all from satisfied customers from around the Houston area and beyond!

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The cards, letters, comments, and notes posted below were sent to the Museum following Outreach presentations:


Our ever-popular Outreach programs have gotten some fantastic thank you cards over the years, featuring adorable artwork like the Triceratops below.

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Our programs get kids on the edge of their seats in excitement! It isn’t often real prehistoric fossils come to school…

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“My students thought the fossils were cool. I have one student that is a dinosaur “nut” and he was so excited!” wrote a teacher following a Chevron Earth Science on Wheels program. From dinosaur fossils to shark teeth, this program has something of interest for everybody.

 

…and the requests to return are endless once we leave!

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HMNS Outreach Programs have been fostering a love of science in children for years…

Outreach IMG 04“All of our students, parents, faculty and staff were highly impressed and appreciative to the docents’ time, knowledge and friendliness” wrote a supervisor following a Docents To Go program. Extensively trained Museum volunteers present on any of eight different topics in our lowest-price Outreach program. 


…for kids of all ages and backgrounds from all over Southeast Texas…

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“I enjoyed the fact that our students were able to see and ‘pet’ the insects. Also, the presenter introduced, treated and spoke about the insects like they were her own pets. She has deep passion for her work and it showed!” wrote a teacher about LyondellBasell Bugs On Wheels. Staff from the renowned Cockrell Butterfly Center will present bugs of all kinds, shapes, and sizes in a program sure to please even the entomophobic!

 

…leading to even the most unlikely of friendships!

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It’s great when kids think we’re super smart…

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…because that tells us they learned something.

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While we love hearing that kids enjoyed our programs…

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“The response was very enthusiastic. Numerous parents commented that they appreciated having the opportunity to let their children experience something that was both educational and fun,” a teacher wrote about Discovery Dome. The Museum’s most popular outreach program takes viewers on a voyage to outer space, a trip back in time, and more, with shows appealing for all ages.

 

…we are just as happy to hear that the students enjoyed being taught…

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“I have so many favorites from this presentation! Honestly, I think my teachers and I learned along with the students with this one!” wrote one teacher about our ConocoPhillips Science On Stage show. 2012 Educator of the Year Carolyn Leap leads the way as children and adults alike explore topics in chemistry and physics.

 

…and even happier to hear that it has spawned a love of science and learning!

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“Please have more programs like this one coming to school. It’s always fascinating for children to see live animals and not just pictures!” wrote a parent to a teacher following a TOTAL Wildlife On Wheels program. From salamanders and snakes to alligators and ferrets, kids get an up close and personal encounter with some of the museum’s exotic animals.

 

Inspiring children to consider STEM careers? We love that, too.

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And it’s always nice to know the teachers are pleased with us as well.

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“Love them all…you are a standard every year” another teacher wrote. Over 550 programs have already been booked for 2014, and spaces for 2015 and 2016 are already being filled!

 

The feelings are mutual. Our presenters love teaching and working with kids, and cards like these are why we love our jobs.

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All of the Outreach programs featured above are bookable for visits; we like to say we’re bringing the Museum to you. Bookings are already underway for the 2014-2015 school year, and programs are filling fast, so get in on the action today! For more information, please visit our HMNS Outreach website or send us an email at outreach@hmns.org!

About the author of this post:
Sahil has worked for HMNS in some capacity each summer since 2007 with the Moran Ecoteen Program and Xplorations Summer Camps. He quite literally grew up at the Museum; Sahil and his mom made biweekly trips at lunchtime until he started school at age 5, and he was a regular camper in Xplorations from ages 6-13. In 2014, he was hired full-time as Outreach Presenter, a job where his friends think he spends all day playing with alligators, tarantulas, and dinosaur fossils. He doesn’t like to contradict them.

 

Chemistry Demonstrations: This Eureka Moment is brought to you by HMNS Volunteers

Editor’s note: Today’s post was written by Tom Szlucha, a volunteer docent here at the Museum.

“EUREKA!” In his excitement, Archimedes runs down the street, naked and dripping wet from his bath. In this legend, he makes a discovery as he immerses himself in the bathtub and notices the water rise. 

It is this observation that leads to the solution to a problem that had been bothering him for some time.The king needs to know if the crown recently delivered by the goldsmith is pure gold or some cheap alloy — and Archimedes has found a way to determine what the crown’s made of!

This example of scientific discovery is based on the very simple observation of the water being displaced as a mass is lowered into it. Archimedes is obviously very excited by his discovery (maybe a bit too excited).

The ConocoPhillips “Hands-On” Demonstration Lab in the new Welch Hall of Chemistry stimulates this same sense of scientific discovery in visitors to HMNS (no bathtub for us though). Chemistry docents conduct hands-on experiments in this lab — experiments that teach, inspire and, most of all, are fun.

 

Now, back to Archimedes…According to the legend, he has to determine if the density of the metal in the crown is pure gold or a cheap alloy of gold.

He develops a very simple experiment to see if a density difference exists between the crown and gold. He places the crown on one side of a balance beam. On the opposite side, he places gold until the scale is balanced.

Then, he lowers the apparatus into a tub of water. If the balance tips to one side because the materials exhibit different buoyancy, then there is a difference in density — which would mean that a gold alloy was used to make the crown.

The principles of density and buoyancy involved in the Archimedes experiment are included in many of our chemistry demonstrations. The demonstrations are given by a group of dedicated HMNS chemistry docents. They come from a variety of backgrounds: chemists, engineers, educators, college students, and others. They have the enjoyment of making these fun, simple, and safe demonstrations that teach and instill an interest in physical science. In return, they are rewarded for their time and effort by seeing children smile with excitement as they make their own “Eureka!” discoveries.

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Tom Szlucha using the “pass-through” to set up

The theater area for these demonstrations is new and improved, a literal “step up” from the work cart that used to be parked in the old Chemistry Hall on the first floor. Downstairs, the new theater has a raised stage with large worktables in front and behind the presenter, allowing for multiple experimental setups. There are pass-through cabinets behind the rear table that facilitate the movement of materials from the preparation and a storage room located behind the stage.

Tom Szlucha in the prep room

Tom Szlucha in the prep room

The audience is seated on rows of black, rubber-coated cubes under the illumination of air molecules hanging from the ceiling. These molecules are different colors, proportionally representing the mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and trace gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. The suspended molecules make a perfect transition into experiments associated with gases. The demonstration area is enhanced with a well-tuned wireless sound system, making the presenter easily heard by the seated audience.

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There are a variety of experiments performed here, most using simple household materials. Almost every school kid knows how to make a “volcanic eruption” by mixing baking soda with vinegar. But did you know that this acid/base reaction is endothermic, meaning that it absorbs energy, thus creating a cooling effect? A product of this chemical reaction is carbon dioxide gas. Since carbon dioxide is denser (i.e., heavier) than air, it can be poured to extinguish a flame. This stunt can come off as a magic trick—there is no liquid involved as you pour the invisible gas and extinguish the candle flame. Other practical lessons are taught through simple experiments, answering questions such as why do we wash our hands with soap; how do scientists measure the strength of acids and bases; and what does a baby diaper have in common with Jell-O?

Chemistry docents have plenty of opportunities to interact with the audience by soliciting help with these experiments. Participants learn about material density when they make hard-boiled eggs float on salt water and sink in plain water. They help show that Diet Coke is less dense than regular Coke. But why? The explanation is somewhat shocking. The average twelve-ounce can of sugar-sweetened soda contains about forty grams of refined sugar. That’s about three heaping tablespoons of sugar!

Participants also make a rubber “Superball” out of white glue and a simple ingredient found in the laundry isle of the grocery store. This polymerization process utilizes the boron atom in Twenty Mule Team Borax to cross-link the chains of polymers found in casein-based white glue. This experiment helps to teach visitors about some of the characteristics of polymers.

Chemistry Superball

Audiences entertained at the ConocoPhillips Hands-On Chemistry Demonstration Lab range from large school groups to families and individuals spending the day at the museum. The demonstrator has to be somewhat flexible, modifying their routine for the audience that is present. Having multiple tables with large surfaces allows for a number of different experiments to be set up and ready to go. Some experiments may be more suited to a particular age group, so the presenter can pick and choose, thus customizing each show to the specific audience.

If you are interested in joining in the fun by becoming an HMNS volunteer, please visit the HMNS web site to learn more or fill out the short registration form by clicking here.

The Volunteer Office will invite you to come to the museum for a short “get-acquainted” interview and will provide information about upcoming orientation programs. You don’t need to be an expert already, just interested in science! Our fun and comprehensive program will teach you everything you need to know to feel confident working with visitors and students in the HMNS exhibition halls. You’ll get to meet smart and interesting people, learn about a variety of scientific subjects, and become an integral part of one of the nation’s most-visited museums! We look forward to meeting you soon!

Distinguished Lecture: Quilting history with Pam Holland’s replica of the Bayeux Tapestry

Editor’s Note: The Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidered textile 230 feet long, visually recounts the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066. Professional quilter Pam Holland of Australia has nearly completed a full-scale quilted replica of the Bayeux Tapestry. In the process of her work and research, she has become one of the leading experts on the original piece, which is on display in Normandy, France. The replica quilted panel on display in the HMNS Magna Carta exhibition is an example of Holland’s work. This blog post is written by Holland.

Last year, I was approached by the Houston Museum of Natural Science to display a sample piece of my “Bayeux Tapestry – To Quilt” project in their upcoming Magna Carta exhibition. I was thrilled, as you can imagine, while a little taken aback at the same time. However, during the Houston Quilt Festival, we met and I agreed they could have it for the duration of the exhibition.

I made the arrangement thinking I wouldn’t get to Houston to see it on display, but an opportunity came my way and I found myself in Houston this past March, only a short while after Magna Carta had opened! Blessings. And my, what an experience it was to see the exhibit.

The entrance to the exhibition is imposing and continues through several distinct spaces. The first room covers really interesting information about the day-to-day lives of people who lived in Medieval England.

Of course, I was drawn to the section with products used to dye fabric and thread. There was so much information I could barely take it all in. I’ve been studying these subjects for years, and here it was, all in one place: dyeing, weaving, daily chores and tasks. I was amazed.

I walked down a corridor and into the next room.

It was beautiful; it looked forever like a cathedral. The light was low. Facsimiles of stained glass windows and the sounds of Gregorian chanting adding to the ambiance.

And there, in the center, was my quilt. I almost burst. I just thought it would be pinned to the wall. Never did I imagine my piece would have its own beautiful display.

Bayeux Magna

The more I looked at it, the more I thought, “It’s fitting.” I have a small inkling now of how the entire quilt will look on display — all 263 feet of it.

My spirit soared. I’m so thrilled. I was absolutely delighted to play a small part in this collection.

Serendipitously, I am making my way back to Houston on Tuesday, July 22, and will give a lecture at HMNS on the Bayeux Tapestry in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre at 6:30 p.m. I couldn’t be more excited!

HMNS Distinguished Lecture
The Bayeux Tapestry: The Story-Telling Textile of the Norman Conquest
Pam Holland, Author and Artist
Tuesday, July 22, 6:30 p.m.
Sponsored by the Favrot Fund
The Museum’s Magna Carta programs are sponsored by the British Council.
Click here for advance tickets.

The Magna Carta exhibit is on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science until August 17, 2014. Click here for tickets and information.

See below for details of Pam Holland’s quilted replica of the Bayeux Tapestry: