About Kelsey

Kelsey started working at the Museum through Xplorations summer camp, and this fall she started working as a programs facilitator. She is a presenter for several outreach programs, assists with overnight programs, and assists with education collections during summer camp. Her favorite dinosaur is a Triceratops found at HMNS Sugar Land. The Triceratops is also named "Kelsey."

Wonder Women of STEM: Mary Anning, Fossil Hunter

Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a series featuring influential women from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields in the lead up to HMNS’ annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event, February 21, 2015. Click here to get involved!

In the early 1800s, discoveries made by Mary Anning greatly expanded the field of paleontology and shed light on many previously undiscovered prehistoric creatures. Born in 1799 to a lower class family, Mary and her brother Joseph grew up wandering the shores of Lyme Regis, England looking for all sorts of fossils. After her father died in 1810, Mary’s fossil hobby became the source of income for the Anning family.

The first major find for the Anning family was a skull of what appeared to be a prehistoric crocodile. Mary’s brother Joseph discovered the skull in 1810, and after a year of meticulous searching, Mary discovered the rest of the skeleton in 1811 at age 12.

The fossilized remains were not from a crocodile as previously thought. In fact, they were remains from a new ocean reptile species which museum scientists named Ichthyosaur. Mary is credited with finding the first Ichthyosaur specimen acknowledged by the Geological Society of London. Her discovery led to discoveries of other Ichthyosaurs in Germany including one nicknamed “Jurassic Mom” which is on display at HMNS in the Morian Hall of Paleontology

Reconstruction of an Ichthyosaur

But Mary’s contributions to Paleontology didn’t stop there!

In 1823, Mary discovered another ocean reptile named Plesiosaurus. This long-necked ocean reptile had flippers and a skull with sharp interlocking teeth. Her findings showed that the Jurassic seas were filled with all types of sea monsters and things that they left behind. Anning was able to deduce aspects of the Ichthyosaur diet by finding fossilized Ichthyosaur feces containing fish scales, squid suction cups, and belemnites. In addition to her ancient sea life discoveries, Anning also uncovered the first pterodactyl found outside of Germany.  

A fossil of Dimorphodon, discovered by Anning.

Over the course of her life, Mary discovered several species of Ichthyosaur and several complete Plesiosaurus skeletons among other fossilized remains. She sold these fossils to numerous museums and private collectors.

Unfortunately, due to her social status,Anning was not credited for many of her discoveries during her lifetime. However, before her death in 1847, Anning became the first Honorary Member of the New Dorset County Museum, and today she is still recognized today as one of the great female contributors to Paleontology!

HMNS is highlighting females that made contributions to STEM fields leading up to our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event, February 21, 2015!

Although Mary Anning did not have much formal education, she taught herself geology and anatomy to help her find and identify fossils. Her enthusiasm for education helped her expand the knowledge of ancient ocean reptiles.

Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) is an event that showcases some of the great things girls do with science, technology, engineering and math! Students can present a project on a STEM related subject for the chance to earn prize money for their school.

If you, or a student you know is interested, apply for a student booth today!

 Want to know more about the wonder women of STEM?
Click here for the second post in the series, Wonder Women of STEM: Ada Lovelace, 19th century programmer.

 

STEMS & GEMS: HMNS’ Erin Mills gives us the buzz on bugs

Editor’s Note: As part of our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) program happening February 21 2015, we conduct interviews with women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. This week, we’re featuring Erin Mills, Entomologist at the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

Erin Mills Cockrell Butterfly Center

HMNS: How old were you when you first become interested in science/technology/engineering and/or math?
Mills: I’ve been interested in Science as long as I can remember, particularly Life Science. I was always fascinated with creatures big and small.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Mills: 
My 7th grade Science teacher Mrs. Pierce-Mcbroom was an awesome science teacher! Picture a female Bill Nye! She had lots of exotic pets that she would bring into the classroom and she was very fun! My mother was also a huge inspiration. Whereas most moms squeal and squirm at the sight or even thought of creepy crawly creatures, they didn’t bother my mom one bit! She was fearless and encouraged me to explore the natural world and all of its residents. She was always very proud of me!

HMNS: What was your favorite science project when you were in school?
Mills: 
My mom helped me to make a mini tropical habitat. She helped me pick out plants that live in the tropics and in the end it looked beautiful! It was my first Science fair project and I got an A!

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science/technology/engineering/math?
Mills: 
As an Entomologist at the Cockrell Butterfly Center I get to work with some of the most amazing bugs from all around the world. Bugs are some of the most important organisms on the planet and my job involves a lot of educating people, young and old, about them and their importance to the ecosystem.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Mills: Getting to work with the live insects and other arthropods

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Mills: 
Anything outdoors: hiking, walking, running, and playing with my little boy and showing him the natural world.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career?
Mills: 
Keep your mind open to the thousands of possibilities there are with one of these careers. Ask lots of questions and learn as much as you can, and don’t be afraid or too shy to do what it takes to pursue whatever it is that interests you!

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS?
Mills: 
I think mentors play a huge part in helping people be successful. This event can help connect girls with mentors and that can have a tremendously positive impact on their futures!

 

Know a girl who loves science? Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with GEMS!

These students are real GEMS: Girls Exploring Math and Science

On February 21, 2015, The Houston Museum of Natural Science will celebrate our tenth year hosting Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS)!

GEMS highlights student projects covering science, technology, engineering and math. It aims to increase interest in STEM through student presented projects, and highlight possible STEM careers as represented by our Community Booths.

We had quite a turn out last year, and we are lucky enough to offer awards to the top student projects as selected by STEM professionals. Here’s a story from two groups that won prizes at GEMS 2014!

GEMS winners 3Girl Scout Troop 21318 represented two booths in GEMS – “Any way the wind blows” and “A look into Optics.” The girls were excellent at explaining their projects to both young visitors as well as professionals visiting their booths. “Any way the wind blows” was presented by Josie Blackburn and Tiffany Bridges, and they took a look at wind energy and its effects on the environment. They discussed the many ways that wind energy is used from wind mills to paragliding, and they even had a windmill generator to demonstrate wind power in action! Hannah Cox, Hanna Gano and Qiwei Li also presented at GEMS last year, but their project took on a different focus! In their project, “A look into Optics,” the girls used a laser to show how different lenses affect the focus on the retina of the eye. The girls showed other ways lenses are used outside of our eye, like with telescopes and binoculars. It was a really eye-opening project!

GEMS winners 1 GEMS winners 2

Both groups from Girl Scout Troop 21318 won prizes for their STEM projects! We caught up with them a few months after GEMS to see how they used their winnings. Blackburn, Bridges, Li, Gano and Cox chose to give half of their winnings back to their school, Glenda Dawson High School. They wanted to give back to the people who had helped them with ideas and supplies – a great way to continue STEM education!

They used the rest of their winnings to take an educational trip to HMNS! They went on a docent tour of the Magna Carta Exhibit to see the infamous document on its only journey outside of the United Kingdom. The rest of the day was spent visiting the special exhibition Bulgari: 130 Years of Masterpieces, the Cockrell Butterfly Center and watching a film in our Giant Screen Theater. Of course a trip to the museum wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Moran Hall of Paleontology! All in all, it was a fun-filled day of Science!

GEMS winners 4

Troop 21318 has participated in GEMS for many years, and we wish them all luck as they graduate and go on to their next STEM adventures! We hope to have more projects like these at GEMS 2015!

You have the opportunity to win prize money just like these girls! If you would like to participate in GEMS 2015, you can apply here. All it takes is a group of enthusiastic students, an adult chaperone and a project exploring science, technology, engineering or math. For more information, check out our GEMS page and download the application!

Educator How-to: Tectonic Chocolate Bars

The earth is vast and its surface seems huge. However, the earth’s crust only makes up 1% of the earth’s mass — subsequent layers (the mantle and the core) make up the other 99%.

So, why do we care about the earth’s crust (besides the fact that we live there)? It consists of tectonic plates that move around, and where they hit, we get nature’s most impressive formations — Earthquakes and Volcanoes. Because the crust is so vast, it is hard to see the minor changes that occur daily. We tend to notice the big changes like mountains and effects from earthquakes.

In Houston, we don’t get to see either of those things! Luckily, the Houston Museum of Natural Science has Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters on exhibit right now. In Nature Unleashed you can see how the earth’s tectonic plates shift and learn about the earthquakes that can result, build your own volcano and watch as it explodes molten rock along the mountain side. You can even experience the inside of a tornado, and see some of the aftermath found in several cities.

Nature Unleashed: Inside natural DisastersIf you can’t make it to the museum, you can always show the effects of tension, compression and shifting on the earth’s crust using a simple chocolate bar!

Materials

  • Snack-sized chocolate bars (Milky Way and Snickers work best because of the caramel)
  • Wax paper or plates to place candy on while working

Procedure

  1. Tell the students that the earth’s surface is constantly changing. The crust is formed by tectonic plates which float on the plastic layer of the mantle called the asthenosphere. Where these plates interact, we notice changes on the earth’s crust. The chocolate on this candy bar is going to mimic some of those changes. This time I used Milky Way.

Structure of the Earth

  1. Have the students use their fingernail to make some cracks in the “crust” near the center of the candy bar. Ask them what they notice about the cracks in the crust?

Science Education

  1. Next, demonstrate tension by pulling the candy bar apart slowly. Notice how the crust shifts on top of the caramel layer. The caramel is the exposed upper mantle also known as the asthenosphere. It is this layer that allows the tectonic plates to move around. Sometimes this tension between plates can form basins or underwater ocean trenches.

Science Education

  1. The students should then place their chocolate bar back together gently. To demonstrate another way the earth’s crust moves, ask the students to move one half of the candy bar forward and pull the other half backwards. This is an example of a strike-slip fault. Notice how the chocolate changes at the fault line. This mimics the bending, twisting and pulling of the rocks that can occur at a fault.

Science Education

  1. Lastly, ask the students to push the two ends of the candy bar together. Notice how some of the chocolate pushes up and some even slides on top of another piece, showing how mountains can be created on the earth’s crust.

Science Education

  1. Now that you’ve seen what the earth’s crust can do, feel free to allow your students to eat their new landform creations! 

And don’t forget to come check out Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters showing now through September 14!