Beauty, the Sublime and Darwin: Exploring the “sheer poetry” of field biology with Dr. Harry Greene

The diversity of life on Earth is under serious threats from multiple human-related causes. Science plays well-known roles in addressing management aspects of this problem. 

Dr. Harry W. Greene, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, wants us all to know that natural history also plays a vital role in Earth’s health.

Ecology Lecture 1

Natural history enhances our appreciation for organisms and environments, thereby influencing value judgments that ultimately underlie all conservation. Wow, that is huge! This is why we should all care about nature — our planet and all life on Earth depends on it!

While Greene is in Houston for the East Texas Herpetological Society Annual Conference and Reptile Expo September 19 – 21, he will give a special presentation at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Monday, September 22 at 6:30 p.m.

Greene will explain how an 18th century philosopher’s distinction between “beauty” and “sublime” can be used in the context of Darwin’s notion of “descent with modification.” As a good biologist, he will illustrate this approach with frogs, snakes, African megafauna, Texas longhorns, and California condors.

Dr. Harry Greene is a popular author and will be signing copies of his latest book Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art following the lecture. The book explores multiple themes including the nuts and bolts of field research and teaching, the destruction of habitat and loss of biodiversity, the “sheer poetry” of field biology, and the role of natural historians in saving species from extinction.

Ecology Lecture 2

“Natural History and Aesthetics – Why Should We Care About Nature?”
Harry Greene, Ph.D., Cornell
Monday, September 22, 6:30 pm 
Houston Museum of Natural Science
Public $18, HMNS members $12
To register in advance, click here or call 713.639.4629. 

Harry W. Greene’s primary interests are behavioral evolution, community ecology, and conservation biology, and is especially interested in mammals, lizards, and snakes, particularly vipers. Greene is the Stephen Weiss Presidential Fellow and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University and a recipient of the E.O. Wilson Award from the American Society of Naturalists. His book Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature (UC Press), won a PEN Literary Award and was a New York Times Notable Book.

Love our lectures? Save the date for these upcoming nature lectures at HMNS!
More info at www.hmns.org/lectures

Plant Conservation in a Rapidly Changing World
Thursday, September 25, 6:30 p.m.
Habitat destruction will drive to extinction more than half the kinds of plants and animals that exist now on Earth within the next 75 years or so. Dr. Peter Raven will share how plant species can be saved through high-tech genetic seed banks, the establishment of protected areas, and botanic garden collections. Cosponsored by the Mercer Society.
Click here for tickets.

Monarchs: Is the Migration Moribund?
Monday, September 29, 6:30 p.m.
The monarch butterfly is known for its annual roundtrip journey to and from overwintering sanctuaries in central Mexico. Yet today this marathon migration is under great threat. Dr. Nancy Grieg will discuss what, if anything, can we do, followed by a screening of the 3D film Flight of the Butterflies.
Click here for tickets.

Gulf of Mexico Biodiversity and Oil Spill Resilience
Monday, October 13, 6:30 p.m.
The Gulf of Mexico appears quite resilient in the face of many environmental insults, such as overfishing, habitat loss and destruction, degraded water quality, extensive coastal development, and climate change. Dr. Wes Tunnel will explain what a tipping point of too many problems might eventually cause.
Click here for tickets.

“Bats: The Night Shift”
Monday, October 27, 6:30 p.m.
Bats have radiated into almost every habitat on Earth, bringing with them their important ecological responsibilities. Their great diversity of feeding strategies is a testament to the adaptability of these nocturnal animals and reveals their important roles they play within ecosystems. Bat researcher Dr. Cullen Geiselman will discuss the great variety of bats, including the 38 species in Texas of which eight call Houston home.
Click here for tickets.

Growing an Ark: The Expanding Role of Gardens in Plant Conservation
Thursday, November 6, 6:30 p.m.
Journey around the world and learn of the significant successes and contributions by botanic gardens in the efforts to rescue plants from extinction through expanded research, conservation programs, and environmental education with Dr. Peter Wyse Jackson of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Cosponsored with The Mercer Society. 
Click here for tickets.

Come to the Dark Side: Distinguished Lecture Explores Dark Matter

The ordinary atoms that make up the known universe — from our bodies and the air we breathe to the planets and stars — constitute only 5 percent of all matter and energy in the cosmos. The rest is known as dark matter and dark energy, because their precise identities are unknown. 

Dr. Katherine Freese, one of today’s foremost pioneers in the study of dark matter, is a key player in the epic quest to solve one of the most compelling enigmas of modern science: What is the universe made of?

This dynamo researcher, speaker and author will be at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on September 4 for a lecture on her work on the front lines of dark matter research.

Blending cutting-edge science with her own behind-the-scenes insights as a leading researcher in the field, acclaimed theoretical physicist Katherine Freese will recount the hunt for dark matter, from the discoveries of visionary scientists like Fritz Zwicky — the Swiss astronomer who coined the term “dark matter” in 1933 — to the deluge of data today from underground laboratories, satellites in space and the Large Hadron Collider.

Theorists contend that dark matter consists of fundamental particles known as WIMPs —or weakly interacting massive particles. Billions of them pass through our bodies every second without us even realizing it, yet their gravitational pull is capable of whirling stars and gas at breakneck speeds around the centers of galaxies and bending light from distant objects.

Many cosmologists believe we are on the verge of solving the mystery! Freese will help even the non-science majors be able to fathom this epochal moment in humankind’s quest to understand the universe.

Katherine Freese of the University of Michigan splits her time between Ann Arbor and New York City, and is also member of the International Advisory Board for the Oskar Klein Center for Cosmoparticle Physics in Stockholm, Sweden.

HMNS Distinguished Lecture
Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter
Katherine Freese, Ph.D., University of Michigan
Wednesday, September 3, 6:30 p.m.

Following the lecture, Dr. Freese will sign copies of her new book The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter, which provides the foundation needed to fully fathom humankind’s quest to understand the universe.

Book signing is in partnership with River Oaks Bookstore.

And, save the date for our next Dark Matter program…
Film Screening – Particle Fever
Thursday, October 9, 6:00 p.m.

10,000 scientists from over 100 countries who have joined forces in pursuit of explaining the origin of all matter. Join Dr. Paul Padley, professor at Rice University and member of the Hadron Collider team, for this is a one-night-only event at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

For advance tickets to both events, call 713.639.4629 or visit www.hmns.org/lectures

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.

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: