Help us thank the birds and bees (and bats, moths and flies!) during National Pollinator Week

For the next several paragraphs, we’ll be talking about a few very special flying creatures (and some others) that are called pollinators — to whom we owe huge thanks for providing much of the food we eat! 

Without these pollinators to carry their pollen from flower to flower, plants could not form fruits or seeds to reproduce themselves and feed our whole ecosystem of hungry animals — including humans. Did you know that at least one of every three bites you take is thanks to a pollinator? (More if you are vegetarian.)

Although the world’s pollinators include many of the animals you’d expect and more (e.g., also butterflies, beetles, monkeys, even some rodents and lizards), the most important pollinators of our fruit and vegetable crops are insects, particularly bees. Unfortunately, today many pollinators are in danger due to habitat loss, overuse of insecticides, and other factors. To learn more about the threats facing pollinators and what you can do to help, visit the Pollinator Partnership’s webpage at pollinator.org.

National Pollinator Week, June 16-23 this year, was initiated by a group of biologists calling themselves the “Pollinator Partnership,” whose goal was to bring the public’s attention to the vital ecosystem services provided by pollinating bees, butterflies and moths, beetles, birds, and bats — and to make people aware of the urgent issue of their declining populations. 

Seven years ago, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to designate a week each June to commemorate the importance of pollinators. Pollinator Week has now grown to be an international celebration.

From feasting to beekeeping, learn more about the efforts of these hardworking — and essential — animals in three special events planned for National Pollinator Week. 

Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the Cockrell Butterfly Center
Tuesday, June 17, 6 p.m.

In addition to the Butterfly Center and Insect Zoo, you will visit the containment room and rooftop greenhouses — areas not open to the public where staff cares for the Museum’s butterflies and other insects. Kids 5 and above welcome! Click here for ticket info.

Beekeeping Class
Wednesday, June 18, 6 p.m.

From the tools and techniques needed to start your own apiary to tips of daily life with bees, beekeeper Shelley Rice will share the basics of starting your own beehive and how to harvest wax and honey naturally and safely. Participants will meet at Shelley’s private apiary. Advance registration required. Click here for ticket info.

Cultural Feast: A Culinary Cultivation — All About the Birds and the Bees
Sunday, June 22, 6 p.m.

In the perfect kick off to summer, join the staff of the Cockrell Butterfly Center at Haven for a five-course meal showcasing the contributions of bees and other pollinators to our food sources prepared by chef Randy Evans. Culinary historian Merrianne Timko will discuss the culinary history of these pollinator-focused ingredients. Advance reservations required by June 16. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets online. 

School’s (almost) out for summer: Time to xplore with our Xplorations Summer Camps!

Summer Camp is here again!  As we busily prepare, buying all the weird odds and ends it takes to run camp here (everything from plastic spoons to sheep eyeballs), I thought I would share a bit about camp with you.

Xplorations Summer Camp 14Recently I gave a presentation to fellow HMNS staff members about Xplorations Summer Camp, just a little informal FYI. I was surprised at how many of them stopped me later in the day and said, “I didn’t know that ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_________.” 

The No. 1 item they commented on was the sheer size of our summer camps. We have approximately 550 campers per week at HMNS in Hermann Park. This means that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, we are larger than your average elementary school each week for the eight weeks of camp. 

Because of this, we take safety very seriously … which brings us to the second most surprising camp fact I shared: Staffers were also amazed to learn that all the full-time Youth Education Programs staff regularly has First-Aid, Epi-Pen injection, and Heart Saver/AED training. We have found that parents really like getting their campers back in the afternoon in same condition as when they signed them in in the morning. To that end, we feel like we should be prepared for a whole range of potential problems — everything from a Band-Aid solve-able boo-boo to a zombie apocalypse.

Our number one goal is to keep our campers safe!  A close second is to have fun while learning.

And because we are always learning new things around here, I learned how to make this infographic with some of the other numbers and statistics our staff found interesting about Xplorations Summer Camp. 

Summer Camp InfographicIf you haven’t signed up your little scientists, you’d better do it quickly.  Spots are vanishing before our eyes! 

Camp is an excellent, hands-on way to introduce kids to topics in science. They learn, have fun and are able to explore themes and careers that can help them change the world. Perfect for kids age 6-12, sign up for Xplorations Summer Camps today! Click here to see our full catalog of age-specific camps.

Educator How-To: Mimicking weather with convection currents

There has been a lot of strange weather this spring. Temperatures in North Dakota reached -60°F — which is about the same temperature at the surface of Mars, and about 50°F colder than the North Pole on the same day. 

Meanwhile, in Australia, temperatures reached over 120°F! California is at its driest point since they started keeping records in 1849. And just recently, a bout of deadly tornadoes tore through the Midwest.

The rapid changes happening on the surface of the Earth, like hurricanes and tornadoes, and the slower changes happening under the Earth’s surface, like earthquakes and volcanoes, are as awe-inspiring as they can be terrifying.  Understanding the dynamic Earth helps us prepare for the worst that Mother Nature has to offer.

On that note, here’s a simple but really cool experiment you can do to get you started on the path to meteorology mastery. With a few simple items, you, too, can create a convection current.

Activity: Convection Currents

Materials:
-Large, clear container with a depth of at least two inches (a Pyrex loaf pan would work)
-Red and blue food coloring
-Ice cube tray and access to a freezer
-Water
-Electric kettle, stove or microwave to boil water
-Styrofoam cup to hold very hot water

Procedure:

  1. Dye water blue using food coloring (make it pretty dark). Then freeze in an ice cube tray. When you have your ice cubes made, move on to the remaining steps.
  2. Begin to heat water in an electric kettle. You’ll use it later on.
  3. Fill a clear container with tap water, and then set it on the table to settle. The water should be as still as possible, so try not to jostle the table.
  4. Carefully place a blue ice cube at one edge of the clear container. The blue ice makes it easier to see what happens to the cold water melting off of the cube. You should notice where the cold blue water goes in the clear container.  View the container from the side — your eyes should be about the same height as the water.
  5. Repeat this process again to make sure it isn’t a fluke! (It’s not…)
  6. The cold water tends to sink down. (It is denser — heavier for its size — than the room temperature water). So what do you expect warm water to do if we added some to the bowl? Let’s find out.
  7. Add several drops of red food coloring to the bottom of the plastic or Styrofoam cup. Pour approximately half a cup of heated water into the cup. Lower the cup close to the surface of the water near one edge of your demo tank, and pour a small amount of the hot red water into the tank. Try to pour it so it runs down the side of the container and try to disturb the water as little as possible.
  8. Does the red water do what you expected?

What’s Going On Here?

So how does this relate to the weather? Well, it’s all about convection!

Convection is the action of warm air rising and cold air sinking. You are using water to model some things that also happen in the atmosphere because sometimes air moves in similar ways to water. You probably guessed that the blue water represents a cold air mass and the red water represents the warm, unstable air mass.

A thunderstorm is caused by unstable air and convection plays an important part. A body of warm air is forced to rise by an approaching cold front. Other things can cause warm air to rise, like a mountain slope. In this experiment, the cold water sinks while the warmer red water rises, or stays higher than the blue.

Can’t get enough of the science of weather and natural disasters?  We’ve got four things to quench your thirst for all things weather!

1. In a new special exhibit open this summer, Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters, you will come face-to-face with the inside of a tornado, create your own volcano and earthquake, and witness the aftermath of several historical disasters. You’ll see why these events happen and how we study to better predict them.

2. On the lower level of the Museum, you can step in front of the camera and join KHOU Channel 11 Chief Meteorologist Chita Johnson for a severe weather update — with you as the weather reporter! It’s lights, camera, action! as you become the star of the show on a replica of the Channel 11 weather set!

3. Are you ready for nature’s fury? Force 5 in the Planetarium is your chance to survive three Category 5 storms — a hurricane, a tornado and a solar eruption — without any rain, wind or dangerous radiation. Discover the causes of weather catastrophes and venture into the middle of the action when nature goes Force 5!

4. For the smaller scientist in your family, check out Calamity Camp for 6 and 7 year olds and Nature Unleashed for 8 and 9 year olds. In Calamity Camp, you will tame a twister, battle a blizzard, hunt a hurricane and much more as you explore and experiment to discover nature’s awe-inspiring fury. Nature Unleashed is an exciting interactive journey to the center of the Earth, where we’ll explore earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and more!

No matter how you explore weather at HMNS this summer, you’ll be blown away!

Celebrate Earth Day 2014 with environmental documentary Trashed at its Houston premiere

The beauty of Earth from space stands in stark contrast to the view from the ground. There is now more human detritus across the globe than ever before. Industrialization, coupled with exponential population increases, pose a serious threat to the life and health of humans and ecosystems across the world.

A scene from the documentary Trashed, making its Houston  premiere Thursday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in celebration of Earth Day 2014.

A scene from the documentary Trashed, making its Houston premiere on Thursday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in celebration of Earth Day 2014.

Vast landscapes in China are covered in tons of rubbish. The wide waters of the Ciliwung River in Indonesia are now barely visible under a never-ending tide of plastic. Children swim among leaking bags; mothers wash in the sewage-filled supply.

On a beach in Lebanon, a mountain of rubbish towers — a pullulating eyesore of medical waste, household trash, toxic fluids and dead animals. It’s the result of 30 years of consumption by Sidon, just one small city. As the day’s new consignments are added to the top, debris tumbles off the side and into the blue of the Mediterranean.

Trashed Blog 1

“There is an equally urgent need for the most imaginative and productive solutions to this troublesome subject to be understood and shared by as many communities as possible throughout the world. This is where movies can play such an important role: educating society, bringing ‘difficult’ subjects to the broadest possible audience,” says Irons on the urgent need for addressing the problem of waste and sustainability.

In the North Pacific, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch shows the detrimental effect of plastic waste on marine life. Chlorinated dioxins and other man-made persistent organic pollutants are attracted to the plastic fragments. These are eaten by fish, which absorb the toxins. We then eat the fish, accumulating more poisonous chemicals in our already burdened bodies.

Meanwhile, global warming, accelerated by the emissions from landfill and incineration, is melting the ice caps and releasing decades of these old poisons, which had been stored in the ice, back into the sea.

Trashed Blog 3Each year, we throw away 58 billion disposable cups, billions of plastic bags, 200 billion liters of water bottles, billions of tons of household waste, toxic waste and e-waste. We keep making things that do not break down.

You have all heard these horrifying facts before. In Trashed, you can discover what happens to the billion or so tons of waste that go unaccounted for each year.

The documentary Trashed makes its Houston debut Thursday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in celebration of Earth Day 2014.

The documentary Trashed makes its Houston debut Thursday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

In the award-winning documentary Trashed, Academy-Award winning actor Jeremy Irons travels to locations around the world to see how natural landscapes are now tainted by pollution to discover the extent and effects of the global waste problem. He then turns to hope and searches for solutions. From individuals who have changed their lives and produce almost no waste, to increasing anti-waste legislation, to an entire city which is now virtually waste-free, he discovers that change is not only essential, but happening.

Join Dr. Herb Ward, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University for the Houston premiere of Trashed on Thursday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. This is a great way to celebrate Earth Day 2014.

Click here for advance tickets.

To learn more about the film, visit trashedfilm.com or watch the trailer for Trashed below.