The Story of Peregrine 686

Earlier this year, the Falcon Batchelor Bird of Prey Center hospital was full of baby birds from all over Miami-Dade County. Now that the seasons are changing, the babies are grown and our hospital is seeing birds from farther afield.


October is the peak of migration for birds through South Florida. Miami is ideally placed in the Atlantic flyway, one of four major migratory paths used by North American birds to fly south for the winter. Think of the Atlantic flyway as the bird-equivalent of I-95. And like I-95, the Atlantic flyway has many dangers, mainly caused by people.

Birds use many different methods to find their way while they migrate: the Earth’s magnetic field, the stars, and landmarks. One of the most prominent landmarks to follow is the coastline. And what does Miami have on much of its coastline? High-rise buildings. Collisions with glass kill millions of birds each season and some birds get trapped in the balconies of upper-floor apartments.

That’s what happened to our 686th patient of 2014: a 6-month old Peregrine Falcon. We rescued her off the 57th floor of a Brickell high-rise the day before Halloween. She was not standing on her first day in the hospital, probably due to stress: stress from the thousands of miles she had flown, stress from being caught in the balcony, and stress from being handled by people.


Finder’s photo that was texted to us on October 30. We require a photo of all birds we rescue so we know what we’re dealing with before we arrive. You can tell she is young because her cere (the skin above her beak) is blue; it will turn yellow next year.

We rescued four other Peregrines within the last two weeks of October and they were all released after only a few days, but we would get to know Peregrine 686 a little better. Though her X-rays and physical exam seemed normal, she could not maintain any lift when she flew. A closer look at her X-rays revealed a possible coracoid fracture, a bone deep in the shoulder crucial to flight. The only solution would be rest and supportive care.

Stress seemed to be a part of this bird’s personality. She never once ate on her own in captivity, requiring daily hand-feedings. She also broke all of her tail feathers in captivity. After several weeks of rest, she seemed to be flying stronger, but her broken tail was now the obstacle preventing her release. A bird’s tail is essential for flight and flight is essential for hunting and hunting is essential for surviving. Birds naturally grow a new tail once per year, but we couldn’t wait that long. So we performed a feather transplant, also called “imping.” Our Wildlife Coordinator, Marina Boucher, expertly attached intact feathers from a preserved specimen to the broken feather shafts of Peregrine 686.

Close-up of the imping process. The new feather is on the left and the broken feather is on the right. They are held together with epoxy.

Close-up of the imping process. The new feather is on the left and the broken feather is on the right. They are held together with epoxy.

The improvement in her flight was immediately apparent. She was successfully released the next day.

New Wildlife Keeper, Alex Harper, launching Peregrine 686 into her new life.

New Wildlife Keeper, Alex Harper, launching Peregrine 686 into her new life.

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The Curious Vault 011: Platypus


The platypus is fascinating. It is both cute and magically bizarre in a fashion typically only reserved for fairy tales and myth. With so many different anatomical anomalies—the duckbilled, beaver tailed, otter footed, egg laying, and poison spur bearing mammal— it appears an unreal chimera, and indeed that’s what many of the smartest men in the world thought the first time they laid eyes on it.

platypus and nest

Platypus and nest

When word reached England in the 18th century about the animal, many thought it hogwash. Even when specimens began arriving at the doors of various posh and stuffy Victorian scientific institutions, it was labeled as a hoax, possibly a prank from the Australian colonies or the work of Asian taxidermists, known for their playful fusions of dead animals to make unknown beasts.

This whole global exchange is chronicled in Ann Moyal’s Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World. She writes, “no animal, indeed, was to rub more strenuously up against the prevailing taxonomic categories than the paradoxical platypus.”


All of this is relevant because of the furry little guy we found in the shelves of taxidermy within the Curious Vault. Slightly rough with age to the touch, yet without odor, the platypus specimen from the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science is undeniably cute despite his little beady eyes. It took the team here about 5 seconds to decide his name was “Harvard,” after the tag on his right foot showed he was purchased from there in 1974 along with several other specimen. But digging led us on an interesting mission.


Photo credit: Dogan Arslanoglu

Originally attached to the specimen was an aged and faded tag, which upon further inspection shows the taxidermy to be of the work J. Gaskell, Naturalist, from Melbourne Australia. The aged brown paper is hard to read and faded, but still legible under magnification.

gaskell lableScant information is available about Gaskell. Luckily, much of Australia’s newspaper archives are available online. The only viable trail that leads to him is from the August 7, 1868 edition of The Illustrated Sydney News:

“A remarkable natural curiosity is on view at the shop of Mr. J. Gaskell, birdstuffer and naturalist, Melbourne. It is a rosella parrot, which died very recently of old age, and has been stuffed for its owner, Mr. Upson, of Castlemaine. Its peculiarity is in its beak, the upper portion of which has grown into a long curled horn projecting downwards, and over a foot in length.”

duck lable

The mention is important because it gives us a timeframe for Mr. Gaskell in the 1860s, and shows that his shop was newsworthy. It seems Mr. Gaskell was also an opportunistic taxidermist, stuffing a pet bird.

But it also shows the attention being paid to the naturalist’s craft. Peter MacInnis is an author that focuses on men who not only ventured into the Australian brush to hunt trophies, but also to search for knowledge of the natural world. His book, Curious Minds: The Discoveries of Australian Naturalists, is an in depth study of the time period in which our little Harvard platypus was stuffed.


Photo credit: Dogan Arslanoglu

“Australia was rich and prosperous,” in the 1860s Macinnis explains to us, “because while Britain had taken most of the gold Australia produced, the profits remained here and commerce was booming. Railways were spreading, the main colonies were linked by telegraph.” 

Because of this, “there were a number of men who supplied the Victorian (era, not place) taste for stuffed curiosities, and [Gaskell] must have been one of them. As far back as the 1830s, George Bennett had noted that lots of caged birds were on sale to travellers, but stuffed specimens required less care, both in transit and at home.”

The cottage industry initially started with groups of men searching for natural resource riches, but the business changed shape when the demand for specimens grew. Once that waned, some naturalists were sort of rebranded as men of science and were funded as research arms of expeditions (such as Charles Darwin).

Our Harvard platypus is a fascinating specimen because it can be linked to a particular moment in time of both scientific and colonial discovery. Australia in the 1860s was a fascinating wild west seen from a far, and the production of such a curious and bizarre taxidermy surely excited and fascinated its first owners. It still does today at the Museum.

But as you may be able to tell, Macinnis unfortunately, had never heard of J. Gaskell. He put us in touch with the great Ann Moyal, who also had no leads on the man. She then tapped us in to several other platypus and Australian history experts who were also unable to identify J. Gaskell. Each of the top monotreme authorities in Australia that we contacted gave us further contacts who may or may not know more, yet the trail went cold.

We will update you if anything changes as a result of this post, but for now the mystery of J. Gaskell lies just out of reach within the Curious Vault. Thankfully, our unofficial mascot, Harvard the Platypus remains.

The Curious Vault is an online cabinet of curiosities featuring objects from the collection of the Miami Science Museum, presented by writer Nathaniel Sandler and Kevin Arrow, Art & Collections Manager. For more information, email

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Kevin Arrow Receives Knight Arts Challenge South Florida Grant

Kevin Arrow, Headshot, 2014/Photo credit: Mark Diamond

Kevin Arrow, Headshot, 2014/Photo credit: Mark Diamond

Congratulations to Kevin Arrow, the Museum’s Art & Collection Manager, one of 47 recipients of a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as part of its Knight Arts Challenge South Florida! The $15,000 grant Kevin received will impact the community with the Science Art Cinema performance series. The Knight Arts Challenge is a South Florida-based initiative to draw the best and most innovative ideas out of local organizations and individuals seeking to transform the community through the arts. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge funds ideas that bring South Florida together through the arts.

All of the winners answered a question posed by Knight Foundation earlier this year: What’s your best idea for the arts?

Planetarium Krautrock, 2013. A collaborative mixed media installation between Kevin Arrow, Barron Sherer, Dylan Romer, Romulo del Castillo and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science Planetarium staff, Mark Bennett, Claudia Hernandez and Roberto Cruz, that utilized live mixing of analog and digital media sources with live laser and planetarium dome projections.

Planetarium Krautrock, 2013. A collaborative mixed media installation between Kevin Arrow, Barron Sherer, Dylan Romer, Romulo del Castillo and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science Planetarium staff, Mark Bennett, Claudia Hernandez and Roberto Cruz, that utilized live mixing of analog and digital media sources with live laser and planetarium dome projections.

Kevin answered the question with his Science Art Cinema, creating a performance series that mixes 20th-century science and science fiction films with musical improvisation and multimedia presentations.

To bring art and science enthusiasts together, the performance event series, Science Art Cinema, mixes 20th century science and science fiction films with performances and multimedia presentations. Science Art Cinema presents 16mm motion pictures and newly commissioned films, and enhances them with live music or theater, guest speakers and multimedia presentations, curated by Kevin, along with Barron Sherer, Media Archivist, and Jorge Perez-Gallego, Frost Science Astronomer and Exhibition Developer. The series will culminate in a call for newly created and locally made films, in addition to a book, to which the community will be asked to contribute.

In addition to his position at the Museum, Kevin is a multifaceted artist. His work has been widely exhibited in South Florida since the mid 1980s. He has exhibited his work at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, the Miami Art Museum, the de la Cruz contemporary art space, The Art & Cultural Center of Hollywood, Bas Fisher Invitational, TwentyTwenty, The Girl’s Club, Ft. Lauderdale, The Far Side Gallery and Carol Jazzar Contemporary, to name but a few.


For more on Knight Foundation’s arts initiative and to view a full list of Knight Arts Challenge winners, visit

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Project Kickoff – Jamaica Visits Miami!

Day 1: November 6, 2014

Getting up at 4am to get to the airport is not a welcomed experience after less than 5 hours sleep, but after many overseas trips on our own, we were excited to be traveling together and about our visit to reconnect with our partners at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science (Frost Science).  We were visiting Miami to kickoff our one-year grant project partnership, funded by the American Alliance of Museums’ Museums Connect program. The flight was smooth and short, and as Miami is not a strange destination for us, we were only apprehensive about how US Immigration and Customs would deal with us as we used our new J1 Visas to enter the USA. A short ride to the hotel and a quick lunch, and we were ready for the action to begin.

Finally we arrived at Frost Science. The welcome was great and we met several people working on our project. We reunited with our partners Lindsay Bartholomew and Fernando Bretos, and it was really good to finally meet Chelle King, as we had been corresponding with her for weeks and she was the last member of the team for us to see face to face. The tour of the museum was great. We saw the exhibit designed by one of our project partners, Lindsay Bartholomew, related to her research trip to the Arctic, the Museum’s iconic Kodiak bear, the Sea Lab, where we touched a starfish and the Wildlife Center, where a (friendly) owl spooked us a bit.


The Pan Am Globe in the lobby of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science

Then we had an opportunity to put on our high heels and head over to the Green Drinks event, organized by the Museum’s MUVE (Museum Volunteers for the Environment) program, which was a great end to a very eventful day. As tired as we were, we were captivated by the presentations on the history of Virginia Key, which is the location of the site that we will be helping to restore as part of our Museums Connect project. Panelists included: Dinizulu Gene Tinnie (artist and Chair of the Historical Virginia Key Beach Park Trust), Dr. Ed Proffitt (coastal ecologist at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University), Sylvia Gurinsky (educator/tour guide at HistoryMiami) and Gary Milano (restoration biologist from the Department of Environmental Resources Management at Miami-Dade County). There is a beach on Virginia Key that was once the only beach dedicated to African Americans during the period of segregation in the United States. References were made to the teachings of Marcus Garvey, Jamaica’s first National Hero, of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Of course there had to be a Jamaican link (we’re in every corner of the Earth). Awesome!!! Of course, our Miami partners have challenges similar to ours in Jamaica, as related to the need to preserve natural sites in the midst of urban development and sprawl. We were also honored to have Dr. Wes Brooks from Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s office join us for the occasion. So, well done Chelle and colleagues, on hosting such a lovely affair with the backdrop of a full moon to compliment the presentations.


The backdrop of an open sky and full moon at the Green Drinks event


The Green Drinks event (from left: Dr. Wes Brooks, Dionne Newell, Tracy Commock, Chelle King, Fernando Bretos, and Lindsay Bartholomew)

Day 2: November 7, 2014

Day two was no less eventful than day one, to say the least. We got a chance to see our colleagues in Jamaica by way of the Skype orientation meeting we held for the scientists participating in the project from both Jamaica and Miami. We were thrilled to be meeting the scientists who will be joining the Miami team. We were also able to imagine how we in Jamaica have looked “from the other side” of the Skype call.  Then we finally got a chance to see our project site, Virginia Key. To get there, we crossed the highest elevation in Florida, the bridge of maybe 24 metres (78 feet) in height – WOW. We could swap some of these fantastic views of the city skyline with some of the mountains skylines in Jamaica… sounds reasonable right!?


Tracy & Dionne viewing the freshwater body at the Virginia Key site with the Miami skyline in the background

The restoration site was looking great!  Fernando gave a great overview of the area as an introduction. Lots of work has been done by the MUVE team and citizen volunteers, planting sea oats and removing several of the invasive plants, particularly Casuarina. We toured the restoration site and could not help but to put our botanical and entomological skills to work. We recognized several plant species, and over the small freshwater area hovered several species of dragonflies – interestingly we share similar dragonfly species in Jamaica.

Lunch was next: we really worked up an appetite in the hot sun, so the Miami team treated us to Cuban food. Interesting – tasty – filling!!! That held us for our next excursion: the tour of the Frost Science’s new location in downtown Miami. We were treated to a detailed tour of the construction site by Gillian Thomas, President and CEO, who, by the way, we could hardly keep up with while going up the many flights of stairs. (Some of us have even been heading to the gym several times a week! Really? We wouldn’t have guessed it would be so difficult.)  We also had Jamaica’s Consul General, Franz Hall, among the fine group of persons joining us for the tour, and we think he was wowed as well. We wonder if we can get the diaspora to build us something like this in Jamaica! We’re insanely jealous but really happy for our project partners and we look forward to the grand opening in 2016.


The group at the site of the new Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science (from left: Thamiah Tutt (Director of Development at Frost Science), Jamaica’s Consul General Franz Hall, Gillian Thomas, Tracy Commock, Dionne Newell, Lindsay Bartholomew, Chelle King, Fernando Bretos)

Later on, dinner at The Peacock Café was fantastic! We are joined by Dean Phelus from the American Alliance of Museums, and during dinner we got a chance to share more of our plans and our excitement about the project with our guests – a great end to a really hectic and enjoyable day.

Day 3: November 8, 2014

It feels like our heads had just touched the pillow when we see the sun peeping through the curtains.  It’s morning and we need to have breakfast and get ready for Lindsay to pick us up for the day’s restoration activities. Dean also accompanied us to the site, where the MUVE team was holding a habitat restoration and monitoring event with local volunteers. We were impressed to see all the activity on Virginia Key even from the parking area – there were persons enjoying all kinds of workout routines and many, many bicyclists. We proceeded on to the site, where volunteers were removing the invasive plants, cleaning up garbage, and replanting the sea oats.

We decided to give a hand in replanting sea oats (Uniola paniculata). Work, work, work… the sun was shining brightly and we were totally blazed, but this was a very fulfilling experience and we were happy to make a contribution and see all the enthusiasm displayed at this important activity. It gave us hope and some more enthusiasm for what we will need to do in Jamaica.


Tracy planting sea oats on Virginia Key…


…and Dionne planting sea oats on Virginia Key!

Our Miami colleagues were dead set on giving us an unforgettable trip, and after the event, debated over what to get as a suitable lunch.  Fernando disappeared and we were whisked back to Frost Science for a meeting with the student participants in the Upward Bound Program. These students will be our youth participants in our project, and will help us restore the Virginia Key environment – and a few will even get to travel to help us with our environment in Greater Portmore, Jamaica! But we got there with some time to spare before the meeting, and Fernando reappeared with burritos, guacamole, salsa and chips. So it’s Mexican today!

Following lunch we meet with the students in the Upward Bound Program where they were given a few minutes to complete the project’s pre-survey. The project teams were introduced and we gave an overview of the project and got them excited them about the wonders of Jamaica.  Many participants were thrilled to hear about the possibility of a trip to Jamaica.


Project orientation session with Upward Bound students in Frost Science’s Best Buy Teen Tech Center

Day 4: November 9, 2014

We can’t believe it’s time to leave already.  Time really flies when you’re having fun.  This is the only chance to get in some last minute shopping and sightseeing and Lindsay made sure it happened. Thanks Lindsay!!!

This visit to Miami really brought the project to life and brought home the real meaning of this connection. At every step we are learning more from each other and the project goals are getting clearer. We are all looking forward to implementing this project and meeting its objectives!

- Tracy Commock and Dionne Newell, Natural History Museum of Jamaica, Institute of Jamaica

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Chelle King Receives Audubon & Toyota Conservation Fellowship


Chelle King

Toyota and the National Audubon Society today announced that a Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship award will be given to Miami-based Chelle King, MUVE Social Action & Restoration Coordinator at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science. Museum Volunteers for the Environment (MUVE) is Patricia and Phillip Frost Science Museum’s volunteer based habitat restoration project. After a competitive nationwide selection process, King will receive an award to initiate a project that will create and implement a comprehensive citizen science ecosystem restoration monitoring protocol to be used by pre-career Miami Dade College students at Virginia Key, MUVE’s current restoration site.

Toyota TogetherGreen, a conservation initiative of the National Audubon Society and Toyota, selects high-potential local leaders annually to receive a $10,000 grant. The Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship Program invests in emerging conservationists from all backgrounds, providing them with resources, visibility, and a growing peer network to help them lead communities nationwide to a healthier environmental future. With the funds, fellows conduct community projects to engage diverse audiences in habitat, water or energy conservation.

MUVE is a volunteer-led coastal habitat restoration and citizen science initiative, especially unique in that it is based within a science museum. Since 2007, MUVE has engaged thousands of residents in coastal habitat restoration through exhibits, social media, and eco-art. MUVE is a mature project with a strong volunteer base. One dedicated volunteer base is Miami Dade College (MDC), the largest institution of higher education in Florida. Through MDC’s Earth Ethics Institute (EEI), MUVE has engaged repeat volunteers who seek to make a positive change in their world. In addition to engaging volunteers in planting opportunities, MUVE encourages volunteer participation in more meaningful long-term ecological experiences.

Through its multi-partner restoration effort at Virginia Key, MUVE is creating massive positive ecological change. There are several different habitats within this current site and the effect of this work should be tracked. After monitoring the site, MDC students from various disciplines will design and create a prototype exhibit at Frost Science to interpret citizen science to museum visitors.

“I expect that this project will have an outcome of engaging pre-career students in meaningful hands-on science that will potentially encourage a new cadre of career scientists, along with the practical result of providing necessary data for our restoration project,” says King.

“Toyota TogetherGreen Fellows help people engage with nature. They look like America: diverse, passionate, and patriotic,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold. “They are environmental heroes and we’re pleased to give them a chance to invent the future.”

Audubon and Toyota founded Toyota TogetherGreen in 2008 to foster and invest in conservation pioneers and ideas that impact the environment on a national scale. Now in its seventh year, the program has invested $25.4 million in community-based conservation, engaging more than 455,000 people in 300 cities and all 50 states.

To date, 260 environmental leaders from across the country have been awarded Toyota TogetherGreen fellowships. These leaders have engaged nearly 150,000 people in a diversity of conservation projects across the country from New York to Fargo to Tucson. A complete list of 2014 Toyota TogetherGreen Fellows and details about their conservation projects can be found at

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Give Miami Day – November 20

2014givemiamitopwebsiteSupport the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science on Give Miami Day. This unique, 24 hour online giving event organized by The Miami Foundation allows individuals the opportunity to build a greater Miami by making charitable gifts to local nonprofits.

During the 24-hour period between 12:01 am and 11:59 pm on November 20, individuals may view online profiles of more than 400 nonprofit organizations serving Miami-Dade County and make a charitable gift on The Miami Foundation, Knight Foundation and our partners will maximize the community’s generosity by making a bonus gift for every donation between $25 and $10,000 received on November 20 through

For over 65 years, we have inspired people of all ages and cultures to enjoy science and technology. Your support helps us continue our mission.

  • $75 – can provide three days of aftercare for a child enrolled in our camp programs
  • $200 – can provide a healthy meal to local schools participating in our Science Stars program
  • $350 – can provide a wildlife field trip to the Museum for 30 students
  • $500 – can provide bus transportation for Science Stars children and their families for a Museum visit
  • $1,000 – can underwrite complimentary admission for 90 children to a signature Museum event
  • $2,500 – can support college tours for 35 Upward Bound students
  • $5,500 – can provide a week of camp for 25 children
  • $10,000 – can provide an enhanced Museum visit for 775 students

*Gifts are 100% tax deductible. There is no maximum gift amount or maximum gift per charity. Only gifts made on during the 24-hour donation period (12:01 am and 11:59 pm on November 20) are considered eligible gifts for the day as well as for Bonus Pool and Prize Pool dollars.

We hope you consider giving to the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science on Give Miami Day and we look forward to seeing you at the Museum!

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Project Kickoff – Off to Jamaica!

What a short flight that was. My colleague Lindsay Bartholomew and I must have been in the air for all of an hour. But touching down in Kingston’s Norman Manley Airport made us feel worlds away. Lush green mountains suddenly appeared from what looked a huge green rock jutting from the sea. Sitting on the opposite side of the plane from me, Lindsay got to see the rounded limestone domes of Jamaica’s wild cockpit country. On each of these domes are found completely distinct plants and animals. Our final approach took us over Palisadoes peninsula, a thin mangrove covered peninsula that was once the site of the catastrophic earthquake of 1692 and once home to the famous English pirate, Henry Morgan.

Touching down in Jamaica

Touching down in Jamaica

We were traveling to Kingston last week to meet our new colleagues at the Institute of Jamaica’s Natural History Museum of Jamaica (NHMJ). Only three months prior, our joint application to the American Alliance of Museums’ (AAM) Museums Connect Program was approved. Funded by the US State Department, Museums Connect recognizes the power of museums in connecting people through learning and cultural dialogue. The application process is organic in that we found the NHMJ through something of an online bulletin board. Sharing the same objectives and approaches to science learning that we did, we decided to apply together. Our application is based on three themes: training scientists how to communicate science, engaging museum constituents and the general public in urban habitat restoration, and connecting these audiences through social media and cultural exchange visits between our partner countries.

Lindsay and I arriving at the Institute of Jamaica

Lindsay and I arriving at the Institute of Jamaica

The future wellbeing of our planet and its people rests on the ability of scientists to effectively communicate scientific data to a broader audience. Many believe that the environmental dilemmas we face are the result of scientists and policymakers not doing a good job of relaying scientific information to the public. Our Museum’s current citizen science platform, MUVE (Museum Volunteers for the Environment), is already engaging local residents in restoring coastal habitats. Through the AAM proposal, the Museum and NHMJ will engage their audiences, particularly teenagers, in taking hands-on action to ensure their community green spaces serve specific functions, which is to restore the ecosystem and economic services that nature provides, and to improve public health while providing a gathering place for people to enjoy the outdoors.

Once in Kingston, we visited the US Embassy where Lee Martinez, the acting ambassador, warmly received our NHMJ colleagues and us. We were asked some very pertinent questions, particularly about how we intend to engage our constituents in taking action about global environmental threats such as climate change, and how our project may serve as a model for the rest of the Caribbean. After the embassy was dinner at Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt’s restaurant, Tracks and Records. A delicious feast of jerk chicken and festival (fried bread) left Lindsay and me tired yet satisfied and ready for our next day of getting to know our new partners.

The next day we toured the Institute of Jamaica. We met with the Director and the staff for our first face-to-face chat about the project, and saw their new Butterflies exhibit which is based on Jamaica’s rich legacy of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). This exhibit would look great at our Museum, especially since so many of the butterflies are the same species we find in Florida. We were also given a “behind-the-scenes” tour of the research labs in the Institute, where we met with botanists and entomologists to learn more about Jamaica and the Institute’s collections.

Some of the amazing collections of the Natural History Museum of Jamaica

Some of the amazing collections of the Natural History Museum of Jamaica

Next it was on to Greater Portmore, a community across the bay from Kingston. Here the Institute of Jamaica’s Junior Centre engages local schoolchildren and families in learning about art, science and culture. But our purpose here was to see the plot of land the Institute had put aside to be “greened” through our project efforts. The “greening” of land is different from restoration. It involves transforming neglected spaces into urban oases. In this case, this highly trafficked circle will be planted with native vegetation, which will be monitored by NHMJ’s constituents. In addition, seating will be installed to encourage pedestrians to sit and enjoy the space, instead of just passing through.

The Junior Centre in Greater Portmore

The Junior Centre in Greater Portmore


The area to be “greened,” outside the Junior Centre in Greater Portmore

We are now looking forward to the next phase of our project. During a visit by our Jamaican counterparts this week, we began the training of three scientists in each country, with the goal of them becoming proficient in relaying important scientific concepts to the broader public. Students from our Museum’s Upward Bound program and the Institute’s Junior Centre will be connected to each other over the next year through a series of webinars, and through social media. Those students that participate most actively in restoring urban habitats, communicating through social media, and learning about science and the environments, will even be able to travel to the other country as part of our science and cultural exchange!

Lots of excitement from kids at the Junior Centre!

Lots of excitement from kids at the Junior Centre!

We’re all looking forward to the cultural exchange between our countries!

We’re all looking forward to the cultural exchange between our countries!

- Fernando Bretos, Curator of Ecology and Field Conservation, Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science

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Dr. Judy Brown Congratulatory Luncheon

Dr Judy Brown and her cake

On Saturday, November 8, 2014, the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science hosted a celebration in honor of Senior VP of Education Dr. Judy Brown. Dr. Brown was recently selected as a recipient of the 2014 Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Awards for Exceptional Leadership during The Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) annual conference. She has led the education program at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science since 1988 and has developed cutting-edge projects designed to broaden participation of women and minorities in the sciences. Many of her program models have been replicated throughout the United States.

The event was held at the Museum’s current facility in Coconut Grove in celebration of Dr. Brown’s national award and overall accomplishments. Among attendees were Museum President and CEO Gillian Thomas, Museum Chief of Operations Frank Steslow, and dozens of students who have benefitted from the programs Dr. Brown has developed.

Former and present Museum education department staff




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The History of Virginia Key

A baby Loggerhead turtle, a federally endangered species, makes its way to the water after emerging from its nest.

A baby Loggerhead turtle, a federally endangered species, makes its way to the water after emerging from its nest.

In the soft pre-dawn light of a South Florida sunrise, a loggerhead turtle ambles up a beach lined with sea oats. After searching for the perfect spot, she uses her large fins to dig a hole in the sand, then deposits more than one hundred eggs in the hole before using her fins to cover it back up. She slinks back into the shining blue Biscayne Bay. A few hours later, a volunteer beaches her small dinghy on the same beach, immediately spots the distinct tracks of the loggerhead, and follows them to an area of freshly moved sand. The nest is cordoned off with stakes and yellow flagging tape and the volunteer heads back out into her boat.

Each morning during summer turtle nesting season, all over the east coast of the United States, the story is the same. So, what makes this one special? The beach this turtle has visited is Virginia Key’s North Point, part of a 1200-acre island that spent many years as the dumping ground for Miami’s discards.

Virginia Key was once part of the now illustrious Miami Beach, but was parted when an inlet was forged during a hurricane early in the 20th century. At this time, the coastline of Virginia Key looked much like all of South Florida’s coastlines: covered in a tangle of mangrove trees.

In 1770, Virginia Key was a part of Narrow Island (now called Miami Beach) (courtesy of HistoryMiami).

In 1770, Virginia Key was a part of Narrow Island (now called Miami Beach) (courtesy of HistoryMiami).

As the island was developed, it suffered from a dichotomous identity crisis, especially evident during the middle of the 20th century. On one hand, planners “visualize[d] Virginia Key becoming one of the world centers of marine science” and made it home to the University of Miami’s Marine Laboratory (now the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences), NOAA the Miami Seaquarium, and the short-lived oceanographic museum, Planet Ocean, now home to a marine science high school, MAST Academy.

Virginia Key (the middle land mass) as seen from the air in 1938 (courtesy of HistoryMiami).

Virginia Key (the middle land mass) as seen from the air in 1938 (courtesy of HistoryMiami).

On the other hand, Virginia Key was used as a dumping ground for excess fill as the Port of Miami was dredged to accommodate larger container ships, is the site of a sewer and water treatment facility, a solid waste landfill, and was the only area in greater Miami at which African-American residents were permitted to use beach facilities during segregation.

While parts of Virginia Key were being used as a garbage dump and others were used for building an epicenter of marine research, African-Americans from all over Miami reveled in visiting their beach on Sunday afternoons. The beach that was considered a wasteland by most of Miami became the site of sacred rituals in the African-American community and a place for gatherings of family, extended family, and friends.

Virginia Key in 1977. In the lower middle, the Miami Seaquarium’s textured dome is visible. Across the Rickenbacker Causeway is the African American Beach. To the northwest in the photo is the clearing for the sewer plant (courtesy of HistoryMiami).

Virginia Key in 1977. In the lower middle, the Miami Seaquarium’s textured dome is visible. Across the Rickenbacker Causeway is the African American Beach. To the northwest in the photo is the clearing for the sewer plant (courtesy of HistoryMiami).

Virginia Key’s identity crisis was compounded when Miami’s beaches were desegregated in the late 1950s. Although the beach at Virginia Key had a rich religious cultural history, it was quickly abandoned and subsequently closed as residents found beaches closer to their homes. Over the next 50 years, the beaches at Virginia Key were piled high with fill from the Port of Miami, until some areas were 50 feet high. These beachside areas became colonized by aggressive invasive plant species like Australian pine and Brazilian pepper, as the interior of the island was filled with solid waste from Miami’s mainland.

African-American families and friends gathered at Virginia Key every Sunday afternoon during segregation (courtesy of VK Beach Trust).

African-American families and friends gathered at Virginia Key every Sunday afternoon during segregation (courtesy of VK Beach Trust).

In the late 20th century, a joint effort by African-American historians and environmentalists working concurrently to achieve similar goals brought about an interest in revitalizing Virginia Key. Environmentalists wanted to save an ecological treasure and historians wanted to preserve a unique piece of Miami’s African-American cultural history. Through teamwork with the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County, advocates for Virginia Key successfully reopened the park that had once been the site for Sunday gatherings and baptisms for Miami’s African-American community, and have slowly been tackling the other areas of Virginia Key.

The beach at Virginia Key North Point, from an undated archival photo (courtesy of HistoryMiami).

The beach at Virginia Key North Point, from an undated archival photo (courtesy of HistoryMiami).

Slower to recover have been the more remote areas of Virginia Key, like the North Point. During the dredge dumping, the North Point was in a perfect geographical position to receive the bulk of the dredge material. This material consists of sand, rocks, and clay, which formed an artificial ridge at the North Point. These ridges created a receptive habitat for unlimited growth of Australian pine trees, which lined a shore that had once been colonized by stabilizing mangrove trees.

This beach is in a prime location to lure sea turtles for nesting (for the same reason it was so accessible to the dredge dumping), but the beach was so high and so overgrown, turtles were unable to access it. A community of mountain bikers adopted some of the area and built bike trails under the towering Australian pines, but environmentalists still hoped that the invasive vegetation might someday be removed and the beach restored to its native beauty.

A turtle nest sits protected on the dune.

A turtle nest sits protected on the dune.

This dream spawned a new partnership between the City of Miami, Miami-Dade County, and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science. Frost Science is one of only a few science centers in the nation that has its own habitat restoration program, called Museum Volunteers for the Environment (MUVE). MUVE, with its predecessor, The Reclamation Project, has been successfully working to restore habitat in locations around Miami-Dade County since the program’s inception in 2007. For the last year, MUVE has engaged local residents in restoring this prime turtle nesting beach.

A volunteer removes invasive scaveola from the dune at North Point.

A volunteer removes invasive scaveola from the dune at North Point.

Together with MUVE volunteers, the County removed invasive vegetation, moved 23,000 cubic yards of excess fill to an area that will be used by the mountain bike community as elevated features, and graded the beach into a dune.

From May to September of 2014, MUVE volunteers planted nearly 30,000 stabilizing sea oats on the beach, and added to the vegetative landscape with 4,000 other dune and wetland plants, some of which are considered endangered by the state and federal government. Plant by plant, volunteers are bringing nature back to this dumping ground, creating two important habitats: one for turtle nesting and one as a respite from Miami’s urban landscape.

Students from Miami-Dade College plant sea oats during a restoration event

Students from Miami-Dade College plant sea oats during a restoration event.

Today, the beach at Virginia Key’s North Point is experiencing a complete habitat restoration and is providing loggerhead turtles with a place to nest.

Because volunteers are actively involved in the restoration, a sense of ownership is being cultivated. We hope this new wisdom informs the future of the land at Virginia Key and that turtles continue to find a place to lay their eggs after ambling up the sand.

If you are interested in learning more about the rich cultural and ecological history of this uninhabited Miami treasure, plan to attend Green Drinks: Virginia Key on Thursday, November 6th in the courtyard at the Miami-Dade Cultural Plaza (across from the Main Library and between HistoryMiami). Green Drinks, sponsored by COSEE Florida, and in cooperation with HistoryMiami, will be an informal panel discussion. The panel will consist of artist and historian Dinizulu Gene Tinnie; Dr. Ed Proffitt, a coastal ecologist from FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute; Sylvia Gurinsky, an educator and tour guide from HistoryMiami, and restoration biologist Gary Milano. This event will give attendees an opportunity to ask questions to the panel and network with environmentally-minded Miami residents, as well as give them a chance to learn more about opportunities for involvement with Virginia Key, via history, science, visual art with eco-artist Xavier Cortada, and poetry with local collective O, Miami Poetry Festival.

Registration is required for this FREE event:

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Astronomy Day: Stargazing into the Future


The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science reached for the stars once again with our annual Astronomy Day: Stargazing into the Future event, October 9-11, which invited visitors to look up and appreciate the wonders of the universe – and how humans observe it. This year’s event was unique in that it was extended into a three-day celebration of our past, present and future, from the beginnings of the Planetarium in the 1960s to the state-of-the-art Planetarium and New Museum, which will open in downtown Miami in 2016.

Science Up Close: Accelerating Our Understanding of Particle Physics

We are always committed to inspire people of all ages to enjoy science in order to better understand ourselves and the world. Besides our family friendly efforts, we have always looked for ways to provide cutting-edge scientific content to inquisitive adults. This made us think that some of the best scientific conversations most scientists have happen away from the lab, in the company of friends, and while enjoying a beverage of choice. It is in this idea that Science Up Close, our new event series, is rooted in. We wanted to create a welcoming setting for people to come to the museum after-hours to listen to a renowned scientist talk informally about their research, and then engage in casual science conversations among each other. In four words, and in no particular order: talk, drink, mingle, learn.

The first Science Up Close event kicked off Astronomy Day on Thursday, October 9. Following a welcome by the Museum President & CEO Gillian Thomas, guests, including Patricia and Phillip Frost and Gabriel and Jennifer Montoya, were treated to a showcase of the fly-through video of the New Museum by Chief Science Officer Dr. Eldredge “Biff” Bermingham. This first event in the series featured FIU Physics Professor Pete Markowitz who accelerated our understanding of particle physics. Dr. Markowitz worked with the team that discovered the Higgs Boson, and is now getting ready to go back to CERN early next year to run new and exciting experiments. He has hundreds of scientific publications with his colleagues and one art show. Dr. Markowitz worked with FIU’s College of Architecture + The Arts artist-in-residence Xavier Cortada, who came along for the evening as his guest, on a series of five CERN banners that commemorate the scientific achievement. Mr. Cortada gifted the museum with a plexiglass replica of the banners.

The evening started and culminated with a special space-themed jazz performance by the Frost School of Music while guests sipped beers by Wynwood Brewing Company. Everyone enjoyed a friendly and up close look at science and we are already working on the next event of this stimulating new series.

Planetarium AstroJam!

The second Astronomy Day event was Planetarium AstroJam!, the brainchild of Kevin Arrow, the Museum’s Art & Collection Manager. In 2013, he was invited by Miami artists and provocateurs Domingo Castillo and Patti Hernandez, aka springbreak, to create an original programming idea for the New Work Miami exhibition at the Miami Art Museum (MAM). This was to be the last exhibition before MAM transformed into PAMM and moved to downtown Miami to became neighbors to the future home of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science. Arrow proposed to Domingo and Patti that they use the Museum’s Planetarium as a backdrop for a multimedia experience, highlighting its mid-century splendor and paying homage to our popular Fabulous First Friday laser shows that highlight the music of Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and others. Knowing that some of the earliest planetarium structures were German, as was Armand Spitz the inventor of our Planetarium’s star projector, Kevin decided to develop a planetarium show dedicated to Krautrock, a rock music movement that emerged in Germany during the mid 1960s.

Arrow had been working weekly in the Curious Vault with Sri Prabha, an artist based in Broward who makes paintings and videos. He had also worked with Nayib Estefan presenting visuals for a Sun Ra 100th Birthday event at Gramps in Wynwood. He quickly realized that he could pair Prabha and Estefan together to do visuals in the Planetarium along with local musicians Brad Lovett, aka DimPast, and Rob Goyanes, aka Bobby Flan. He connected with the Museum’s Planetarium team including Mark Bennett, Claudia Hernandez and Robert Cruz, to support the effort with lights, dome projections and lasers. In the spirit of improvisational experimentation, Arrow planned to throw these ingredients into a live improvisational situation to see the outcome.

Thus was born Planetarium AstroJam! on Friday, October 10. The night began with light snacks, cocktails and drinks courtesy of Reyka Vodka, Monkey Shoulder and Biscayne Bay Brewing Company, followed by Bernardo Britto’s animated short film, “Yearbook,” a 2014 Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Animation. This six-minute film, presented in collaboration with The Borscht Film Festival, followed the story of a man hired to compile the definitive history of human existence before the impending demise of the planet. FIU Professor Caroline Simpson, Ph.D., then treated guests to a great presentation on exoplanets in our Theater.

Guests made their way into the Planetarium as the lights dimmed and the music and visuals began, set against projections of the nighttime stars and sky. The music performed by Rob Goyanes, aka Bobby Flan, and Brad Lovett, aka DimPast, combined punk, organic, computer-less electronic music and rhythm. They took turns providing the lush and well constructed soundscapes. Snippets of Pink Floyd and Carl Sagan occasionally emerged from the rush of sound. They both successfully replicated the sounds of the city and the swamp under a dome of swirling projections. The live improvisational dome projections, provided by Miami artists Sri Prabha and Nayib Estefan, synthesized science, light and engineering. Prabha and Estefan’s work was enhanced by a selection of astronomy and cellular biology 35mm slides from Arrow’s collection, and dome projections and lasers from the Planetarium team. After 55 minutes of highly textural sounds and amazing hard and soft edged projections, the music faded away and the projections faded to black. Everyone was smiling as they exited the Planetarium. Plans are currently underway to create another audiovisual experiment and audience test subjects are required!

Astronomy Day: Stargazing into the Future

The Astronomy Day programming culminated with a big family event on Saturday, October 11. Sponsored by WPBT2, the day was filled with activities and programs that celebrated all things cosmic.

James C. Albury, co-host of WPBT2’s “Star Gazers” and coordinator of the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida – and who began his career as a teenager at the Museum – presented a “Best of” compilation of “Star Gazers” episodes inside the Museum’s Theatre throughout the day.

Those visitors who remember Jack Horkheimer, former director of the Museum’s Planetarium and creator of WPBT2’s “Star Gazers,” enjoyed showings in the Planetarium of Horkheimer’s original “Helios” program, during which they saw the Museum and Planetarium as they were in the beginning.

The rest of the Museum, throughout the day and the evening, was a constellation of activity. Here are just some of the “stars” in that constellation:

  • A Frost School of Music ensemble trio performed a spectacular set of space-themed tunes inside the Planetarium under the stars.
  • Visitors looked directly at the Sun (safely!) by using solar telescopes brought to the Museum by Southern Cross Astronomical Society.
  • Local artist Kerry Phillips led the creation of a “spaceship” built from recyclable materials, with each visitor designing and contributing a piece.
  • Kids built their own rockets out water bottles and launched them into the sky over the Museum.
  • Young visitors were treated to Miami’s big screen premiere of SPACE RACERS™, the new animated preschool television program that follows young spaceship cadets as they soar through the solar system.
  • Florida International University (FIU) Astronomy Club simulated the the gravity keeping the solar system together.
  • FIU’s Society of Women Engineers brought circuits for visitors to learn about the parts of robots, which are key to exploring space where humans can’t go (yet).
  • FIU’s Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers brought mini robotic arms, giving visitors the chance to operate a model Mars Rover.
  • In the Museum’s Best Buy Teen Tech Center, visitors were able to remotely operate a network of mini NASA telescopes, take their own images, and process images into colorful images of the Universe. And they were even able to become avatars, fly in space and explore exoplanets.
  • And Museum staff led lots of cosmically cool activities throughout the Museum: visitors designed flying contraptions out of everyday materials and tested them in a wind tunnel… they used fruit to guess how big the planets are compared to each other… they used a laser to see how mirrors direct light through a telescope… they looked at colorful tubes of heated gases and saw that each gas produces a unique rainbow (that’s how we know what the Sun is made of!)… they made alien goo… they saw what liquid nitrogen can really do… and more!

Thanks to all who made this a fantastic day, and as Jack Horkheimer and James Albury would say, “Keep looking up!”

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