Girls Engineering Competition Open: Programmable Plush

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GECO Girls 2014

GECO Girls 2014 (with their “programmable plush”)

Thanks to a generous funding from the Ethel and W. George Kenney Family Foundation, the Museum recently implemented Girls Engineering Competition Open (GECO), designed to raise middle school girls’ interest in computer science and engineering careers. The girls, representing fifteen Miami-Dade County middle schools, participated in coding and engineering workshops on January 17 and February 7. Four members of the Florida International University chapter of the Society of Women Engineers served as mentors during the workshop. Each girl learned to design, create and code her own “programmable plush” creature, using Arduino Lilypads.  Museum staff members Cheryl Juarez, Isabel Leeder and Ta-Shana Taylor and Tony Puig were involved in the project.

During the Museum’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, the girls displayed their unique engineering projects in the museum lobby, and presented their projects to a panel of engineers, including Col. Vanesa Bond, USAF, Maria Porrata, American Association of Civil Engineers and Cuban American Association of Civil Engineers, Cristina Gonzalez, Miami-Dade ASCE, and Prof. Maxime G. Dessé, Miami-Dade College. Prizes were presented by Gillian Thomas to the top two projects in each grade level and girls who participated in all the GECO events were given a one-year family membership to the Museum.

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Gillian, Maria Porrata, GECO winners

The GECO winners with Museum President and CEO, Gillian Thomas (at left)

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South Florida Green Team Adopts and Plants Tree Seedlings to Restore Coastlines in Biscayne Bay

Guest blogger Krista Van Tassel, Business Initiatives Manager for Wells Fargo & Company, discusses the local Wells Fargo Green Team’s environmental efforts with the Museum’s MUVE (Museum Volunteers for the Environment) project:

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Wells Fargo Green Teams focus on both community and office projects to help support our company’s environmental commitment. In Miami, our South Florida Green Team came up with a unique solution to supporting coastal restoration while also raising awareness of environmental issues at work.

The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science (formerly known as the Miami Science Museum), which received a Wells Fargo Environmental Solutions for Communities grant in 2012, needed help from volunteers for its fall project to collect mangrove seedlings (called propagules) that would be cultivated then replanted to help restore the coastline. Mangroves  are highly visible features in tropical Florida and they serve important ecological purposes, by protecting coastal areas from erosion and storm surges, as well as creating a healthy environment for fish, birds and reptiles.

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Our Miami Green Team used the call for volunteers as a way to build awareness of their new 2013 Green Team and increase its membership.

In September, more than 45 team and family members gathered at Oleta State Park in North Miami Beach to help collect mangrove seedlings they would adopt, to incubate at home. Because mangroves grow in coastal swamps, the team used kayaks to row through Biscayne Bay. Team members of the South Florida Green Team also cared for several seedlings in the office.

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In December, when the mangroves were ready for transfer to the swamps, the team organized a second volunteer event to plant more than 1,200 seedlings at a local park.

What’s more, the South Florida Green Team tripled its membership after using this unique volunteer event to generate interest in protecting the local environment through actions we can all take at work, at home and in the community.

Now that the team is up and running, it’s looking forward to future volunteer opportunities and office campaigns to keep the eco-momentum moving in Miami.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on creative approaches to community and team engagement. Please tell us what you think about this project or share your ideas through the reply section below.

- Krista Van Tassel
Krista Van Tassel Bio

For the Wells Fargo blog and other news, click here.

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Why Science Museums Are Important: An International Study

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A family makes friends with marine life in the touch tank at the Museum’s Sea Lab

Have you ever been to a science museum? What is the first memory that comes to mind? It might be a memory of being with family or friends on a fun outing, learning something amazing, or feeling like a scientist doing a real experiment. You may even remember seeing a museum presence at an event out in the community. If you haven’t been to the Museum, maybe you have thought of checking it out. Whatever your memory is, science museums can make a real impact on both individuals and communities, and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science recently participated in an international research study to examine what those impacts are.

Last year, well-known informal learning researcher John Falk designed and led the international study, which involved museums from thirteen countries, including the US, Canada, Finland, Singapore, Australia, Sweden, Mexico, Colombia, and more. The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science was the only participating museum from the US, and was fortunate to receive a $25,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to self-fund participation in the study.

To find out what impact the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science has had, and continues to have, on our community, the Museum hired Tameka Linnell and the Miami-based firm The Human Collective. Tameka and her team collected over 600 responses from the Miami community, including 253 youth (age 14-15) and 256 adults. This random sampling included those from nine areas throughout Miami, namely Pinecrest, Coral Gables, Hialeah, Homestead, Little Haiti, Opa Locka, Miami Beach, Aventura, and Downtown Miami, which as a whole represent the cultural and ethnic diversity of the community. One hundred Museum members and program participants provided a comparison group for the study.

The final report, just released, provides numerous fascinating insights about science museums’ impacts on their communities. A major takeaway is that this research shows strong empirical evidence that experiences at science centers, around the world and with a diversity of audiences, positively contribute to building a community that is not only science and technology literate, but also engaged in science and technology.  More results of this study are only a click away: ISCIS Final Report.

Many more memories are waiting to be created next time you visit the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science!

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Science museum participants from all over the world

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Upward Bound Experiments on the Earth

Can you create a tornado? What about ocean currents? Students in the Museum’s Upward Bound Math and Science Program have been experimenting with these large-scale and sometimes-scary Earth phenomena, all from the safety of the Museum. The Upward Bound program is designed to prepare high school students for college studies in science, technology, engineering, and math related fields. These students all represent the first generation of their families to attend college, so the experience of this program can have profound impacts on their college careers. Here are just some of the things they have done recently in the “Science of Earth” part of the program.

Tornado Lab: Can you make a miniature tornado to study how the real ones work? Mixing water, salt, and dishwashing liquid in a clear glass bottle, students were able to recreate the vortex structure of a tornado by shaking the bottle in a circular motion. Students observed the “life cycle” of their vortex and saw how their “storm” formed and dissipated in their bottles, then learned more about the 5 stages of a real tornado.

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A mini tornado storm!

Hail Lab: How does severe weather happen? Students simulated a hail storm using beakers, test tubes, ice, water, and salt. They conducted their experiment using processes that scientists use – analyzing different factors (such as salt levels and temperature) and how each affected the other, comparing a beaker with an “experimental” combination of factors to one with a “controlled” combination of factors, and then recording their observations and results.

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Severe weather alert!

Ocean Currents Lab: Do we have multiple oceans, or is it really one big ocean? Students simulated some of the processes that drive ocean currents, using a large container of warm water, some ice cubes, and food coloring. The different temperatures of water represented ocean waters from all over the world, from the poles to the equator. Allowing warm and cold water to interact, and discussing results with Upward Bound staff, led students to better understand how temperature as well as other factors such as  salt level and density affect global ocean currents.

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Colorful ocean currents!

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Coral Confiscation – You Can Help!

What is in these boxes was stolen from the homes of spiny lobsters, snappers, and countless other plants and animals. Their home is in coral reefs, which are vital and specialized ocean habitats for countless plants and animals – not to mention that the coral itself is alive. It’s extremely important to take care of these ecosystems, for the health of the ocean and by extension, for us. Sadly, they are not always taken care of.

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Recently we received 14 pallets of dead Acropora coral from U.S. Customs.  The shipment originated in the Soloman Islands, and all of the coral colonies were harvested alive.  The shipment is made up of primarily two species, Acropora florida and Acropora hyacinthus, both of which are protected against over-exploitation by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  Both types of coral are Indo-Pacific species and are a major part of what makes up a healthy coral reef.

The harvesting of this amount of live Acropora species can be devastating to a reef’s health and survival.  We are uncertain as to where this shipment was heading and for what purpose, but the Museum will now take these specimens as part of our collection, and use them as teaching tools as well as for making artificial coral molds.  Portions of this shipment will also be shared with other academic and scientific organizations so we can learn more about them.

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Acropora Florida

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Acropora Hyacinthus

What you can do to help prevent this type of trade?

Do not purchase any dead coral pieces, as they all have been broken off of a living reef, and dried out and bleached for decorative uses. Florida is the only state in the continental United States with extensive coral reefs near its coasts – so much so that Florida’s waters are home to the third-largest coral reef system in the world. Help us take care of it!

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RACE: Are We So Different?

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Come to the Museum’s current exhibition Race: Are We So Different? and one of the first sentences you will encounter is: “Race is a recent human invention.” Throughout the exhibition, originally developed by the Science Museum of Minnesota and now on location here in Miami, you will learn more about this idea, and explore some questions like:

What is race?
Why do we come in different colors?
How would the US census have counted you over the last two centuries?
How are we alike and different?

Do you know the answers to these questions? (Hint: sometimes there are multiple answers, and not everyone will have the same initial reply.) What makes this exhibition distinctive is that it is designed to spark conversation, in addition to providing some of those answers. As you go through the exhibit, you can “meet” people of different backgrounds via story and video, find comfortable chairs arranged in a circle and even a re-creation of the front stoop of a building, to discuss the varied and thought-provoking perspectives you are encountering.

Join us on February 20 for a RACE Cultural Program organized by the Anti-Defamation League of Miami, as former white supremacist Angela King discusses her journey and message of hope and unity.

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Science Stars – Rocks Rock!

Next time you walk by a rock, take a second look at it or even pick it up, and appreciate what it is. How did it form? What kind is it? How old is it compared to you? At the Museum’s most recent event for Science Stars (a program in partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools that provides access to the Museum and local scientists for those who may not otherwise have the opportunity), students at North Miami Elementary learned all this and more.

In January, almost 90 fifth-graders met Sevag Mehterian and Arash Sharifi, PhD Students in Marine Geology at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and heard an amazing presentation. They learned how rocks form, how mountains form, and even did an activity to show how geological time scales compare to human time scales, using a roll of toilet paper where different lengths of unrolled toilet paper represented different amounts of time. Human time scales don’t even add up to one square out of the total roll of toilet paper! Students also experimented with colorful playdough, to show how pressure over long periods of time creates wavy layers of rocks, with the oldest at the bottom.

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Students listen to the presentation, and start to appreciate rocks more!

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Using colorful playdough to show how pressure creates layers of rocks over time

The following week, students and their families were invited back to the Museum, where they not only enjoyed exploring the Museum and having a family laser show in the planetarium, but they also got to listen and sing along with the Miami Children’s Chorus. Songs included “I Love Science” and “The Elements” (imagine singing all the elements of the periodic table), and it sounded like angels were singing at the Museum!

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The Miami Children’s Choir performing at the Museum

Stay tuned for more Science Stars adventures!

 

 

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The Curious Vault 008: Birds

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South Florida has a long relationship with taxidermy, one that can be illustrated through the life of locally renowned sportsman and taxidermist Al Pflueger. According to a fascinating Sports Illustrated article from the 1970s Pflueger perfected a great deal of taxidermy techniques, particularly with regard to marine life. His Miami operation was one of the most well respected sources for mounting your big catch into a timeless trophy. The article makes a brief argument that his pieces could be related to famed works of art and his business a Renaissance style workshop.

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Much of Pflueger’s work can be found in the Curious Vault, which has an extensive collection of mounted animals of all species. The kinds of beasts found within range from smaller specimen such as snakes and turtles, to much larger pieces such as bears. To get a sense of how truly unique the collection in the Curious Vault at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science is, one must only look to the three specimens of now extinct birds found within: the passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet and the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Extinction is the loss of an entire species and it’s a shame to think that sometimes all we have left to remind us of Earth’s tragedy is a piece of old taxidermy. But it helps us understand their nature by providing a concrete example of the animal’s physical form.

Imagine this bird flying overhead in such massive flocks that it could block out the sun for a day or two. This is what stories say about the passenger pigeon, according to William Searcy avian expert and professor at the University of Miami. The passenger pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America, and perhaps even the world. A flock would move between wooded areas eating the acorns or seed from deciduous trees.

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Passenger Pigeon

Although hunters shot them in droves, the number one likely killer of passenger pigeons was deforestation. When the flocks were large and the birds reproduced in great numbers, predators were incapable of depleting the population. However, as forests dwindled in the beginning of the 20th century, the pigeons found themselves much more exposed and defenseless, especially their nests. Humans hunted them for food and at one point they were considered a delicacy. People even used the telegraph and the railroad to spread word of the movement of their flocks. This type of efficient hunting got the population numbers low enough and their defenses were made useless.

Another extinct bird in the collection is the Carolina parakeet, which is the only species in the parrot family that lived in the continental United States. According to Searcy, it was fairly widespread through the South Eastern United States, yet went extinct around the same time as the passenger pigeon, in the early 20th century. At the time, the parakeet was considered an agricultural pest and was regularly hunted by farmers. There is a theory that they contracted an avian-based disease from domestic chickens but “that’s a bit more mysterious,” according to Searcy.

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Carolina Parakeet

The prize gems of the bird collection found within the Curious Vault are the two ivory-billed woodpeckers. So named for the strip of white around it’s beak, it was the largest woodpecker in the continental United States. According to Searcy the ivory-billed woodpecker was, “apparently pretty spectacular in life, and this is one people keep claiming to have rediscovered.” Akin to the bigfoot of woodpeckers, Searcy is not convinced by Science article in 2005 that claims the birds are still alive somewhere in rural Arkansas, though he does admit that there is “some possibility that they’re in Cuba.”

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Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

Deforestation also played a major role in the ivory-billed woodpecker’s demise, however, more interestingly, collecting may have played some role. Searcy laments that, “as they get rare, people want one,” meaning as an animal’s population dwindles, collectors of taxidermy snatch one up with hopes of owning something special. This raises obvious ethical concerns with respect to taxidermy, but within the walls of an educational institution such as the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, these birds are valued collection items and will remain that way.

In fact, Al Pflueger, the Miami taxidermy guru himself recognized this and donated a great deal of mounted birds to the Miami Museum of Science. Though there is no link between Pflueger and the extinct birds above, he did bequeath many birds, some of which were exhibited in educational boxes that were loaned to classrooms. Some of the boxes have been deconstructed since (with their parts still in the collection), as they are now considered unwieldy for school use. There remains one that is still in tact containing several Florida birds, some of which are also inching closer to endangered status.

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Al Pflueger’s Educational Box

Take for instance the Florida scrub jay, which is endemic to Florida, stays here all year round and is the best candidate to be the Florida State Bird according to Searcy. They are currently threatened because they are dependant on the scrub oak habitat which is used for materials in many different housing developments in northern and central Florida. Interestingly, the Florida scrub jay is one of the few animals that use a social system of cooperative breeders, meaning additional adults beyond the father and mother pitch in with child rearing. The scrub jay specimen piece came from one of Pflueger’s educational boxes.

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Scrub Jay

Al Pflueger’s name may not be well known to most of America, but a great deal of the mounted bird collection in The Curious Vault of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science can actually be linked to Pflueger’s celebrated shop, and his legacy will bolster the collection’s strength through these wonderful mountedbirds.

This post is indebted to the wisdom and research of William Searcy, University of Miami Professor of Biology and Maytag Chair of Ornithology. Listen to a Florida Scrub Jay here.

The Curious Vault is a bi-weekly 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 karrow@miamisci.org.

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Unearthing Paleontologists in Miami

Ever wanted to be a Paleontologist? Last Thursday, over 100 fifth grade students from Goulds Elementary School in Homestead got to experience a day in the life of a paleontologist. Through a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science staff joined Goulds Elementary students for a fossil whalebone scavenger hunt, a live science webcast with Dr. Nick Pyenson, and a question and answer session hosted by the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.

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Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science staff member, Ta-Shana Taylor is our very own whalebone expert, and guides the students through their scavenger hunt activity.

To jump-start the immersion experience, students were sent on a mission to hunt for special whale fossils.  Through various stations, students took a trip around the world exploring different fossil-rich locations. Students dug through buckets of sand (not unlike real paleontologists) to find their bone.  Working as a team, students then had to figure out the story of their whalebone in a broader picture by comparing results in each of the five world locations. Then Smithsonian scientist Dr. Nick Pyenson discussed his research on the webcast and showed some of the specimens that be found through his work in Peru, Chile, the eastern United States, Panama, and Vancouver, while answering questions that students from around the country asked via a live chat window. The students from Goulds Elementary learned basic whale anatomy and how that corresponds to our own human anatomy, what whale species are rare and common now versus millions of years ago, and how paleontologists discover and dig up history.

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The new Q?RIUS (pronounced “curious”) collection at the National Museum of Natural History will be presented through a series of live webcasts. From January until June 2014, nine live webcasts will air that examine a wide range of scientific topics that are perfect for you and your classrooms to watch, participate in, and enjoy. Each webcast is based on the Next Generation Science Standards and entices students to explore core science concepts through real-world connections. Explore the topics in the schedule to access a package of classroom activities, lessons, readings and other related resources that support each webcast program.

Join us in our scientific adventures and tune in to watch real Smithsonian scientists talk about their research and answer your questions, live! Join the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science and the National Museum of Natural History on February 12th to become Bird Detectives with featuring Carla Dove.

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Assessing the Museum’s Collection

The Museum is bigger than you probably think it is. Behind the scenes, there are over 50,000 artifacts in our care – some very special and some quite mysterious. Looking through that Collection can make you feel kind of like a detective as you find yourself looking for connections between one object and another, wondering about the twisting trail these objects followed to get here, and the many people the objects encountered along the way.

The Museum is now conducting an assessment, a renewed look at our Collection, and at present our Art and Collection Manager Kevin Arrow is working with Dr. Traci Ardren, Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Miami, to review the over 1000 pre-Columbian Collection items. Normally, an assessment takes place behind closed doors, but the Museum has decided to fully share it with visitors so we can also learn more about visitors’ interests and generate questions and new conversations. This year, when you visit the Museum, you may encounter an open room where (nearly) every one of these 50,000 objects have been brought out in turn for the official assessment, and you can see it all happen.

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A portion of the Pre-Columbian Collection on display at the Museum during the assessment

Why are we doing this assessment? Think about your house or apartment. You have accumulated things over time. Maybe some of it is in a closet, a garage, or an attic. Now imagine you are moving. You may think about “assessing” what you have, and what your priorities are. Now imagine in your closet or garage that you have 50,000 objects that have come from around the world, dating back many centuries. You may have to be systematic in that kind of assessment.

That is what the Museum is doing, on a grand scale. The Museum is going through this process for a few reasons: Housekeeping, digital documenting, and sharing. It’s important that we confirm just what we have, and ensure that artifacts’ paperwork is in order and that the historical or scientific value is recognized. Then we need to make sure everything is digitally photographed, checked in the computer database, and then packed up for the big move. And what fun would that be if we couldn’t share with everyone all the amazing things we have?

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Write your own questions and comments about the objects on display

Dr. Ardren is carefully reviewing the Museum’s own Collections database, using her own eyes, knowledge, and practical experience, to authenticate and “place” some lesser considered objects in a given time and place in history. We also have a blacklight set up to use ultraviolet light to test the authenticity of objects (we are a science museum after all). If an object fluoresces, that is an indication of paint, glue, or other substances that would suggest an object was repaired or perhaps not authentic.

Every so often in our assessment we find something so special that it surprises everyone. Dr. Ardren noticed a unique bowl with glyphs (ancient symbols or writings) that she needed to verify. She contacted a colleague, who immediately and excitedly translated the symbols. What she discovered indicated that this bowl belonged to a Mayan king living in the 6th century. It was his primary drinking bowl for chocolate. Think for a minute about how amazing that is. That’s something that not many of us would find in our garage or attic.

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Drinking vessel of 6th Century Mayan King Wak Chan K’awiil, used for the ceremonial consumption of chocolate

Come see what other curious things we have at the Museum in our Collections! You are invited to write your thoughts about collection items on chalkboards, create your own interpretive labels for objects, and maybe even meet an anthropologist working in the room!

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Museum visitors are encouraged to take a crack at writing an object label for the artifacts on display

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