The Q? Blog

Large hippo-like mammal forerunner ("Placerias") that lived, and died off, during the Triassic. National Park Service Image.
Large hippo-like mammal forerunner ("Placerias") that lived, and died off, during the Triassic. National Park Service Image.

Who Was Boss Before the Dinosaurs?

The Jurassic witnessed a world populated by dinosaurs -- giant plant-eaters munching their way through ferns and conifer forests, while large carnivores chased them down for lunch. At the height of the Age of Dinosaurs, they were found on every continent, flourishing in the warm environments of the time. But, dinosaurs were not always so prominent. Fossil evidence shows that they arose about 230 million years ago during the Triassic period, but...Read more

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A Tale of Two Mineral Sleuths

A boy named Cody came into Q?rius , The Coralyn W. Whitney Science Education Center, with his father. Cody engaged in the usual activities offered at Q?rius, whether hands-on identification exercises like distinguishing the shiniest mineral (is it rutile or pyrite ?) or using the microscope to view minerals through gigantic desktop displays. As always, I played around with my loosely configured script, letting Cody and other kids rub and scratch...Read more
Tags: geology
Q?Crew volunteer Casey poses in the Collections Zone, where she helps visitors play the Rock Game. One visitor’s approach to the game taught Casey a new way to identify minerals. Photo by Melissa Cannon, Smithsonian.

Teens Explore Forensic Anthropology in 'Mystery at Yorktown Creek'

Erosion along a creek bed in Yorktown, Va., exposed something startling: a human skeleton! Scientists excavated the bones to prevent them from being washed away and destroyed, then brought them to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to be analyzed by our forensic anthropologists. Who was this person, when did he or she live, and what can we learn about his or her life? Our scientists used forensic techniques to answer these...Read more
Q?rius volunteer Victor Guerrero shows students a human jawbone during the "Forensic Mysteries: Mystery at Yorktown Creek" school program. Photo by Jennifer Renteria, Smithsonian.

Celebrate Pollinators, the Real Party Animals

No celebration would be as festive or delicious without the contributions of pollinators and the plants they pollinate. The importance of the nectaring visits made by bees, butterflies, beetles, bats, birds, flies, and other small animals as they go from flower to flower, carrying and dispersing pollen, is evident in one-third of our daily diets. Salads (kale, asparagus, cucumbers), fruits (apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries), main dishes...Read more
Bees and other pollinators are the focus of National Pollinator Week, June 15-21, 2015. Photo by Rosa Pineda, Smithsonian Institution.

Meteorites Bring News from Outer Space

Meteorites may conjure images of giant rocks smashing into towns. In fact, meteorites rarely hit people and regularly bring valuable materials to Earth from outer space. All of the iron we use on Earth today was delivered by meteorites. Gold and platinum even have meteorite origins. Meteorites have been hurtling to Earth since its formation nearly 4.6 billion years ago , way before humans evolved. Without meteorites, our planet would be a very...Read more
This meteorite piece from an ancient asteroid contains valuable crystals and metals. Smithsonian image 6474.

Celebrate World Ocean Day June 7-8: Make Ocean Art, See Live Animals, and Meet the Experts

The ocean enriches us by providing food and other natural resources, supporting many industries and jobs, and underpinning much of our culture — not to mention producing half of the oxygen we breathe. Whether you live close to the ocean or not, you are connected to it, sometimes in surprising ways. People rely on the ocean, but overfishing, unsustainable aquaculture, climate change, ocean acidification, and habitat destruction are compromising...Read more
Tags: ocean, events
These cassiopea polyps, which will grow to become jellyfish, are feeding on brine shrimp eggs. See live jellyfish and crabs at the World Ocean Day celebrations, June 7-8 in Q?rius. Photo by Allen Collins, Smithsonian Institution.

Do You Suffer from Cellphone Separation Anxiety?

If you feel anxious when you don't have your phone nearby, you are not alone. With some 6 billion cellphones in circulation on Earth, we depend on them for a huge range of services: texting friends, sharing selfies, ordering food, getting news, watching movies, accessing clouds, etc. Our cellphones not only help us manage our daily lives, but also connect us to people around the world in ways, and at speeds, that didn't used to be possible...Read more
Tags: mineral
Have you seen your cell phone lately? Photo by Devin Reese, Smithsonian.

Arctic Spring Festival to Celebrate Region’s Peoples, Culture, and Science, May 8-10

“Fifteen years ago, scientists knew that Arctic ice was melting but no one imagined an ice-free Arctic,” says William Fitzhugh , director of the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center (ASC) and an anthropologist specializing in circumpolar archaeology, ethnology, and environmental studies. “Soon the reduction of Arctic sea ice will turn the Arctic Ocean into a global connector, and that is going to change the entire world." When sea ice melts to...Read more
Tags: arctic, events
Flowers bloom on a hill overlooking the settlement of Qaarsut, Greenland. Photo by Wilfred Richard.

How Mummies are Made

The most familiar mummies are the Egyptians , buried in elaborate tombs and surrounded with treasures to escort them into the afterlife. But, not all mummies were Egyptian, or even of the ruling class. Mummies have been found around the world, in circumstances ranging from honored leaders to unfortunate victims. What makes a mummy is its resistance to natural decay. Mummies are bodies that have preserved for long periods of time, either because...Read more
Egyptian mummy and its X-ray at the National Museum of Natural History. Smithsonian image by Chip Clark.

Q?rius Volunteer Shares Her Passion for Anthropology and Biology

As a recent transplant to Washington, D.C., a budding anthropologist, and a future museum professional, volunteering in Q?rius has been such a wonderful opportunity for many reasons. The people who gravitate to Q?rius (both volunteers and staff) are so intelligent, interesting, and supportive. From the high school volunteers on the Q?Crew to the retirees, everyone brings such a unique perspective and fascinating story to the group. Many...Read more
Q?rius volunteer Haley Bryant points to some of the objects in the anthropology and archaeology section of the Margaret A. Cargill Collections Zone.

A Crystal the Size of a School Bus?!

In South Dakota miners found a crystal of a mineral called spodumene that was 42 feet long and weighed 90 tons. While it's an extreme example, the massive crystal showcased one of the incredible qualities of the rock in which it was found, known as "pegmatite." Unlike most rocks, pegmatites contain unusually large crystals of a wide variety of minerals. Why? Pegmatites are igneous rocks that form as melted materials (magma) cool beneath the...Read more
Tags: geology
Blue beryl that crystallized as a 6-sided hexagonal crystal, not bus-sized but beautiful. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian.