The Q? Blog

Blue beryl that crystallized as a 6-sided hexagonal crystal, not bus-sized but beautiful. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian.
Blue beryl that crystallized as a 6-sided hexagonal crystal, not bus-sized but beautiful. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian.

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

Latest Posts

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.

Webcast Extra: Q&A with Geologist Cara Santelli

Did you know that the tiniest of all life forms can perform some of the most herculean transformations? Some types of microbes, like fungus and bacteria, are tiny mineral-making machines , capable of transforming toxic pollution into less harmful minerals. During our March 12, 2015, webcast, “ Mineral Transformations: Demystifying Microbes ,” Dr. Santelli gave us a look into her research on microbes that both make and degrade minerals, and how...Read more
Smithsonian geologist Dr. Cara Santelli and Maggy Benson during a Smithsonian Science How webcast

Discovering Weird, Wonderful New Species in the Open Ocean

When we think about the ocean, we may visualize sea turtles swimming around coral reefs, sea urchins anchored in tidepools, dolphins breaching the surface, or even shrimp gathered around deepwater sulfur vents. But most of the ocean is just open water, miles and miles of it from below the surface to thousands of feet down. This ocean midwater is the largest habitat on Earth! Yet midwater habitat has not been well-studied because it is difficult...Read more
The red paper lantern jellyfish, a strikingly beautiful animal in the web of midwater ocean life. Photo by Karen Osborn, Smithsonian Institution.

Not Just Menaces, Microbes are also Mineral-Making Machines

A microbe is a tiny organism, microscopic in size. We often think of microbes as menaces, such as pathogenic bacteria or fungi that cause disease. In fact, microbe s are also necessary for life because of their impacts on the distribution of essential nutrients in ecosystems. Nearly every element on this planet is affected in some way by microbes. And, microbes are found in just about every habitat on Earth , ranging from the depths of the ocean...Read more
This scanning electron microscope image shows fungi making bead-like minerals (elemental selenium). Image from Carla Rosenfeld, Smithsonian.

Webcast Extra: Q&A with Paleobiologist Brian Huber

Can you guess the age of the oldest fossil that Smithsonian paleobiologist Dr. Brian Huber has ever discovered? Or the deepest he has drilled into the Earth to recover tiny marine fossils? Check out our latest video blog to get the answers to these questions and others that were submitted by students nationwide. During our Feb. 12, 2015, webcast, “Global Change - Reading Ocean Fossils,” Dr. Huber gave us a look into his research on nature’s tiny...Read more
Paleobiologist Brian Huber and Maggy Benson during a live Smithsonian Science How Webcast

February Events in Q?rius: Sand Creatures, 'OrKID' Festival, Invasive Species, and More

Did you know that thousands of microscopic species live between sand grains on beaches around the world? Or that elephants, lions, and camels used to live in North America? Or how you can help combat invasive species? Come to Q?rius this month and see the tiny sand dwellers through a microscope, contemplate returning some large mammals to our continent, and learn more about invasive species. And don’t miss the OrKID festival when you can see,...Read more
Tags: fossils, ocean
The 'OrKID' Family Festival on Feb. 21 will feature some activities in Q?rius and other places in the Museum. Photo by Ian Chalmers.

They Had the Guts: Local Youth Experiment with Gutskin — Yes, that's Right, Gutskin

A group of local teens and tweens got crafty with hog intestines at a recent art workshop in Q?rius. Inspired by the ingenuity of those living in the Arctic who for generations have used gutskin from marine mammals to make parkas, bags, windows and more, workshop participants crafted their own special creations to take home. Participants in the “ Do You Have the Guts? " workshop in December listened as expert Igor Krupnik , curator of Arctic and...Read more
Tags: arctic, teens
A boy shows off his hog-gut art at the 'Do You Have the Guts?' workshop. Smithsonian Institution photo.

Immersive Science Programs for Homeschool Students at Q?rius

Many students learn science best through hands-on experience. We know it can be difficult for homeschoolers to find such immersive science programs, so we are now providing several options for local D.C.-area homeschool students. Two of the options feature our staff-led Q?rius School Programs , in which museum educators provide students with a chance to both see and participate in the science happening at the Museum. The six school programs are...Read more
Museum educator Nicole Webster guides students in the school program “Reefs Unleashed.” Photo by Don Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution.

Webcast Extra: Rusty Russell Answers Your Questions about Plant Collections

What does studying plant DNA tell scientists? What is the oldest specimen in the Smithsonian’s National Herbarium? Here’s a hint: It’s over 500 years old! Want to know more? Check out the video above. If you tuned into our Jan. 15, 2015, live webcast with Botany Collections Manager, Rusty Russell, then you know that we learned about the National Herbarium at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Rusty answered viewers’ great...Read more
Smithsonian's Rusty Russell shows off a table full of objects from the plant collection at the National Herbarium.

Foraminifera: The Best Fossils Come in Small Packages

If you haven’t seen foraminifera yet, no need to feel left out. Most people haven’t seen a foraminifer (or foram), or don’t realize they’ve seen one, because they’re so tiny. Forams are ocean organisms that live in all marine environments, from the tropics to the poles. They are so abundant (thousands per square centimeter) that their little shells pile up as sands on the ocean floor as they die. Foram shells record information about the...Read more
Colorful shells of forams on a coral reef. Image by Pamela Hallock, University of South Florida