The Q? Blog

Smithsonian's Dr. Helen James and Maggy Benson during a live Smithsonian Science How webcast
Smithsonian's Dr. Helen James and Maggy Benson during a live Smithsonian Science How webcast

Webcast Extra: More Answers to Your Questions About Birds

Welcome to the first “Smithsonian Science How” video blog! If you tuned in to the Dec. 11, 2014 live webcast featuring Smithsonian ornithologist Dr. Helen James talking about bird extinctions, you know that the show’s awesome viewers from classrooms across the county were typing in questions fast and furiously. You might say the questions were flying! As it turns out, we received way more excellent questions than there was time for Dr. James to...Read more

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December Events in Q?rius: See Your DNA, Dino-fy Yourself, and Learn How We Chart the Seafloor

It might be getting cold outside, but science is HOT in Q?rius! Teens can learn how dinosaurs evolved over time to survive, and then make their own dinosaur-like armor in the “HumanOsaurus: Dino-fy Yourself!” workshop. Visitors of all ages can create necklace pendants made of their own DNA and hear real-life experts share their research into topics from epigenetics to urban forests and seafloor mapping. Unless otherwise noted, all events are...Read more
Dana Clark gets ready to deploy the CTD tool (which measures conductivity, temperature, and depth) from the deck of the NOAA ship Fairweather. Join her Dec. 17 to learn how NOAA charts the seafloor. Photo from NOAA.

Common Birds are not Extinction-Proof

Pigeons today are so common that you’d think they are indestructible. Think again. The pigeon you find practically all over the world today is the Rock Dove ( Columba livia ), from the same family as the Passenger Pigeon ( Ectopistes migratorius ). Passenger Pigeons were once so abundant that people assumed they could never go extinct. So, they were freely shot, netted, and smoked out of nests until they did go extinct – 100 years ago. Even bird...Read more
Museum mount of the last Passenger Pigeon, Martha, that died in 1914. Image 5.00467 by Carl Hansen, Smithsonian

Teens Use Museum Objects to Complete the 'Q?rius Collections Challenge'

Did you ever wonder what a Smithsonian scientist does when they have a question, or how they go about answering it? In the "Q?rius Collections Challenge," one of our free 60-minute school programs, students put themselves in our scientists’ shoes and use the more than 6,000 objects in the Margaret A. Cargill Collections Zone to find out. One way scientists try to answer research questions is by examining collections – and if you want to look at...Read more
Students take notes about collection objects in the Q?rius Collections Challenge school program. Smithsonian Institution photo.

November Events in Q?rius: 3D Printing, Hydrothermal Vents, Slime, and More

What do slime, 3D printing, and hydrothermal vents have in common? They’re all coming to Q?rius in November! Meet scientists and experts as they share their insights into DNA, extremophiles, and microorganisms. See a 3D-printer demonstration and explore the microscopic worlds of cells and algae. Unless otherwise noted, all events are free and take place in Q?rius, the interactive science learning space on the ground floor of the Smithsonian...Read more
Tags: genome
This view through a microscope reveals details of Micrasterias, or green alga, which along with its kin produces about half of the oxygen you breathe! Visitors can prepare their own microscope slides and zoom in on the world of algae in Q?rius on Nov. 26.

Students Become Forensic Detectives in 'Bird Strike Whodunit'

As a plane takes off from Reagan National Airport, one of its wings strikes a bird in midair. Thousands of such bird strikes happen every year, killing the birds and causing millions of dollars in damage to aircraft. What can be done? The first step in the process is to accurately identify the type of bird that was struck. After a bird strike occurs, airports are encouraged to send the remnants, called “snarge,” to the Feather Identification Lab...Read more
Students use an Olympus BX43 Five-Headed Compound Microscope to examine feathers in the school program, "Bird Strike Whodunit." Smithsonian photo.

How 3D Printers Help Archaeologists and the Army

Q?Crew teen volunteers get special opportunities to attend trainings with experts on topics and activities that are part of Q?rius. One recent training was all about the making of the "Mystery Skull" activity, in which visitors help to identify an early human skull based on 3D prints of actual skulls. Before the training even started, an expert set up a 3D printer to begin printing something. I couldn't take my eyes off of that weird contraption...Read more
A 3D printer stands behind the skulls it has created for the Mystery Skulls activity in Q?rius. The skull at left is an unpainted 3D print; the ones in the boxes have been painted. Photo by Christina Westpheling, Smithsonian Instituion.

Teen Science Spotlight: How to Identify Fossil Plants

Tiffany is a high school student from Maryland who has been a Youth Engagement through Science (YES!) intern at the Museum for three years – one in the Fossil Lab in the Department of Paleobiology and two in the Genome Program, where she spent one year in the Department of Botany and another in the Department of Inverterbrate Zoology. For one of her projects she collected plants from Plummer’s Island, Md., and learned how to identify them using...Read more
Tags: fossil, teens
Tiffany is a high school intern at the Museum who learned how to identify plants using DNA barcoding and genetic sequencing. Photo from Smithsonian Institution.

Ancient Island Trash becomes Treasure for Archaeologists

Did Native Americans and other people who lived thousands of years ago influence the biodiversity around them? Islands are a great place to answer that question. Like fishbowls, islands have fewer inputs from the outside, so it is easier to interpret changes on the inside. Archaeologists studying islands learn how humans interacted with natural resources by digging for clues. Tools and cooking pots may reveal what people ate. But, the most...Read more
You may be parked next to your ancestors’ trash, such as these layers of oyster shells discarded by humans living in the Chesapeake Bay hundreds to thousands of years ago. Photo from Smithsonian Institution.

Fall into Q?rius with Our October Programs

Fossils, oceans, and genome geeks — October is jam-packed with events for science fans of all kinds. Come geek out with us! Unless otherwise noted, all events are free and take place in Q?rius, the interactive science learning space on the ground floor of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. New event listings and cancellations can pop up at any time, so check the Upcoming Events calendar for the most current information. Oct. 2...Read more
A crab sits entangled in a nylon net. Join us for Lessons From Our Lives With Plastic, a presentation and discussion on Oct. 21. Photo from NOAA.

Journey Back through Time on National Fossil Day, October 15

Fossils can help us imagine things from the past we cannot see in front of us. They can tell us how an ancient plant or animal lived or moved, how groups of organisms evolved, and how organisms relate to each other. They also help us recreate from long ago what an ancient environment looked like, the players in a food web, and the climate of a particular time and place. Fossils can be as big as a T. rex or as small as a grain of pollen, but...Read more
Tags: fossil
This fossil Triceratops skull was found in Montana. Photo from Smithsonian Institution.