The Q? Blog

The red paper lantern jellyfish, a strikingly beautiful animal in the web of midwater ocean life. Photo by Karen Osborn, Smithsonian Institution.
The red paper lantern jellyfish, a strikingly beautiful animal in the web of midwater ocean life. Photo by Karen Osborn, Smithsonian Institution.

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

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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

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

The Tales that Plants Can Tell

They are silent and stationary, but scientists look to them to tell stories about what happened in the past. Because plants are all around us, and specific in their needs, they are great indicators of ecosystem change. Just as an animal might move to a different place if conditions get rough, plants must adapt. Unfortunately, habitat changes are happening more rapidly than in the past and plants cannot adapt as quickly. The ash-grey Indian...Read more
Ash-grey Indian paintbrush plant in Southern California. Image by Gary A. Monroe, EOL via CalPhotos, CC-BY-NC.

January Events in Q?rius: Feed Jellyfish, Explore Coastal Ecosystems, and More

We're showcasing a variety of topics to kick off the new year, including fungal spores, baby fish, and jellyfish and their kin. You can also hear archaeologist Torben Rick discuss how humans impact coastal biodiversity and how digging into the past can help us manage ecosystems today. Make a resolution to join us for a January event! Unless otherwise noted, all events are free and take place in Q?rius, the interactive science learning space on...Read more
Archaeologist Torben Rick studies how humans have affected biodiversity over time in California's Channel Islands. He discusses "Coastal and Island Biodiversity - Tracking Human Influences" on Jan. 13. Photo by Torben Rick.