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Zebras of the Arctic: 2 Dr. Adrián Cerezo

National Museum of the American Indian
When the Saint Louis Zoo began to develop the interpretation for the McDonnell Polar Bear Point exhibition, along came a new opportunity to discuss climate change with their audiences. "Zebras in the Arctic" presents the connections and results of the journey the zoo took in coming to a First Voices approach to understanding and interpreting the significance of polar bears in the Arctic, which includes their collaboration with Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center and the Alaska Nanuuq Commission. In this segment, Dr. Adrián Cerezo presents a history the McDonnell Polar Bear Point exhibition, and the collaborations that emerged from the desire to take a First Voices approach to interpretation. Dr. Adrián Cerezo (Yale University) is a social ecologist, environmental scientist and human development researcher. His work interweaves scholarship and real-world practice to explore sustainable development in communities. Dr. Cerezo holds a Ph.D. with a focus on Social Ecology and Developmental Science from Yale University, where he is also a fellow at Zigler Center for Early Childhood Development Policy. He also serves as consultant for UNICEF global early childhood programs, and the City as a Living Laboratory project in New York, NY. This program was webcast and recorded at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. on July 21, 2017.

Zebras of the Arctic: 1 Blessing and Introduction, Emil Her Many Horses

National Museum of the American Indian
When the Saint Louis Zoo began to develop the interpretation for the McDonnell Polar Bear Point exhibition along came a new opportunity to discuss climate change with their audiences. "Zebras in the Arctic" presents the connections and results of the journey the zoo took in coming to a First Voices approach to understanding and interpreting the significance of polar bears in the Arctic, which includes their collaboration with Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center and the Alaska Nanuuq Commission. In this segment, Emil Her Many Horses (Lakota) gives a blessing for the proceedings and discusses the interpretative technique at the National Museum of the American Indian, which involves close collaboration with Native communities. Emil Her Many Horses (Lakota) is an associate curator, Museum Research and Scholarship, at NMAI. He specializes in the Central Plains cultures. Mr. Her Many Horses is a member of the Oglala Lakota nation of South Dakota and served as lead curator for the inaugural permanent exhibition, “Our Universes: Traditional Knowledge Shapes Our World”. This program was webcast and recorded at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. on July 21, 2017.

Yuri Gagarin

National Air and Space Museum
Yuri Gagarin. Page from a spiral-bound sketchbook. A sketch of a statue of Yuri Gagarin from the perspective of looking slightly up. The artist's eye level is about at the ankles. The figure looks tall and distinguished and his left arm is bent behind his back. The dark trees in the background reach up to the statue's knees and the entire piece is shaded with even, scratchy lines.

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

You’ll Want to Sit on Guggenheim’s Latest Piece, an 18-Karat Golden Toilet

Smithsonian Magazine

A new installment at the Guggenheim Museum will offer visitors the opportunity to live like royalty—at least for one glorious bathroom break, that is.

Today, the upper East Side art museum unveiled America, a fully functional toilet cast in 18-karat gold by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. Five years ago, Cattelan announced his retirement by hanging almost every one of his works on Guggenheim’s spiral atrium. America is Cattelan’s first piece back in the art world, and its home is fittingly at the museum where he said goodbye.

Cattelan installed the chic commode in one of the museum’s small, single-unit restrooms, and encourages all visitors to use the toilet during their visit. The gold toilet, a working replica of a model by plumbing manufacturer Kohler, will be on display indefinitely.

Curator Nancy Spector from the Brooklyn Museum, who helped bring the project to the Guggenheim, breaks down the simple way the exhibit will work to Merrit Kennedy at NPR’s The Two-Way:

"People will most likely wait in line...and individuals will use it one at a time. There will be a security guard outside who will explain to people what the piece is ... And then people will use it as they would a bathroom."

For those wondering how the museum plans to maintain the flamboyant john, Spector tells Kennedy that the museum’s sculpture conservator has studied the material and will use a form of steam cleaning to ensure its functionality.

The ornate piece, which Cattelan has jokingly called the “one-percent art for the ninety-nine percent,” gives a nod to Marcel Duchamp’s infamous piece, Fountain. The artwork, a standard urinal signed and dated “R. Mutt 1917,” sparked controversy when the board of directors for the Society of Independent Artists refused to display it in their inaugural exhibition. The board of directors claimed the urinal could not be considered a work of art, and furthermore, that it was indecent.

In a new edition of the Guggenheim’s catalogue, Spector argues that the exhibit stands out because, as she puts it, “In a gallery environment where visitors are constantly being told, ‘don’t touch,’ this is an extraordinary opportunity to spend time completely alone with a work of art by a leading contemporary artist.”

If America seems a touch off beat, well, it’s just Cattelan’s latest in a long line of mischievous provocation. Before his earlier retirement, the artist once leased his allotted space at the Venice Biennale to an advertising agency, which installed a billboard promoting a new perfume. On another occasion, he stole the entire contents of another artist’s show with the intent of passing it off as his own. (The act, he said, was a statement on displacement.)

Cattelan prefers the audience to draw their own conclusions about America, as Caitlin Dover notes for the museum’s blog. Both he and the museum encourage visitors to spend a bit of alone time with the pretentious potty, so that they can ponder its meaning for themselves.

Your Unofficial Guide to Portland, Oregon’s Many Brewpubs and Breweries

Smithsonian Magazine

A cornucopia of locally breed beers can be found in virtually every retail outlet in Portland, known to beer lovers as Beervanna. Photo by Alastair Bland.

First there was water.

Then came the beer, first from one brewpub in 1980, then more through the decade. 

By 2008, there were some 30—and today there are at least 50 beer brewing locations in Portland, Oregon, more beer outlets per capita than in perhaps any other large community in the world. Indeed, beer lovers call Portland “Beervana,” a compact little city of bridges, bicycles, streetcars, a prosperous downtown and brewpubs by the dozen. In certain districts, such an establishment stands around every other corner—a fragrant place inside with steel tanks in the corner, polished taps along the bar, a colorful chalkboard menu scribbled with funny beer names, and often a scruffy man wearing overalls splattered with hop slurry serving patrons beer he made himself. Each of Portland’s four quadrants—Northeast, Southeast, Southwest and Northwest—has its selection of brewpubs, and in some neighborhoods one must hardly walk three blocks before running into another bar that pours its very own oatmeal stout, India pale ale, barleywine and so many other beer styles. Locally brewed? The concept takes on a whole new scale of meaning in Portland.

So how did this small city get this way in a nation where not so long ago the populace was content to drink from a selection of five or six national canned lagers? Some believe it may be the water. Local beer journalist Brian Yaeger, also the owner of a beer-themed bed-and-breakfast called Inn Beervana, explained to me that the pipes under Portland flow with unfluoridated water, providing brewers with their main ingredient in top form—clean and pure, and virtually free. Yaeger also points out that Portland’s proximity to the Yakima and Willamette valleys places this haystack-meets-hipster city within arm’s reach of two of the world’s most important hop-growing regions. It may be no surprise that India pale ales, or IPAs—heavily steeped with bitter hops as they are—is a staple of the Pacific Northwest, and that the Department of Agriculture’s hop growing and breeding station is just 70 miles south, in Corvallis. Meanwhile, experimental beer styles have gained popularity, including sour beers made tart by the addition of various microbes into the brew tank, beers made buttery and creamy by aging in old whiskey barrels, and various styles brewed up black as coal using dark malts, like black IPAs, black lagers and black saisons.

The beers of Portland aren’t always cheap. A Portland friend of mine, once a die-hard beer aficionado—and the first person I ever knew to ask a waiter for samples of several beers before placing his order (“You’re making us look like snobs!” I cringed at the time)—now regularly drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon simply because craft beer has ascended beyond his budget. Indeed, many six-packs of local craft beer go $10, and single bottles of specialty beers commonly run $12 or more. But brewpubs often include their otherwise almost-dollar-per-ounce fancy beers in tasting trays—a fun way to try six beers or more at a sitting in two- or three-ounce sample glasses, usually for $8 or so for the whole array. But the variety and volume of Portland’s beer may overwhelm even the hardiest beer drinkers—so don’t bother trying to taste them all. Anyway, it’s the beers untasted that may bring you back.

And don’t forget to drink the water.

Bartender Courtney Quintrell serves up one of the scores of beers on tap at the Apex beer bar in Southeast Portland. Photo by Alastair Bland.

A Sampling of Classic Portland Brewpubs:

Bridgeport Brewing Company. 1313 Northwest Marshall Street, Portland. This popular downtown brewpub in the Northwest district claims to be “Oregon’s oldest craft brewery,” founded in 1984. Beers include a double red ale, an Imperial IPA and a black pale ale. NOTE: Cartwright’s, which opened in 1980, is said to have been the first craft brewery in Oregon and the first pub to pull a tap handle on its own beer in modern-day Portland—but it closed in 1983.

Hair of the Dog Brewing Company. 61 Southeast Yamhill Street, Portland. Known for its eccentric beers often of high-alcohol and with one-word person names like Lila, Will, Ruth and Greg, Hair of the Dog was established in 1993 and once gained fame for making an ice-distilled barleywine named Dave of 29 percent alcohol by volume, hailed at the time as the strongest beer ever. Classics of the brewery today—like its strong ales Fred and Adam—can be found in bottles in many states, while patrons at the pub have the chance to sample onsite small-batch oddities, including familiar beers aged in barrels.

McMenamins. This widespread company of hotels, restaurants, coffee houses and distilleries also includes 24 brewing locations around Oregon. Popular McMenamins beers include the Terminator Stout, Edgefield Wheat, Black Rabbit Porter and Sunflower IPA. The first McMenamins brewpub opened in 1985. Today, the giant operation produces reputable beer, but the owner-operated, brewer-behind-the-bar feel vanished from McMenimans years ago.

Creamy latte-like foam floats atop a pint of Portland-brewed stout. Photo by Alastair Bland.

A Few Well-liked Newcomers:

Gigantic Brewing Company. 5224 Southeast 26th Avenue, Portland. Freshly opened this spring, Gigantic is pouring some of the very newest beer in Oregon, including a very strange black saison called “The City that Never Sleeps,” plus an IPA, to be poured year-round.

Upright Brewing Company. 240 North Broadway (not Northeast Broadway), Portland. Another infant of the local beer community, Upright was born in 2009 and is now a known maverick in creative brewing. Never mind the ubiquitous IPAs and brown ales of almost every other brewery—for Upright makes lesser known European styles with a Northwest flare. Look for the oyster stout, the blossom-infused Flora Rustica and the Fatali Four, brewed with chili peppers.

Hopworks Urban Brewery. 2944 Southeast Powell Boulevard, Portland. Bicycles and beer flow together at Hopworks. The tap handles are made of bicycle headset pieces and old hubs, while several dozen bike frames hang above the bar. The brewpub has six staple beers, including two IPAs and an espresso stout, plus four temporary seasonal brews when I recently stopped in. One of the latter is called Kentucky Christmas, a brawny brown ale aged in old bourbon barrels for a creamy, vanilla-and-coconut flavor. Hopworks has recently launched a satellite location in the Northeast district called, plainly enough, Bike Bar.

At Hopworks Urban Brewery, two of Portland’s most popular themes meld—bicycles and beer. A line of retired bike frames hangs above the bar. Photo by Alastair Bland.

Also of Note:

Deschutes Brew Pub, 210 Northwest 11th Avenue, Portland. Opened in 2008, this pub and restaurant serves all the great beers brewed at the original location in Bend, Oregon.

Horse Brass Pub, 4534 Southeast Belmont Street, Portland. They don’t brew their own beer, but the menu is an almost comprehensive sampling of the city’s beer, and the pub itself is considered a Portland must-see essential.

Where Else to Find Beer? Refer to this map of the city’s brewpubs.

Also, learn more from Hop in the Saddle, a new beer-by-bicycle guidebook to Portland’s craft brewing scene. Written jointly by Ellie Thalheimer and Lucy Burningham, the book leads cyclists with a pedal-powered thirst from brewery to brewery, to those big and famous and those small and secret. Skeptics may ask if beer and bicycles have anything at all to do with one another. In Portland, they sure do. In the words of coauthor Burningham: “While the scientific community has yet to conduct a proper inquiry, we’ve conducted our own studies and can attest to one simple fact: beer tastes great after a bike ride. There’s something about how a cool brew hits the endorphin-fueled, post-ride body that creates maximum happiness.”

Your Tweets Can Predict When You’ll Get the Flu

Smithsonian Magazine

Simply by looking at geo-tagged tweets, an algorithm can track the spread of flu and predict which users are going to get sick. Image via Adam Sadilek, University of Rochester

In 1854, in response to a devastating cholera epidemic that was sweeping through London, British doctor John Snow introduced an idea that would revolutionize the field of public health: the epidemiological map. By recording instances of cholera in different neighborhoods of the city and plotting them on a map based on patients’ residences, he discovered that a single contaminated water pump was responsible for a great deal of the infections.

The map persuaded him—and, eventually, the public authorities—that the miasma theory of disease (which claimed that diseases spread via noxious gases) was false, and that the germ theory (which correctly claimed that microorganisms were to blame) was true. They put a lock on the handle of the pump responsible for the outbreak, signaling a paradigm shift that permanently changed how we deal with infectious diseases and thus sanitation.

The mapping technology is quite different, as is the disease, but there’s a certain similarity between Snow’s map and a new project conducted by a group of researchers led by Henry Kautz of the University of Rochester. By creating algorithms that can spot flu trends and make predictions based on keywords in publicly available geotagged tweets, they’re taking a new approach to studying the transmission of disease—one that could change the way we study and track the movement of diseases in society.

“We can think of people as sensors that are looking at the world around them and then reporting what they are seeing and experiencing on social media,” Kautz explains. “This allows us to do detailed measurements on a population scale, and doesn’t require active user participation.”

In other words, when we tweet that we’ve just been laid low by a painful cough and a fever, we’re unwittingly providing rich data for an enormous public health experiment, information that researchers can use to track the movement of diseases like flu in high resolution and real time.

Kautz’ project, called SocialHealth, has made use of tweets and other sorts of social media to track a range of public health issues—recently, they began using tweets to monitor instances of food poisoning at New York City restaurants by logging everyone who had posted geotagged tweets from a restaurant, then following their tweets for the next 72 hours, checking for mentions of vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever or chills. In doing so, they detected 480 likely instances of food poisoning.

But as the season changes, it’s their work tracking the influenza virus that’s most eye-opening. Google Flu Trends has similarly sought to use Google searchers to track the movement of flu, but the model greatly overestimated last year’s outbreak, perhaps because media coverage of flu prompted people to start making flu-related queries. Twitter analysis represents a new dataset with a few qualities—a higher geographic resolution and the ability to capture the movement of a user over time—that could yield better predictions.

To start their flu-tracking project , the SocialHealth researchers looked specifically at New York, collecting around 16 million geotagged public tweets per month from 600,000 users for three months’ time. Below is a time-lapse of one New York Twitter day, with different colors representing different frequencies of tweets at that location (blue and green mean fewer tweets, orange and red mean more):

To make use of all this data, his team developed an algorithm that determines if each tweet represents a report of flu-like symptoms. Previously, other researchers had simply done this by searching for keywords in tweets (“sick,” for example), but his team found that the approach leads to false positives: Many more users tweet that they’re sick of homework than they’re feeling sick.

To account for this, his team’s algorithm looks for three words in a row (instead of one), and considers how often the particular sequence is indicative of an illness, based on a set of tweets they’d manually labelled. The phrase “sick of flu,” for instance, is strongly correlated with illness, whereas “sick and tired” is less so. Some particular words—headache, fever, coughing—are strongly linked with illness no matter what three-word sequence they’re part of.

Once these millions of tweets were coded, the researchers could do a few intriguing things with them. For starters, they looked at changes in flu-related tweets over time, and compared them with levels of flu as reported by the CDC, confirming that the tweets accurately captured the overall trend in flu rates. However, unlike CDC data, it’s available in nearly real-time, rather than a week or two after the fact.

But they also went deeper, looking at the interactions between different users—as represented by two users tweeting from the same location (the GPS resolution is about half a city block) within the same hour—to model how likely it is that a healthy person would become sick after coming into contact with someone with the flu. Obviously, two people tweeting from the same block 40 minutes apart didn’t necessarily meet in person, but the odds of them having met are slightly higher than two random users.

As a result, when you look at a large enough dataset of interactions, a picture of transmission emerges. They found that if a healthy user encounters 40 other users who report themselves as sick with flu symptoms, his or her odds of getting flu symptoms the next day increases from less than one percent to 20 percent. With 60 interactions, that number rises to 50 percent.

The team also looked at interactions on Twitter itself, isolating pairs of users who follow each other and calling them “friendships.” Even though many Twitter relationships exist only on the Web, some correspond to real-life interactions, and they found that a user who has ten friends who report themselves as sick are 28 percent more likely to become sick the next day. In total, using both of these types of interactions, their algorithm was able to predict whether a healthy person would get sick (and tweet about it) with 90 percent accuracy.

We’re still in the early stages of this research, and there are plenty of limitations: Most people still don’t use Twitter (yes, really) and even if they do, they might not tweet about getting sick.

But if this sort of system could be developed further, it’s easy to imagine all sorts of applications. Your smartphone could automatically warn you, for instance, if you’d spent too much time in the places occupied by people with the flu, prompting you to go home to stop putting yourself in the path of infection. An entire city’s residents could even be warned if it were on the verge of an outbreak.

Despite the 150 years we’re removed from John Snow’s disease-mapping breakthrough, it’s clear that there are still aspects of disease information we don’t fully understand. Now, as then, mapping the data could help yield the answers.

Your Thanksgiving Turkey Is a Quintessentially American Bird: An Immigrant

Smithsonian Magazine

This week Thanksgiving tables across the nation will be laden with that most American of birds, the turkey. But while certain turkeys are native to this country, the holiday bird commonly eaten today is typically American in a way many people don't suspect—it's descended from immigrants.

“These are essentially Mexican birds, arrived in the U.S. by way of Europe,” explains archaeologist Erin Thornton, who studies turkey husbandry among the ancient Maya.

Genetic studies show that M. gallopavo gallopavo, the South Mexican wild turkey, is the ancestor of all today's domestic turkeys. Bones from these birds were present as early as 300 B.C. at the Maya city of El Mirador in Petén, Guatemala, which is a site outside their natural range. This suggests that they were being traded by humans and raised in captivity.

Another study of bones, fossilized excrement and DNA from dozens of archaeological sites concludes that a different turkey lineage was domesticated separately in the American Southwest at approximately the same time. But those early domesticated turkeys weren't raised for their succulent taste.

“It does look like the very earliest domesticated turkeys in the Southwest were probably not for eating but used more for ritual purposes, for feather blankets, for prayer stick feathers perhaps, and even ritual interment,” says archaeologist Camilla Speller of the University of York.

The story appears to be similar among the Maya, Thornton says. “Even though the Maya were increasing at that time, they didn't suddenly adopt turkeys as a solution to feeding their growing populations. Instead, it looks like there were very small numbers trickling in, and that they were limited to the elite. So they probably were these kind of interesting or ritually symbolic animals that were controlled by the rulers of society for ceremonies or feasting.” 

By the time the Spanish arrived in the New World in the 15th century, the birds were in wide domestic use and were being consumed in large quantities by humans and beasts alike.

“The Spanish encountered them very early on when they came to the Americas,” Speller explains. “Historic accounts describe Montezuma's menagerie, which contained hundreds of raptors that were fed on turkeys. Turkeys would have been very prevalent at the time of contact, in marketplaces and on village farms.”

Wild turkeys gather at the Maya ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. (Christian Kober/robertharding/Corbis)

The Spanish liked what they saw and presumably enjoyed what they tasted—Speller says the first turkeys were shipped to Europe sometime around the year 1500, and their Old World arrival was a smashing success.

“Certainly turkeys spread very rapidly,” she says. “In about a hundred years we can see them spread throughout Europe." Many European barnyards already featured a bird called a turkey, a smaller species noted as far back as Aristotle that was also called the guinea fowl, because they were sourced from that part of Africa. With the arrival of New World turkeys, the guinea fowl name became standard for these birds, and European farmers began welcoming the larger version.

"Turkeys were seen as exotic, a kind of status symbol in your backyard, particularly the males," says Speller.

That means by the time of Plymoth's 1621 Thanksgiving feast, turkeys had been familiar to Europeans for more than a century. And in a strange twist of global commerce, human immigrants headed to the Americas brought the originally Mexican birds with them back across the Atlantic. 

“Settlers attempted to re-create their European lifestyle in the Americas and transported all their domestic animals, including turkeys,” says Speller. “The commercially raised birds that we eat today are ultimately descended from those turkeys that were imported back from Europe to the Eastern Seaboard during the 17th and 18th centuries.” 

In the melting pot of America, the turkeys that arrived with European settlers were subsequently mixed with some of the Eastern wild turkey populations to produce a more appetizing product. But breeding birds for the dinner table has come with a cost: a loss of genetic diversity.

A 2012 DNA study found that the turkey genome is much less diverse than that of other livestock animals like chickens or pigs. The study compared genes from seven commercial breeds, three heritage varieties and some South Mexico wild turkeys found in the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, gathered in Chihuahua, Mexico back in 1899.

Selecting for commercially desirable traits like body size and breast development has reduced the variation that was once present in the wild Mexican ancestors of today's commercial birds, the study concludes. While those changes make turkeys more appealing to Thanksgiving feasters, it may also make them more susceptible to health problems.

“We know from things like the recent occurrence of a highly pathogenic avian flu outbreak in the Midwest, or even going back to the potato famine in Ireland, that putting all of your genetic hope into a few really strong robust lines is kind of risky,” says study co-author Julie Long of USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

“We need to make sure that we maintain the other genetics that are out there in wild populations and in heritage turkeys. They may not be good for commercial production right now, but we can't predict what will happen in the future, so we need to hang on to every bit of genetic diversity that we've got.”

Long helps to do just that by cryopreserving turkey sperm and the eggs of rare turkey lineages. Nobody knows which of them might hold a trait that proves important for commercial lineages facing an uncertain future. Unfortunately, the original ancestor of the Thanksgiving turkey won't be much help: While millions of wild turkeys roam American woods today, both of the lineages that were originally domesticated in the New World are now thought to be extinct.

Your Summer Vacation Is a Carbon Emissions Nightmare

Smithsonian Magazine

When it comes to raising awareness of global issues, tourism is great for the environment. Travelers who encounter new ecosystems and animals and engage with indigenous cultures might be more willing to protect and advocate for them. But as a practical matter, travel is terrible for the environment, and a new study quantifies just how bad all those plane rides, hotel stays and bus tours can be, reports Matt McGrath at the BBC. According to the new research, the carbon footprint of tourism is three to four times higher than previous estimates, accounting for about 8 percent of global carbon emissions.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, was led by the University of Sydney's Integrated Sustainability Analysis supply-chain research group. The team quantified every tourism-generated carbon emission they could find in 160 nations between 2009 and 2013, from the footprint of flights to the carbon produced from the manufacture and sale of Eiffel Tower tchotchkes. The analysis took over a year, according to a press release, and combined data from 1 billion supply chains involved in tourism. “Our analysis is a world-first look at the true cost of tourism—including consumables such as food from eating out and souvenirs—it’s a complete life-cycle assessment of global tourism, ensuring we don’t miss any impacts," co-author Arunima Malik from the University of Sydney says.

The study found that the tourism industry emits 4.5 gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide​ each year, and that number is growing. In 2009, the team estimates tourism emissions were 3.9 gigatons. By 2025, if things continue at pace, the industry will produce 6.5 gigtons.

Researchers write in the study that the growth in global tourism emissions is greater than that from global manufacturing, construction or service provision.

The upward tick, McGrath reports, came from people from affluent countries traveling to other affluent countries. That’s because someone traveling from New York to Paris for a holiday is more likely to opt for a spa day and a 10 course meal than someone visiting a rural area. “If you have visitors from high income countries then they typically spend heavily on air travel, on shopping and hospitality where they go to,” Malik tells McGrath. “But if the travellers are from low income countries then they spend more on public transport and unprocessed food, the spending patterns are different for the different economies they come from.”

Increasing global tourism by people from China—the world’s top tourism spender—is also spurring tourism emissions, though the biggest source of emissions comes from people visiting the United States and U.S. citizens jetting off to other parts of the world. Domestic travel in the U.S., Germany and India are all top carbon emitters as well.

Small island nations and destinations also have a disproportionate footprint because of the extra distances needed to get there and their reliance on tourism. Tourism in the Maldives, Cypress and the Seychelles accounts for between 30 and 80 percent of those island’s total emissions.

So what’s the solution? Rochelle Turner of the World Travel and Tourism Council says just knowing the impact of travel can help people make lower-impact decisions. “There is a real need for people to recognize what their impact is in a destination,” she says, “and how much water, waste and energy you should be using compared to the local population. All of this will empower tourists to make better decisions and only through those better decisions that we'll be able to tackle the issue of climate change.”

The authors suggest flying less to reduce the greatest source of emissions. And if that’s not possible, lead author Manfred Lenzen of the University of Sydney suggests buying carbon abatement credits to offset the emissions. The credits fund things like reforestation efforts, wind farms and infrastructure upgrades. Many airlines now offer passengers the ability to buy carbon offsets when booking a flight, though the authors suggest that in the future it may be necessary to mandate such offsets since most passengers are not currently paying for them voluntarily.

Your Soothing Cup of Tea May Contain Billions of Microplastics

Smithsonian Magazine

It’s fall, the weather is getting cooler, and the time is right for steaming, soothing cups of tea. But as you sip on your favorite brew, you may be unwittingly ingesting billions of microplastics, according to a new study in Environmental Science & Technology.

Many commercial teas are packaged in paper bags, but some premium brands have shifted to plastic pouches that have a silky quality, according to Emily Chung of the CBC. Nathalie Tufenkji, a professor of chemical engineering at McGill University in Montreal and co-author of the new study, recently found one of these bags inside a hot cup of tea that she had ordered from a coffee shop. She was not happy about it.

“I said, 'Oh God, I'm sure if it's plastic it's, like, breaking down into the tea,'" Tufenkji recalls in an interview with Chung.

She and her colleagues, led by McGill graduate student Laura Hernandez, decided to test the theory. They purchased four types of commercial loose leaf teas that are packaged in plastic bags, cut the bags open and removed the tea—so as to make sure that if any microplastics were found, they were coming from the bags and not the tea itself. Then the researchers dunked the tea bags in glass vials containing water heated to 95 degrees Celsius (203 degrees Fahrenheit), an average brewing temperature. Using electron microscopy, the team analyzed samples of the water and estimated that a single plastic tea bag steeped in hot water releases around 11.6 billion microplastics (which the study authors define as pieces that range from 100 nanometers to 5 millimeters in size) and 3.1 billion nanoplastics (pieces that are less than or equal to 100 nanometers in size).

“We think that it is a lot when compared to other foods that contain microplastics,” Tufenkji tells Adam Vaughan at New Scientist. “Table salt, which has a relatively high microplastic content, has been reported to contain approximately 0.005 micrograms plastic per gram salt. A cup of tea contains thousands of times greater mass of plastic, at 16 micrograms per cup.”

The researchers conducted a number of control experiments, among them testing uncut tea bags to ensure that slicing the bags open did not cause plastics to leach out. They found that “a significant number of particles are released even when the tea bags are uncut.” The team also analyzed water from tea that had been brewed with a metallic strainer and did not find any particles.

In recent years, it has become clear that microplastics are a persistent and ubiquitous presence: they’ve been found everywhere from oceans, to soils, to remote mountain airs, and to human stool. Microplastics seem to negatively impact animals; studies have shown that the particles impair reproduction and damage the digestive tracts of various species. But the risks to human health are not clear.

In August, for instance, a World Health Organization analysis of plastic in tap and bottled water found that the particles “don’t appear to pose a health risk at current levels,” but also noted that data is “extremely limited.”

As part of their study, the McGill team exposed water fleas, small aquatic organisms formally known as Daphnia magna, to various doses of microplastics and nanoplastics leached from tea bags. The little critters didn’t die, but they began to exhibit anatomical and behavioral abnormalities. They swam “crazily,” Tufenkji tells Chung, and their carapaces—or defensive shells—did not develop properly.

Again, we don’t know what this means for humans. The study authors acknowledge that the amount of plastics in a single cup of tea—around 16 micrograms—is not likely to pose any acute toxicity risks, but questions linger about the impacts of long-term exposure. “Overall, the knowledge on adverse effects of plastic particles on human health is still lacking,” the researchers write, “and there is an urgent need to investigate potential toxic mechanisms in higher vertebrates and humans.”

Your Skin’s Microbial Inhabitants Might Stick Around, Even If You Wash

Smithsonian Magazine

Everyone has cooties—a minute menagerie of bacteria, viruses and fungi that lurk in the microscopic cracks and crevices of your skin.

But before you go running to the sink, know that many of these microbes are beneficial. And, according to new research, this tiny ecosystem, known as the skin microbiome, remains surprisingly stable over time despite regular washing.

The study, published today in Cell, is among a host of recent work attempting to sort through the complexities of this microbial milieu. Though many denizens of the skin are beneficial, some are not. So scientists are trying to better understand this ecosystem in the search for cures for diseases such as psoriasis and eczema.

This puzzle is a tough one to solve because the skin’s microbial residents are impressively diverse. The critters nestled in your armpit can be a world apart from those settled inches away on your forearm—as different as the creatures of a rainforest are to those of a dessert.

These communities can also greatly vary from person to person. What's more, daily living means coming into contact with a host of objects covered in microorganisms, from dogs to doorknobs, and each touch could allow microbe exchange.

These falsely-colored green blobs of Staphylococcus bacteria are common members of the thriving microbial community that inhabit human skin. (NIAID/Flikr)

To help sort out the complex picture of the skin microbiome, researchers from the National Institutes of Health collected samples from 12 healthy individuals at 17 spots on their bodies. The participants then returned one to two years later for a second sampling, and a third about a month after that, helping scientists understand how the composition of microbes might change over both the short and long term.

The researchers examined the diversity of microbes present at the subspecies level with a technique called shotgun metagenomic sequencing, which allowed them to identify various strains of microorganisms that may differ by only tiny genetic variations.

The skin microbiome “is surprisingly stable,” says one of the study’s leaders, Heidi Kong of the National Cancer Institute. This means that individuals tended to retain their own microbial menagerie, rather than picking up the countless foreign intruders they encountered.

“But...it depends on where you were on the body,” Kong notes. Oily sites, such as the back, were the most stable of the group. Meanwhile, the feet and other moist sites were the least.

The stability of oily sites makes sense if you consider their food source, says Gilberto Flores, a microbial ecologist at California State University Northridge who was not involved in the study. For many microbes, the skin’s oils are akin to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

“If there's a constant supply of food for [the microbes], then the communities will probably remain more stable,” he says.

Malassezia fungi are commonly found on people’s skin. (Janice Haney Carr, USCDCP)

Malassezia fungi, a microbe commonly found on human skin, is one such example. It can only be grown in the lab with the addition of oil, says Kong. So it is likely using the oils of the skin to survive and thrive.

Even so, the stability of dry locations on the body, like the palms, was relatively high. Considering the number of times most people wash their hands in a day, how can this be?

The first thing to keep in mind is scale, says Flores. Skin microbes aren’t just hanging on like a piece of rice stuck to the back of your hand. “We see [the skin] as a flat surface, but it's really a three-dimensional structure at that scale,” he says.

The stability of microbes on the hands also highlights that there are physiologic characteristics of the skin that could help shape these microbial communities, says Kong. These tiny inhabitants may also be producing compounds that prevent others from taking up residence, she says.

In addition, the researchers found that, similar to previous studies, stability in all spots is specific to an individual. Some people’s microbial communities shift more than others. Overall, the results suggest that any hypothetical skin treatments that alter the microbial cohort must be personalized to each patient.

The results are particularly notable because information about which subspecies inhabit the skin microbiome remains scarce. Yet recent studies have suggested that the subtle differences that delineate microbial strains can completely change how the host reacts to these inhabitants.

Take, for example Propionibacterium acnes. Some strains of this bacterium are associated with painful acne flares, yet others are inhabitants of clear, healthy skin. Kong and her colleagues found that each individual's cohort of P. acnes strains remained remarkably stable over time, but their composition vastly differed between people. Without the subspecies information, these differences would have been overlooked.

Though the sample size of this study is modest, it provides a foundation for continued mapping of the skin’s complexities, says Kong. More research is also necessary to tease out the relationship between microbes and disease, but as technologies advance by leaps and bounds, the picture of the body’s many microbial menageries is slowly coming into focus.

“It’s an exciting time to be a microbiologist,” says Flores.

Your Pupils May Expand When You Daydream

Smithsonian Magazine

The human brain is prone to daydreaming. You might be doing boring chore or focused on a serious task at hand, for example, writing a blog post, and then suddenly your mind starts to drift away.

Daydreaming has its neurological benefits, and neuroscientists hope that studying how the mind wanders could help answer some basic questions about the brain. But how do you tell when someone is daydreaming, really? Where is the line between attention and la la land? One team suspects that pupils may hold clues to when the mind shifts from the outside world to exploring inner thoughts, memories and imaginary constructs of the mind, Moheb Costandi reports for BrainDecoder.

While most work in this area has focused on scanning specific parts of the brain for signs of mind wandering activity, previous studies hinted that pupil dilation might be a good indicator of daydreaming. So Mahiko Konishi, a neuroscience grad student at the University of York, decided to investigate. Konishi and his colleagues set up three experiments, Costandi explains, in which study participants performed tasks while the scientists scanned their brains and/or measured their pupil dilation before and during the tasks.

When confronted with easier versus harder versions of the same task, more peoples’ minds strayed during the easy version, Costandi writes. In another experiment, people who had larger dilated pupils reacted more slowly as they tackled the task at hand. Those same people said they daydreamed more than others.

Clearly, there’s some kind of connection — direct or indirect — between pupil size and daydreaming, but the researchers aren’t sure of the ins and outs of the relationship. Konishi presented the results at an annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness in Paris a couple weeks ago.

On the research front, pupil diameter could provide an easy way to study daydreaming. After all, measuring pupil size is a lot easier than scanning the brain. But in the future, the researchers hope their work could have some more practical applications, writes Costandi. For example, detecting mind wandering could prove useful in preventing car accidents.

Your Opinion of Sushi Is a Good Predictor of How Willing You Are to Eat Insects

Smithsonian Magazine

If the idea of feasting on wax worm tacos, roasted cicadas and grasshopper guacamole turns your stomach, you’re not alone. Despite the fact that insects are considered delicacies in many parts of the world, Europeans and North Americans remain notoriously adverse to bug-based cuisine.

Still, new research suggests some Americans are more likely to embrace entomophagy, or the practice of eating insects, than others: As researchers Matthew Ruby of Australia’s La Trobe University and Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania report in the journal Food Quality and Preference, individuals who frequently dine on sushi are more willing to branch out and try insects than their raw fish-rejecting counterparts. Of the 82 percent of U.S.-based study participants who indicated they would be willing to eat insects, 43 percent said they ate sushi on a regular basis.

“Until relatively recently, the idea of trying sushi ... was often thought of with disgust in many societies,” Ruby says in a press release. “Just like eating sushi, eating insects will take some getting used to.”

According to Cosmos’ Andrew Masterson, Ruby and Rozin used Amazon’s crowdsourcing Mechanical Turk platform to recruit nearly 700 respondents residing in the United States and India. After winnowing this pool down to 476 participants, the researchers conducted surveys on topics ranging from general food preferences to history of insect consumption and religious beliefs.

Writing for Border Mail, Anthony Bunn notes that the scientists chose to focus on the U.S. and India because residents of the former enjoy a heavily meat-focused diet, while those living in the latter often prefer vegetables due to dietary restrictions associated with Hinduism. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the team discovered that American respondents were more likely than Indians to view bugs as a viable food source. On average, men in both countries were more accepting of insect-eating than women.

As Ruby and Rozin write in the study, individuals’ attitude toward insect cuisine revolve around five main themes: benefits conferred by the practice (such as environmental sustainability or nutritional value), disgust, perceived risks, violations of religious principles and suffering endured by the critters in question. Amongst U.S. participants, disgust emerged as a driving factor, while frequency of sushi intake and benefits followed closely. In India, benefits outweighed disgust, although religion and sushi preferences also influenced respondents’ willingness to eat bugs.

Insects are a regular staple of some two billion people's diets (Takoradee via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Some two billion of Earth’s inhabitants—centered largely in Latin America, West Africa and Southeast Asia, according to ScienceLine’s Polina Porotsky—eat insects on a regular basis. In Japan, for example, smoky liquor seasoned with hornet’s venom is paired with hornet larvae simmered in ginger, soy sauce and mirin. Moving to sub-Saharan Africa, Charlotte Payne writes for BBC News, sauteed termites are top sellers at the region’s urban markets, while shea caterpillar stew and palm weevil larvae are considered local delicacies in Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo, respectively.

Despite insect cuisine’s prevalence across the globe, Westerners have been reluctant to embrace entomophagy. Much of this resistance stems from culturally-cultivated feelings of disgust, Ligaya Mishan explains for The New York Times Style Magazine. Most edible insects aren’t native to Europe, so locals and, by extension, European settlers arriving in North America, never incorporated bugs into their diet.

As Mishan observes, “[Instead] we largely consider insects dirty and drawn to decay, signifiers and carriers of disease; we call them pests, a word whose Latin root means plague.”

Unfortunately for bug-wary diners—but fortunately for the planet, which would benefit from a major reduction in the meat industry’s carbon footprint, edible insects appear to be gaining traction across the Western world. As the Harvard Political Review’s Kendrick Foster reports, insect cookbooks and more palatable dining options, including cricket flour that precludes the visceral reaction sparked by coming face-to-face with a beady-eyed bug, are helping entomophagy proponents normalize the practice.

“We’re trying to rebrand [the ick factor] to the wow factor, in a similar way to a roller coaster,” Aly Moore, founder of bug blog Bugible, tells Foster. “You’re terrified of it, and it’s scary, but after you do it, it’s super fun and really cool.”

Deep-fried tarantula, anyone?

Your Low-Calorie Sweetener Could Be Making You Fat

Smithsonian Magazine

With nearly 40 percent of the world’s population now classified as obese, and increasing evidence pointing to sugar as the culprit, people are turning to foods that contain low-calorie sweeteners to give them the sweet taste they enjoy, without the risk of gaining weight. However, new research from George Washington University in the U.S. suggests that artificial sweeteners may actually increase a person’s risk of becoming obese.

The obesity epidemic is caused by an increase in fat and sugar in people’s diets. Fat accumulation in obesity increases the chances of getting type 2 diabetes, heart conditions and cancer. As such, new guidelines from Public Health England encourage the public to buy lower calorie and lower sugar products.

So changing our diet to include low-calorie sweeteners, such as sucralose and aspartame, should be a good way to get all the sweet taste without any of the guilt. Instead, the new study suggests that eating these sweeteners could do the opposite and increase the chance of us accumulating fat in our bodies, in a “dose-dependent” fashion. In other words, the more artificial sweetener you consume, the more fat your body creates and stores.

For many years, we have known that sweet substances (sugars or artificial sweeteners) bind to sensors in our mouth called “sweet-taste receptors.” These receptors send a message to our brain to tell us that we are eating something sweet.

In the last decade, these sensors have been found in other parts of our body, such as the bladder, the lungs and even in bones. This has raised questions about what effect sweeteners, and these sweet taste receptors, could be having inside our bodies.

The new research, results of which were presented recently at the 100th annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Chicago, looks at the effect that artificial sweeteners have on the cells that make up our fat stores. These cells have a glucose transporter (a protein that helps glucose get into a cell) called GLUT4 on their surface and, when we eat more sugar, the cells take up more glucose, accumulate more fat and become larger.

The researchers in this latest study found that the artificial sweetener, sucralose, commonly found in diet foods and drinks, increases GLUT4 in these cells and promotes the accumulation of fat. These changes are associated with an increased risk of becoming obese.

Indeed, the research studied a small number of obese people who consume artificial sweeteners and found that they had more of these fat cells and increased expression of genes associated with fat production.

When consumed in low quantities, artificial sweeteners have been shown to aid weight loss, improve metabolic conditions and even protect against injury during infection. However, this new study suggests that, rather than keeping us healthy, artificial sweeteners, especially when consumed in larger doses, could be contributing to the obesity epidemic.

Given the limited number of studies on the subject–and that few studies compare low-calorie sweeteners with sugar–we do not yet have clear answers. However, with a supply of new, natural sweeteners on the market, such as stevia and monk fruit, we have plenty of them to choose from. These are based on fruit extracts and are aimed at providing a more natural approach to improving the tastiness of food and drink compared with their artificial counterparts.

However, it’s too early to say whether these natural products are a safer option than artificial sweeteners or whether they, too, have the potential to increase the risk of obesity.

Your Hair Mites Are So Loyal Their DNA Reflects Your Ancestry

Smithsonian Magazine

Most people would probably prefer to forget that their eyebrows are also shaggy ecosystems, home to scores of microscopic hair mites. But a DNA analysis reveals that your mites are incredibly loyal to you—and that could help scientists trace ancient human migrations and perhaps find new ways to treat common skin ailments.

Demodex folliculorum is a species of mite that lives in and around the hair follicles of humans and other mammals. Bowdoin College evolutionary geneticist Michael Palopoli and his colleagues sampled the DNA of these mites living on a diverse group of 70 human hosts.

Sequencing the mites' mitochondrial DNA revealed different lineages that closely match the ancestral geography of their human hosts. One mite lineage is common among people of European ancestry, no matter where they live in the world now, and is persistent even after generations in new locations. Other mite lineages are more common among people of Asian, African or Latin American ancestry.

There are a few possible reasons for this unusual mite fidelity, says Palopoli. His group favors the co-called skin traits model: “There may be something about the skin of people from different geographic origins that may be selecting for mites from different mitochondrial lineages,” he explains. “But we don't know what it might be about the skin that may be selecting for one lineage of mites over another.”

Following this line of inquiry could help researchers solve mysteries of how and why otherwise benign mites have been previously linked to skin disorders such as rosacea and blepharitis, or eyelid inflammation.

“One logical question that these results raise is whether one of these different, diverging mitochondrial lineages of mites might tend to be more or less likely than another in causing skin disorders," says Palopoli. "Maybe a mite from one mitochondrial lineage is particularly likely to cause rosacea. That could be really important, but we just don't know at this point.”

Mining the DNA sequences of our faithful mite pals could also provide a new tool for scientists to trace ancient human migrations.

George Perry, who heads an anthropological genomics lab at Pennsylvania State University, notes that some interesting findings have emerged from research on the various species that live with us, whether we like them or not.

“Probably the most widely studied is the stomach bacteria Helicobacter pylori,” he notes. “It's nearly ubiquitous in developing countries, and it closely tracks a lot of human migration movements.” Interesting theories of human history have also emerged from studies of head lice, he adds.

“There's a hypothesis that one ancient lineage of Pediculus humanus is the result of an archaic hominin speciation event, and then was transmitted by direct physical contact between those hominins and modern humans," Perry says. "So this theory suggests that although those hominins are now extinct, we still have their lice.”

The study by Palopoli and his colleagues, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may add hair mites to the mix of species that can help track our species' history.

“We've got these genetically diverse mite lineages existing on all of us, and that provides a wealth of information, potentially, for unraveling different human migration patterns,” Palopoli said.

So far, the early exploration of mite lineages appears to tell a story consistent with the favored "out of Africa" model for human migration, which says that all humans alive today come from a group that left Africa about two million years ago.

“All four of the diverging clades appear in the mites on people of African ancestry, while only subsets appear on Europeans or Asians," says Palopoli. "So our hypothesis is that all four clades were present on us when we lived in Africa, but since we've come out, different subsets have migrated along with Asians and Europeans.” 

Sampling mites from a wider variety of human ancestries, including more people now living in Africa, could help reveal how the mites and humans co-evolved.

“It looks like the mites are fairly faithful to people from a particular region, at least at this broad scale we've looked at so far, and the signal still remains that mites vary substantially in people from across different geographic areas, so it provides promise as a system to test where people are from,” Palopoli adds.

Using the mites for evidence of our origins may also spur more interest in understanding the habits of our largely unknown life partners. But breeding more familiarity with our hair mites could take some getting used to.

Human test subjects typically had two reactions to seeing the minute beasties who've been living in their hair, Palopoli reports. “One reaction is that they were sort of fascinated with them. The other reaction is that they were pretty grossed out.” 

Your Breath Does More Than Repulse—It Can Also Tell Doctors Whether You Have Cancer

Smithsonian Magazine

Your terrible breath is trying to tell you something—and not just that it’s time to crack open a bottle of Listerine. Within that cloud of onion and stale tuna fish odors are hundreds of chemical compounds, which combine in your mouth to create a ratio as unique as a fingerprint. By analyzing that ratio, researchers have come up with a powerful new way to detect the signatures of various diseases, from prostate cancer to Parkinson's.

Today in the journal American Chemical Society Nano, researchers unveil a sensor array that identifies and captures the unique “breathprint” of 17 different diseases. The researchers hope that their array, which uses artificial intelligence to match up the varying levels and ratios of 13 key chemical compounds found in human breath to different diseases, will pave the way for a versatile medical diagnostic tool. After sampling the breath of more than 1,400 people, they found that their technique was able to discriminate among diseases with 86 percent accuracy.

The science behind the scent of a person's breath lies within the suite of organic chemical compounds that we routinely expel into the air with every laugh, yell or sigh. These compounds often come marked with the signs of biochemical changes wrought by specific diseases—a phenomenon that forms the basis of modern breath diagnostics. The problem is, there’s a lot of background noise to sift through: In a cloud of exhaled breath, you’ll typically see hundreds of these compounds.

Ancient physicians dating back to 400 BC knew there was something to be gleaned from sniffing a sick person’s breath. The famed Greek physician Hippocrates, among others, used to smell his patients' breath to find out what ailed them. (Even worse, some physicians used to smell their patients’ urine or stool.) We’ve gotten slightly more sophisticated since then; breath analysis has been successfully employed to diagnose cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes and colorectal cancer. There's even a dedicated Journal of Breath Research.

But previously, such efforts have mainly been used to detect a single disease. In the new study, Hossam Haick, a nanotech expert at Technion—Israel Institute of Technology, and several dozen international collaborators aimed to lay the groundwork for a general diagnostic tool to identify the breath signatures of many diseases, including kidney failure, lung cancer, Crohn's disease, MS, prostate and ovarian cancer, and more. Their array first assesses each compound's relative abundance within a person's breath, and then compares disease signatures against healthy individuals.

“We have a mixture of compounds which characterize a given disease, and this picture is different from one disease to another,” explains Haick. Using mass spectrometry analysis, the group first identified the specific compound signatures for 17 different diseases. They then sampled the breath of more than 1,400 people, using a sensory array of carbon nanotubes and gold particles to register which mix of compounds they exhaled. A suite of computer algorithms deciphered what the data told them about the presence or absence of each disease. 

That’s when the artificial intelligence comes in. “We can teach the system that a breathprint could be associated with a particular disease,” says Haick, who co-led the study. “It works in the same way we'd use dogs in order to detect specific compounds. We bring something to the nose of a dog, and the dog will transfer that chemical mixture to an electrical signature and provide it to the brain, and then memorize it in specific regions of the brain … This is exactly what we do. We let it smell a given disease but instead of a nose we use chemical sensors, and instead of the brain we use the algorithms. Then in the future, it can recognize the disease as a dog might recognize a scent.”

Jonathan Beauchamp, an environmental physicist at the Fraunhofer-Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging in Germany, said the technology presents a promising way to surpass a major hurdle in breath analysis. “The same VOCs (volatile organic compounds) often light-up as markers for many different diseases,” he says. “Indeed, it is now widely accepted within the breath research community that unique VOCs for specific diseases are unlikely to exist.”

Therefore, searching for concentrations of various VOCs in relation to one another, as Haick and colleagues did, may prove the more accurate diagnostic method, he adds. “These results demonstrate high accuracy in discriminating one specific disease against another ... The current study clearly demonstrates the power and promise of the gold nanoparticle array technique," he says.

The study involved dozens of scholars based at 14 research institutions across five different countries. Its participants were equally diverse: The mean age was 55; about half were male and half were female; and about one-third were active smokers. Participants were recruited around the world in the United States, Israel, France, Latvia and China. “The large number of subjects over varied geographical areas is really a key strength of this study,” says Cristina Davis, a biomedical engineer who heads the bioinstrumentation lab at the University of California at Davis.

“Larger clinical trials like this will help push the boundaries of breath analysis forward, and should help lead to promising medical tools for clinical practice,” adds Davis, who wasn't involved in the study. “They have taken new mass spectrometry knowledge and coupled it to their novel sensor output.”

Haick hopes that his team's widespread testing will lead to widespread use of the nanosystem. He says that because it's affordable, non-invasive and portable, it could be used to screen widely for disease. By screening even those with no symptoms, such a tool could enable the types of early interventions that lead to better outcomes.

But this AI-fueled “nose” might also have applications far beyond medical diagnostics. Several companies have already licensed it for other applications, says Haick. Among the many potential uses, he noes that the array could be used for quality control by detecting food spoilage. It could also be used for security at airports, by detecting the chemical signatures of explosive devices.

“The system is highly sensitive, and you just need to train it to different types of applications,” he says. 

Your 10 favorite military history stories of 2017

National Museum of American History

The sound of a cart rolling down my hallway always makes my ears perk up. My desk is near the workspace for the Division of Armed Forces History and I sometimes catch staff members carefully transporting military history objects on carts. Whether they're moving the objects for photography or an evaluation by the Objects Conservation Lab, my colleagues often stop and share what they've got with curious social media managers like me. A few days before the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, for example, I spotted Curator Frank Blazich transporting these plates from the battleship U.S.S. West Virginia (BB-48). Before continuing on his way to the photo studio, Frank paused to explain that during the attack on Pearl Harbor, West Virginia was struck by seven torpedo and two bomb hits, killing 106 of her crew and sinking the ship.

Gold colored plaque with textThis plate from the U.S.S. West Virginia may have been removed between June 1942 and July 1944, when the ship was undergoing extensive repairs and modernization. After sinking at Pearl Harbor, the West Virginia was refloated on May 17, 1942, and the navy repaired and modernized the battleship. Arriving back in Pearl Harbor in September 1944, West Virginia would participate in the Battles of Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and be present in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender in 1945.

In addition to having a great desk location at the museum, I'm also lucky enough to manage our blog. That means I get to read all the posts we publish before you do—and I also get to peek under the hood and see which posts are attracting the most readers. In 2017 you were very enthusiastic for military history. Perhaps your passion was inspired by the World War I centennial anniversaries happening now or the recent airing of The Vietnam War by Ken Burns on PBS. Or maybe your love of military history comes from the fact that these stories of heroism, service, innovation, and more are just really interesting. Whichever way, here are your favorite military history blog posts of 2017. The best way to avoid missing our posts is to subscribe to our blog by email.

Number 8 made of metalThis number eight may have marked the eighth Babcock & Wilcox boiler on the U.S.S. West Virginia.

1) The World War I story behind the act that made Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens

Just before the U.S. entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act. It made Puerto Ricans citizens of the United States. Two months later, the Selective Service Act of 1917 allowed the U.S. to draft soldiers, including Puerto Ricans, to serve in World War I. Verónica Rivera-Negrón, Latino Studies Fellow in residence, shared four objects in Puerto Rican history from our collection to commemorate the centennial of the Jones Act.

2) A Vietnam War combat photographer makes the ultimate sacrifice

Photo of young man with film cameraA student in the motion picture photograph school, U.S. Army Signal Center and School, at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, William T. Perkins Jr. is seen here working with a Mitchell 35mm motion picture camera as he and fellow students practice making a reenlistment film. Courtesy of Jacobson Collection.

A selfless act by a brave young Marine moved many of you. Corporal William T. Perkins Jr. wanted to be where the action was—and to capture it on film. During the Vietnam War, the 20-year-old from Los Angeles saved those around him in battle.

3) War is over, let’s make some intricate and impressive medals

Silver metal with maritime battle sceneJohn Paul Jones, Bonhomme Richard vs. Serapis, United States, 1779. This is one of the Comitia Americana medals created to commemorate American bravery in the Revolutionary War.

You’d think the Continental Congress would have other things on its mind at the time, but in March 1776 it voted to create a series of medals called the Comitia Americana. Powerful diplomatic tools, the medals are incredibly beautiful. One of my favorites depicts a naval battle, with busted ships, military personnel floundering in the water, and dramatic plumes of billowing smoke.

4) Knitting needles at the ready during World War I

Have you noticed that our interns get really hands-on with history? One baked a loaf of bread from an 1896 recipe, another spent all day churning up 1927-style strawberry ice cream, and a third decided she just had to whip up a batch of deodorant using a 1903 recipe. Intern Miranda Johnson joined the fun, experiencing what it was like to knit gloves, wristlets, and helmet liners for World War I soldiers as many people did on the homefront during the war.

5) When Uncle Sam needs to borrow Fido

Comic page in color featuring a dog during wartimeChips, a K-9 Corps hero dog, even had his own comic during World War II.

Can you imagine sending your family dog to war? That’s exactly what the Dogs for Defense program asked families to do during World War II. One of the most famous dogs who served in the war was Chips. At one point, the Husky/German Shepherd/Collie mix attacked a nest of Italian gunners. He also got away with biting General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Chips returned home to his family in Pleasantville, New York.

6) Military messages on money circulate during wartime

This blog post contains the story of a sword made of coins, which was enough to pique my curiosity. There's also money issued to prisoners of war during World War I, a failed attempt to use postage as money during the Civil War, and an ancient coin with a horned portrait of Alexander the Great.

7) After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Alice Tetsuko Kono was inspired to "be useful"

Black and white studio photo of a woman in uniformAlice Tetsuko Kono in her Women's Army Corps uniform, around 1943

Alice Tetsuko Kono wasn't very tall. Her concerned family hoped that would slow down her dream of serving in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during World War II. Despite her family's fears for her safety, Kono was accepted and left her home in Molokai, Hawaii, to drill in physical training, learn language skills, and make a difference in the war effort. Kono's service is particularly interesting considering that many Japanese Americans were considered "enemy aliens" and, in the western United States, many were removed to incarceration camps.

8) From the Archives Center, a look at anti-war movements in primary sources

I had never heard of the 1967 March on the Pentagon but it must have been a sight to see, with between 50,000 and 150,000 opponents of the war in Vietnam protesting at the Lincoln Memorial and the Pentagon. The stories of the march's colorful leader and the creative tactics protesters used to express their opposition to the war were riveting—and even more so because they are told through real documents, posters, and photos from the era.

9) An artist's view of World War I

An illustration of a head of a man. He has a floppy cap on with a green ribbon and a large mustache and appears to be smiling."German Prisoner Type" drawing by William James Aylward, 1918. Gift of the War Department, Historical Branch of the General Staff.

Sporting a mustache and sparkling, mischievous eyes, the drawing of a German soldier who had become a prisoner of war during World War I captured my attention right away. The Great War seems so remote to me, so it was incredible to see illustrations of individual participants with their own unique quirks and secrets. These drawings from prisoner of war camps, battlefields, and first aid stations helped me envision the war in a whole new way.

10) Raise your teacups for the war effort

Amanda Moniz, our David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy, often mentions that the history of philanthropy gets particularly interesting during wartime. That was especially true for me when I learned about the charitable activities of Lillian Gary Taylor, a woman of substantial financial means and social connections who participated in the war effort in a special way. Brew a cup of tea and give this one a read.

What military history topics do you want us to explore in 2018? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter, history fans! I'll be listening.

Erin Blasco manages the museum's social media and blog. Her favorite military history blog post tells the story of a Buffalo Soldier who served in World War I, but she also enjoyed considering if our blog posts on Game of Thrones or Star Wars counted for this list.

Posted Date: 
Wednesday, December 20, 2017 - 08:00
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Youngblood and Son-Movers

National Air and Space Museum
Watercolor painting on paper. Youngblood and Son - Movers, Sept 64. A farmhouse is being moved during construction of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Several loosely defined figures are standing near the house wearing yellow hard hats. A truck with a yellow cab is to the left of the house and a man is standing between the truck and the tractor. The road enters the scene on a diagonal coming from the lower right. The sky is a blotchy blend of blue and grey, and it appears to have vertical streaks through the watercolor.

In March 1962, James Webb, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, suggested that artists be enlisted to document the historic effort to send the first human beings to the moon. John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art, was among those who applauded the idea, urging that artists be encouraged "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race."

Working together, James Dean, a young artist employed by the NASA Public Affairs office, and Dr. H. Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, created a program that dispatched artists to NASA facilities with an invitation to paint whatever interested them. The result was an extraordinary collection of works of art proving, as one observer noted, "that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company." Transferred to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975, the NASA art collection remains one of the most important elements of what has become perhaps the world's finest collection of aerospace themed art.

The spring of 1962 was a busy time for the men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. On February 20, John H. Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. For the first time since the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. was positioned to match and exceed Soviet achievements in space. NASA was an agency with a mission -- to meet President John F. Kennedy's challenge of sending human beings to the moon and returning them safely to earth by the end of the decade. Within a year, three more Mercury astronauts would fly into orbit. Plans were falling into place for a follow-on series of two-man Gemini missions that would set the stage for the Apollo voyages to the moon.

In early March 1962, artist Bruce Stevenson brought his large portrait of Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space, to NASA headquarters.(1) James E. Webb, the administrator of NASA, assumed that the artist was interested in painting a similar portrait of all seven of the Mercury astronauts. Instead, Webb voiced his preference for a group portrait that would emphasize "…the team effort and the togetherness that has characterized the first group of astronauts to be trained by this nation." More important, the episode convinced the administrator that "…we should consider in a deliberate way just what NASA should do in the field of fine arts to commemorate the …historic events" of the American space program.(2)

In addition to portraits, Webb wanted to encourage artists to capture the excitement and deeper meaning of space flight. He imagined "a nighttime scene showing the great amount of activity involved in the preparation of and countdown for launching," as well as paintings that portrayed activities in space. "The important thing," he concluded, "is to develop a policy on how we intend to treat this matter now and in the next several years and then to get down to the specifics of how we intend to implement this policy…." The first step, he suggested, was to consult with experts in the field, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, and the members of the Fine Arts Commission, the arbiters of architectural and artistic taste who passed judgment on the appearance of official buildings and monuments in the nation's capital.

Webb's memo of March 16, 1962 was the birth certificate of the NASA art program. Shelby Thompson, the director of the agency's Office of Educational Programs and Services, assigned James Dean, a young artist working as a special assistant in his office, to the project. On June 19, 1962 Thompson met with the Fine Arts Commission, requesting advice as to how "…NASA should develop a basis for use of paintings and sculptures to depict significant historical events and other activities in our program."(3)

David E. Finley, the chairman and former director of the National Gallery of Art, applauded the idea, and suggested that the agency should study the experience of the U.S. Air Force, which had amassed some 800 paintings since establishing an art program in 1954. He also introduced Thompson to Hereward Lester Cooke, curator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

An imposing bear of a man standing over six feet tall, Lester Cooke was a graduate of Yale and Oxford, with a Princeton PhD. The son of a physics professor and a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Forces, he was both fascinated by science and felt a personal connection to flight. On a professional level, Cooke had directed American participation in international art competitions and produced articles and illustrations for the National Geographic Magazine. He jumped at the chance to advise NASA on its art program.

While initially cautious with regard to the time the project might require of one of his chief curators, John Walker, director of the National Gallery, quickly became one of the most vocal supporters of the NASA art initiative. Certain that "the present space exploration effort by the United States will probably rank among the more important events in the history of mankind," Walker believed that "every possible method of documentation …be used." Artists should be expected "…not only to record the physical appearance of the strange new world which space technology is creating, but to edit, select and probe for the inner meaning and emotional impact of events which may change the destiny of our race." He urged quick action so that "the full flavor of the achievement …not be lost," and hoped that "the past held captive" in any paintings resulting from the effort "will prove to future generations that America produced not only scientists and engineers capable of shaping the destiny of our age, but also artists worthy to keep them company."(4)

Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut to fly, was scheduled to ride an Atlas rocket into orbit on May 15, 1963. That event would provide the ideal occasion for a test run of the plan Cooke and Dean evolved to launch the art program. In mid-February, Cooke provided Thompson with a list of the artists who should be invited to travel to Cape Canaveral to record their impressions of the event. Andrew Wyeth, whom the curator identified as "the top artist in the U.S. today," headed the list. When the time came, however, Andrew Wyeth did not go to the Cape for the Cooper launch, but his son Jamie would participate in the program during the Gemini and Apollo years.

The list of invited artists also included Peter Hurd, Andrew Wyeth's brother-in-law, who had served as a wartime artist with the Army Air Force; George Weymouth, whom Wyeth regarded as "the best of his pupils"; and John McCoy, another Wyeth associate. Cooke regarded the next man on the list, Robert McCall, who had been running the Air Force art program, as "America's top aero-space illustrator. Paul Calle and Robert Shore had both painted for the Air Force program. Mitchell Jamieson, who had run a unit of the Navy art program during WW II, rounded out the program. Alfred Blaustein was the only artist to turn down the invitation.

The procedures that would remain in place for more than a decade were given a trial run in the spring of 1963. The artists received an $800 commission, which had to cover any expenses incurred while visiting a NASA facility where they could paint whatever interested them. In return, they would present their finished pieces, and all of their sketches, to the space agency. The experiment was a success, and what might have been a one-time effort to dispatch artists to witness and record the Gordon Cooper flight provided the basis for an on-going, if small-scale, program. By the end of 1970, Jim Dean and Lester Cooke had dispatched 38 artists to Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches and to other NASA facilities.

The art program became everything that Jim Webb had hoped it would be. NASA artists produced stunning works of art that documented the agency's step-by-step progress on the way to the moon. The early fruits of the program were presented in a lavishly illustrated book, Eyewitness to Space (New York: Abrams, 1971). Works from the collection illustrated NASA publications and were the basis for educational film strips aimed at school children. In 1965 and again in 1969 the National Gallery of Art mounted two major exhibitions of work from the NASA collection. The USIA sent a selection of NASA paintings overseas, while the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created two exhibitions of NASA art that toured the nation.

"Since we …began," Dean noted in a reflection on the tenth anniversary of the program, the art initiative had resulted in a long string of positive "press interviews and reports, congressional inquiries, columns in the Congressional Record, [and] White House reports." The NASA effort, he continued, had directly inspired other government art programs. "The Department of the Interior (at least two programs), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Army and even the Veterans Administration have, or are starting, art programs." While he could not take all of the credit, Dean insisted that "our success has encouraged other agencies to get involved and they have succeeded, too."(5)

For all of that, he noted, it was still necessary to "defend" the role of art in the space agency. Dean, with the assistance of Lester Cooke, had been a one-man show, handling the complex logistics of the program, receiving and cataloguing works of art, hanging them himself in museums or on office walls, and struggling to find adequate storage space. In January 1976, a NASA supervisor went so far as to comment that: "Mr. Dean is far too valuable in other areas to spend his time on the relatively menial …jobs he is often burdened with in connection with the art program."(6) Dean placed a much higher value on the art collection, and immediately recommended that NASA officials either devote additional resources to the program, or get out of the art business and turn the existing collection over the National Air and Space Museum, "where it can be properly cared for."(7)

In January 1974 a new building for the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) was taking shape right across the street from NASA headquarters. Discussions regarding areas of cooperation were already underway between NASA officials and museum director Michael Collins, who had flown to the moon as a member of the Apollo 11 crew. Before the end of the year, the space agency had transferred its art collection to the NASM. Mike Collins succeeded in luring Jim Dean to the museum, as well.

The museum already maintained a small art collection, including portraits of aerospace heroes, an assortment of 18th and 19th century prints illustrating the early history of the balloon, an eclectic assortment of works portraying aspects of the history of aviation and a few recent prizes, including several Norman Rockwell paintings of NASA activity. With the acquisition of the NASA art, the museum was in possession of one of the world's great collections of art exploring aerospace themes. Jim Dean would continue to build the NASM collection as the museum's first curator of art. Following his retirement in 1980, other curators would follow in his footsteps, continuing to strengthen the role of art at the NASM. Over three decades after its arrival, however, the NASA art accession of 2,091 works still constitutes almost half of the NASM art collection.

(1) Stevenson's portrait is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum (1981-627)

(2) James E. Webb to Hiden Cox, March 16, 1962, memorandum in the NASA art historical collection, Aeronautics Division, National air and Space Museum. Webb's preference for a group portrait of the astronauts was apparently not heeded. In the end, Stevenson painted an individual portrait of John Glenn, which is also in the NASM collection (1963-398).

(3) Shelby Thompson, memorandum for the record, July 6, 1962, NASA art historical collection, NASA, Aeronautics Division.

(4) John Walker draft of a talk, March 5, 1965, copy in NASA Art historical collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(5) James Dean, memorandum for the record, August 6, 1973, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(6) Director of Planning and Media Development to Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, NASA art history collection, NASM Aeronautics Division.

(7) James Dean to the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, January 24, 1974, copy in NASA Art history Collection, Aeronautics Division, NASM.

Tom D. Crouch

Senior Curator, Aeronautics

National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian Institution

July 26, 2007

Young Worker

National Museum of American History
Lewis Hine silver print circa 1906-1918. One in a series of photographs made for The National Child Labor Committee. A child street vendor standing outside of a coffee and tea house. The young boy is selling cigars and other goods out of a wooden box. There is snow in his hair and a vacant look on his face. The window behind him reveals much happier smiling faces within the cafe.

Note: Hine Photo Company stamp on verso (pink).

Lewis Hine was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to a working class family. He was orphaned at the age of fifteen and forced into the workforce. While supporting himself, Hine managed to continue his education. After high school graduation he worked a few odd jobs and then in 1900 eventually enrolled at The University of Chicago. At the University Hine studied Sociology. While taking classes, Hine came to know Frank Manny a professor at the State Normal School. Manny had recently received a job offer to be the superintendent of the Ethical Culture School in New York City. Hine decided to join his new friend and in 1901 moved to New York to teach at Manny's school. Hine continued to pursue his degree in Sociology at New York University. It was during this period that Hine began to use a camera. At first, his interest in photography was simply as a means to educate students and to document school events. However, Hine was quick to take an interest in photography and ultimately this new medium would become the means through which he could express his growing social concerns, especially about child welfare.

In 1904, Hine began his first photo essay. In an attempt to counter growing anti-immigration sentiment amongst New Yorkers, and Americans in general, Hine began a project to photograph immigrant families arriving at Ellis Island. Instead of making them appear pathetic or even animalistic, as other photographers were doing, Hine photographed these people with a humanitarian eye. He depicted them as brave, dignified pioneers of a new land. Hine's camera was a 5x7-plate box-type on a tripod. Often he had to work in low light. If he was indoors, Hine usually had only one chance to photograph an image because after he used a magnesium flash powder to create artificial light the room would fill with smoke, obstructing the image.

In 1905, Hine received his degree from NYU and began considering a career in Sociological Photography. By 1908, he had left his teaching job for a full time position as an investigative photographer for The National Child Labor Committee (NCLC). His first commission from the NCLC was to photograph home workers, children and adults, in New York City tenements. Hine was horrified with what he saw, he described the conditions as "One of the most iniquitous phases of child slavery." Later that year Hine, on commission from the NCLC, left New York to photograph child laborers all over the United States. In 1909 Hine published his first photo essay on children at risk. The essay was comprised of material from the first years of his tour of the United States.

Throughout his career many more photo essays would follow, alerting the public to the plight of these American children who were obviously in such grave danger in their working environments.

Hine's work also took him to Europe in 1917. Funded by the Red Cross he photographed European refugees of World War I. In the 1920's, Hine returned to America and to Ellis Island to once again photograph newly arrived immigrants. Although Hine was a pioneer in 'Sociological Photography' and he had vastly increased public awareness about child labor, he still struggled to make a living.

In 1930, ten years before his death, Hine received the honor of photographing the construction of the Empire State Building. For a change, Hine focused on the joyful and productive side of labor instead of the dark side. Lewis Hine died in 1940. As a photographer, Hine left a resounding impact on the worlds of journalism and art, pioneering a new form of storytelling that today we call photojournalism.

Young Picky Eaters May Be More Anxious and Depressed

Smithsonian Magazine

Parents around the world are frustrated by kids who are fussy about their food, often left bemoaning uneaten broccoli and waiting impatiently for them to grow out of it. Now, research suggests that paying closer attention to picky eating may be about more than making sure kids get enough fruits and veggies.

A Duke University study involving hundreds of young children found that even moderate picky eating often coincides with psychological health issues, including depression, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder and hyperactivity. And as the pickiness got more extreme, the associated psychological problems tended to get worse.

“We're talking about kids whose picky eating went beyond having a non-preference for certain foods like broccoli,” says co-author William Copeland, a clinical psychologist at Duke. “Their eating was so restrictive that it required their parents to make separate meals for them apart from the rest of the family.”

As they report this week in Pediatrics, the scientists conducted in-home assessments for 917 kids that were 2 to 6 years old, using the Preschool Aged Psychiatric Assessment. They also interviewed the children's caregivers to collect information on eating habits and psychiatric symptoms. The results showed that about one in five of the participants are picky eaters—often or always selective with their food. Of those, almost 18 percent were moderately picky, while about 3 percent were severely selective, meaning their pickiness limits their ability to eat with others.

The team found that kids showing both moderate and severe selective eating were significantly more likely to show symptoms of social anxiety, depression and other mental conditions. Moderately picky kids were also more likely to suffer symptoms of separation anxiety and ADHD, though those correlations weren't seen among the study's relatively small number of severely picky eaters. And while some kids do grow out of picky eating, the psychological problems among the severe picky eaters tended to grow worse. The team conducted annual follow-ups for two years with 187 of the participants, and they found that selective eaters were twice as likely to show increased symptoms of general anxiety.

“It was surprising to me that when we followed up with these kids two years down the road, we saw that these problems predicted increased levels of anxiety,” Copeland says. “It certainly isn't the case for everybody. But it does mean that selective eating isn't something that should just be disregarded. Pediatricians and parents should be paying attention over time and seeing if a child shows some type of vulnerability to these emotional problems."

Parents regularly fight their picky eaters on food, but as many will attest that conflict doesn't always result in eating. It may even compound kids' psychological issues or lead to more family strife. While it's not the parents' fault when one of their kids is a picky eater, Copeland notes, young kids are so influenced by their parents that it's necessary to look at the family mealtime dynamic as a whole when assessing problematic eating. 

“I think this absolutely could be related to certain dynamics that the kids have with their parents,” he says. “It's certainly the case that certain ways of responding with certain kids can make these things worse.”

Part of the problem is that there are many possible reasons why Junior won't eat his Brussels sprouts. Scientists have previously identified several likely triggers for picky eating, from genes to in utero exposure to reward systems in the brain. For instance, heightened senses make smell, taste or texture overwhelming for some. And bad experiences with foods—including being forced to eat food they don't like—can play a role in generating anxiety. Finding out which one is behind a child's pickiness can be key to successful intervention.

Another possible cause hinted at in the study data is a link with parents' own anxieties. “One of the things we saw in this study is that parents who have emotional problems themselves may be more likely to have kids that are picky about these things, and that's also going to affect how they respond to the kids,” Copeland notes. "So these things can be very synergistic.”

Copeland cited a common example of parents who see that a child isn't responding well to a food and then become concerned about why the kid has a poor response. “They'll ask if the child is feeling sick or the food is hurting their tummy,” he explains. “And that can send a message to the child that there is something to be worried about that can contribute to the child's refusal to have that kind of food.”

Pediatricians can help parents plan better responses to their individual picky eaters, he adds, so that these associated problems don't become more significant. This proactive approach can also help ease stress on the rest of the family—particularly on parents who are pressed to prepare alternative meals or engage in regular food fights.

“Most pediatricians would be comfortable assessing anxiety and depressive symptoms,” Copeland says. “So [picky eating is] really a trigger for them to ask more questions about those things.”

Young Homeless Man

Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
Young Homeless Man, 1947-48. Photographic portrait image of a young man. Photograph by Constance Stuart Larrabee, 1948.

This series of photographs documents the social welfare system, which had been established for poor white South Africans in the Johannesburg area after the end of the Second World War.

There are no prints of this negative in the Constance Stuart Larrabee Collection. EEPA produced an 8x10 study print for reference purposes.

The cataloging of the Constance Stuart Larrabee Collection was supported by a grant from The Smithsonian Women's Committee.

Young Girl, Johannesburg

Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
Young Girl, Johannesburg, 1948. Photographic image of a little girl standing next to a pole. She is holding a smaller child on her back. Photograph by Constance Stuart Larrabee, 1948.

In 1945, Constance Stuart returned from her assignment as the first female South African war correspondent in World War II. Her reputation as a photographer grew. She maintained a photographic studio in Pretoria and Johannesburg. This series of images which she entitled "Johannesburg Black Man" depict life in downtown Johannesburg and in parts of the city, where Black South Africans lived, such as Sophiatown, Pimville, and Newclare. A second series of images focuses on Father Huddleston's work in Sophiatown. In 1948-1949, in the early days of apartheid, Stuart documented the building of the South Western townships (Soweto) and the way Africans adjusted to this new environment.

There are no prints of this negative in the Constance Stuart Larrabee Collection. EEPA produced an 8x10 study print for reference purposes.

The cataloging of the Constance Stuart Larrabee Collection was supported by a grant from The Smithsonian Women's Committee.

Young Girl With School Books

Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
Young Girl With School Books, 1948. Photographic image of a little girl holding a ruler and pencil in one hand and her school book in the other. In the background are children. Photograph by Constance Stuart Larrabee, 1948.

In 1945, Constance Stuart returned from her assignment as the first female South African war correspondent in World War II. Her reputation as a photographer grew. She maintained a photographic studio in Pretoria and Johannesburg. This series of images which she entitled "Johannesburg Black Man" depict life in downtown Johannesburg and in parts of the city, where Black South Africans lived, such as Sophiatown, Pimville, and Newclare. A second series of images focuses on Father Huddleston's work in Sophiatown. In 1948-1949, in the early days of apartheid, Stuart documented the building of the South Western townships (Soweto) and the way Africans adjusted to this new environment.

There are no prints of this negative in the Constance Stuart Larrabee Collection. EEPA produced an 8x10 study print for reference purposes.

The cataloging of the Constance Stuart Larrabee Collection was supported by a grant from The Smithsonian Women's Committee.

Young Girl Painting at Play Center

Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
Young Girl Painting at Play Center, 1947-48. Photographic image of a girl painting on a sheet of paper. She has a bowl beside her. Photograph by Constance Stuart Larrabee, 1948.

This series of photographs documents the social welfare system, which had been established for poor white South Africans in the Johannesburg area after the end of the Second World War.

There are no prints of this negative in the Constance Stuart Larrabee Collection. EEPA produced an 8x10 study print for reference purposes.

The cataloging of the Constance Stuart Larrabee Collection was supported by a grant from The Smithsonian Women's Committee.

Young Girl Drawing at Nursery School

Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
Young Girl Writing at Nursery School, 1948. Photographic image of a young girl sitting at a desk writing on a piece of paper with a crayon. This nursery school looks after 380 children a month. Parents pay 25 cents per month to leave their children here while they go to work. Photograph by Constance Stuart Larrabee, 1948.

In 1945, Constance Stuart returned from her assignment as the first female South African war correspondent in World War II. Her reputation as a photographer grew. She maintained a photographic studio in Pretoria and Johannesburg. This series of images, which she entitled "Johannesburg Black Man" depict life in downtown Johannesburg and in parts of the city, where Black South Africans lived, such as Sophiatown, Pimville, and Newclare. A second series of images focuses on Father Huddleston's work in Sophiatown. In 1948-1949, in the early days of apartheid, Stuart documented the building of the South Western townships (Soweto) and the way Africans adjusted to this new environment.

There are no prints of this negative in the Constance Stuart Larrabee Collection. EEPA produced an 8x10 study print for reference purposes.

The cataloging of the Constance Stuart Larrabee Collection was supported by a grant from The Smithsonian Women's Committee.
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