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"El Violinista Oriental" by Eddy Marcano, Alfonso Moreno, Roberto Koch, Aquiles Báez and José Martínez
Our storeroom has a tiny web-footed lion that defies logic. It is a three-dimensional portal into the world of a little girl, and one of thousands of models in the museum's collections. Model-making begins in the imagination. An intriguing thing about models is that they are both practical and aesthetic objects. They translate something abstract, like an idea, a hunch, or a brainstorm, and the design determines the success of the translation. An artist or inventor needs something concrete with which to work, similar to the way children model crude snakes from clay. Engineers need models to demonstrate to others what is in their head. For those with a software bent, models are a way to process information. In fact, every object is a model of something that came out of someone's imagination.
Models provide a way to track the path of an idea as it comes to fruition. They allow us to trace a developing idea (the way fluorescent jellyfish proteins light up the movement of an altered cell so scientists can see it moving through the human body). Models inhabit that realm of necessity in which communicating the invisible or barely glimpsed becomes possible. The museum has numerous examples of models in our collections that pull ideas out of the imagination and into real time. There are some 10,000 patent models alone, of everything from cannons and fishing reels to artificial limbs.
All of the museum's models were made by visionaries, who relied upon their sight and insight to build their models. The models from the Michigan School for the Blind, for example, depict architectural forms such as skyscrapers and corn cribs that sighted teachers wanted students who were blind to learn about through touch. They were constructed in the 1930s and '40s for teaching history and civics.
But what if a model were reverse engineered? Instead of fixing something by working backwards from a problem, it worked forwards from the sensory image of a blind person to a three-dimensional space? This is what happens in "Emily's Oz." We recently collected a model that jumps across sensory realities. In 2015 the mega-media conglomerate Comcast was looking for a splashy and disability-appropriate way to launch a new product designed for people who are blind or have low vision. Their lab had created a talking TV interface that provided navigational instructions about channels and what happened on the screen.
The launch team worked with a seven-year-old girl named Emily, whose favorite film is The Wizard of Oz. Emily is blind, and the designers set out to create models of the characters as she imagined them in her head. We collected Emily's Cowardly Lion. The Lion is proportionally much smaller than the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. It walks on its two front legs, has webbed feet, and sports a shag-rug textured body similar to the soft buffing cylinders at a car wash. Emily's Lion is about the same size as the toe of her eight-foot Tin Man (he only has one toe on each foot).
Models leap the gap between intuition and possibility, allowing what you understand without words to be shared through your hands, eyes, and senses. Looking at a model is like looking into someone's brain. They are often surprisingly eloquent in the way they pierce barriers and pull us into another person's reality.
Katherine Ott is a curator in the Division of Medicine and Science.
"One of the things I've learned is, this is like jazz. It's improvised. There's no written score." William Ury is surprisingly relaxed as he tosses off these observations about the process of negotiation to Smithsonian writer Doug Stewart. Ury is in a hotel lobby at The Hague, awaiting the arrival of a delegation from Chechnya, so that he and his team can mediate peace talks between them and a Russian delegation. And already, there are a few wrinkles word has just reached Ury that the Chechens didn't want to use their Russian passports, causing problems on entry into the Netherlands; and now they're protesting their hotel accommodations.
But, as Ury says, it's all part of the improvisation, and he has had a lot of practice. Ury has been running negotiation seminars, studying how various cultures handle conflict and helping to mediate international disputes since 1981, when he and Roger Fisher wrote Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Dubbed "the bible of negotiation," the book skyrocketed to best seller lists around the world two million copies in 21 languages, and counting. The brand of negotiation they preach, which they call "principled negotiation," emphasizes the process of seeking common interests with the adversary rather than staking out positions and then painstakingly narrowing the gap.
It sounds good on paper, but how does it work in practice? To find out, writer Doug Stewart traveled to The Hague to witness Ury and his negotiating team in action at the International Peace Palace. From his vantage point inside the negotiating room, Stewart describes down to the smallest nuance the unfolding roller coaster ride of emotional outbursts, deafening silences and eventually fleeting moments of real communication.
Last week, the Kilauea volcano on the island of Hawaii began oozing lava from 15 cracks in its East Rift Zone, destroying streets and burning up three dozen homes in the Leilani Estates subdivision. Officials are also warning residents of toxic sulfur dioxide emissions.
Now, the USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory is warning that the crater at the summit of Kilauea has been undergoing changes and could begin spewing ash, gas and rocks weighing several tons over the next few weeks.
As fissures opened up on Kilauea's slopes, geologists also watched as levels of the Halema‘uma‘u lava lake at the volcano's summit dropped almost 1,000 feet. As Maddie Stone at Earther reports, the summit crater is fed by a larger chamber of magma beneath the volcano via a narrow passageway. As that magma flows from the chamber and out of the fissures on the volcano's flanks, the lava level in the center crater falls. But this has caused rock and debris from the crater's edges to fall into the hole, which has sparked columns of ash to rise from the crater.
And the further the lava level drops, the more precarious the situation becomes. If the lava drops below the water table, the encroaching water would turn to steam, building up pressure beneath the plug of fallen rocks and debris. Eventually, this may lead to an explosion that could shoot rocks as large as several tons up to half a mile away, pebbles several miles away and plume of ash up to 20 miles away.(USGS)
Though volcanologists can no longer get close enough to the crater to gather readings, they are using airborne thermal imaging to peer inside. As of this morning, the USGS says the lava lake level continues to drop and seismic activity is high. Rockfalls into the crater are generating small ash clouds, but active eruption and spatter has paused along the lower flanks overnight—yet could still restart at any time.
The Volcano Observatory says they cannot predict with certainty if or when these steam driven explosions will occur or how large they might be. But so far, the sequence of events seems similar to explosive eruptions that took place at the volcano in 1924. In February of that year, the lava in Halema‘uma‘u began draining out of the crater. In April, swarms of earthquakes began in the area, and in May the crater began erupting, ejecting gas, ash and boulders up to 14 tons during 50 eruptions over the course of two and a half weeks.
The USGS reports that similar explosions are likely to happen again, especially after magma migrates into the rift zones on the volcano's flanks, which seems to be occurring now.
However, even if Kilauea does begin an explosive eruption, geologists say it will not be an event like Mount Saint Helens or other major eruptions. Those types of big blowouts usually take place in stratovolcanoes, steep-sided, cone-shaped volcanoes where pressure builds up in a central vent until the mountain pops in a dramatic explosion.
Kilauea, however, is a shield volcano, where basaltic lava flows almost continuously out of a summit crater and other vents, building a flat dome. Shield volcanoes rarely build up enough pressure to have catastrophic explosions though sometimes steam explosions like the ones predicted are possible.
“If an explosion happens, there’s a risk at all scales. If you’re near the crater, within half a mile, you could be subject to ballistic blocks weighing as much as 10 or 12 tons,” Donald Swanson of the Obervatory tells The Washington Post. But he also tells Reuters that there’s not too much cause for alarm for most people. “We don’t anticipate there being any wholesale devastation or evacuations necessary anywhere in the state of Hawaii.”
Nearly 2,000 residents evacuated due to the lava flows. Dozens of these people from Leilani Estates, where the USGS warns more fissures may open, still remain in shelters.
When arborists from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh set out to conduct a survey of the trees at Holyroodhouse, the Queen of England’s official residence in Edinburgh, Scotland, one of their first finds was a shocker. Sarah Knapton at The Telegraph reports that just 100 feet from the palace were two Wentworth elms, a tree cultivar first bred in Germany in the 1880s and believed to have gone extinct decades ago.
The limbs of the attractive tree, Ulmus Wentworthii Pendula, droop noticeably toward the ground and put out bright red flowers in the spring. Researchers believed this particular cultivar, along with millions of other elm trees, was wiped out by Dutch elm disease. Spread by bark beetles, this fungus was likely of Asian origin and devastated elm populations in Europe, the U.S. and parts of Asia during the 20th century. In Britain alone 25 to 75 million elm trees fell to the disease.
The Botanic Garden's Max Coleman, who identified the trees, says work to combat the disease probably helped spare the Wentworths. “It is very likely the only reason these rare elms have survived is because Edinburgh City Council has been surveying and removing diseased elms since the 1980s,” he says in a press release. “Without that work many more of the thousands of elms in Edinburgh would have been lost. The success of this program may be partly demonstrated in the way two rare trees have been preserved.”
It’s not certain exactly where the elm trees came from, but the Royal household is looking into its records, reports the Press Association. Documents show that three Wentworth elms arrived at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh from Germany in 1902. But records also show the garden only planted one of those trees, which succumbed to Dutch elm disease in 1996. Though the link is not confirmed, Coleman tells the Press Association the garden and palace were known to have a relationship in the early 20th century. “It is very tempting to speculate that the Wentworth elms at the palace are the two missing trees from RBGE. There is anecdotal evidence that the young trees could have come into RBGE, then been grown-on before planting-out in their final positions.”
In recent years, the staff at Hollyroodhouse have worked on the two trees, thinning their crowns and bracing some large limbs without knowing how special they were. Now they will help experts try to propagate more specimens from the rare trees and will take even more care with them. “We’re proud to help look after the only remaining examples of these trees in Britain,” says Alan Keir, garden manager at the property.
For the last two weeks, a crew of scientists aboard a trawler have surveyed Australia’s marine reserves, cataloging the region's unusual deep sea creatures. So far, they’ve brought up a lot of interesting critters, but the most surprising is a faceless fish, reports Emilie Gramenz at the Australia Broadcasting Corporation.
According to a blog post at Australia’s Marine Biodiversity Hub, the researchers collected the creature, Typhlonus nasus, from a depth of about 13,000 feet. At these depths, the pressure is enormous and temperatures average a chilly 34 degrees Fahrenheit. At first, the researchers thought they had a new species on their hands. But with a search through scientific journals, they realized their faceless monster had been seen before.
The HMS Challenger—the first global oceanographic expedition—collected the first T. nasus, in the Coral Sea just outside Australian waters on August 25, 1874. Since then, the species has been occasionally found in deep water around the globe, including in the Arabian Sea and off the coasts of Borneo, Japan and Hawaii.
“This little fish looks amazing because the mouth is actually situated at the bottom of the animal so, when you look side-on, you can’t see any eyes, you can’t see any nose or gills or mouth,” Tim O’Hara, expedition leader and senior curator of marine invertebrates at Museums Victoria, tells Elle Hunt at The Guardian. “It looks like two rear-ends on a fish, really.” Because of this distinctive—and disturbing—feature, researchers are calling the fish the “Faceless Cusk.”
As Hunt reports, the month-long expedition (sponsored by Museums Victoria and the Australian government’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) is exploring the marine reserves by dragging a device that looks like a metal sled on a five-mile long cable, collecting sediment from the seafloor. The team is also using a camera to observe the creatures of the deep, hauling samples to the surface in small nets.
Aside from the eyeless fish, the team has also spotted a strange tripod fish, a chimaera, bioluminescent sea stars and rock crabs. “The experts tell me that about a third of all specimens coming on board are totally new to science,” O’Hara tells Hunt. “They aren’t all as spectacular as the faceless fish but there’s a lot of sea fleas and worms and crabs and other things that are totally new and no one has seen them ever before.”
But it's not all crazy creatures: the team is also dredging up lots of trash, including cans of paint and PVC pipe.
This expedition is the first time the “eastern abyssal plain” off the coast of Australia has been systematically surveyed, Gramenz reports, and the results will serve as a baseline that researchers can use to monitor future potential impacts of climate change.
The expedition is expected to last until June 16—so stay tuned for more crazy critter finds.
On September 8, l900, a hurricane that had swept across the Gulf of Mexico slammed into Galveston, Texas. Situated on an island that amounted to little more than an unprotected sandbar, the city was devastated. Entire neighborhoods were obliterated. Shipping facilities were demolished. Some 8,000 people died, a toll that exceeds the total loss of life caused by the Chicago fire of 1871, the calamitous forest fire at Peshtigo, Wisconsin, that same year, the Johnstown flood of 1889, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the Florida hurricane of 1928.
Before the full force of the hurricane struck, women and children frolicked in the rising waters. Once the seriousness of the situation became apparent, there was no escaping. Houses were knocked off their foundations and carried away. Thousands struggled to find refuge from the relentless battering of wind and waves. Some survived by luck or their heroic efforts; others were rescued by intrepid individuals who risked their own lives.
Once the storm passed, the city was a grisly shambles. Bodies, torn and naked, were everywhere. Looting broke out and martial law was declared. Within days, however, shipping had resumed. Eventually a seawall was built to avert a similar disaster, and today Galveston is a thriving port where tourists can view a multimedia documentary about the terrible hurricane in a theater on the waterfront that bore its brunt nearly a century ago.