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“Pruning” at the National Museum of American History Library

Smithsonian Institution Libraries
This post was written by Jenn Parent, intern at the National Museum of American History Library. Jenn is a recent graduate from Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, GA with a BS in Anthropology.  She will be relocating and attending graduate school at University of Washington-Seattle for a Master’s in Library Science this September. I spent more »

“Once There Were Billions” t-shirts now available!

Smithsonian Institution Libraries
From June 24, 2014 – Jan 3, 2016, the Smithsonian Libraries presents “Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America”. The exhibition, on display in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, focuses on the story of the last Passenger Pigeon, the disappearance of the Great Auk, Carolina Parakeet, and Heath Hen more »

“Once There Were Billions” opening June 24th

Smithsonian Institution Libraries
The Smithsonian Libraries invites you to: Echoes of Their Wings: The Passenger Pigeon and its Legacy The exhibition opening for “Once There Were Billions”, featuring a lecture and book signing by Joel Greenberg, author of A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction. Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 – 6:00pm Location: Baird more »

“Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America” Opens June 24! Join us!

Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Once an amazing diversity of birds-some in breathtaking abundance-inhabited the vast forests and plains of North America. But starting around 1600, some species began to disappear, as humans altered habitats, over-hunted, and introduced predators. A notable extinction occurred 100 years ago, with the death of Martha the Passenger Pigeon, the last member of a species more »

“From Billions to None” Film Showing & Lecture

Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Please join us for this free film showing and lecture! Date: Monday, September 22, 2014 – 6:00pm Location: Baird Auditorium National Museum of Natural History 10th and Constitution Ave, NW Washington, DC 20004  This event is free and open to the public. If you plan to attend, please RSVP via email to film, “From more »

“Fantastic Worlds” shirts available through TFund

Smithsonian Institution Libraries
In July 2015, the Smithsonian Libraries will debut an exciting new exhibit in our Exhibition Gallery in the National Museum of American History. “Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction, 1780-1910″ will explore the relationship between emerging scientific theories and fiction writers of the period. Although the “Fantastic Worlds” is many months away, we’ve recently launched a more »

‘Twas Nochebuena: A Christmas Story in English and Spanish by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Sara Palacios

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program
Originally titled "A Visit from St. Nicholas," Clement Clarke Moore first shared his iconic poem with his children on Christmas Eve...

‘If I Had a Hammer’ and ‘This Land is Your Land’: A Pete Seeger Tribute

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Banjo player and music scholar Tony Seeger, nephew of the late American icon and Folkways artist Pete Seeger (1919-2014), performedRead More

‘Bright Morning Stars’ by Abigail Washburn and Ih Tsetsn

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Inner Mongolian music ensemble Ih Tsetsn and American banjo player Abigail Washburn decided to meet on stage for a cross-culturalRead More

‘Young Blood’ Transfusions Are Ineffective and Dangerous, FDA Warns

Smithsonian Magazine

Transfusions of blood plasma are used to treat a host of medical conditions, including burns, surgery-induced blood loss, and disorders that prevent a person’s blood from clotting properly. But as Live Science’s Rachael Rettner reports, the Food and Drug Administration has raised the alarm about companies that purport to use blood plasma—specifically the blood of young donors—to combat the effects of aging and several severe ailments.

In a harshly worded statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called out “unscrupulous actors” who claim that infusions of “young blood” can treat conditions ranging from “normal aging and memory loss to serious diseases like dementia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease or post-traumatic stress disorder.”

“There is no proven clinical benefit of infusion of plasma from young donors to cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent these conditions,” Gottlieb said, “and there are risks associated with the use of any plasma product.”

Plasma is the vital blood component that carries nutrients, hormones and proteins throughout the body. Donations of this vital liquid are sometimes called the “gift of life” because of plasma’s critical use in the medical field. But even in approved contexts, there are risks that come with blood transfusions, including circulatory overload, allergic reactions and, less commonly, the transmission of infections. According to Gottlieb, young blood infusions are particularly dangerous because they involve the transmission of large volumes of blood, which in turn heightens the risk of adverse side effects.

In addition to their potential dangers, young blood infusions don’t seem to work. As Gizmodo’s Ed Cara points out, clinical trials have investigated whether blood from young donors can be helpful in treating conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. But to date, Gottlieb says, “there is no compelling clinical evidence on its efficacy, nor is there information on appropriate dosing for treatment of the conditions for which these products are being advertised.”

The FDA didn’t mention any companies by name, but one that has been drawing attention of late is Ambrosia Health, a San Francisco start-up founded by Stanford Medical School graduate Jesse Karmazin. According to Vox’s Chavie Lieber, the company has locations across the United States, and charges $8,000 for a liter of blood drawn from people between the ages 16 and 25. In the wake of the FDA’s caution, Ambrosia announced that it has “ceased patient treatments.”

The thinking behind young blood transfusions stems from a somewhat gruesome experiment conducted in the 1950s, when a Cornell researcher connected the circulatory systems of a young and old mouse, according to New Scientist’s Helen Thomson. The scientist, Clive McCay, found that the old mouse’s cartilage subsequently looked younger than would be expected. More recent research has found that blood from young mice seems to rejuvenate the skeletal stem cells and livers of older mice, and even reverse heart decline in aging mice.

But some researchers involved in this research say that their studies do not lend support to the use of young blood infusions in humans. Irina Conboy, a University of California, Berkeley scientist involved in a 2005 study, told Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin that the positive effects she and her colleagues observed could stem from the fact that the mice were sharing not only blood, but also internal organs.

“When old and young mice are sutured together they share organs too — including their kidneys and all the important filtering organs,” Conboy said. “Imagine you had a new liver. You’d probably see benefits too.”

Interpreting the mice studies as a basis for human young blood infusions, Conboy added, is both incorrect and dangerous. Such transfusions, she told Brodwin, “quite likely could inflict bodily harm.”

‘Tis the Season for a Reason

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
‘Tis the Season for a Reason — investigates common student difficulties in understanding the cause of the seasons as well as common pitfalls and helpful approaches. 

‘The whole man at once’: scientific identities at the Dibner Library

Smithsonian Libraries
George Sarton, a founder of the history of science as an academic discipline, argued that scholars should pay close attention to portraits. These images, he said, can give you ‘the more »

‘The whole man at once:’ scientific identities at the Dibner Library — Edward Jenner

Smithsonian Libraries

“George Sarton, a founder of the history of science as an academic discipline, argued that scholars should pay close attention to portraits. These images, he said, can give you ‘the whole man at once.’ With a ‘great portrait,’ Sarton believed, ‘you are given immediately some fundamental knowledge of him, which even the longest descriptions and more »

The post ‘The whole man at once:’ scientific identities at the Dibner Library — Edward Jenner appeared first on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

‘The whole man at once:’ scientific identities at the Dibner Library — Edward Jenner

Smithsonian Libraries
“George Sarton, a founder of the history of science as an academic discipline, argued that scholars should pay close attention to portraits. These images, he said, can give you ‘the more »

‘The whole man at once:’ scientific identities at the Dibner Library – Augustin-Louis Cauchy

Smithsonian Libraries
“George Sarton, a founder of the history of science as an academic discipline, argued that scholars should pay close attention to portraits. These images, he said, can give you ‘the more »

‘The Wrong Wrights’: A Graphic Novel from Smithsonian Books

Smithsonian Science

In the first volume of the Secret Smithsonian Adventures graphic-novel series from Smithsonian Books, The Wrong Wrights, four middle-school kids visit the Smithsonian’s National Air […]

The post ‘The Wrong Wrights’: A Graphic Novel from Smithsonian Books appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

‘The Whole Man at Once’: Scientific Identities at the Dibner Library – Antoine-François, comte de Fourcroy

Smithsonian Libraries

This post was written by Michelle Farias, intern in the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology. For more in this series, see previous posts about Edward Jenner and Joseph Jerome Le Francais de Lalande by Morgan E. Aronson. The five portraits collected by Bern Dibner that feature Antoine-François, comte de Fourcroy, show more »

The post ‘The Whole Man at Once’: Scientific Identities at the Dibner Library – Antoine-François, comte de Fourcroy appeared first on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

‘The North Star’ Amplified Black Voices. How a 2019 Reboot of Frederick Douglass’ Paper Hopes to Do the Same

Smithsonian Magazine

Four pages, two dollars, one vision: This is what hope looked like to many Americans in December 1847 when Frederick Douglass’ newspaper, The North Star, first appeared in print. The seasoned journalist, now a global crusader for the cause of abolition, poured profits from his British speaking tour into the start-up enterprise. Working with editor Martin R. Delany and others, Douglass inaugurated the press in Rochester, New York. The newspaper’s title referred to the Underground Railroad’s skyward guide, and the masthead proclaimed: “Right is of no sex–Truth is of no color–God is the father of us all, and all we are brethren.”

That sweeping directive shaped The North Star’s coverage of injustice, which often stretched across the Atlantic to cover the European revolutions of 1848. Foreign or familiar, the cause of freedom filled The North Star’s pages and inspired a transatlantic community of activist readers. “A revolution now cannot be confined to the place or the people where it may commence, but flashes with lightning speed from heart to heart, from land to land, till it has traversed the globe, compelling all the members of our common brotherhood at once, to pass judgment upon its merits,” Douglass wrote in one editorial. Describing events in Paris, his words hit home for Americans. From the beginning, Douglass’s North Star supplied news and nurtured revolution.

Building on that legacy, a modern version of The North Star launches today as a multiplatform media outlet, led by progressive journalists Shaun King and Benjamin P. Dixon, with historian Keisha N. Blain at the helm as editor in chief. Through written content, podcasts, video broadcasts, and an app, the new North Star editorial team plans to explore issues of civil rights, human rights, and social justice in America and around the world. Inspired by Douglass’ focus on “liberty, humanity, progress,” this North Star reboots the idea of grassroots journalism. “In thinking about reviving The North Star, we wanted to meet the needs of someone living in 2019,” Blain says. The North Star platform will provide a new online ecosystem for interpreting news, encouraging dialogue, and providing concrete solutions. “We are unapologetic in our stance, and I think people appreciate that,” Blain says. “If you need the tools to make your work even more effective, come here.”

In the original North Star, Douglass’s call for abolition swelled with each issue. Subscriptions grew to more than 4,000; in 1851 it merged with another abolitionist newspaper, Gerrit Smith’s Liberty Party Paper. Amid the fractious politics of the 1840s and 1850s, which saw the rise of third parties like the Know Nothings and violent clashes in Kansas and Virginia, Douglass’s North Star was a voice of moral authority. Living up to the masthead’s pledge, Douglass swung the paper’s spotlight onto the women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, held in July 1848. “There can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in the making and administering of the laws of the land,” he wrote in a North Star editorial.

The newspaper’s vast mission, which had brought him into contact with diverse activists, worked a deep change in Douglass’ outlook. Shortly before his death, the great orator rose to address the 1888 International Council of Women, the lessons of his long years at The North Star still fresh in his mind. “When I ran away from slavery, it was for myself; when I advocated for emancipation, it was for my people,” Douglass told the crowd. “But when I stood up for the rights of women, self was out of the question, and I found a little nobility in the act.”

He gave reform-minded readers an outlet that both rivaled William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator, which Douglass left to start The North Star, and amplified the blossoming political power of the African-American press. Once enslaved himself —in 1838 he fled the Maryland home of his owner and settled in New England—Douglass used his publication to redefine American liberty.

“Frederick Douglass was able to teach himself to read and write over the objections of his overseer and master,” says Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., a descendant of Douglass and Booker T. Washington who serves as director of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. “When he escaped from slavery and began to speak out, he started to build his own strategy for the abolition of slavery. The North Star was a mouthpiece for the enslaved and the oppressed. It was an opportunity for him to speak for the voiceless. The importance of that newspaper in that time cannot be overstated.”

When Frederick Douglass began the newspaper in 1847, he changed the national conversation on race and rights. Douglass, Delany, and publisher William C. Nell carefully curated each issue, with help from transatlantic contributors and relatives who worked in the Rochester newsroom. “We’re proud of that legacy,” Morris says of The North Star’s origins. “It was a family enterprise for sure.”

According to historian Heather Cox Richardson, who studies the political thought and culture of the 19th century, The North Star gave African-Americans a public channel that hadn’t existed before. “Voices that are not heard cannot be included in American debate; they can only be reflected by those others who care about them,” she says. When Douglass chose to leave The Liberator, he turned away from the paternalism of Garrisonian abolitionism, and opened up a new path for the movement. His founding of The North Star signaled a new chapter for both the man and his mission. Frederick Douglass’ leadership of the North Star, along with his shrewd use of new forms of mass media like photography, sent a bold message about the visibility of African-American citizenship. “Only a presence in national debate can change the national narrative,” Richardson says.

Why relaunch The North Star now? “We’re in an incredibly complicated and consequential time politically,” King says. “There are lots of changes that are happening, that people are fighting for on the grassroots level, globally and politically, not just justice reform.” Critically, The North Star also aims to fill what Dixon calls “a big gaping hole” in the current media landscape, by welcoming “black voices and people of color to not only speak on our issues and community, but to speak on all issues.” As The North Star community takes shape, a blend of hope and history bolsters the project’s launch. “We’re telling the narrative from our perspective,” Dixon says. “The time has always been there.”

‘Spinster’ and ‘Bachelor’ Were, Until 2005, Official Terms for Single People

Smithsonian Magazine

On this day in 2005, England and Wales stopped using the terms “bachelor” and “spinster” to describe unmarried people on official documents, as they had done for decades prior. “As part of the Civil Partnership Act, these somewhat quaint terms will make way for a new catch-all description for unmarried men and women: ‘single,’” the BBC wrote at the time. By the time these terms were replaced, it wrote, they’d both become antiquated. But where did they come from in the first place?


The Oxford English Dictionary’s first recorded use of the word “bachelor” to mean an unmarried man came around 1386, with Geoffrey Chaucer. In one of the stories in The Canterbury Tales, the about twenty-year-old squire is described as “a lover and lively bachelor” who spends time chasing the ladies, partying and jousting, and who barely sleeps.   

Before that, according to Merriam-Webster, bachelor (or, earlier, bacheler) referred to a young man, especially one who held a bachelor’s degree or followed a knight as his squire. But as Chaucer’s partying squire shows, both meanings were relatively positive.

“Bachelor” still makes regular appearances: think bachelor and bachelorette parties, The Bachelor and even biology, which refers to unpaired male animals as “bachelor.”


Spinster, however, has other associations in the popular discourse, although the word entered the English language around the same time as bachelor. It was first used in the mid-1300s, though then it literally meant “woman who spins for a living.”

In an age where all clothing had to be made by hand and women were empowered as part of guilds, being a spinster wasn’t a bad thing. But the meaning changed over time.  “Some scholars suggest that during the late Middle Ages, married tradeswomen had greater access to raw materials and the market (through their husbands) than unmarried women did, and therefore unmarried women ended up with lower-status, lower-income jobs like combing, carding and spinning wool,” writes Merriam-Webster. “These jobs didn’t require access to expensive tools like looms and could be done at home.”

By the seventeenth century, writes author Naomi Braun Rosenthal, the word “spinster” had come to hold its common association of an unmarried woman. However, “it was not until the eighteenth century that the term ‘spinster’ became synonymous with the equally ancient, but considerably less neutral appelation, ‘old maid,’ she writes.”

Cat lady. Old maid. “Spinster of this parish.” This language was used to dismiss women who were past an age where it was deemed appropriate for them to be married. In the words of Jane Austen about her character Charlotte Lucas, who at 27 was well on her way to being a spinster, “Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.”

But as Erin Blakemore writes for JStor Daily, the word has been used to “deride and marginalize women who remain single.”  “There is no such thing as an ‘eligible spinster,’” wrote scholar M. Strauss-Noll. While the continued use of "bachelor" demonstrates the opportunity presented by that word–an “eligible bachelor” can choose who to marry–"spinster" demonstrates how many opportunities were unavailable to unmarried women in the West.

‘So you don’t have to go to the trouble of reading:’ Indexing, note-taking, and correction-making in Pliny’s 1491 Naturalis Historia

Smithsonian Libraries
  “Do your reading!” and “Don’t write in your books!” are two oft-echoed directions from schoolteachers. A 1491 edition of Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia housed in our Joseph F. more »

‘PigeonBot’ Uses Real Feathers to Fly Like a Bird

Smithsonian Magazine

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… a bit of both. Meet PigeonBot, a biohybrid, flying robot that combines the propeller, fuselage, and tail of a man-made aircraft with the wing structure and actual feathers of a pigeon.

Designed by engineers at Stanford University, PigeonBot made its debut in a paper published on Thursday in Science Robotics. The bot can’t flap, but the mechanical skeleton has a few of the same joints as a bird’s wings. Bird wings are more complex, sharing a lot of anatomical features with human arms. For example, bird wings have features that resemble a human wrist and finger-like digit. PigeonBot has a wrist and finger, too, decked out with 40 feathers—20 per wing—gathered from domestic pigeons called squab, reports Rob Verger for Popular Science.

"Most aerospace engineers would say this is not going to work well, but it turned out to be incredibly robust," lead author David Lentink tells NPR’s Merrit Kennedy.

By programming the robot to bend at one joint, the researchers could see precisely how that movement contributes to a bird’s aeronautical maneuvers. While in the past, researchers wondered if each feather might be controlled by its own muscle, PigeonBot showed that adjusting the wrist or finger caused its feathers to fall into place.

Image by Courtesy of Lentink Lab / Stanford University. PigeonBot's wings are white because the feathers were gathered from food-grade pigeons called squab. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Lentink Lab / Stanford University. Pigeonbot's wings are made of 40 pigeon feathers connected to a mechanical wingspan with birdlike joints. (original image)

“The problem is, of course, I don’t really know how to train a bird to just move its finger—and I actually am very good in bird training,” Lentink tells Maria Temming at Science News. “You can make manipulations in a robot wing that you could never do or want to do in a bird.”

The flying machine needed birdlike maintenance at times. If its feathers are ruffled, they need to be preened, or smoothed into place by hand, Lentink tells Popular Science. And the feathers work best together if they’re all sourced from the same bird.

The researchers flew the robot in a wind tunnel to see how the wings held together in different conditions. In turbulent winds, properly aligned feathers will hold themselves together with what Lentink calls “directional Velcro,” microscopic hooks that prevent the wing feathers from getting blown apart.

Lentink and his team worked with Smithsonian vertebrate zoologist Teresa Feo, who created nanometer-level 3-D reconstructions of the hooks and captured electron microscopy images to map their locations on different feathers for a separate paper published today in Science. By using PigeonBot, the researchers showed that the hooks were necessary for stable flight. When the feathers were rotated so the hooks couldn’t line up, they couldn’t hold together in strong gusts, and the bot became unstable. Like Velcro, the mechanism in feathers makes a noticeable sound, and it’s absent on silent fliers like barn owls.

"Most aerospace engineers would say this is not going to work well, but it turned out to be incredibly robust," says engineer David Lentink. (Courtesy of Lentink Lab / Stanford University)

"The work is very impressive," Alireza Ramezani, an Northeastern University engineer who led a team that built a bat-inspired robot in 2017, tells NPR.

Tyson Hendrick, a biomechanist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was not involved in the study, tells Science News that Lentink’s PigeonBot the best set of robotic wings for testing birds’ wing feathers for flight, but “there’s plenty of room for improvement.” Hendrick notes the robot’s limited joints, and suggests that the effect of a shoulder joint to raise and lower the wings would be an interesting path for future research.

Ramezani sees the biology-inspired bot’s success as a path toward new drone designs and experimental aircraft, per NPR. Soft, feather-inspired designs would be safer to fly around people than the hard propellers of rotary drones. And Lentink suggests that the Velcro-like mechanism might be useful in high-tech clothing or specialized bandages. But feathered aircraft are probably not on the horizon.

121-144 of 76,774 Resources