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We buy those bags of oranges and cartons of kale with such high hopes and good intentions. Yet some portion of them always seems to wind up fuzzed with mold beneath the bananas or slimey and brown in the back of the fridge. Food waste is a huge problem, not just in our own kitchen, but globally. About a third of all food produced for human consumption gets wasted each year, resulting in some $990 billion in financial loss and an enormous toll on the environment. How do we improve these figures? Perhaps some of these technologies can help.
Let's face it: for plenty of kids, the idea of riding horses and competing in color wars all summer is about as appealing as a root canal. And even kids who love traditional outdoorsy camp activities might enjoy something different. Luckily there are plenty of camps aimed at aspiring scientists, inventors, filmmakers, video game designers and rock stars. We've rounded up the ten best camps for young innovators. We're betting it'll make you jealous you're not 12 again - we are!
It’s hard to think about back to school when it’s still steamy outside and the sun seems to beg, like our kids, to stay out late. But here we are: mid-August, school just a few short days or weeks away. As you’re gathering school supplies, consider their histories. Someone invented that crayon sharpener, that ball point pen, whether in a corporate lab or on a messy suburban kitchen table. Here are some of the patents behind our most beloved back-to-school necessities.
From a Steamship-Inspired Home to the World’s Most Beautiful Coal Mine, Here Are 20 Must-See Places on Germany’s Grand Tour of Modernism
In 1919, architect Walter Gropius founded the now world-famous Bauhaus School of Design in Weimar, Germany. Committed to the principle that form follows function, it operated through 1933 and had a profound effect on the way that architects, designers and artists thought about the relationship between design and way of life. While the majority of Bauhaus activity was concentrated in Weimar, followed by Dessau, its headquarters from 1925-32, and Berlin from 1930-1932, the school's influence spread throughout Germany and the world over the course of the 20th century.
In celebration of the centenary of the founding of Bauhaus this year, the Bauhaus Association of Germany has created a Grand Tour of Modernism highlighting 100 significant Bauhaus and modernist buildings throughout the country. From the only remaining ironworks of the industrial age, which became Germany’s first modernist UNESCO World Heritage site, to a cathedral-like glass factory and a residential home reminiscent of a steamship, the destinations highlight modernism’s many forms.
The majority of sites are open to the public and can be visited by rail, car or bicycle. Discover 20 can’t-miss locations in the map above, and head to The Grand Tour of Modernism’s website to learn more.
Can we mine the past for clues that explain the present? That’s the central theme of many history books in 2018, as writers and historians, academic and popular alike, attempt to uncover and recount the stories that say something about the state of the world today. From a biography of one of America’s most important architects to a sprawling analysis of Shakespearean drama to a 19th century sex scandal that shocked Washington, our favorite books this year are ones that bridge the gap between where we’ve come from and where we’re going.
Bermuda: Photos From Our Readers
Image by Sean Murphy, Smithsonian.com Photo Contest Archives. Weathered for more than a century, the unfinished church is a beautiful spot to see in the town of St. George's, Bermuda. (original image)
Modern scarecrows are a drastic departure from the straw buddy from The Wizard of Oz. An upscale array of intimidating devices deters more than just, well, crows. Cats, raccoons and other tricky creatures may also be targeted.
Some 21st-century scarecrows do their work by growling like thunder. Others prowl the skies, rumble, spew water or just look and act mean. Here are seven of the most remarkable techno-scarecrows.
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Since it began erupting dramatically in early May, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano has spewed out lava bombs, spurted huge plumes of ash and volcanic smog, and oozed so much lava into the ocean that the landscape of Big Island, where the volcano is located, has been changed. But Kilauea’s wrath may be cooling; as Nathan Rott reports for NPR, the volcano’s eruption seems to be slowing down.
Much of the activity on Kilauea in recent months had been coming from its largest vent, fissure 8, which continued to pour out lava even as other fissures settled. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory announced yesterday, however, that output from fissure 8 is now low. Flight crews observed just a small lava lake in the fissure and a “weak gas plume.”
The observatory cautions, however, that violent eruptions could begin again. “It is common for eruptions to wax and wane or pause completely,” the statement explains. “A return to high levels of lava discharge or new outbreaks in the area of active fissures could occur at any time.”
In fact, a report issued by the United States Geological Survey in July posited that it could take several months to a year for the eruption to fully settle, according to CNN’s Ursula Perano. The recent update “paints a picture of a pause,” the USGS said in a tweet, “but we’re not yet ready to say if it’s a full stop.”
Though it may be temporary, the pause in Kilauea’s activity offers some much-needed respite to residents of Big Island. The eruption has forced the evacuation of thousands of people, and 700 homes have been destroyed by lava flow. Clouds of toxic “laze,” which is formed when blazing lava hits the ocean water, posed an acute health threat. Much of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has been hit by 18,000 earthquakes in the past month alone, has shut down.
Unfortunately, Big Islanders may soon have to contend with another natural adversary. As Hurricane Hector makes its way towards Hawaii, a tropical storm warning has been issued for the area.
Out of all the predictions in our Hacking the Future issue, none ignited more commentary than “Be(A)ware,” Stephan Talty’s scenarios about artificial intelligence. A “benevolent AI could lead to a Golden Age,” Ben Bronson said on Facebook. “A malicious one could kill us all.” Mark Wrede worried that a “danger greater than AI would be our incapacity to distinguish it from a bag of rocks.” Penny Reid had a more mundane concern. “I don’t want AI preparing my food—I want to cook food with my own hands, in order to have a connection to the earth that grew it.” But some readers seemed ready to embrace a more synthetic future. “Our silicon-based children will become the evolution of our carbon-based species,” Lorraine Alden posted on Facebook. “AI beings, with bodies that will withstand interstellar travel, will be our path to the stars and carry our spirit to other worlds.”
Everything’s Greener in Texas
We can use solar power systems to help the power supply in other areas, like Puerto Rico. Mayor Ross (“The Future’s So Bright”) is doing the right things for his city and residents.
— Robert Clancy | Facebook
One Small Step for Beer
Compared with beer (“Buzzed Lightyear”), hard liquor is more stable under a variety of conditions, thus less prone to spoilage. Additionally, it is more alcohol-dense than beer, so it would take less room to store. I wonder which crop could be grown and harvested to make Johnny Spacewalker? Bring on the science!
— Rick Spartan | Twitter
Personalized genome therapies and vaccines (“A Cancer Vaccine?”) for cancer are just a few years away. It has been a long fight against “the emperor of all maladies.” Hopefully it will soon be over.
— Doug Rutkowski | Facebook
Lives Lost to Lynching
I hope that all the memorial slabs (“Necessary Truths”) are retrieved and placed in their respective counties. It will allow people that don’t have the ability to travel as far to absorb the truth of these horrible lynchings and to give recognition to the souls that were victims of this horror.
— Karen Kelso | smithsonian.com
I’m very happy that lynching victims are finally being memorialized. It’s ingenious to offer markers to other counties to see which regions are willing to allow the slabs to be erected. We’ll never move beyond our ugly past as a nation until we face it and formally apologize on the record.
— Amber Adams | Facebook
It is about time that we publicly acknowledge the individual victims of this horror by name, not just as a group. Each of them needs to be remembered.
— Sandi Jordet | Facebook
Across Florida, vast underground aquifers push natural springs to the surface, creating pools that dazzle like gems under lush green forest canopies. With water as clear as glass and the temperature a constant 72 degrees, a case could be made that these springs are the real fountains of youth.
Gilchrist Blue Springs, which became the 175th state park in Summer 2017, offers visitors an opportunity to experience these unique natural features in a location that is at once within reach and delightfully remote. Gilchrist is roughly 90 minutes from Jacksonville by car, and two hours from Tampa and Orlando, making this easy weekend trip unmissable.
Composed of five primary springs, the namesake gin-clear Blue Spring is the largest in the park, discharging 740 gallons or 100 cubic feet of water per second—or 44-million gallons per day.
These ever-changing waters flow gently downhill about a quarter-mile to the Santa Fe River, creating a spring run and floodplain that supports a diversity of fish, turtle and invertebrate species. Snorkelers can spot redbreast and spotted sunfish, largemouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish in waters with unparalleled visibility.
From a jumping platform constructed above the spring’s main boil, visitors can plunge into refreshing 72-degree water before swimming back to shore to sun themselves on the 50-yard wide white-sand beach.
Four other nearby springs within the park are smaller in scale but no less striking. Johnson Spring and Naked Spring both provide secluded swimming holes, while the decidedly swampier Little Blue Spring holds court to an array of cypress trees and wildlife at its periphery, including wild turkey, whitetail deer and wading shore birds. Finally, Kiefer Spring is visible only when the water level reaches a certain threshold, which is more likely in Florida’s summer from May to October.
Together, the rivers and freshwater pools that comprise Gilchrist Blue Springs afford ample opportunities for visitors to slow down and reconnect with nature. These winding riverways offer a tranquil track for canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddling, while the trails and boardwalks that weave along the natural shoreline of the springs give hikers and bikers a full 26 miles on the Santa Fe River Canoe Trail. Fishing opportunities also abound here, and those who are inclined to linger will find plenty of places to set up camp; 17 RV-ready sites and another eight tent sites can be found on the property, and the park plays host to a variety of special events each month, including game nights and guided paddles.
Preview a paddle for yourself through this 360 video
Nearby the town of Trenton brims with Southern folk art charm. Known for its remarkably detailed quilting tradition, Trenton’s streets are dotted with shops showcasing local works. Get inspired at the Florida Quilt Museum, admire the quilt murals painted by Florida folk artist Janet Moses and, if you time your trip right, find yourself lost among quilting enthusiasts at Florida’s largest outdoor quilt festival in March.
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Upon arrival, visitors are immediately struck by the quiet, natural beauty and distinct style of Palmetto Bluff, a residential resort community in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Architecturally, the homes at Palmetto Bluff celebrate both Southern culture and contemporary living, all in harmony with the land. Located on 20,000 acres of natural splendor, gas lanterns echo the warm glow of painted sunsets, open porches invite in cool, coastal breezes and trees bow with genteel hospitality over oyster shell walkways.
But there is much more going on here: Palmetto Bluff is rapidly gaining attention for its diverse and sophisticated arts scene. In addition to the unique sculptures housed in varied natural settings throughout the community, Palmetto Bluff hosts frequent events featuring renowned regional artists, makers, musicians and performers.
Public art shows throughout the year feature artists from across the region, and workshops, lectures and classes offer residents and guests the opportunity to engage and interact with artists and gain an experiential understanding of their work.
Palmetto Bluff also launched an Artist in Residence program, in collaboration with Garden & Gun magazine, to celebrate the arts, foster creativity and offer hands-on education for guests and residents. Each month, a notable artisan, including winners of Garden & Gun’s annual Made in the South Awards, is invited to stay on-site at the Artist Cottage in the newly constructed Moreland Village. Artists in Residence have ranged from painters and sculptors to jewelry designers, bakers, glass artists, chocolatiers and craftsmen, offering the community unique learning opportunities and insight into an array of specialties.
In April 2018, Brackish co-founders Ben Ross and Jeff Plotner are moving in. The two artisans have been handcrafting one-of-a-kind, sustainably-sourced feather bow ties and accessories in Charleston since 2007. Taking up to five hours to make, each piece is a wearable work of art, and because every single feather is individually selected, no two Brackish ties are exactly alike.
In addition to regular gallery hours, Ross and Plotner will be hosting a “Fancy Feather” workshop, teaching participants how to construct one of their remarkable feather pins, and an “Earrings with Outdoor Appeal” demo class, showing guests how to make show-stopping ear-wear from pheasant, quail, peacock and guinea fowl feathers.
For music lovers, Palmetto Bluff offers a dazzling array of performances throughout the year. The Lowcountry is home to a diverse range of musical styles – from blues, jazz and bluegrass to Southern rock and Lowcountry stomp – and musical events are at the centerpiece of the social calendar. There is no better way to enjoy a beautiful summer evening than at the outdoor Summer Concert Series, and each November, Palmetto Bluff hosts the annual Music to Your Mouth Festival, a multiday food and wine celebration featuring award-winning Southern chefs, winemakers, brewers and artisans, layered with local, regional and Grammy-award winning musical talent. Portions of the proceeds go to Second Helpings, a local organization that distributes food to over 60 agencies serving those in need in the Lowcountry.
Nestled into the South Carolina Lowcountry, between Charleston and Savannah, lies one of the largest waterfront properties on the east coast. Situated on 20,000 acres, Palmetto Bluff, a residential resort community in Bluffton, looks out over centuries-old live oak trees, primeval estuaries and 32 miles of river coastline at the confluence of the May, Cooper and New Rivers. This wildly beautiful landscape has been pristinely maintained as both a true Southern escape for travelers and residents and an active conservancy for hundreds of plant, bird and marine species.
In 2003, the non-profit Conservancy at Palmetto Bluff was founded with a mission of “protecting the lush maritime forests and winding tidal creeks that defined the spectacular geography of the land.” Led by Director Jay Walea, who spent his youth exploring, hunting and drawing inspiration from the verdant forests of the Bluff, the Conservancy team works tirelessly to ensure that development and natural environments can coexist in harmony.
With a dedication to protecting and increasing their understanding of the Lowcountry environment, the Conservancy cares for the large number of resident and migratory animals in the area by ensuring their habitat remains healthy and intact. Ecological work by the Conservancy team involves a number of research initiatives, including surveying alligator, turtle and white-tailed deer populations, studying the nesting screech owls and monitoring the majestic but delicate patterns of bald eagles.
Residents and guests are invited to participate through tours, workshops and field trips designed to make the learning and monitoring process fun and easy. Environmental education classes teach participants about the area's delicate ecosystems, and citizen-scientists are invited to help researchers track and collect data on the local animal inhabitants, including the brilliantly adorned eastern bluebird.
Under the guidance of on-site archaeologist Dr. Mary Socci, fascinating artifacts have also been discovered, revealing details about the area's previous occupants. The oldest objects date back to 10,000 B.C. Following these early visitors, generations of Native Americans came to The Bluff to harvest mollusks and fish in the rivers and gather in the forests. Archeologists have found oysters shells, bones, stone tools and fragments of clay pots, many of which are on display at the Palmetto Bluff History Center. The on-site museum helps put these finds in context with timelines, maps and miniature exhibits. There is also a rotating history display in the Conservancy Reading Room in Moreland Village. Both facilities are free and open to the public.
Through the efforts of the Conservancy, visitors to Palmetto Bluff can experience the same beauty and scenery that previous travelers have enjoyed on this land over the centuries.
Each spring, over one million people journey to Washington D.C. to catch a glimpse of the ephemeral cherry blossoms lining the Tidal Basin.
This year, the flowers reached peak bloom on April 5, and they're approaching their final days. According to the National Park Service, blossoms usually last for four to seven days after peak bloom, but the cooler weather delayed their natural leaf progression, allowing the blooms to linger a bit longer. With the weather turning warm and windy, this weekend will likely be the last chance to see the flowers and the perfect time to see the "snowing pedals" effect.
Seeing the cherry blossoms is a time-honored D.C. tradition that dates back to 1912, when the Tokyo gifted 3,020 cherry trees to the U.S. in an act of friendship. The first Cherry Blossom Festival launched in 1935 to commemorate the springtime occasion. While many of the original trees have been replaced, the Tidal Basin’s beauty has persisted for more than a century.
Each December 23, the bracing peppery fragrance of thousands of radishes fills the air at the zócalo in Oaxaca, Mexico, as competitors put final touches on their ruby-red masterpieces.
Called La Noche de Rábanos or Night of the Radishes, the annual event has been a local tradition for more than 120 years and began as a way for local farmers and peasants to showcase their produce to potential customers browsing the marketplace. To stand out from their competition, vendors began carving radishes, which are colossal in size compared to the garnishes accompanying tacos and topping beds of lettuce at restaurants here in the United States.
Noticing an opportunity, in 1897, Oaxaca’s then-municipal president, Francisco Vasconcelos, announced that a radish-carving competition would take place each December 23. The event was just peculiar enough to grab people’s attention and whet their appetites for something different during the holiday season.
Gabriel Sanchez, a local tour guide who grew up in Oaxaca, says that the competition has always been an important part of the local culture, and he often recommends it to visitors.
“It’s become very famous over the years,” Sanchez tells Smithsonian.com. “People will drive hundreds of [miles] to Oaxaca to experience it.”
While Sanchez admits that he has never wielded a carving knife as a competitor, he says that the competition grows in popularity with each passing year.
According to a CNN article on the topic, the local government in recent years has taken a more active role in the competition, securing a plot of land near the local airport to grow the radishes. During the growing months, new plantings are added every few weeks to give competitors a range of sizes to work with (and to prevent anyone from cheating). A few days before the event, competitors of all ages and skill levels can harvest their assigned plot. Most years, the total haul of the ruby-skinned roots weighs in at approximately ten tons, with some of the individual radishes swelling in size to more than 30 inches in length.
Once harvested, competitors get busy carving their lot into elaborate dioramas ranging from nativity scenes to dramatic moments in Mexican history. If selected by judges, the winning entry in each of two categories (“traditional,” which must embrace Oaxacan culture, and “free,” where anything goes) receives an award of about $1,500.
Black Americans die from cancer at a higher rate than white Americans, but a new study shows that disparity is shrinking, reports the Associated Press. The American Cancer Society released a report Thursday showing the cancer death rates for black Americans are coming closer to the rates for white Americans.
There are significant health risks associated with being black in America, reports Olga Khazan in The Atlantic. Currently, black Americans’ life expectancy is three years shorter than the average white American, with disparities as much as 20 years between races in some cities, including Baltimore.
Cancer-related death rates for black women have dropped from 19 to 13 percent in the past 25 years in comparison to white women, the AP reports. For men, that disparity has more than halved in the same time period, dropping from 47 to 19 percent. For men under 50 and women over 70, the mortality disparity is nearly nonexistent, the study shows. These continuous rates of decline translate to over 462,000 fewer cancer deaths, the study says.
Moreover, cancer survival rates are increasing more rapidly among black Americans than white Americans, reports Patti Neighmond for NPR. Death rates declined 1.5 percent per year among black women and 1.3 percent for white women. For men, the rate of decline was 2.6 percent per year for black men and 1.6 percent for white men.
Declining incidence and deaths involving prostate, colorectum and lung cancers drove the improvement, the study shows. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, acting chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, told NPR these drops in cancer incidence are likely linked to the decline in smoking among black Americans.
"I can't say why smoking has decreased so dramatically in the black community but the fact that it has is very good news," he told NPR. "It has significantly narrowed the gap between blacks and whites and we are very grateful."
However, plenty of work is left to be done in improving health for black Americans: Out of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States, blacks still have the lowest survival rate for most cancers, owing to the high number of black Americans living below the poverty line, Joseph P. Williams reports for U.S. News and World Report.
Eno Umoh was a drone hobbyist who, in 2015, decided to turn his passion into a profession. He co-founded Global Air Media, a company offering drone aerial photography, mapping, disaster aid and STEM programming for youth.
“It’s a new technology,” Umoh said, at “The Long Conversation” last December. “A whole lot of people haven’t explored the full uses of it yet, the practicality of drones. A lot of people when they see drones they think ‘oh, it’s nice pictures and nice video,’ but we like to take it a step further and really relate it to practical issues.”
How can we use drones for public safety? Could we use them to deliver prescriptions to senior citizens living in cities, who normally need to trek blocks to a pharmacy?
Gabby Rivera, the award-winning writer of Juliet Takes a Breath and the Marvel Comics series “America,” interviewed Umoh at the Smithsonian event, which brought together 25 thinkers for an eight-hour relay of two-person dialogues at the Arts & Industries Building in Washington, D.C. The two innovators spoke about how Global Air Media, through workshops in schools and camps, allows kids to build drones—from soldering to working with circuit boards, motors and LED lights. The goal, in Umoh’s words, is to “teach the good uses of drones.”
While there are some negative critiques of the technology, particularly in regards to privacy issues, Umoh believes there are more positive uses of drones than negative. “When you really start to see what technology can do to help your lives,” he added, “that’s what we’re on the cusp of and that’s what keeps this exciting work.”
Mark your calendars for this year’s “Long Conversation,” which will bring an impressive group of scientists, musicians, inventors, tech CEOs and others together on December 7, 2018.
NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has returned its first test image, and it's breathtaking. The two-second test exposure from one of the four cameras on TESS captures more than 200,000 stars, according to NASA.
As Smithsonian.com reported last month, TESS left Earth in April to hunt exoplanets, which it does using what’s known as the transit method. This means that TESS’ instruments watch great regions of the sky for dips in starlight—a sign that an orbiting planet has crossed the star's face.
TESS will focus its sights on stars 300 light years or closer, scanning about 85 percent of the sky over the course of two years. It was estimated that TESS will catalogue 500,000 stars and spot thousands of potential exoplanets.
At its center, the image captures the southern constellation Centaurus, which includes the closest active galaxy to Earth known as Centaurus A that lies 11 million light years away.
TESS captured the shot on May 17 after successfully completing a flyby of the moon, passing as close as 5,000 miles. That flyby helped push the craft on its way to its final working orbit, the agency says.
What’s amazing is that this test image isn’t even the best quality we’re going to get. TESS will begin its search for exoplanets in mid-June, after which it will complete camera calibrations.
Once that happens, the spacecraft will begin to snap “science-quality” images, or what’s known as first light images. With its cameras calibrated, TESS will be able to cover 400 times as much sky as what’s visible in the test image.
As Eric Mack reports for CNET, in its search for exoplanets, TESS could get us closer to discovering if life exists on some of these far-flung places. The agency’s James Webb Space Telescope, launching in 2020, will allow scientists to study the atmospheres of the many exoplanets TESS is bound to discover.
The orange snow was first seen falling from the sky throughout Eastern Europe in late March. Since then, the phenomenon has drawn comparisons to Martian-like landscapes across social media.
But, as Lydia Smith of The Independent reports, there’s a perfectly normal explanation for the orange-tinged snow: it's the result of sand storms in North Africa.
“There has been a lot of lifted sand or dust originating from North Africa and the Sahara, from sand storms which have formed in the desert,” Steven Keates of the Met Office, UK's national weather service, tells Smith. “As the sand gets lifted to the upper levels of the atmosphere, it gets distributed elsewhere.”
Where the particles of the sand are deposited depends on the direction of the wind, and when it rains or snows, it comes back down, leaving a hint of color behind.
Keates tells Smith that the phenomenon isn’t so strange. Last year, skies in the UK turned red, for instance, thanks to tropical air and dust traveling from the Sahara.
According to the BBC, this particular orange snow occurs once every five years, but this year's just appears to be a little more sandy than recent dustings; according to the outlet, people have even said they can taste and feel the sand in their mouths.
Saharan dust can travel far, Donegan writes. In the past, it’s traveled more than 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, making it all the way to the Texas Gulf Coast in 2016.
Everyone loves the story of penicillin: One day, pharmacologist Alexander Fleming returned from a two-week vacation to Scotland, only to peer into a moldy Petri dish and find the world’s first antibiotic. We love this story because it’s such a neat discovery, and also because it’s so rare. Typically the process of science is molasses-slow, far more tedious than transcendent. Breakthroughs take years, even lifetimes, of work, and are usually less about individual genius than about building upon a collective foundation of knowledge.
Sometimes, however, a commonly held understanding really is overturned in one fell swoop. As science fiction writer Issac Asimov is said to have quipped, the exclamation that heralds such discoveries isn't really “Eureka!” but “That's funny.”
There's no doubt that the history of science is filled with fortuitous finds and moments of unanticipated connection. Chinese alchemists are said to have invented gunpowder while testing a prescription for eternal life; Archimedes discovered principles of volume while sloshing about in his bath. Hard evidence for these ancient tales is lacking, but a host of more recent scientific breakthroughs were definitely the result of happy chance—coupled with the fact that they occurred before watchful eyes and scientific minds trained to observe them.
Research engineer Richard Gaughan has studied centuries’ worth of just such discoveries for his book Accidental Genius: The World's Greatest By-Chance Discoveries. As he tells Smithsonian.com, calling these discoveries “accidental” can be a bit misleading. “When preparation, opportunity, and desire come together,” Gaughan says, “the result can be an accidental discovery that changes our understanding of the world.” Here are seven scientific moments that changed the world.