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Life Science Radiation Laboratory Presentation

Smithsonian Institution Archives
Digital contact sheet available.

Atomic Energy Commission exhibit featuring a presentation of the Life Science Radiation Laboratory at the Museum of History and Technology, now known as the National Museum of American History.

Model, Spacelab, Life Sciences Missions 1 & 2

National Air and Space Museum
This model depicts the Spacelab laboratory module flown in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle on research missions. The configuration shown is for the Spacelab Life Sciences missions, flown as STS-40 in 1991 and STS-58 in 1993. The model shows astronauts working in the lab; experiments and equipment would fill in the racks facing the center aisle. The life science mission crews performed experiments to study how humans, animals and cells respond to microgravity and re-adapt to Earth's gravity on return. Spacelab made it possible to do varied in-flight research on the muscles, bones, heart, lungs, inner ear, and other organs and systems that react to spaceflight.

NASA transferred this model to the Museum in 2004.

Model, Spacelab, Life Sciences Missions 1 & 2

National Air and Space Museum
This model depicts the Spacelab laboratory module flown in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle on research missions. The configuration shown is for the Spacelab Life Sciences missions, flown as STS-40 in 1991 and STS-58 in 1993. The model shows astronauts working in the lab; experiments and equipment would fill in the racks facing the center aisle. The life science mission crews performed experiments to study how humans, animals and cells respond to microgravity and re-adapt to Earth's gravity on return. Spacelab made it possible to do varied in-flight research on the muscles, bones, heart, lungs, inner ear, and other organs and systems that react to spaceflight.

NASA transferred this model to the Museum in 2004.

Life Science Building, Indiana University [art work] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Black-and-white study print (11x14).

Orig. negative: 11x14, Safety, BW.

Eggers and Higgins.

Life Science Building, Indiana University [art work] / (photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son)

Archives and Special Collections, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Black-and-white study print (8x10).

Black-and-white study print (11x14).

Orig. negative: 11x14, Safety, BW.

Eggers and Higgins.

John Dee’s Life Shows Science’s Magical Roots

Smithsonian Magazine

John Dee, born on this day 490 years ago, was Queen Elizabeth I’s scientific advisor–but he was also a magician.

He carried on a lengthy conversation with spirits. But he was also a Cambridge-educated scientist who did postgraduate work with the likes of Gerardus Mercator, a cutting-edge mapmaker in a time where maps were–as today–essential technology. He was an authority on navigation who was “intimately involved in laying the groundwork for several English voyages of exploration,” writes Encyclopedia Britannica. He even suggested that England should adopt the Gregorian calendar.

In 2017, these different roles might be played by totally different branches of government. “Dee is more or less uncategorisable by today’s standards,” writes Philip Ball for New Scientist. “Some of his Tudor contemporaries might have considered him a philosopher, an astrologer, perhaps even a magician–but they would have agreed that he was, above all, a mathematician.” Technically, that was the role he played at Queen Elizabeth’s court.

And what did Dee do with math? He cast horoscopes, practiced numerology and alchemy, and sought occult codes that would permit conversations with angels in the language used by Adam,” writes Ball. Queen Elizabeth relied on him for astrology as well as for his other skills. Being court mathematician was inextricably entwined with the role of court magician (although that wasn’t a title he or anyone else held during the Elizabethan age.)

“The magic and alchemy he practiced, while never uncontroversial, were intimately woven together with his investigations into religion, mathematics and natural science,” writes Tim Martin for The Telegraph. Dee was a scientist who used the tools at his disposal to investigate the world around him, just like his contemporaries Francis Bacon–originator of the modern scientific method–and Galileo Galilei.

John Dee performs an experiment in front of Queen Elizabeth I in this nineteenth-century painting. (Wellcome Library)

Dee did most of his work at his home in a river district called Mortlake, where he kept a collection of more than 4,000 books–bigger than the libraries of Oxford and Cambridge, writes Martin. With subjects ranging from mathematics and poetry to religion and astronomy, the collection was as varied as his professional pursuits. He also possessed a collection of magical artifacts, such as a magic mirror used for communicating with spirits and a crystal ball.

And this was...kind of normal for the period. “The occult sciences enjoyed a kind of Renaissance in later Elizabethan England as print and translation made ancient, medieval and earlier Renaissance texts available to would-be English adepts,” writes academic Paul S. Seaver. John Dee, like other scientific minds of the period, engaged with the occult as a way of gaining more information about the world–a world in which spirits were potentially as real as gravity. The empirical worldview of Francis Bacon “may ultimately have triumphed,” he writes, “but in the last decades of the sixteenth century, it was not at all evident that the future did not belong to those following in the footsteps of Dr. John Dee, mathematician, astrologer, alchemist, cartographer, and magus.”

Liftware Level

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Box in 3027.

Liftware Level

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Liftware Steady

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Vivisectoids SCIENCE FOR LIFE NOT DEATH Go Home!

National Museum of American History

Shorelines: Life and Science at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Blog follows the ongoing work of the Smithsonian's Environmental Research Center as they investigate climate change, invasive species, food webs, and other environmental issues around the world.

Life Without Left Turns

Smithsonian Magazine

Life Unplugged

Smithsonian Magazine

When the aliens arrive, they will likely seize the cell phones. And the iPods and laptops and PDAs. Not because they desire the toys, but because these devices accompany us on our walks and drives and subway rides with such little exception that, to a fresh observer, the gizmos might appear to power us.

In many senses they do. We must remember to slip them into our pockets and purses before leaving the house. More vitally, we must remember to re-charge them every evening. It's only a matter of time before that classic teenage nightmare of being naked in school is replaced by the terror of a Low Battery signal—beeping in one's pocket during Study Hall like the beating of some hideous heart.

So when can we reclaim control of our memories and dreams? When can we cut these modern umbilical cords and have gadgets that power-up wirelessly while we do more important things—like text-message our vote for the next American Idol?

Wireless transfer itself is nothing new. Radio waves have broadcast information to tiny antennas for decades. Lots of energy, in the form of radiation, is lost during these transmissions, however. That's fine for sending data such as cell phone positions, a process that requires little energy. But sending power itself requires conserving as much energy as possible during the transfer.

So, engineers need a more frugal way to send power. One option is through resonance: when one resonant object produces energy at a certain frequency, a nearby resonant object at the same frequency can suck up the power efficiently. Put simply, this type of energy transfer explains why a booming singer might cause a wine glass, filled to the right level, to vibrate visibly—perhaps even to shatter.

But unless you're married to the Fat Lady and call home using stemware, this "acoustic resonance" won't help you charge your mobile phone. Instead, engineers can harness "magnetic resonance" by designing twin coils whose magnetic fields speak to each other, in a sense, across a bedroom or café.

This wireless energy transfer requires that the two coils be set to the same frequency. Then, when one coil is connected to a power source such as a battery or outlet, it will send energy to the other coil implanted in an electronic device.

The system has several benefits. Few everyday items interact with magnetic fields, so it's unlikely for something to unintentionally drain power from the coils. Unlike a laser, resonant coils can transfer energy through obstacles, so your PC continues to charge even if someone plops a grande latte between your laptop and the wall. And because the coils are designed to conserve radiation, the devices pose no harm to people—aside from the potential to help inflate a cell phone bill.

The largest drawback is that wireless power currently works across a moderate-sized room (in one test it lighted a bulb seven feet away), but long-range transfer appears highly difficult, if not impossible. So when the aliens commandeer your Blackberry and take it back to their home planet, the joke's on them. Unless, of course, they probe you first.

The real Wishful Thinker behind this column was Aristeidis Karalis, an engineering graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who predicts the system might be available for products within the next several years.

Have an idea that should be thought about wishfully? Send it to jaffee@si.edu

Designing a Real Life Ecosystem

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Lesson examines ecosystems and the niche organisms play within them by having students research the niche, habitat, competitors and other means of survival for a chosen animal. Then, using a 20-gallon aquarium, they build a model ecosystem for their animal and track its progress for one week.

LIFE

National Museum of American History

Life Beyond Earth

Smithsonian Magazine

"When I was a kid," says John Grant, "the big thing was: there are billions of stars in our own Milky Way, what are the odds that life doesn't exist?"

Grant, no longer a kid in stature if still in spirit, now plays a substantial role in setting those odds. The geologist at the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, part of the National Air and Space Museum, is one of a half dozen scientists in charge of creating itineraries for Spirit and Opportunity, the two NASA rovers that since early 2004 have explored Mars for signs of life, past or present.

Researchers designed the rovers to gather images of rocks and terrain where water, the presumed prerequisite of life, might have flowed. Opportunity's success came soon after touching down at Meridiani Planum, Spirit's a while after landing among the volcanic rocks of Gusev Crater. But the rovers' life-detection skills are limited. They lack the equipment to analyze organic compounds or examine fossils. (The mission's running joke, says Grant, is that a rover will spot a dinosaur bone and be unable to retrieve it.) These tasks are reserved for the Mars Science Laboratory mission, scheduled for 2010.

The search for life in the universe, however, isn't confined to the rovers' path. For that matter, it's no longer limited to Mars, or even the Earth's solar system. More and more, astronomers at labs and observatories around the world are finding evidence for the foundations of life—foremost, water—in our planet cluster and beyond.

"As we get more data about places outside of Earth, we're starting to see conditions where you've got to scratch your head and say, 'This is a potentially habitable environment,'" says Grant. "It's not proof, but you're doing the statistics and they're all going in the category of: In Favor of Life."

That column received another check in mid June, when a group of scientists revived the idea that a vast ocean once existed on the northern hemisphere of Mars. A couple decades ago, scientists analyzed images of this region and found what seemed to be a shoreline. But an ocean shoreline has a uniform elevation, and later topographical tests revealed great variation—in some places, more than a mile separated the terrain's peaks and dips.

The new research, published in the June 14 Nature, argues that, in the past billion or so years, Mars has changed the way it spins on its axis. In the process, much of the planet's mass has shifted in a manner that accounts for the alternation of the once-level shoreline.

The ocean, of course, no longer ebbs and flows along this boundary. But it's unlikely that all the water escaped into the universe, says the study's lead author, J. Taylor Perron of Harvard University.

"We know that life, as we're familiar with it, seems to require liquid water," says Perron. "That basic requirement may have been satisfied on Mars, either when the ocean existed on the surface, or subsequently deeper within the crust."

Whether scientists can dig into the planet's surface and find evidence of water—and with it signatures of life—remains to be seen. Whether they can Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was not associated with the study, in an accompanying commentary. "The result hints … that the understanding of the 'blue' history of the red planet is far from complete."

Image by Courtesy of Tyler Perron. This image, generated using data from surveyor spacecrafts, shows how an ocean on Mars might have appeared more than 2 billion years ago. (original image)

Image by NASA / JPL-Caltech. Since early 2004, the Mars rovers have gathered images of rocks and terrain where water, the presumed prerequisite of life, once flowed (an artist's rendition). (original image)

Image by NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell. This panorama, made from a compilation of Spirit's images, shows the landscape near the rover's "Winter Haven." (original image)

Image by NASA / JPL. Tidal friction causes cracks and ridges on Europa's icy surface (red lines). The red splotches indicate where ice blocks have moved around. (original image)

Image by ESO. The star Gliese 581. (original image)

Image by ESO. An Earth-like planet (foreground, artist's rendition), orbits Gliese 581 in 13 days. (original image)

Many scientists believe that the blue history of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, is still being written. Europa circles Jupiter every few days, and this rapid orbit generates friction that heats up the moon's interior. For that reason, some feel that an enormous salty ocean still exists beneath Europa's frozen surface, containing perhaps twice as much liquid as all the Earth's oceans combined.

Though the search for life on Mars has diverted attention and resources from Europa, the icy moon offers many indications that life could thrive there, including the presence of oxygen, hydrated salt and perhaps photosynthesis. Algae, bacteria and even animals exist in similar conditions in Antarctica, often living under ice shelves.

"If we made Europa a high priority and thought carefully about where to land, I think there's a good chance we'd find signs of life there," says planetary scientist Richard Greenberg of the University of Arizona. "If there was past life on Europa, I don't see why it wouldn't still be there. It's extremely active."

Because Europa is bombarded by radiation, Earth-like organisms could not live on the surface. But they might exist just several feet below in visible cracks. In recent papers and talks, Jere Lipps of the University of California, Berkeley, has outlined several ways in which life on Europa, or its remains, might be exposed to the surface—and likewise to rovers or orbiters sent to study the moon. These include places where ice has cracked and refrozen with life trapped inside; blocks of ice that have broken off, flipped over and now face the surface; and debris lodged in ridges or deep crevices.

Such exposures mean explorations to Europa could spot life without potentially difficult landing-and-digging missions. "Europa is active in the sense that its body is continually being reshaped," says Greenberg. "Ice is cracking, opening, closing. There's a good chance that oceanic substances regularly emerge to the surface."

While Europa and other sites near Earth, such as Saturn's moon Titan, remain promising places to find water, some scientists have set their sights far beyond this solar system. Recently, Travis Barman of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, detected water in the atmosphere of a planet some 150 light years away—the first such evidence for a planet outside Earth's cluster.

The planet, known as HD 209458b, resides in the constellation Pegasus and is made entirely of gas. As seen from Earth, HD 209458b passes in front of its star every few days. During this stage, the planet's atmosphere blocks a certain amount of starlight, enabling Barman to model the atmospheric components. When he compared his models to images of HD 209458b from the Hubble telescope, those that included water in the atmosphere proved accurate, he reports in the June 1 Astrophysical Letters.

A couple weeks later, a team of European researchers announced another breakthrough outside this solar system: the discovery of a planet incredibly similar to Earth. The planet, some 20 light years away and five times the mass of Earth, circles the star Gliese 581. Several years ago, scientists found another planet—this one similar to Venus—orbiting this same star.

The new planet is much closer to Gliese than Earth is to the Sun, completing its orbit in about two weeks. But because Gliese is smaller than the Sun, the temperature on this planet's surface could be amenable to liquid water, the researchers report in an upcoming issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics. "The planet is the closest Earth twin to date," they write.

In the end, though, watery conditions, or even water itself, can only tell so much of the story of life beyond Earth. The conclusion must wait until more powerful tools or more precise explorations turn mere suggestion into solid proof.

"We believe that life, as we know it, needs water to exist, but the presence of water does not imply the existence of life," says Barman. "Without some direct evidence, it will be very hard to say if life, in one form or another, is present on any planet."

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Annales de la Société des sciences naturelles de la Charente- Maritime

Smithsonian Libraries
Part of the illustrative material is folded.

Atlas of plates (24 cm.) issued with 1881.

At head of title, 1854-79; Académie de La Rochelle. Section des sciences naturelles; 1880-1908/10: Académie de la Rochelle. Société des sciences naturelles de la Charente-Inférieure.

Life sciences collection

GeoRef 0197-7482

Biological abstracts 0006-3169

"Bibliothèque de la société ... Catalogue": 1887, p. [103]-183.

"Historique de la société": new ser., 1936, p. [11]-63.

Annales des sciences naturelles. Zoologie et biologie animale

Smithsonian Libraries
Title varies slightly.

Life sciences collection

GeoRef 0197-7482

Biological abstracts 0006-3169

Life in the Time of Dinosaurs

Smithsonian Magazine

The Extraordinary Life Cycle of a Hornet Colony

Smithsonian Magazine
After a hornet queen lays hundreds of eggs, her workers set about feeding the larvae chewed-up prey. With tiny waists, the workers can't digest solid food
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