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Researcher Solves Puzzle of Cracks in Mid-Century paintings

Smithsonian Insider

Who doesn’t love trying something new? In the mid-1900s a number of modern artists experimented with new types of commercial paint using it as a […]

The post Researcher Solves Puzzle of Cracks in Mid-Century paintings appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

Meet our scientist Meg Crofoot, primate researcher in Panama

Smithsonian Insider

Meg studies intergroup competition in white‐faced capuchin monkeys by tracking them through radio telemetry collars and observing their behaviors.

The post Meet our scientist Meg Crofoot, primate researcher in Panama appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

Researcher Makers Stunning Revelation About the Vinland Map

Smithsonian Channel
On most maps from the 15th century, Greenland is represented inaccurately as a landmass that connects to northern Europe. But on the Vinland Map, the island is drawn with surprising accuracy. From: SECRETS: A Viking Map?

Russian Researcher Charged With Attempted Murder In Antarctica

Smithsonian Magazine

A researcher at Russia’s Bellinghausen Station on King George Island in Antarctica attacked a colleague earlier this month and has now been charged with attempted murder, according to The Guardian.

The attacker was Sergey Savitsky and the victim is only identified as B. According to the Russian new agency Interfax, Savitsky stabbed B once in the station's dining room after what may have been an emotional breakdown. The two had been working together at the station for the last six months. Savitsky turned himself into the Bellinghausen Station chief and will remain under house arrest until December 8. He now faces attempted murder charges in Russia. According to the Associated Press, the injured researcher was relocated to Chile for treatment.

Antarctica is the type of place that requires cooperation. While the population of international researchers that spend part of the year in Antarctica is small, the close quarters means there’s a lot of potential for interpersonal conflict. Bryan Rousseau at The New York Times reports that in a land without police, courts or prisons nations have come up with a unique system to deal with problems at the several dozen active research stations on the continent.

For the most part, researchers are subject to the jurisdiction of their home nation. In many places, including the U.S. McMurdo station, which is home to about 1,100 people in the summer months, the station chief is also a special United States marshal, with authority to arrest.

Property crimes at the bases are usually rare since there’s not much to steal at most bases. But Rousseau reports that drinking in Antarctica can be heavy, leading to verbal altercations and physical fights. In many cases, the assailant is simply sent home.

But there have been some major incidents on the frigid continent. The most notorious recent case—up until the latest Russian incident—occurred at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. In May of 2000, Australian astrophysicist Rodney Marks complained of breathing problems and was examined by the base doctor. The 32-year-old began to improve, but then his heart suddenly stopped and he passed away.

A later autopsy in New Zealand revealed that Marks was poisoned by a fatal dose of methanol. Whether he drank it intentionally, accidentally or was purposely poisoned was never determined, and later reports found that authorities should have done more to investigate the case.

In 1996, F.B.I. agents visited McMurdo Station for what is believed to be the first time after two cooks in the galley got into a fight and one attacked the other with the claw-end of a hammer. A third cook was also injured in the fight. The victims received stitches and the assailant was arrested. That same year, 15 people rebelled at Australia’s Casey Station, and a mediator was sent in to cool things down until the relief ship arrived.

In 1983, a Chilean doctor decided to burn down his research station rather than face a winter on the ice. John Bennett at Canadian Geographic recounted an unconfirmed story that after losing a chess match, a researcher killed his opponent with an ax in 1959 at Russia’s Vostok Station. Chess was supposedly banned at Russian Antarctic facilities after that.

Researcher Finds Earlier Birth Date for Langston Hughes

Smithsonian Magazine

Eric McHenry, a Kansas-based poet, was recently browsing through the digital archive when he stumbled across a reference to a young Langston Hughes.

“Little Langston Hughes has been quite ill for the past two weeks,” read the clip from the Topeka Plaindealer, an African-American weekly that ran from 1899 to 1958. “He is improving.”

The news item was dated December 20, 1901, which, as Jennifer Schuessler reports in an exclusive story for the New York Times, was very curious. The accepted date of the famed poet’s birth is February 1, 1902—a few months after his name appeared in the Plaindealer. McHenry’s research, in other words, suggests that Hughes was born in an entirely different year than experts previously believed.

McHenry hadn’t been trying to shake up the timeline of Hughes’ biography. He was browsing the digital newspaper index in search of articles about his great-great-great grandfather, who was active in Kansas politics. But then, as is wont to happen during internet searches, McHenry fell down a rabbit hole. He started looking for references to famous African-Americans with ties to Topeka, Kansas, where McHenry teaches at the University of Washburn. Hughes’ name was among those that McHenry tried to find.

Though Hughes is often linked to New York City, where he lived as an adult and established himself as a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, he spent his early life in the Midwest. The poet was born in Joplin, Missouri, and later moved to Kansas. “I sort of claim to be a Kansan because my whole childhood was spent here in Lawrence and Topeka, and sometimes in Kansas City,” he once said.

A young Langston Hughes (Public Domain)

When McHenry found the brief mention of Hughes in the Plaindealer, it occurred to him the item might be referencing a different Langston Hughes. But then he discovered another item about baby Langston—and this one mentioned his mother, “Mrs. Carrie Hughes.” The two were included in a list of society updates, which noted that Carries Hughes and her son were travelling to Buffalo—which, significantly, is where Hughes’ father lived at the time the article was dated: May 17, 1901.

McHenry subsequently discovered yet another reference to “Mrs. C.M. Hugnes and son” (the last name appears to be a typo) from January 17, 1902—one month before Hughes was supposedly born.

It isn’t clear why Hughes’ birth date may have been incorrectly passed down for decades. In his interview with Schuessler, McHenry speculated that Hughes’ mother might have deliberately fudged the dates because she sent her son to a white elementary school in Topeka, rather than a local school for African-American children.

“Maybe his mother deemed it advantageous for him to be older, and for them not to know,” McHenry said.

While the new information about Hughes’ possible birth date has little impact on the poet’s immense legacy, McHenry’s research shows how online archives are making it possible to find new biographical information—even when it comes to some of history's most-studied individuals.

Researcher Unearths a Trove of New Shakespeare Documents

Smithsonian Magazine

There are many aspects of William Shakespeare’s world that modern readers might find confusing, such as the importance of heraldry. Earning—and being able to afford—an official crest was a sign that a family was respectable, and often came with the title of “gentleman.” “It’s an early form of brand management,” Heather Wolfe, a curator at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., tells Sadie Dingfelder at The Washington Post. “You pay a lot of money to get this logo created and you put it on everything.”

Shakespeare was not above the desire to raise his status either, as new documents uncovered by Wolfe show. It’s been known for a long time that Shakespeare’s father, John, made an application to the College of Arms, the body in charge of vetting families and granting arms. His son pursued the issue, Sylvia Morris at The Shakespeare Blog reports, eventually getting a coat of arms for his family in 1596 based on his great-grandfather’s military service and John Shakespeare’s tenure as Bailiff of Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Wolfe went digging through the archives of the College of Arms looking for more details about the Shakespeare family, uncovering a dozen new records relating to Shakespeare’s coat-of-arms application. Considering how little the world knows about the Bard, this is a bonanza for Shakespeare scholars.

Many of the documents refer to him as Shakespeare “the player” or “the actor,” more evidence that Shakespeare indeed wrote the plays attributed to him. “It’s always been clear that Shakespeare of Stratford and ‘Shakespeare the player’ were one and the same,” Columbia University Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro tells Schuessler. “But if you hold the documents Heather has discovered together, that is the smoking gun.”

Even more, the documents indicate that Shakespeare, like other men of his age, was interested in gaining social respect and legitimacy. “It makes it abundantly clear that while Shakespeare was obtaining the arms on behalf of his father, it was really for his own status,” Wolfe tells Schuessler.

Dingfelder writes that the Shakespeare crest includes a falcon holding a spear mounted on a yellow shield with a diagonal black stripe across it. In that stripe is another spear, with a tip that look looks almost like a pen nib. The motto underneath reads, “Non sanz droict” or "Not without right."

The granting of arms wasn’t without controversy. Morris writes that in 1602, an official at the College of Arms accused 23 people granted arms in the preceding few years of being “base persons” and not worthy of the honor. Shakespeare was singled out for being an actor, which was not a respectable occupation during his time. There is no evidence, however, that the arms were rescinded.

After the grant, Shakespeare began using the title “Gentleman,” and the crest appears on his monument at Stratford and is carved on a chair he and his wife Anne Hathaway owned. Schuessler also reports a bit of the crest can be seen on a wax seal used on the will of Elizabeth Barnard, Shakespeare’s granddaughter and his last direct descendent who died in 1670.

Climate Change Researcher Received Funds From Fossil Fuel Industry

Smithsonian Magazine

A part-time researcher associated with the Smithsonian Institution, who claims that human activity has had little effect on climate change, has reportedly accepted more than one million dollars in funding from fossil fuel companies, according to the New York Times.

Working from documents obtained by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center under the Freedom of Information Act, the Times reports that Dr. Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon, a researcher working at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has published scientific papers over the past decade claiming that recent climate variation is primarily due to fluctuations in the sun's energy, not human activity -- without revealing that at the same time he had received $1.2 million from the fossil fuel industry to fund this research. "At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work," says the Times.

Hired to conduct research on long-term stellar and solar activtiy at SAO, Soon has funded his research on climate change via outside grants; his work is not funded by the Smithsonian. Nor does the Institution support Dr. Soon’s research and personal views on climate change, say Smithsonian officals, who point out that last year the Institution issued an official statement that points to human activities as a cause of global warming, including the assertion that “scientific evidence has demonstrated that the global climate is warming as a result of increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases generated by human activities.” The Smithsonian released an updated statement today concerning the allegations surrounding Dr. Soon's work, and Institution officials say that they will conduct a full review of Smithsonian ethics and disclosure policies.

Research Folder

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
File folder containing clippings and information about White House re-decoration and other Schumacher projects.

notes, research

National Museum of American History

Work of 19th-century oologists enables researcher to track climate change with duck eggs

Smithsonian Insider

BROOKINGS, S.D. — Julie DeJong can’t set foot on the ground of an Oregon marsh to gather duck eggs on a spring day in 1875. […]

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Researcher Discovers First Written Evidence of Laws of Friction in Leonardo Da Vinci's Notebooks

Smithsonian Magazine

From hidden figures to musings on how birds fly, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks have long been known as treasure troves of art and science. And it turns out that, 500 years after the master doodled in them, the notebooks still have some secrets. Now, a study of da Vinci’s notes and sketches has revealed something unexpected indeed: the first written evidence of the laws of friction.

In a new study in the journal Wear, an engineer from the University of Cambridge describes how he found the artist’s first writing on the laws of friction in a tiny notebook that dates from 1493 housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The text and accompanying sketches are apparently evidence of da Vinci’s earliest experiments in friction.

In a statement, researcher Ian Hutchings says that the writing demonstrates that as early as 1493, da Vinci understood the laws of friction. The artist and polymath is now known as the father of tribology, which explores the science of surfaces in motion and how they interact with one another. Friction, lubrication and wear are all part of tribology, and all three topics were explored in depth by da Vinci. He used pieces of dry wood to understand how resistance and friction worked—experiments that have been recreated by other scientists nearly 500 years later.

This doodle represents the first time anyone wrote about the laws of friction. (V&A Museum, London )

Hutchings created an extensive timeline of da Vinci’s statements on friction and describes the newly-discovered notes and sketches, which portray blocks being pulled over surfaces with a string. “Friction is of double the effort for double the weight,” wrote the master. This is a different version of Amontons' first law of friction, which states: friction is proportional to the force with which an object is loaded. Guillaume Amontons, after whom the law is named, conducted friction experiments in the 17th century, but the law has long been nicknamed “da Vinci’s law of friction” due to other experiments discovered in his notebooks. Now, it appears that he did indeed state the law 200 years before Amontons, who apparently was unaware of da Vinci’s work in the field.

Ironically, the doodle and text had previously been dismissed by art historians, who preferred to focus instead on a sketch of an old woman adjacent to the scribbles. The artists scribbled the quote “cosa bella mortal passa e non dura” (a line from Petrarch that means “mortal beauty passes and does not endure”) beneath the sketch of the woman. But as long as da Vinci’s notebooks keep revealing the depth of the master’s brilliance, interest in their contents—both artistic and scientific—will never die.

(h/t Gizmodo)

Pioneering Sex Researcher Virginia Johnson, 88, Talked About Sex Before It Was Okay

Smithsonian Magazine

Virginia Johnson talked about sex in a time when it wasn’t okay to talk about sex. As half of the Masters and Johnson duo, she published classic books on sexuality like Human Sexual Response and Human Sexual Inadequacy, which became bestsellers. With Masters, Johnson helped usher in new forms of sex therapy and create an atmosphere in medicine where sex was not something to be ashamed of. On Wednesdsay, Johnson died at the age of 88.

Biographer Thomas Maier, who wrote Masters of Sex: the Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love, told the CBC, “She has one of the most extraordinary lives of any American woman in the 20th century. She literally came in without a degree and became one of the most well-known female figures in medicine in her time.”

Johnson met William Masters while she was working as a secretary at the medical school at Washington University in St. Louis. The Los Angeles Times describes their meeting this way: “Then, in 1957, a balding, middle-aged gynecologist named William Masters teamed up with a divorced mother of two named Virginia Johnson in a research collaboration that would permanently illuminate the taboo subject.”

Their early relationship was a dark one. Masters told Johnson that having sex with him was part of her job. They wound up getting married in 1971 and divorcing 20 years later. In between, however, Johnson slowly became a co-collaborator on Masters’ research. She was responsible for breaking up classic myths, like the Freudian concept that clitoral orgasms were an immature sexual response, the idea that a man’s penis size is important in pleasing his partner and the myth that elderly people cannot have satisfying sex. The New York Times adds:

The medical establishment had long treated sexual dysfunctions psychoanalytically, but Masters and Johnson took a more physical approach. They were credited with helping thousands of men with impotence and premature ejaculation, and thousands of women with difficulty in achieving orgasm, among other problems. In doing so, they helped establish the field of modern sex therapy, training a generation of therapists throughout the country.

Of course, no woman working in science has an easy path, especially not a woman working on sexuality research in the 1980s. The CBC says that Johnson received lots of criticism and even threats. And not all of her work was received well. The pair had controversial ideas about AIDS and homosexuality.

But between them, they made sexuality a less terrifying subject for people to approach. “We’re not trying to make perfect lovers,” Johnson told the Washington Post. “We tell them to take what they feel at the time and translate it into a physical ‘shared’ moment. The turn-on is knowing he ‘really’ wants to touch you, and vice versa. Even the most double-standard male and the equivalent of that in a female learns eventually if you don’t give, you don’t get enough back.”

In September, a TV series called Masters of Sex will debut on Showtime based on their lives and work.

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Art museums form research council

Archives of American Art
1 clipping ; 15 x 7 cm.

Newspaper clipping announcing the formation of the American Art Research Council, its representatives, and description of the agency's goals.

Raptor research

Smithsonian Libraries
Biological abstracts 0006-3169

Women in Research

Smithsonian Institution Libraries
As part of my duties in wrangling data for Smithsonian Research Online, I worked on a project to collect and ingest the historic legacy of published scholarship produced by Smithsonian researchers since the Institution’s inception in 1846. The main focus of my participation is cleaning and preparing the data, but I find it hard to more »

New STRI Research Vessel Urraca

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
Featured in Torch, June 1994

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's new research vessel, Urraca, named after a Panamanian Indian warrior, arrived in Panama in April 1994. Built in England in 1987, the Urraca has a crew of five and can accommodate scientific parties of up to 10. The research vessel is equipped with laboratories, darkroom, scuba-diving equipment, small boats and the latest in communications and navigation equipment. The vessel will give scientists the opportunity to work much farther afield, with larger and more sophisticated equipment.

United States Fish Commission Research and Collecting Vessel

Smithsonian Institution Archives
The foreground on the right side of the stereograph is masked out.

Unidentified man in rowboat in foreground, United States Fish Commission collecting vessel in background.

Smithsonian Research Online: Year Review

Smithsonian Libraries
During the 2016 fiscal year, the Smithsonian Research Online (SRO) program achieved several goals to ensure that publications authored by Smithsonian researchers were more easily discoverable and reused. This blog entry is meant to list some of those accomplishments and describe their significance. Author Identity Management An author identity service was started whereby Smithsonian authors more »

Mangroves research by Candy Feller, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center botanist

Smithsonian Insider

Follow botanist Candy Feller of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center as she conducts field work on mangrove ecosystems at Carrie Bow Cay, a Smithsonian field research station in the Caribbean.

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