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Research at the Museum: Volcanic Volatiles

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Jim Webster leans over a worktable coated with pliers, wires, and scraps of material, plucking a small, sealed capsule of white gold-palladium alloy out of the ordered chaos. Inside the capsule rests 50 milligrams of crushed stone and liquid, a combination that Webster, a curator in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science within the Division of Physical Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History, uses to understand why some volcanoes erupt explosively.

In his lab on the fourth floor of the Museum, Webster designs experiments to study the processes that caused such explosive volcanic eruptions as Mount St. Helens in 1980, Pinatubo in 1991, and much older volcanoes like Mt. Mazama. More commonly known as Oregon’s Crater Lake, Mt. Mazama is an ancient volcano that explosively erupted nearly 7,000 years ago, eventually spewing so much magma, gas, and ash that it collapsed on itself, leaving a crater where the mountain had stood. In his experiments, Webster uses samples from this ancient explosion that are compositionally equivalent to eruption stages at Mt. Augustine, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Pinatubo.

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Podcast

Podcast: Physics of the Future with Michio Kaku

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Would you trust a robot surgeon? Strap your kids into a driverless car? In this podcast, join Michio Kaku, physicist and author of the bestselling book, Physics of the Impossible, as he offers his predictions about how today’s emerging technologies will shape the future.

Dr. Kaku’s talk, “Physics of the Future,” was recorded at the Museum on May 9, 2011.

Podcast: Download | RSS | iTunes (1 hour, 17 mins, 75 MB)

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The Inside Story On Summer ‘Brain Drain’

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Is it true that children face an uphill battle at the beginning of every school year to regain ground lost in the lazy days of summer? Yes and no, says Rob DeSalle, curator of the exhibition Brain: The Inside Story.  “The fact of losing what you’ve learned during the school year is fairly well known and well researched,” says Dr. DeSalle, citing a Johns Hopkins University study that showed children in general “lose” one to two months of learning, especially in math, over the summer.  “It’s not a myth. But it’s not as extreme as people think and it’s’ not insurmountable.”

One way to keep brains active before school resumes is to challenge children with a late-summer reading list, says DeSalle, a Museum curator who conducts research in the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics. The John Hopkins study showed, for example, that children in more affluent socio-economic groups fared better in reading because they tended to have more access to books. Games that involve counting and strategy can also stimulate neural pathways. Visitors to Brain: The Inside Story, which closes August 14, can test their ability to strategize and plan ahead, as well as other critical functions, in brain-teasing interactive exhibits, several of which are described by DeSalle in the video below.

Tags: Brain

The Inside Story on ‘Your Changing Brain’

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The human brain is constantly adapting as neural networks rewire themselves in response to new experiences, such as learning different skills or even recovering from trauma such as a stroke. For example, stroke patients who lose their ability to speak can often regain the skill with intensive training, which reestablishes new networks in the healthy parts of their brains.

Learn more about the brain’s plasticity and experience it first-hand through interactive games that enhance hand-eye coordination by visiting Brain: The Inside Story, open now through Sunday, August 14.

In the video below, Curator Rob DeSalle discusses how brains change throughout a lifetime.


Tags: Brain

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From the Field: Wrapping Up a Terrific Season

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Nairobi, Kenya, July 19, 2011

So we’re finally back in Nairobi, having packed up camp and driven back the 300-odd miles from Rusinga to the nation’s capital. It was a terrific field season, in many ways the best we’ve had. We had a really fun and motivated field crew and found a lot of wonderful fossils. What more could one ask?

Now begins the hard work of sorting out everything we found. In our case this means working in the National Museums of Kenya’s exquisite paleontology collections in Nairobi. Any fossils found in the country are reposited here, making it an ideal place to conduct comparative work. We’ve been here about a week, and it is still an overwhelming task. I’m not complaining though. It’s a fine position to be in; I’d rather we had too many than too few fossils.

Tags: From the Field, Paleontology

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