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Picturing Science: Capturing Coral’s Glow

On Exhibit posts

Stony corals are living animals that are only two cell layers thick, but over time, their calcium carbonate skeletons can form massive limestone islands. Some contain fluorescent molecules, proteins in their tissue that absorb light from an external source and emit light back at different wavelengths. Marine biologist David Gruber uses a painstaking method of underwater photography to get striking images of fluorescent  corals, including images of moon coral and staghorn coral currently on display in the exhibition Picturing Science: Museum Scientists and Imaging Technologies.

“You shine a specific wavelength of light to stimulate the protein—usually blue or green—and the corals emit back in otherworldly greens and reds,” explains Gruber, a research associate in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, “You have to photograph underwater in the dark at night with specially-filtered strobes because you’re only interested in the light emitted by the corals and other reef-dwelling organisms.”

Gruber photographed these corals in the northern Red Sea in Eilat, Israel, in May 2010, as part of his research into the patterns and functions of fluorescent proteins. Fluorescent proteins have been found to be useful tools in studying AIDS, Altzheimer’s, cancer, and other diseases, as well as in basic biological research.

Tags: Bioluminescence

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A Historical Tour of Aphrodisiacs with Francine Segan

Q&As

In honor of the approaching Valentine’s Day, the Museum will host food historian Francine Segan on Wednesday, February 8, for Aphrodisiacs: Myth or Reality?, featuring stories and tastings of foods considered to have seductive properties throughout time. Below, Segan unravels the histories behind a few food items thought to have a strong connection to passion.

Why were oysters, scallops, mussels, and other types of seafood hailed as aphrodisiacs?

Francine Segan: Aphrodisiacs were named for Aphrodite, the goddess of love. According to ancient Greek legend, Aphrodite was born from the sea and arrived onshore transported on either an oyster or scallop shell. So oysters and all sorts of shellfish were thought to be aphrodisiacs.

Tags: Food, Q&A

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Dimitar Sasselov on the Exoplanet Revolution

Q&As

In the past year, scientists have discovered an astounding number of planets beyond our solar system. On Monday, February 6, Harvard astronomer Dimitar Sasselov will discuss these “exoplanets” and the possibility of discovering life beyond Earth at February’s Frontiers in Astrophysics lecture. Sasselov recently answered a few questions about the search for other worlds.

Have discoveries of exoplanets within the last few months changed any of our views on the potential for life beyond our solar system?

Tags: Exhibitions, Exoplanets, Q&A

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Lab Confidential: Conserve and Protect

Research posts

Each of the 41 intriguing images in Picturing Science: Museum Scientists and Imaging Technologies tells a fascinating story about research or conservation projects. Here’s the third in a series of four snapshots.

For the past year, a 7-foot-tall totem of an eagle has towered over the well-ordered tables of the Museum’s Objects Conservation Lab, the special department within the Division of Anthropology charged with protecting its collections for future study.

Tags: Anthropology

Podcast

Podcast: The Human Genome and Human Health: Will the Promise Be Fulfilled?

Podcasts

When scientists cracked the human genome ten years ago, expectations were high that the genetic revolution would cure cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases. Now scientists are re-evaluating the potential of genetic knowledge for human health based on scientific progress in the past decade. In this podcast from the fall, join the discussion with some of the country’s top geneticists as they present their views on the triumphs, disappointments, and controversies that have arisen in genetic therapy in the healthcare field.

Tags: Podcasts

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