As dazzling as Hayden Planetarium programs have always been, their impact has been magnified many-fold by a recent $2 million upgrade. In essence, the projection system has caught up with the science, making it possible for audiences to see thousands of stars that astrophysicists had been able to identify and even include in various space visualizations but which didn’t show up on the dome’s surface because of technological constraints.
Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott of the New York City Department of Education joined Museum President Ellen V. Futter, families, teachers, and New York City Council Member Gale Brewer in the Museum’s Milstein Hall of Ocean Life on June 12 as more than 800 middle school students presented research projects in a citywide science expo to mark the end of a successful seventh year for the Urban Advantage Middle School Initiative.
Urban Advantage—a public-private partnership between the Department of Education and a Museum-led consortium of eight institutions that also include the New York Hall of Science, the Bronx Zoo, the New York Aquarium, the New York Botanical Garden, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Queens Botanical Garden, and the Staten Island Zoo—emphasizes evidence-based inquiry in science teaching and learning. More than 300 science exit projects were on display in the 2011 expo, reflecting a wide range of topics investigated by students during visits to Urban Advantage institutions.
Before the camera, scientists depended on drawings to replicate the natural world, its flora and fauna, on the printed page. But even today, well after the arrival of photography and other sophisticated imaging techniques, old-school illustration persists as the method of choice in books, articles, and professional research papers. So how has this craft survived alongside photos and high-tech scans?
First, there are some instances—such as portraying an extinct animal no human has ever seen—that simply demand creative rendering. But even with extant species, scientists say that, with the possible exception of presenting small areas of minute surface detail, there is simply no substitute for putting pen to paper. Even 3-D scanned images can lack the resolution needed to represent complex structures, color gradations, and other essential details.
It is not a matter of resisting technology. Many scientific illustrators use computer software to execute their drawings or to tweak pen or pencil images after they have been digitized. And most consider computed tomography, scanning electron microscopy, and other high-resolution imaging techniques important tools, enhancements of the eye that allow for ever more detail in the finished drawing. (Picturing Science: Museum Scientists and Imaging Technologies, an exhibition showcasing examples of such imaging and its use in Museum research, will be on view in the Akeley Gallery starting Saturday, June 25.)
Blogging from west Kenya, William Harcourt-Smith, a research associate in the Division of Paleontology, is directing a 20-million-year-old paleontological site on two islands in Lake Victoria. One of these islands, Rusinga, is best known as the site of the discovery of the first fossils of Proconsul, an early ape. Harcourt-Smith’s multidisciplinary team includes physical anthropologists and geologists, and in addition to collecting fossils, researchers are trying to learn more about the evolutionary events and environmental conditions that may have influenced the emergence of Proconsul and other early ape lineages.