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Curious Collections: A Borne Botfly

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As he hiked out of his field site in French Guiana in August 1999, Curator Rob Voss was heedlessly unaware of freeloaders hitched to his back. But soon after returning to New York, he felt pinpricks and noticed that two red spots were widening. He sought help.



Podcast: SciCafe: Hidden Reptiles of Madagascar

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After more than 200 years of exploration, scientists are still discovering new species of snakes, chameleons, geckos, and skinks in Madagascar, the fourth-largest island in the world.

In this podcast from this summer’s SciCafe, Christopher Raxworthy, associate curator in the Department of Herpetology, discusses the mix of modern technologies and “muddy boots” field biology that makes these discoveries possible.

Dr. Raxworthy’s talk was recorded at the Museum on June 11, 2011.

Podcast: Download | RSS | iTunes (1 hour, 4 mins, 77 MB)



Linking Trees’ Fibonacci Sequence to Solar Power Wins Student A Young Naturalist Award

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When 13-year-old Aidan took a winter hike through the Catskill Mountains, he noticed something spectacular about the bare trees. “I thought trees were a mess of tangled branches,” he would later recall, “But [then] I saw a pattern in the way the tree branches grew.”

Armed with a protractor, Aidan measured the angles of the branches and discovered they grew in a Fibonacci sequence—a mathematical pattern that can be observed throughout nature, from the curve of nautilus shells to the spirals of galaxies. In this famous sequence, each number is the sum of the previous two: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, continuing infinitely. Could this branch pattern help trees absorb more sunlight? Aidan’s pursuit of that question in his essay The Secret of the Fibonacci Sequence in Trees earned him a 2011 Young Naturalist Award.

Tags: Young Naturalist Awards


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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