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Monterey Bay Aquarium November 19, 2018

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I recently visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey.

Here are four nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the aquarium.

1. The fishing industry in Monterey benefited from innovations such as the purse seiner and the arrival of Sicilian immigrant fishermen. Record numbers of sardines, which prefer warm water, were caught and processed, feeding American troops during World War I and II. Yet the fishing industry in Monterey eventually collapsed due to factors such as rampant over-fishing and a decline in ocean temperatures. It experienced a partial revival when anchovies, which prefer cold water, migrated to the Monterey Bay.

2. Otters consume about a quarter of their body weight on a daily basis. They spend about half the day resting on their backs with their paws in the air (as their paws are relatively poorly insulated). They are assiduous in grooming their fur, which serves as an insulator (note that they lack blubber). While they do not consume fish, they do consume clams, mussels, octopi, sea urchins, and squid – often diving into kelp forests in search of them.

3. Great white sharks can reach up to 20 feet long and can weigh over 4000 pounds. Different great whites can be identified by their dorsal fins. Many great whites congregate near the Farallon Islands for several months before migrating to Hawaii. They have also been observed in the Sea of Cortez.

4. Marine lifeforms have evolved in myriad ways to improve their odds of survival, including:

  • sand dollars, which anchor themselves to the seafloor – with half of their bodies remaining above the sand – to resist being swept away by ocean currents; young sand dollars will also swallow heavy grains of sand to increase their weight
  • scorpionfish, which can blend in with rocks on the seafloor due to their distinct coloration
  • octopi, which can alter the coloration – and even the texture – of their skin by forming muscular “bumps” and “ridges.”

I especially enjoyed two humorous (and engaging) 15-minute presentations by the museum staff regarding great white sharks and Luna the sea otter.

I should note that admission to the aquarium is expensive. Also, one should arrive early for popular shows (e.g. feeding otters) to have an unobstructed view of the proceedings.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the aquarium, and I would recommend it to those who happen to visit Monterey.

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The Henry Ford August 6, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in Arts, History, Science.
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I recently visited The Henry Ford in Dearborn. This “cultural destination” consists of four venues that present a slice of Americana.

Here are fifteen nuggets that I gleaned from my time at these venues.

1. Antoine Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac may have been inspired by the color of the sediment in the Rouge River when he christened it. In 1915, Henry Ford built his Rouge Plant on wood pilings in its watershed. The Rouge Plant was the site of the watershed Battle of the Overpass in 1937. Today, the Rouge Plant has been ISO 14001 certified and has a “living roof” that consists of sedum.

2. The engine of the Model A had twice the capacity of that of the Model T. The Model A was the first car to be completely assembled at the Ford Rouge Plant and debuted in 1927. In contrast, the Great Depression impacted the design of the engine of the V-8; in particular, each V-8 engine was made from a single block of metal – reducing its weight and cost. Noted criminals John Dillinger and Clyde Barrow both wrote letters to Ford, praising the V-8 as a getaway car.

3. Ford’s observations of workers at meatpacking and textile plants spurred him to develop the concept of the assembly line. Initially, Ford’s employees labored for about twelve hours to produce a single Model T; the introduction of the assembly line reduced that time to roughly ninety minutes. Currently, about 1200-1300 F-150 trucks are manufactured on a daily basis at the Ford Rouge Plant.

4. Several innovators in Massachusetts contributed to the Industrial Revolution, including:

5. While the first colonists brought ladderback chairs to Colonial America, the Windsor chair only appeared in colonial homes starting in the mid-1700s; George Washington actually ordered a set of Windsor chairs for his estate at Mount Vernon. Innovations in chair design did not cease at that point, though. For example, the 19th-century inventor Lambert Hitchcock based his eponymous chair on the design of clocks in Connecticut. Also, the 20th-century designers Charles and Ray Eames were inspired by their work for the U.S. Navy during World War II when crafting their unique line of chairs; they used plywood and fiberglass to that end.

6. The farming industry has seen its share of successful – and failed – innovations, including:

  • the Fordson tractor that was designed by Ford in 1918; his intention was that it would serve as the “Model T” of tractors
  • the mechanical reaper that was patented by Obed Hussey; his fifteen minutes of fame were ended by the marketing campaign of Cyrus McCormick
  • the mechanical cotton picker with an innovative spindle that was designed by Daniel Rust
  • the grain drill, which allows planting before corn is ready to be harvested
  • the no-till harvester, which was developed in 1978.

7. In 1983, Atari buried about 750000 video game cartridges in the desert outside Alamogordo. Some of the buried cartridges were unsold copies of E.T. which was designed by Howard Warshaw in five weeks. E.T. is considered to be among the worst video games ever produced. Although Atari denied any knowledge of buried cartridges outside Alamogordo, they were eventually unearthed in 2014.

8. George Corliss invented his eponymous steam engine and fought a legal battle with Noble Tuckerman Greene over patents for a valve mechanism for speed control. William Seward served as Corliss’ counsel. When Corliss emerged victorious, Greene was obliged to wait until 1870 to market his steam engines, as Corliss’ patents expired that year.

9. Raymond Orteig offered a prize to the first person to complete a trans-Atlantic flight. Charles Lindbergh responded to this announcement by working with the Ryan Airline Company to modify its M-2 three-seater; for example, five fuel tanks were placed on the Spirit of St. Louis. Since Lindbergh wanted to travel light, he only packed five meat sandwiches, one flashlight, one rubber raft and one wicker chair for his landmark achievement; in fact, he did not bring a parachute or a radio.

10. Roy Allen operated a root beer stand in California before founding A&W Restaurants with his business partner, Frank Wright. “Tray boys” and “tray girls” provided curbside service at A&W drive-ins. Walt Anderson, who worked as an A&W fry cook, developed a novel approach for cooking hamburgers. He would later found White Castle with his business partner, Billy Ingram.

11. U.S. presidents have adopted diverse modes of transport, including:

  • Theodore Roosevelt’s brougham
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Sunshine Special, which was modified to accommodate his disability
  • Dwight Eisenhower’s Bubbletop, which enabled crowds to view him even in inclement weather.

Also, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, an armored top was added to presidential limousines. Yet Ronald Reagan successfully requested that his limousine include a modified sunroof, which enabled him to stand and wave at crowds.

12. Orville and Wilbur Wright lived about three blocks from the first bicycle shop that they opened in Dayton, Ohio; they would eventually rent five different shops. They constructed their first prototype plane – in sections – in one of these shops; it was 40 feet long, 21 feet wide and 9 feet high. They then wrote to the National Weather Service (NWS) for advice regarding a suitable location for testing their prototype; the NWS recommended Kill Devil Hills, a windy locale with an abundance of sand that would prove useful in mitigating the effects of crash landings. They accepted that recommendation and then spent three years learning how to glide. On a side note, Orville Wright was invited to the dedication of Greenwich Village in 1929.

13. Thomas Edison held nearly 1100 patents during his lifetime. His first patented invention was an electronic vote recorder that was intended for use in state legislatures. He was supported in his endeavors by a capable staff, including his foreman, John Kruesi, and a talented chemist, Alfred Haid. Their innovations included:

  • a filament for an incandescent light bulb that was made from carbonized cotton fiber
  • a dynamo that could convert mechanical energy to electricity.

14. Henry Carroll was the head of one of the wealthiest families in antebellum Maryland. He owned about 200 acres of land, and he adhered to the standard practice of planting tobacco for three to five years – before allowing that parcel of land to lie fallow for about twenty years. His slaves were ingenious, using crushed oyster shells to repel vermin and creating whitewash from a mixture of salt, water and milk. Some of them subsequently escaped, declaring themselves as “contraband of war” to avoid re-enslavement; this was permitted by the Confiscation Acts.

15. Noah Webster included about 70000 words in his eponymous dictionary. He only invented one of those words, though: “demoralize.” A strict Calvinist, he viewed slavery as an economically inefficient endeavor – yet he was opposed to abolitionists’ acts of civil disobedience. He remodeled his home to include a first-floor bedroom for his wife; contemporary homes lacked first-floor bedrooms. As he disapproved of his son-in-law, he raised his grand-daughter, Mary.

This “cultural destination” is expansive, and I actually toured it over two days. I especially enjoyed my tour of the Ford Rouge Plant; the sight of workers playing their roles in assembling a Ford F-150 truck was humbling and awe-inspiring. I also enjoyed my stroll through the Greenwich Village, as the staff members were pleased to share various nuggets.

One point worth noting is that at the main venue, a 6-dollar parking fee is automatically added to the cost of admission; guests should request that this fee be removed if they do not park at that venue.

Overall I enjoyed my time at this “cultural destination,” and I would recommend it to those who happen to visit Michigan.

American Museum of Natural History March 5, 2018

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I recently visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The museum features

the scientific study of animals or plants, especially as concerned with observation rather than experiment, and presented in popular form.

Here are twelve nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. The group of dinosaurs known as the ornithomimids derive their name from a phrase meaning “bird mimics.” This group includes the:

These long-limbed dinosaurs had three-fingered hands, a relatively large brain cavity and a flexible neck; some of them attained lengths of at least twenty feet. Interestingly, while they had beaked heads, they were less closely related to birds than the maniraptors. They lived in the Cretaceous period.

2. The group of dinosaurs known as the ornithopods includes the:

These dinosaurs had a powerful bite due to the placement of their jaw joint; they also benefited from a network of bony tendons that stiffened their backbone and tail. They lived from the late Triassic period to the late Cretaceous period.

3. The hind limbs and front limbs of Moschops capensis were splayed under its body and to its sides, respectively. This creature with a cow-like face (Moschops is Greek for “calf”) had an enlarged synapsid opening and its skull was about four inches thick. It lived in the Permian period in modern-day South Africa.

4. The shells of leatherback sea turtles are about six feet long; it weighs up to 1400 pounds. This consumer of jellyfish has tough, rubbery skin that stretches over cartilaginous material; its skin is also strengthened by a layer of tiny, thin bones. Its predators include sharks and killer whales. Females typically lay 80-100 eggs on land above a tidemark; moreover, they can lay eggs on multiple occasions during a single season between late spring and early summer. After incubating for 7-10 weeks, the eggs hatch and the baby turtles crawl toward the sea.

5. The whooping crane is on the verge of extinction, as it has been extensively hunted; moreover, its native marshes in the north-central United States have been drained. At one point, about thirty individuals resided in Canada while wintering in Texas. In contrast, the sand hill crane is the most abundant crane species in the world. It gives a distinctive bugle call; in Florida, it tends to nest in freshwater ponds and marshes.

6. Wayang (Javanese for “shadow”) is a drama form that is based on shadow puppets. Influenced by orthodox religions and ancestor cults, performances are typically accompanied by a gamelan that is comprised of gongs, rebabs and flutes. One example of this art form is the Chalonarang, where a Barang dragon, who represents “life”, battles a witch, Rangda, who represents “death.” In this story, masked followers of Barang threaten Rangda with their knives until they fall into a trance.

7. Denizens of the High Andes (marked by low shrubs) include:

These birds originated in Patagonia at sea level before gradually migrating to higher altitudes over thousands of years. In contrast, denizens of the Pampas (marked by marshlands) include:

These marsh birds are often joined by migratory sandpipers and plovers from North America.

8. The Indian rhino has a single horn that is comprised of a mass of compact hairs; interestingly, its horn is not attached to its skull. It dwells in tall, reedy grasses and wallows in marshes. It is found mainly in reserves in Nepal and the Assam state of India. In contrast, its relative, the Sumatran rhino, has two horns; this endangered species is the smallest of the five extant species of rhinoceros. It dwells in tropical forests at altitudes of up to 3000 feet; it can also employ its two dagger-like lower incisors as weapons.

9. Denizens of the Libyan desert include:

These large, pale ungulates obtain moisture from their food. In this arid region that is characterized by iron-rich sand, rainfall triggers rapid growth of dormant seeds.

10. Belmore Browne advocated the establishment of a national park at Denali; his efforts were rewarded in 1917. One of the most prominent species in Denali (Athabaskan for “High One”) Park is the Dall sheep; males can weigh up to 240 pounds while females can weigh up to 110 pounds. These “thinhorn” sheep live above the tree line to avoid wolves and bears; they feed on grasses, lichens, mosses and shrubs.

11. Pegmatites are formed via a process where mineral elements are highly concentrated in the residual liquid in cooled magma; coarse-grained minerals are then obtained during crystallization of the cooled magma. Some pegmatites consist of large crystals that can weigh up to fifty tons with lengths up to forty feet. Elements that are found in pegmatites include:

12. The denizens of the ancient oceans were intriguing. For example, the Ordovician oceans included the:

The Permian oceans included:

The Cretaceous oceans included ammonites, which were either spiral or straight-shelled; their closest living relative is the chambered nautilus.

The museum is expansive, and one can spend an entire day browsing through its numerous exhibits. I especially enjoyed the exhibits that relied on taxidermists, as they provided realistic depictions of habitats and proportions.

I do not have any quibbles with the museum at this time.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to those who happen to be in the Big Apple.

Intel Museum December 24, 2016

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I recently visited the Intel Museum in Santa Clara. This museum showcases the history of Intel.

Here are five nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore were two of the Traitorous Eight employees who resigned from the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory to form Fairchild Semiconductor. Each of the founders of Fairchild made an initial contribution of $500 to the company; Noyce solicited the assistance of his grandmother in that regard. Later, Noyce became so frustrated with the onerous bureaucracy of Fairchild’s parent company, Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation, that he and Moore resigned to form NM Electronics; later, they changed its name to Intel.

2. When Noyce and Moore founded NM Electronics, they targeted the memory market. At that time, the dominant technology was magnetic core memory – which was unreliable and expensive, as it had to be made by hand. In light of this, Noyce and Moore decided to unlock the potential of semiconductor-based memory. Their first product was the i3101 64-bit RAM. Later, they achieved great success with the introduction of the Intel 1103 which utilized metal oxide semiconductor technology.

3. In 1969, the Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation contracted Intel to design twelve custom chips for their Busicom 141-PF calculator. During the ensuing research and development phase, Intel produced a design that only required four chips. The 4004 microprocessor was a critical component of that novel approach.

4. Silicon wafers originate from a solution of liquid silicon with a purity of 99.9999999 percent. A seed crystal is dipped into that solution and then withdrawn. That seed crystal is later tapered at both ends and then sliced into a set of thin wafers. Photoresist is applied to those thin wafers as a critical step in photolithography.

5. A Front Opening Unified Pod is typically found in clean labs; it weighs about 25 pounds and contains a stack of 25 silicon wafers that are ready to be processed. A set of FOUPs is conveyed about the lab by an Automated Material Handling System, which is a network of conveyor belts that move at about 1.5 meters per second. The typical clean lab at Intel has at most 1 particle – with a size of 0.5 microns – per cubic foot of air.

The museum had several interesting exhibits that showcased Intel’s pioneering products. I also enjoyed the anecdotes that I encountered; for example, Intel requested that the city of Santa Clara change the name of Coffin Road to Bowers Avenue.

In terms of drawbacks, the accompanying text for some of the exhibits was so small that it was difficult to read. I also happened to visit the museum when several school groups were touring it – making it difficult for me to concentrate on the exhibits.

Overall I would recommend that tourists bypass this museum for the Computer History Museum – as its scope is more narrow than that of the Computer History Museum.

Computer History Museum July 25, 2016

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I recently visited the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. This museum showcases the history of computing.

Here are ten nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. The simple abacus had various native idiosyncrasies. For example, the Chinese suan pan had two beads in its upper section and five beads in its lower section. In contrast, a Korean abacus had one bead in its upper section. Furthermore, a Japanese soroban had one bead in its upper section and four beads in its lower section.

2. Punched cards were proposed by Herman Hollerith as a solution to a challenge posed by the U.S. Census Bureau before the 1890 census. They had been previously utilized by Joseph-Marie Jacquard as an essential element of the Jacquard loom for weaving. Later, they were employed by Maurice Wilkes in a landmark survey of the native flora and fauna of Great Britain.

3. The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC, relied on approximately 18000 vacuum tubes to perform its computations. Since these vacuum tubes had high failure rates, users of the ENIAC employed a plethora of tricks; for example, they ran the tubes well below their performance limits. When a tube did fail, a skilled technician would locate it within 15 minutes.

4. John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert capitalized on the success of the ENIAC in their development of the Universal Automatic Computer, or UNIVAC. They founded a company to manufacture the UNIVAC; this company was later acquired by Remington Rand. General Electric (GE) was one of the first entities to purchase a UNIVAC for its accounting division; after some initial setbacks, GE was able to integrate its UNIVAC with its business processes. The UNIVAC was later rendered obsolete by IBM.

5. Quipu was utilized by officials in the Incan Empire as a form of documentation; this system was based on colored cords and the precise placement of knots in these cords. Tally sticks were also used for record-keeping through 1) the precise placement of notches of varying depths in these sticks or 2) splitting a stick in half and giving the larger portion to the stock-holder in a stock transaction.

6. Seymour Cray was arguably the impetus for the rise of supercomputers. As a staunch opponent of bureaucracy, he enjoyed working in small engineering teams and would often work late at night to minimize distractions. He was particular about minimizing delay; thus, many of his products had to be meticulously hand-wired to satisfy that requirement. He also relied on fluids such as Fluorinert and Freon as coolants for his products. His final product, the Cray-3, flopped – due to its reliance on unproven gallium arsenide technology.

7. The Chalk River Laboratories worked with the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) to develop a computing device that could control one of its reactors. In the process, DEC engineers Gordon Bell and Edson de Castro designed a landmark device – the PDP-8, which was the first commercially viable minicomputer. The PDP-8 relied on flip chip technology, where a machine automatically wired connectors on the back of a panel containing various components.

8. Vacuum tubes acted as digital logic components in early computing devices; when a filament (cathode) was heated, current would pass through a grid and strike a plate (anode). They were superseded by transistors. John Bardeen and Walter Brattain developed the first transistor – two gold contacts on a sliver of germanium. Texas Instruments then played a pivotal role in an industry-wide shift from germanium-based transistors to silicon-based transistors by touting the robustness to temperature of silicon.

9. The University of Utah played a pivotal role in the rise of computer graphics. For example, Martin Newell used a simple teapot to show how a wireframe mesh could divide a three-dimensional object into sections of (roughly) constant smoothness. Also, Ivan Sutherland allowed his students to create a wireframe mesh model of his car and apply polygonal shading to it. In addition, Utah alumni have founded several leading graphics companies, including Silicon Graphics and Pixar.

10. The Simon Personal Communicator was developed by IBM and BellSouth as the first smartphone. Users could place calls, organize their contacts, and send e-mails with that device; it flopped, though. Other early smartphones included the Nokia Communicator, which allowed users to browse the Web.

The museum featured an impressive array of exhibits and artifacts, including a wooden optical mouse that had been donated by Donald Knuth, a copy of a pamphlet of IBM “company songs” that extolled the virtues of Thomas Watson, and a Google server from 1999. I also enjoyed perusing the explanations of devices such as Napier’s bones and slide rules.

I should note that the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics section was a bit sparse; hopefully it will be upgraded soon.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would definitely recommend it to those who happen to be in the Bay Area.

MIT Museum June 20, 2012

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I recently visited the MIT Museum in Cambridge. This museum features a collection of science-themed exhibits – most of them are connected to MIT.

Here are five nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. The slide rule arose from an invention of John Napier, who is best known for inventing the logarithm. After several people improved on Napier’s invention, William Oughtred invented the slide rule itself. Interestingly, slide rules were used by the English to enforce their harsh 17th-Century tax laws; they were also used by the British to calculate the fines on Massachusetts colonists for the Boston Tea Party. In addition, James Watt actually invented the Soho slide rule.

2. Malaria can have a rather debilitating effect on red blood cells, which are normally pliable, allowing them to squeeze through narrow capillaries in the brain. In particular, malaria can decrease the elasticity of a red blood cell membrane, restricting its movement through narrow channels. Also, malaria increases the adhesiveness of a red blood cell membrane, resulting in capillary blockage.

3. Edwin Land became intrigued by optics at a young age, when a camp counselor showed him a block of calcite, introducing him to the concepts of reflection and refraction. Land would later drop out of Harvard to pursue his passion for optics. He invented the instant camera after a 1943 trip to Santa Fe, where his daughter asked him why she couldn’t immediately view the photos that he had taken. He would also spur the creation of MIT’s UROP with an impassioned 1957 speech.

4. John McCarthy is credited with organizing the first conference in the field of artificial intelligence in 1956; it was held at Dartmouth and had ten attendees. McCarthy persuaded those in attendance to refer to their new area of research as “artificial intelligence.” He would soon move to MIT to continue his research in AI. He is also credited with developing the LISP programming language.

5. The Kanchenjunga region straddles Nepal and India. The name “Kanchenjunga” means “Five Treasures of the Great Snow” in Tibetan. The tallest mountain in this region, Mount Kanchenjunga, is the world’s third-highest peak; it was actually believed to be the world’s tallest peak until the discovery of Mount Everest.

The museum contains an impressive collection of robots that MIT researchers have developed in the CSAIL, including the well-known Kismet robot. I also enjoyed the Gestural Engineering exhibit by Arthur Ganson, which consisted of many curious contraptions.

I don’t have any quibbles at this time.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in science.

Review: The Double Helix – A Personal Account of the Discovery of The Structure of DNA November 9, 2010

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I recently finished The Double Helix – A Personal Account of the Discovery of The Structure of DNA by James D. Watson.

This book has already been thoroughly reviewed on Amazon, but I figured that I would add my two cents to the ongoing discussion.

In this book, the author presents his recollection of the events that culminated in the discovery of the structure of DNA. In particular, he describes his tenure as a researcher at Cambridge and discusses the fine points of working with his most famous collaborator, Francis Crick. Besides Crick, the reader is introduced to other prominent post-World War II DNA researchers, including Linus Pauling, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin.

I enjoyed the fact that the author pulled off the difficult balancing act of 1) continuously referring to concepts from biochemistry while 2) keeping the book accessible to non-scientists. I hadn’t taken any biology courses since my freshman year of college, so it was helpful to get a refresher on DNA biochemistry. I also enjoyed how the author described the various misguided approaches that he and Crick pursued, especially their hypothesis that the nitrogenous base pairs resided on the exterior of the DNA structure while the sugar-phosphate backbone resided on its interior. Based on my experiences, I can attest to the fact that every research breakthrough is accompanied by a litany of failures. In addition, the descriptions of the “rivalry” between the Crick-Watson collaboration at Cambridge and 1) the Wilkins-Franklin group at King’s College London and 2) the Pauling group at Caltech were enlightening. As expected, I had never heard these stories in my biology courses.

In terms of quibbles, the author’s depiction of Rosalind Franklin left me wishing that she had not passed away before writing her own perspective on the discovery of DNA. In this book, Franklin comes across as a brilliant yet stubborn, prideful, closed-minded researcher. The author attempts to paint a more agreeable picture of Franklin in the epilogue, but this fails to compensate for the picture that has been painted in the first 29 chapters of the book. It would have been interesting and enlightening to read Franklin’s thoughts on arguably the most significant scientific breakthrough of the 20th Century, especially if sexism influenced the portrayal of her actions towards Watson, Crick and Wilkins.

Overall, I would recommend this book to those who are interested in a blow-by-blow account of the discovery of the structure of DNA and desire 1) a refresher on the underlying concepts from biochemistry and 2) an expose of the interpersonal dynamics among researchers that is typically avoided in biology curricula.

Museum of Science, Boston August 25, 2009

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I recently visited the Museum of Science in Boston. The museum features a variety of exhibits that present the marvels and wonders of science to the general public.

Here are ten nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. Cormorants and seagulls are often at odds as they carve out a shared existence along the New England coast. In fact, seagulls enjoy swooping down upon a mother cormorant’s nest and stealing her eggs for food.

2. Beavers are capable of altering an entire ecosystem via their diligent dam-building endeavors. They also possess wide, flat tails that can be used to alert other beavers of impending danger; a “sentinel” beaver accomplishes this by slapping its tail against the water.

3. Deciduous forests can be found throughout Massachusetts, which helps to explain the local sentiment of “you can experience all four seasons here.” In contrast, conifers are more prevalent in New Hampshire and Vermont, which happen to lie in a tundra zone.

4. Our understanding of black holes is enhanced via data collection across a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum. The Chandra X-Ray Observatory searches for the tell-tale X-rays that are emitted by black holes. Also, the Hubble Space Telescope scans the visible portion of the spectrum, hunting for stars in the vicinity of a black hole. In addition, the Spitzer Space Telescope scans the infrared portion of the spectrum, enabling it to observe regions of star formation in the clouds of gas and dust that typically surround black holes. Combining images from all three sources provides a comprehensive picture of a black hole and its environs.

5. Contrary to popular belief, black holes do not serve as powerful vacuums, sucking up and destroying all of the matter within an arbitrary radius. The “critical” distance for vacuum-like behavior is actually the Schwarzschild radius which, in some sense, can be thought of as the “diameter” of a black hole.

6. One statement of Minkowski’s Theorem is as follows: “consider an infinite two-dimensional lattice where adjacent points are separated by a unit distance. Also, consider a convex region that is centered at one of these lattice points. If this convex region has area greater than 4, it contains at least three of the lattice points.” This is a neat example of a simple, yet elegant mathematical truism.

7. The Galton machine is a fascinating mathematical device. In this contraption, a collection of balls is released into a set of wells; using a clever arrangement of pins between the ball release point and the wells, the flight of the balls can be altered to allow the distribution of balls in the wells to follow the well-known normal distribution. The Galton machine highlights the importance of Gaussianity in all sorts of natural phenomena.

8. Dean Kamen, who is perhaps best known for inventing the Segway scooter, has designed a new device that should be a boon to developing nations. Known as the Slingshot, it purifies water via a cycle of steam formation and condensation. It also generates power via an ingenious device known as a Stirling engine.

9. Cladistics is a powerful method that has been used by scientists to map the evolution of various traits in dinosaurs. In particular, we now know that birds can be classified as dinosaurs, while pterosaurs are technically not dinosaurs; they lack the distinctive hole in their hip sockets that is present in all dinosaurs.

10. Nanotechnology relies on many fascinating natural phenomena for invaluable design insights. For example, cabbage leaves are quite remarkable in terms of their water-resistant and self-cleaning properties. A close examination of their surfaces reveals a network of raised bumps which inhibits water collection. As water drops onto this network of bumps, it rolls off, taking dirt particles with it.

The museum provides a welcome diversion for families who may be looking for ways to keep their children from succumbing to boredom during the long summer months. Exhibits such as the Cahners ComputerPlace challenge students with various hands-on puzzles such as the Tower of Hanoi problem. Visitors will have the treat of observing numerous children experiencing the joys of science and expressing genuine intellectual curiosity.

In terms of drawbacks, the museum is so expansive that it is difficult, if not impossible, to thoroughly browse all of its exhibits in a single day. Proper advance planning is necessary in order to get the most out of a single-day trip. Also, if you visit the museum by taking the T to the Science Park stop, you may be stuck on the wrong side of the Charles River Dam Bridge and have to wait for the bridge to lower before being able to approach the museum.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum and I learned a lot, though I would like to return at some point to browse the exhibits that I missed.