Posts Tagged ‘smithsonian research’


Monday, June 28th, 2010

One of the perks of working at the Smithsonian is the amazing people we meet on a daily basis. Michael Lang, the Study Leader for our Antarctica trip, definitely leads the pack. As the Smithsonian Scientific Diving Officer, he directs one of the nation’s largest civilian scientific diving programs. Lang’s fascinating job takes him all over the world, to waters both cold and warm. Here, he talks about dipping into the seas off Antarctica, into an underwater world few might ever experience.

Learn more about our adventure to Antarctica and explore the amazing views in person! Want to learn more about our world’s oceans? Check out the new Ocean Portal!
Are you a SCUBA diver? What was your best diving adventure?

The Ocean Portal is Here!

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

The Ocean Portal is here – a unique, interactive online experience that inspires awareness, understanding, and stewardship of the world’s Ocean, developed by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History and more than 20 collaborating organizations.

Children play by the Ocean

Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal helps us all to ensure that the world’s Ocean is here for us to enjoy for years to come.



Click here to be among the first wave of visitors to the Portal, an experience which we hope will empower you to shape and share your personal Ocean experiences, knowledge, and perspectives. The Portal supports the Smithsonian’s mission to increase the public’s Ocean understanding and stewardship.

Whether you live near the Ocean or live far away, you can take positive actions to preserve and protect our world’s Ocean. There are opportunities to help posted throughout the Portal, as well as opportunities to share your feedback on the experience.

Thanks for diving in!

What will you do to help the world’s Ocean? Please share.

If you haven’t seen the Ocean for a while, click here to learn more about cruise travel with Smithsonian.

Human Origins: Misconceptions about Evolution

Monday, June 7th, 2010
Starting with a cast skull, artist John Gurche builds layers of muscle, fat, and skin to create hyper-realistic busts of human ancestors featured in the new David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Pictured: Homo neanderthalensis

Starting with a cast skull, artist John Gurche builds layers of muscle, fat, and skin to create hyper-realistic busts of human ancestors featured in the new David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Pictured: Homo neanderthalensis

Here at the Smithsonian, we’ve been very excited about our new Human Origins exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit mixes research, technology, and new developments in the field of anthropology in a way that isn’t intimidating, even though the idea of humans being around millions of years ago can seem overwhelming. With current research being done places such as Kenya and China, and discoveries that have been made in Iraq and Indonesia, evidence of our origins span the globe.

Yet, there are some common misconceptions that have been made about evolution that are worth clarifying. For example, it is commonly believed that evolution is about progress and that each living thing is changing for the better. The reality is that some organisms don’t change over time—including some mosses, fungi, opossums and crayfish. They are a great fit in their current habitat, so there is no need for them to change. Others, such as beetles, need to change in order to survive due to changing climates or new competitors. Humans weren’t the first or last organism to change or evolve on planet Earth.

Another misconception is that humans are no longer evolving, so we can’t observe evolution in action. Plus, humans seem far too complex to have evolved in the first place. The reality is that evolution takes places over a large span of time, and human evolution occurs over so many generations that we can’t observe it in one lifetime. Evolution occurs to populations and species, not necessarily individuals. For example, a giraffe may not grow a longer neck during its lifetime, but over time a community of giraffes with longer necks will survive while the ones with shorter necks will die out. As a result, longer-necked giraffes will mate with each other over many generations, creating a noticeable difference over a long period of time.

To relate this to a human change, most adult mammals (including humans) are lactose intolerant and cannot digest milk. But 80% of adults of European ancestry do have a gene that allows them to consume milk. Why? About 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, dairy farming became a part of European life, and there was a genetic response to this change in diet. We see this evolutionary response when we drink milk today.

There are so many ideas to explore in the Human Origins exhibit, including the big question—What does it mean to be human? Is it how we care for each other? Is it our belief system? Is it biological unity? These are some pretty big questions.

What does it mean to be human? Share your ideas below.

Experience the Human Origins exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History (now celebrating its 100th year!) Also, enjoy a exclusive reception at the museum on our Celebrate Smithsonian tour.  Want to see what you might have looked like as a Neanderthal? Check our our new mobile app, MEanderthal.

SI Research Notes: Ancient Egyptian Art

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Linda Stevens is the Field Notes Coordinator for Smithsonian Journeys. Combing the Institution for interesting projects happening around the world, she prepares these research notes especially for travelers.

Statue of the falcon god at the Temple of Horus, Egypt

From 1906 to 1909, Charles Lang Freer, founder of the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art, visited Egypt on three separate occasions. On the first, he traveled by train and boat along the Nile River from Alexandria in the Nile Delta south to Wadi Halfa, visiting many well-known tourist destinations such as museums, archaeological sites, churches, and mosques. On all three trips, he also frequented the shops of antiquities dealers and the homes of private collectors, seeking to acquire works of Egyptian art to add to his already extensive collections of Chinese and Japanese art and late 19th-century American painting. Unlike many collectors of his day, whose knowledge of Asian and Egyptian art was gained exclusively through museum collections, dealers’ shops, and international expositions in Europe and the United States, Freer placed a high value on studying the art of a civilization in its’ native land.

Egypt’s ancient monuments captivated Freer. His first trip convinced him that his collection would be incomplete without examples of Egyptian sculpture in stone and wood.

Most of Freer’s Egyptian acquisitions were made during his final trip to Egypt in 1909, which was devoted largely to visiting dealers’ shops in and around Cairo. The most important of these was a private collection of nearly 1400 glass objects, including vessels, beads, inlays, and fragments, ranging in date from the New Kingdom (1550 – 1070 B.C.E.) to the Roman period (30 B.C.E. – 395 C.E.). Among his other purchases were bronze figurines, limestone plaques, and sculptures of wood and stone.

Today, part of the Smithsonian’s National Museums of Asian Art, the Freer Gallery’s Ancient Egyptian Collection  comprises more than 1,000 objects with a historical range from 2,500 B.C.E.- 400 C.E. In addition to the world-famous collection of glass vessels, highlights of the collection include a pair of stone falcons, probably from a temple near Alexandria, dating to the Ptolemaic dynasty (ca. 305-30 B.C.E.) and a collection of amulets made of faience, stone, metal, and glass depicting gods, goddesses, and sacred animals.

A small exhibit representing the Freer’s vast Egyptian holdings is on display at the Gallery.

What’s your favorite thing about ancient Egyptian Art?

If you’ve always dreamed of visiting Egypt, we can help. Click for our travel to Egypt.