Posts Tagged ‘washington dc’

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.

The Laboratory on the Ocean Floor

Monday, April 19th, 2010

We’ve mentioned before that Smithsonian scientists love studying extremes. But how about living in extreme conditions? To study the bottom of the ocean properly, you would actually have to live down there.

What do you eat? How do make your meals? Where do you get fresh water? Just as astronauts have made adjustments to their lifestyles while they are in space, scientists studying the ocean are pretty adaptable as well.

Paula Lemyre, reporting from Smithsonian Channel’s SciQ, visited the ocean floor (63 feet down) and had 30 minutes to interview and record this story. Any more time on the bottom, and Paula and her crew would face a very painful experience called “the bends” due to the reduction in pressure as they returned to sea level. Also known as decompression sickness, during the bends the body releases dissolved gas (mostly nitrogen) from the tissues and blood. As a result, bubbles are created within the circulation system and create disruptions throughout the human body. Symptoms can range from mild, dull toothache-like pain to the more serious including shock and seizures. Luckily, today we know the gradual ascension steps to avoid these kinds of situations.

Learn more about living underwater on the Smithsonian Channel’s SciQ.

Experience the Ocean Hall at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Would you want to live underwater? Share Below.

It’s Cherry Blossom Season!

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Cherry blossoms frame the Jefferson Memorial in spring. Photo by Laura Campbell

There is nothing like walking around near the Jefferson Memorial when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. The entire area is coated in various shades of pink, giving everyone in Washington, D.C. the sense that spring has finally arrived. But how many trees are there? Where did they come from? These are the kinds of questions that kids tend to ask their parents every year. Again, we’re here to provide you with the important fun facts that satisfy your child (or grandchild’s) thirst for knowledge.

1. In Japan, the flowering cherry tree, or “Sakura,” is an exalted flowering plant. The beauty of the cherry blossom epitomizes the transformation of Japanese culture throughout the ages, as well as being symbolic of the constant transition of human life.

2. The original 3,000 cherry blossom trees were a gift from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo in 1912 as a symbol of the longstanding friendship between Japan and the United States.

3. The First Lady at the time was Helen Herron Taft. She and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees from Japan on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park on March 27, 1912. These two original trees still stand several hundred yards west of the John Paul Jones Memorial, located at the terminus of 17th Street, SW. Situated near the bases of the trees is a large bronze plaque which commemorates the occasion.

4. Three years later, in 1915, the United States reciprocated the gift of the cherry trees by sending flowering dogwoods to the people of Japan.

5. In 1965, the Japanese Government donates 3,800 more trees. These are American-grown and the 1912 ceremony reenacted this time by Lady Bird Johnson and Mrs. Ryuji Takeuchi, wife of Japan’s Ambassador.

Visit the original homeland of the trees on Insider’s Japan.

Have you seen the cherry blossoms in full bloom in Washington, D.C.? Share below.

Where Were You During the Inauguration?

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Those of us who live in Washington, D.C. can state for a fact 2009′s Inauguration Day was a very cold one indeed. Compared to President Ronald Reagan’s Inauguration in 1981 when it was 55 degrees at noon, the Obama ceremony was shockingly cold at 28 degrees with a windchill of 11 at the time of his swearing-in.

But you never would have thought that looking at First Lady Michelle Obama. As millions watched on the National Mall, online, and on television sets around the world, she stood in her lemongrass-colored ensemble (designed by Cuban-American Isabel Toledo) throughout the day as if it weren’t freezing cold out there. Later that night, she changed into the gown created by 27-year-old designer Jason Wu and made her way around Washington, dancing at various balls into the wee hours.

So, where is the Jason Wu gown now? It’s in the National Museum of American History, along with other gowns donated by Mamie Eisenhower,  Jacqueline Kennedy, and Barbara Bush.

And for the record, the First Lady was fully aware of how cold it was on that night.

Get a behind-the-scenes experience on our Destination Smithsonian  programs, where you and your family will get up close and personal with objects in the Smithsonian’s various collections.

Where were you during the Inauguration Night? Share below.

Celebrating 100 Years at the National Museum of Natural History

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

There are some iconic images that come to mind when thinking of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: The Hope Diamond, the famous elephant in the rotunda, and the Dinosaur Hall. Generations of students have walked the halls on field trips taking in natural history, environmental science, and more recently, advanced forensic science. As we learn more about the world around us, the National Museum of Natural History attempts to educate all of us about the new scientific advances that help learn more about climate change and evolution.

This video from the Smithsonian Channel gives a small peek into the vast collection accumulated throughout the decades. Even more impressive are the photos from the archives that show how the museum changed the landscape of the city way before any of the other museums were built. As the most visited museum in the United States, the museum is considered a must-see, no matter what your age.


Visit Washington, D.C. with your child or grandchild on our Destination Smithsonian!: Exploring Extremes program.

When was the last time you visited the National Museum of Natural History? Share Below.