Melina Leon

PSG Bookshelf: Biographies

Melina Leon

The reality of living in New England during the winter is that it is very cold and snowy. Why not escape that reality, stay indoors, and read about other people’s lives?

Here are some of the PSG staff’s favorite biographies and autobiographies.

• One of Kate’s top choices is Mindy Kaling’s Why is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Kaling narrates how she started her writing career and gives behind the scenes information about her time on the US television series The Office. She also recommends Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father for a more serious reading experience.

Colleen has a rule that she will not reread books; however, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is the exception to that rule. She found Midnight Riders: The Story of the Allman Brothers Band to be another fascinating read.

Melina fell in love with To Selena, With Love by Chris Pérez. The book is Pérez’s reflection on his relationship with Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla.

Nora likes to read about the lives of writers. Her favorite book is Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Also, both she and Melina agree Stephen King’s memoir On Writing deserves another blog shout-out.

Tess has always admired Audrey Hepburn, so any biography about her will find its way on her reading list. She also loved reading about Natalie Wood’s background in Natalie Wood: A Life by Gavin Lambert.

Sarah Rush

World’s Smallest Penguin Wins Big

Sarah Rush

You’re driving to work in the morning, hustling to arrive on time, and suddenly the car in front of you slams the breaks. Annoyed, you poke your head out of the window to see what the problem is and—to your surprise—you spot the tiny, paddling feet of a mother duck and her chicks waddling across the road in a tight line before the car in front of you. Are you still irked? Maybe, maybe not. Now imagine if the ducks were actually little penguins!

In Australia and New Zealand, it’s a common sight to spot groups of the little blue penguin (also called the fairy penguin, but officially known as Eudyptula minor) tottering about on sandy roads near the coast. The smallest penguin species in the world, these little blue birds weigh about two to three pounds and nest their colonies on rocky island shores or around the bases of cliffs in parts of Oceania. Feeding on small fish, squid, and krill, they hunt in inshore waters and return to their nests at night.

But their commute poses a problem for the town of Oamaru, New Zealand. The city, in an effort to protect the penguins and promote tourism, had assembled nest boxes in secure areas for the small birds to colonize, and also provided nearby vantage points for visitors to watch them. However, the penguins must cross a busy and therefore dangerous overpass road when traveling from their hunting waters to their nests. Philippa Agnew from Oamaru’s Blue Penguin Colony knew the penguins needed further help, and came up with an idea to protect the birds by constructing a tunnel below the road.

Some residents feared that the area’s historic character would be compromised by the tunnel. But the majority of the community of Oamaru and the neighboring towns largely supported its construction, and a significant portion of its funding came through donations.

The tunnel was completed in September of 2016 and only took about three weeks to build. Video footage shows that about 20 penguins have taken to the tunnel and have used it daily since its installation.

Efforts do not stop at the tunnel. Plans to protect New Zealand’s little blue inhabitants include galvanizing awareness of penguin conservation and inspiring similar protection efforts. 

These little birds certainly deserve such a big win. Next time I watch a flock of turkeys or Canada geese wobble across the road, I’ll have penguins on my mind.

Did You Know?
A long time ago, penguins could fly. Science suggests that the birds lost this ability as their wings eventually became smaller and heavier. These wing changes made flying more difficult—and, eventually, impossible—but resulted in wings that were far more useful for swimming, diving and snatching up tasty fish.

Tess Renault

A View from The Mount: Visiting Edith Wharton’s Home

Tess Renault

New England has no shortage of historical sites to visit, and if you’re like me, visiting historical homes is a favorite tourist pastime. I always try to scout out any old homes of famous writers, so I was pretty excited that Edith Wharton, one of my favorite authors, once lived in my home state. 

Located in the Berkshires in Lenox, Massachusetts, is the Mount, a 42-room estate that was designed by Wharton in 1902. Wharton’s interest in design and architecture is apparent as you stroll through the impeccably decorated rooms that you can tour either on your own or through a guided tour. Wharton’s ingenuity extends outside to the beautiful gardens, which are a must-see during the spring and summer months. However, if you’re visiting during the fall, the estate offers ghost tours.

It always fascinates me to see the environment where a role model once lived and worked, especially one as talented as Wharton. Over 40 years, she wrote more than 40 books and she was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Age of Innocence. During her time living at the Mount, she wrote some of her best novels, including The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome.

In addition to a museum, the house is now a cultural center for all things Edith Wharton and also hosts other historical events. Even if you’re not familiar with Wharton’s writing, it’s still a beautiful architectural site to visit!

Sarah Terrazano

MASS MoCA: The Mill-Turned-Museum to Visit in MA

Sarah Terrazano

Tucked away in a Berkshire valley, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) is one of the most innovative museums in New England—and one of the most fascinating art museums I’ve ever visited.

MASS MoCA was converted from a nineteenth-century mill into a contemporary art behemoth, making the building an attraction in itself. Consisting of 26 buildings, the sprawling property has extensive courtyards, tunnels and bridges—often displaying the factory’s original red brick.

The museum’s vast space allows for especially large exhibits. One of the most striking that I saw is Sol LeWitt’s A Wall Drawing Retrospective, a display of massive wall drawings occupying an entire three-story building. Each wall in the exhibit captivates visitors with large color blocks, patterns and line drawings. Typical of LeWitt’s exhibitions, which are often commissioned for a long period of time, these wall drawings will be on display until 2033.

Another fascinating exhibit I experienced is James Turrell’s Into the Light. Using light as a sculpture medium, Turrell creates mesmerizing holograms, backlit walls and dark rooms with designs so dimly lit that your eyes take 15 minutes to fully adjust to them.

If you’re nearby and have a day to be amazed by contemporary art in refurbished mill buildings, definitely head to MASS MoCA!

Image Credit: Beyond My Ken

Melina Leon

Sit, Stay, Listen to Jane Austen?

Melina Leon

Some dogs do great when left alone, but others have a harder time being without their owner throughout the day.

Cesar Millan, dog trainer extraordinaire, explains that the separation anxiety your pet feels often results in undesirable behavior. It can also cause your dog to feel depressed.

As a solution, Millan created a line of audiobooks for dogs. The point of playing these audiobooks is to keep your dog calm while no one is home with them. Millan also says the audiobooks affect dogs’ behavior differently than having your pet listen to the TV or radio. The difference lies in the tone of the voice of audiobooks, which lets the dog stay relaxed. In fact, according to one study, three out of four dog owners noticed a positive change in behavior after playing an audiobook for their pet.

Millan also recommends listening to audiobooks with your dog at first to find one that works. He says the audiobook you choose should be the same gender as you and played at an average volume.

Some of Millan’s suggested audiobooks include Pride and Prejudice, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the Mary Poppins series.

Christine Chen

Sheep Can Recognize Your Face!

Christine Chen

The ability to recognize familiar faces or to learn to recognize new ones is a complex image process that we, humans, take for granted. Other mammals such as chimps have that ability, but what about sheep?

A recent study revealed that scientists succeeded in training sheep to recognize the faces of four celebrities by repeatedly presenting the sheep with photographs of their faces. Then the sheep were shown two different photos on separate computer screens—one of the “learned” celebrity and one of an unknown face. The sheep were able to identify the learned face eight times out of ten.

The sheep were also able to recognize their handler from a photograph, a task that requires shifting from a 3D to a 2D representation, demonstrating that sheep have face recognition abilities similar to humans’. Further research might also shed light on whether sheep can identify emotional expressions on human faces—imagine that while you’re counting sheep at night!

Christine Chen

From Carpenter to Library Benefactor: Francis Buttrick

Christine Chen

During my frequent trips to the Waltham Public Library, I noticed a plaque with the name Francis Buttrick on a wall of the brick building. Though I could safely assume that Francis Buttrick was a benefactor of the library, I was curious to learn more about him and the history of the building.

Francis Buttrick came to Waltham in 1838 as a carpenter, bought a lumberyard in 1857 and eventually made a fortune in real estate. In 1894, he left a $60,000 bequest for a new library, though legal issues prevented use of the money until 1914, when the sum had increased to $123,731 from interest!

Boston architectural firm Loring and Leland designed the building in the Colonial Revival style. The construction broke ground on October 23, 1914, on Main Street, and was completed the following year when it opened to the public on December 13, 1915.

Renovations and modern additions have updated the building since then, but its amazing history still symbolizes the American Dream: a modest carpenter’s rise to fortune and his legacy to give back to the community, which has enabled access to free books and education that patrons—including me!—still benefit from today.

Image: Tim Pierce

Melina Leon

Create Your Own Winter Wonderland

Melina Leon

The season is changing, and as the winter chill arrives—especially here in New England—what better way to enjoy it than to stay indoors and get crafty. Let’s bring winter inside our homes with these fun DIY ideas!

  • A new take on classic snow globes are DIY waterless ones. Items needed include glass jars, or clear plastic ornaments, artificial snow or glitter, small decorations such as trees or snowmen to include inside the globe, and a hot glue gun.

  • 3D snowflake decorations are also a cool way to say hello to winter. Materials needed to craft these are six to eight pieces of paper, scissors, tape and a stapler. Adding glitter, sequins or using different colored paper can also make each DIY snowflake one of a kind.

  • Glittered pinecones are another option for making some great wintery decor. They make beautiful tabletop decorations. The materials needed are spray paint, spray adhesive, glitter and pinecones—store-bought or from your backyard. Finish off the project with a pretty glass jar or vase.

  • Pinecones are also a crafty way to make a wreath. All you need is a wire hanger, a hot glue gun, beads to attach to the pinecone, ribbon and white spray paint for a nice snowy effect.

Although I love the winter, I’d rather celebrate its beauty from inside my home!

Bridget Marturano

En Garde! The Niche Sport of Fencing

Bridget Marturano

When I was younger, I always dreamed of being a pirate or a knight. When I discovered the sport of fencing at age 8, that dream came true.

There are three different types of fencing: foil, epee and sabre.

In foil, the target area is only the torso, and you must hit with the point of the weapon (there’s a little button that gets pressed in, it’s not sharp!). There are also special rules called “right of way” to determine who gets the point if both people hit.

In epee, the target area is the whole body, and you must hit with the point, but there is no right of way—if both people hit, they both get a point!

In sabre—the weapon that I fence—the target area is anywhere waist up, including the head! Like foil, the right of way rules apply, but unlike either of the other two weapons, you don’t have to hit with the point of the weapon. You can hit with the side of the blade, which makes it seem more like the fencing you might see in Pirates of the Caribbean.

After fencing for 13 years, I’ve had the opportunity to travel across the country for national tournaments, compete for an NCAA team, and meet Olympians. Fencing is a thrilling and unique sport that you can start at any age. Try it!

Christine Chen

Science and Sweets: Why Some of Us Like Candy and Others Don’t

Christine Chen

With the holiday season upon us, many of us will indulge in sweet treats at the office and at home, unless you are someone who does not care much for sweets, a concept that may surprise some of us candy lovers!

It turns out our sweet tooth has to do with two genetic variants of a hormone known as FGF21. Published research from the University of Copenhagen showed that individuals with the genetic variants rs838133 and rs838145 were 20 percent more likely to eat sweets than individuals lacking these variants. These two genetic variations of the FGF21 hormone are amazingly specific to the craving of candies like lollipops, but do not seem to have any effect on the fattier sweets like cupcakes and other pastries.

A separate study asked participants whether they liked sweets or not, and found that those who did had 50 percent less FGF21 hormone in their blood, suggesting that the hormone regulates sugar cravings. In other words, having lower levels of FGF21 or having a mutated version will cause you to eat more sugar.

The good news is FGF21 levels do not necessarily correlate with weight gain, so don’t let that hold you back from enjoying some holiday treats this season!

Bridget Marturano

PSG Favorites: Video Games

Bridget Marturano

One of my favorite ways to unwind after work or on the weekend is by playing video games. Here are some of our staff’s favorite games to play!

  • Don jokes that Adobe InDesign is his favorite “game” because he’s so good at it. But as far as console games go, he prefers to stick to Forza and Rock Band—racing and rocking!

  • Melina enjoys scary games such as the Silent Hill and Resident Evil franchises. Even though they’re very creepy (she always keeps the lights on while playing), she has a lot of fun solving the puzzles they contain. She also loves the music from the Silent Hill games.

  • Lori used to play Ms. Pac-Man after school every day in junior high and also loves Tetris. Years ago a friend told her, “Your brain operates like Tetris. Not everyone’s does, so use it well!”

  • Sarah is a fan of older games that she grew up with. She still regularly plays her Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 2 as well as her Game Boy Advance SP. She also loves World of Warcraft.

  • As for me, my favorite series will always be The Legend of Zelda, but I’ve recently gotten into the Final Fantasy series. In my opinion, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Final Fantasy VI are two of the best role-playing games (RPGs) ever. I love games that have a good balance between fighting and puzzle solving, as well as a good story!
    Melina Leon

    When Is the Movie Better Than the Book?

    Melina Leon

    I think one of the surest ways to find yourself in a disagreement with someone is by telling them a film adaptation is better than the original book. Of course, it is all a matter of personal opinion, but what films make that unpopular opinion true?

    Here are some films I feel succeeded the books.

    • Girl, Interrupted: The book lacked so much detail that the movie included, especially about the characters.

    • The Witches of Eastwick: The women are much more likeable in the film and are supportive of each other, unlike in the book when they always use magic against other women.

    • The Rules of Attraction: The book is great, but lost me toward the end because it included a lot of unnecessary detail, and the main character, although always shallow, became unbearably self-righteous. On screen however, he had qualities that made me understand why he was the way he was.

    • Pyscho: The character of Norman Bates is so much more charming on the screen than he is on the page.

    Whether or not you always believe the original format is best, it’s always fun to see the words come to life on the screen!

    Bridget Marturano

    dOGUMENTA: an Art Exhibit for Dogs!

    Bridget Marturano

    This past August, an art exhibit took place in New York City. This doesn’t seem too unusual, considering that NYC is a great place for art. What made this exhibit so special was that it wasn’t for humans—it was for dogs.

    This unique idea formed when art critic and dog owner Jessica Dawson took her dog, Rocky, for walks through art galleries. Dawson believed that dogs view and interact with art differently than people do, and that they could teach us something new about art and ourselves.

    The name of the exhibit, dOGUMENTA, took its name from a contemporary art exhibition in Germany called Documenta, and featured a variety of media that incorporated color, sound, scent and touch into the pieces. This was the first art exhibit for dogs in the United States, but hopefully there will be more events like it in the future!

    Christine Chen

    PSG Picks: Our Favorite Mystery & Crime Books!

    Christine Chen

    Halloween is over, and with it, the sense of mystery and spookiness, but that doesn’t mean we can’t submerge ourselves in a good mystery or crime book! Here are what some of us at PSG have to say about our favorite books and authors when we’re seeking suspense.

    Nora loves reading mystery novels from classic authors Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as young adult mystery writers like Brittany Cavallaro, who wrote a series based on Sherlock Holmes with a modern female detective as the protagonist. Nora is currently wrapped up in The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, whom she heard speak at a book festival.

    Kate doesn’t turn to mystery and crime novels often, but a few have caught her attention. When she found out J K Rowling had written a detective novel under a pseudonym (Robert Galbraith), she bought The Cuckoo’s Calling, and really enjoyed the plot twists throughout the novel before the final reveal. Rowling/Galbraith has since released two other novels about the same detective, and Kate is looking forward to reading those next! The BBC even made a television series (Strike) based on the novels, which Kate hopes will be available on American TV soon.

    Tess doesn’t usually read mysteries, but, a few summers ago, she read Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and loved the thriller aspect of the sci-fi novel. Tess generally enjoys reading stories with a twist at the end, so she is considering reading more mystery and crime books, especially by classic female authors, such as Nora’s favorite, Christie.

    • As for me, I have a fascination for Scandinavian mystery and crime writers of the likes of Jo Nesbø (his novel The Snowman has been recently made into a movie of the same title) and Stieg Larsson (author of the Millennium trilogy). I’ve also recently finished binge-reading the Inspector Wallander series by Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell. I look forward to watching the adaptation of Mankell’s characters in the Swedish TV series Wallander and comparing it to the novels.

    With winter on its way, what better way to make use of the cold, dark days than getting wrapped up in a great mystery or crime book? Consider these suggestions from our staff!

    Melina Leon

    Glossophobia: Better Not Eat Before a Speech

    Melina Leon

    Just kidding . . . it’s probably not best to make a speech on an empty stomach. But don’t worry, if you’re one of many people with glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, there are some tips and tricks to calm the feeling of nervousness—and, in some cases, nausea—before publicly speaking.

    This Harper’s Bazaar article gives some great advice to get over the fear. Some good tips are to know your audience and their expectations; find your natural voice and what you’re comfortable with; write down notes for reference if allowed and familiarize yourself with them; and, most importantly, breathe!

    The best way to conquer nerves is to focus on breathing, says Patsy Rodenburg, a Shakespearean voice coach who has worked with many famous actors. Rodenburg also recommends practicing out loud. In an article with the Guardian, Rodenburg says, “The body houses the voice, and the breath energizes it.” A physical warm-up is just as necessary as a vocal one because it is all connected.

    However, warm-ups are often overlooked, which can hinder the quality of the speech. There is more to preparing than just memorization. A simple stretching warm-up, paired with breathing exercises, can make a big improvement in the presentation.

    Not only will these exercises make you feel more prepared, they will help ease away the nerves so you can feel confident in how you are speaking! So long, glossophobia!

    Bridget Marturano

    Meeting One of My Heroes: An Evening with Patrick Rothfuss

    Bridget Marturano

    A few weeks ago, I got to meet my favorite author—Patrick Rothfuss. He was doing a book tour to celebrate the release of the tenth anniversary edition of his fantasy novel The Name of the Wind, and made a stop at Brookline Booksmith to do a Q&A session in the store’s basement and a signing upstairs afterwards.

    I wasn’t able to secure a ticket for a seat at the Q&A, but because I arrived almost two hours early, I was able to go downstairs and stand in the back for the Q&A. Everyone who hadn’t arrived so eagerly early was still able to listen to the session over a loudspeaker upstairs.

    After the session, I waited for about an hour to get my book signed. There were hundreds of people crammed into this small bookstore, but he happily talked with each person as he signed their books. When it was my turn, he greeted me with a smile and asked how I was doing in a way that wasn’t just a greeting, but a genuine question. We talked briefly and then I said goodbye so the next person could have their book signed.

    Getting to meet the person behind the writing I’ve admired for years was amazing and definitely worth the wait!

    Christine Chen

    Pok-A-Tok: A Mayan Ball Game

    Christine Chen

    In my recently found passion for pre-Colombian cultures, I went to visit Chichén Itzá, a world famous site of Mayan ruins in Yucatán, Mexico. The site hosts one of the largest surviving stone courts where the Maya once competed in a ball game sport called Pok-A-Tok, derived from the Yucatec Mayan word pokolpok.

    The court at Chichén Itzá measures 551 feet long and 230 feet wide—about twice the size of an American football field— with surrounding walls that are 26 feet high. Teams of two to three players competed by using their padded elbows, arms, knees, thighs and shoulders—but no hands—to bounce a solid rubber ball through an inverted stone hoop in the center of the wall. The ball, ranging from the size of a softball to a soccer ball, could weigh up to 20 pounds.

    Can you imagine how challenging it must have been to throw a 20-pound rubber ball through a 20-foot-high hoop without using your hands? According to my guide in Chichén Itzá, the feat proved so difficult that modern men were unable to replicate the game in the stone court!

    Melina Leon

    The Text With No Meaning: Lorem Ipsum

    Melina Leon

    Imagine randomly hitting the keys on your computer, creating nonsense words as you type. I like to imagine that is how Lorem Ipsum—the filler text that often comes standard with many digital publishing programs—started. However, it actually started with a printer from the 1500s who scrambled up one of Cicero’s works, which may be why it’s often mistaken for Latin.

    To my surprise, though, Lorem Ipsum isn’t readable Latin. The text doesn’t mean anything at all. It does consist of some Latin words, but the words go through “Greeking,” a process that makes the text unreadable.

    Lorem Ipsum is the dummy text of the design world. The purpose of it is to make it easier for designers to get an idea of how their work will look until they have the final text to insert. Another purpose of this filler text is to avoid any distractions that readable text could cause during the layout process.

    It’s a shame I can’t write my college papers using Lorem Ipsum!

    Bridget Marturano

    PSG Reads: Our Favorite Nonfiction

    Bridget Marturano

    Fall is a great time to curl up with a good book, and it’s no surprise that we love to read at PSG! This week we asked our staff about nonfiction. Here are some of our favorite titles:

    • Nora loves In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. The first nonfiction book that she read and loved, Nora says that the story was enveloping and chilling to read. She also loves Stephen King’s memoir On Writing for its humor and advice to writers.
    • Melina agrees with Nora and also loves Stephen King’s On Writing, which she describes as “a refreshing read with a lot of useful tips on becoming a better writer.” She also enjoys how King shares a lot about his life, making the read both informative and entertaining!
    • Don enjoyed Alone by Richard E. Byrd, who spent five months alone in a shack in Antarctica in 1934. The autobiography is based on the author’s diary entries, which become more and more incomprehensible as he slowly succumbs to carbon monoxide poisoning from his malfunctioning heater. (Spoiler alert: He lives to publish the book!)
    • Annette’s favorite nonfiction book is Me Talk Pretty One Day, which is a collection of hilarious essays by David Sedaris.
    • Tess usually prefers fiction, but has a wide range of interests when it comes to nonfiction. She enjoyed Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer when she had to read it in high school. She also loves reading biographies about classical Hollywood actresses like Audrey Hepburn and memoirs written about people’s experiences during WWII.

    As for me, I read fiction almost exclusively but I’ve been having a lot of fun reading the textbook for my Intro to Linguistics class—learning about language is a reader’s dream!

    Christine Chen

    In Sync: How Our Brain Waves Affect Each Other

    Christine Chen

    Most of us have, at some point, felt in sync with a friend or a family member because of a shared experience or shared perspectives. Not only can this “feeling” be measured in oscillation patterns of electrical signals—brain waves— that occur when brain cells communicate with each other, but brain-scanning studies revealed that human brain wave patterns do synchronize in an interactive group of people.

    In one such study, researchers had a group of students wear portable electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets to measure changes in their brain wave patterns for the duration of a biology course at a New York high school. Brain waves known as beta bands started synchronizing among the subjects as they were learning. When the students’ brain waves were in sync with one another, the students became more engaged with the class and gave positive feedback about the course and the teacher.

    What this study suggests is the mutual benefit of interacting with one another one-on-one or as a team: syncing our brain waves can help improve collaboration and advance a mutual goal. So let’s sync!

    Melina Leon

    Tired of TV? Try Binge-Reading Your Favorite Author

    Melina Leon

    Binge-watching TV shows has become a popular hobby and it had me wondering if the same could be done with books. Not just reading one book after another, but reading books written by the same author.

    I have been reading a lot of work by Stephen King recently. This is partly due to taking a course about him for school, but also because he has such an imaginative mind and has written so many books. I read his memoir, On Writing, over the summer and that sparked major interest in his novels.

    A pro of binge-reading authors is getting great insight into their writing habits and common themes used throughout their stories. Another pro is seeing if they take risks and expand out of their go-to genres. King is known for his horror novels, but he dabbles in science fiction and mystery as well. The latter could be seen as a con as well because many authors stick to one genre, so you limit yourself as a reader. Another con is missing out on the creativity and writing styles other authors have to offer, and after reading On Writing, King has made it clear that writers have endless possibilities with their work.

    Cons aside, so far I’ve really enjoyed binge-reading King—I definitely recommend it to any fan!

    Nora Chan

    For the Love of Fall

    Nora Chan

    Many are disappointed that summer has come to an end. There are no more beach trips or sandals, no more s’mores by the campfire, and school begins once again. But for me, the end of the summer marks the beginning of my favorite season of the year, and it’s not just because of all the pumpkin spice flavors.

    Where there is fall, there are apple and pumpkin pies, chicken noodle soup, sweaters and blankets. Not to mention the glorious sound of fallen leaves crunching beneath your feet as you walk. I even enjoy raking the leaves in my yard! It is the best time of the year to curl up under soft layers, drink a hot cup of tea and read all the books in my growing to-be-read pile. And don’t forget about watching football with friends and family every week—and all the food that comes with it.

    For the ultimate in comfort clothing, food and activities, autumn is the only season for me. And if this doesn’t convince you that fall is the greatest season, find yourself a place to go apple picking, and get yourself some apple cider donuts—I promise they won’t disappoint.

    Bridget Marturano

    Sing-Song and Ping-Pong: Ablaut Reduplication

    Bridget Marturano

    Did you know that English is full of little unspoken rules? One of these strange rules happens in ablaut reduplication, which is the repetition of a word with a change in one of its vowels. Terms like criss-cross, Kit-Kat and sing-song are examples of this linguistic phenomenon.

    But have you ever noticed that there’s a pattern to these phrases? Try saying them backwards: cross-criss, Kat-Kit, song-sing. It just doesn’t feel right. It turns out that there is a specific order to the vowels we use in these phrases. We always start with the “high” vowels and move progressively towards the “low” vowels. A high vowel, like the i in criss-cross, is formed when your tongue is closer to the roof of your mouth, while a low vowel like the o in sing-song is formed with your tongue in a lower position.

    One theory of why we do this is because low vowels are closer to our mouth’s natural resting position, so it’s easier to start in an unnatural position and work our way back to normal. So the order of these phrases will always be I-A-O: sing sang song!

    Further Reading
    Ohio State University Department of Linguistics, Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Languages and Linguistics (Ohio State University Press, 2016), 59–60.

    Christine Chen

    From Candy to Chemistry: Working in a Factory Turned Laboratory

    Christine Chen

    Before joining PSG as an editorial intern, I worked as a chemist in Cambridge, MA, in a six-story structure that once belonged to the New England Confectionary Company—famous for their colorful wafers and conversation hearts, and more commonly known as Necco.

    Back in 1928, the Necco candy factory embodied the “promising future of American architecture,” but in 2001, with manufacturing industries moving out of the Cambridge area, Necco sold the building to a pharmaceutical company. The building was gutted out to include an open space at the center. Glass-enclosed elevators moved between floors of biomedical research laboratories.

    The cafeteria where I’d meet my colleagues for lunch used to be the power plant. A “winter garden” with tropical plants had replaced the loading dock. The water tower, once painted in colorful stripes like the Necco wafers, was replaced with a double-stranded helix of DNA.

    How amazing that a candy-making factory became a center for a cutting-edge research facility, a place where I had been going day in and day out mixing chemicals to synthesize new molecules. The same place where, years ago, workers had mixed batches of sugars and flavors to churn out Necco treats. There were days my lab mate swore he caught a whiff of peppermint candies!

    Melina Leon

    New Season Means New Seasons: PSG’s Favorite Fall Shows

    Melina Leon

    Fall has arrived and there are new television shows starting up this season that some PSG staff members are very excited for, while others are returning with new seasons that are garnering just as much enthusiasm.

    During this time of the year I always get ready for a new season of “American Horror Story,” but am also looking forward to “Bob’s Burgers”—I like to balance out the creepiness of one with the comedy of the other.

    Here are what others at PSG are watching:

    • Kate is excited for the revival of “Will and Grace.” She has also been loving “The Good Place,” so her Thursday nights will be filled with great comedy!
    • Don prefers to binge-watch his shows, and is consumed with dramas like “The Walking Dead,” “Better Call Saul,” “Detectorists,” and “Game of Thrones.”
    • Bridget hasn’t been watching a lot of TV lately, but she really likes “Águila Roja,” which is a Spanish show similar to “Game of Thrones” and “Zorro.”
    • Tess is another staff member who is very excited for the return of “Will and Grace.” She also enjoys “This Is Us” and the British drama “The Crown.”
    • Annette is eagerly awaiting the final season of the hilarious sitcom “New Girl,” which is scheduled to be short, but guaranteed to be sweet.
    • Nora is making her way through the original “Will and Grace” so she can dive into the reboot. She is also excited about “Young Sheldon,” which is a spin-off of “The Big Bang Theory.”
    • Colleen is also enjoying the heartfelt series “This Is Us,” and is very excited for the return of the fantastic cast, especially Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown.

    We at PSG have a range of taste in TV shows, but it seems like we will be tuning into some of the same shows this fall. So there will be plenty to chat about on breaks—but we’re always wary of spoilers!


    Bridget Marturano

    Slaying Dragons on the Weekends: Why Dungeons & Dragons is More Than Just a Game

    Bridget Marturano

    I’ve always been a fairly geeky person, so when I started playing Dungeons and Dragons (also known as D&D) it was no surprise that I immediately fell in love with it. For those who don’t know, D&D is a tabletop roleplaying game that uses polyhedral dice to determine the outcome of in-game events in a fantasy world controlled by the Dungeon Master (DM). Each player creates a unique character and acts out the role of that character throughout the course of the game.

    I love D&D so much because, unlike with traditional forms of storytelling, I get to directly participate and help create the story with a group of friends for several hours every week. My particular group of adventurers consists of my human wizard, a half-elf ranger, an elven cleric, and a few others. We’ve spent countless evenings together in taverns, hatched and raised a baby dragon, slain powerful evil entities, and even brought a fallen comrade back to life.

    While it’s fun to pick up something like The Lord of the Rings and read about a group of heroes going on a grand quest, it’s even more fun to experience such an adventure firsthand.

    Katy Rosen

    Zip Into Boston!

    Katy Rosen

    At the start of this summer, my first time alone in Boston, I felt some mild trepidation about having to ride the subway system fondly known as “the T.” Coming from rural Vermont, it was a completely foreign concept to me. But now Boston offers an even more eye-opening way of getting around.

    “The Z,” a newly opened zip line in the heart of Boston, spans over 220 feet and carries one to two riders. Perched atop a 30-foot tower, it gives riders a unique view of downtown Boston, the waterfront and the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and for $8 a ride, you can have access to this unique viewing spot!

    Functioning as the centerpiece of a temporarily revitalized parcel of undeveloped land, the zip line is an initiative by the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, a non-profit that looks for temporary ways to bring engaging experiences. The installation is scheduled to run through the middle of September, so come and enjoy it while you still can!

    Image Credit: Danielle Walquist

    Rachel Matthews

    Must-See Mini Monuments

    Rachel Matthews

    Some landmarks are designed to stand out: DC’s Washington Monument, London’s Big Ben, Russia’s the Motherland Calls (a sword-wielding stone woman who reaches nearly 300 feet!). But other marvels are easy to miss if you aren’t looking for them.

    In contrast to its towering warrior, Russia houses the smallest public monument in the world. The tiny frog statue, named the Frog Traveler, sits at only 1.7 inches high! It was inspired by the Russian children’s book The Frog Went Travelling, and pays homage to all travelers of the world.

    You may have been to the Washington Monument, but did you know that it has a mini-me buried nearby? This 12-foot replica is officially called “Bench Mark A” and serves as a geodetic control point—a point of reference for creating accurate maps. If you want to see it for yourself, you’ll need a park ranger to help you open the manhole cover!

    London has an even smaller sight to hunt for. High up on the side of a building on Philpot Lane is the Two Mice Eating Cheese. These mice may be cute, but they have a devious past. Supposedly they commemorate two construction workers who fell to their deaths in a fight after one accused the other of stealing his cheese sandwich. The real thieves got away squeaky clean.

    Stockholm is home to the Järnpojke, the Iron Boy (also called the “little boy who looks at the moon”). This monument is less than 6 inches in height and has been sitting in Old Town for 50 years. In the winter, visitors even dress him in warm clothes!
    I know on my next vacation, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for small wonders like these!

    Image Credit: Pieter Claerhout

    Karla Accorto

    Fiction’s One-Hit Wonders

    Karla Accorto

    While authors like Agatha Christie and Stephen King have published dozens of novels, others are known for their publication of a single novel.

    Emily Brontë, for example, only published Wuthering Heights, and it wasn’t well received until after her death. Critics either judged it very harshly or were unsure how to react to her dramatic romance. Whether Brontë ever intended to publish another book is unknown—she died of tuberculosis before she had the chance.

    Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell may have been discouraged from publishing again after the great media attention her first novel garnered. While initially a willing participant, Mitchell eventually stopped partaking in interviews and signing autographs, citing poor health. Ultimately, World War II broke out, and she turned to volunteering for the Red Cross.

    J. D. Salinger also found himself disliking the spotlight after the publication of The Catcher in the Rye. He was always a private person and did not enjoy the attention gained by his novel. Fame and public scrutiny made him a recluse, and though he published some stories and novellas, he never published another novel.

    For some authors, the success of one novel appeared to be too much, discouraging them from publishing a second. For others like Brontë, however, we will never know what might have been.

    Katy Rosen

    Waltz This Way: How Dancing Can Slow the Aging of the Brain

    Katy Rosen

    I did not like the dancing portion of high school theater; every dance was a painful experience for me and anyone nearby. To this day, I cannot confidently do the Charleston, but luckily all that time spent on the dance floor wasn’t wasted. It turns out even poor attempts at dancing can help your brain!

    A team led by a Colorado State University researcher conducted a study on the effects that dancing has on the brain. The team also set out to find if changes in the aging brain are inevitable. The study focused specifically on the areas of the brain pertaining to memory: the hippocampus and the fornix.

    Of the four groups within the study, those that partook in dancing had the least amount of decline within their brains. Within all groups there was some decline, but the good news is that every group that participated in exercise had less of a decline than those that did not!

    The takeaway here is that while we know of nothing (so far) that can completely stop the aging of the brain, there are definitely actions that can slow this process down. So, Charleston connoisseur or not, get out on the dance floor and get your groove on!

    Rachel Matthews

    An Intern’s Industry Insight: The Other Meaning of “Signature”

    Rachel Matthews

    Picture this: you’re nearing the conclusion of a thrilling book, and you can feel three pages left in your fingers. But the ending comes more abruptly than you thought—the last two pages are blank!

    I used to wonder how those extra pages ended up in my books. But PSG staff members Alyssa and Don clued me in on an alternative definition of the word signature that is little-known outside of the publishing world.

    I had no idea that the book pages I see are not printed individually, but in sets called signatures. Since these signatures tend to be 16, 32 or 64 pages each, a book needs to be planned out accordingly. Any unfilled pages in the last signature will still be included in the final product—which finally explains the mystery at the end of my thrillers!

    Now that I know that, I understand why I sometimes see advertisements at the end of my books. And if content can’t be reworked to fill the signature, I can definitely see why the best option is to end with a blank page or two.

    I feel better knowing the whole story—and that’s just one of the many industry insights I’ve gotten from PSG!

    Katy Rosen

    Austen Fancies “Fancying” and Nabokov Loves “Mauve”: Patterns in Popular Literature

    Katy Rosen

    Synesthesia is generally described as a neurological crossover of the senses. Essentially, the stimulation of one sense causes the experience of another. In his autobiography, author Vladimir Nabokov wrote that his synesthesia caused his brain to conjure colors when he heard different letters and sounds.

    In Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, data journalist Ben Blatt seeks to learn more about the Russian-American author, as well as other famous writers, by quantifying their writing styles. Blatt created a database of text from twentieth-century classics and bestsellers to discover patterns within great writing. By analyzing the novels of popular writers, Blatt created an extensive library of data to draw from.

    One general trend he found was that shorter opening sentences and fewer adverbs are two characteristics of many popular novels. Other findings were more specific. For instance, Danielle Steel mentions weather in the first sentence of 46 percent of her 92 analyzed novels, and Jane Austen’s top three most-used words were civility, fancying and imprudence. Fancy that!

    Based on Blatt’s title, I bet you can guess one of Nabokov’s trends. Blatt found that Nabokov “used the word mauve 44 times more often than the average writer in the past two centuries.” This makes a lot of sense, given his synesthesia. I wonder which words caused Nabokov to see mauve?

    Karla Accorto

    A Tale of Two Readings

    Karla Accorto

    If you ever had to read A Tale of Two Cities at a young age, you probably felt like I did—a little overwhelmed and not exactly in love. I never thought I would willingly pick it up again. As a senior English major, however, I felt I had to give the popular classic one more shot, and I was pleasantly surprised when I did.

    My second reading has been so enjoyable because I actually understand what is happening. Dickens is famous for being a verbose writer, and enjoying his work today requires skills that I lacked at the age of fifteen. Now, however, I have a much larger vocabulary and can better understand Dickens’s once-baffling diction.

    I also favor the story more now because years of studying literature have given me the confidence to be critical of a novel’s characters. I now have more faith in my literary judgments, and I’m not afraid to admit that I dislike a character from an esteemed “classic.” Knowing that I don’t need to like the characters allows me to form my own opinions about them—without the fear of being wrong.

    As I begin the final book of the novel, I realize that reading A Tale of Two Cities in high school might have been “the worst of times,” but reading it again now is absolutely “the best of times.”

    Katy Rosen

    Qwerty Waltz: The Boston Typewriter Orchestra

    Katy Rosen

    I love the sound that typewriters make almost as much as I love satire. These are two elements rarely brought together, so when I started researching the Boston Typewriter Orchestra (BTO), I got unreasonably excited.

    Self-described as a group that combines “elements of performance, comedy and satire,” the BTO, a group of five typists, uses typewriter keys to create music. Bedecked in 1950s-style with starchy white shirts and polyester ties, they pound on the keys to self-created rhythms. Their website serves as a place for both updates and pithy inter-office jokes, such as, “There is some leftover Limburger cheese in the company cafeteria. Please take a pound home.”

    They have, however, drawn some negative attention for the harsh way they treat their machines. Derrik Albertelli, the “executive typist,” acknowledges that “we whale on them pretty hard and we break a lot of them,” but that the group strives to repurpose the mostly obsolete machines. By transforming an antiquated piece of office technology into a musical instrument, the BTO is keeping the intricate typewriter from rusting away. So, thanks to this group, long lives the typewriter!

    Image Credit: Pixabay

    Rachel Matthews

    PSG is Sweet: Our Staff’s Favorite Desserts

    Rachel Matthews

    After a busy day at the office, it can be nice to unwind with something sweet. At PSG, we all have different ways of treating ourselves. Here are some of the staff’s favorite desserts.
    Katy enjoys lemon squares and homemade banana “ice cream” (which is actually just blended, frozen bananas!).
    Matthew is more into appetizers and entrees, but has a long-held love for zabaglione—a light, whipped treat made with sugar, egg yolks and wine.
    Sarah makes s’mores in the summer, with golden-brown marshmallows and half-melted chocolate inside a graham cracker. Her treat isn’t complete without the smell of the campfire.
    Don is a chocolate fan, but would usually turn down dessert in favor of a second helping of his meal!
    Karla loves cheesecake, but it must have a classic cheesecake crust—no New York style for her. She’ll top it with strawberries or other kinds of fruit. Cheesecake ice cream also has a special place in her heart.
    Tess likes cheesecake too—it’s one of her many favorites! She also enjoys homemade jellyrolls, strawberry shortcake (especially in the summer) and anything chocolate.
    Alyssa doesn’t have a huge sweet tooth, but sometimes she’ll indulge in a homemade cannoli.
    Colleen’s favorite dessert is a local specialty called “Chocolate Decadence.” It’s a bit hard to describe—something like half-cooked brownie batter and half-baked cookie dough, all topped with homemade whipped cream. Yum!

    I’m more of a savory type, but I have a habit of pouring myself a tall glass of chocolate milk before bed. It’s just the right amount of sweet to end my day. And as the summer winds down and the temperature drops, I might start turning to hot chocolate!

    Karla Accorto

    Dogs “Speak” in Comic Sans

    Karla Accorto

    Ever since I was a child, I have loved the Comic Sans font because of how much it resembled my own handwriting, even as my handwriting developed into a more adult-like form. But how did this childlike, whimsical font come into play?

    Initially, Comic Sans was created for a digital dog named Rover. While testing a beta version of a Microsoft program, designer Vincent Connare noticed that all of Rover’s speech bubbles were written in Times New Roman, which he thought looked too formal. In his opinion, “Dogs don’t talk in Times New Roman!” and so he set out to remedy the situation.

    Using comic books—specifically The Dark Night Returns—as references, Connare worked tirelessly to create a new font, and Comic Sans was born.

    Since its inception, Comic Sans has found its way onto many a page, sign or digital interface. Those who favor it praise Comic Sans for being “casual” and “welcoming.” But did you know that Comic Sans is also one of the typefaces preferred by some dyslexic readers? Its unique sans serif quality, clear ascenders and descenders, and spacing between letters help some dyslexic readers distinguish the letters better than some other fonts.

    And to think, it all started with a talking dog!

    Image Credit: Startup Stock Photos

    Sarah Terrazano

    Tracing History: A Literary Tour of Ireland’s Great Writers

    Sarah Terrazano

    My mom and I are most similar in our Irish heritage and love of reading. We recently traveled to Ireland together and soaked up not just the cloudy countryside, but also Ireland’s rich literary history, by creating our own literary Dublin walking tour.

    We began with the Dublin Writers Museum. In an unassuming yet charming eighteenth-century brick house in northern Dublin, we saw unique artifacts like an early edition of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and a rotary dial phone that belonged to Samuel Beckett.

    We left the museum to see where many Irish writers got their start: Trinity College. It’s the alma mater of Swift, Beckett and other greats like Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker, and you can practically inhale the literary history from this beautiful, historic campus in the heart of Dublin.

    Trinity is home to the Old Library, an eighteenth-century building of literary wonders. The Old Library’s massive Long Room is a breathtaking hall with leather-bound books stacked floor-to-ceiling and marble busts of notable Trinity figures placed at the end of each row. The Long Room is also home to the famous Book of Kells, a ninth-century illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels written in Latin.

    For the final leg of the tour, we hit the streets of Dublin to find two iconic statues: James Joyce, leaning on a cane, and Oscar Wilde, lounging on a boulder—telltale smirk and all!

    Image Credit: David Iliff

    Katy Rosen

    Read Like PSG: Our Reading Habits

    Katy Rosen

    When I delve into a book, I like to read every chapter name before I start in. I always like to have some idea of what I’m getting into. This is a practice I sort of fell into, though I never realized the other PSG staff members might also have curious reading habits they’ve fallen into!
    Alyssa’s main habit, which she gets a lot of flack about, is to read the last few pages or the final chapter of a book. She likes to make sure the main character meets a happy end before investing her time.
    Matthew reads the summary on the jacket or the back cover, then flips to random pages to determine if the style and content is engaging. He is also using Audible more now these days, so he can listen and multitask.
    Eileen will go months without reading, pick up a book, and finish it in a single sitting!
    Rachel will often get so caught up in characters’ conversations that she’ll skim and only read dialogue. She wishes she could get out of this habit, but she always makes sure she goes back and reads what she skipped.
    Sarah always starts with the “About the Author” section to determine who is pulling the strings of her book.
    Colleen avoids spoilers at all costs, meaning she never looks at chapter titles ahead of time, and even goes so far as to put her hand over upcoming text on a page, in fear of spoiling something even seconds too soon. 
    •If Karla gets into a good mystery novel where the anticipation is killing her, she’ll flip to the end and read the last sentence. Most of the time, it doesn’t make sense, but she enjoys having some knowledge of the ending.

    The PSG staff clearly have a love for all things literary, but the ways in which we express that love differ quite a bit!

    Rachel Matthews

    See the World Without Leaving Times Square

    Rachel Matthews

    There’s something oddly comforting about seeing everyday objects scaled down to miniature size. It reminds me of the days of dollhouses and army men, when I controlled my own tiny worlds. I can only imagine the thrill of seeing Gulliver’s Gate: a tiny world of epic proportions.

    Since May 9, 2017, visitors to Times Square could pay to enter the 50-thousand-square-foot exhibition of miniatures known as Gulliver’s Gate. Inside, they could see models of sites from all over the world—87 times smaller than the originals!

    Gulliver’s Gate was named after Jonathan Swift’s fantastical novel Gulliver’s Travels, in which an adventurer encounters new places (including Lilliput, an island country where he is considered a giant) that change his view of the world. The project aims to create that change in its visitors.

    The mini locations feature such landmarks as Grand Central Station and the Abbey Road crosswalk—complete with tiny Beatles! Visitors receive keys that they can turn within the exhibit to make things move. Turn one at Loch Ness, and a certain infamous monster just might pop out!

    If you visit this magical world, and you find it too hard to leave, don’t worry: visitors can have their bodies scanned into mini-mes, and leave them as Gulliver’s Gate residents!

    Karla Accorto

    An English Major’s Dream Come True: Visiting Shakespeare’s Globe

    Karla Accorto

    While I have been in love with London for as long as I can remember, William Shakespeare did not capture my heart until ninth grade, when I first read Romeo and Juliet. Since then, my love for the Bard has only continued to grow.

    Then, this past March, I had the opportunity to visit the Globe Theatre—an English major’s dream! At first glance, the theater seemed very out of place; then it occurred to me that it was not meant to fit in with the modern world—it belonged to a different era.

    While visiting, I was also lucky enough to see a performance. The play was performed at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, an indoor theater attached to the Globe. The show I attended was The White Devil, a revenge tragedy written by John Webster, one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. It was a haunting performance that was lit solely by candlelight, and it left me with chills.

    On my way out after the performance, I couldn’t help but notice—of all things—the trash cans, which boasted a quote from As You Like It: “I like this place, and willingly could waste my time in it.” As I left my beloved Globe Theatre behind, I couldn’t have agreed more.

    Sarah Terrazano

    Mark Your Calendars! Total Solar Eclipse to Sweep Across the Country This Month

    Sarah Terrazano

    Binoculars? Check. Protective solar glasses? Check. A clear view of the sky? Check! You’re ready to watch the total solar eclipse sweeping the nation this month.

    August 21, 2017, marks the first total solar eclipse to cover the entire country in 99 years.
    Tracing a path from Oregon to South Carolina, the eclipse will only be visible in the United States. It’s predicted to be one of the biggest events of the year, if not the decade. Many hotels in the eclipse’s direct path have been booked for months or years, and celebratory events like viewing parties, telescope workshops and planetarium shows are cropping up all over the country.

    If you aren’t in the eclipse’s direct path, you’ll likely still be able to see a partial eclipse (get a better idea of what you’ll see here). But those who can’t see the total eclipse in person shouldn’t worry—universities across the country will be launching 57 balloons equipped with cameras to record and live-stream the eclipse! The Eclipse Ballooning Project has been over three years in the making, and will broadcast the eclipse on NASA TV, YouTube and television stations nationwide.

    I’ll definitely be tuning into my first balloon broadcast this month. Will you join the live stream, or are you lucky enough to watch within the eclipse’s direct path?

    Karla Accorto

    Lighting Up the City That Never Sleeps

    Karla Accorto

    Just across the Hudson, the Empire State Building shines as the star of the Manhattan skyline. Often lit with a classic white light, the Empire State Building is even more breathtaking at night. Every so often, however, the building can be seen sporting a wide variety of colors and images.

    This past April, for example, Harper’s Bazaar used an LED light system to project 150 past covers of their magazine on the skyscraper. The covers rotated frequently, and each image was an astonishing 500 feet tall and 186 feet wide. Popular covers included Audrey Hepburn on the February 1954 issue as well as Beyoncé’s November 2011 issue.

    Past notable lightings also include red, white and blue in celebration of Independence Day as well as violet and white to commemorate NYU’s 185th commencement ceremony.

    The next special lighting is scheduled for August 7. The Empire State Building will appear in purple, honoring the brave men and women in our military who have received the Purple Heart.

    Sarah Terrazano

    Upping the Stacks: NYPL’s Long-awaited Midtown Renovation

    Sarah Terrazano

    I have a tradition of visiting the public library in every new city I visit. Call me a bibliophile, but a library says a lot about its city. I’ve been to the New York Public Library (NYPL) Midtown branch numerous times, but the next time I’m in New York, I’ll have a “new” library to visit—the Midtown branch’s Mid-Manhattan Library is beginning a long-awaited renovation this year.

    The Mid-Manhattan Library is the NYPL’s most heavily used circulating branch, and the renovations could not be coming a moment sooner. The library first opened in 1970 in a building that was erected in 1914 as a department store. New Yorkers rely on the Midtown branch for services like research, technology training, language classes and children’s story hour. The $200 million renovation will provide the library with much-needed public seats, study spaces and brightly lit bookshelves. Specifics include a new full-floor business library, separate libraries for children and teens, classrooms and a rooftop terrace (the only public one in Midtown!).

    The Mid-Manhattan Library will close in August 2017 and is slated to re-open in early 2020. I cannot wait to join New York patrons in checking out the renovated branch—if not a book or two!

    Image credit: Galaksiafervojo

    Katy Rosen

    My Shakespear-ience: Not-Your-Average Shakespeare Course

    Katy Rosen

    At seven o’clock on a rainy November night, I headed back to class to start a five-hour screening of King Lear, where my professor met me and my classmates with a bag of secret-recipe homemade popcorn.

    As an English major at Smith College, I was required to take an intensive course. I got the very last spot in a class that meant 15 straight weeks of Shakespeare, which was taught by the most established professor in the English department. To say I was terrified was an understatement.

    The professor’s eccentricity preceded him, and the popcorn story is only one of many. My class became well-known for getting way off topic. My favorite tangent was a discussion when the class agreed that comparing your romantic relationship to Romeo and Juliet’s is kind of like using Hamlet to demonstrate how close and well-adjusted your family life is.

    When it came down to the serious stuff, this class was by far one of the most intense and challenging things I’ve ever done, but I can confidently look back and say it was the best class experience I’ve ever had—and that popcorn was pretty good too.

    Rachel Matthews

    Boston Students See a Whole New World

    Rachel Matthews

    Once, in grade school, I was given a blank map of the world and asked to label every country (in pen—yikes). I may have gotten a lot wrong on that test, but it turns out the map I was working with may not have been accurate to begin with!

    I was probably being tested on the Mercator projection, one of today’s most common maps. It was created in 1569 with colonial trade routes in mind. As a result, North America and Europe ended up disproportionally emphasized.

    Since Earth is round, any two-dimensional map will be distorted. But the Boston Public School (BPS) system is trading out its Mercator maps for a more geographically accurate model: the Gall-Peters projection, which first started gaining traction around 1974.

    When I first saw it, I was suspicious; the continents seemed oddly stretched. But the Gall-Peters projection accurately scales surface area, so you can see how big (or small) places actually are.

    For example, on the Mercator map, Greenland rivals Africa in size. In reality, Africa could swallow Greenland nearly 14 times!

    Hopefully the Gall-Peters projection will give BPS students a more well-rounded view of the world (pun intended).

    Sarah Terrazano

    PSG Reads: The Staff’s Favorite Places to Read

    Sarah Terrazano

    We’re a staff of passionate readers at PSG, and when not working with words in the office, we make time to read for fun in some of our favorite places.
    Kate’s favorite place to read is reclining on her porch on a warm weekend morning, but she also does a lot of reading as a commuter, where she can be caught peeking at what others on the bus are reading, looking for suggestions.
    Alyssa can get lost in a book anywhere she’s comfortable, but often prefers a sunny deck. She’ll also admit that as a kid, she loved finding a good hiding spot, where she’d bring a book and be good for hours.
    Tess also loves a sunny deck to concentrate on a good book; although she envies how others can read in coffee shops—she knows she’s too much of a people-watcher.
    Colleen enjoys relaxing with a book on the beach, but now that she has kids, she doesn’t have much beach-reading time when she’s keeping an eye on them. Now she prefers to read before bed, because even if it makes her stay up too late, the alternative is not reading much at all—which isn’t an option, in her book.
    Matthew enjoys reading either on the beach or on a plane, as he concentrates best with some background noise.
    Karla can curl up under a blanket on the couch for hours with a good book.
    Rachel likes to read in bed late at night to wind down for the day, which she also thinks is because she “never grew out of bedtime stories.”
    Don enjoys reading in a comfy chair in the shade while on a camping trip, where he can fully relax. Unlike other staff members, reading in bed just puts him to sleep.
    My favorite place to read is on the beach in the summer, with the sand in my toes and the wind in my hair. Hopefully we’ll all have enough downtime this summer to unwind with a good book or two!

    Rachel Matthews

    Spotlight on the Stage: the 2017 Tony Awards

    Rachel Matthews

    My first theater experience was in fifth grade, when I joined a community production of Guys and Dolls. I had a tiny role, but it gave me a lifelong love of the stage. I’m always looking for new Broadway obsessions, so naturally I never miss the Tony Awards.

    The Tonys are up there with the Emmys and Oscars in terms of prestigious awards. Presented by the American Theatre Wing, the Tonys reward those who display excellence in theater. The annual ceremony turned 71 this June!

    This year the coveted Best Play award went to the newest rendition of J. T. Rogers’s deep and ambitious Oslo. The biggest musical of the night was Dear Evan Hansen, a compelling story of youth that took home six awards—including Best Musical! It beat out my personal favorite, the jaunty Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, which won 2 of its whopping 12 nominations.

    If you can’t make it to Broadway to see these newest gems, never fear! Boston has a thrilling theater lineup for the 2017/18 season. I’m eyeing the national tour of Fun Home, the heartfelt show that won Best Musical in 2015. Also in the circuit is Hamilton, which took Broadway by storm in 2015, and had a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations last year.

    Wherever you are, if you have a chance to see the newest stage hits, it’s a great time to do so. And if you make it to the Boston theater district, maybe I’ll see you there!

    Image Credit: Booyabazooka on English Wikipedia

    Karla Accorto

    PSG Staff Screams for Ice Cream!

    Karla Accorto

    For the past seven summers, I have been scooping homemade ice cream at a local shop in New Hampshire. In honor of July being National Ice Cream Month, and as the resident ice cream expert on site, I decided to investigate which frozen treats the PSG staff holds nearest and dearest to their hearts.

    Ken, a native of Ohio, admitted to loving his local shop’s lavender berry ice cream.
    Matthew also expressed a preference for a floral-infused dessert, citing his favorite flavor as rose latte. 
    Don is easily satisfied by a scoop of plain chocolate.
    Tess loves Milky Way ice cream, but she occasionally switches it up and orders black raspberry or orange pineapple.
    Annette prefers peanut butter cup. To meet Annette’s standards, however, it must be either a chocolate or a peanut butter base with a fudge swirl. Pairing vanilla with peanut butter is simply a hard no, in her humble opinion.
    Colleen expressed a preference for a flavor I had never heard of before—a rare phenomenon. She described her favorite as a vanilla based ice cream with caramel and fudge swirls as well as brownie chunks.
    Kate also enjoys pieces of pastry in her ice cream—her favorite is strawberry cheesecake, a cheesecake-flavored base with strawberry flavor swirls and pieces of real cheesecake.
    Eileen was the only one to declare soft serve as her favorite, citing the classic twist on plain cone as her preferred frozen treat.
    Rachel also enjoys a great classic, mint chocolate chip, and puts a fun twist on it in the winter by dropping a scoop into a steaming mug of cocoa.
    Alyssa has a passion for So Delicious’s dairy-free frozen treats, particularly the coconut flavor.
    Sarah prefers Lactaid’s cookies and cream flavor because it is made with real milk, giving it a similar taste to traditional ice cream. And because it also contains an added lactase enzyme, those who are lactose intolerant can happily feast.

    For me, cotton candy ice cream from my own local shop will always hold a special place in my heart. While the PSG staff may have very different flavor favorites, we definitively all appreciate a good scoop—whether traditional ice cream or dairy-free friendly.

    Photo Credit: Renee Comet

    Sarah Terrazano

    Fond of Fonts? Try #FontSunday, the Typeface Treasure Hunt!

    Sarah Terrazano

    As a college student, I’ve been programmed to type in Times New Roman—the font most often required for school assignments. But as the Font Sunday movement shows, I’ve been missing out on a whole wide world of fonts.

    Font Sunday is a weekly font-spotting Twitter project spearheaded by the Design Museum in London. Every Saturday, the Design Museum tweets out a font theme. Followers then have a day to spot fonts around them that match the theme. The fonts may come from dusty book covers, be found online or be seen in a storefront. On Sunday from noon to 6 p.m., users around the world share pictures of their font finds with the hashtag #FontSunday.

    Past Font Sunday themes include futuristic, psychedelic, neon, propaganda and jazz fonts. The popularity of Font Sunday has contributed to the Design Museum’s online following—with 4.2 million Twitter followers, the Design Museum is the second most followed museum in the world, second only to MOMA.

    For those who may not give fonts a second thought, Font Sunday is giving a face to typefaces used all over the world. As for me, I’ll be taking a break from Times New Roman to spot some Font Sunday typefaces of my own!

    Samantha Perry

    Storm Chasing in the Arctic: History’s Largest Polar Expedition

    Samantha Perry

    When I think of the North Pole, I think of the harshest winter weather times 10, a wasteland of snow and ice, the glare on the snow so bad I probably wouldn’t even be able to open my eyes. It’s a no-man’s-land.

    But not for long. The North Pole might be one of the most important places to study weather patterns in the world and, thanks to a new expedition, a team of scientists will find out just how important.

    Project MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) involves a yearlong expedition, during which scientists hope to understand more about global weather patterns and climate. Doing so will make maritime and offshore operations safer, as well as improve fishing and travel along northern sea routes. With a budget of about $65 million, the crew of scientists has a pretty daring plan designed to take advantage of the harsh landscape. The crew will start their expedition onboard the RV Polarstern in the summer, when the ice is thin and easy to maneuver through. By November, the RV Polarstern will be completely frozen in the ice and simply float along with the current.

    MOSAiC takes much of its inspiration from an 1893 expedition by Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who also allowed his vessel (the Fram) to naturally drift through the icy waters. Nansen and his crew set out in hopes of discovering the exact location of the North Pole. At one point, they realized the Fram would never make it close enough to the pole, and tried to continue the rest of the way on dog sleds, but were again unsuccessful. The Fram did make it through the ice caps, emerging intact through what is now known as the Fram Strait between Greenland and the Svalbard Islands.

    The MOSAiC project is the first mission of its kind since Nansen’s expedition, hoping to cross the polar ice caps entirely by ship this time. The journey will be about 1,500 miles, with temperatures reaching as low as
    –58° Fahrenheit and months of complete darkness. A total of 50 institutions and 14 countries will be working together during this project to study weather patterns as well as organisms like algae that seem to thrive in the “melt ponds” that collect on the ice in the spring.

    Even with Nansen’s journey as a model, the RV Polarstern and its crew still have a lot to find out. Hopefully, in a year’s time, we’ll know a few more of the secrets of the Arctic.

    Eileen Neary

    A Boston July Fourth Tradition: The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular

    Eileen Neary

    As a kid, one of my family’s traditions was watching the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on TV on the Fourth of July. Boston’s greatest orchestra plus other musical guests plus an amazing fireworks display is always the perfect way to end a New England Independence Day. Inspired by the orchestra’s compelling performances, I began learning to play the violin when I was 8. Performing at the Hatch Shell one day seemed like a dream come true (next to being Mia Hamm, of course).

    My mom adored (and still does) the Boston Pops’ conductor, Keith Lockhart, like most people adore their favorite singer or actor. To date, Lockhart has led over 1,800 Boston Pops concerts during his 22 years (1995–present) as conductor. But if you think that’s a record, you’re wrong—Arthur Fiedler was the conductor for 49 years (1930–1979). Fiedler is responsible for introducing pop culture to the Boston “Popular Concerts”—later shortened from “Popular” to “Pops.” He is also responsible for organizing the first free Charles River Esplanade concerts.

    Composer John Williams (yes, that John Williams, most-nominated-living-person-in-Academy-Award-history John Williams) also deserves some major credit for his tenure as the Pops conductor (1980–1993). Williams introduced to the Pops repertoire some of his film scores from famous movie scenes, helped lead the orchestra to record some national best-selling albums and used some of his Hollywood connections to have Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and iconic characters like Darth Vader and R2-D2 appear onstage. 

    Today, the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular is broadcast worldwide and inspires more than half a million people each year to grab their blankets and folding chairs and flock to the Charles River Esplanade for the celebration. This year, the Independence Day tradition includes a fighter jet flyover while “The Star-Spangled Banner” is performed, Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr., pop singer Andy Grammer and singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, as well as new compositions and old patriotic favorites. And best of all? The 20-minute Fireworks Spectacular, which lives up to its name every year.

    For more info on the show, visit

    Marianna Sorensen

    PSG Staff’s Must-Have Music

    Marianna Sorensen

    Here at PSG, it’s clear that our musical tastes cover a range of styles and sounds. I have a soft spot for Irish music—both traditional and contemporary—with a fondness for all songs involving Heidi Talbot. But I wanted to see what others thought, so I asked around to see what everyone’s favorites were—and some of my coworkers surprised me!

    Ken loves James Taylor because of Taylor’s compositions, arrangements, fun rhythms and unexpected chord changes. Only true music lovers like Ken have a preference based on chord changes!
    Alyssa grew up listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but also loves a lot of Top 40 pop, including artist Vanessa Carlton.
    Tess also loves the Beatles (George is her favorite) and other bands from that time. For newer music she’s into groups like Walk the Moon and Florence + the Machine.
    Kate’s favorite band is U2, who she’s seen in concert twice. She also got to see one of her favorite artists, Adele, live at the House of Blues in Boston right in front of the stage.
    Eileen likes hardcore rock, and her favorite band is Our Last Night. She first saw them almost 10 years ago, when the lead singer was only 14—talk about being a fan from the beginning!
    Sam likes albums of indie music, dream pop and “shoe gazer” music, with the Fleet Foxes being one of her favorites.
    Colleen especially enjoys both traditional and new folk and has been going to the Newport Folk Festival for over 20 years now, so she’s seen tons of folk legends and been introduced to amazing new music.
    Don likes a whole variety including punk, bluegrass, hip-hop, metal, folk and classic rock. He also had a radio show in college, where he played almost exclusively Nirvana demos, live recordings and import versions, which is the ultimate indication of a music lover.
    Annette has a self-described eclectic taste in music. She loves alternative rock music—Pearl Jam being her all-time favorite. She also loves the Decemberists and Jimmy Eat World and makes it a point to see those bands any time they tour nearby.
    Sarah also enjoys a large variety—reggae, rap, hard rock and nu-metal are among her favorite genres.

    I never expected to receive such a wide range of answers! One thing’s for sure, if I ever want to try out any new music, I know who to ask—the staff here at PSG are one music-loving bunch!
    Did You Know?
    Your skull’s size, density and shape affect the frequency at which you hear music. This means people may hear the same piece of music differently. Scientists have found that this could be a part of why you like or dislike certain songs.

    Samantha Perry

    Ancient Smartwatches: The Statement Piece of a Roman Sundial

    Samantha Perry

    In high school, we had three foreign languages to choose from: Spanish, French and Latin. I decided to take Latin, hoping it might take me on a school trip to Italy as a senior. Although I didn’t make it to Italy in high school, I did study Latin throughout and learned quite a bit about ancient Roman culture. 

    One thing I learned was that the ancient Romans stayed on top of new technology just as fervently as we do today. The wealthiest Romans often owned the newest tech and the latest styles, which were used to show off just how much wealth someone had. A portable sundial was a combination of both, and therefore the perfect status symbol.

    The Roman day was divided into 12 increments of daylight and 12 increments of nighttime, with an hour measuring about 45 minutes in the winter and 75 minutes in the summer. Wealthy Romans who sported portable sundials could boast about knowing the time wherever they traveled. But these flashy pieces did require a good bit of technical knowledge in order to be used correctly. Many of the sundials that have been recovered were found with “cheat sheets,” collections of coordinates for different locations, which were used to calibrate the sundial to find the correct time for the desired area.

    One of the most famous portable sundials was discovered in 1706 in the ruins of Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum. Think your Hello Kitty iPhone case is cool? This sundial is in the shape of an Italian ham, and has been dubbed the “pork clock” since its discovery. It was recently recreated in a 3D model, which includes a replication of a grid on one side of the ham that marked the months of the year as well as hours past sunrise or sunset. The actual dial piece (called the gnomon) is missing, but it had been described in the past as being in the curly shape of a pig’s tail, so the 3D model includes this unique feature. A sundial of this shape is an extravagant example of a Roman status symbol, possibly intended for an Epicurean philosopher. These thinkers used a pig for their symbol and were known for their carpe diem attitude. Seize the day—and the pork, apparently!

    But, similar to today, there were always those who preferred simpler ways over new technology. Some ancient Romans insisted that their stomachs were the best judges of time, since they told them when it was time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They’d probably have something similar to say about roosters vs. alarm clocks—too bad they never got the chance to experience the snooze button!

    Did You Know?
    The month of January is named after the Greek God Janus, the god of beginnings and ends. He is depicted as having two faces, one looking forward and the other back, to represent the transition between the old year and the new.

    Marianna Sorensen

    Around the World in 95 Minutes: What it Takes to Be a Celestial Telescope

    Marianna Sorensen

    Imagine if it were your job to literally go around the world every 95 minutes. Wouldn’t you want to retire after 27 years? Well the Hubble Space Telescope, the “world’s first large, space-based optical telescope,” has reached that point. NASA is beginning its final tests on its replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

    JWST, costing nine billion dollars, is going into its final round of ground tests before it’s set to launch in October of 2018. One part that needs to be completed is a shield to protect it from the sun’s heat. Because JWST is designed to look at infrared wavelengths, it has to be kept really cold. Once JWST is deployed, this sun shield will have to go through a series of steps to unfold to its full size, a process which takes two weeks. Scientists and engineers have spent almost 20 years in its design and building, so those on the team are very excited to finish it.

    NASA has additional tests to run on JWST before sending it up to space. One test they have completed recently checks whether JWST can withstand vibration and acoustics necessary for traveling into space. Scientists and engineers put JWST in a test chamber and exposed it to noise loud enough to cause comparable vibrations.

    What makes JWST different than Hubble is its infrared vision. Because the first stars and galaxies are always moving farther away from us, their light is moving toward redder wavelengths. This means JWST, because it’s a near- and mid-infrared telescope, will be able to show us the early stars— a site that we have never seen before.

    JWST will also search for extraterrestrial life on exoplanets by providing information about their atmospheres. It will also study the “transit method” of those exoplanets, or how they are traveling around their stars. And, using coronagraphs, it will get direct, colored images of exoplanets, which will provide scientists with data related to seasons, vegetations, rotation and weather.

    Is there life in galaxies far, far away? JWST may just help us find out.

    Did You Know?

    Hubble is so accurate that it could shine a laser beam through a dime from two hundred miles away. And when Hubble is outside of Earth’s atmosphere, it can see astronomical objects so well, that NASA compares it to being able to see fireflies in Tokyo all the way from Maryland.

    Ken Scherpelz

    Kudos to Ken—PSG’s Ken Scherpelz Retires

    Ken Scherpelz

    Please join us in extending the very best wishes to our VP of Sales and Business Development, Ken Scherpelz, as he retires from Publishing Solutions Group after 11 years of dedicated service.

    Ken has a long and storied career in educational publishing. After receiving his BA in elementary education and English from Augustana College, Ken entered the workforce as an elementary school teacher. Five years later, his 38-year stint in the educational publishing industry began. Ken wore many hats over the years, including working as an acquisitions manager at Scott Foresman, a managing editor at Zaner-Bloser, an editorial director at SRA/McGraw-Hill, and a vice president of two educational development and production houses.

    For over a decade, Ken has been a part of the PSG family, and we’ve all been very lucky to learn from his experience and to be able to work with him on countless projects and endeavors.

    When asked his thoughts about retirement, Ken wanted to share:

    • The first item on my Retirement To-Do List is to have dinner on the table each evening for my wife and me.
    • We also have a young granddaughter in Minneapolis who needs to be spoiled and taught the ways of the world.
    • And I’d like to get back to playing the harmonica and expanding my repertoire beyond just “Oh! Susanna.”
    • The PSG staff are some of the best and most talented publishing professionals I have known and worked with, and I’m thankful every day that I have had the opportunity to collaborate with them in building a strong and successful business.
    • My advice to all of you (c’mon—you expected some words of wisdom, didn’t you?) is simply work hard and treat each other fairly.

    Ken is known for keeping the office laughing and entertained—and busy, of course. There is never a dull day with Ken around. His wit and know-how will be greatly missed by every member of our PSG family. We wish him the very best in his new role as Grandpa–Golfer–Musician Extraordinaire!

    Samantha Perry

    A Giraffe, a Scientist and a Reporter Walk into a Podcast

    Samantha Perry

    Even when I was young, I remember struggling to find the perfect radio station to listen to in the car. My favorite channel featured a two-hour-long show called The Playground that played requested children’s music with limited interruption. The two-hour window meant I couldn’t tune in too often, so I can only imagine the never-ending stream of Harry Potter–inspired songs I could have had access to if The Playground had existed as a podcast.

    Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a subject not covered by a podcast. There are ones for academics or entertainers, for dedicated listeners or podcast passerby, for adults or children. It’s been a while since we talked about podcasts for kids, but several new ones have emerged. Below are a few examples of podcasts designed by and for children to keep them entertained and learning.

    Eleanor Amplified is a series of adventures featuring the radio reporter Eleanor, who pursues truth and quality journalism as she encounters various kinds of villains. The show, which is designed for kids aged 8–12, encourages kids to keep asking questions and inspires interest in journalism.

    Tumble is a science podcast for kids. It hopes to instill curiosity and exploration in children with real science. The hosts, a married couple with backgrounds in journalism and teaching, created the podcasts in the hope that getting kids to ask questions early in life will also help them to ask the right questions about science in the future.

    Kids aren’t just standing by, either. There are several podcasts in which kids take an active role, like Ear Snacks and But Why. Both podcasts focus on the curiosity of children, either by interviewing them or featuring questions submitted by children. Ear Snacks, created by Andrew Barkan and Polly Hall who also compose music for the children’s TV show Wallykazam!, commonly interviews children about various topics on their podcasts. They’ve also interviewed 35 experts . . . and 2 giraffes!

    With But Why, questions are submitted and answered on the show. Parents are encouraged to record their child asking a question and email an audio file into the show for a breakdown. Kids will get a great question answered and parents will get a kick out of the kinds of things kids think to ask.

    The great thing about podcasts is that you can plug in and listen almost anywhere—from the playground to the poolside to the porch swing. And kids will love listening to the ones that are specifically made with them in mind!

    Did You Know?

    Broadcasting over 250 stations around the world, Global Breakfast Radio is a 24-hour program that only airs during breakfast time in each time zone.

    Photo Credit: Brad Flickinger

    Sarah Rush

    Super Balloons Bring Space Tourists a View from the Top

    Sarah Rush

    When I was a child, I remember once accidentally letting go of a pink balloon. I was distraught that I’d lost it, but my mom told me not to worry, because the balloon would float up all the way into space! I’ve since learned this isn’t true (the air eventually escapes the balloon and it pops), but fairly soon we will be able to fly balloons up into space—near space, at least!

    Companies are now developing balloon space tourism: pressurized pods hanging from massive high-altitude balloons that can travel into an area of Earth’s stratosphere called near space. At this height, not only can you view hundreds of distant stars, you can also observe the curvature of Earth!

    One company developing these space balloons is World View Enterprises. Called Voyager, the tourist trip involves an enormous balloon that carries a passenger pod which can hold five people in addition to two crewmen. When aboard, you will rise to more than 18 miles above sea level! For comparison, commercial airplanes fly at about 6 miles above sea level. At this incredible height, you don’t yet experience weightlessness due to a lack of gravity, but you will be about three pounds lighter—talk about an instant diet. The balloon trip takes about five or six hours in total, with two full hours in near space. There is even Wi-Fi on board! Check out a simulation of the World View balloon trip here.

    A ride in the Voyager is projected to cost $75,000 per passenger, but this price is actually far cheaper than rocket-based space tourism, such as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which will cost $250,000 a pop.

    The Spanish company Zero 2 Infinity is likewise developing a balloon for near space tourism, one that flies even higher than the Voyager program. The project is named Bloon, and would take passengers a whopping 22 miles above sea level. The company is still working on their space tourism venture, but continues to succeed with its balloons for other purposes. On March 14 of this year, Zero 2 Infinity successfully launched its first test flight for Bloostar, a project that uses high-altitude balloons to launch satellites.

    It seems that the final frontier will soon be open to all people (well, those who can afford it), not just those lucky enough to become astronauts. Who knows, maybe in the future it’ll even be possible to send tourists to Mars! Only time—and space—will tell.

    Did You Know?

    In Versailles, France, in 1783, the first living beings to fly in a hot-air balloon were a sheep, a duck and a rooster. The Montgolfier brothers, the pioneers of balloon travel, were behind the flight, which lasted about eight minutes and crossed nearly two miles—don’t worry, the animals landed completely unharmed!

    Annette Cinelli Trossello

    A Passion for Proper Punctuation

    Annette Cinelli Trossello

    Here at Publishing Solutions Group, we are passionate about punctuation. We take joy in seeing em dashes used properly in subway signs and cringe when holiday cards incorrectly include our beloved serial comma before an ampersand. So it should be no surprise that a New Yorker article about the roots of popular punctuation marks as well as more archaic ones quickly made its way around the office.

    The article explains that the pound sign (#) originated in the fourteenth century from the Roman libra pondo, which means “pound weight.” The Latin abbreviation for this term, lb, was written with a tilde—a horizontal bar—across the top of the abbreviation. Over time, scribes scribbled this mark in such a way that it morphed into the ubiquitous hashtag we use today.

    Professor William H. Sherman notes that a handwritten version of the manicule (☞) was once “the most common symbol produced both for and by readers in the margins of manuscripts and printed books.” First used in 1086 and wildly popular between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries, the manicule was used to draw the eye to interesting and important portions of a text. When printing was popularized in the fifteenth century, the manicule symbol and other reference marks were more readily available. This allowed printers to include them in the text and margins and left less room for readers’ own marks. The drawn manicule was replaced with the printed “mutton fist’ character and later by numbered footnotes.

    In searching for more articles about punctuation, as we words nerds are wont to do, we came across an Economist article about the interrobang (‽). Invented by Martin K. Speckter, the interrobang is a mark that combines the question mark and an exclamation point. Speckter was a journalist and later an advertising executive, who did not like the look of two ending punctuation marks. Though it never took off, it is included in a variety of current typefaces and could gain popularity on the web, where brevity is boss, leaving us to beg: Can we make the interrobang happen‽

    Did You Know?

    In discussing what new punctuation marks we would like to see, our copyeditor, Kate, made a great case for a mark that combines a period and an exclamation point, for when you would like to show a mild level of enthusiasm, but not as much as an exclamation point indicates—ideal for friendly office greetings or simply a semi-interested text response. Just when we thought we had stumbled across a new copyright, however, we found out we weren’t the first to have the idea. It seems that new punctuation is on a lot people’s minds these days.

    Photo credit: Cateartios

    Marianna Sorensen

    2017’s Marvelous Museums: Writers, Revolutions, and Revamped Art

    Marianna Sorensen

    Who hasn’t been back to the same museums innumerable times? Museums are great sources of information, with not only incredible research behind everything they share, but also interactive and engaging methods of informing visitors. You can learn everything you want to know in a totally different way than reading about it. 2017 is going to welcome several new museums across the country—three of which I’m especially excited about.

    The first is the American Writers Museum (AWM) in Chicago, which opened in May. Its aim is to celebrate the lives and works of American writers and their influence on history and culture. It has some awesome permanent exhibits. One is Writers Hall, which includes an interactive activity that lets you find authors who lived where you do. They also have the Word Waterfall, where projected words float down from the ceiling to floor, forming stanzas and paragraphs. Then there is the Mind of a Writer exhibit where AWM staff provide a prompt every day for visitors to contribute to each day’s story, and an exhibit called Word Play with an interactive tabletop that has games for visitors to experiment with words. Other areas of the museum will show artifacts on loan from historic writers’ homes to tell the behind-the-scenes stories of those writers.

    In Philadelphia, the Museum of the American Revolution opened on April 19, purposefully chosen as it is the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The museum’s exhibits are organized by time span, the first of which is The Road to Independence, which involves a giant interactive map about various groups of people, a reproduction of the Boston Liberty Tree (under which the first ideas of the American Revolution were discussed) and original versions of the first state constitutions. The Darkest Hour exhibit has an object theater with weapons used in the war and a panoramic battlefield theater where visitors feel as if they are in the charge of the Battle of Brandywine. The museum also has a replica of a revolutionary-era ship that visitors can climb aboard, as well as a collection of artifacts from that era bearing symbols of the emerging republic.

    The third museum of 2017 I’m excited about is the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (previously the Santa Monica Museum of Art, and now at a new location). It has no permanent collection, and will instead constantly show new exhibits made of loaned and donated works. It will open this fall with a café and space for public programs. Its goal is to support the community and make contemporary art accessible for everyone.

    Each of these new museums sounds amazing—looks like I have some trips to start planning!

    Did You Know?

    The oldest museum in the United States is the Charleston Museum in South Carolina, which was founded in 1773, although it didn’t open to the public until 1824. The Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts is the country’s oldest continuously operating museum, which opened in 1799.

    Samantha Perry

    Fahrenheit 250: The Temperature for Reprintable Paper

    Samantha Perry

    Since I was in middle school, the possibility of a paperless society has seemed to be right around the corner. But every year I found myself with a backpack full of books and a desk cluttered with notebooks and paper. I was even given a printing allowance in college to ensure I did not print more paper than was necessary (which was impossible to quantify as a writing major). The digital age has certainly contributed to using less paper, but if the goal is to continue to use less, will we have to go fully digital?

    Maybe farther in the future we will, but for now, recent innovations have struck a compromisen—ew technology mixes both print and digital formats. The Everlast notebook allows you to write, draw or doodle on what appears to be a normal piece of paper. With an accompanying app, you can take a picture of your handwritten pages to save them before wiping each sheet clean with a bit of water. The saved document is formatted to look like it’s always been on your mobile device, is saved in the correct page order and can be easily transferred to other online platforms.

    There are other similar products on the market as well, including Wipenote, which acts as a reusable whiteboard-like notebook. Their pens have ink that dries in seconds as well as an eraser tip for easy reuse of the pages. And anything you write is smudge-proof!

    Studies have shown that information is processed differently when seen on a screen versus paper. We connect better with words and images on a physical piece of paper, which usually means we end up remembering it better as well. So products like those from Everlast and Wipenote provide an ideal compromise in a digital world, especially for people looking to save a few trees in their lifetime. 

    Another innovative solution to reducing paper use is the idea of reprintable paper. In a recent collaboration between the University of California, Riverside, and the Shangdong University in China, researchers developed a coated paper that will make reprinting possible. The coated paper works with a printer that does not require ink, but instead uses the power of light. Nanoparticles on the coating change colors when exposed to the printer’s light, producing the desired letters and words. And reusing the paper is as easy as adding heat—250 degrees to be exact. This causes the words to “disappear” from the page, and the coated paper can then be used at least 80 more times.

    Based on these developing technologies, it looks like paper will still have its place in the digital age among our smartphones, tablets and other screened devices. So those who may be reluctant to give up their notebooks and paper products don’t need to worry just yet.

    Did You Know?
    Engineers are taking advantage of the complex and sturdy structures of origami to make robots, aid future space missions and design new medical equipment. Technical origami can be used to innovate surgery and change the world of design. 

    Photo Credit: Christian Sisson

    Sarah Rush

    Wading Through Walden: Live Like Thoreau

    Sarah Rush

    I grew up in a small New Hampshire town and whenever I needed a moment to myself or a breath of cool, fresh air, all I had to do was walk into my backyard to enter the woods. I welcomed the escape from civilization, the solitude, the quiet, the diverse array of forest life. But for many people—including me, now that I’ve moved to Boston—nature can be difficult to come by.

    Now there is a digital way for everybody to experience the beauty and simplicity of the woods, honoring how Henry David Thoreau did centuries ago. How? Its’ called Walden, a Game, and it’s a highly detailed simulation of Thoreau’s years living by Walden Pond in Massachusetts. A famous author, philosopher and environmentalist, Thoreau was one of the leaders of transcendentalism, a movement that prized the natural world over civilization, emotion over reason, and the individual over the masses.

    In 1845, Thoreau moved to Walden Pond for two years to practice a mostly self-sufficient way of life and write about his experiences. During this time he produced a renowned collection of essays called Walden. Now we can all share in these revelations through a rather unusual medium: the computer. Walden, a Game, is a six-hour simulation of Thoreau’s experiences, beginning in summer and ending after his first year.

    In the game, you spend the year building and maintaining your cabin, harvesting beans, exploring the woods, interacting with animals, collecting wild fruit and vegetables, fishing, entering town to buy supplies and chat with Ralph Waldo Emerson, and recording observations in your journal. Meanwhile, excerpts from Walden are read to you over soothing music and the sounds of birdsong. The game’s dedication to reality is uncanny—you can faint from lack of energy if you don’t eat enough, and if you work too hard, your “inspiration” will lower, causing the colors and music to fade. Don’t forget to spend time contemplating and meditating, just as Thoreau did.

    Designed by the founding director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, Tracy J. Fullerton, the game is intended to encourage balance and a love of nature in our technology-crazed world and inspire young people to read Thoreau’s Walden. An alpha version of the game is currently available for about $19, but the full game will be released some time this year in 2017.

    While most of us cannot take two years to completely immerse ourselves in nature, we can certainly spare six hours to wade through Walden Pond with Thoreau. What will you discover out there?

    Did You Know?

    This isn’t the first digital venture honoring Thoreau and Walden. In a previous blog post, we covered Digital Thoreau, a project that provides digital access to several versions of Thoreau’s work. Check out the blog post here!

    Photo Credit: Ekabhishek

    Marianna Sorensen

    The Business Behind Beatrix’s Bunnies

    Marianna Sorensen

    When I think of the books of my childhood I hear the warm words and picture the creative illustrations. But I have never considered the business ventures behind those pages and images. Beatrix Potter, author of the Peter Rabbit books, was a pioneer for lone authors leading their own businesses.

    Potter used her books and her ideas to build a business empire and became an innovator in licensing and merchandising literary characters. It all began in 1893 when she wrote letters to the child of her former governess with stories about a character she called Peter Rabbit. Her former governess suggested she publish the stories along with the hand-drawn illustrations in the letters. The publishers she approached with The Tales of Peter Rabbit rejected the early draft, saying it was too plain and small. So she decided to publish it herself, and wanted to make sure it was inexpensive and easily accessible for readers. A year later, she came to an agreement with one publisher after a compromise on the length of the stories and colored illustrations. From October to December of 1902, the publisher sold 28,220 copies.

    Thanks to Potter’s approach, Peter Rabbit is one of the oldest licensed literary characters, but he had existed in Potter’s mind for far longer. Her childhood had a great effect on the creation of Peter Rabbit and the stories she wrote. She loved drawing and would spend time drawing her pets, which included mice, frogs, snakes, a bat and—of course—rabbits. Her two pet rabbits were named Benjamin Bouncer and Peter Piper, and they gave her the inspiration for her future books.

    Potter also planned, patented and sewed together a doll of Peter Rabbit. She even designed a board game. In the end, she was able to secure an unusual amount of merchandise and patents to accompany her books—an idea unheard of at the time. This merchandise also included tea sets, handkerchiefs, bookcases, stationery, slippers and wallpaper.

    If you would like further proof of Potter’s legacy consider this: two million of her books are sold a year—so approximately four books of hers are sold every minute. So next time you see Peter Rabbit, consider the business behind him and the publishing pedigree he began.

    Did You Know?

    Though rabbits and hares appear very similar, they actually have many differences. The jackrabbit (which is, in fact, a hare) can move up to 40 miles per hour and leap more than 10 feet high. Rabbits just can’t quite reach those levels.

    Samantha Perry

    Maps as Art: Collages, Clothing and Culture

    Samantha Perry

    A lot of my early memories seem to take place in the car with me sitting in the backseat with my siblings. We always had a stack of maps with us in the car, usually tucked into the pockets behind the seats or on the floor beneath our feet. During family trips, I loved looking through the maps and tracing my fingers along the outline of the coast or over the serpentine curve of roads that stretched out across the page. To me, the maps I looked through on these trips played just an important role as the memories I made with my family during our adventures.

    Even though our relationship with maps might be changing in the digital age, artists are still finding ways to incorporate maps in their work. You can easily spend hours losing yourself down a rabbit hole of map-themed art, including those that specifically use old maps as a medium. Some are collages of maps that create peoples’ faces, others are ghost-like sculptures of bodies made out of pages of rivers and roads. One artist, Elisabeth Lecourt, even makes clothing out of maps!

    Other artists enjoy putting a graphic twist on maps. A common cartographic interpretation features typography. Artists like Nancy McCabe strip out everything but the continental outlines of world maps, and fill the “land” proportionately with text in a variety of typefaces, colors and font sizes. Some of these font maps have country and city names sized by area or population, others create the land with keywords that apply to the area.

    Some other great examples of map art can be found on the website Mapping London. I spent four months living in London during my junior year of college, so looking at these maps brings back a lot of great memories! The website includes hundreds of different renderings of maps of the London Underground (“the Tube”), a map of ghost story locations in a Pac-Man layout, a map of the different greetings from the many prevalent languages used in the city and a map detailing the olfactory level of each street. The street I lived on was pretty stinky according to this map! 

    Did You Know?
    There are 270 Tube stations, each of which inspired a graphic design by artist Mark Wallinger. Labyrinth is a collection of maze-like maps rendered in minimalistic black, white and red graphics. Each stations’ unique labyrinth has a red X to mark your starting position at the entrance of the Tube station, and you are encouraged to trace the path that represents your journey.

    Sarah Rush

    Micro-Literature: Short Tales Going a Long Distance

    Sarah Rush

    Have you ever texted or tweeted a story to a friend? If you have, you’re officially an author—you’ve written micro-literature, or micro-lit for short.

    What exactly is micro-lit? It’s literature designed to be consumed quickly, often thanks to technology. In the mid-2000s, videophones and the first smartphones hit the streets, and people wanted to read and write on their phones. But at the time, no one could really squeeze a 300-page novel onto those tiny screens.

    A solution presented itself: smaller screens called for smaller (read: shorter) writing. In this way, new technology gave birth to a new writing format. The increased use of text messaging and tweeting also encouraged a character-limitation mindset, which helped the idea of micro-lit grow. Classifying what is and isn’t considered micro-lit is relatively subjective, but the concept has certainly expanded over time.

    Numerous programs and websites began popping up where users could share their micro-lit, such as, which still runs today. Contributors have transformed classics and bestsellers into condensed micro-lit versions and added their own stories written specifically to fit the short format.

    Micro-lit became quite popular, especially in Japan—tens of thousands of cell phone users read micro-lit in 2005. This is perhaps due to the fact that certain traditional genres like mystery, thriller, horror and humor seem to adapt well to micro-lit‘s disjointed rhythm. Micro-lit also appeals to readers who are running low on time—they can consume complete stories in short bursts whenever they want.

    Some writers turn to Twitter to publish micro-lit—a single tweet can tell a whole story, or authors can choose to serialize a tale through multiple tweets. Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jennifer Egan published a Twitter micro-lit short story in 2012 called “Black Box,” a sci-fi tale grouped into 47 “chapters.” Click here to give it a go! Others have turned elsewhere to serialize their writing. Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes published a full-length novel, Belgravia, in 11 weekly “episodes” via his website and corresponding app. Serialization of the past is gaining a renewal thanks to today’s technology.

    Prefer books to screens? Micro-lit has also migrated into the realm of traditional publishing. Check out a list of six print examples of the writing form here.

    Always dreamed of being an author? Just sit down at your keyboard (or pull out your smartphone), punch out a few lines and send it to a friend or coworker through your favorite social media. I wonder how new forms of electronic communication will transform the way that we write and read in the future.

    Did You Know?
    The world’s heaviest book is a stainless steel tome weighing just over 4,400 pounds! It’s a Hindi translation of The Buddha and His Dhamma (1957), originally written in English by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. The 24-page colossal volume contains all the text of the original book, but each page is about 9 feet tall, 5.5 feet wide, and 2 inches thick. This is certainly no light reading!

    Marianna Sorensen

    Museum Makes Way for Ducklings!

    Marianna Sorensen

    Children who’ve grown up in Boston have likely seen the bronze sculptures of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack. The children’s book that inspired the models, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, is fondly remembered by many Bostonians. Honoring the book’s 75th anniversary, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) currently has an exhibit showing some of McCloskey’s original illustrations, as well as some of his independent work.

    McCloskey was born in 1914 and lived until 2003. He wrote and illustrated 8 children’s books and illustrated 10 more for other authors. He won the Caldecott Medal twice for his books, the first for Make Way for Ducklings, which is at the center of the MFA’s exhibit. When I heard about this exhibit, I knew I had to go!

    As I walked into the exhibit, the first thing I saw was a series of panels displaying the original illustrations for Make Way for Ducklings. Along one wall, at a child’s eye level, there were various activities for kids: “Honk! Quack! Look for drawings of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings making sounds. What do you think they are saying to each other? Can you honk and quack like a duck?” Not only do these activities inspire kids to look closer at the illustrations, they also offer them ways to interact with the art.

    Nearby, McCloskey’s books are laid out on a cushioned bench to show how the drawings appear in their final form. A basket of books gives children something to focus on that they can touch, unlike the paintings and prints on the walls.

    Duck footprints are laid out on the floor leading from the main entrance of the museum to the McCloskey exhibit to ensure that visitors find it and that kids have fun following the ducks’ tracks. The exhibit also has a miniature version of the sculptures found in the Boston Public Garden. The policeman from the book is actually included in this version, but he never made it to the Public Garden—if he had been created to scale to the ducks, he would have been much too tall!

    The surrounding walls of the exhibit also have panels with illustrations and information about other books McCloskey worked on. Anyone who enjoys the story of Make Way for Ducklings, cultural icons of Boston, art history or book illustrations would, like me, most certainly enjoy this exhibit, which can be viewed until June 18, 2017.

    Did You Know?

    When he was working on Make Way for Ducklings, McCloskey felt stuck on the illustrations so he bought the real thing and brought them back to his apartment to study. McCloskey studied these ducks for more than two years and during this period he lived with no less than 16 ducks!

    Photo Credit: Rizka

    Tess Renault

    Motion Paintings: New Movie Brings Van Gogh’s Masterpieces to Life

    Tess Renault

    A few summers ago, I found myself exploring the streets of Kraków with some classmates. We had just arrived in Poland after a train experience we were eager to forget and had one thing on our minds: pierogi. We eventually stopped at Pierożki u Vincenta, a hole-in-the-wall café near our hotel. The pierogi didn’t disappoint, but the atmosphere is what I remember most. Living up to its name (which translates to “Vincent’s Pierogi”), the café was reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting—even the ceiling swirled with blue and yellow paints to create a mural of his iconic The Starry Night.

    In other parts of Poland, artists have created a tribute to Van Gogh in a different way—through film. Loving Vincent is a biopic on Van Gogh’s life and death, but the film adds another dimension to his story by being the first ever hand-painted film. Altogether, the movie is composed of 62,450 oil paintings created by 125 artists in Van Gogh’s characteristic painting style.

    Dorota Kobiela, a Polish painter and filmmaker, came up with the idea for the film after revisiting Van Gogh’s extensive letters. Intrigued by both his personal life and his art, Kobiela wanted to make a short animated film about his work. However, her husband, producer Hugh Welchman, convinced her that a project of this magnitude deserved more than a few minutes of screen time. Together they’ve directed Loving Vincent, which turned into a full-length feature that took six years to make.

    Described as “87 minutes of relentless interplay of colors,” the film was an ambitious undertaking. Each shot of the movie consists of a series of frames painted on top of one another so that each resulting oil painting is the last frame of the shot. In order to make the scenes appear seamless, each second of the film was created from 12 frames. With each frame taking between one hour and two days to complete, it could take an artist up to a month working on a single second of the film!

    Artists from all over the world traveled to Poland where the creativity flowed in special studios called painting animation work stations (PAWS). Professional actors assumed the roles of the characters in the film and they performed in front of green screens. This live action material was then used as reference points for the painters, who had to make sure each frame conveyed a sense of movement while retaining Van Gogh’s signature style of thick, heavy brushstrokes.

    Blending painting and film is certainly an artistic feat, but considering Van Gogh’s place in art history, it’s a perfect homage to his innovation. In the end, Kobiela hopes that her film, which is slated to come out this year, is an accurate representation of this line from Van Gogh’s final letter: “We cannot speak other than by our paintings.”

    Did You Know?
    Ever wanted to live inside a painting? For a brief time last year, you could! As part of a Van Gogh exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, the museum created a life-size replica of Van Gogh’s room, which he depicted in several paintings that were the focus of the exhibit. For $10 a day, guests could stay in the room overnight and dream within the walls of a painting come to life.

    Samantha Perry

    Sci-Fi Skyscrapers: The Architecture Competition Creating New Worlds

    Samantha Perry

    Taking inspiration from some of my favorite stories and sci-fi movies, I often drew maps and made up my own worlds when I was a kid. I remember sitting hunched over a large piece of paper drawing a squiggly coastline of my dream island, that may or may not have contained a river of lava somewhere in the middle. If ten-year-old me had heard of Blank Space’s architectural competition, I would have jumped on the chance to contribute some of my own renderings!

    Blank Space is described on its website as “an office for thought provocation, challenging architecture to rethink its role in society by speaking about things we can all relate to”. Blank Space hosts an annual Fairy Tales competition, which prompts contestants to enter an original piece of fiction (typically fantasy, fairy tale or sci-fi) and artwork to represent their imagined world. Many submissions use creative architectural structures to represent the theme of these new worlds, like these past submissions. The accompanying piece of fiction goes along with the artwork to detail the more subtle aspects of the submission.

    Hosting one of the largest architecture competitions in the world, the creators of the competition aim to do many things, including challenge current architectural norms, create new opportunities in the field of architecture and strike up a conversation with society. So entries must be creative and outside the box to ensure a good look from judges. The competition is open to anyone, and the panel of judges features prominent architects, designers and writers.

    I think what I like most about this competition is seeing what the contestants decide to bring out in their imagined worlds and how that speaks to the world we actually live in. The 2017 winner, Mykhailo Ponomarenko, for example, combines landscapes and sci-fi architectural forms to comment on modern society’s relationship with nature. His submission also includes the current mixed with the future, with people posing for pictures in front of these futuristic landmarks. It’s cool to think about these submissions as a glimpse into the future. Imagine living on an island in the sky, equipped with roadways, malls and movie theaters!

    Blank Space announces three winners and ten honorable mentions each year with a celebration at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. Both the winners and the honorable mentions are featured in the newest volume of Blank Space’s publication Fairy Tales: When Architecture Tells a Story, but I think we can agree that we all win with this competition.

    What kind of world would you design?

    Did You Know?
    The post at the top of the Empire State Building was originally meant as a place for dirigibles to dock. The plan was for passengers to disembark and enter the building by an open-air gangplank (yikes!) and be on the ground in just seven minutes!

    Sarah Rush

    Life Finds a Way: Crystal Caves May Contain 50,000-Year-Old Microorganisms

    Sarah Rush

    Have you heard of microscopic animals called water bears? When I learned about these little guys a few years ago, my idea of what life is capable of was turned upside down and inside out. Also called tardigrades, water bears can survive extreme temperatures, pressure, radiation and even the vacuum of space! I’m fascinated by extremophiles—microorganisms that can withstand unimaginably harsh conditions—and what their existence could mean when we consider just how adaptive life can become.

    Well, scientists have found yet more mysterious and fascinating extremophiles trapped inside enormous crystals. In Chihuahua, Mexico, there is a massive cave system connected to the Naica Mine called the Cave of Crystals. Named for its breathtaking selenite crystals (some have grown up to 30 feet long!), the cave was discovered by miners in 2000 and sits above a repository of magma. It’s exceedingly hot: it can reach up to 112 degrees Fahrenheit with intense humidity. In 2008, Penelope Boston from NASA and her team collected samples from fluids trapped in pockets within the giant crystals, and in February 2017 she announced their discovery of new microbial specimens—nearly 100 new extremophiles, most of which have likely never been studied by scientists before.

    The creatures were found in a state of geolatency, trapped dormant inside geological materials (in this case, inside the crystals). Boston’s team was able to revive a number of the microbes, and they believe they could be anywhere from 10 thousand to 50 thousand years old! Scientists hypothesize that they survived by consuming iron, sulfur and other traditionally inorganic material inside the crystals, demonstrating that life may be more resilient and flexible than we previously thought. Some even think the existence of extremophiles makes it more likely that life could exist on other planets.

    Other researchers are skeptical about Boston’s conclusions, specifically those concerning exactly how old the microbes are and whether possible contamination might have skewed the team’s results. Boston’s findings have not been peer-reviewed, and some scientists speculate that it may not be true that the microscopic organisms came solely from inside the crystal, as it may be possible some were accidentally introduced during the extrication process.

    Another expedition into the Cave of Crystals might provide more answers, but the mine has since closed and the cave is now flooded with groundwater. Hopefully, a second look at these new extremophiles might further illuminate life’s limitations … if there are any.

    Did You Know?
    The very center of Earth may actually be made up of a massive conglomerate of crystals! Scientists used data collected from seismic waves to determine that Earth’s inner core—a solid region the size of the moon—may consist of two huge chunks of iron crystals, each aligned in a different direction (some north to south and others east to west).

    Marianna Sorensen

    A New Way of Looking at Neurons

    Marianna Sorensen

    Our brains are mysterious. No matter how long we ponder them, many of our questions remain unanswered. And the parts that are better understood by scientists remain hard to comprehend for many. A neuroscientist-turned-designer, however, has found a way to present neuroscience that’s giving us a new way of thinking.

    Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, discouraged by how little people understood the science she was working with, decided to help the public better appreciate neuroscientific research. She called the project The Leading Strand, which is a term for part of the process of DNA replication. Its first exhibit was called Neurotransmission. Through design and science, the people behind the project aimed to reestablish the importance of neuroscience and what it does and can do for people. It took thirteen weeks for the scientists and designers involved to plan how to share neuroscientific research in a visual way, and when it opened it was a big hit.

    The exhibit was made up of five parts, each with its own designer and scientist. One pair worked on composing a song that showed the way memory works. People would draw on a computer screen and their input would then change the music it played.

    The exhibit also involved a kinetic sculpture that showed the way neurons send signals to allow functions such as limb movement. The audience had to participate—someone would pull a crank to represent a neuron signaling, but if the neuron was alone, nothing would happen. This way, participants learned that limb movement and other functions require multiple neurons working together.

    Another part of the exhibit showcased a chatbot named Exley that helps break down how physical activity can improve mood, sleep, appetite, memory and more. Participants give Exley a daily report of exercise, brain function, energy, etc., and it reports back weekly on the overall effect their daily activity has had.

    The other aspects of the exhibit involved a documentary and a test to learn more about how the brain works with behavior and memory. Each part of the exhibit worked to make people more informed and comfortable in understanding complex aspects of neuroscience. This is an important purpose in an age that is constantly surpassing previously drawn boundaries for scientific discoveries.

    Did You Know?
    The neurons in our three-pound brains can send information at more than 200 miles per hour. When your hand touches something hot, the sensory neurons in your skin send the information to your brain at 150 miles per hour. Then your brain can send the order to move your hand away via motor neurons that can travel at more than 200 miles per hour.

    Photo Credit: Chempetitive

    Samantha Perry

    An Affinity for Infinity: Artist Kusama’s Polka-Dot Masterpieces

    Samantha Perry

    When I look up into the sky at night, when the stars are bright and the sky is a deep, dark blue, I wonder what it would feel like to float around in space. Luckily, I might get a chance to experience something pretty close thanks to artist Yayoi Kusama’s traveling exhibition.

    Kusama, one of Japan’s most successful modern artists, is famous for her love of polka dots, larger-than-life structures and “infinity rooms.” Her current exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, contains over 60 paintings, sculptures and drawings. However, the most popular pieces in the exhibit are housed in compact white cubes the size of dumpsters, equipped with round-the-clock guards, a velvet rope and a line going out the door.

    These white cubes contain Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms. Inside them, the walls, floor and ceiling are covered in mirrors and Kusama’s signature polka-dot touch. The polka dots in these mirrored rooms come in the form of speckled light, which bounces endlessly off the mirror-covered interior. Surrounded by mirrors and these specks of light, viewers feel like they are standing in space. Infinity Mirror Rooms have become so popular that each viewer is only allotted 30 seconds inside!

    Kusama has been creating these Infinity Mirror Rooms since 1965. Her first room was simple: a 15-square-foot room with mirrored walls and hundreds of wiggly, red-on-white polka-dotted tubers made of fabric. Since then, her Infinity Mirror Rooms have grown to include more mirrors, more lights and different perspectives. One room, called Love Forever, can be viewed from a small peephole, big enough to fit your head through. Bright reds and yellows reflect off the mirrored walls, and, if you stick your head far enough in, a disembodied face is reflected in infinity as well. Her piece The Souls of a Million Light Years Away includes a small catwalk for the viewer to stand on, like a plank over inky water.

    The exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum makes a limited number of free tickets available online every week, which are sold out in hours. Remember, each visitor is allowed only 30 seconds within each room, but according to Kusama and her popularity, 30 seconds surrounded by polka dots might as well be infinity.

    Can’t make it to Washington, DC, before the exhibit closes in May? Good news—the exhibit will be traveling to different museums across North America for the next two years. Next up is the Seattle Art Museum this June and The Broad museum in Los Angeles this October. Locations for 2018 and the beginning of 2019 are set for the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

    Did You Know?
    Although primates are thought to be able to recognize their own reflections, only large apes have shown the ability to do so. Many monkeys have a hard time recognizing their reflections because of the significance of eye contact. Most view their reflected image as another hostile monkey.

    Photo Credit: Yayoi Kusama Helsinki Art Museum, The Broad

    Sarah Rush

    A-maize-ing Corn Mazes to Get Lost In

    Sarah Rush

    Remember creating scale drawings in school? I do—I once designed an underwater scene, complete with fish and seaweed and bubbles. It was tedious to work the details into the tiny graph paper, but so rewarding to see the final picture! Imagine if that final picture wasn’t just on a page, but in a giant field, and the pencil lines were actually stalks of corn. What would this agricultural masterpiece look like?

    A few farms have taken up the challenge, using graphing techniques and evolving technology to create astoundingly complex corn mazes. Mike’s Maze of Warner Farm in Sunderland, Massachusetts, has been using GPS to craft fine art into their yearly maze since 2000. Owned by Dave Wissemann and his family, the farm’s first maze was created by strapping a GPS to an ATV to help the family decide which stalks to cut in order to create the design (which in 2000 was the image on the back of that year’s Massachusetts state quarter). However, GPS at that time wasn’t particularly accurate, which made sharp detail near impossible.

    That’s when Wissemann and Will Sillin, the farm’s original maze designer, got the idea to treat the field like a giant piece of graph paper. Wissemann planted the corn in extremely straight lines in 6-by-6-foot squares to help better adjust the maze as needed. By 2009, he downsized the squares to 3-by-3 feet, and the maze—a portrait of Charles Darwin—featured remarkably precise detail.

    But Wissemann and Sillin weren’t fully satisfied. During the next three years, Sillin began treating each stalk of corn as an individual point on graph paper. An automated planter made sure each seed was placed into the appropriate point, allowing for even tighter detail. By 2013, GPS systems were accurate down to the centimeter, and the maze became even more beautifully complex. See, for example, last year’s maze, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

    However, using GPS isn’t the only way to create stunning maze art. Treinen Farm in Lodi, Wisconsin, does it the old-fashioned way: using graph paper and volunteers willing to physically stake out the field. Alan Treinen and his family design the maze each year on a computer and overlay the design onto an image of the cornfield. The crew then places flags within the field to create rows and columns matching the graph’s lines, which allows them to chop the stalks in an orderly fashion. The 2016 design was inspired by cute things found on the internet, like rainbows and ninja kittens. Check out a gallery of Treinen Farm’s mazes here!

    Let’s all give a shout-out to our math teachers and their graph paper art projects—without them, these gorgeous corn mazes wouldn’t be possible!

    Did You Know?
    About 30 years ago, a Japanese janitor spent nearly 7 years drawing an incredibly complex maze by hand on A1 paper. The maze surfaced in 2014 when his daughter posted photographs of it on social media. Deemed ”Papa’s Maze,‘ it’s reportedly unsolvable! Do you think you could figure it out?

    Marianna Sorensen

    The Giggle Factor: Animals Laugh Too!

    Marianna Sorensen

    You know those times when you just can’t stop laughing? You try to keep it down, but you can’t help it and that juice you were drinking comes out your nose? Or you keep laughing so long your abdominal muscles hurt? And what about times when those giggles come from being tickled? Laughter may seem like a trait unique to humans, but we are not the only animals that laugh. 

    Apparently, rats are among those animals that giggle. Scientists have found this out by tickling them. At Humboldt University of Berlin, scientists discovered more about this thanks to new research. These scientists wanted to find out how touch affects social bonds and how mood affects behavior. They found that rats have to be in the right mood to laugh, just like humans. When the rats are stressed, they don’t giggle while tickled—but when they’re relaxed, they do. This is more important than it sounds, as it reveals a deeper connection between emotion and sensing the physical touch of the tickling. We sense tickling in the somatosensory cortex of our brain, the area associated with direct touch. However, when tickling the rats, researchers found that this part of their brains was less active when the animals were stressed, and therefore the neurological reaction must be affected by mood.

    Further evidence of the connection between emotion and touch comes from scientists finding that rats liked being tickled enough to follow the hand that tickled them. The rats giggled when they were about to be tickled but not yet physically touched, which further supports their similarities to humans. Tickling studies may seem unscientific, but they’re important enough to have their own unique vocabulary. For example, gargalesis is a touch that makes you laugh, and knismesis is a light touch that does not make you laugh.

    And it turns out there is a lot we don’t know about tickling. We’re not sure why it evolved, what its purpose is or why certain parts of the body are more ticklish than others. Humans have been wondering about this connection between mood and how easily we laugh for a long time. Darwin and Aristotle considered it important enough to write down questions about it hundreds of years ago.

    There are actually several animals that respond to being tickled, though they have different reactions. There is anecdotal evidence of platypuses and porcupines giggling, but sharks go belly-up and become paralyzed. These reactions are related to how social and playful the animal is, with the more social and playful enjoying it more. One example is the reaction of apes. Their laugh sounds a lot like a human’s, and scientists suggest humans got the ability to laugh from a primate ancestor who lived 10 to 16 million years ago.

    Of all the similarities humans share with other animals, this is a great one. Picturing a platypus chuckling certainly gives me the giggles.

    Did You Know?
    We are 30 times more likely to laugh at something if we are with other people. This means that laughter is not just an indicator of when we think a joke is funny, but shows that we understand how our friends are feeling. 

    Samantha Perry

    One More Step For Mankind: Breaking the Language Barrier

    Samantha Perry

    In our previous blog about language barriers, former intern Nora Chan went into detail about Google’s translation app, which features a voice-to-text translation option. Nora highlighted the app’s contribution to travel with its ability to translate the sound of your mother tongue into a written translation of another language. Although trying to communicate in a foreign country can be part of the fun and excitement of travel, the fear and anxiety of not knowing the language can put a stop to some great adventures. During a trip to Italy, I had my share of both experiences, finding fun in the challenge of ordering a pizza in broken Italian one day and then dreading the thought of asking for directions to the correct bus station the next.

    Luckily, destroying language barriers seems to be a common goal for some new innovations. While translation apps can fit in your pocket, Ili comes in the form of a large flash drive you can wear around your neck or on a keychain. Ili translates and repeats phrases back, which saves you the embarrassment of butchering the pronunciation of the words and ruining the entire interaction. It does not require an internet connection and is voice activated. A downloadable phrasebook is included, equipped with common travel interactions that also offer a chance to learn the new language. The first installment of Ili is only available for English, Japanese and Chinese in order to provide the most accurate translations of each language, but future updates will include more language options.

    The Pilot works in a similar way as Ili, but rather than fitting like a piece of jewelry, the Pilot fits in the perfect place for a translator: your ears. Coming in three different colors of wireless ear buds, the Pilot earpiece filters out excess noise and, via its app, sends translations directly to your ear. The Pilot app can also serve as a phrasebook and is equipped with several languages—English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. Like the Ili, the Pilot aims to have more languages available in the next installment, once precise translations are ensured. These ear buds are the kind of technology that used to exist only in science fiction.

    Of course, there are many challenges to tackle with translation software. Slang, for instance, can certainly gum up the works of translation, as Andrew Lauder found out during his app’s construction. Vocre Translate is a voice and text translation app that is able to translate simple words when you speak into the app. In order to account for nuanced meanings of certain words, Lauder turned to using common word usage rather than simple text-to-text translations by compiling data from public domain recordings. Based on the patterns found in the data, rules for the fluidity of spoken language were created for Vocre Translate software.

    With these kinds of devices, language barriers might become obsolete and language will be portable. I wonder what science fiction tech is next in the pipeline?

    Did You Know?
    A team of inventors in Sweden is developing a headset that will translate what a dog is thinking. Using brain wave signals collected through sensors on the headpiece, the data will be translated into phrases. I’m sure “what’s this thing on my head?” will be a common one.

    Photo Credit: Tsz Yan Tong

    Sarah Rush

    Starshot’s Guide to the Galaxy

    Sarah Rush

    Remember those glow-in-the-dark stars, moons and planets you could stick onto your bedroom ceiling? I do—I used to fall asleep below them, dreaming of outer space and galaxies filled with strange planets and even stranger life-forms. I’ve always been fascinated by astronomy, and movies like The Fifth Element and the Star Wars series left me thirsting to see deep space travel become a reality. But when I consider just how far even a single light-year is (try to imagine nearly six trillion miles of mostly empty space!), my hopes are dashed. How could any man-made spacecraft travel so far in a reasonable time?

    Introducing Breakthrough Starshot, a research program developed by Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner along with Stephen Hawking and other scientists. The program is designed to send lightweight spacecraft to Alpha Centauri, our nearest star system, to collect primary data about it for the first time in human history. The system consists of two stars and a red dwarf, and lies “only” 4.37 light-years away. To cross this incredible distance—over 26 trillion miles—the spacecraft must travel at a reasonable fraction of the speed of light or it would take thousands of years to reach our celestial neighbor.

    The solution lies in the evolving technology of the nanocraft: a one-gram computer chip equipped with cameras and other hardware attached to a laser sail, a special fabric that can withstand extreme temperatures. Thousands of these spacecraft would be launched into space. An arrangement of lasers nearly a mile across would then shoot powerful beams from Earth at the sails to heat them up, causing them to propel toward Alpha Centauri at about 20 percent the speed of light. (Check out a simulation of the project here!)

    It‘ll still take nearly 20 years for the nanocraft to reach Alpha Centauri, but once they do, they’’ll take pictures and collect other indispensible data about the star system. Some scientists even believe that planets might exist somewhere in the system!

    If the program sounds too good to be true, that’s because right now, it is. Achieving the project would cost billions of dollars, and it is predicted to take 20 more years of research and development before the launch even becomes a possibility.

    But for those science fiction fans out there like me, we’ll hold our breath in the hope that Breakthrough Starshot becomes a reality, and that many of the mysteries of Alpha Centauri are solved. If Breakthrough Starshot is a success, just imagine where else we could explore!

    Did You Know?
    Engineers have developed solar roadways, roads paved in solar panels. The roads are designed to generate solar energy, charge electric cars and make driving safer—they contain LED lights for road signs as well as heating elements to melt snow and ice. While some doubt its durability and cost efficiency, others hope that solar roadways might eventually replace traditional pavement.

    Photo Credit: ESO/DSS 2

    Marianna Sorensen

    From Bag to Box: The Launching of Lunch Boxes

    Marianna Sorensen

    When I was in elementary school, my plastic, insulated lunch box was absolutely necessary. If I wanted my yogurt kept fresh, what would I do if it weren’t insulated? What would keep my crackers from being crushed? Lunch boxes are fancy nowadays, though they weren’t always. Over time, the lunch box has evolved as different versions went in and out of fashion.

    The lunch box first came to the United States in the early twentieth century. Versions of it have been used around the world for much longer. The tiffin, a type of cylindrical tin, has been used in India since the nineteenth century, and bentos, small lunches in prearranged containers, have long been served in Japan. In the United States, most kids originally would go home for lunch. Those who traveled far to get to school and couldn’t eat lunch at home would bring lunch in bags or little wooden boxes. Metal boxes, which would become popular later on, were initially used by tradesmen and factory workers because the metal was durable enough to protect their meals from the environment they worked in. In the 1880s, kids who wanted to imitate their parents started making their own versions of metal lunch boxes with cookie tins and tobacco tins.

    After World War II, schools became larger and more students traveled to school. This led to more schools having cafeterias and fewer children going home to eat. Kids eating a homemade lunch then needed lunch boxes, and what better way to make them appealing to children than to decorate them with characters? The first lunch box for children with a licensed character, Mickey Mouse, came out in 1935. However, lunch boxes weren’t that desirable until 1950. That year, Aladdin Industries, which had been making the metal boxes that workers carried, began making new ones with a picture of a TV character: a cowboy named Hopalong Cassidy. These were so popular that Aladdin Industries sold 600,000 of them in the first year.

    Other manufacturers started putting figures from pop culture on lunch boxes too. Some had Barbie in various outfits or the Beatles performing. Others had characters from the TV series Kung Fu. Lunch boxes became more and more common. Then, in the 1980s, plastic ones started coming out, essentially replacing metal lunch boxes. The lunch box industry is more practical today—the insulated plastic or fabric ones are now the rage. Metal lunch boxes with movie characters are less common, but are still made today for some popular franchises.

    The lunch box has come a long way from its humble beginnings. The possibilities today are endless no matter what your lunch needs are. Give your midday meal a new pop of personality, or see if you can find an antique of an old favorite—a side of nostalgia always goes great with lunch.

    Did You Know?
    Before the backpack there was the book strap. Kids used it in the early 1900s to bring books back and forth from school. It was simply a leather belt that wound around the necessary books and then could be hung over your shoulder or carried like a bag.

    Photo Credit: Davidmerkoski

    Samantha Perry

    Dinos Soar Back to Life: Exhibits that Go Beyond Fossils

    Samantha Perry

    The first time I watched Jurassic Park, there was no question in my mind that the dinosaurs were real and that one of the actresses had truly been covered in snot by a sick brontosaurus on set. I was only about five or six at the time, sitting beside my dad on the couch with wide eyes and a strange mix of fear and curiosity. We learn from the film that biologically recreated dinosaurs are not something to play around with, but who didn’t want to see dinosaurs up close? Luckily, there are some much safer versions of the experience being recreated around the world.

    The newest dino experience is still in production in Japan, where designers are creating a few of the most lifelike dinosaurs yet. Dino-A-Live, an interactive exhibit within the proposed Dino-A-Park, sets out to have human-operated robotic dinosaurs, using real fossils as the blueprints. Several dinosaurs are nearly complete, including an eight-foot-tall T. rex that showcases the exhibit’s half-spectacle, half-performance nature. Demonstrations of the performance included “handlers” dressed in military uniforms as they tried to tame the unruly T. rex. Proposals for the park hope to have the project financed this year, but it will take several years to build. Luckily, in the meantime, there are several prehistoric themed options available.

    The Franklin Institute’s Jurassic World: The Exhibition features seven animatronic dinosaurs as well as interactive educational elements, which are inspired by the film series. Although the dinos at the Franklin Institute are fixed into place, the attention to detail is very impressive! With the help of paleontologist Jack Horner, the animatronics and interactive components are modeled on real science and dinosaur DNA—modeled conceptually, that is, unlike the DNA that Dr. Hammond used to create the monsters for his infamous park. Don‘t worry, no prehistoric mosquitos trapped in amber were used in the making of this exhibit. The Franklin Institute will house the exhibit through April 23, 2017, with plans to continue its North American tour.

    Another impressive dinosaur attraction is a 60-acre park in Utah. The Moab Giants Dinosaur Park contains more than 100 life-size dinosaur sculptures. Visitors are free to meander through the half-mile trail in Utah’s desert landscape. The park also includes “Dig It Out Sites” that provide a chance to find fossils and traces of long-extinct animals. Moab Giants also boasts educational and interactive materials with a 3D cinema and games within its Tracks Museum. Plus, all the dinos are extremely photogenic!

    For now it seems we’re safe from those Jurassic monsters I was so convinced were real in the 1993 film. These exhibits provide a much more protected experience. Visit your favorite while you have the chance!

    Did You Know?
    Before the big reveal of the T. rex in Jurassic Park, a glass of water on the dashboard of the car rattles as the dinosaur approaches. This effect was created by fixing a guitar string underneath the dashboard and strumming it to send vibrations through the water.

    Photo Credit: Marco Becerra

    Sarah Rush

    Optical Inclusion: Warhol Museum Gives More Than Visuals

    Sarah Rush

    Imagine if every time you visited a museum, it was difficult or impossible to see the artwork in all its splendor. Imagine what it’s like for those who are blind or visually impaired. How can they have the opportunity to experience art?

    The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is giving all visitors a chance to experience art in an innovative and unique way. The museum showcases the work of the famous ’50s and ’60s pop painter, filmmaker and sculptor Andy Warhol, best known for his Campbell’s Soup Cans series and his portraits of Marilyn Monroe and other pop culture icons. Including 900 paintings, nearly 100 sculptures, 4,000 photographs and much more, the museum firmly believes that people of all abilities deserve to experience the work of this renowned and eclectic artist.

    The museum launched two initiatives at the end of last year to make the museum more accessible to all visitors: a free iOS audio app as well as tactile reproductions of numerous works. The app, called Out Loud, is a customizable guide designed to replace typical audio guides found at many museums. Out Loud automatically detects the artwork closest to your phone and explains how the piece looks and its inspirations, as well as general information about Warhol’s life. This makes Out Loud attractive not only to the visually impaired, but also to any person seeking extra details about Warhol and his work. The app designers worked directly with individuals from the visually impaired community to ensure that Out Loud would suit their needs and preferences.

    The museum’s second accessibility effort lies on its seventh floor, where newly created reliefs of Warhol’s most influential pieces allow visitors to experience his art in a way typically prohibited in museums: through touch. Created using a high-speed cutting machine, these tactile models replicate precise nuances found in the original pieces. The museum recommends exploring the reliefs while listening to Out Loud: the app explains the best way to feel the reproductions in order to fully understand them (such as starting in the left-hand corner and moving your fingers first to the right then upwards). Since the app’s launch and the installation of the reliefs, user feedback has been extremely positive.

    These initiatives belong to a current museum trend of making exhibits more approachable to all visitors—for example, check out these museums designed to aid those with memory loss conditions. It seems that experiencing art is no longer limited to simply looking at it. Now you can hear it and touch it, too.

    Did You Know?
    Currently spreading throughout Asia, 3D museums are new interactive museums designed to place visitors in optical illusion exhibits for immersive fun with art and photography. Guests pose inside exhibits to create memorable 3D versions of paintings. Examples of 3D museums include the Alive Museum in Singapore and the Trickeye Museum, which has several locations across Asia.

    Marianna Sorensen

    Tales of Talent: The Secret Skills of the PSG Staff

    Marianna Sorensen

    Among the staff at PSG there are all sorts of talents. There is, of course, great skill in our many publishing services, but everyone’s skills here go beyond those. We have everyone from athletes to musicians and performers. I’m proud of my gymnastics history. I competed on the uneven bars and I loved those dismounts off the bar even if I never quite got to the Olympics.

    We have other athletes here. Alyssa was a competitive swimmer for ten years, her best stroke being the butterfly. You know she was good because she instructed swimming lessons. She even has a little experience in competitive diving, with her most advanced dive being an inverse pike. Patty hikes all over the country. Lori can dance with a hoop around her waist as well as sweep across a ballroom dance floor, and then there’s the fact that she owns and coaches at a CrossFit gym.

    Then there are the performers and artists. Kate is great at impersonations and accents. She’s got the British ones down best. She can imitate the full cast of Downton Abbey, being best at Daisy, the kitchen maid, and Cora, the Countess of Grantham. Eileen both paints and writes poetry. Don has never come across a musical instrument he couldn’t play. His best is the guitar. He can also play the Native American drone flute, which he prefers to his original method of playing two tin whistles simultaneously. Then there’s Ken, who can really sing. In Handel’s Messiah, he can—from memory—sing the tenor and bass lines from almost every major chorus. Sarah has a knack for singing too, with a special talent for memorizing lyrics and melodies and replicating singers’ styles and inflections.

    Many of the staff members here also have extensive knowledge in different fields. Sam has an amazing memory for faces, so she often remembers someone even if they don’t remember her. (To make them feel better, though, she has become good at pretending not to recognize them.) Colleen is a pro at sports statistics. Like the fact that Boston has unprecedented success this century—if you add up the successes of the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins, we have a total of 10 championships already. Pop culture is also a strong suit in the PSG office. For instance, Annette has an uncanny talent for quoting lines from the many seasons of The Simpsons, as well as for remembering old commercials and song lyrics. And Tess has an in-depth knowledge of Beatles trivia and can recite almost all the lines from the movie A Hard Day’s Night. She’s got Gilmore Girls trivia down too.

    With talents this widespread, you know that the PSG staff is a truly skilled combination of people!

    Did You Know?
    Many people argue that success comes from the time and effort people put in and not from an innate talent. This gives us all hope for success in those activities we love but struggle with when we start out.

    Photo Credit: Vincent Lock

    Samantha Perry

    A Redwood Grows in Brooklyn

    Samantha Perry

    Across from the library in the playground where I once played is the first tree I ever successfully climbed. The bark at the base of the tree is stripped and smooth from countless amounts of children who have attempted to clamber up into the branches. I was only able to make it up a few branches, but I still felt like I was on top of the world.

    The iconic coast redwood trees in California aren’t made for climbing, but they evoke an even more powerful feeling of awe. Lost Man Creek is an art installation in Brooklyn made up of dawn redwoods that has recreated a portion of California’s Redwood National Park. Despite the similarities in their common names, the dawn redwood and coast redwood are not the same species. They are, however, members of the same subfamily and share many characteristics. The dawn redwood trees look like mini versions of the coast redwoods and come in at just one to four feet tall. That’s a small fraction of the size of a typical coast redwood, which can range from 98 to 380 feet tall.

    One of the coolest parts of this installation is how precise it is. Using topographical information collected by NASA, the artist, Spencer Finch, was able create a scaled model of a 790-acre portion of the California forest almost to the sprout. Lost Man Creek is one-hundredth of the size of the acreage it is modeled after—a trail area from which the installation also gets its name.

    The exhibition is designed to facilitate the growth of each seedling with a scheduled irrigation system, and the trees will also undergo a seasonal change. Since dawn redwoods are deciduous (meaning they shed their needles), the installation will change throughout the year. When the trees’ needles fall in the winter, the installation takes on a whole new look, becoming a ghost of the former forest, before coming back to life in the spring.

    Another plus of the installation? The dawn redwood was believed to be extinct until a small grove was discovered in China in the 1940s. Although they’ve become popular around the world, the Lost Man Creek installation is helping to combat any future threat of extinction for the dawn redwood.

    The installation is located at the MetroTech Commons in Brooklyn and will be open until the spring of 2018. Finch hopes that each tree will have a new home by then.

    Did You Know?
    In 1976 in Utah, Nancy Holt created Sun Tunnels, an art installation of four concrete tubes with hole patterns designed after several constellations. The tunnels are also designed to line up with the summer and winter solstices, catching the light of the sun to create a unique piece of art every day.

    Photo Credit: Ken Chan

    Sarah Rush

    PSG Reads: What We’re Reading Now

    Sarah Rush

    As a child, I was the classic bookworm—there was rarely a time when I was seen without a novel held lovingly in my arms. I fit in well at PSG it seems: My coworkers are proud to call themselves bookworms, too. Let’s peek into the bookshelves of the PSG staff and see what everybody is reading!

    Historical fiction is trendy in the office currently. Kate’s begun digging through Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, which isn’t too surprising, considering she owns three copies of it (her favorite is a stunning letterpress version with the novel’s opening line printed on the cover in gold foil). Ken’s taken up Pam Jenoff’s The Orphan’s Tale, a survival story of a woman hiding in a traveling circus during World War II. And of course there’s a historical fantasy novel on the bookshelf this semester. (Remember the staff’s fascination with fantasy and science fiction?) Marianna is enjoying Naomi Novik’s Throne of Jade, the second book in the Temeraire series, which tells the story of an aerial corps of warriors and dragons defending Great Britain in the Napoleonic Wars.

    The office’s passion for speculative fiction remains strong. Alyssa is flying through Maria V. Snyder’s Study series, tales of a young woman honing her magical abilities while acting as a political liaison between two disagreeing countries. Her dedication to the series is clear: she just finished the fifth book, Night Study, and plans to dive into the sixth soon. Tess is rereading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in expectation of its upcoming TV adaptation. The book details an alternate world in which populations have dwindled, and women are subjugated into roles depending on their immediate “use” to society. I’m currently lugging around The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, a collection of 52 historical and modern sci-fi short stories, featuring works by William Gibson, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov and other famous authors of the genre.

    But these aren’t the only genres on our bookshelf. Sam is riffling through Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters, a non-fiction collection of the filmmaker’s notes and inspirations. And Eileen’s got a soft spot for crime and suspense novels. She’s been flipping the pages of Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström’s Three Seconds. Translated from its original Swedish, the novel features a top secret operative of the Swedish police force who goes undercover to infiltrate the Polish Mafia. Definitely exciting stuff!

    It’s no surprise that the staff here at PSG are avid readers. A glimpse at our imaginary collective bookshelf reveals exactly what we’ve all been up to in our literary lives.

    Did You Know?
    The longest sentence ever published in literature can be found in Mathias Énard’s 2010 novel Zone. The majority of the book consists of a single 150,000-word sentence. The story is told from inside the main character’s mind while he rides a train, and is considered an extreme version of stream of consciousness.

    Marianna Sorensen

    Ants and Agriculture: Did the First Farmers Have Feelers?

    Marianna Sorensen

    When I see ants running around my yard, I’m usually not impressed. Those little guys seem so vulnerable and can get trampled on so easily. Then again, that was before I knew that several ant species began farming long before humans ever did.

    Small, black ants, called Philidris nagasau have their own form of farming and have been doing it for around 3 million years. These ants gather the seeds of their favorite food, Squamellaria, which is a lumpy, brown plant. They then put the seeds in crevices of tree bark and fertilize them with their own waste. Once the plants have grown, the ants harvest the seeds and plant them again. This way, the cycle continues and both Philidris nagasau and Squamellaria are happy.

    Leaf-cutter ants also farm, but they work with fungi instead of seeds. And they are not limited to places where fungus grows. When a colony gets too big, the queen ant leaves with a fungus that can be grown when she starts a new colony. These ants have been doing this for at least 8 million years.

    A third species, Acropyga, don’t farm plants, but other bugs called mealybugs—kind of like the way humans care for bees, so we can eat their honey. The Acropyga carry the mealybugs around and ingest a liquid the mealybugs secrete called honeydew (no, it’s not the melon). Acropyga, like the leaf-cutter ants, bring their “crop” with them when they start a new colony. A queen actually carries a pregnant mealybug to her new colony and then this mealybug starts a new generation for the Acropyga to raise. Acropyga have maintained this system with the mealybugs for quite a while—15 to 20 million-year-old evidence of this farming in action has been found in an amber fossil of Acropyga holding mealybugs.

    Compared to these ants, humans began to farm what seems recently. Humans started harvesting things in the Stone Age at least 12,000 years ago in what is now Iran. There, archaeologists have found stone tools as well as grains and seeds. They turned out to be different kinds of lentils, barley and peas—like those we eat today. After studying these, archaeologists can tell that, at first, humans just picked the food they found. However, about 10,000 years ago humans started selecting plants with a certain attribute they liked. An example of this early domestication in present-day Iran is corn that had tough ears, which humans kept selecting over time because it was easier to harvest.

    A claim to agricultural fame can only (as far as we now know, at least) be made by four animal groups: humans, bark beetles, termites and ants. Though I’m proud that we are one of those four, I never thought that we had so much in common with those bugs!

    Did You Know?
    There are more than 10,000 species of ants. Instead of farming, one species in the Amazon sets traps. Allomerus decemarticulatus make traps from plant fibers, and when a bug gets stuck on one, the Allomerus decemarticulatus are waiting beneath.

    Photo Credit: William Cho

    Samantha Perry

    Our First Jobs: Movies, Snacks and Get-Well-Soon Cards

    Samantha Perry

    During the interview for my first job at a coffee shop, I was asked what my greatest achievement was. Being only 15 at the time, I was hard-pressed for an answer and honestly can’t even remember what I sputtered out. Luckily, my response was good enough and I was hired, spending the next several months learning different coffee combinations and how to perfect my drive-through voice.

    Most people will always remember their first job (hopefully in a fond way) and the staff at PSG are no exception! Turns out, several members of the staff entered the working world through the same classic avenues.

    Eileen and Colleen, like me, are both veterans of the food service industry. Colleen worked at a sub shop in her hometown and boasts about having served Jordan and Jonathan Knight of New Kids on the Block during her career. Eileen came out of her first job as a hostess and busser at a restaurant that served emu and alligator with the ability to fold napkins into elaborate shapes.

    Kate and Ken both reveled in retail. Along with several of his siblings, Ken worked at a local shoe store and consequently has his own secret for “professionally fit” shoes. Kate worked at a card store, and vividly remembers the rush for last-minute cards every February 14.

    Both Don and Annette worked at movie theaters. Don, who was experimenting with flamingo pink hair at the time, learned that there is such a thing as too much free popcorn. Annette, whose coworkers sometimes labeled the ticket storage behind the counter by plot spoilers rather than the movies’ names, had to avoid ruining movies for herself. Difficult, though, when she was looking for a Sixth Sense ticket for a customer and saw the label “Bruce is a ghost” instead.

    Both Sarah and Marianna, my fellow spring 2017 interns, worked as receptionists. Sarah worked at a hotel near a popular concert venue and Marianna answered the phones for a moving company one summer.

    Alyssa’s and Tess’s first jobs were both literary in nature (and look where it took them!). During the summertime, Tess helped kids with their reading, writing and comprehension skills and loved seeing the progress each child made, even when they said her voice sounded like a cartoon character. When she was old enough (the librarians tried recruiting her in middle school), Alyssa spent as long as possible at her first job in her local library. She loved getting her hands on the newest books and fine-tuning her organization skills. Alyssa still finds herself in the same library to get recommendations from her former coworkers.

    Usually, our first jobs aren’t always the most glamorous, but it seems like the staff at PSG both enjoyed and grew from their experiences. How do you remember your first job?

    Did You Know?
    Best known for her work in science fiction, Octavia E. Butler worked a series of odd jobs to support herself and her writing. Among the oddest, Butler worked as a potato chip inspector.

    Photo Credit: Tony Webster

    Marianna Sorensen

    Portraits Come Alive: A New Portrayal of the Past

    Marianna Sorensen

    In the eighth grade, I researched Sam Houston for one of my classes. As a final part of the project, we spent a class period acting out the person we researched. I had never considered anyone I studied that deeply until I was assigned that project. 

    The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery has a program it has run for the past 10 summers that gives high school students the same opportunity. Teenagers who have applied and are selected to work for Portraits Alive come and study someone who has a portrait in the museum. The students first choose someone, then research that person without relying on the information that the museum provides on the plaque beside the portrait.

    Students then write monologues about the subject of the portrait they’ve chosen. And they don’t just recite the monologue. They wear costumes to look like the people they’ve studied and perform the monologue for visitors touring the museum. Students put a lot of work into this. And after three weeks of presenting to tour groups, they rewrite their script, focusing on a new theme or approach. So not only are they learning research methods and performance skills, they are also learning how to review and strengthen their own work. When they perform, they present themselves alongside the portraits they studied, bringing the image beside them to life.

    This project involves more than memorizing basic facts about the portrayed person. Not just anyone gets their portrait displayed at famous museums. Students in the program learn why the people they’re researching got their portraits on the wall. They also each find a personal connection to the person in the portrait. Some of the actors even come to resemble those they choose to perform after studying them in such detail. Christopher Schelb, a student portraying poet Allen Ginsberg, became known among his fellow teens as just “Ginsberg.”
    The best part of this program is that not only do the students learn about the power of a new portrayal of the past, but the visitors do as well. Those who see the performance are encouraged to think about history that they may have forgotten about or that they have never encountered before. 

    Did You Know?
    The smallest portrait in the National Portrait Gallery in London is about the size of your thumbnail. Made of enamel on gold, it’s a picture of Henrietta Anne, Duchess of Orléans in the seventeenth century.

    Photo Credit: Difference engine

    Annette Cinelli Trossello

    Literary Firsts: The Joys of Reading to My Children

    Annette Cinelli Trossello

    One of the most exciting things about being a parent is witnessing your child’s firsts. There are the funny firsts (his disgusted face with that first taste of oatmeal), the exciting firsts (watching him take those first wobbly steps) and the momentous firsts that make you well up with tears of joy (when he first sleeps through the night). But some of my favorite firsts with my children are of a literary nature.

    My son, Gabriel, actually began his literary journey before he was born. My baby shower was book themed, with generous friends and family giving us books in lieu of cards. I had baby’s first library before I had baby!

    Once Gabriel was born, my husband, Andy, and I began reading to him right away. A book (or two!) was part of our bedtime routine. Even though he was too little to understand the story, Gabriel got so much out of our time reading together. There was the comfort of the sound of our voices and the closeness as I cuddled him on my lap.

    As he got older, he began to reach for the book and look at the pictures. He would occasionally try to eat the book, but that was to be expected.

    On December 5, 2011 (yes, I remember the date!), when he was only four and a half months old, Gabriel first turned the pages of the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle. It was so exciting for me to see him taking more of an active role in our reading! Our version was a slide-and-find book, and he loved sliding the cardboard to see a picture of what Brown Bear and the other animals saw.

    Animal Kisses by Barney Saltzberg was another favorite book to read when Gabriel was a baby. The book begins by asking, “What kind of kisses do you like?” It then goes on to offer up fuzzy dog kisses, squishy fish kisses and so on. When he was one, Gabriel would kiss every page to decide which kisses he liked best.

    In 2014 my daughter, Amara, was born. She joined her big brother, her daddy and I in our reading adventures. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Amara was turning pages, Gabriel was recognizing words and they were both “reading” books that they had memorized, like Leslie Patricelli’s No No Yes Yes and Yummy Yucky.

    When Gabriel turned five in July of 2016, this proud mama took at least half a dozen pictures of him getting his first library card. Even though he is continuing to learn how to read on his own, reading together is something we all still enjoy. Gabriel and I love reading Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie series, while Amara loves princess books and Sandra Boynton’s stories. The two of them have even taken to reading together without me! As they get older, I look forward to continuing our reading journey by sharing more of my favorite books with them.

    Did You Know?
    Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, written by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle, was first published in 1967 . . . making 2017 the year of its 50th anniversary!

    Sarah Rush

    Ancient Cambodian City Revealed by Lasers

    Sarah Rush

    As a child, my favorite activity at the beach was digging through the sand for lost objects. Old coins, keys, painted shells and tarnished rings lined the pockets of my beach shorts after a day by the sea. But what if there were an easier way to look at buried treasure, a way without having to get my palms dirty and sand under my fingernails?

    In the world of archaeology, there is. It’s called lidar. Short for “light detection and ranging,” lidar is a remote sensing device attached to the bottom of a helicopter or airplane that sends measured laser pulses toward Earth. The light bounces off the Earth’s surface and back to the lidar device with measurements and outlines of the ground below. This information is then compiled to form precise, three-dimensional maps.

    What makes lidar so special is that it can reveal objects hidden beneath both vegetation and water and, by doing so, unearth buried artifacts, dwellings and—in this particular case—entire hidden cities.

    Let’s take a trip to Cambodia in Southeast Asia, where scientists and archaeologists recently used lidar to uncover a massive residential city surrounding Angkor Wat, a Hindu (and, later, Buddhist) temple built in the twelfth century during the Khmer Empire. Considered one of the world’s largest religious sites and Cambodia’s most popular tourist destination, the temple has been visited by millions of tourists each year, none of whom had any idea just what kind of buried treasure lay around them.

    Archaeologist Damian Evans of Cambodia’s Siem Reap Center and his team spent nearly two weeks using lidar to survey the area around Angkor Wat—a vast expanse of thick jungle vegetation—in search of artifacts. Imagine their astonishment when they discovered a massive “buried” city with the temple at its center, complete with residential districts, dried-up canals and ponds, streets, and buildings!

    One of the more mystifying discoveries was a series of lines in the ground in the shape of labyrinthine coils. Evans and the team could not be sure what these coils were used for and claimed that there was nothing similar to these coils in surviving Hindu writings or art. Overall, the discovery of the city surrounding Angkor Wat provides exciting new clues for learning more about the ancient Khmer people.

    So next time you’re at the beach, dig your hands a little deeper into the sand. You never know—you might just discover an ancient city.

    Did You Know?
    Lidar can also be used to take “photographs” of living beings, creating surreal pieces of art. Photographers discovered this unique feature in 2014 while profiling the landmarks and people of Harari, Ethiopia. They found that using the lidar could blur and smudge images of people, generating visually-stunning photographs. The artwork was displayed in an exhibit at the New York Institute of Technology in 2014.

    Marianna Sorensen

    Turning Over a New Page: How Barbershops Are Helping Kids Read

    Marianna Sorensen

    We’ve all been bored when we were little as we sat in that chair getting our hair cut. All we could do was worry about what we might look like when it was done. Barbers across the country have found a way to resolve this boredom and also have a positive effect on literacy—having children read aloud while getting their hair cut. Ryan Griffin, a Michigan barber, heard of this happening across the country and asked his boss, Alex Fuller, if they could introduce a similar program at the shop where they work.

    At the Fuller Cut barbershop, kids get a two dollar discount if they read aloud as Griffin and the other barbers cut their hair. The shop even provides the books for the children to read. This may seem small but it has made ripples beyond its city of Ypsilanti, Michigan.

    This program has gotten a lot of attention throughout the community and across the country. Many people who have heard of the Fuller Cut’s story have sent the shop books to add to its library. In addition to books, sometimes donors also send along money, ranging from 20 to 250 dollars. Griffin and Fuller plan on eventually giving the donated money to teachers. The Fuller Cut has helped more than just a few kids; more than 100 kids have been reading there over the past year.

    The majority of the Fuller Cut’s customers are young African American boys from the community, so the shop makes sure their reading options are inclusive and relatable to the readers. The Fuller Cut library includes inspirational fiction options about young African American characters and nonfiction options about well-known African American role models like Barack Obama and Duke Ellington. The goal is not just to have kids read, but also to make it enjoyable for them. Griffin wants to make sure to track the progress of the kids who come, so he has them pick the same book each time they come in until they complete it.

    Some kids feel the way I used to when I was little—terrified to read aloud in front of an audience. Griffin works with these readers and says they become more comfortable over time. As someone who was once far too shy to read in front of that many people, this impresses me the most about the Fuller Cut’s program. Not only do the kids get a two-dollar refund and some reading practice, but they are also able to feel comfortable with their own skills and in front of others, all with the support of their community behind them.

    Did You Know?
    The National Center for Education Statistics has reported that children who are read to frequently are more likely to count to 20 or higher and write their own names than those who are not.

    Samantha Perry

    Frog Legs and Fish-Filled Footwear: Salvador Dalí’s Cookbook

    Samantha Perry

    Picture a perfect dinner party. All the best guests have been invited. The table is set, equipped with elaborate silverware, thick crystal tumblers and plates topped with napkins folded into elegant shapes. Guests recline in velvet chairs as they admire the spread. A platter of red crayfish sits in the center, arranged in a dome and sprinkled with dill, and beside that sits a plate of slippers filled with fish. This may not be your dream dinner party, but it is Salvador Dalí’s.

    Salvador Dalí, the prolific Spanish surrealist painter, and his wife, Gala, hosted many unique dinner parties. Later, in 1973, he created a cookbook featuring their recipes, photographs and original illustrations inspired by a series of their dinner events. Les Dîners de Gala is divided into 12 chapters with recipes ranging across the gustatory board, but Dalí’s favorite foods (anything with “armor,” i.e., shellfish) are prominently featured. Some recipes are Dalí’s originals, while others are from famous French restaurants. For one recipe, Dalí kept the chef’s exact ingredients a secret, omitting the measurements and instead including only the directions for “reading pleasure.” Readers are left to guess exactly how much of each ingredient to use.

    Only about 400 of the original books published in 1973 are thought to have survived, but, luckily, Taschen, an art book publisher, has recently republished Dalí’s surrealist cookbook. Les Dîners de Gala is the perfect crossover for food and art lovers. Dalí’s cookbook poses a fun and exciting challenge to amateur and master chefs alike and promises to keep the “pleasure of Taste” a high priority.

    It’s said that at the age of six, Dalí dreamed of being a chef. For many, this love for preparing and consuming food never really goes away. So for the versatile artist who (to name a few) painted, sculpted, created jewelry, designed furniture, wrote fiction, decorated stage sets, and helped produce film scenes, a cookbook must have been the icing on the cake!

    Did You Know?
    In 1992, the 303 Gallery in New York City hosted an exhibition by Rirkrit Tiravanija who converted one of the gallery spaces into a cafeteria. This interactive piece featured Tiravanija serving the viewers free food—Thai curry and rice to be specific. In 2012, the Museum of Modern Art in New York recreated the exhibit with the help of the artist and museum staff.

    Eileen Neary

    STEM in the Sky

    Eileen Neary

    When I was a kid, I went to this awesome weeklong science camp. We looked through kiddie telescopes, made weird substances out of flour and baking soda, and practiced our STEM skills before the acronym “STEM” was even coined.

    So when I heard about NASA’s STEM in the Sky Astronomy Series where kids can look through telescopes and see outer space, I naturally felt some serious envy.

    At NASA’s Wallops Facility Visitor Center, kids have the opportunity to head outside for a couple hours and learn about all things space. An expert team from the Delmarva Space Sciences Foundation was even scheduled to allow guests the super-rare opportunity to view the sun, its sunspots and flares with a solar telescope (!!!). Which is exactly as cool as it sounds. Unfortunately, due to the sky having a mind of its own, that particular event was canceled.

    The good news is that additional installments of Stem in the Sky are scheduled. They will focus on the planet Jupiter, solar eclipses and more. Reading about this program, I suddenly found myself falling down the rabbit hole (or should I say wormhole?) of other children’s educational space programs.

    Stem in The Sky was funded in part by the Competitive Program for Science Museums, Planetariums, and NASA Visitor Centers, or, in “short,” the CP4SMPVC. Each year, the CP4SMPVC funds events for students and educators across the country. Grants have been awarded in almost every state. Many of these events tie in to STEM and NGSS curricula. The best part? Through the programs offered since 2008, millions of participants have taken part in all-day activities, seminars, afterschool programs, overnight astronomy experiences, special planetarium and science center exhibits, camps, and more.

    So far there have been three projects awarded in PSG’s home state, Massachusetts, two of which are still ongoing. The first is through the Museum of Science in Boston. It has been running since October 2016 and will continue until October 2018. Called From Project Mercury to Planet Mars, the project includes a planetarium show about the challenges of a human journey to Mars and a “large-scale engineering design challenge activity” that also teaches about Mars exploration.

    The second is at the Boston Children’s Museum. It has been running since January 2015 and will continue until January 2018. Our Sky is an educational series of programs for kids aged 3–10 to help them “gain an appreciation for celestial objects and phenomena as a foundation for understanding of Earth and Space Science.” The Our Sky series helps “inspire practical applications of STEM skills by children and adults as they explore celestial objects together.”

    For the full list of CP4SMPVC awardees, past and present, and a map of events, click here. What a great time to be a space-loving kid!

    Did You Know?
    The United States is currently building what will be the largest solar telescope in the world. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) is scheduled to be completed in 2018. The DKIST is located at the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii.

    Sarah Dolan

    Blindsight and the Power of the Unconscious

    Sarah Dolan

    A patient left blind by two strokes—referred to in studies as “TN”—stands at the end of a hallway. Littered before him are a series of obstacles: a trash can, a paper shredder, a tripod and more. Without using a cane, he walks down the hallway, moving to avoid all the obstacles on his first attempt. When told that he succeeded, TN was shocked. Some unconscious instinct had caused him to avoid the obstacles on the first try.

    This instinct has been documented as occurring when the eyes and brain are healthy, but the primary visual cortex—the part of the brain that is necessary for sight—is damaged. This type of brain damage often occurs in stroke victims. Because of this, signals that travel from the eyes through the optic nerves cannot be processed. Patients with otherwise healthy eyes are left unable to see. However, for some reason, patients with this specific form of blindness are sometimes able to respond to visual stimuli that they are not consciously aware of at all. This phenomenon is known as blindsight.

    In 1974, psychologists Elizabeth Warrington and Lawrence Weiskrantz investigated one case of blindsight where the patient had been left blind in one eye after a surgery that was meant to cure headaches. The eye was still functional, but the visual cortex had been damaged. Warrington and Weiskrantz tested the patient by putting a screen in his blind spot and asking him to point to a shape when it appeared in different places on the screen. They also tested him with vertical and horizontal lines, asking him to identify which type of line was showing on the screen. The patient insisted that he couldn’t see anything, but was correct around 80 percent of the time: much more than chance alone would allow.

    Despite multiple documented cases, the actual cause of blindsight remains a mystery. There are several viable theories, however. Weiskrantz and Warrington suggest the processing that causes blindsight occurs in parts of the brain other than the visual cortex. They argue that the bundles of fibers that travel from the optic nerve to the midbrain still transmit information, and that the midbrain unconsciously interprets these signals. Michael Gazzaniga, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Davis who has also studied blindsight, argues that this phenomenon is a result of portions of healthy tissue in the visual cortex. These sections of live tissue, he says, are too small to allow a patient to consciously register visual stimuli, but they do result in blindsight.

    Research on blindsight allows us a little more understanding of the human brain and how we perceive our surroundings, both consciously and unconsciously. It also raises more questions for scientists—the answers to which I’ll be very interested to see.

    Did You Know?
    About 30 percent of the brain’s neurons are designated for visual processing. To compare, touch uses around 8 percent, while hearing uses 3 percent.

    Photo credit: Freepht

    Amanda Gutierrez

    BEAM Me Up, NASA

    Amanda Gutierrez

    In the 2015 movie The Martian, NASA astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars and must spend months living in “the Hab,” which is essentially a large temperature- and atmosphere-controlled bubble made from a specialized canvas-like material. While this is—quite literally—something straight out of a sci-fi novel (Andy Weir’s eponymous 2011 novel), scientists at NASA have partnered up with Bigelow Aerospace to develop something similar for their first trip to the red planet.

    On April 8, 2016, Bigelow Aerospace and NASA sent the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) to the International Space Station (ISS). BEAM is a cylindrical compartment that is stored as a compressed disk and can be expanded to a full-sized space. BEAM was developed to act as a potential work/living space for astronauts on long deep-space voyages. But first, the BEAM technology must be put to the test! BEAM will stay on the ISS, in its expanded form, for two years.

    During this trial, the astronauts living aboard the ISS will check BEAM periodically to collect data and evaluate its structural design. Following its stay on the ISS, BEAM will be detached from the station—but don’t worry! In the atmosphere, BEAM will break apart and burn up, so no harmful particles will make it to Earth’s surface. This is actually an oft-used practice for releasing spacecraft in space, and it certainly keeps space garbage from building up.

    The BEAM is an attractive alternative to building larger space stations because of its potential for efficiency. Materials intended for space must be sent (via rocket power) through our atmosphere and away from the planet’s gravitational pull. Because of this, the lighter the materials are, the better! The canvas-like material that forms BEAM is lightweight, which makes it easier to send into outer space. Additionally, BEAM is compactible, which saves room on the rockets, which leaves more room for other materials, which saves money.

    Some interesting specs: BEAM weighs about 3,000 pounds. Once in space, it can be expanded to its full size, which is about 565 cubic feet. The materials used for BEAM’s walls form layers that deflect various space debris, shield radiation, regulate temperature and protect against leaks. Interestingly, BEAM has no windows. Who knows . . . maybe one day?

    To get an idea of how BEAM works with the ISS, check out this animation of its installation—it’s out of this world!

    Did You Know?
    In October of 2016, President Obama gave a speech committing NASA and private space-tech companies to a manned mission to Mars by the 2030s. BEAM is one of the many steps in getting NASA ready for this awesome feat!

    Photo credit: NASA/Paolo Nespoli

    Abbrianna MacGregor

    All Pride, No Prejudice at the Jane Austen Convention

    Abbrianna MacGregor

    Literary aficionados know the deal. You may tear your eyes away from the page, but you never fully exit a beloved fictional universe’s comforting grip. Caught up in a yearning to live an alternate reality, you wish you had a confidant to talk giddily with about this pressing matter.

    Well, the opportunity to indulge one’s devotion with those equally passionate comes around annually for Jane Austen superfans, also known as “Janeites.”

    The annual meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) takes place for three days in either the United States or Canada. Participants indulge their literary infatuation with crafting activities, a Regency Ball, lectures on Austen’s work and much more.

    Jane Austen has managed to stay relevant over 200 years after her death, and pop culture continually reaffirms her legacy. The 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries featured the popular Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Other recent film adaptations featured big names—Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett in the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice and Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan in Love and Friendship in May of 2016.

    Austen’s popularity is also strengthened by exhibits dedicated to her, such as “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity” at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. The exhibit featured Austen paraphernalia such as Austen-silhouette cookie cutters and Austen volumes owned by celebrities, such as a copy of Mansfield Park that belonged to actor Stephen Fry.

    The accessible themes in Austen’s literature also account for the author’s continued relevance. “It is a truth universally acknowledged” that her ability to engage the reader passed the test of time. Her stories also emphasize self-discovery and feature complex heroines the reader becomes attached to. Evidence suggests that Austen will continue to be cherished for years to come despite the fact that her novels take place in a long-ago era.

    All things considered, it’s no wonder Austen celebrations such as JASNA exist. Janeites will unite once again in 2017 in Huntington Beach, California, for another group gathering centering on their beloved author.

    Did You Know?
    American Idol success story Kelly Clarkson bought a turquoise and gold ring that belonged to Jane Austen at a London auction. This prompted a series of events in which the UK government imposed a ban on the export of items considered national treasures, and the Jane Austen House Museum had to raise $250,000 to match Clarkson’s bid and reclaim the ring.

    Photo credit: National Library NZ on The Commons

    Sarah Dolan

    Studies See Smells by the Science Shore

    Sarah Dolan

    Cookies in the oven, freshly cut grass, the ocean breeze. What’s your favorite scent? Personally, I’m a huge fan of those in candle form. My top three at the moment have to be sandalwood, verbena and lemongrass, and lavender. With candles, larger ones emit stronger scents that can fill a room in minutes. But how does the scent move in space? A team of scientists is trying to find out.

    Odors are typically invisible. However, a study being conducted at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) is attempting to visualize these odors. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $6.4 million grant for “olfactory navigation research” to CU-Boulder professor and fluid mechanist John Crimaldi and his team. The grant was awarded as part of the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative. Crimaldi and his team—including contributing scientists from six other universities—constructed a 50-foot-long, 5,000-gallon water tank in CU-Boulder’s Engineering Center for this experiment. After turning off the lights of the Engineering Center at CU-Boulder, a network of high-powered lasers are used to light up the bottom of the tank. Then, a dye is added as “surrogate” for an odor. When the lasers react with the dye, what looks like green flames emerge—these flames show how a scent would move.

    This and other related experiments are the basis of the odor navigation project. The purpose? To teach robots to smell. It may seem far-fetched, but Crimaldi points out why it shouldn’t. Technology can already emulate other human senses. (For example, cameras can mirror sight with facial recognition software, while speech-to-text software and cochlear implants parallel hearing.) So why not smell? Smellbots, as they’re being called, could be useful for locating the source of an odor. Currently, humans often rely on canines for this—to locate contraband, explosives or people. This can put the dogs in danger and can be inconsistent depending on the dog and what it is tracking.

    The first step to create a smellbot is to understand how odors move in space. The visual patterns of smell created at CU-Boulder form the basis for mathematical formulas explaining how scents move. The team is also focusing on how animals extract location clues from odors and how they use movement to enhance these odor clues while advancing toward their target.

    After the completion of this study we’ll hopefully have a better understanding of how smell works. With these results, robots with the ability to smell may be not that far in the future.

    Did You Know?

    Bloodhounds, renowned as the dog breed with the greatest sense of smell, can distinguish scents over a thousand times better than humans. A bloodhound’s nose contains around 230 million scent receptors—40 times the number in humans!

    Amanda Gutierrez

    Google It: App Makes Art Accessible

    Amanda Gutierrez

    In high school, my class took a field trip to the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The opportunity let me experience the amazing collection of art nestled in southern California. Not everyone can get to the Getty—or to other museums throughout the world—but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the chance to see the amazing collections that are out there. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could see great works of art from your own home? Now, thanks to Google, you can!

    In July of 2016, Google released their Arts & Culture feature, which brings users closer to the art world. The technology exists as an app for both iOS and Android devices and is also available as a website. Arts & Culture provides information for users regardless of whether they are able to visit Google’s museum partners.

    If you are lucky enough to be viewing an artwork in person, at certain museums you can use a smartphone camera, point it at an artwork you want to know more about, and the app will find out the name and any more info it has on that piece. For those who cannot get to every museum they want to, the app also allows users to look at an immense catalog of high-quality images of artwork from around the world. With this app, people can delve through Google’s collection from about a thousand museums in 70 countries.

    This newest Google feature also lets you check out the museums’ hours, locations and current exhibits in case you want to plan a visit. For a select number of exhibits in Google’s partner museums you can take a virtual tour using virtual reality viewer! If you don’t happen to have one on hand, the website version of the app will let you take a pseudo-tour of some exhibits and locations.

    Once you’ve found a piece of art that intrigues you, you can zoom in on the high-resolution image to see the minute details of the piece. It may not be the same as seeing the artwork in person, but the chance to virtually inspect the aesthetics may take a close second. 

    On the app or the website, you can delve even further into art history and look through a specific artist’s work by date, material, art movement and even color. Or you can organize an artist’s collected works by popularity. Think about watching a famous artist’s style develop right before your eyes—sounds pretty amazing to me.

    Did You Know?
    With 19 museums and galleries, 9 research centers and the National Zoo, the Smithsonian Institution is the largest museum in the world. It is estimated that the full collection of the Smithsonian comprises around 156 million items.

    Photo Credit: Dror Feitelson

    Abbrianna MacGregor

    Literary Genius: A Brief History of the Nobel Prize

    Abbrianna MacGregor

    I have always been labeled a bookworm. I found a home in literary realms, and poured everything I had into trying to emulate the magic I experienced into my own writing. I vividly remember the surge of pride I felt in high school when I won an award for my dedication and performance in all things English related. It’s easy for writers to become discouraged throughout the creative process, but being reminded that your work is appreciated makes it all worthwhile. If I felt validated by winning a high school English award, I can only imagine how it must feel to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. As I lost myself in wondering what this honor would be like, curiosity guided me to uncover a bit more about its history.

    Alfred Nobel was a Swedish inventor who created dynamite, hoping it would put an end to war. By the time of his death in 1896, Nobel owned 355 patents for his ideas. The first five Nobel Prizes came into existence through directions detailed in Nobel’s will to offer the awards to the best in their fields (i.e., chemistry, literature, medicine, peace or physics). The Nobel Prize in Literature was intended for the “most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Nobel’s instructions in his will rejected any consideration for the nationality of candidates and intended for judges to base the candidates off pure literary quality and social impact.

    Despite the purity of Nobel’s intentions, different time periods held a heavy influence over how the award was granted. The first years (1901–1912) of the Nobel Prize in Literature were distinctly conservative, typically favoring works with religious affiliations. During World War I, a policy of neutrality was established, favoring literature from the small countries that remained neutral during the war. Each new decade seems to have had its own theme. The ’20s brought a broader view of what it meant to be “ideal;” the ’30s focused on reader accessibility; and, beginning in the ’40s, the award valued writers who pioneered through uncharted territory. As time progresses, so do the ways in which literature is evaluated and valued.

    The first Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Sully Prudhomme, a French poet, in 1901 for “a rare combination of both heart and intellect” demonstrated in his work. Over the years, a few recipients have surprised the public. Most recently, Bob Dylan won the award for his lyrical contributions to and influence on the music industry.

    Dylan receiving the award means the Nobel Committee for Literature accepts his lyrics as poetry, an unprecedented breakthrough in literary judgment. This proves that the boundaries that once defined the award are broadly expanding, leaving room for all kinds of writers to attain the prestigious status. Dylan’s win symbolizes endless possibilities for who might receive the award in the future.

    Did You Know?

    A native of England, Doris Lessing was the oldest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature at 88 years old in 2007. Her novel The Golden Notebook published in 1962, positioned her as a socially conscious feminist role model.

    Sarah Dolan

    StoneCycling: Sustainable Building, Brick by Brick

    Sarah Dolan

    Reduce, reuse, recycle. The “Three Rs” remind us of the ever-increasing importance of sustainability. From little things like throwing a plastic bottle in the recycling bin rather than the trash can to larger lifestyle changes, environmental responsibility is something on many people’s minds. A company based in the Netherlands is working to build on (or, in their case, build with) our understanding of sustainable waste is.

    Ward Massa and Tom van Soest both come from a design background, having graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven, located in the Netherlands. Together, they founded StoneCycling in 2013. The company converts industrial waste from the ceramic, glass and insulation industries into new building materials. These “WasteBasedBricks” bring together sustainability and design. By taking waste that would ordinarily end up in a landfill and putting it to new use, StoneCycling is changing the way we recycle. “The problem is that waste is still seen as waste,” Massa said in an interview with the Smithsonian. “We think waste is an opportunity to make new things.”

    Each one of the WasteBasedBricks has a different “recipe,” creating a unique look and feel. These recipes are kept secret, but the company claims “if you are really curious” you can give them a call. StoneCycling collaborates with architects and demolition companies to procure the waste. Their goal is to “erase the word waste from the dictionary” by showing that all materials can be repurposed and reused.

    StoneCycling’s recent projects include a house in Rotterdam and a pavilion in Amsterdam, both of which are made completely from recycled—or “upcycled”—waste. The house is a four-story home built in the city center of Rotterdam. It is made from over 33,000 pounds of waste! StoneCycling’s pavilion was located in FabCity, a temporary campus in Amsterdam. It was built in honor of Amsterdam hosting the European Union in the spring of 2016, and was moved at the end of June. The pavilion, called the “TrueTalker,” had a campfire in the middle, with light peeking out between the spaced pattern of the recycled bricks. The campfire offered an invitation to sit down and share ideas, just as the politicians do when the European Union convenes.

    Did You Know?

    StoneCycling isn’t the first to come up with the idea of 100 percent recycled houses. Prince Edward Island in Canada is home to three “bottle houses”—each made out of thousands of glass bottles held together with cement. The first bottle house, known as the six gabled house was built over a six-month period in 1980, using around 12,000 bottles!

    Photo Credit: @_StoneCycling

    Amanda Gutierrez

    It’s a Sine! Scientists See Math on the Mind

    Amanda Gutierrez

    As a student majoring in Writing, Literature & Publishing, it may come as a surprise that I loved math during high school. On par with my love of mathematics, was my love of science. Math and science are like two peas in a pod. But what’s the science behind math? Scientists have recently been conducting studies that examine the correlation of brain activity and mathematics.

    One study located a specialized region in the brain that lights up like a firework when a subject is asked to work with numbers—as in Arabic numerals like 1, 2, 3, not words like one, two, three. This brain spot, discovered by scientists at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, is about one-fifth of an inch in diameter and is located in the same area of our brain that processes certain visual information. Although we all learn and process math uniquely, this Stanford study shows that there seems to be at least one portion of the brain specifically intended for numerical information.

    Another study, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, sought to further understand how the brain sees math. This study compared how sighted and non-sighted individuals process mathematical information. When all participants were asked to complete mathematical problems, the same region of the brain was activated.

    But, for the non-sighted participants, so was another region—one used for comprehending visual information in sighted individuals. This area did not become active when sighted individuals were asked the same math problems. The more complex the math problem, the more activity the researchers saw in this area. The research indicates that the brain is capable of processing mathematical information in various areas, even if these areas seem to have originally been designated for another purpose.

    A third study, conducted by researchers at the INSERM–CEA Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit in France, compared the brains of advanced mathematicians and non-mathematicians. The study showed that an area of the mathematicians’ brains activated in response to math-based questions. That same area did not activate in the brains of those who were less mathematically inclined. It seems that by training to be mathematicians, these participants altered how their brains process math!

    The area that lit up for the mathematicians seems to be connected to the areas our brains use when processing spatial and numerical information (such as recognizing that two grapes on a plate is more than one grape on a plate). Additionally, the study suggested that the brains of the mathematicians seemed to reallocate resources from other regions of the brain, such as those used for visual facial recognition. This further supports the suggestion of the brain’s plasticity as observed by the Johns Hopkins study.

    Each of these three studies multiplies our understanding of mathematical brain function and how the mind works—hopefully, one day soon, research will all add up to a complete sum of mathematical understanding!

    Did You Know?
    An adult human brain has about 100 billion neurons. Development of these neurons starts at birth and continues into adulthood. Neurons, unlike many other types of cells, do not reproduce themselves. And some of the neurons in your brain today are the same ones that you had when you were born!

    Sarah Dolan

    Make Way for Hedgehogs!

    Sarah Dolan

    Growing up I would sometimes pass afternoons in search of critters in my backyard. I would find all sorts of creatures indigenous to the Northeast. Garter snakes, worms and tiny red newts were all exciting finds. Had I grown up in Great Britain, it would have been very likely that I discovered a different animal, one very popular in British gardens these days: the hedgehog.

    New research by the University of Hamburg suggests that Great Britain’s indigenous hedgehogs have changed their lifestyle to adapt to growing urban development. Hedgehog populations in urban areas are often higher than those of the surrounding countryside. Researchers tagged 14 hedgehogs with GPS temperature sensors and monitored them for 10 months. They found that urban hedgehogs travel far less at night than rural ones do—only 12 acres, compared to 123. Urban hedgehogs tend to sleep in private gardens during the day, then go out at around 9 p.m. after people and dogs have gone indoors. The study also found that urban hedgehogs follow the same hibernation patterns as rural ones, unaffected by human activity, noise and availability of food sources (read: trash) over the winter.

    However, hedgehogs aren’t fully out of the woods. Their urban numbers have declined in Britain by one-third since 2000, and rural numbers have halved. Habitat destruction from farming and urban development is putting the species in further danger. As hedgehogs live in bushy areas with natural vegetation, urban gardens and parks are crucial to their survival.

    In order to help preserve habitat for urban hedgehogs, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society has founded the Hedgehog Street initiative. The campaign encourages citizens to cultivate gardens that hedgehogs can use as a habitat. It also encourages citizens to cut small, 5-by-5-inch holes in the bottom of their fences so that hedgehogs can pass through. This helps to increase the animal’s roaming areas and grant them access to more areas around the city. (You can see a map tracking hedgehog sightings, as well as the “hedgehog highway,” here.) As of December 2016, there were over 41,000 registered “Hedgehog Champions” on the site.

    Hopefully with the help of these conservation efforts these spiny animals will thrive and Great Britain’s beloved animal will be around for years to come.

    Did You Know?

    When encountering a strange smell, such as turpentine or tobacco, a hedgehog will lick it up. (Hedgehogs are very resistant to toxins.) The animal will then lather the substance over its quills. Scientists don’t know why the hedgehog does this. Some theories are that doing so disguises their scent from predators, poisons the tips of their spines or kills parasites that may be on the animal.

    Abbrianna MacGregor

    The Crisper the Crunch, the Better the Taste

    Abbrianna MacGregor

    As a self-proclaimed impulse buyer, I am all too familiar with the trials, tribulations and joys attached to being a consumer. Many of us develop brand preferences and remain loyal to said brands for years. When you’re subconsciously reaching for that specific cereal on a routine grocery trip, do you ever stop to ask yourself what exactly it is about that brand that you enjoy so much? If you do, I’m impressed. If not, well . . . neither do I.

    Despite most of us hardly ever pausing to consider the mechanics behind the products we know and love, there are some who specialize in it. One of these brand experts is Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University. Spence studies the sensory interaction that is responsible for creating our consumer experiences. His research in the field of consumer psychology and multisensory perception has made him an asset to many major brands.

    Spence’s experiments inspire both awe and disbelief regarding consumers’ tendencies to be influenced by surrounding stimuli when interacting with a product. In an experiment that gained him recognition, he analyzed whether a potato chip would taste different if the sound of its crunch were altered. All test subjects were fed chips that did not vary much in terms of shape and texture—Pringles were chosen as the chip of choice due to their uniformity. Situated in front of a microphone inside a soundproof booth, the subjects could hear every bite they took through a set of headphones. From outside of the booth, Spence tweaked the crunch sound they were hearing by means of an amplifier and equalizer. Nearly all of the volunteers reported that the chips were different.

    Further studies by Spence and other researchers have revealed additional fascinating consumer insights. Lab studies have shown that the color red suggests sweetness, that names with “k” sounds can be associated with a bitter taste and that curved shapes (be it the shape of the food or the plate it is served on) enhance the sweetness that the consumer experiences.

    Spence believes these findings can explain certain product failures. Coca Cola’s special edition white cans failed due to consumer confusion with Diet Coke cans and complaints of a different taste from the usual red cans. Cadbury had a similar experience—when they changed the shape of their milk chocolate from square to curved, customers thought it was too sweet. The candy company also had little luck with a product that included “KOKO” in its name.

    Although they may seem quirky, these discoveries may improve the quality of many consumer experiences. Heston Blumenthal, a notable chef Spence has been working with for over twelve years, combines food and music to heighten taste for diners at his restaurant. One of his dishes comes with an MP3 player programmed with beach sounds to accentuate the taste of the food.

    Next time you sit down to eat, remember, it’s not just taste that is influencing your experience. That’s just the way the chip crunches.

    Did You Know?

    Charles Spence won an Ig Nobel Nutrition Prize for his potato chip study. The Ig Nobel Prizes “honor achievements that make people laugh, and then think.”

    Sarah Dolan

    The Fashion of the Force: “Star Wars” Costumes on Display

    Sarah Dolan

    It’s impossible to write about the costumes of the Star Wars series without a rambling opening paragraph about Padmé (a.k.a Queen/Senator Amidala). The oft-debated prequels, are—in my opinion, at least—salvageable by one thing: Padmé. Besides the fact that she’s a peacekeeping galactic senator and very handy in battle, she rules the fashion world in literally every scene (like this one and this one and this one . . . and this one). Even when she’s on the run and disguised as a refugee she dresses like she’s ready for the runway. However, in the Star Wars films, Padmé is not the only character who is consistently dressed to impress.

    The Denver Art Museum will be displaying over 70 original costumes from the Star Wars movies. The costumes on display are the actual costumes that were used during filming. The exhibit was developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and Lucasfilm Ltd. It will “closely examine the captivating process of costume design for iconic outfits featured in all seven films of the Star Wars series.” The exhibit will focus on the creative process and the “challenge of translating [Lucas’s] iconic characters into a dynamic reality.”

    The traveling showcase started in January of 2015 at Seattle’s EMP Museum (now the Museum of Pop Culture, or MoPOP) before moving in late 2015 to New York City’s Discovery Times Square museum. The New York exhibition ended in September of 2016, and moved on to the Denver Art Museum. The exhibition will continue to travel until 2019.

    Even those who aren’t Star Wars fans will find something of interest in this exhibit. Visitors who appreciate fashion will be able to see the intricacy of the costume designs up close. A lot of the detail in these elaborate costumes can be lost onscreen in scenes with poor lighting or too much fast-paced action. This exhibition gives an opportunity to see these costumes up close and in person, allowing for a deeper appreciation of the design and craft of characters’ apparel that doesn’t get enough screen time in the films.

    Costumes ranging from Princess Leia’s simple white robe to Darth Vader’s imposing body armor are on display. Seeing all of these pieces together in one place really brings out the scope and scale of the Star Wars films. It displays how the franchise has grown over the years, with costumes evolving from simple, minimalistic looks to grander, more elaborate attire. Just thinking about it is almost too much for my Star Wars–loving heart to bear.

    Did You Know?

    The cloak worn by actor Alec Guinness (a.k.a. Obi-Wan Kenobi) in Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope was thought to be lost until it turned up in a costume warehouse in 2005. The article had been returned there after filming ended and was thrown in with a collection of monks’ robes. It was unknowingly rented out to customers and at one point worn by an extra in The Mummy. The cloak was unearthed during a routine stock check when an employee noticed the oddly shaped hood and put it on.

    Photo credit: Sam Howzit

    Amanda Gutierrez

    Can Art Withstand the Test of Time?

    Amanda Gutierrez

    This past summer, I spent a week cleaning my bedroom in preparation for graduation (and therefore, moving out), and I was dismayed to find that many of my old graphite sketches had faded and smudged over the years. In retrospect, I should have used a fixative spray or stored them in a safer place. Luckily, there are art conservationists dedicated to protecting the world’s more well-known art, or we wouldn’t have treasures like the Mona Lisa and the Sistine Chapel.

    Contemporary art and its contemporary materials are posing challenges for today’s artists and art conservationists. While some modern artists embrace the idea of non-enduring art and create masterpieces out of ephemeral materials like chocolate or vegetables, others are using new synthetic materials, like acrylic paint and polyester resins, which have yet to be tested for long-term survival. Because these materials haven’t been in the art world for very long, it’s hard to tell if they will be able to last for centuries with proper conservation, like oil and tempera paintings of the past have been able to.

    Even modern art pieces that seem like they should endure are posing conservation problems. Take, for instance, GRP sculptures. GRP, or glass-reinforced plastic, is a composite of alternating fiberglass and polyester resin layers. GRP artworks, especially those displayed outdoors, need careful conservation handling. Conservation techniques include regular cleanings (with the appropriate materials, of course), applying protective coatings, physical repairs and paint touch-ups.

    The wave of modern art materials has also created new challenges for art collecting. Modern art enthusiasts may soon have to be as innovative as the artists when it comes to storing their prized purchases. Art collecting comes with the responsibility of protecting art from natural elements, such as humidity and human errors—like accidentally dropping a piece of art or spilling something on it. Add in the unique considerations that have to be taken for modern art materials, and it looks like collectors could have a real conundrum on their hands.

    Some of modern art’s more avant-garde materials include straw and shards of broken dinner plates. How would someone go about fixing a broken dinner plate that has been broken already? That’s what modern art conservationists still need to figure out. It’ll be up to the most creative and resourceful art conservationists to see that modern materials survive for future generations.

    Did You Know?

    For a thousand years, Great Britain has printed its legislative records on vellum, a writing surface made from the skin of a goat or a calf. Vellum can last for 5,000 years—talk about enduring materials! In early 2016, Britain announced that it would no longer be using vellum and would use archival paper (which lasts a measly 200 years) instead . . . the decision was reversed a week later.

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