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 textnovel.com, 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

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.

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.

Abbrianna MacGregor

Lessons and Toddlers and Forests . . . Oh My!

Abbrianna MacGregor

When I reflect on my preschool and kindergarten days, nature and exploration don’t come to mind. In fact, the mental image provoked is quite the opposite. Most of my formative days were spent inside a small classroom, only venturing outside for recess during the times of the year when the weather permitted such adventures. Even then, we could only enjoy the outdoor expanses for about thirty minutes or so. The opportunity to indulge in any innate fascination with the natural world was scarce, to say the least.

Many preschools and kindergartens conform to my own experiences. However, this soon may no longer be the norm. Waldkindergartens, translated as “forest nurseries,” have been popular in Europe for many years, and are beginning to gain traction in the United States as well. They offer an alternative to the traditional learning setup that many preschoolers and kindergarteners experience.

Waldkindergartens got their start in nineteenth-century Germany. After being founded, their prevalence lagged for many decades due to the introduction of other, more widely accepted learning models. Now, however, they are gaining momentum in Germany and beyond. In Waldkindergartens, children are granted time to immerse themselves wherever unstructured nature play may lead them. In modern Waldkindergartens, students benefit from a typically low teacher-to-student ratio. Many meet outside year-round regardless of rain or snow, making for a truly immersive experience.

These preschools and kindergartens have become popular in Germany, in part due to their state system of education. As early as the age of 10, a combination of exam results and school performance designates students to either a basic Hauptschule or a Gymnasium to complete their education. Many parents believe that the Waldkindergarten method of learning provides an alternative to an education system that decides a child’s future at such a young age.

Sound like something you might want for your children? Waldkindergartens are becoming increasingly present in the United States, so it may be possible for your child to attend one. Those who are familiar with this system claim that it is an opportunity for children to grow as self-confident and independent individuals. In addition to emotional strength, children also learn about the natural world in a truly experiential context at a very early age—some say positioning them for future success.

Implementing Waldkindergartens in the United States would take some getting used to. Despite its unfamiliarity, it seems promising as an additional education method. The next time you ask a child what he or she is learning in school, perhaps you won’t be caught off guard by an animated reply about time in the forest!

Did You Know?

Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel was a German educator who believed play was both constructive and crucial to a child’s development. He coined the term kindergarten, which literally means “children’s garden.”

Photo credit: Erlingerl1

Eileen Neary

Space is Alive with the Sounds of Satellites

Eileen Neary

I grew up dreaming about stars and spacesuits. One of my favorite astronomical memories (yes, I have several) is of my mother awakening me in the middle of the night so I could see the comet Hale–Bopp streak across the sky at its peak. Given that this extraterrestrial extracurricular activity was one of many, it probably comes as no surprise to learn then that I have a dog named Nova (as in supernova), that I have a tattoo of my favorite nebula (Thor’s Helmet) or that I frequent space-related events and exhibits.

One exhibit in particular has recently caught my attention. In May of 2015, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory debuted a new exhibit at the World Science Festival in New York. After a successful showing there, the exhibit was moved across the country. It opened at The Huntington in San Marino, California, on October 29, 2016. The name of this exhibit? Orbit Pavilion.

Orbit Pavilion is a 30-foot wide outdoor installation resembling a metal conch shell. Visitors enter by walking through the outermost whorl of the shell structure, and are greeted by the sounds of satellites as they pass overhead.

While there are thousands of satellites currently in space, the installation focuses on the International Space Station (ISS) and 19 Earth satellites. Each satellite completes an orbit around Earth in about 90 minutes. Orbit Pavilion has assigned each of these satellites a unique sound, like crashing waves, desert wind blowing, a human choir and thunder. Each sound is a sonic interpretation of the mission of that particular satellite.

When a satellite is orbiting nearby The Huntington, its sound goes live in Orbit Pavilion. Visitors listen to the “voices” of the satellites in real time. There is also a one-minute song compacted from 24 hours’ worth of satellite sounds.

David Delgado, one of the collaborators on the exhibit, has said that the overall goal is to humanize satellites. “We wanted to give the satellites a voice,” he said, “so that when they pass overhead, basically, they could reach out and say hi to us.”

Orbit Pavilion is on display through February 27, 2017. Here’s hoping it comes to Boston next!

Did You Know?

About 68 percent of the universe consists of dark energy and about 27 percent consists of dark matter. That means everything on Earth and everything we have been able to see and observe in space is only about 5 percent of the universe. Is the theory of gravity wrong? Is there some undiscovered dynamic fluid out there? Are exotic particles responsible? All I know is that there is so much more to discover and I hope I’m around to witness the answer to these questions.

Photo credit: @StudioKCA

Eileen Neary

The Phantom World of Ghostwriters

Eileen Neary

Legions of nameless writers, churning out manuscripts behind closed doors. Books in bookstores emblazoned in bold letters with the names of literary goliaths receiving credit for works they did not pen. It sounds like a conspiracy theory. But it’s not. Ghostwriters were once invisible forces in the publishing world, but in recent years, the practice of ghostwriting is more forthright than ever.

Literary agent Madeleine Morel represents several ghostwriters through her agency 2M Communications Ltd. In her estimation, “at least 60 percent of the books [were] ghostwritten” on the nonfiction bestseller list at the time she was interviewed for NPR. She goes on to say that “10 years ago . . . you’d maybe tell your best friend on pain of death never to tell anyone else cause there was a slightly ignominious feature to it.”

These days, ghostwriters are often able to reveal whom they have written for. Ghostwriter Daniel Paisner, for example, is behind the works of Daymond John from ABC’s Shark Tank, athletes Ray Lewis and Serena Williams, actor Denzel Washington, and many other politicians and prominent figures.

In the fiction universe, best-selling author James Patterson is perhaps the most open about his use of ghostwriters. Without them, he could never have achieved the massive output that has made him one of the most prolific authors of all time. Between 2008 and 2013, Patterson revealed the process: He writes a 30- to 80-page project, a ghostwriter steps in to complete the work, and the pair check in monthly on the progress.

Author K. A. Applegate is best known for her Animorphs series, targeted for young adults. Though she started her career as a ghostwriter, fans were upset to learn during a Reddit Q&A that ghostwriters wrote dozens of the books in her series. Like Patterson, Applegate (and her husband, Michael Grant, who partnered with her on some writing projects) would come up with outlines of varying length that were used as a frame of reference for the ghostwriter’s drafting. Her reason for this practice? “It was either use ghosts or end the series. Our schedule was 14 books a year. Plus other projects.”

It’s certainly no cakewalk working as a ghostwriter. In addition to often losing out on name recognition, there is a lot that goes into trying to sound like a different author. According to NPR, ghostwriter David Fisher ”studies speech patterns, sentence structures, what jokes his subjects tell . . . and organize[s] all the bits of information into a coherent story.” And when it comes to the money? The ghostwriter receives about 30 percent of the book’s advance, plus an agreed-upon percentage of the book’s royalties.

It makes you wonder . . . will ghostwriting become further legitimized as time goes on? Or will these writers continue to hide in the shadows? Revealing the truth is fine by me. I ain’t afraid of no ghost.

Did You Know?

Baseball agent Christy Walsh penned the term ghostwriting. Walsh went on to set up the Christy Walsh Syndicate in 1921 to “exploit the literary output of America’s sporting heroes.” He and his firm went on to ghostwrite under the names of many famous athletes.

Photo: Gary Bridgman, Southside Art Gallery

Amanda Gutierrez

Rock-Paper-Scissors Goes Pro

Amanda Gutierrez

One of my best friends and I are constantly taking part in the time-honored tradition of using rock-paper-scissors to make decisions. All either of us needs to do is hold up a fist—the universal sign to engage in a game of rock-paper-scissors.

Even in the professional world the game is sometimes used to make decisions: In 2005 Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses were asked by their potential client to compete in a game of rock-paper-scissors to decide who would handle the sale of a multi-million-dollar art collection. In the end, Christie’s choice of scissors sliced down the competition.

Of course, not everyone uses this game to make choices. For some, it’s purely recreational—children on a playground often play the game to pass time. For others, it’s a sport—the members of the World RPS Society compete professionally (believe it or not) for the title of champion. The society, originally called the Paper Scissors Stone Club, was formed in 1842. The club existed as a space where members could enjoy the game with only their honor at stake. In 1918, the headquarters for the club were moved to Toronto, Canada, and the name was changed to the World RPS Club, then again in 1925 to deem it a “society” to reflect its growing membership.

To this day, the fans of the game hold championships around the word, and it’s not only honor that’s at stake. Championship purses can total thousands of dollars. At one tournament in Las Vegas in 2006, the prize was $50,000! When there’s that much on the line, the top professionals develop techniques to recognize and counter their components’ playing patterns (and in doing so, win the dough).

Some players enhance the tournaments through the addition of costumes and code names. One player, called the Midnight Rider, plays wearing a mask. Another player calls himself Master Roshambollah—eponymous of roshambo, another name for the game.

In 2007, rock-paper-scissors was so popular that the finals for the USA RPS League Championship in Las Vegas were aired on ESPN2. The finalists, Jamie “Landshark” Langridge and David “The Brain” Borne, held their epic battle within the confines of a miniaturized boxing ring. In the end, the shark beat the brain.

Think you have what it takes? Test your skills of predication here.

Did You Know?

Sitcoms love putting their own twist on the traditional options of rock-paper-scissors. In a Friends episode, Joey insists “fire” beats everything, until Phoebe releases a “water balloon.” On The Big Bang Theory, Leonard, Sheldon and gang often leave decisions to “rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock.”

Abbrianna MacGregor

Walking on Water: The Power of Art

Abbrianna MacGregor

If you’ve visited an art museum, you are probably familiar with the feeling of silent awe and inspiration provoked by pieces that move you. If such remarkable emotions are elicited by viewing something, imagine the sensations attached to an interactive art installation that immerses you in its full experience. And imagine if this interactive work of art was placed in an exotic setting, surrounded by picturesque scenes that seem transported out of a travel brochure. Sound surreal?

The Floating Piers, an art installation that was displayed on Italy’s Lake Iseo from June 18 to July 3, 2016, allowed for all of the above.

The exhibit, which was free and open to the public, gave art fanatics the opportunity to feel as if they could walk on water. The pier consisted of yellow fabric held up by hundreds of thousands of floating plastic cubes and extended for nearly two miles on both pedestrian streets and across the lake. Heightening its exquisiteness, the coloration of the fabric fluctuated between shades of red and gold as the water and surrounding light shifted.

Geographically speaking, the pier allowed visitors to walk from the Italian commune of Sulzano to the town of Monte Isola to the island of San Paolo. Certain features of the pier were strategically placed to accentuate its undulating movement—the water’s motion created the illusion that the pier was breathing. Those who experienced the pier compared it to being on a slightly rocky boat!

Who could have dreamed such a unique installation? Husband and wife artist duo, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, conceived the idea in 1970. Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009, and five years later Christo found Lake Iseo in Italy’s Lombardo region to be an ideal location for their unrealized project. Christo is a conceptual artist who focuses on impermanence. He and Jeanne-Claude created works so that they belonged to everyone for just a short period of time.

The Floating Piers was fully funded by the sale of Christo’s original artwork. In total, the project cost $16.8 million. When the 16-day exhibition was completed, all components were removed and recycled.

Christo himself emphasizes that this project’s most important component was its “nomadic quality.” His idea is that to really experience his art, you have to soak in your surroundings and feel the physicality of the project’s nature. He wants people to fully immerse themselves in art, not just glance at it briefly and move along.

Did You Know?

The artists behind The Floating Piers were not only husband and wife, they were both born on the same day: June 13, 1935.

Photo credit: Marcio De Assis

Ken Scherpelz

Wait till THIS Year!

Ken Scherpelz

I realize this is the time of year when those of us in winter weather areas should be preparing for snow by pulling out the shovels from the far corners of the garages we never got to cleaning out this past year—although we promised we would. I have to admit, while most are caught up in preparing for winter’s weather and the season’s many celebrations, I’m still basking in the warm glow brought about by my Boys of Summer.

And by “Boys of Summer,” I, of course, mean my Chicago Cubs. And by “Chicago Cubs,” I mean the 2016 World Series champions.

You may recall, in the fall of 2015, I wrote a blog post about the surprising success of the Cubs, the team identified as the owners of the longest championship drought in professional sports history. Although they made the playoffs that year, they couldn’t keep the momentum going to get past the National League Championship Series.

But this year—THIS year—they put on a show of talent and grit that raised the eyebrows of sports fans as they dominated their division and their opponents and most facets of the game on the way to their first World Championship in 108 years. The team in blue pinstripes that has let me down for the past 59 years finally—FINALLY—came through and won it all. I shared that moment of joy and relief with friends and family who had suffered alongside me, and I still replay highlights of that glorious Game 7 when the Loveable Losers became losers no more.

It’s been over a month since the Cubs came back from a 3–1 game deficit to beat the Cleveland Indians in a series that had something to please every fan of the game. And while snow is starting to gather on some ball fields previously covered in dust and chalk and sweat, Cubs nation is still reminiscing about a different season—baseball season. That final third-to-first out from Bryant to Rizzo presented the long-suffering and much-deserving fans of Chicago Cubs baseball with the greatest gift of all—their dreams actually coming true.

So go ahead with your preparations for and celebrations of winter. For me, those will just have to wait a little longer while I replay the dream-come-true of one spectacular summer.

Did You Know?

The number 108 held great significance in this year’s World Series championship. It had been 108 years since the Cubs last won the Series. There are 108 double stitches on an official Major League baseball. Before this year’s championship appearance, the Cubs had not won a World Series game since 10/8 back in 1945. The left and right field corners of Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, are 108 meters from home plate. And the principal business of the Ricketts family, new owners of the Cubs, is located on South 108th Avenue in Omaha, Nebraska. And—believe it or not—this paragraph is exactly 108 words. It’s fate!

Photo credit: Arturo Pardavila III

Abbrianna MacGregor

Newborn Knowledge: Is Language Innate?

Abbrianna MacGregor

How did you learn how to speak your first language? Don’t remember? Don’t worry…you shouldn’t! Theories and research about human language acquisition have been abounding for decades—from B. F. Skinner’s idea that we learn language from operant conditioning to Noam Chomsky’s opposition that language is innate. Now, recent studies suggest that humans are actually born with biases in language structure.

A team at the International School of Advanced Studies in Italy conducted an experiment designed to examine how infants perceive different types of words. In the process, they viewed how the oxygenation of a specific part of the brain changes over time. In doing so, the researchers analyzed the brain reactions of newborns when exposed to common and uncommon sound combinations. Interestingly enough, results illustrated that even with hardly any knowledge of phonetic conventions, infants reacted in different ways to common sounds than they did to uncommon ones. These results suggest that some components of language may, in fact, be innate.

Iris Berent, a psychology professor at Northeastern’s College of Science, has conducted behavioral studies on infants in Northeastern’s infant phonology lab in conjunction with the Italian study. In Berent’s study, each child involved was seated in front of a video screen that displayed an image that moved in accordance to a specific sound, such as “bnog” and “bdog.” Neither of the aforementioned sounds exists in the English language, but the sound sequences in “bnog” are more popular across other languages. Berent originally hypothesized that when infants heard sounds to which they possess innate bias, they would look longer at the screen. The study is ongoing, but so far results have upheld her hypothesis.

It is fascinating to think that we could be born with a basic knowledge of language structure rather than with blank slates waiting to be written on. Discoveries such as these can help strengthen the way we communicate and change the way we perceive language dysfunctions for the better.

Did You Know?
Modern American Sign Language (ASL) may have been adapted from the French. A person using ASL may recognize some signs from French Sign Language (LSF), but the two have developed into their own distinct languages.

Amanda Gutierrez

Listen to the Lullaby of London

Amanda Gutierrez

The next time you sit down to watch a movie, close your eyes and listen. Under all the dialogue and music there’s something else—ambient noise. It could be the sounds of distant traffic for a scene set in a penthouse apartment in downtown Manhattan. Or it could be the light chirping of crickets surrounding characters camping in the woods. Now consider this—if those scenes were filmed in a studio, then someone at some point had to go out into the world, hunt down those sounds and record them so that they could be used in the movie. But not all field recorders (as they are called) work for Hollywood; some, like those participating in the London Sound Survey, find and record the sounds of life just for fun.

The London Sound Survey is a group of avid sound hunters who focus on the sounds of England’s capital, ranging from the sounds outside of King’s Cross Station to the faint sounds of nature. The group made its place on the web in 2009 and has since grown to include about 2,000 recordings! In addition to modern recordings, the London Sound Survey website includes archival recordings dating back nearly 90 years, as well as text references to London sounds that go back to the early eleventh century.

The London Sound Survey was founded by Ian Rawes, a former employee of the British Library Sound Archive. His zeal for sound hunting began after he came across a collection of recordings covering all of the bus routes in Yorkshire county in England. These recordings inspired him to go out and find some sounds of his own. Some recorders, like Rawes, keep the recordings as they are, some integrate music into their sounds and others integrate the sounds into their music!

Field recording has been around since the late 1800s, and the practice has a rich history that stretches across the globe, bringing the sounds of the world together for all to hear.

Did You Know?

Thomas Edison lit the way for modern sound recording when, in 1877, he became the first person to properly create a sound recording that could be listened to again.

Photo credit: Khamtran

Amanda Gutierrez

New Art Installation is the Bee’s Knees

Amanda Gutierrez

Imagine standing in a meadow. Grass shoots up from the ground around you, tickling your ankles. In every direction, flowers of brilliant reds, purples, blues, yellows and whites are sprinkled over a blanket of green. The flowers bow with grace as a light breeze passes you. You hear chirping birds, rustling leaves and a low buzz. This buzz is the sound of one of nature’s busiest workers—the bee.

When artist Wolfgang Buttress was conceptualizing a piece for Expo 2015 in Milan, themed “Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life,” he was inspired by the little buzzing pollinators and created The Hive. This sculpture is a 56-foot tower of metal and electricity that acts as a testament to a fascinating creature.

The Hive has recently been moved to the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, in London; it will be open to the public until the end of 2017. There, guests can pass through a wildflower meadow and enter the lattice-like metal structure—evocative of the honeycomb design of a beehive—and watch as 1,000 LEDs flicker in response to the real-time action taking place in an actual nearby beehive. This hive is outfitted with tiny vibration sensors called accelerometers that pick up minute vibrations from the movement within the hive. The information is then sent to The Hive. When the bees are sleepy, the lights flicker less, but when they’re active, the lights come to life in a flickering frenzy.

Beneath the structure there are metal bone conductors that can convert sound to vibrations. Guests who have been given wooden sticks can touch the sticks to the bone conductors and feel the vibrations in their heads. As scientists have recently discovered, it is through vibrations like these that bees communicate—unbeelievable, right?

The Hive also features a special soundtrack recorded by a group of musicians called Be. Their music—which features string instruments, vocals and piano—is integrated with the sound of a beehive. Within The Hive, the music is selected to match the intensity of the bee activity, completing the experience. Occasionally, the musicians have played a live collaboration with their buzzing buddies.

On its own, the sculpture is an exceptional piece of art. But with its many interactive aspects, The Hive is a truly unique experience. Check out The Hive in action here. It’s beeutiful!

Did You Know?
After a bee locates a source of pollen, it returns to the hive and performs a special kind of communication through movement: the waggle dance. The waggle can be used to show other bees in the hive what direction the food is in, how far it is and what kind of pollen is there.

Abbrianna MacGregor

Manhattan Exhibit Turns Concrete into Green Space

Abbrianna MacGregor

Growing up in a quiet suburban town in Connecticut, transitioning to a college located in the heart of Boston proved to be an abrupt culture shock. Accustomed to secluded trails and vivid autumns, I found myself yearning for wide open spaces. I aimlessly wandered the bustling Boston streets, hoping to find peace of mind somewhere in the midst of all of the intersections. The city would be much more comforting if only it provided a natural sanctuary.

New Yorkers must have felt similarly, because the city’s Lowline project in the Lower East Side is hoping to prove that with innovation and time, nature and cities don’t have to be incompatible.

If the city fully approves the plans, the Lowline will be a permanent underground park assembled in a former trolley station that, until now, had been abandoned for years. The earliest the Lowline is expected to open to the public is 2021, when it hopes to further agricultural education and provide an unconventional setting of natural solace to urban dwellers.

The project has also included a nearby laboratory space, which is designed to test how plants can be grown and sustained underground. So how do plants obtain the resources necessary for survival in an underground environment? The engineers behind the Lowline developed a system for tracking sunlight in the sky, capturing it, then distributing it to the underground space through protective tubes. A solar canopy awaits to spread the rays across the entirety of the space.

A great deal of brainpower, experience and tenacity is required to formulate and implement such a system. Co-founder James Ramsey realized the possibilities for this type of solar technology while working at NASA. His counterpart, Dan Barasch, is a former Google strategist.

The Lowline Lab is due to close in March of 2017, but until then, positive use is being made of the temporary lab space through the Young Designers Program. During weekdays, children visit the lab to learn about the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) that go into the Lowline. It also serves as a youth mentorship and job-training site for Young Ambassadors who are eligible to receive a scholarship for their participation in the program.

Along with providing opportunities for STEAM education, this addition to the city would open doors to new technologies that could be implemented in urban settings throughout the world. The Lowline has the potential to challenge society’s preconceptions regarding the amount of nature that cities can accommodate.

Did You Know?

The recorded height for the tallest sunflower ever is 30 feet 1 inch. It was grown in Germany by Hans-Peter Schiffer, who has held the record twice before.

Sarah Dolan

Medieval Manuscripts Illuminate Boston

Sarah Dolan

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is always quiet. Even mid-afternoon on a Saturday the crowd was hushed. I stood and looked through the glass at a six-hundred-year-old book. Lines and lines of meticulously hand-painted text covered the pages. I was struck by the sheer amount of work that went into what was before me—and I was only looking at one spread!

Beyond Words is an unprecedented exhibition of illuminated manuscripts from the Renaissance and Middle Ages. Illuminated manuscripts are so named because their pages are “illuminated” with decorations and illustrations, made especially vivid with bright colors and gold leaf accents. The Boston exhibition contains more than 260 manuscripts from 19 local curators and, according to Harvard art historian Jeffrey Hamburger, “will easily be the most ambitious exhibition of illuminated manuscripts ever held in North America.” The exhibition is divided among three locations around Boston, each focusing on a different type of these historic manuscripts.

Italian Renaissance Books—the portion of the exhibition that I was lucky enough to visit—is on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum from September 22, 2016–January 16, 2017. This display “explores the birth of the modern book in fifteenth-century Italy.” The exhibition delves into how book production changed in the 1400s. At that time, parchment changed to paper, scripts changed to fonts, and illuminated manuscripts changed to black and white ones.

Manuscripts from Church & Cloister is being presented at Harvard University’s Houghton Library from September 12–December 10, 2016. The display focuses on how central books were to medieval monastic life. It displays the detailed texts that were produced in monasteries and convents. The exhibit focuses on how monastic life centered not only on the Bible, but on books in general. The exhibit seeks to convey the monastic reverence for texts and the “survival of classical literature and learning.”

The third part of the exhibition, Manuscripts for Pleasure & Piety, is being presented at Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art from September 12–December 11, 2016. This exhibit “focuses on lay readership and the place of books in medieval society.” The pieces in this collection are heavily illustrated, demonstrating the focus during the High Middle Ages on the visual and empirical experience.

This exhibition is an unprecedented collaboration between collectors and museums. Beyond Words is an excellent experience for bibliophiles and history buffs alike. If you find yourself in Boston, I definitely recommend going to see these pieces of literary history.

Did You Know?
Paper was not widely used until the late Middle Ages. Instead, parchment was commonly used. Parchment, also called vellum, is made from treated animal skins—oftentimes from cows, sheep or goats. A large book may have required one whole cow skin to make a single page spread. A lengthy manuscript could use the hides of entire herds.

Eileen Neary

One Hot, STEMing Cup of Coffee

Eileen Neary

It’s an alarming pattern—large percentages of engineering students either drop out or switch to another major. Studies suggest a variety of reasons why this behavior has emerged, including the difficulty of the coursework, feeling isolated by peers who are pursuing non-STEM degrees, a lack of mentors or role models and inadequate preparation in high school.

To combat the number of STEM students they’ve seen drop out or change majors after their freshmen year, two engineering professors have come up with a plan to keep their younger students invigorated—and caffeinated.

William Ristenpart and Tonya Kuhl are professors and engineers at the University of California Davis. A few years ago, Professor Kuhl had the idea to disassemble a coffeemaker for students in order to display how its designers were able to succeed in brewing quality coffee. The pair quickly realized that coffee making would translate well to teaching engineering. For example, the process of roasting coffee beans involves several investigatable chemical reactions, and the push of hot water through the machine is a result of fluid dynamics.

In 2012, eighteen students attended a seminar called Design of Coffee. Its goal was to serve as “a non-mathematical introduction to chemical engineering.” By 2015, it had become the most popular elective course at the university, with over 1,500 students enrolled. And it’s not hard to see why! While being tasked with creating “the best cup of coffee using the least amount of electrical energy,” students learn about reverse engineering, pH and chemical reactions, mass transfer, and the balance of energy.

Due to the overwhelming popularity of the course, what began as a humble seminar has resulted in the new UC Davis Coffee Center. The plan for the 6,000-square-foot building includes specialized laboratories for studying how water quality, packaging, and bean storage affect the quality of coffee, as well as resources for researching the molecules responsible for the taste of coffee, an experimental sensory lab and much more. With the help of a $250,000 pledge from Peet’s Coffee, the center is planning on further updates and renovations and an inclusion of a Peet’s Coffee Pilot Roastery room. The center is quite an upgrade from the typical classroom.

At the end of the Design of Coffee course, students partake in a blind taste test, and grade their peers’ creations. 

Now there’s a class you can’t sleep through.

Did You Know?

There is a part of the world known as the “Coffee Belt”—the area between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. This zone is ideal for coffee farming because most coffee beans thrive only within a temperature range of 64 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sarah Dolan

PSG Bookshelf: Staff’s Sci-Fi/Fantasy Favorites

Sarah Dolan

Some of my fondest high school memories involve Lord of the Rings marathons with my Dungeons & Dragons group, so I guess one could say I’m a fantasy fan. Growing up, I frequently read L. Frank Baum’s Oz books (after The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, there are several more in the original series, as well as subsequent titles) and Tony Abbott’s Secrets of Droon series. My copy of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon has a cracked spine and a few missing pages from being read over and over. As for sci-fi, I’m a huge fan of Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy and have (somewhat shamefully) read my fair share of the Star Wars extended universe titles. In addition to my own interest, it turns out PSG has more than its fair share of sci-fi and fantasy fans.

Eileen’s been reading mostly young adult (YA) sci-fi lately. Some of her favorite authors are James Dashner, author of The Maze Runner, and Rick Yancey, known for The 5th Wave. Annette and Amanda both expressed their love of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, a military sci-fi novel where the people of Earth battle insect-like aliens. Amanda also recommends the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey.

When it comes to the fantasy genre, Colleen could go on all day. She was introduced to fantasy in middle school with Terry Brooks’s Shannara series. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, the King Arthur legend told from Morgan le Fay’s point of view, is another favorite. She’s also been reading George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series since the books first came out. (One of her dog-eared paperbacks has an old-school fantasy cover depicting Jon Snow on a horse along with his dire wolf companion, Ghost.) Kate also likes Martin’s famous series, but says that she reads for the characters and could do without certain fantastical (i.e., ice zombies) elements.

Don’s a fan of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and is excited for the upcoming Spielberg-directed movie. He also tried reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series as a teenager and wasn’t a huge fan, but recently gave it a second chance and loved all of the books. Alyssa is a long-time fantasy fan, enjoying the works of C. S. Lewis, Terry Pratchett, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Neil Gaiman, Sarah J. Maas and—of course—J. K. Rowling. She also loves Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Stephen King’s 11/22/63.

Although not all staff members are fans of sci-fi or fantasy, it’s good to see that everyone in the office has different tastes. And now I know where to turn for my next book recommendation!

Did You Know?
J. K. Rowling earns more than $13 million, much of it thanks to her wildly successful Harry Potter series. Print sales, movie rights and the Pottermore website contribute to this amount. Pottermore is the only place a consumer can buy Harry Potter ebooks, and as Rowling owns the ebook rights, she keeps the majority of the profits.

Photo credit: Michael D Beckwith

Amanda Gutierrez

Around the World in 21 Sites: UNESCO’s Newest World Heritage Sites

Amanda Gutierrez

The first time I visited one of California’s beautiful redwood parks, I was awed by the massive trees that lined the soft dirt paths of the forest. They towered over me, reaching hundreds of feet into the air, and filled the air with their sweet, woody scent. Of all the places I’ve been to, the California Redwood National and State Parks are among my favorites. Luckily, these redwood forests are protected by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as one of their World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO is an organization dedicated to bringing sustainable peace and cultural appreciation to the world’s nations. One of the ways they work toward their goal is by creating international solidarity through World Heritage Sites. These sites exist to promote understanding and cultural diversity and to preserve places that are important to the world both culturally and as natural landmarks.

In 2016, UNESCO added 21 new locations to its list of World Heritage Sites, bringing the list up to 1,052 total sites. Every World Heritage Site is selected because it meets at least one of ten specific criteria. Of the newly inducted sites, 12 were added based on their cultural value, 6 on their natural value and 3 on both their cultural and natural value.

One of the new sites is the archaeological site of Philippi in northeastern Greece, which was selected for its cultural value. It is the ruin of a walled city that was founded in 356 BCE. The city was heavily influenced by Roman culture following the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE and later by the spread of Christianity around 50 CE.

Another new site, the Revillagigedo Archipelago, selected for its natural value, is a chain of four islands and their surrounding waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The islands are the peaks of volcanoes that are part of a larger underwater mountain range. Both the islands and their surrounding waters act as a home for the abundant wildlife in the area.

The Ahwar of southern Iraq, selected for both its cultural and natural values, is comprised of three archeological sites of ancient Sumerian ruins and four wetland marshes surrounding the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The site is a “refuge of biodiversity” and includes locations that were once part of ancient Mesopotamian cities.

The full list of newly inducted sites can be viewed here.  I’ve already checked off the Redwood National and State Parks from the World Heritage List…who knows, maybe I’ll add a few more checks in my lifetime.

Did You Know?
Currently, Italy and China lead the UNESCO World Heritage List with 51 and 50 sites, respectively. Of these, some of the more well-known sites include the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the (fair) city of Verona, Pompeii, the Great Wall, the site of Xanadu and sections of the Silk Road.

Alyssa Guarino

Boston Breathes New Life Into Its Public Library

Alyssa Guarino

For Bostonians, the grand, gray structure of the Boston Public Library’s (BPL) Central Branch is an easily recognizable beacon of history and knowledge. In college, I found myself returning often not just to study and riffle through its impressive collection, but also to wander around and wonder at the majesty of the monolithic structure. However, the Central Branch’s Johnson building held much less appeal for me; compared to the Renaissance style and grandeur of other parts of the branch, the Johnson building’s was overshadowed by drab coloring, faded carpets and lack of lighting.

Other patrons and the trustees of the library felt similarly, sparking a $78-million renovation to the Central Branch. The renovation aimed to revamp the Johnson building and put the BPL “on the cutting edge of library services.” This three-year project was split into two phases: the first tackled rooms specifically intended for teens and children; the second refurbished the lower level, first floor, mezzanine and outer parts of the building. Prior to this new undertaking, the last major renovation to the branch was completed in 1971, when architect Phillip Johnson designed his eponymous building.

One hope for the renovation was to coax its younger patrons into more frequent visits. The new Teen Central room and Children’s Library room, opened in February of 2015, now feature bright walls, fun signs and murals, quirky furniture, and even stroller “parking.”

The Central Branch’s recent renovation wasn’t only needed for aesthetic reasons; the building lagged in terms of technology and even accessibility.

But the Johnson building is now better outfitted to continue the digitization work of its enormous inventory of rare books and manuscripts, as well as its special collections, which include the nearly 3,000-volume trove from John Adams’ personal library. The building has also doubled its offering of public computer workstations, and users can now choose between Windows and Mac. Increased accessibility options on computers include CCTV, a braille embosser and a text-to-audio converter. Patrons can even build their skills with tech classes covering computers, tablets and social media.

The library also encourages the flourishing of entrepreneurs with its revamped Rabb Lecture Hall and new Kirstein Business Library & Innovation Center, which offers print and digital resources, innovation-inspiring research space, and even classes and tutorials on the latest software.

The Central Branch has become a friendlier place to explore, starting with its brighter front entrance and cheery welcome center. The expanse of floor-to-ceiling glass panels offers much-needed natural light as well as a view of metropolitan Boylston Street.

The renovation is an engaging and colorful complement to this historic place of higher learning.

Did You Know?
The BPL’s assemblage of 23 million items is not the only impressive collection in the country. The New York Public Library holds over 51 million items, and the Library of Congress boasts over 162 million items!

Abbrianna MacGregor

Aiming for Mobile Accessibility

Abbrianna MacGregor

New technologies are continuously being developed and brought to market. All the better for the public, right? It depends. For leading mobile phone manufacturers, it is crucial to keep all demographics in mind—particularly those with disabilities.

Nearly one in five of the world’s population lives with some kind of recognized disability. My grandma, who suffered from Parkinson’’s disease, could never operate a mobile phone due to her severe motor dysfunction. She purchased one in case of an emergency, but had to ask her grandchildren to dial the numbers and read the screen for her. For modern technology to avoid becoming an obstacle for many, it must be accessible to those with disabilities. The effort the technology industry is channeling toward this cause is evident.

Mobile operating systems are constantly adapting their technologies to make interacting with their phones a bit easier for people like my grandma. Features such as Siri, Dictation and Voiceover are just a handful of the many tools iOS devices implement to provide headache-free usage for users, regardless of ability. Similarly, many Android devices offer features such as text-to-speech, haptic feedback, adjustable targets on touchscreens and various other attributes that are equally beneficial.

Features like Safari Reader on iOS devices remove visual distractions, thus making it easier for those with attention deficit disorders or autism to focus on one task. Google Chrome for Android offers readability options to remove content such as ads, sidebars and pop-ups from the page. Users can zero in on content without fear of being sidetracked by ads. These features are also helpful to those with visual or motor impairments. Eliminating unwanted content removes the stress from the manual process of exiting out of or avoiding the extra content.

It can be a difficult choice for people with disabilities to find a phone with features best tailored to their needs. The Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI) has a website that allows users to easily compare varying phone features. These resources can definitely help, but concerns persist despite the recent effort directed at making more accessible products available.

Many place their focus on continually adding new features, but some users with disabilities actually want the opposite. A phone with only basic features would satisfy the needs of many, but they’re becoming increasingly rare. The efforts of major companies and manufacturers are definitely appreciated. Nonetheless, progress must continue for mobile phones to include options that are universally accessible.

Did You Know?
Duke Medicine and Duke University, as part of a new study called Autism & Beyond, have developed an app that utilizes video technology to examine children. The purpose of this mobile technology is to evaluate the emotions and behavior of children between the ages of one and six, and indicate if a child may have autism or mental heath issues.

Sarah Dolan

More than They’re Quacked Up to Be: Ducklings and Abstract Thought

Sarah Dolan

Over the summer, I spent most of my afternoon breaks with my friends by a lake in rural New Hampshire. Our spot, one that was popular with picnickers, was also frequented by a family of ducks. One of my friends would often toss them a handful of salt and vinegar chips, which were a flavor the ducks didn’t seem to like very much. Soon enough, instead of eating them plain, the ducks would pick the chips up and rinse them off in the lake before eating them. We all thought that was pretty smart. It turns out we weren’t the only ones who believed that ducks may have a capacity for higher thought.

In a study conducted by the University of Oxford, mallard ducklings displayed the ability to interpret abstract relationships between shapes and colors. Newly hatched ducklings were shown two objects; some were shown objects that were the same (whether in shape or color) and others were shown objects that were different (whether in shape or color). The ducklings would imprint (a process in which some newborn animals bond to the first moving object they see) on this pair of objects and follow them closely, just as they would with their mothers. Later, when presented with new pairs of objects, three-quarters of ducklings would follow objects with the same relationship they had imprinted on. If they had imprinted on a pair of objects that were the same, the duckling would follow the new pair of objects that were the same, likewise with different. This demonstrated that the ducklings understood the concepts of “same” and “different.” Scientists theorized that ducklings use this abstract thinking to distinguish their mother from other objects in tough situations.

The ability to comprehend abstract concepts has been shown in other animals, but only after reinforcement. The ducklings did not require reinforcement to display the behavior. Crows are another bird species that have demonstrated abstract thinking; they are able to comprehend analogous relationships. In a study by Moscow State University and the University of Iowa, crows demonstrated the ability to complete analogies. Similar to the duckling experiment, the crows had to determine the relationship between colors and shapes. The birds were presented with cups covered by cards. Each card displayed either a similar or different relationship. If the crows chose correctly, they uncovered a cup containing a food reward. Not only were crows able to complete this task, but they were also able to do it without training.

These studies prove that abstract thinking is not exclusively a human trait. Other animals have the ability to think abstractly. So the next time you see a group of ducklings, you may want to make way—those little guys are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

Did You Know?
Austrian scientist Konrad Lorenz studied the process of imprinting in the 1930s. He discovered that young ducks and geese could imprint on anything they were exposed to in the first days of life, from objects to people. He theorized that imprinting evolved to help young birds recognize their parents and stick close to them for safety.

Photo credit: Alexey Gomankov

Amanda Gutierrez

Fond of Fonts: PSG Favorites

Amanda Gutierrez

Serif, sans, bold, light, italic, black or condensed? With so many fonts out there, how can you choose what to use? Well, personally, I nearly always go for a serif with a bit of class, like Book Antiqua. And sometimes, when I’m feeling a bit more adventurous, I’ll go for something with more attitude, like Mistral. And at the PSG office, I’m not the only one with a favorite font.

While most of the office opts for a serif font, there are a few votes for sans serif. Colleen, for one, enjoys Century Gothic—which just happens to be PSG’s logo font! Alyssa likes Helvetica and Avenir (a serif with a bit of “fun” in the mix). Don likes to pair his sans with his serif—particularly Myriad (sans serif) and Minion (serif), both of which come with “so many flavors” from light italic to black.

On the serif side, we have Kate, a self-described “serif gal,” rooting for Baskerville, Annette for Century Schoolbook, Alyssa for Georgia and Caslon, Tess who (like me) enjoys Book Antiqua, and Eileen for Garamond all the way.

We even have a couple of votes for script fonts like Tess’s super classy Monotype Corsiva and Eileen’s Scriptina Regular, which you can recognize by its eye-catching loops and generally fancy appearance. Sarah is intrigued by Comic Papyrus—a funky blend of the highly debated Papyrus and Comic Sans.

Ken fondly remembers the days when the main “font” options were cursive or printing. Of course, when it comes to handwriting, every font is personalized! Mine, for instance, is a strange cursive-printing hybrid, and Alyssa notes that her brother’s handwriting looks exactly like Copperplate.

There are so many fonts out there that it can be hard to pick a favorite. I say try out as many as you please until you find something that suits you. Whether your favorite font is striking, classic, elegant or funky, it’s your choice, so just have fun with it!

Honorable mentions: Chalet, Jane Austen and the ever fun-lovin’ Curlz MT.

Did You Know?
Times New Roman was initially designed for London’s newspaper the Times in 1932. At first, American publishers were reluctant to use the new font because it required more ink and a higher quality of paper than their current fonts. For more about Times New Roman, see our previous blog post about this tactful typeface.

Photo credit: Iconarchive

Abbrianna MacGregor

The Doctor is in . . . Your Book

Abbrianna MacGregor

For me, reading has always doubled as Zen. Whenever I’m experiencing negative emotions, I find solace in curling up with a good book. Fictional realms help me temporarily escape reality, and compelling characters remind me that others’ lives are eerily similar to my own. I recently read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and found myself highly identifying with the two misfit protagonists the book is titled after. Upon completing the book, I felt compelled to take control of my life despite the presence of obstacles.

Judging by the universal allure of literature, I’m not alone in feeling that books possess a certain level of healing power. This is also evident due to the popularity of self-help books and the consequential mindfulness they breed. Readers are able to receive benefits similar to those they might in therapy simply by opening a novel.

In fact, the practice of bibliotherapy is on the rise. A biblioterapist’s clients are prescribed literature that pertains to whatever may be occurring in their lives at the moment. The books can provide tips for how to deal with what is bothering them, serve as a great distraction or simply remind them that they are not alone. On one end of the spectrum, the books can offer a temporary calming effect to escape the constant anxieties and stresses of the day. On the other, they may aid in turning a reader’s life around.

Susan Elderkin, pioneering bibliotherapist and coauthor of The Novel Cure: An A–Z of Literary Remedies, firmly believes in the therapeutic qualities of books. She says there are books that have a “wonderfully calming effect on our pulse rate,” such as Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

Elderkin, who has been administering bibliotherapy since 2007 through the School of Life in London, has clients fill out a questionnaire detailing their reading habits and any obstacles they may be encountering in life. She then selects a few books for the clients that seem to fit their needs. Her time spent with clients has shown that inner peace and/or steps in the right direction can result from the mere act of opening a book and letting yourself become intertwined with it.

Keep this in mind for the next time you’re feeling stressed out—the first step to easing your troubles could be a trip to the bookstore.

Did You Know?
Newport Academy in Bethlehem, Connecticut, is a treatment center for teens struggling with addiction and mental illness. Their main therapy method is cooking, which psychologists say can alleviate depression by boosting positive activity and increasing goal-oriented behavior.

Photo credit: George Hodan

Sarah Dolan

Affected by Altitude: Linguists Locate Language Link

Sarah Dolan

How language evolved is a question that has puzzled scientists and sociologists for decades. It is generally accepted that groups of ancient people who shared a language and culture would split up into smaller tribes in search of fresh land. Over time these smaller tribes would change, with outside influences causing them to develop different languages. However, a new study shows that migration patterns may not be the only influence affecting language.

A study lead by Dr. Caleb Everett, an anthropological linguist at the University of Miami, suggests that altitude affects the phonological form of a language. The study found that languages with ejective consonant sounds occur more often in areas of high elevations. Ejective sounds are found in around 18 percent of the world’s languages. They are produced by compressing air in the pharynx and releasing it in a burst of sound that has a clicking quality to it. These sounds are not found in the English language—the closest English equivalent would be a “k” sound made high in the back of the throat. You can listen to Everett give examples of ejective consonants here.

The study found that languages containing ejective sounds are spoken in five of the world’s six high-altitude regions. These five areas, all 4,900 feet or more above sea level, include the North American Cordillera; the Andes and the Altiplano; the southern African plateau; the plateau of the East African Rift and the Ethiopian Highlands; and the Caucasus range and Javakheti Plateau. Noticeably absent from this list is the Tibetan Plateau. Everett admits that he doesn’t know why ejective consonants don’t appear there, although he had expected the sounds to be absent in several areas instead of only one.

As for why these sounds appear, Everett has several theories. One is that ejectives are easier to pronounce in high-altitude areas because of the lower air pressure—it takes less effort to compress the thinner air. A second theory is that these sounds may reduce water vapor loss through air expelled during speech. This is hardly trivial, as water retention is crucial to survival in high elevations.

This study sheds further light on how modern languages evolved. In addition to social influences, geographic influences also played a role. These languages, located thousands of miles apart from one another, evolved separately but share this common feature. Altitude is what binds them together.

Did You Know?
The International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, was created in 1886 and was last updated in 2005. Consisting of 107 letters and 56 marks used in linguistics, the alphabet represents every distinct sound that exists in spoken language. The IPA can be used to phonetically represent all languages on earth!

Amanda Gutierrez

Deep-Space Pizza: Astronauts Print Provisions

Amanda Gutierrez

Astronauts rejoice: Freeze-dried spaghetti may soon be a thing of the past!

Popular spacecraft fare currently consists mainly of rehydrated meals. While this works just fine for a quick jaunt to the moon, it isn’t particularly well suited for longer trips through deep space…say to our friendly red neighbor, Mars.

In early 2013, NASA awarded Systems and Materials Research Corporation (SMRC) a grant to develop a new food and nutrition system for the space program as part of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. So what’s the latest and greatest in space food? They’re using 3D-printing technology!

The goal is to redesign the food and nutrition system to maximize efficiency for resource use, time and space (that would be storage space, not outer space). SMRC’s 3D-printing technology will also allow for more variety in the astronaut diet and ensure that every space cadet gets his or her vitamins. The company’s printer has already demonstrated its food-making prowess with a pizza. The pizza—a plain cheese pizza for now—was printed dough-first onto a hot plate followed by layers of tomato and cheese. SMRC plans to integrate an oven and a nutrient additive to future versions of the printer.

SMRC’s system will work by combining ink-jet and 3D-printing technologies. The 3D technology combines starches, proteins and fats to form the structure and texture of the meal, then the ink-jet will deliver nutrients, flavors and scents to create appetizing dining options. One of the most enticing draws of SMRC’s system is that it will allow astronauts to pick which meal they want each day, rather than having to plan out (and stick to) all their meals months before their launch dates. For a Mars mission, SMRC envisions combining their new 3D-printing technology with the tried and true pre-packaged meals as well as some hydroponically grown options.

The 3D-printing system also creates some opportunities for those of us living on good old terra firma. Because the system had been designed to maximize resources while minimizing waste, it has potential as an alternate food supply source to combat resource shortages; this is especially useful considering the world’s ever-growing population. In fact, estimates forecast that the Earth will be home to 12 billion people by the end of the century—that’s a lot of printed pizza!

Did You Know?
As the space program has evolved, so has its food. A standard astronaut place setting, now includes Velcro-equipped packaging that holds food down in lieu of gravity, a knife, a fork, a spoon and a pair of scissors—for cutting open the packages, of course!

Abbrianna MacGregor

Star Struck: PSG Brushes with Fame

Abbrianna MacGregor

Flashing lights, portraits in magazine spreads, endorsement deals, paparazzi . . . sound like your lifestyle? I didn’t think so. The elusive nature of Hollywood habitués renders their way of life all the more intriguing. For many of us less glamorous folk, this fascination with fame causes us to break into a cold sweat and lose our ability to speak when we find ourselves in the presence of royalty—whoops, I mean celebrity.

I know the feeling. My first celebrity encounter was with Olympian Sasha Cohen. It was my tenth birthday, and my mom had taken me to an ice skating show that Cohen was performing in. I was in awe, while Cohen was flustered and composed all at once, and referred to me as “sweetie.”

I’m not the only PSG member who has encountered fame. Ever taken an elevator ride with baseball legend Sammy Sosa? Ken has. He also got Sosa’s autograph (despite never having asked for it). Sports players must ride a lot of elevators, because Don once rode in a hotel elevator with former Celtic Larry Bird. Another time, Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day told Don he admired his bowling shoes. Not too shabby!

Because of where our interests take us, many of PSG’s celebrity sightings have been literary in nature. Annette has met humorist David Sedaris, New York Times best selling author Elin Hilderbrand and music journalist Rob Sheffield—all at book signings. Sheffield was signing a book about karaoke, so the audience members were performing. He complimented Annette’s rendition of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar. 

Tess also met David Sedaris at one of his readings. Instead of merely signing Tess’s copy of his book, he drew a cartoon of her as a cat. Kate chatted with Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Junot Díaz at a book signing she was working at, and she met actor John Krasinski, best known for his role in The Office, at an event he did for his film adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

At a library event, Alyssa met author Margot Livesey, who happens to be a writer-in-residence at Emerson College, where Alyssa completed her undergrad. Also at Emerson, Eileen’s thesis advisor was poet Jonathon Aaron. She also got to learn from Jon Papernick, Lise Haines and Gail Mazur—all published writers and professors. 

Colleen may take the cake when it comes to the most spottings—both literary and otherwise. She has met Andre Dubus III, who wrote House of Sand and Fog. She also met Bill Simmons at the release of his book Now I Can Die In Peace. A huge Indigo Girls fan, Colleen has met Amy Ray and Emily Saliers multiple times. She even ran into actor Mark Wahlberg in Gloucester while he was filming The Perfect Storm.

Considering this wide variety of celebrities PSG has met, there’s no telling who we’ll encounter next!

Did You Know?
Film director, Steven Spielberg, was diagnosed with dyslexia at 60 years old. He grew up in the 1950s before dyslexia was a diagnosis. Filmmaking was his escape from his struggles and from being mislabeled as lazy.

Sarah Dolan

World’s Oldest Library Will Open to the Public

Sarah Dolan

During my freshman year at Emerson College, my writing professor took our class to the Boston Public Library’s (BPL) Central Library in Copley Square. I remember browsing the fiction section, ogling at the texts in the rare books collection and trying to get the perfect shot of the beautiful courtyard. After less than half an hour, I knew I wanted to get a library card for this historic building. Founded in 1895, the BPL’s Central Library may seem old, but it is very new when compared to other libraries around the world.

Considered to be the oldest continually operating library in the world, Morocco’s al-Qarawiyyin University Library was founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a prosperous merchant. Originally a mosque, it was expanded in the tenth century to also contain a university and library. The library, previously only available to students and scholars, is slated to open to the public in 2017.

The library holds around four thousand manuscripts. Among its most precious texts are Qurans dating back to the ninth century and an early collection of Islamic hadiths. The collection’s crown jewel is an original copy of the Arab historian Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, or Introduction, written in the fourteenth century.

By the 2000s, over a thousand years after it was built, the library had fallen into such a state of disrepair that some of the ancient manuscripts housed there were at risk. Canadian-Moroccan architect Aziza Chaouni was asked in 2012 by the Moroccan Ministry of Culture to renovate the library. Chaouni was tasked with addressing the building’s structural problems and lack of insulation, along with a myriad of infrastructural issues including plumbing problems, broken tiles and cracked beams. She also endeavored to update the library as a modern public space while preserving its vast history. The restored library has a new gutter system, solar panels, air conditioning and—perhaps most importantly—a temperature- and humidity-controlled room to house the oldest manuscripts.

Upon completing the four-year renovation, Chaouni is excited to open the doors. “Both Moroccans and foreign visitors will get to glimpse, for the first time, some of the library’s amazing and unique manuscripts, as well as to enjoy its architecture.”

Did You Know?
The room housing the library‘s most treasured manuscripts now has modern security, but it wasn’t always kept this way. According to the library’s curator, Abdelfattah Bougchouf, the door to the manuscript room originally had four locks with four keys. Each of the keys was kept with a different person, so all four people needed to be present to open the door and access the rare books.

Photo credit: Khonsali

Shannon Pender

Can We Hack the Future?

Shannon Pender

Imagine this: You and a team of peers need to create a working app that will rival the most popular ones on the market. The challenge? You only have 48 hours. Welcome to a hackathon.

It may sound crazy, but hackathons—short bursts of creative problem-solving where great minds come together to create new tech—are all the rage.

How does it work? Students from all over gather to build new technology, which can range from innovative apps to virtual reality software. Many events begin with team leaders pitching their ideas and recruiting engineers and programmers in the room to join them. Then the real work starts: sleep-deprived students power through the entire weekend, hunched over laptops and working furiously on code and software.

The prizes at these events, ranging from bragging rights to trips to Paris, should be incentive enough to partake, but hackathons are also becoming the modern day career fair. Top CEOs and companies from Silicon Valley often come to hackathons to recruit future employees or even make job offers. They’re looking for programmers who can thrive under pressure and maintain creativity under stress, and a hackathon is the ideal environment for this.

As hackathons have exploded in popularity, they’ve also become more diverse. The most pressing issue in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) community is that women earn less than 20 percent of computer science and engineering degrees. Recently, hackathons marketed for women have gained popularity. LinkedIn launched a hackathon called DevelopHer Hackday to promote “a stronger sense of community” for women in STEM fields. Plenty more like these are popping up all over the country.

So, if you have a knack for coding—or designing or business development—look for a hackathon near you.

Did You Know?

There are summer camps for future cyber spies. Sponsored by the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation, the camp hopes to introduce young people to state-of-the-art technology and interest them in a variety of possible future careers.

Photo credit: Grm wnr

Christian Gibbons

Oh, the Books that You’ll Read! Phoenix’s Newest Literacy Program

Christian Gibbons

During my freshman year of college, I became involved with an AmeriCorps program called Jumpstart. In Jumpstart, I teamed with other college students twice a week to go to a preschool in Dorchester, Massachusetts, where we engaged children in fun, educational activities. All of the songs, puzzles, art and games we brought to the classroom may have seemed only that, we were also trying to address a serious problem that has been recognized across the nation: gaps in early childhood literacy.

For various reasons, some children are unable to read proficiently by the time they reach the fourth grade. Disparities between them and their peers—in vocabulary and language processing, for instance—may then put them at a greater disadvantage at a time when children are transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn.

Luckily, many other initiatives besides Jumpstart have been created to address these problems. Some states, such as Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Ohio, have been especially recognized for their efforts to make sure their students succeed.

Take, for instance, Arizona. The state’s literacy programs highlight how involved local communities are with ensuring the best future for their children. Although the state’s “Read On Arizona” collaboration has been the most publicly acclaimed, that organization’s smaller “Read On Communities” have also received accolades for their actions. Phoenix, for instance, was recently given a Pacesetter Award from the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading for its contributions to early childhood literacy—perhaps the best example of which has been their new BookStorm program.

The BookStorm program is a partnership between Better World Books and the Friends of the Phoenix Public Library that donates books to local schools and brings the resources of a public library to their classrooms. Some 300,000 books were made available for the cause!

In addition to donating books to schools, BookStorm also has literacy outreach specialists visit schools and teach students about libraries. “Thanks to this partnership with Better World Books, we’re able to significantly increase the program’s impact. Including an outreach visit from staff at Phoenix Public Library sets kids up with library cards which is essential to developing lifelong learning skills,” stated Jason Peterson, the executive director of the Friends of the Phoenix Public Library.

The BookStorm program is an excellent illustration of how a cooperative ethic in a community can make a huge difference. And though the program is between active cycles at the moment, it will continue to provide to communities in the near future.

Did You Know?

If you’re ever in the mood for children’s literature with a classic twist, then you probably can’t get any more classic(al) than Winnie Ille Pu, the Latin translation of Winnie the Poo. Winnie Ille Pu was the first Latin book to have been on the New York Times bestseller list—a position that it occupied for 20 weeks!

Shannon Pender

Birds of a Feather are Flocking at Harvard

Shannon Pender

When my parents were first dating, they spent a lot of time going on bird-watching dates. They would trek through the woods on hikes armed with a copy of a National Audubon Society’s field guide, trying to name the birds they saw.

Today, that same book rests in one of our kitchen drawers, right by the window that looks out onto our various birdfeeders. Years after my parents went on those dates, the book still gets plenty of use.

Luckily for my family and bird-lovers everywhere, the Harvard Museum of Natural History has premiered a new permanent exhibit: “Birds of the World.” Visitors will find over 200 representations of bird families inside the museum’s Great Mammal Hall.

The current exhibit replaces the previous exhibit, “Birds of North America.” It has expanded to represent a more global perspective on the feathered species that dot the skies. Developers of the exhibit spent months refurbishing display cases, dusting feathers and adjusting lighting to ensure that the bird specimens put their best feather forward.

Why such an expansive exhibit on birds? According to the museum, birds are “the most diverse land vertebrates on the planet, surpassing the biological diversity of mammals, reptiles and amphibians.”

The exhibit, boasting hundreds of specimens, represents this diversity in shape, size and color. It guides visitors both through birds’ phylogeny—the connections between different species of birds—as well as through birds’ biogeography, or the connections to where they live.

To see this impressive display of birds from all corners of the world, visit the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge.

Did You Know?

Twenty-five million years ago, the largest seabird known to science ruled the skies. With a 21-foot wingspan, Pelagornis sandersi makes today’s largest bird, the albatross, seem like a common pigeon with its 11.5-foot wingspan. Imagine seeing one of these giants soaring overhead on your next trip to the beach!

Photo Credit: Rizka

Moeko Noda

Brain Chip Implants Open New Possibilities

Moeko Noda

Our brains govern our every muscle movement, from reaching out for a cup of coffee to competing in the Olympics. But when something goes wrong with the way the brain transmits messages to our muscles—most often, this is due to a stroke or an injury to the spinal cord—we lose muscle function, a condition called paralysis.

Back in 2004, a study found a pathway to potentially overcome paralysis. In the study, conducted by a team at Duke University, researchers found that there is a link between a pattern of brain signals and certain limb movements. Using this signal, microchips implanted in the brain can make it possible for paralyzed patients to control a robot arm or computer just by thinking about the movement. When this study came out, a researcher at the Institute of Neuroscience in Nottingham said that the idea of brain implants had been around for 40 years, but it was only recently that actually placing implants became possible.

Now, in 2016, the research on brain microchip implants is starting to show its promise. Two years ago, doctors implanted a chip in a patient who was paralyzed from the chest down as a result of a spinal injury. After a year of training, the patient regained control over his right hand and fingers. By thinking hard about moving his muscles, he can pick up a bottle, pour the contents into a cup, pick up a straw and stir. He was even able to play a guitar video game. Although his limbs are no longer directly connected to his brain, the microchip technology bypasses his spinal injury to transmit brain signals directly to his hand muscles.

The amazing news understandably comes with more issues that need to be addressed before the treatment can be used more widely. For one, the patient currently needs to be connected to computers in the lab in order to move; for another, there is much work left before patients can gain significant independence in mobility.

But the potential behind this technology is starting to see the light. From monkeys with brain chip implants steering a wheelchair to paralysis patients voluntarily moving muscles after having their spines stimulated, this work has come a long way. As the patient in this 2016 study says, “Something will come around that makes living with this injury better.”

Did You Know?

The human backbone, or spinal column, is made of 33 vertebrae. But the number of vertebrae varies in different organisms: frogs have no more than 9, most birds have 13 to 25 in the neck, and snakes can have more than 300 that make them slinky and flexible.

Photo Credit: Omphalosskeptic

Shannon Pender

The Rare Manuscript that Saved a Museum

Shannon Pender

I love collecting old books. My favorite piece of this collection by far is a grammar book from the 1800s. It’s nearly falling apart and held together by unraveling twine. On the inside, you’ll find doodles from its original owner, Agnes. She wrote her name in large, antique cursive and even played tic-tac-toe in the margins. When I flip through the pages, I feel like I’m getting a glimpse into the past.

One museum intern in New York City stumbled upon more than just doodles in an old book. She found an original document from the American Revolution that would become the saving grace of the Morris-Jumel Mansion Museum.

In July of 2013, intern Emilie Gruchow was combing through the museum’s attic, re-cataloguing manuscripts. It was almost 100 degrees in the attic that day, but she stopped to read one of the documents she found anyway. She soon recognized it as “The Twelve United Colonies, by their Delegates in Congress, to the Inhabitants of Great Britain.”

The address was a plea to the British people. Americans hoped to avoid war by reconciling with the empire’s inhabitants. The final printed copy “reveals the strong, conflicted feelings of the colonists in the spring and summer of 1775” on the brink of revolution. The version Gruchow found turned out to be an original draft with edits and strikethroughs, which now gives historians an even clearer picture of the decisions made during drafting and who contributed the most to the document.

After confirming that this was a historic find, the museum then had to decide what to do with the document. Should they sell this piece of history . . . or keep it? 

At the time, the museum was in desperate need of repairs and had run a deficit of $30,000. Selling the document would not only save the museum, it would also provide the chance that the address would be preserved and stored in a major institution where the country could see it. The museum voted to sell.

The document was auctioned off by celebrity auctioneer Leigh Keno of Antiques Roadshow fame.

After viewing the famous document, Keno said, “when reading the draft, with its many changes in place, one gets a sense of what was going through the minds of our Founding Fathers. It really is a national treasure.”

The museum expected this treasure to sell for around $350,000. Instead, it sold for an incredible $912,500. A shocking conclusion that will provide enough financial stability for the Morris-Jumel Mansion Museum to serve the people for years to come.

Did You Know?

The contents of an entire library in Herculaneum, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, were thought to be too corrupted and blackened to read without damaging them. Now, however, archaeologists are hoping to use digital scanning technology to read texts that would otherwise be lost to history.

Photo Credit: Beyond My Ken

Christian Gibbons

The Periodic Table Has Turned: Four New Elements

Christian Gibbons

In high school, I took two different chemistry classes. Although I found the subject interesting, and looked forward to every lab, the most advanced thing I ever did with chemicals was conduct experiments with hydrochloric acid.

As one might expect, professional chemists attempt and accomplish a lot more than that. As a matter of fact, chemists around the world haven’t just been working with chemicals—they’ve been creating entirely new ones, too!

Of the 118 elements on the periodic table, several are man-made. Four of those—elements 113, 115, 117 and 118—have now become formally recognized by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), and are in the process of receiving new names. This latest update means that the seventh row of the periodic table is finally complete.

But it certainly wasn’t easy. The elements—previously called ununtrium (Uut), ununpentium (Uup), ununseptium (Uus) and ununoctium (Uuo), respectively—are all superheavy and therefore decay extremely quickly, making their existence difficult to confirm and study. Their creation was no walk in the park, either. In order to create element 113, for instance, Japanese researchers had to “[bombard] a thin layer of bismuth with zinc ions travelling at about 10 percent the speed of light.” 

The process behind the proposed names of the elements reflects how overcoming this challenge was truly an international effort. Ununtrium’s final name may be nihonium (Nh), in recognition of the fact that it was the first element discovered in Asia (Nihon is one way to say Japan in Japanese). Ununpentium and ununoctium might become moscovium (Mc) and oganesson (Og), after the Russian city and Russian scientist behind their discoveries, respectively. And ununseptium may end up as tennessine (Ts), after—you guessed it—Tennessee. Regardless of their final names, these four elements offer a tremendous testament to human ingenuity.

But what exactly are the limits of that ingenuity? Scientists are uncertain about where the periodic table might go next. As a matter of fact, they aren’t sure how far the periodic table can go, either. A previous estimate made by physicist Richard Feynman predicted that it would have to end after element 137, because the electrons of elements past that point would need to violate special relativity to exist. More recent hypotheses place the periodic table’s limit at 173, beyond which atoms may not even resemble what we recognize as atoms anymore.

Even still, each new element created adds to scientists’ understanding of the universe. If element 137 ever appears in classrooms, our understanding of the periodic table will be entirely different.

Did You Know?

The highest temperature recorded in our solar system was produced here on Earth. The Guinness World Record for the highest man-made temperature was achieved in August of 2012 by scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Their experiment created a temperature of over 5 trillion kelvins—over 300 thousand times the temperature of the core of our sun.

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan

Moeko Noda

Bookshare: An Accessible Reading Experience

Moeko Noda

Reading can be a challenging task for people with print disabilities, but an online library is trying to change the situation.

With over 450,000 titles, Bookshare is the world’s largest accessible online library. For people who have difficulty with traditional print materials due to any visual impairments, physical disabilities or learning disabilities, the library provides various functions that make reading accessible to all. This includes high-quality text-to-speech, highlighting functions, digital braille, enlarged fonts, and options to create physical braille and large print.

Students with print disabilities tend to start having difficulty keeping up at school by third or fourth grade, when independent reading activities begin to demand higher expectations. Bookshare strives to bridge that gap.

Sixth grader Kevin Leong is one of many who has benefitted from Bookshare. Leong has had challenges with reading ever since his vision was affected by an organic brain injury. Until he found Bookshare, reading was a great strain on his eyes, and he started to fall behind in school.

But by making use of the various functions that Bookshare provides, Leong started reading more and more. Using Bookshare, he can now engage with books in new ways, such as listening to an audio version or enlarging the print. Because Bookshare also makes books downloadable, Leong now carries his books everywhere. He can catch up with schoolwork and stay on top of his studies, and as a result, his self-esteem has increased.

Another user of Bookshare who is making the best out of its services is Stan Gloss, co-founder and CEO of BioTeam, Inc. Gloss has fought dyslexia his entire life; despite his love of learning, his reading difficulty made studying much harder for him than for other students. He struggled all the way through high school, but he eventually went to college then graduate school to earn a master’s degree. Now he leads a consulting practice in the life sciences market. 

Gloss discovered Bookshare in 2015. Thanks to this service, he read more books that year than he had ever read in his lifetime. Gloss says: “Technology is finally catching up to dyslexics. These tools are game changers for children and adults, and I am a living example that it’s never too late to try something new.”

Services like Bookshare can unlock the vast potential of people with print disabilities, creating a new future by making reading accessible to all.

Did You Know?

Carol Greider is the director of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University. Along with Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak, she won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine. She fought with dyslexia throughout her education, and used what she learned from that experience when approaching challenges in her career.

Photo Credit: Ben Landau

Shannon Pender

A Playground for Mathematics: The MoMath Museum

Shannon Pender

I’ll admit it: I’m no math lover.

It never made much sense to me. I couldn’t wrap my head around the numbers and shapes in a textbook. I know I’m not alone in this, and there are plenty of people in the classroom who still ask the math-skeptic’s mantra: When will we use this in the real world?

One museum in New York City is dedicated to answering this very question.

The Museum of Mathematics, playfully named the MoMath, takes numbers out of the classroom and into a multi-level, interactive fun house of algorithms and theorems. Its mission: to foster a love of math in a diverse, curious audience who can learn that math isn’t just about numbers on a page. Visitors will walk out of the MoMath aware of how math “illuminates the patterns that abound in our world.”

It was 2008 when the small Goudreau Museum on Long Island closed its doors. A small group met to collaborate on a new museum, one that would fill the void and provide hands-on math programming that schools around the country desperately needed. Located in Midtown in Manhattan, the MoMath boasts over 30 hands-on exhibits within a 19,000-square-foot space.

If your idea of math is like mine was—that it’s dry and boring—get ready to have your perspective flipped upside down. The MoMath will change your outlook on everything from geometry to calculus.

In the MoMath, you won’t walk through long corridors gazing at art or fragile exhibits. You are the exhibit. It’s easy to forget you’re in a museum and not a high-tech amusement park. The museum allows visitors to interact with normally abstract mathematical concepts.

One exhibit, “Harmony of the Spheres,” showcases how math influences harmony and melody in music. Visitors play notes by touching spheres suspended in the exhibit. As the notes come together, participants watch their music move through colored lights.

The museum covers a broad spectrum of mathematical sciences. This doesn’t just mean addition and multiplication, though. It also involves statistics, computer science, operations research and more.

The MoMath shows that you don’t have to become an engineer or play the numbers game for a living to see where math has its place in the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re a math-lover, a math-skeptic or somewhere in between—the Museum of Mathematics is for everyone.

Did You Know?

The International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), first held in 1959, hosts an annual competition for high school students. Much like the Olympic Games, the IMO switches host countries and brings people together from all over the world. The 2016 Olympiad was hosted by Hong Kong and consisted of contestants from over 100 countries.

Photo Credit: Beyond My Ken

Christian Gibbons

Gold Rush Shipwrecks in the Golden City

Christian Gibbons

One of the more exciting prospects about moving to Boston was the chance to live in a seaside city. Boston has been a port city since the colonial period, when it was a hub of shipyards and bustling maritime trade. Although Boston has an extensive seaside past, San Francisco has perhaps an even greater presence of marine history. As a matter of fact, San Francisco may be the only place in the states where you’ll actually find said history right underneath your feet.

In 1850, hundreds of different ships from both sides of the world arrived in the harbor of San Francisco, attracted by the glittering promise of the California Gold Rush. These ships were left behind as the thousands of forty-niners who had sailed on them moved further inland. As one might imagine, this took up a lot of space. So those ships that couldn’t be used were either bought and sold for parts or were sunk deliberately, then buried when the area was filled in to make more land. Even more were buried over time as the sediments in the bay steadily built up.

As a consequence of this, the San Francisco area is replete with entombed shipwrecks. In fact, archaeologists think that there may be as many as 35 or 40 ships in the Golden City’s financial district alone!

In 2001, for instance, construction workers unearthing the remains of a downtown building found the remains of something else entirely: the wreck of the General Harrison. During another excavation undergone for the Infinity Towers project in 2005, a whaling ship, the Candace, was also found. In addition to that, archaeologists found the remains of the shipyard the Candace occupied, as well as the house of its owner, a shipwrecking site and a great deal of salvaged parts.

“Ultimately, we were able to put together a very detailed portrait of the shipyard and the Candace, and of maritime activity in San Francisco during the Gold Rush,” stated Dr. James Allan, a leading maritime archaeologist who supervised the survey. Dr. Allan and his team were very pleased with the find and are determined to find more like it.

But perhaps the greatest discovery has been the most recent. In late 2014, the wreck of the City of Rio de Janeiro was discovered only half a mile away from the city. The ship was infamous for being the deadliest shipwreck in the region—an accolade that earned it the nickname “the Bay Area’s Titanic”—and its previously unknown location was one of the city’s greatest mysteries for over a hundred years.

Who knows what might be found next?

Did You Know?

Margaret Brown wasn’t the only “unsinkable” woman on the Titanic. Stewardess and nurse Violet Jessop survived the sinking of both the Titanic and its sister ship the Britannic. Violet also was present on board the first sister of the White Star Line’s trio, the Olympic, when it collided with a British warship in 1911.

Photo Credit: Tony Webster

Moeko Noda

An Old Toy Enters Virtual Reality: View-Master

Moeko Noda

An old toy has made a major comeback—in virtual reality.

Last year, the toy manufacturer Mattel teamed up with Google Cardboard, Discovery, National Geographic, Vuforia and Littlestar to bring View-Master, a 1939 stereoscope toy that shows 3D images from slide reels, right into the twenty-first century.

The makeover expanded what the original version made possible, which was to peer into a whole new world right in front of your eyes. In the new version of View-Master, the images shown through the lens are not just 3D images, but the world in virtual reality. The landscape has expanded, and its frontiers know no bounds.

Here‘s how it works: instead of inserting physical slides into the View-Master like the way users did in the older version, you insert a smartphone into the plastic goggle-like virtual reality viewer. With the View-Master app downloaded and running on the smartphone, you direct through the viewer to the View-Master “experience reel,” which looks like a coaster laced with tiny windows each representing a different landscape.

And just like that, you are transported 360 degrees into wherever the reel is programmed to represent. Depending on which of the four kits you choose, you can have a range of experiences. You can visit the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza, the Tower of London and other destinations across the globe. You can observe various wildlife scenes, such as the animals in the Australian Outback. With the underwater kit, you can plunge into the ocean with penguins and take snapshots of tropical fish. With the space kit, you can even travel to infinity and beyond.

Mattel’s View-Master viewer is available for purchase, but the experience works with other virtual reality viewers as well. Google Cardboard, one of View-Master’s official partners, is a viewer made out of—you guessed it—cardboard. It comes with folding instructions and is easy and affordable to use. By simplifying the technology, Google has made virtual reality accessible for many; now, their pairing with Mattel has made the immersive world of virtual reality as accessible to kids as the View-Master was more than 70 years ago.

Did You Know?
The nostalgic design of the 1939 version of the View-Master isn’t fully lost in its reimagined virtual reality headset. The device is still mainly comprised of red plastic and still features the iconic orange plastic lever on the side.


Photo Credit: ThePassenger

Shannon Pender

Scholly: The App That Helps Students Find Scholarships

Shannon Pender

When I was applying to colleges, I remember looking through lists of scholarships, and eventually deciding that most just weren’t a great fit for me. It was simpler to take out loans than to spend so much time searching for the scholarships that were right for me. 

This isn’t a unique problem. Scholarships that are a good fit are often hard to find.

Luckily, there are options out there to simplify the process for students. Sites like Fastweb.com and College Board allow students to use a customizable search engine to find scholarships that work for them. There’s one search engine, however, that has expanded past computers—and onto smartphones and tablets.

Enter the Scholly app: a new way for students to find scholarships. The app provides a convenient and highly customizable database of scholarships that students can scroll through while riding the bus, waiting for a friend or watching TV. Scholly matches students to a scholarship based on their eligibility in several categories, and even provides sample essays from past scholarship winners to assist in the drafting process.

One of Scholly’s founders, Christopher Gray, was inspired to create the app after a long and frustrating application process for scholarship money to attend Drexel University. He recently took his idea to ABC’s popular show Shark Tank, landing a $40,000 investment for 15 percent equity from “Sharks” Lori Greiner and Daymond John. Once the episode aired, Scholly held the top spot in the iOS App Store and Google Play store for over three weeks.

For many, college costs are no easy prospect, but students can now take advantage of the technology that exists to help them find and apply to scholarships with ease, providing them with a chance to lessen the pain of college debt.

Did You Know?
A caffeine addiction could help you pay for college. CoffeeForLess.com, an online coffee retailer, will award a coffee-lover up to $500 for books and supplies for writing an essay about their educational goals—while mentioning their love for coffee.


Photo Credit: Andre Carrotflower

Christian Gibbons

Laugh Track(ers): The Science of Laughter

Christian Gibbons

The hardest I ever remember laughing happened pretty recently. A friend of mine and I were walking down Boylston Street this past spring, observing people on Segways and seguing into a discussion about the strangeness of spelling and pronunciation in the English language. Somehow, the word bologna ended up being pronounced “buh-LAWG-nuh” with a bizarre pseudo-accent.

I’m not sure why I found what my friend said so funny. All I know is that I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t stay standing. I collapsed into an actual heap of laughter, right there in the street.

To any passerby, what happened must’ve seemed very strange. But laughter, if you think about it, is generally pretty strange. Scientists still don’t really know why human beings laugh. Some, like Dr. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, propose that laughter was originally a sort of “false alarm” signal. According to Dr. Ramachandran, what all humor seems to involve is an expectation that’s followed by a sudden twist that deflates it in a certain way. The very earliest punch lines would have occurred when our ancestors thought they were in danger, then discovered that they weren’t. Laughter, he claims, is “nature’s “all’s okay’ signal.” Ever laugh when someone tripped or fell? Don’t worry . . . according to Dr. Ramachandran, you’re not a bad person—you’re relieved that no one was hurt.

There are others who take a livelier view of what makes us chuckle. Dr. Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist and stand-up comedian, also believes that laughter reflects more than a mere feeling of amusement. She notes that people are 30 times more likely to laugh around other people than by themselves and that, most of the time, people laugh while they’re speaking, not while listening to someone else. “Laughter may thus be associated more with signaling affiliation, agreement and affection than it is with amusement,” Dr. Scott writes. “It may be most accurate to consider laughter as an expression of a strongly positive social emotion, which we use to form and reinforce social relationships.”

She might be onto something. A recent study published in 2015 found that laughter between friends and laughter between strangers actually sound different. Moreover, the study revealed that listeners—966 of them, from 24 different societies—were able to distinguish between the two as reliably as 67 percent of the time. The results of the study indicate that laughter is definitely a signal, and that we use it regularly to give and identify social information.

Maybe that has something to do with why I laughed so hard with my friend that day. Of course, it might also be that “buh-LAWG-nuh” just sounds really darn funny.

Did You Know?
A study done by researchers at Loma Linda University discovered that laughter improved the short-term memories of elderly participants. Because laughter decreases stress, and stress reduces the brain’s ability to remember and encode memories, laughter is an effective way to boost recall and learning ability. 

Moeko Noda

Inventions and Innovations: The Object Project

Moeko Noda

This morning, I woke up to the sound of my alarm clock and went to the kitchen, where I pulled out milk from the fridge and used the toaster to make a nice breakfast. Then I changed into a blouse and skirt, which I bought at a fast fashion retailer, and came to the office.

You might be wondering why I’m describing a mundane morning routine. You will be surprised to learn that this boring account is actually filled with innovations and lifestyle revolutions, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History’s exhibition, the Object Project.

The ongoing exhibition at the Smithsonian presents familiar objects in a new light, exploring how people, things and social change shaped life as we know it now. Visitors can see and touch more than 300 objects on display, along with relevant historic documents. No worries if you cannot visit in person—the comprehensive companion website can provide a wealth of information and colorful images of the objects.

Clicking through the site tells me my morning routine is supported by amazing innovations over the years. Clocks were a phenomenon even before most people could read the time; automatic toasters first came out in the 1920s, immediately appearing on breakfast tables across the nation; and ads for refrigerators from the 1930s showed ladies in gowns and men in tuxedos, as refrigerators were luxurious items, a “style sensation.”

What is more, I learned that the skirt that I am wearing today not only owes its origin to the concept of mass-produced, ready-to-wear clothing, but possibly to bicycles! When women started riding bicycles in the 1890s, they were symbols of liberation for women. Not only did the vehicle physically liberate women by offering them mobility, but they also transformed the way women dressed. Skirt lengths were shortened for smoother rides, causing a singer to wonder: “If we give them the chance, they will all wear pants! I wonder what they will do next?” Hmm, I wonder what?

Another important point that the exhibition makes, writer Rob Walker notes, is that people changed products and trends too, not just the other way round. A recent example is the MP3 player. Many people were skeptical of the gadget when it first came out, but some curious people tried it anyway, paving the way for its mass popularity and eventual revolution in the way we listen to music.

The exhibit shows that the newest cool gadget you’re considering trying out just might turn out to be an integral part of life decades down the line.

Did You Know?

The line between creative and absurd is thin when it comes to inventions. PingPong Door is a door that transforms into a table tennis table; there is a cup holder that you can attach to an umbrella; and with Kitchen Art Ham Dogger, you can transform hamburger meat into a hotdog shape whenever the occasion calls for it.

Photo Credit: Andreas Lakso

Christian Gibbons

PSG’s Preferred Poets

Christian Gibbons

Even though I am a Writing, Literature & Publishing major at Emerson College, there’ve been many hours that I’ve spent poring fruitlessly over a poetic text that I feel I just don’t quite get. But for every poem I wring my hands over in anguish, there’s one that stands out to me as a reward to read. In recent months, I’ve read everything from Symbolist poetry to Japanese poetry to Martian poetry, and have had plenty of interesting experiences as a result.

As such, it was a real treat for me to become acquainted with the poetic interests of my coworkers at PSG. Even though the degree to which each staff member enjoys poetry varies, the list of favorite poets in the office is a long one. Shannon, for instance, used to hate poetry before she read T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”—now, she includes both Eliot and Sharon Olds as favorite poets. Kate doesn’t read poetry often, but enjoys Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost and Robert Herrick. Tess similarly reserves most of her love of poetry for greats, such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath and John Keats. Annette, also a fan of classic poets, enjoys the poems of Lord Byron as well as those of modernist E. E. Cummings.

Eileen and Alyssa both love poetry with a passion. Eileen treasures confessional poetry so much that she has tattoos of lines from Sylvia Plath’s “Elm” and Anne Sexton’s “Love Letter Written in a Burning Building.” Alyssa, who also studied poetry in college, likes the verses of Shakespeare and the Romantic poets the best, but is also fond of modern and postmodern poets like Pablo Neruda and Allen Ginsberg.

Still others at PSG are more unorthodox about their appreciation of poetry. Colleen believes that the song lyrics of certain musicians such as Brandi Carlile, the Indigo Girls and Van Morrison ought to be regarded as poetry (a sentiment that I strongly agree with). Tanya and Don stick by childhood favorites like Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein.

If you’ve ever had difficulty with poetry, there’s a valuable lesson to be learned from all this. It seems that there’s definitely something for everyone in poetry. Next time you’re at a bookstore, don’t forget to check out a poetry collection or two!

Did You Know?

If you’ve ever been told not to end your sentences with prepositions, you might be surprised to know that this may have been because of a poet. John Dryden is believed to have taken issue with a particular phrasing (“the bodies that those souls were frighted from”) of fellow poet Ben Jonson’s in 1672. His criticism was subsequently supported by grammarians on the basis of the fact that Latin doesn’t strand its prepositions, even though English not only allows, but sometimes even requires, sentences to end with them. So it’s not worth arguing about!

Moeko Noda

Hands Speak Louder than Words: Gloves Translating Sign Language

Moeko Noda

On a hot summer day last year, I was stuck in the middle of a party supplies shop in Barcelona. I had exchanged smiles with a small girl in the shop, and now she wanted to become friends. I wanted to, too. The problem was that I couldn’t speak her language, and she couldn’t speak mine. After a long, awkward conversation of hand gestures, we were able to learn each other’s names, but I remember wishing I could speak even a little of her language—or that I had a translating app. Body movement goes a long way, but shared language is an important component of communication. 

Two undergraduate students at the University of Washington came to the same conclusion, but they took matters into their own hands. With the firm belief that language is a fundamental human right, rising juniors Thomas Pryor and Navid Azodi created gloves that aim to break barriers between sign language and verbal language.

The gloves are called SignAloud, and they translate American Sign Language into text and speech. Each glove has sensors on the hands and wrist that measure hand position and movement. The gloves wirelessly send the signs to a main computer, which translates them into words or phrases. These are then immediately delivered back to the gloves, which are equipped with a speaker to transmit the audio translation of the signs. The current renditions of the gloves are still prototypes, but the two students are working with more people in the deaf community to help refine the gloves for wider use.

In the United States, American Sign Language is used by hundreds of thousands of deaf people as their first language, and by many more people who learn it as a second language. The demand for smoother communication is immense.

”Everyone should be able to communicate with everyone else,” Pryor said, explaining his and Azodi’s philosophy behind the gloves. “When we were talking about things being accessible and connecting people and making that impact we found that language and communication was the piece that holds it all together,” Azodi added. While translation apps continue to knock down barriers between verbal languages, those who communicate by hand can be alienated from others who communicate verbally. Through their innovative gloves, Pryor and Azodi hope to create a more unified global community.

Did You Know?

Just like spoken language, sign language varies widely among countries and cultures, each with its own grammar and dialects. The Ethnologue, a website that catalogues more than 7,000 living languages, lists 141 sign languages from around the world.

Christian Gibbons

You Don’t Say? Computers, Science, and Sarcasm

Christian Gibbons

Like many other people, I have experienced times when a sarcastic comment has flown right over my head. The thing about these moments, though, is that when you don’t pick up on sarcasm, you tend to miss a lot. Who knew?

A big reason why it’s so important to be able to recognize sarcasm is because of how common it is in our society today. Over the course of the development of the English language, entire phrases that were once meant sincerely have come to have an exclusively sarcastic meaning. After all, when was the last time you heard someone say, “Big deal!” and really mean it?

In fact, sarcasm is so omnipresent in our society that computers need to be able to recognize it, too. A couple of years ago, the US Secret Service began seeking a software system that would be able to distinguish sarcasm. One of the Secret Service’s spokesmen, Ed Donovan, stated in 2014 that the agency’s ultimate goal was to analyze social media data, and that “the ability to detect sarcasm and false positives is just 1 of 16 or 18 things [they were] looking at.”

There are clear and immediate benefits to a tool like this. Perhaps most importantly, a sarcasm detector would allow people to differentiate between an instance of sarcasm and a legitimate threat on social media platforms such as Twitter. The problem is, computers that are used as sarcasm detectors often have a difficult time identifying such a nuanced form of communication.

However, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University recently published findings that might be on to something that will change that. What made this study different from others was that its authors believe sarcasm is more likely to be used between people who know each other well. Using algorithms that took into account contextual features such as past tweets, key words and phrases, profile information, and previous sentiments, the researchers found that their detectors were able to pick out sarcasm with increasing accuracy over time. The highest accuracy rating they achieved overall was 85.1 percent!

As scientists continue to work on the challenges of getting computers to understand sarcasm, who knows what level of accuracy they’ll be able to achieve? Maybe some day computers will be able to recognize sarcasm faster than humans can. That wouldn’t be creepy at all.

Did You Know?

Sarcasm may have a sour reputation in some circles, but scientists have found that there are actually benefits to using it. Because understanding sarcasm involves disparities between literal and intended meanings, sarcasm seems to promote greater creativity in both people who use it and people who hear it.

Photo Credit: Matthew Bowden

Shannon Pender

Lake Turkana: A Cradle of Human Life

Shannon Pender

If you’re like me, you dug in your backyard as a kid, hoping to find fossils and make some sort of groundbreaking discovery. Unless you were really lucky though, you probably didn’t find much more than rocks. If you lived in northern Kenya, your search could turn out differently—it’s home to Lake Turkana, where fossils have remained for millions of years.

Lake Turkana, Africa’s fourth largest lake, lies in the middle of a harsh desert climate. Called the “Jade Sea” for its beautiful color, the lake sits in a volcanic area that experiences activity from tectonic plates that move the Earth’s crust. This creates layers where archaeologists can clearly see different eras of fossils preserved in the lake and its surrounding basin.

There are 100 archaeological and paleontological sites surrounding Lake Turkana, meaning it’s an ideal place for fossils to give us insight into our species’ ancestors: what they looked like, how they walked, where they lived and more. The fossils here span four million years of human evolution. The lake hosts numerous groundbreaking discoveries about the hominids who lived over 4.2 million years ago.

Out of all the discoveries at Lake Turkana, one still shapes our understanding of human evolution—connecting the dots among our predecessors.

It was 1984 when Turkana Boy, the most complete early human fossil, was discovered. He was preserved in the sediments of the lake for 1.5 million years. Our ancient human ancestors were comprised of multiple species rather than the one homogenous species we are today; Turkana Boy was a member of the Homo erectus species, arguably the most important species to study.

H. erectus is thought of as the direct ancestor of humans: the first hominids to migrate out of Africa and into Europe and Asia. By studying Turkana Boy, archaeologists learned that H. erectus walked like us, centering their weight over their pelvis. They had arched feet, long strides and larger brains than other species such as Homo habilis.

Did You Know?

The prehistoric species Nuralagus rex is the largest rabbit ever discovered—a 26-pound animal with short ears and small eyes that is unable to hop. These features have never been seen before in rabbits. This giant rabbit had no predators on its native Minorca, a Spanish island, allowing it to live a leisurely life without any worries.

Photo Credit: AdamPG

Christian Gibbons

High Stakes and High-Flying

Christian Gibbons

When I was a child, going to the circus was a family pastime. Although my family and I never watched it as much as an NFL game, we definitely got something out of it that we never got out of watching my dad’s favorite sport. There was something about going to the so-called “greatest show on Earth”—with its menagerie of death-defying tricks, spectacular animals and lovable buffoonery—that always felt special. But as I grew up more, those trips to the circus grew fewer and fewer, until eventually they ceased altogether.

Since then, I’ve often wondered what’s become of the circus industry. It felt strange when I came to Boston for college and saw so many posters for the latest show from Cirque du Soleil. But Cirque du Soleil is actually one of the biggest modern success stories in the circus industry, and it has built a global reputation on world-class performers, top-notch costumes and effects, and boundless liveliness. In fact, there’s pretty much only one thing left that the company hasn’t accomplished: making it big on Broadway.

Despite previous attempts to make a lasting impact on a New York stage, Cirque du Soleil still has something to prove. “It is a big question mark for Cirque now,” said Diane Paulus, a Broadway director who’s worked with Cirque before. “What’s next for them, and how are they going to break new ground after they broke ground so powerfully . . . [over 30] years ago?” Their most recent production, a hybrid of aerial techniques and musical theatre named Paramour, is distinguished from previous efforts by its use of dialogue, original music and a fully developed plot about a love triangle in Golden Age Hollywood.

Although Paramour hasn’t proved to be as popular with critics as its creators might have hoped since debuting in May of 2016, the show has been well-received by many Cirque fans. In addition, the company is already moving forward with at least four other shows in New York, and hopes to also bring a version of The Wiz to the Broadway stage in the near future.

It looks like the circus is here to stay, and Cirque du Soleil will continue to try to reach new heights.

Did You Know?

There really is no “I” in theater! Most Broadway theaters don’t have a row I because it’s so easy to confuse with the number 1. Some theaters exclude other rows, such as O, Q, N, U and V, for similar reasons.

Photo Credit: Thesupermat

Moeko Noda

A Book Lover’s Dream? A Library as a Universe

Moeko Noda

It’s truly a bibliophile’s nightmare that no matter how hard we try, we can never finish reading all the books that exist. The joy of walking into a bookstore or a library comes with a hint of despair, an understanding that most of these books will forever be waiting for you to open its covers. On the other hand, the endless array of books might also represent a good dream—it may be a relief that you will never run out of books to read.

What would happen if you could venture into a place that holds not every book ever published, but every book ever and never written? Jorge Luis Borges’s short story ”The Library of Babel” illustrates a real-life rendition of this nightmare—or dream, if you wish. Published in 1941, the story describes an expansive library that is composed of an indefinite number of hexagonal galleries. Each gallery contains a set number of books, and each book is a random combination of letters of the alphabet. By combining every possible combination of letters, the library as a whole contains an exhaustive collection of every single book in the universe.

The story is actually a thought experiment; not only does it imagine the universe within the library, it imagines the library as the universe, where every idea ever conceived sleeps in its infinite galleries. The complete works of Shakespeare would be there, as well as books that were lost or burned. The browser could come by ancient folklore in one shelf and contemporary science fiction in another.

The library, amazingly, is actually on its way to construction—online.

Jonathan Basile, a Brooklyn-based writer, is trying to recreate the Library of Babel as a website. At present, Basile’s virtual recreation of the library contains all possible combinations of 3,200 characters, which is a few sentences longer than this blog post. This means that this blog post, if it were exactly 3,200 characters long, would exist somewhere in Basile’s library as well, along with all the other possible 104677 combinations of characters.

Although Basile admits that completing this idea is impossible (even if the entire universe was a server, it can’t contain the volume of “books” he aspires to create), which was Jorge Luis Borges’s point to begin with, the experiment still hints at the prospect of the completion of an infinite library. Whether you think this is a nightmare or a dream is up to you.

Did You Know?

One of the largest libraries in the world, the British Library in London holds well over 150 million items. Each year the library receives a copy of every publication in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and its 388 miles of shelves grow by 7.5 miles every year.

Photo Credit: Fil Brit

Shannon Pender

PSG Has Dinner with History

Shannon Pender

If you could have dinner with one person from history, who would you choose?

For me, that person is Ray Bradbury—famed science fiction author of several short stories and novels, including Fahrenheit 451. I love all his works and credit him for inspiring my own writing. In high school, while writing a paper on Bradbury, I decided to write him a letter expressing my gratitude. Unfortunately, before I could finish writing it, he passed away. If I had the chance to time travel, I would make sure to tell Ray Bradbury how much his work meant to me.

When I asked the staff at PSG whom they would meet if given the same chance to time travel, everyone had wildly different answers. But most, like me, chose an idolized dinner guest from an earlier age. 

Eileen would have dinner with her longtime hero, Kurt Cobain, and has also always wanted to visit his home. Tess would love to talk to Audrey Hepburn about her glamorous Hollywood life, her active role in WWII helping out the Dutch resistance and her later work with UNICEF. Moeko, a fellow intern, gained an appreciation for Buddhist philosophy during a course on Asian religion at Swarthmore College, so she would love to sit down with Buddha. Alyssa couldn’t pick just one person from history—she’s tied between Madeleine L’Engle, one of her favorite authors, and Queen Elizabeth I. Kate says she would have ”a million questions” for Laura Ingalls Wilder—both about her books and her time living through most of America’s formative years from Westward Expansion to WWI to the 1920s. Kate is actually relieved a dinner with Wilder remains impossible because she ”wouldn’t know where to start” in a conversation with her idol!

Some PSG staff members, however, picked people who are still alive to have dinner with—so a meeting could actually happen! 

Ken, who has always cited music as a vital part of his life, would have dinner with singer-songwriter James Taylor. He would love to learn what inspires Taylor’s writing and when Taylor realized he had special talent. For Tanya, Harry Potter was an “important staple” in her childhood—it makes perfect sense that her dinner guest pick is J. K. Rowling.

To make all of our ideal dinner dreams come true, all we need are some friends in high places—that, and a time machine.

Did You Know?

The hut of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, abandoned in 1912 when Scott and his crew died on an expedition, still sits near the South Pole in Antarctica. Containing frozen butter, ketchup and more than 8,000 additional artifacts, the hut is virtually a time machine to the last moment Scott and his crew spent there over a century ago.

Moeko Noda

2016 Newbery Medal Winner: “Last Stop on Market Street”

Moeko Noda

If you read books as a child, you’re sure to have come across a Newbery Medal winner at least a few times. If you write children’s books, it’s likely that you at some point dreamt of winning the Newbery.

The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association (ALA) to the most distinguished American children’s book published during the previous year. Each year the selection committee chooses one Medal winner and also recognizes other worthy books as Newbery Honor books. Named after the eighteenth-century English bookseller John Newbery, the award is the oldest children’s book award in the world.

This year’s Newbery Medal winner was awarded on the cold Monday morning of January 11 at the ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Boston. The award went to Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson. The book follows an African American boy and his grandmother on their trip on a bus and centers on their conversation about the beauty of urban life. The committee’s selection was received with surprise because Last Stop on Market Street was the first true picture book to receive the honor.

De la Peña also has the honor of being the first Latino author to win the Newbery Medal. The book garnered a lot of attention for its focus on diversity, along with its author’s background. However, de la Peña writes that it was not his aim to have diversity as the central focus. His current approach to writing, he says, is to feature diverse characters, but to place them in stories whose main focus is not diversity; Last Stop on Market Street was an example of this approach. Instead of having race and diversity be the sole focus of the discussion surrounding this strikingly colorful and vibrant book, he wants the readers to frame the story in different ways. His dream, he writes, is that kids of all races read the book.

Did You Know?

Multiple Newbery Medal winners over the years have been turned into movies. The first ever winner of the medal in 1922, The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon, is no exception. The book was turned into an eponymous movie in 1957, starring Hollywood celebrities such as Vincent Price and Dennis Hopper.

Photo Credit: Larry D. Moore

Christian Gibbons

Sustainability and Art Merge in Philadelphia Residency Program

Christian Gibbons

Where I come from in Millbrook, Alabama, people don’t recycle. The nearest recycling center is a 30-minute drive down the highway to Montgomery. But in Tacony, Philadelphia, the opposite is happening—recycling is being taken to an entirely new level.

There, artists are showing what happens when trash is treasured at a recycling center called Revolution Recovery, one of the few recycling plants to allow access to the materials it processes. The project is called Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR), and its creators, Fern Gookin, Avi Golen and Billy Dufala, have built a 1,000-square-foot residency inside the recycling warehouse with the aid of grant money from Philadelphia’s Creative Industry workforce campaign. Similar to other artist-in-residence programs, RAIR gives artists the opportunity to work away from their usual settings for one to three months or two to four weekends. RAIR offers unique studios and workspaces for working with wood, metal and other recycled materials. Its goal? To encourage others to use materials from the waste stream while raising awareness about how much truly goes into it.

To this end, RAIR allows its artists-in-residence to experiment to their hearts content with approximately 400 tons of free materials. So far, they’ve been used in various projects by sculptors, filmmakers, photographers and printmakers. Some of these projects have been playful, such as when Mary Ellen Carroll and Billy Dufala built an amphitheater out of discarded metal and held an audience-less concert where she and other musicians made music with even more metal objects. Others, such as current artist-in-residence Martha McDonald, use the residency space to ponder provocative questions about the place of trash in everyday life. Her most recent installation, Songs of Memory and Forgetting, uses trash to evoke the memories present in the belongings that litter the dump.

These sorts of ideas continue to be a large part of what RAIR is all about. As the program continues, its links to sustainability initiatives will only become stronger. “One of our goals for 2016 is to get people here to see the trash because you don’t understand the scope until you see it,” says Lucia Thomé, the program’s coordinator. “In the next couple of years we are hoping to bolster our exhibition component and bring visibility to what can happen at RAIR to the public.”

Individuals who would like to apply to the project may do so in the fall, when RAIR opens its doors to new artists again.

Did You Know?

You can find art made of trash in museums! In the Smithsonian Art Museum, there is a sculpture titled The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly. It was created over the course of more than 14 years by James Hampton, a former custodian, who used discarded materials and objects he scrounged up. The sculpture was found in his garage after his death in 1964.

Photo Credit: RcButcher

Christian Gibbons

Aid, Don’t Grade: New Apps That Focus on Improving Writing

Christian Gibbons

As writing is the trade with which I intend to make my (secondary) living, there’s a significant level of pressure on me to be the best writer I can be. This is also true of my being a student in college. Gone are the days of high school when building to a final essay assignment could take as long as a month. Now I, like others, need feedback for essays that are due on a weekly basis.

It’s okay that there aren’t always people who can help refine my writing in that tighter time frame, because nowadays there is technology that can do that, too. One such app is called Expresso, and it utilizes different linguistic metrics to help users examine how they write and learn how to make their writing better. Currently it’s only in beta and only for English, but the software is already rather extensive. Don’t know what modals, nominalizations or entity substitutions are? That’s okay—Expresso will point those out to you and, if you hover your cursor over one of the terms, it will also explain to you what those things are. (Spoiler: modals are verb modifiers demonstrating ability or necessity.)

But why are apps like Expresso becoming more popular? WriteLab, a software recently developed by a team of expert writers, professors and engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, is another example of an online tool created to assist people with their writing. However, the people behind WriteLab see it as doing something more ambitious than simply finding issues in people’s prose. “For decades,” Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, the executive director of the National Writing Project, explains, “we’ve had a range of digital tools for error detection and even auto-correction. . . . But WriteLab is unique in trying to use tools like natural language processing to provide detailed coaching feedback to the writer.”

Like Expresso, WriteLab works by analyzing the metrics of users’ writing and identifying stylistic problems. It also goes further by noting grammatical issues. But WriteLab is unique in that it works collaboratively with the user, and is intended to help cultivate an engaging authorial presence. The focus is on strengthening writing, not fixing it. In this way, the developers of WriteLab are hoping that their program will be used to complement more traditional curriculums—and it already has, both in higher education and in high schools.

It may be that apps like Expresso and WriteLab will pave the way toward more constructive review processes in the future. But, as the latter’s creators affirm, such software cannot replace teachers. If you’re looking for feedback for an essay, you still ought to speak to a real person!

Did You Know?

There are other types of writing apps that attempt to help users with their writing. However, they do so in more unorthodox ways. Apps like Write or Die, Flowstate and The Most Dangerous Writing App each work a little differently, but all aim to ramp up your productivity by forcing you to keep writing—because if you stop, everything you’ve written so far will disappear.

Photo Credit: Henry Medina

Shannon Pender

A Pocket Library: Why 1400s Venice Was the Silicon Valley of Publishing

Shannon Pender

It’s a hot, summer day and you’ve hit the beach. On your way to the water, how many people do you see enjoying the sun with a book or e-reader in their lap? It’s a common sight—I know I never go to the beach without at least one book in my bag—but reading on the beach would be impossible without the work of a renaissance printer. His name? Aldus Manutius, and he changed the face of publishing as we know it.

Venice in the 1400s was a hub of printing revolution. Aldus and his printing press, Aldine Press, were right in the middle of it all. By today’s standards, the amount of monumental change that the printing industry underwent there would rival today’s Silicon Valley. Basically, Aldus Manutius is to modern books as Steve Jobs is to the iPhone.

Aldus’ first achievement involved font choice. He was the first to use an italic font—which mimicked human handwriting—and in doing so, replaced the heavy Gothic print most printers used at the time. He used this italic typeface for the first time to print Virgil in 1501 and countless other books to follow. It’s estimated that the Manutius family printed over 1,000 editions over the course of 100 years.

In all of these printings, Aldus kept his use of colons and semicolons consistent in each edition, standardizing punctuation for the industry.

Out of all of Aldus’ many accomplishments, however, one has impacted everything from large trade publishing to your trip to the beach.

Before Aldus, books were luxury items, kept in monasteries or collections. They were large, cumbersome and expensive—not at all accessible to the public. Aldus used his press to print books small enough to be carried around for study or pleasure, calling them libelli portatiles (Latin for “portable books”). This opened up the literary world to the general public, allowing more to be able to enjoy both classic and modern books. Aldus single-handedly shaped the sharing of ideas and communication as we know it today.

These “portable books” were the predecessor to modern paperbacks. Without Aldus, we would have to lug a huge, cumbersome tome to the beach—or not be able to bring anything to read at all. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the kind of beach trip I want to have. Thanks, Aldus!

Did You Know?

Back when typefaces were set by hand and made of metal, there was an entire neighborhood in New York City devoted to type foundries. These few blocks were known as the Type Ward, which reached its height in the 1800s and thrived thanks to the newspaper industry.

Shannon Pender

To Infinity and Beyond: 3D Printing and Toys

Shannon Pender

Technology has come a long way in the past few decades—especially when it comes to 3D printers. They’re most typically used to print 3D organs or machine parts, but the technology is expanding into other sectors and becoming more common in engineering and even art.

Now, 3D printing has reached a new frontier: your living room.

Once 3D printing became a reality, printers cost thousands of dollars and were completely impractical for personal use. Recently, however, the market has expanded, making printers smaller, cheaper and more user friendly. With costs averaging around $400, the possibility of owning a 3D printer in your home has become a more achievable reality.

For families, this means on-demand toy printing.

Affordable 3D printers work just the same as larger 3D printers used in manufacturing and medical fields. Rather than ink, the printer dispenses material—such as nylon or titanium—in multiple thin layers to make up a 3D object. Anyone can design and print their own toys, accessories or gadgets with the click of a mouse.

There are even apps for 3D printing design. For instance, with ThingMaker Design, all you have to do is download it to your phone or tablet to enjoy user-friendly, interactive software that looks and feels almost like a video game. It allows you to create anything your imagination can think of: figures and dolls, accessories, and more. While you design, you can customize the color, texture and pose of your printable toys. Other similar apps that allow you to make your own 3D printable designs include 3D Creationist, MakerBot Mobile and Sculpteo.

With software and printers like these, kids and their parents can have a toy store at their disposal. The only limit is their imagination.

Did You Know?

President Obama is the first president whose likeness was captured through 3D scans. These scans were then 3D printed into both a bust and a life mask and are on display at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, along with the plaster life masks of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

Photo Credit: C13m3n7

Moeko Noda

Education Beyond the Classroom: School Gardens

Moeko Noda

This summer, I am growing a vegetable garden for the first time in my life. The family that I am housesitting for is leaving behind a mini garden of tomatoes, cabbages, cucumbers and more under my charge. Not only do I water them daily, but a week ago I also got to participate in planting them. As I got down on two knees, hands deep in the earth to create a safe new home for the baby vegetables, I’d never felt more responsible for the tiny plants. It has been a week, and the peas are already shooting out of the ground. In addition to watering them in the evening, I visit the garden every morning—just to check on how they are doing. Each day I am amazed by the speed at which they grow and how responsive they are to conditions like heat and rain. I’m excited about what these plants can teach me over the summer as they grow and grow.

Indeed, taking care of gardens has proven to have many educational benefits, and schools around the country are noticing its potential in education. Studies have shown that school gardening brings both health and academic benefits, making it an attractive project for many elementary schools. In 2013, about 27 percent of US public elementary schools reported having a school garden.

John J. Pershing Elementary School in Dallas, Texas, is one of them. With the help of REAL School Gardens, a program that brings gardens to school, Pershing Elementary School planned and built their garden four years ago. Ever since the garden was planted into the curriculum, students have been scoring better on standardized tests and have become more excited about school in general.

The children of Pershing Elementary School are not alone in benefitting from the presence of a school garden. School gardens have been shown to improve access to nutrition knowledge, teaching children how to make healthier choices. Children who participate in school garden programs, when compared to others who do not, are more likely to choose fruits and vegetables when they are available. These children also spread their knowledge to their families, bringing healthy eating habits into the house. School gardens also showed health benefits beyond meals. A two-year study involving 12 elementary schools conducted by Cornell University found that having school gardens resulted in an increased physical activity level for children, both at school and at home.

Did You Know?

Thinking about starting a garden but don’t know where to start? Radishes grow only in about 20 days, come in wide varieties of size, color, shape and taste, and can be planted both in spring and in fall. They are a perfect fit for gardening beginners.

Photo Credit: Lalobiozar

Shannon Pender

William Shakespeare: Rockstar of the Renaissance

Shannon Pender

Like many high school students, I had to memorize Shakespeare’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy from Hamlet in my English class. Unlike most high school students, though, I loved the challenge. Shakespeare’s work has always had a special place in my heart, and I was plenty familiar with hearing and performing his work: I’d performed as Helena in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, seen Alan Cumming’s one-man show of Macbeth on Broadway and watched countless adaptations both on stage and screen.

You could say I’ve always been starstruck by the Bard. 

Shakespeare might not seem like rockstar material to most, but he is to me. And now he’s even going on tour—or at least, his First Folio is.

The First Folio is the cornerstone of Shakespearean scholarship and was printed a few years after the Bard’s death. It was the first compilation of 36 of his plays, 18 of which had never been printed before—they had only been performed on stage. Without the First Folio, these 18 plays (including Macbeth, The Tempest and Twelfth Night) likely would have been lost forever.

There are around 230 surviving copies of the First Folio. Because later printers often made edits during production, the First Folio gives scholars an opportunity to see Shakespeare’s plays as close to their true form as possible.

A few months ago, the Shakespearean community received startling news: another copy of the First Folio had been found.

It was tucked away in the library of Mount Stuart House, a manor on the Isle of Bute off Scotland’s coast. The copies of the First Folio each tell a story about their owners through the notes they made and are almost like a “CSI crime scene . . . carry[ing] tiny bits of evidence about the people who used them.” This copy in particular, once owned by eighteenth-century Shakespearean editor Isaac Reed, is filled with Reed’s annotations in the margins. Each folio, then, is a glimpse into the past, carrying evidence not just about Shakespeare but also about its owners throughout history.

If you’re looking to glimpse a part of Shakespearean history yourself, you’re in luck—copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio are going on tour thanks to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.

The library holds the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, including 82 of the surviving First Folios. Its traveling exhibition First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare runs from January 2016 to January 2017 and will visit all 50 states by the end of its run.

To see when a First Folio will come to a city near you, see here.

Did You Know?

In the 1800s, Eugene Schieffelin decided to bring every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to Central Park in New York City. He released starlings, skylarks and song thrushes, but only starlings survived—and thrived. Today, millions of starlings call North America their home, all because of Shakespeare.

Moeko Noda

PSG Goes Local: Staff’s Favorite Museums

Moeko Noda

Coming from Tokyo and setting foot in Boston for the second time in my life this summer, I’m as far as you can get from a local of the Boston area. That is why, when asking members of the PSG staff about their favorite museums, I was excited to be introduced to a wealth of local museums. Regardless of where the staff members are from, their local museums hold an overwhelming popularity among the PSG staff.

A native of the Boston area, Alyssa’s top two favorites are both local: the Museum of Science and the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). She has been to both museums many times, and her favorite exhibit to date at the MFA was the Samurai! exhibit from 2013 that featured armor used by Japanese warriors. She also loves to visit local museums on trips out of state.

Don, also a long-term Boston-area resident, shares Alyssa’s love for the Museum of Science. He remembers being hooked by everything on his first trip to the museum; especially memorable was the Archimedean Excogitation. This audio-kinetic sculpture by George Rhoads has a rolling ball inside that creates a unique listening and viewing experience for visitors as it rolls through the maze of items in the sculpture.

Two other Boston-area locals mentioned museums overseas. Tess’s favorite is the Imperial War Museum in London, which she visited a few years ago and chanced upon a great exhibition on England in the 1940s. Kate’s favorite is the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. While studying abroad, she stumbled upon this museum and saw many of her art education experiences come together in the extensive collections of the Orangerie. These two Bostonians, however, didn’t forget a nod to their local favorite; both of them mentioned their love for the MFA.

Staff members from other areas showed their local love as well. The only New Hampshire resident in office, Eileen, picked the Strawbery Banke Museum in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire. An outdoor history museum, Strawbery Banke is a community based on historic buildings from as early as the late 1600s, with costumed role-players living as residents of Strawbery Banke in the past. If you are a New Hampshire native, you might remember visiting the museum for a school field trip.

Another staff member who listed his local museum was Ken. He grew up in Chicago and, as a result, his preferred museums cluster in the Windy City area. One of his favorites is the Art Institute of Chicago, which houses one of the most extensive collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in the world. Ken loves to visit Monet’s works there.

No matter where the staff is from, their love for the local seems to be the norm for museum tastes in the PSG office. I’m looking forward to hitting up the MFA like a Bostonian this summer, while my status as a local resident lasts.

Did You Know?

In Massachusetts, there is a museum that defies our expectations of a museum: the Museum of Bad Art. Since 1994, the museum has been “dedicated to bad art,” and their mission is to “bring the worst of art to the widest of audiences.” One of their collections is titled Blue People, featuring a number of portraits of blue-skinned people. Whether the skin color was chosen by the artist accidentally or intentionally we may never know.

Image: Museum of Science, Boston, MA

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