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Science Bulletins at AMNH
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Current research about the natural world.
Current research about the natural world.

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Science Bulletins at AMNH's posts

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After iterating our AR Shark in October, learning at least one approach towards turning scientific data into a digital interactive, we shifted focus to a different set of biological data. We created a digital interactive based on a scan of a creature that, in comparison with a cuddly shark, was so terrifying it caused the occasional visitor to scream and rip off their virtual reality gear.

By November we started to fall into an effective rapid prototyping routine: pick a set of digitized data, work with a scientist and our crack team to bring it into an AR or VR device, share the interactive prototype in our Halls with the general visitors, and evaluate their response (and, if desired, iterate again and again until we learn something useful and are ready to start from scratch with something new). Friday morning is set aside for public sessions; Friday afternoons for processing what we learned that week.

In November we chose to focus on insects and to explore what we might learn in virtual reality. Using HTC Vive, we created a virtual weevil, placed within a virtual orange grove, that offers visitors the opportunity to explore insect respiration (weevil’s have no lungs!) through click on the critter and taking it apart.... (more below)

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This is the first in a new monthly series of posts that will focus on our current efforts in the Museum’s Science Bulletins team to create and test prototypes of Hall-based digital interactions using AR and VR using our scientists' digital science data, and to share some of the lessons we learn along the way.


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Happy #AskACurator  Day! Experts representing more than 1,000 museums and cultural institutions worldwide are answering questions on Twitter. 

Ask about what it's like to work at a museum. Ask about the collections. Ask about their research and outreach. 

Curious about the +American Museum of Natural History? Two of their curators are on deck, starting at 1:30 PM EDT.

More about participating museums here: http://www.mardixon.com/wordpress/askacurator-who-to-ask/
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Fire Ants Raise Brazilian Butterflies

Fire ants are typically regarded as invasive pests. But in this Bio Bulletin, we see them from a butterfly's perspective—as a dedicated babysitter.

Butterfly species in Asia, North America, Europe, and South America are known to enlist the help of certain ant species to care for their eggs and larvae, with the larvae repaying their benefactors by producing a nourishing nectar. Recently, a study in Current Biology analyzed the nectar's composition, discovering that the larvae are serving up a chemical cocktail that subtly alters the ants' behavior to make them better caretakers, stimulating them to be more protective of their wards and more aggressive toward predators.

Life History of Aricoris propitia (Lepidoptera: Riodinidae)—A Myrmecophilous Butterfly Obligately Associated with Fire Ants:
http://www.hindawi.com/journals/psyche/2012/126876/

Lycaenid Caterpillar Secretions Manipulate Attendant Ant Behavior: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822%2815%2900819-2turn-them-bodyguards

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Happy Anniversary, Curiosity!

Three years ago today, Curiosity touched down on Mars's surface, becoming the third rover to visit the Red Planet. It carries a hefty load of science instruments for analyzing the Martian atmosphere and soil, as well as seventeen cameras that are capturing the rocky landscape in unprecedented detail: nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/images/index.html 

But as breathtaking as these images are, Curiosity's scientific discoveries are equally impressive. Soil sampled from multiple locations in and around the rover's landing site, Gale Crater, are helping scientists piece together the puzzle of Mars's water—how much there might have been, where it may have flowed, and whether any liquid water remains today.

NASA will launch its next mission to Mars—InSight—in 2016, but Curiosity's mission is far from over, as it continues its investigation of previously unexplored surface features. Catch the latest images and mission news here: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html

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What can fossils teach us about ancient climate? Quite a bit, as you'll see in our Earth Bulletin about researchers investigating a dramatic spike in Earth's CO2 levels fifty-five million years ago. 

As the quantity of atmospheric CO2 climbed, so did global surface temperatures—about 5° to 9°C (9° to 16°F)—with warm conditions lasting approximately 170,000 years. Chemical analysis of fossils from this period is helping scientists understand how life on Earth was affected by this dramatic change, and will help determine strategies for coping with our rapidly changing climate today.

#FossilFriday  

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Invasive fire ants are firmly established in the southeastern United States, defending their territory with venomous stings. But a more recent invasive species, the tawny crazy ant, appears impervious to fire ants' toxic attacks, producing its own antidote to fire ant venom.

In Chemical Defense Aids "Crazy Ant" Invasion, Science Bulletins looks at a study that pinpointed crazy ants' defensive strategy, which is furthering their domination over fire ants and native North American insects.

But crazy ants aren't invulnerable. According to a new study, the seemingly unstoppable invaders are susceptible to  a new genus of fungal parasite, which appears to only affect crazy ants. Robert Plowes, the lead author on the study, says, "This is the first step towards developing a suite of biological control agents that will give us any chance of keeping ant numbers low in the long run."

Read more about the study here: https://cns.utexas.edu/news/chink-found-in-armor-of-invasive-crazy-ant

Journal of Invertebrate Pathology: Myrmecomorba nylanderiae gen. et sp. nov., a microsporidian parasite of the tawny crazy ant Nylanderia fulva
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022201115000968

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Happy #FossilFriday ! In this Human Bulletin we visit Rusinga Island in Kenya's Lake Victoria, where paleontologist Will Harcourt-Smith is leading an effort to recreate the environments inhabited by early primates.

More than 18 million years ago, Rusinga Island was home to primitive apes of the genus Proconsul, an ancient primate relative of modern humans. Today, evidence from this fossil-rich area is helping an international team of scientists to re-create our ancestor’s ancient habitat, yielding surprising insights into this primitive animal’s ability to adapt to environmental change.

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Skull X-Rays Reconstruct Extinct Carnivores’ Bite

Our latest Bio Bulletin looks at how scientists are using virtual models from CT scans to decipher ancient animals' diets.

Some carnivores eat only meat, while others are more omnivorous. To understand how and when these differences in carnivore feeding may have evolved, Museum paleontologists captured X-ray scans of skulls from living and extinct species. They reconstructed the skulls as virtual models and designed feeding simulations, to test the relationship between skull biomechanics and diet, shedding light on the evolution of feeding specializations and their distribution in the carnivore family tree.

Science Bulletins is a production of the National Center for Science Literacy, Education, and Technology (NCSLET), part of the Department of Education at the +American Museum of Natural History.

Related Links

The Royal Society Publishing: An integrative method for testing form–function linkages and reconstructed evolutionary pathways of masticatory specialization
http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/12/107/20150184

PLoS ONE: Are Cranial Biomechanical Simulation Data Linked to Known Diets in Extant Taxa? A Method for Applying Diet-Biomechanics Linkage Models to Infer Feeding Capability of Extinct Species
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0124020

Building Better Skull Models for Ancient Carnivores
http://www.amnh.org/explore/news-blogs/research-posts/building-better-skull-models-for-ancient-carnivores

Fieldwork Journal—Reporting from Inner Mongolia
http://www.amnh.org/explore/news-blogs/from-the-field-posts/fieldwork-journal-reporting-from-inner-mongolia  

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This is how you prep a Smilodon fatalis skull for the CT scanner.

Paleontologists Z. Jack Tseng and Camille Grohe of the +American Museum of Natural History used layers of foam and cotton padding to hold the heavy cranium upright in the plastic tub. Once the bucket is placed in the scanner, the CT machine takes several hours to scan the fossil. Scientists will use the series of X-ray image "slices" to build virtual 3D models of the cranium for feeding simulations.

Algorithms from bite force studies of living carnivores identify how skulls respond to feeding stresses. Applying these calculations to models of extinct animals' skulls tells researchers about the eating habits of ancient carnivores.

Find out more about Dr. Tseng's work modeling feeding simulations in living and extinct carnivores: http://www.amnh.org/explore/news-blogs/research-posts/building-better-skull-models-for-ancient-carnivores

#FossilFriday
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