Tag Archives: science

Happy Sagan Day

Today would have been Carl Sagan’s birthday.

Besides his books, it’s fun to see where else his words and thoughts pop up. I love the Symphony of Science tributes on youtube. And there are a lot of talented artists and crafters inspired by him on etsy as well. Continue reading

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Turritella macroTurritella agate is the youngest fossil I currently use. The shells inside it belong to creatures who emerged millions of years after the ammonites went extinct.


I hadn’t realized that Turritella agate was a misnomer. (It took me long enough to catch the name. I was told it once briefly and it sounded to me like tarantula or tarantella…)


Apparently it was originally named after a species of saltwater snail that has a similar steeply pitched shell to the ones found in this stone. Sea snails of the genus Turritella had been previously found fossilized in agate in California and Texas. Most stones called turritella agate come from Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, which have freshwater deposits.


The fossil deposits range from sandstone to much chalcedony. (Agate is a type of chalcedony, so that part of the name gets partial credit for accuracy…) They bear large quantities of fossilized freshwater snail shells from the genus Elimia. A once flourishing species now extinct, they date from the Eocene. The beds are estimated to have been laid down 51-46 million years ago in what was then a series of shallow lakes.


They lived well after the dinosaurs died out, in a warm world where small mammals were establishing a foothold. The overbearing greenhouse gases and hot temperatures in a world almost without ice are thought to have favored small mammals more able to cope with heat, as well as reptiles.



Part of the reason it took me so long to wrap these was I wasn't sure what metal to use. I ended up hedging and using a blend of bronze, gunmetal and gold coated wires.

Part of the reason it took me so long to wrap these was I wasn’t sure what metal to use. I ended up hedging and using a blend of bronze, gunmetal and gold coated wires.

I confess I keep having to google it in order to remember how to spell it. I really need to remember, especially since every time I do I find more sites ascribing metaphysical properties to it. That always gets me a bit cranky. I just don’t get why it can’t be awesome because it’s a slice of life from a long lost world-one with different continents and weather and creatures. How is that not cool enough?

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The Thing With Feathers


Puerto Rico Amazons by Pia Ravenari


Mostly sneaking back by to give a brief shout out to a kickstarter. I’d spoken about it on here before and it didn’t run, this time its going and they’re at reach goals now.


The project is called Losing Altitude. It’s a collaborative art book featuring threatened and endangered bird species from allover the world, illustrated by over fifty artists, also from all over the world. Arras, who is spearheading this, will be researching each species, so this should be an awesome mix of art and information. I’m excited to be getting my copy next year!


I don’t have the requisite illustrative skills, so I’m contributing some key and tree pendants towards the kickstarter incentives.


Bird's nest ringThough, since it is a bird themed entry, a quick look at a very WIP project: an adjustable bird’s nest wire wrapped ring. This one is antiqued copper, bright copper and freshwater pearls.


Front view bird's nest ringA friend sent me a link to a bird nest pendant tutorial. I’ve seen plenty of the pendants, and make enough other styles, but most of the rings I’d seen involved a wire nest glued to a base. Since I don’t have the setup for soldering I decided to try to make the nest and ring from the same wire. It’s a bit bulky, I found the thickness of wire that makes a stronger ring shank makes for a large nest, but as said, work in progress.

And now for gratuitous Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –


And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –


I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

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Google Prompt and Metamorphosis

Embarrassingly enough, I’m finally posting this because of Google. I’ve had notes for ages, but I’m not always good at scrunching a complicated life into a handful of lines, so I’ve been procrastinating on writing about Maria Sibylla Merian. I saw one of her books on display at the Library of Congress last week. Then I saw the Google doodle proclaiming her birthday, and was finally shamed into it!


I have a lot of unusual reference books on my shelves. Perhaps the one that gets the most second glances is my copy of Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam, nestled between my art books.


It is by Maria Sibylla Merian, whose work I first saw years ago at a Rembrandt House special exhibit.


Merian (1647-1717) was one of the first documenters of insect metamorphosis.


She was born into an artistic family–her father was an engraver and publisher, and her stepfather a still life painter who encouraged her talents and taught her along with his (male) students. She was interested in flowers and insects and observed the life cycles of both.


She married her stepfather’s apprentice, moved to Nuremburg, had children, continued painting, designed embroidery patterns and took on (female) students of her own. By teaching their children she got access of the gardens of the elite and studied their insects.


In her time scholars still held onto spontaneous generation–basically the belief than insects and other ‘lower’ creatures were spontaneously created from mud or other debris. For example, that flies came to life from rotted meat.


She illustrated the metamorphosis of insects-showed that caterpillars wove cocoons and turned into butterflies. She painted the stages of these transformations and their host plants. These were collected into her first book in 1675.  The New Book of Flowers ultimately took three volumes to complete. It showed each flower distinctly so that it could be used as a reference for artists and designers of embroidery patterns.


She had a second daughter, published a second book and returned home after her stepfather died. After his estate was settled she left her husband to live in a religious commune.


There she met the governor of the Dutch colonies in Surinam and was introduced to its flora and fauna.


She later moved to Amsterdam, where her work was noticed by the scientific community. She was able to study the collections gathered by the intelligentsia. Her older daughter married a merchant and moved to Surinam, and Merian sold her belongings and was partially sponsored by the city of Amsterdam to travel to Surinam with her younger daughter, Dorthea Maria. They spent two years there studying the local animals and plants–recording the native names and uses–and collecting specimens. She contracted malaria and returned home, publishing books about her experiences and selling the specimens she collected.


She suffered a stroke and died in relative obscurity. It was Peter the Great who ultimately saved her for posterity. He had seen her work before, and heard that the then ailing artist had many works in her collection. Dorthea Maria sold 300 of her mother’s remaining paintings to an agent representing Peter the Great.


He opened his country’s first museum to exhibit them. He also invited Dorthea Maria and her family to Russia. She designed one of his largest scientific exhibitions and her husband became a court painter. After their first exhibition, most of Maria Sibylla Merian’s paintings were closed away in the libraries of St. Petersburg. This kept the delicate paintings safe from sunlight and abuse until their rediscovery centuries later.


It was an adventurous life for a woman of her time. (Anyone, anytime actually.) She traveled long distances to collect information and samples nearly a century before scientific expeditions became the norm. Her studies and use of native names influenced the European terms for some of the creatures, though since she published in the common tongue at a time when science was Latin only, her influence was limited and her observations against spontaneous generation largely ignored. She was a talented outsider rather than part of the scientific community. (If you’d like to read more on her and other early adventure/naturalists, check out Eaten by a Giant Clam, by Joseph Cummins. You’ll probably learn alot about a number of names that sound vaguely familiar.)


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Dreidels and Chemistry

Honestly it’s only a one word connection, but it sticks for some reason.


So trivia for you: gadolinium (Gd, element 64) is the only element in the periodic table with a Hebrew etymology.


Gadol means great in Hebrew.


You see it in nes gadol haya sham meaning a great miracle happened there, this time of year. It’s a reference to the story of Chanukah, and dreidels have the first letter of each word on their sides. (Those same letters are also used to stand for whether you take or put into the pot when gambling with dreidels.)


Dreidel as a gambling game has roots in European history. Apparently it’s a riff off of an old Irish and English game called teetotum, and the terms for dreidel are Yiddish, a hybrid of Hebrew and German.


There’s some debate over whether the Hebrew letters on a dreidel (Nun, gumel, hei, shin) were there first in reference to the rules of the game and the Chanukah meaning added after, or if the game rules were tailored to fit the acronym celebrating Chanukah. I’ve seen arguments both ways and don’t have the background to make a call on it!


Gadolinium is one of the Lanthanides (f-block elements) naturally occurring rare earth metals. In nature it is only found in salt form. (Bonded to other elements.)

When separated it is a silver-white heavy metal. It’s useful in metallurgy since even a small amount improves the workability or iron alloys. It is also good at absorbing stray neutrons and so is used in radiography and nuclear reactors.


One of gadolinium’s main uses is in compounds for MRIs. Injected into the bloodstream, it will show where blood is and is not in a scan, which helps pinpoint the location of blocked or leaking blood vessels.


What’s really cool (and kind of mind bending, at least to me) is that it goes from being magnetic to not, depending on its temperature. This is called the Curie point, and in gadolinium it’s 19 degrees C (66 F). So if you use ice water to cool down gadolinium it will stick to a magnet, only to fall off once it warms up again.


It gets its name from the mineral gadolinite. A chemist studying gadolinite saw an unknown spectral band and identified an new element. (He actually had to use a different mineral with a larger gadolinium content to extract an oxide of gadolinium.)


Later a French chemist, P.E.F. LeCoq, separated metal from oxide and (since there’d already been a hullabaloo about his possibly naming his previous find after himself-he’s a piece of work, maybe we’ll talk about him later) he named this new element after the mineral in which it had first been identified.


This mineral had been named after Johan Gadolin. (b 1760)


Describing Gadolin as the everyman of the elements: “Gadolinium must stand as the memorial for all the chemists who have struggled to free a new element from its mineral source…” Hugh Aldersey-Williams, Periodic Tales.


Johan Gadolin was the chemist who discovered the first rare earth element- yttrium. (Well, first rare earth oxide, he knew it has a new element in 1794 but couldn’t extract it.) The mineral from which he isolated yttrium was named Gadolinite in his honor.


So the element was named after the mineral which was named after him for extracting a different element from said mineral. It’s kind of a nice naming circle!


Where does the Hebrew come in?


Clerical families often took a Latinized name. Instead of looking at Latin roots, Gadolin’s grandfather gentrified their family name by taking the Hebrew word for great and modifying it to fit with Latin forms.

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Losing Altitude

An adorable barn owl plush Arras made awhile back.

Losing Altitude is a kickstarter project I’m tangentially connected with. It will be a collaborative art book highlighting endangered bird species from all over the world.


Arras (animuspanthera on both deviantart and etsy) has gathered dozens of artists (also from all over the world) to illustrate their favorite endangered species in their own unique styles. Each illustration will be accompanied by information about the species.


There’s already have a tease of some of the gorgeous and exuberant art that will be included.


Pia Ravenari is working on some intricate and stunningly colored parrots.


And Tania Avila Villalba has a strikingly austere Javan hawk-eagle.


Not having the illustrative skills to contribute directly I offered some of my tree and key pendants to use toward incentives.


I’m excited this is finally live, kind of silly, but I made a bird treasury on etsy in honor of its inception. I hope it goes, I would really love to see this book in print! (I have a place on my bookshelves all picked out…)


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Brilliant Colors and Barbara McClintock

Since it’s the functional end of Fall, I figured I should at least give a quick nod that I’ve been meaning to do all season.


Around here you see dried maize a lot-often sold in bundles for Autumn decorations. I love the colors and the textures. They always make me think of apples (and the grudge that I didn’t get a single proper caramel apple this year) and gourds and Barbara McClintock.


(Shown here in a mixed media portrait by the fantastic chid0ri-take a spin through the galleries over there.)


She won a Nobel Prize in 1983 for her discovery of transposable genetic elements. The acknowledgement was a long time coming, it was for work that she’d essentially wrapped up by the early 1950s.


Barbara McClintock got her PhD from Cornell in 1927. In the 40s she began to concentrate on studying the inheritance of color in maize. In 1948 she discovered that two specific gene locations could physically swap locations.


She developed a theory that these mobile pieces regulated genes by either keeping them silent or allowing them to express themselves. It was these transposable elements-transposons (or jumping genes) that caused the fun colors and striping in maize.


Transposons are sequences of DNA that can move to new places within the genome of a cell. So calling them jumping genes, while fun to stay and more likely to stay in your mind, is not strictly accurate. They aren’t properly genes but instead known as mobile genetic elements.


Most scientists of her time were skeptical of her work. They credited her excellent microscope work but either argued that she’d misinterpreted something or else that such movement was yet another quirk of the corn species. (Whose genetics were already known to be complicated and irregular.)


She kept researching but stopped publishing her work by the 1950s, since it seemed that no one was inclined to pay attention to her discoveries. Her work was finally recognized decades later.

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Fibonacci and Spirals

Okay, now this is an *old* poem that I confessed I’d written after someone had asked me if I was familiar with the fibonacci sequence, since it related so well to the ammonites I like to work with. I mostly get the basics but can’t think of a concise way to sum up the importance of the sequence, so I’m cheating and linking to the wikipedia article and a really fun Khan academy video on doodling and spirals and Fibonacci, sorry.


Short explanation, we were given an assignment to write a math and/or science poem. So, being me, I couldn’t decide and did one on the sequence, trying to create an image of its visual impact in a poem where each line contains the number in syllables. (The other was about stamping on Newton’s grave.)


Fibonacci sequence





rose vines, tightening.

the snail in his spiral shelter.

seeds, corkscrewing, maximum life in minimum space.

magical, methodic, unwinding from the center; distance growing greater with every turn.

a silken snake, ready to strike; divine division, a treasure map of beauty’s proportions;

     logarithms trapped in the equiangular coils of nature.

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And Rocks Falling…

My new Gibeon meteorite pendant in copper.

A short addendum to my earlier meteorite intros.


I just finished wrapping my last piece of meteorite a few days ago. So meteorites were already a little on my mind when I went to a small mineral society show and picked up some tektites. I thought they’d make fun earrings to go with a meteorite pendant. (Otherwise the show was a bust.)


Tektites are small, unprepossessing black stones with an unusual texture and unique origin.


“Tektites are terrestrial rock melted and flung into the atmosphere by the force of an asteroid or comet impact.” Nicely summed up on http://tektites.co.uk/


They’re natural glass of a kind with a high silica content and extremely low water content. The shape was determined by how far the melted rock was thrown into the atmosphere before re-entry. These guys are the most normal type-splash form. They are rounded shapes that range in size from millimeters to centimeters. The shapes are the result of the ground at the impact site being molten or vaporized and ejected from the site of impact and thrown thousands of kilometers away.


The ones I picked up are from what is called the Australasian strewn field. That is the largest, and newest one known. The impact struck around 800,000 years ago, and the strewn field covers at least 10% of the planet’s surface. No one knows where the primary event occurred.



One kind of wild (scary) fact is that tektites from this field have been found with stone axes in southern China, showing that early humans must have been alive and active in that region when the object fell.


Can you imagine? Besides the destruction and likelihood of mass deforestation…It’s scary enough to think of something like that happening when you know what is going on, but to have no idea, a sudden boom, mass destruction and then a rain of small rocks?


Since people sometimes misinterpret/misrepresent these-just to reiterate, tektites are *not* meteorites, they are made from earth disturbed by an extraterrestrial impact.

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Autumn Falling

A continuation that I actually began before my previous leaf article… (A timey-wimey moment.)


Today as I was driving I kept getting caught in these swirling storms of falling leaves.
(It’s interesting how much better colors look in nature. Yellow of road signs isn’t what I would consider a pretty color, but I saw a lot of leaves so close to it today that the signs were blending in. With the sun at just the right angle that color on trees is luminous.)
Several weekends ago a friend mentioned something about how leaves don’t just fall, but are forced off by trees. I can’t remember if the word she used was expelled or excreted, but either way it wasn’t the right word and left us all with some entertaining images.
It was one of those ‘sounds vaguely familiar’ things. So I had to check it out. (I never did figure out quite what word she’d been intending to use.)


Apparently trees shed their leaves here in the northern latitudes (and on the southern half of the globe in the southern latitudes) because if left to their own devices leaves would try to photosynthesize during any warm spell. Then the leaves would die when the water in them from photosynthesis froze as soon as the weather turned cold again.
Rather than risk the likelihood of permanent leaves dying in the execution of their duty, deciduous trees have evolved to cast off their leaves in the fall and live on the food produced during the warm months.
Shorter and cooler days cause deciduous trees to release a hormone that in turn causes new cells to grow where the leaf stem and branch meet.
These are called abscission cells. Their job is to create a thin line of cells that grows and pushes the leaf stem away from the branches. That way they are only tenuously connected and ready to fall at the next autumn gust.
Since on of those friends is an NPR fan I’m guessing this was probably her original source.

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