A Gathering of the Planetarium Experts

Posted on July 27th, 2016

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By: MiaSci

By Dr. Jorge Perez-Gallego, Curator of Astronomy and Exhibition Developer

Every other year, the International Planetarium Society gathers some of the best minds in the planetarium business to share ideas, insights and creative work. This year, the event was held in Warsaw, Poland, and I was lucky enough to go.

With members representing schools, colleges, universities and museums from over 30 countries around the world, the conference is a great opportunities for anyone to advance their planetarium professional skills and knowledge. Given Frost Planetarium’s upcoming opening, we used this opportunity to not only to learn about how other planetariums do things, but to formally present our project to the industry.

Situated on the banks of the Vistula River in east-central Poland, Warsaw is the capital and the largest city of the country. While it was founded in the 13th century, the city required painstaking rebuilding after the extensive damage it suffered in World War II, which destroyed most of its buildings. Some know it as the “Phoenix City.” Part of the newness of the city is the Copernicus Science Centre, which hosted the event. Named after Nicolaus Copernicus, the Polish Renaissance mathematician and astronomer who formulated the revolutionary model of the universe with the Sun at the center, instead of Earth, the center represented a new type of institution in Poland when it opened its doors in November 2010. The facility has quickly earned recognition as one of the most interesting and innovative centers of its kind in the world, and has welcomed almost one million visitors each year since it opened. It definitely represents a source of inspiration for Frost Science given the significant role it plays in its community today. Through its exhibitions, laboratories, and events bridging science and art, it offers people a chance to become involved in creating culture rather than just passively consuming it.

The Heavens of Copernicus Planetarium at the Copernicus Science Center in Warsaw, Poland

The Heavens of Copernicus Planetarium at the Copernicus Science Center in Warsaw, Poland

The adjacent Heavens of Copernicus Planetarium opened its doors in June 2011, and is one of the most advanced multimedia planetariums in the world. It features live astronomical shows, popular-science fulldome shows related to astronomy and other fields of science, and initiatives exploring the bridges between science and art, just as Frost Planetarium will.

During the conference I had a chance not only to take a look at the latest technological advances, but also to engage in very substantive discussions with peers from all over the world who are facing challenges similar to those at Frost Planetarium. I was able to look at well-known issues from different points of view, and draw together ideas for problem-solving and rising to new challenges. After an inspiring week, I came back from Warsaw with a greater understanding of what Frost Planetarium can be, and what it will represent for our local and global community.

Conference attendees holding properly shaded flash lights recreated the arrangement of the Southern Hemisphere’s night sky.

Conference attendees holding properly shaded flash lights recreated the arrangement of the Southern Hemisphere’s night sky.

Keep looking up!

RFP: Advertising Firm

Posted on July 21st, 2016

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By: MiaSci

The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science is seeking to identify and select an advertising agency to assist the museum with creating a clear and distinctive creative concept that will launch Frost Science. Under the proposed relationship, the advertising firm will be responsible for the creation and development of a strategic and impactful creative concept that will resonate in South Florida along with key target markets domestically and internationally.

To obtain a copy of the RFP, contact Joseph Quinones at JQuinones@FrostScience.org. Please provide the name of your company, location, main point of contact, and contact information with your request for the RFP.

All proposals should be emailed no later than 5:00 pm, EST, August 17, 2016.

Learning by Teaching: a MUVE intern reflects on growing with Frost Science as the museum evolves.

Posted on July 21st, 2016

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By: MiaSci

By Eric Laguardia, MUVE (Museum Volunteers for the Environment) Summer Intern

Eric Laguardia (middle) leading a discussion with students from the Overtown Youth Center on how to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Eric Laguardia (middle) leading a discussion with students from the Overtown Youth Center on how to reduce, reuse and recycle.

This summer I have been working at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science alongside MUVE Coordinator Chelle King as the Citizen Science Education Intern. That means I’ve been facilitating the museum’s budding outdoor classroom programming and assessing ways to make it better.

Over the course of a day I might lead our Trash Detectives Field Trips or Citizen Science Workdays—experiences designed to foster environmental sensitivity through beach clean-ups and nature walks. Whenever I’m not leading an event, I’m usually reflecting on the last one or preparing for the next one – tweaking my approach with each iteration.

Working with Frost Science as it transitions to a globally relevant museum at its new downtown location, and as it refines its already powerful community programming, has been a fantastic addition to my own learning experience. As I work to educate local youth, I also gain an education.

The son of a high-school biology teacher, I’ve been drawn to life sciences for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I spent much of my time exploring the outdoors and caring for an array of exotic pets. After high-school, I decided to stay in Miami to study business administration at Florida International University, adding a second degree in parks management after an internship at the FIU Nature Preserve.

From there I pursued a Master in Education at Harvard University. My time there reinforced my belief in the power of experiential education and the importance of informal learning institutions. While in the area, I also worked as an educator in the Living Collections Department at the Museum of Science in Boston. I knew I wanted to return to Miami upon finishing grad school, and I was drawn to the excitement surrounding Frost Science and the construction of its new facility. Once I heard there was an internship opportunity for an educator, I didn’t hesitate to apply.

Congratulating students from the Overtown Youth Center on a job well done upon clearing our Virginia Key restoration site of marine debris.

Congratulating students from the Overtown Youth Center on a job well done upon clearing our Virginia Key restoration site of marine debris.

While facilitating field-trips over the course of this summer, I have been prototyping our curriculum on several student populations ranging in both age and socio-economic background. One of my major internship objectives is to create a comprehensive programs assessment and field trip guide that can be applied by current and future staff/interns. In addition to aligning our curriculum to state standards, I intend to highlight the most effective practices and identify those that can be made even better.

Frost Science’s reclamation site on Virginia Key, a place where we restore degraded habitats by planting native vegetation, is crucial to our outdoor programming, and to my learning as a facilitator. Our programming there immerses participants in topics like marine biology and South Florida ecology by getting them up-close and hands-on. From marine debris scavenger hunts to on-the-field data collection projects where we record the growth of plants, our field trips get students outside and out of their daily routine in a variety of different ways. The sights, smells and sounds these places offer will spark conversations that help kids learn from the natural world, rather than a textbook.

At just over a month into my experience here, I must say that it is a fascinating and dynamic time to be at Frost Science. In addition to engaging with my own work, its fun to hear about the dozens of other projects going on around the museum.

To prospective interns, I want to emphasize that Frost Science is a great place to put your skills to the test. The nature of the organization’s current chapter is one that requires interns to do work that is of consequence – not just filing paper or brewing coffee. Preparing for the museum’s impending growth requires all hands on deck, and that’s a compelling environment in which to develop professionally.

 

A Fatherly Giving Thank You

Posted on July 19th, 2016

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By: MiaSci

This past Father’s Day, we asked for support to help the team at our Falcon Batchelor Bird of Prey Center care for orphaned baby Eastern screech owls. Though these little owlets came in helpless, our staff is able to hand-feed them and train them to live in the wild. With the help of our excellent facility and staff, they’re doing really well!

We are extremely grateful for the support of donors who made gifts in honor of their own fathers in order to save these orphaned owls. It’s because of these donors that we have plans to release more than 15 Eastern screech owls back into the wild this summer.

 

On behalf of Frost Science, we would like to thank the following contributors:

  • Martin Diaz in honor of Leslie and Yoly
  • Mary Emanuel in honor of David Emanuel
  • David Eyzenberg
  • Maria Goudie in honor of Diego Colombo
  • Aaron Menitoff in honor of Paul Menitoff
  • Meghan C. Moore in honor of Jim Moore
  • Beate Nolan
  • Vivian Santos in honor of Ramon Santos
  • Stella Uyeno
  • Jane Zucker

It’s not too late to support the work of our Falcon Batchelor Bird of Prey Center, which continues to operate seven-days-a-week and maintain a hotline (305-322-8887) despite the museum being closed.

Please contribute. The work you help us with today lays the groundwork for our new bigger and better Batchelor Environmental Center, which will open next year.

As a bonus, all donations received are matched, dollar-for-dollar up to $500,000, by our longtime supporters, The Batchelor Foundation, via a challenge grant. To make your contribution, please click here. And if you prefer a physical gift, our staff has created an Amazon Wish List with items crucial for the care of these amazing animals. You can make purchases via your own account and have them sent directly to us.

Thank you for your continued support.

Growing Solar Family: scientists are honing in on newly discovered planets in our solar system.

Posted on July 18th, 2016

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By: MiaSci

By Dr. Jorge Perez-Gallego, Curator of Astronomy and Exhibition Developer

An artist rendition of Planet Nine with the Sun in the background. Scientists suspect that like Uranus and Neptune, Planet Nine is gaseous. CREDIT CALTECH:R. HURT (IPAC)

An artist rendition of Planet Nine with the Sun in the background. Scientists suspect that like Uranus and Neptune, Planet Nine is gaseous. CREDIT CALTECH:R. HURT (IPAC)

Earlier this year, Caltech professors Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown published a paper presenting evidence for a ninth planet in the solar system, Planet Nine. While Planet Nine has not been detected, they concluded its existence by looking at the behavior of some of the most distant objects known in the solar system.

Though the best way to discover new celestial objects in the solar system is to use a telescope to directly capture images, this is not always easy, since these objects are often faint and compact. Luckily, there are other methods. We can detect objects by looking for their gravitational influence on objects that we do see. The study of Uranus’ behavior, for example, allowed astronomers in the 19th century to first predict, and then confirm, the presence of a new planet, Neptune.

The Kuiper Belt is a region of the solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune, somewhat similar to the Asteroid Belt, and believed to contain many comets, asteroids, and other small bodies. By studying the behavior of the most distant objects ever found in the Kuiper Belt, Brown and Batygin predicted the presence of Planet Nine. The evidence they found is strong and exciting, but only time will tell whether Planet Nine—or some other phenomena—is responsible for the peculiar behavior of those objects.

Just recently, an international team of astronomers discovered a new dwarf planet, named 2015 RR245, orbiting in the disk of small icy worlds beyond Neptune. Interestingly, its elliptical orbit is very eccentric, and its distance to the Sun ranges from about 30 to 120 AU (astronomical unit = the distance of the Earth to the Sun). Finding these objects is a challenging task; after all, they are compact and distant. The Outer Solar System Origins Survey, responsible for the discovery, is committed to cataloguing many of the brightest, largest Kuiper belt objects. Such a catalog will not only help us piece together the history of the solar system, but also shed light on the possibility of Planet Nine.

We at Frost Science are excited about this because the data astronomers use is often available to planetariums on a timely basis. The orbit files of 2015 RR245, for example, were readily available, enabling planetaria to update their audiences right at the time the news broke. On a similar note, just a couple of months after Planet Nine was predicted, the Adler Planetarium in Chicago released a show that explored the largest of Pluto’s neighbors in the Kuiper Belt, and invited visitors to join the search for a new ninth planet. This kind of information sharing is essential for planetariums to grow as sources of scientific excellence and as inspiring astronomy resources for their communities.

Baby Steps: How our team at the Batchelor Wildlife Center saved the lives of two orphaned Eastern screech owls.

Posted on July 13th, 2016

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By: MiaSci

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Eastern screech owl

About a month ago our Falcon Batchelor Bird of Prey Center, which performs raptor rehabilitation, received two down-covered baby Eastern screech owls, one from a good Samaritan who found an owlet lost and wandering on a sidewalk near their home, the other from an FWC officer who had rescued a baby owl in the course of his duty. Luckily for the owlets, the facility has a highly trained staff, advanced medical equipment, and enough space to allow physical therapy and rehabilitation for the birds. Below, our Bird of Prey Center team explains how they raised the owlets from nestling to young adults, trained them to survive on their own, and reintroduced them to the wild with a method called “soft release.”

What condition were the chicks in when you received them?

They both came in with downy feathers, meaning they were about two to three weeks old. One was younger than the other and still had its eyes closed. The older of the two had eye infection that we treated with special avian antibiotics.

What’s the process when you receive wild birds?

First we conduct an initial examination and treat any medical issues. Treatment can range from something as simple as antibiotics to something as complex as surgery. We then create a species-specific diet for the birds and hand-feed or assist-feed them if necessary. Since both of the owlets were nestlings, they needed a little extra help. Luckily, we have Lucille, a resident Eastern screech owl who does a fantastic job as a foster mom! When owlets arrive in the nestling stage we place them with her as soon as we can. This allows them to imprint onto her instead of becoming comfortable with us. She teaches them necessary skills like how to feed themselves, defend themselves, recognize other owls, and become independent. Throughout these foster weeks, we monitor and weigh the owlets regularly to ensure they gain weight and develop properly. Once their flight feathers grow out, we place them in an enclosure outside where they start to reach a more wild and independent state.

How do you know the owls are ready for release?

The owls tell us when they are ready! In the flight cage, they go through the process of flight conditioning and live prey testing. Flight conditioning consists of staff members encouraging owls to fly for 5 to 10 minutes twice a day so as to build up their flight muscles and increase their endurance, all of which leads to a more successful release. Live prey testing is the last part of the process. We install night vision cameras and provide the owls with live prey. When we confirm a successful hunt, we know they’re ready to go.

You performed a soft release for these owls. Why, and what’s the difference between a hard and soft release?

The soft release option was the best choice for the owls because they came into our facility as owlets with no real understanding of the outside world beyond what we provided them.

A soft release involves placing the release-ready owls in a man-made nest box in an ideal habitat. We hang these nest boxes 10 to 30 feet high in a woodland area, and space them at least 100 feet apart, so the owls to have their own territories. After placing the owls in their boxes with appropriate food, we check the boxes daily. If the food is gone, the owl isn’t hunting successfully yet, so we keep providing meals. When they leave the food alone, we know they’re catching prey on their own.

A hard release is ideal for raptors we received as adults—they’ve already survived in the wild on their own. Once they go through rehabilitation we simply release them in an appropriate area, often in their old home territory.

How did you choose the nest sites for these owls? 

We looked for an open woodland area that had no immediate threats present. These threats may be neighborhood cats, dogs, or raccoons. Ideally, we find a strong tree in which we can place the nest high up, so as to avoid any possible danger.

Why did you choose Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, and not Frost Science grounds? 

While we generally aim to release birds in the area in which they were found, these Eastern screech owls came in as nestlings so they didn’t have their own territory established yet. While we have done releases on our own grounds in the past, we are striving to use different locations in order to establish populations elsewhere. Vizcaya Museum & Gardens is a great location due to the abundance of trees and open space. We can also walk there to monitor the birds and provide the nests with food.

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Frost Science Aviculturist, Larissa Perez, placing one of the two rehabilitated Eastern screech owls in the nest box at Vizcaya Gardens.

What should people do if they find an injured or orphaned Eastern screech owl or other bird of prey?

We encourage anyone who finds a baby or adult bird to contact the Falcon Batchelor Bird of Prey Center at 305-434-9575. The summer months are considered baby season, so many people are finding young birds on the ground. If the bird is obviously injured, you can bring them to us and we’ll assess the situation. If you find a baby bird that is featherless or slightly feathered, you can place them back to their nest. If the parents are hanging around but no nest is present, you can hang a makeshift nest like a basket or container lined with natural debris with the baby inside. The parents will continue to care for the baby. A lot of people find baby birds with feathers hopping around on the ground. This is a normal stage in their growing process called fledging in which they are too big for the nest but are still unable to fly. Think of it as the awkward teenager days! The parents stay close by and continue to feed the baby outside of the nest. If people find a bird in this life stage, we encourage them not to interfere and just keep a close eye out for any possible threats until the fledgling can fly away