Scienceworks

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Scienceworks

Scienceworks makes science an adventure. Located in Spotswood (7km from the Melbourne CBD), you can discover everyday science through interactive exhibits, programs and shows at this award-winning, interactive museum. 

National Science Week - Meet the Scientists

Author
by Priscilla
Publish date
30 July 2014
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Priscilla is a Program Coordinator for Life Sciences and works on education programs at Melbourne Museum.

In National Science Week this year, we're running a special program called Meet the Scientists just for students in Years 9 and 10.

If you're a teacher, you can book your Year 9 or 10 classes in to chat with our researchers about their day jobs. And if you're not, here's a taste of what the students will get: interviews with scientists who work on our natural history collections.

Meet Mel Mackenzie, Collection Manager of Marine Invertebrates

From scallops to squids, crabs to octopuses, Mel’s day job sounds more like she works in a restaurant than a museum. That is until she gets into the nudibranchs, echinoderms, flatworms, sponges, isopods and jellyfishes – just to name a few. Meet Mel Mackenzie.

Mel looking down microscope Mel Mackenzie, Collection Manager of Marine Invertebrates, on an Antarctic research trip.
Image: Pete Lens (BAS)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

How did you get into being a Collection Manager?

I started working at the museum as a volunteer docent in 1994, educating public visitors in various marine exhibitions while studying Zoology at Melbourne University. From there I moved down to the dungeons of the previous location of the museum on Russell Street as a volunteer research assistant to Dr. C.C. Lu, busily counting squid suckers and tentacles to assist in descriptions of new species. I went on to work as a Relocations Officer during the Museum move from Russell Street, then as an assistant collection manager in Invertebrate Zoology at various temporary locations before finally settling at Melbourne Museum.

After a ten-year stint away (in Learning, Development, Training and Publishing both here and in Japan) I’ve now been back working in the collections at Melbourne Museum since 2010.

Which collections do you look after?

The Marine Invertebrate Collection, though we do also have some freshwater invertebrates (like crayfish) and also some land snails and slugs. The collection is a specimen 'library' of everything from tiny tanaids (a type of crustacean) to giant squids. We keep the collection organised, viable and accessible for ongoing morphological, genetic, and environmental research. 

Have you got a favourite marine invertebrate?

Holothurians; more commonly known as Sea Cucumbers. Apart from my usual collection management responsibilities, I get to work closely with other scientists on this group of animals and contribute through fieldwork, lab work, research and photography to a variety of scientific projects and publications. I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled to Poland, the Falklands and even the Weddell Sea in Antarctica to collect and identify these curious critters.

 

Meet Dr Erich Fitzgerald, Senior Curator of Palaeontology

When you’re studying the past, life came in many more forms than just the dinosaurs. Palaeontologists study fossil birds, plants, snakes, insects, or even pollen, which all help us to build up a picture of the past. Meet Dr Erich Fitzgerald.

Erich with whale skull Dr Erich Fitzgerald, with the fossil skull of the early whale Janjucetus hunderi.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

What area of palaeontology do you specialise in?

I investigate the evolutionary history of aquatic vertebrates, especially marine mammals such as whales, seals and sea cows. This research involves exploring the fossil record as well as investigating aquatic adaptations of living species. I seek to document the diversity, evolutionary relationships and palaeobiology of marine vertebrates through time and uncover the drivers of their evolution and extinction.

How did you get your job?

I studied earth science and zoology as part of a Bachelors of Science at Melbourne University, and then studied fossil whales for my PhD at Monash University. I was then a Smithsonian Institution Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, and more recently was the Harold Mitchell Fellow at Museum Victoria (2009–2012) before getting my job as the Senior Curator.

What are you researching now?

My major ongoing program of research involves the documentation and analysis of the little-studied fossil record of marine mammals in Australia, exploring how and when the remarkable biological adaptations of today’s whales, dolphins and seals evolved. I am interested in the questions opened up by looking at extinct and living marine mammals as a continuum: to understand the present we must grasp the past. That’s what Wallace and Darwin showed us: life only makes sense in light of its evolution.

Links:

Meet the Scientists program

National Science Week

Meet the Rescuers!

Author
by Murray
Publish date
23 July 2014
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Murray is a Programs Officer at Scienceworks.

Rescue: Live kicked off at Scienceworks on Saturday 12 July with the arrival of the High Angle Rescue Team of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. More than 400 Scienceworks visitors braved the cold to witness the daring and skills of the MFB as they demonstrated how they can save people trapped on skyscrapers and cliff-faces with their special equipment, ropes and rigging.

Rescue Live Visitors to Scienceworks look on eagerly as the MFB High Angle Rescue Team specialists prepare for their demonstration.
Source: MFB

Rescue Live Meet the mannequin! Excited children speak with an MFB specialist about a mannequin dummy used in a mock rescue
Source: MFB

Rescue Live A crowd gathers to inspect how the MFB specialists can save people trapped on skyscrapers and cliff-faces with their special equipment, ropes and rigging.
Source: MFB

Rescue Live MFB specialists use their equipment to demonstrate to a gasping crowd how they can save people in trapped in precarious situations.
Source: MFB
 

The Rescue: Live program gives our visitors the chance to interact with members from several emergency response teams and see how they help keep Australians safe. The program also gives the organisations the opportunity to raise awareness of their services to the community, and is an action-packed accompaniment to our Rescue exhibition. On selected weekends until 14 September, come see safety specialists show their stuff in the arena, the amphitheatre or inside the Scienceworks building.

Rescue: Live program

Two eclipses for April

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
11 April 2014
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Not one, but two eclipses will occur this month and both are partially visible from Melbourne.

Just before sunset on the 15th April, the Moon will rise already totally eclipsed. It should look quite eerie to see a red moon rising above the eastern horizon and it's always amazing how bright the Moon appears as it moves out of the Earth's shadow and returns to its usual splendour. While you are watching the eclipse, be sure to take a look at Mars, which will be just to the left of the Moon and the bright star Spica (in the constellation of Virgo) that will be found just above.

Lunar Eclipse The progression of a total lunar eclipse in August 2007.
Image: Phil Hart
Source: http://www.philhart.com/
 

Two weeks later on the 29th April, the Moon and Sun will come together in the sky and we'll see a partial solar eclipse. The eclipse will begin during the afternoon and reach its maximum point just before sunset. At the height of the eclipse 64% of the Sun's diameter will be covered by the Moon. The Sun will still be partially eclipsed as it sets below the western horizon.

Solar Eclipse The Moon takes a bite out of the Sun.
Image: Phil Hart
Source: http://www.philhart.com/
 

The timings for both the lunar and solar eclipse can be found from the Planetarium's monthly newsletter – Skynotes – which is a great guide for finding your way around the night sky.

Importantly, lunar eclipses are lovely to watch and you don't need any special equipment. Solar eclipses, on the other hand, require a bit of care and planning. Never look directly at the Sun.

There are safe ways to watch a solar eclipse and the easiest is to purchase special eclipse glasses. They are available from the Scienceworks shop and will allow you to watch the event, while protecting your eyesight.

You can also create a simple "pinhole" projection. It's as easy as making a small pinhole in a piece of paper or cardboard. Do not look through the hole, but allow the Sun to shine through and project an image onto a second piece of cardboard. Even a blank wall or a clear patch of ground can make a good surface for projection.

And as I've mentioned previously on the Museum's blog, sometimes nature helps out too. If you can see sunlight travelling through the leaves of a tree, you’ve got yourself some ready-made pinhole projections. Check the ground and it might be covered with little crescent Sun images, just like this great example from the Astronomy magazine website.

From LaserDisc to high-res Hasselblad

Author
by John Broomfield
Publish date
4 April 2014
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John manages the museum's Media Production and Copyright Department.

Recently a group of aero engines, usually stored high in the storage racks at Scienceworks, was lowered to allow visitors a closer look. This allowed me to photograph them for Collections Online and revisit a job I did at the museum some 20 years ago.

aero engine, side view New photograph of an Austro-Daimler Beardmore aero engine, circa 1914. The design was used by combatant nations on opposing sides during the First World War. (ST 17925).
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The first time I photographed the aero engines, I was an Image Capture Officer and Museum Victoria was one of the first institutions to link electronic images of collection objects to a database. I say electronic because these images were analogue, not digital. This period represented the transition between traditional silver-based photography and digital photography as we know it today.

Back then, we captured the objects using a video camera (Super VHS), then transferred video stills onto a WORM (Write Once Read Many) drive LaserDisc. These discs were then sent to the USA to be pressed into LaserDiscs that could be played in domestic machines. The players were attached to computers and search results displayed collection images on a separate monitor.

Although this technique was cutting edge at the time, the starting resolution was only 560x480 pixels, or in today’s terms 0.27 megapixel (a new iPhone has an 8 megapixel camera). Analogue signals suffer deterioration or generational loss each time they are migrated to a new format and our involved multiple transfers – from videotape, to WORM drive and then onto LaserDisc. You can see why some of our legacy images are not quite to the standard we expect today.

grainy photo of aero engine Old LaserDisc image of a Benz IVa circa 1918 230 horsepower aero engine. (ST 034859).
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Fast forward to 2014: digital photography has evolved to the point where, at the high end, the resolution surpasses what was possible with film-based photography. The equipment I used this time was a Hasselblad H5D, capable of 50 megapixel resolution, which is almost 200 times the resolution of the video/laserdisc system employed first time around.

aero engine, side view 2014 photograph of the same Benz 230 horsepower aero engine. (ST 034859).
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Detail of an aero engine Zoom in on the Austro-Daimler Beardmore aero engine photograph. The high resolution captures tiny details like individual stamps on the cylinders. (ST 17925).
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Photographing the aero engines presented some interesting lighting challenges. There wasn’t a lot of room to place stands for studio lighting or maneuver the heavy engines with a pallet jack. A large skylight overhead meant I would be struggling to control the natural light coming in from above.

inside collection store The photo setup showing the aero engine on a pallet, the skylight, and the foam reflectors.
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The solution was to adopt the skylight as my main light source and use a series of lightweight foam reflectors to bounce the light back onto the engines. I found something appealing in adopting 18th century studio lighting methods in conjunction with modern digital camera equipment. That must be the museum worker in the photographer coming through…

Rings around an asteroid

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
31 March 2014
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In a surprise discovery, two rings have been found around the asteroid Chariklo, making it the first small Solar System body known to have rings.

Saturn is known for its magnificent rings and the other gas giants - Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune - have ring systems too, though not quite as impressive. Careful searches had not found any other ring systems within the Solar System and many astronomers were beginning to think that rings might only exist around large objects, until now.

Rings from Chariklo An artist's impression of the newly discovered rings around Chariklo.
Source: ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)
 

Chariklo is just 250km across and lies beyond Saturn, at a billion kilometres away. It is much too small and far away for the rings themselves to be seen, but amazing detail is now known about them. The rings are dense but narrow, just three and seven kilometres wide, and are separated by a clear gap of nine kilometres. If you were standing on the surface of Chariklo, the rings would appear as wide as our Full Moon and stretch from horizon to horizon.

The discovery was made possible because last June, Chariklo passed in front of an obscure star (UCAC4 248-108672). Not only did Chariklo block the star's light for 5 seconds, but two tiny dips in the starlight were seen, just before and after Chariklo moved by. This video from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) shows faint dimming caused by the rings, just before and after Chariklo blocks the star completely.

 

This event, known as an occultation, could only be seen from South America and an observing campaign was coordinated across seven observatories, including two telescopes operated by the ESO at La Silla, Chile. Having observations from all seven observatories, ruled out other possible explanations, except for a ring system.

What I really love is the data from the new high-resolution camera on ESO's 1.54m Danish telescope. (Anyone who has been to my Discover the Night Sky series knows that I am particularly fond of beautiful graphs!) This new camera was developed to search for exoplanets and can take up to 40 images per second. It was actually able to see the gap between the two rings – now that's beautiful science!

Chariklo Data The data captured by ESO's 1.54m Danish telescope, showing Chariklo blocking out the light of the star (the main dip). On either side are two small, double dips, as the rings also passed in front of the star.
Image: F. Braga-Ribas et al.
Source: Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature (March, 2014)
 

The Planetarium's astronomer, Dr Tanya Hill, was recently appointed the Australian representative of the European Southern Observatory's Science Outreach Network.

Links:

Great Melbourne Telescope volunteers

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
13 March 2014
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Each Wednesday, a dozen or so engineering and astronomy buffs head to a museum workshop to restore one of Marvellous Melbourne's grandest marvels. The Great Melbourne Telescope (GMT), scorched by the Mount Stromlo fires in 2003, is being resurrected thanks to an estimated 10,000 hours of volunteer work (so far). This group recently received a Certificate of Appreciation in the 2013 Arts Portfolio Leadership Awards.

GMT restoration team Mathew Churchward reading out the Arts Portfolio Award commendation to the Wednesday restoration workshop team.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The workdays have "a bit of a men's shed feel about them," says Senior Curator Matthew Churchward. He coordinates the project alongside Curator of Engineering Matilda Vaughan. The combined knowledge in the room – all members of the Astronomical Society of Victoria, many with experience in engineering, electronics, astronomy and optics – means this piece of 19th-century technology is in expert hands.

Three men with computer L-R: Barry Cleland, John Cavedon, new volunteer Norm and Stephen Bentley working on technical drawings of GMT parts.
Source: Museum Victoria

Building telescopes is a common pastime for amateur astronomers; volunteer Barry Adcock has a home-built a 14-inch diameter telescope for his backyard dome observatory, plus another telescope that allows him to view the stars from inside his house. For many, stargazing is a habit they picked up when very young. Scottish-born Jim Pollock recalls a lunar eclipse in 1949 during which the moon was bright blue after forest fires in Canada. "In the atmosphere, tiny particles of pinene, the oil from the pine trees, scattered red light beautifully and just let the blue light through." Another volunteer, Barry Clelland, remembers looking up as a kid from his backyard in the suburbs and thinking, "that's half the universe there. You could see the Milky Way in Heidelberg back then."

On this day, a sub-group is working on the mirror polishing and grinding machine, a beautiful hulking contraption with a cast iron frame and gears and shafts. The GMT's half-ton speculum metal mirrors tarnished over time, so every few years they were removed and reconditioned with this machine. "We're still trying to work out exactly how it was driven," says Matthew. The mirror sits on a rotating table and as it moves, the polishing head also rotates, "so it doesn't get a flat spot in any part of the mirror. It keeps moving as it's rubbing." Or, like "patting your head and rubbing your tummy," jokes volunteer David Linke. The team hopes to have the polishing machine working within the next year as a hint of what's to come with the telescope itself.

David Linke with the mirror polishing machine. David Linke with the mirror polishing machine.
Source: Musuem Victoria
 

In the workshop, parts of GMT are laid out on pallets and benches. With a grin, David says, "it's a big jigsaw puzzle, isn't it?" Above it all, for equal parts reference and reverence, hangs a large-scale historical picture of the GMT in operation.

Museum workshop A view of the workshop with the GMT’s lattice tube in the foreground. On the back wall hangs the large historical photograph of the GMT at the Melbourne Observatory.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Most of the large parts of the GMT were recovered after the 2003 Mt Stromlo fires. "Oh golly, it was a dirty job to get everything out of that cube," recounts David. "The aluminium had melted from the dome and filled up the screw holes so you couldn't see where things were undone." Many months of work saw the GMT dismantled and its surviving parts audited. Fortunately, the GMT had an unofficial champion in Barry Clark, who has been involved with the Melbourne Observatory since 1955. At that time, decommissioned equipment went into storage and was at risk of being lost. Says Matthew, "Barry's been instrumental in recovering bits and pieces that were hidden under the floor. He's discovered some key bits of equipment that went right back to the very earliest observatory at Williamstown."

Detail of the dismantled cube of the GMT. Detail of the dismantled cube of the GMT.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Lengthy reverse-engineering is recreating the missing parts. "We go out there with a ruler and pencil and paper, take measurements and sketch it up roughly," says Campbell Johns. The measurements are made in imperial units to match Irish manufacturer Thomas Grubb's original specifications, before conversion to metric for fabrication. Some of the team with technical drawing expertise convert the workshop sketches into digital CAD files. There's a lot of cross-checking with old photographs, drawings and the extant parts.

"We don't even know if there was ever a full set of working drawings," says Matthew. "It appears they did the basic layout and started building it before they had the detailed design. You can see evidence in the way parts were modified during the construction process, like spots flattened out of a casting to make a seat for another component." A volunteer adds, "Pretty amazing given in those days there were no angle grinders or power drills or oxy welders. It was all done with cold chisels."

Three men with computers L-R: Barry Clark, Barry Adcock and Mal Poulton working on optics design specifications for the GMT.
Source: Museum Victoria

So why are these men devoting their spare time to this project? It's evident from the way they talk about the GMT that they admire its history and innovation. In addition to its astronomical achievements, including the first observations of southern nebulae, the ingenious nature of its design bewitches them. It had two axes and counterweights that allowed just one person to move the beautifully balanced telescope. In its lifetime there were larger scopes, but none so nimble. Matthew's view is that it's an opportunity of a lifetime for amateur enthusiasts to build such a large telescope; few individuals would have the resources to do so alone. Other volunteers nominate restoring an important part of Melbourne's history as their prime incentive – they want to see it back in its old home.

Indeed, the end goal is to return the working telescope to the Melbourne Observatory for public viewings. Its original configuration restored, there may be new electronic additions to allow digital photography or remote operation via the web. As Matthew says "It could be very inspiring for astronomy in Victoria."

Links:

The Great Melbourne Telescope website contains the story of the telescope, and updates about its restoration through the ASV's Phoenix newsletter

Follow the GMT project on twitter: @GMT21stC

Great Melbourne Telescope on Collections Online

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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