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Top Designs 2012

by Lauren
Publish date
13 June 2012
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Lauren coordinates the Top Designs program at Melbourne Museum.

As Top Designs 2012 enters its final weeks at Melbourne Museum, I'd like to share some of the highlights of this year's exhibition and programs. We say it every single year, but if it's possible, it really did seem like the best Top Designs yet. I was so impressed by everything on display, it is astonishing to think that teenage designers created these beautiful pieces while balancing the many pressures of VCE.

Woman in red cape Red Riding Hood inspired garment designed and constructed by Stephanie Wake.
Source: VCAA

I love Stephanie Wake's hand-felted Red Riding Hood cape (so stylish it made the front cover of mX), George Meek's copper, steel and resin chess pieces are beautifully crafted, and Kyle Hui's architectural model and Berlin stamp set are absolutely stunning.

chess set by George Meek George Meek’s Architecture Themed Chess Set, created for Design and Technology.
Source: VCAA

architectural model by Kyle Hui Kyle Hui’s architectural model for Visual Communication and Design Unit 4
Source: VCAA

As always, the exhibition was accompanied by an education program for secondary students currently or soon to be studying VCE design. The thousands of Victorian students who attended the forums received advice and information about their studies, as well as inspiring presentations by innovative Melbourne designers sharing their experiences of professional practice. I loved sitting in and listening to the presentations – it was fascinating to hear how engineers tested the foundations of the proposed Nakheel Tower in Dubai, how a film director worked with the Aboriginal community of Fitzroy Crossing to make a beautiful film that screened in festivals from New York to Prague, or how you design and apply a 70 metre long sticker to the side of a Boeing 747! Now that the education program is all wrapped up for 2012, we will continue to share tips, insights and information with our Top Designs community via our Facebook fanpage.

Filmmaker Dominic Allen behind the camera Filmmaker Dominic Allen spoke to Media – Film students in our education forums.
Source: Clint Peloso

This year I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to make a short film about Top Designs with Robert Zugaro, an RMIT film student interning with the museum. It was so inspiring and entertaining to interview students selected for Top Designs 2012, who really are such clever, creative and charming young people. I also spoke with a couple of superstar Top Designs alumni, Chris Murphy and Genevieve Kulesza, about their experiences in the design industry beyond VCE. Robert has done a wonderful job creating the film, and I'm very excited to think of all the aspiring Top Designers who will watch it and start working towards work to submit for Top Designs 2013.


Watch this video with a transcript

The biggest whale

by Nicole K
Publish date
8 June 2012
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Your Question: Is the Whale Shark the biggest whale in the sea?

Whale Sharks are certainly big. The largest recorded was over 12 metres long!

A Whale Shark <i>Rhincodon typus</i> A Whale Shark Rhincodon typus
Image: Shiyam ElkCloner
Source: Shiyam ElkCloner, Wikimedia Commons

But Whale Sharks are not whales; they're sharks – the largest shark in the sea. Twelve-metre sharks might sound terrifying, but Whale Sharks are filter feeders. They eat plankton.

  A Whale Shark in the waters off Tofo Beach, Mozambique. A Whale Shark in the waters off Tofo Beach, Mozambique
Image: Jon Hanson
Source: Jon Hanson, Wikimedia Commons

The Whale Shark is not, however, the largest shark that ever lived. That was Carcharocles megalodon, popularly known as the Megalodon. Fossils indicate that this species grew to 16 metres long. Unlike the gentle Whale Shark, Megalodon was the stuff of nightmares. A formidable hunter, Megalodon had the largest teeth of any shark, immensely powerful jaws and enormous speed. Thankfully, Megalodon lived 28 to 1.5 million years ago.

The now extinct <i>Carcharodon megalodon</i> had the biggest teeth of any known shark species. Palaeontologists have found fossil Megalodon teeth that are 18cm long! The now extinct Carcharodon megalodon had the biggest teeth of any known shark species. Palaeontologists have found fossil Megalodon teeth that are 18cm long!
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

The largest whale in the sea is the Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus. They are truly enormous. There is a complete skeleton of a Blue Whale on display at the Melbourne Museum. It's a whopping 17.2 metres long, but that's actually not that big in Blue Whale terms.

The Pygmy Blue Whale on display at the Melbourne Museum (<i>Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda</i>) The Pygmy Blue Whale on display at the Melbourne Museum (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda)
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

Melbourne Museum's Blue Whale is a Pygmy Blue Whale (the smallest of the three subspecies of Blue Whale) and it's not fully grown. It's only about half the length of the longest Blue Whale on record, which measured 33.58 metres! That is about as long as a Boeing 737 jet aeroplane. This not only makes Blue Whales the largest whales in the sea; it makes them the largest animal that ever lived!

The comparative sizes of a Blue Whale, a human and a Hector's Dolphin, the smallest cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoises) The comparative sizes of a Blue Whale, a human and a Hector's Dolphin, the smallest cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoises)
Image: T. Bjornstad
Source: T. Bjornstad, Wikimedia Commons

Sharks and whales are very different creatures. Sharks are fish; most are ectothermic ("cold-blooded") and breathe underwater through gills. Whales are mammals; they are endothermic ("warm-blooded"), breathe air and feed milk to their young. Blue Whales, like (almost) all mammals, give birth to live young – the biggest babies in the world. A newborn Blue Whale is as big as an elephant!


MV Blog: Whale vs Shark

Megalodon: Fossil Shark Tooth

InfoSheet: Shark Teeth

InfoSheet: Blue Whale

Treasures: Blue Whale

A species by any other name...

by Kate C
Publish date
8 June 2012
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Strict rules govern the naming of animal species. You can't just discover a new ant or dinosaur and name it whatever you like; the name must be unique to that critter. Knowledge of Latin is handy too, since many names describe some feature of the animal in this ancient language, and all of them must adhere to its grammar. Proper identification and naming of species are important so that we all know we're talking about the same thing, and species names also describe the evolutionary relationships between different animals.

Despite the stringent rules, or perhaps because of them, scientists can be cheeky when they're choosing names for new species. You may have heard about the horsefly named after Beyonce because of its golden bottom, or the fungus Spongiforma squarepantsii named after a well-known cartoon sea sponge. I asked the staff of MV's Sciences Department for their favourite examples of the genre.

The palaeontologists kicked things off – in fact inspired this post – with Tom Rich's tale of Kryoryctes cadburyi, an ancient echidna named in honour of a chocolate reward promised to whoever found a mammal bone at the Dinosaur Cove dig. The extinct Cambrian mollusc, Yochelcionella daleki, suggested by David Holloway, was clearly named by a sci-fi fan, but Erich Fitzgerald volunteered an extant species. He suggested the Fossa, a Madagascan civet-like carnivore with a rather convoluted arrangement in its nether regions. Its genus, Cryptoprocta, is named for the pouch that not only conceals its anus but secretes a foul-smelling fluid; perhaps this is the inspiration for its species name, ferox, or 'ferocious'.

Fossa specimen Mounted specimen of a Fossa, Cryptoprocta ferox, on display at Melbourne Museum.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

Marine biologists are repeat offenders, it seems: Gary Poore named two new squat lobsters Uroptychus cyrano and U. pinocchio for their long noses, while Mark Norman and Julian Finn were clearly dazzled by the Indonesian octopus Wunderpus photogenicus when they named it. Robin Wilson suggested the short-lived but glorious former name of a particular clam. He says that Eames and Wilkins saw fit to name it Abra cadabra but "some subsequent taxonomist has spoiled the fun by moving it into another genus, and it is now known as Theora cadabra." The magic is gone, but it seems the taxonomy battles are not over yet: others call this species Theora mesopotamica.

For more fun with puns and facetious species, see the comprehensive collection of Which is your favourite? 


Infosheet: Blandowski's bad name

Podcast Episode 28: Be My Guest in Mesopotamia

by Dr Andi
Publish date
5 June 2012
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To gatecrash the opening of The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia exhibition at Melbourne Museum, we disguised ourselves as archaeologists and dug our way into the museum, like a reverse jailbreak.We interviewed the passionate archaeologist and curator Sarah Collins from the British Museum who was part the team that created this superb travelling exhibition. We also hitched a ride on a VIP tour with Patrick Greene, CEO of Museum Victoria.

Ancient civilisations are fascinating, and the Mesopotamian, Assyrian and Babylonian civilisations is where it all began when it comes to bureaucracy, law, government, Zodiac sign readings, writing lists, 60 seconds in the minute and what I might call a mild obsession with lions.

Bronze lion weight Bronze lion weight. One of a set made for King Shalmaneser V (726-722 BC). Inscribed on it is ‘Five mina of the king’ in both Assyrian cuneiform and Aramaic.
Source: The Trustees of The British Museum

Inside the exhibition I saw evidence of people tapping away on clay tablets; outside the exhibition I saw evidence of people tapping away on their digital tablets. So nothing has really changed in thousands of years.

Please enjoy listening to us babble on about the ancient wonders of Mesopotamia.


Podcast credits

Interviewees and voices:

  • Sarah Collins, British Museum
  • Patrick Greene, CEO Museum Victoria
  • A visitor at the exhibition opening
  • And a cast of ancient lions 

Interviews and production by:

  • Dr Andi Horvath – Senior curator, Museum Victoria
  • Arch Cuthbertson – Podcast Recording Services

Visit the Podcast Adventures page to listen to the archive, or subscribe to Access All Areas in iTunes.

Partial lunar eclipse

by Tanya
Publish date
2 June 2012
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Tonight the Moon, Earth and Sun will fall into line to create a partial lunar eclipse. Between the hours of 8pm and 10pm, a small section near the top of the Moon will plunge into the Earth's shadow.

This event has been somewhat overshadowed (ha! ha!) by the Transit of Venus that occurs on Wednesday. But I must say, that I have a particular love of lunar eclipses. I think it's because they happen at night - so not only do you get to see the eclipse, but you can also check out the starry night sky.

9pm, 4 June 2012 The eclipsed Moon will be found below the constellation of Scorpius, at 9pm on 4 June (created using the Starry Night software).
Source: Museum Victoria

This eclipse will occur in the eastern sky, with the Moon just beneath the constellation of Scorpius - one of the constellations that really is true to its name. Looking at the curving line of stars, it is easy to picture a Scorpion up there in the sky. And if you are away from city lights, then you'll see the brightest part of the Milky Way, which lies towards the Scorpion's tail.

The other great thing about lunar eclipses is that you don't need any special equipment at all to view them. Just a clear night sky and the willingness to spend some time outdoors, marveling that we are part of a much larger Universe.

Lunar Eclipse Sequence Progression from a partial to total lunar eclipse, Pennsylvania, December 2010.
Image: Anthony Skorochod
Source: Wiki Commons

Bug of the Month - the earthworm

by Tim Blackburn
Publish date
1 June 2012
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June's Bug of the Month is certainly not a bug, but the integral role that the earthworm plays in many terrestrial ecosystems is why I've selected it this month. The famously influential Charles Darwin studied earthworms at great length. His 1881 book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, With Observations on Their Habits, sold more copies than On the Origin of Species. Darwin commented, " may be doubted if there are any other animals which have played such an important part in the history of the world as these lowly organized creatures."

Earthworms belong to the phylum Annelida which incorporates all the segmented worms, including the marine worms and the leeches. More than 3,000 species of earthworm, ranging in length from one centimetre to two metres, are found right across the planet in a diversity of habitats – including Melbourne Museum's gardens.

Earthworm An earthworm, showing its long segmented body.
Image: Tim Blackburn
Source: Museum Victoria

Earthworms inhabit moist, rich soils and emerge at night to feed on decomposing organic matter. They possess bristle-like hairs called setae which form a ring around most body segments. The setae help the worm to sense its environment and to grip the soil as the earthworm moves around. They do not have a skeleton, per se, but possess a fluid-filled body cavity (a coelom) against which their muscles contract. A swollen band towards their anterior (front) end, called a clitellum, secretes an egg-filled cocoon soon after mating.

Earthworm The bulge visible toward the anterior end of this earthworm is the result of the peristaltic (wave-like) contraction of its muscles against its hydrostatic skeleton. The swollen, orange band around the body is the clitellum.
Image: Tim Blackburn
Source: Museum Victoria

earthworm clitellum A close-up of the earthworm's clitellum
Image: Tim Blackburn
Source: Museum Victoria

Earthworms play an important role in stabilising soil structure and maintaining soil fertility. They are instrumental in the decomposition of organic matter and the associated replenishment of soil nutrients. Charles Darwin estimated that earthworms add a 5mm layer of nutrient-rich soil to English pastures each year.

Earthworms have a lower optimal body temperature than most invertebrates and prefer damp soils, since they must keep their cuticle moist to be able to respire through it. Earthworm activity will be high in Melbourne during June as temperatures plummet and evaporation decreases. I found a dense population of earthworms while digging up one of the garden beds in the Milarri Garden this week. The worms seem to be breaking down much of the leaf litter that accumulated during autumn, thereby returning nutrients to the soil.

Trees in autumn The current view of Carlton Gardens, looking out from the Millari Garden. Earthworms and soil microorganisms will break down the autumn leaves within a matter of months.
Image: Tim Blackburn
Source: Museum Victoria

The benefits that earthworms provide for soil are due to their burrowing habits and their methods of feeding, digestion and excretion. They swallow much of the soil and organic matter they encounter and deposit it as nutrient-rich faecal casts. The waste products and mucus secretions of the worms provide nutrients for many microorganisms, which improve soil fertility through further decomposition. Earthworms' burrowing actions also aerate and drain the soil, preventing it from becoming compacted and waterlogged.

These animals are essential components of both natural and human-dominated ecologies, and they've also influenced human history. For example, the migration and settlements of early humans were limited by the productivity and fertility of soils. The role that earthworms have played in the burial of ancient buildings over millennia was studied at length by Charles Darwin, a phenomenon which illustrates just how closely human societies are intertwined with earthworms. The world's diverse ecologies, agricultural systems and expansive cities owe much to the largely unnoticed action of earthworms below ground.


Infosheet: Giant Gippsland Earthworm

Via Darwin Online: The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, With Observations on Their Habits

About this blog

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