Koshland Science Museum

Museum Monday


By Mary Jo Gibson

Today’s Museum Monday is a virtual tour of the Koshland Science Museum in Washington DC, one of many places standing in the shadows of our nation’s greatest history and art museums.  This is an interactive museum with displays that illustrate the role of science in shaping national policy and personal decisions that impact our daily lives.  Named in honor of Marian Koshland, an immunologist and molecular biologist, who conducted groundbreaking research in the behavior of antibodies; the museum developed through a gift from her husband, Daniel Koshland, a molecular biologist who specialized in the study of enzymes and bacteria.  Sponsored by the National Academy of Science, emphasizing participation of recognized scientific experts as well as detailed information available from the Academy for exhibits and development, with content vetted for scientific accuracy.

The virtual tour alone is an experience in the wonder of science from today’s headlines; public health, global warming, history of climate change, putting DNA to work with forensics or infectious diseases, carbon cycles and the causes of climate change.  A highlight for teachers is the virtual field trip.  I have not seen a teaching tool that allows students access the museum’s information, regardless of location, with curriculum geared to middle school and high school age groups, down-loadable PDFs and state of the art animated tools.

The Lights at Night Exhibit shares a highly informative video about the changes of population, use of natural resources, energy efficiency and economic activity comparing the years 1993, 1997 and 2003.  The Korean peninsula reveals quite a bit about the growth in population and economy of South Korea during this time, while North Korea remains dark, virtually unchanged during the measured time period.  The northeastern United States, California and Japan have dimmed due to cities changing to energy efficient street lighting.  Off the coast of Asia, fishing vessels are illuminated, the lights moving from year to year, reflecting variations in the ocean currents and prosperous fishing areas.

Infectious Diseases and Drinking Water
Using data from the World Health Organization and the UN Joint Monitoring Programs, you can see the world population comparisons of HIV, TB, Malaria and Cholera across the globe.  Given the tremendous evolutionary potential of microbes, making them adept at developing resistance to even the most potent drug therapies, creating effective vaccines is a complicated science.  Watch the rapid evolution starting with a single E. coli bacterium.  Under ideal conditions, a population of bacteria doubles with every generation.  Generation times can be less than 30 minutes for E. coli, which is found in the human gut, to 20 hours for the bacteria that cause tuberculosis.  Even under normal conditions many infectious bacteria, viruses and parasites can produce populations of billions or trillions within 24 hours.  This evolution challenges public health measures, immunity and therapeutic drugs, our main defenses against infectious diseases.

Don’t Drink the Water informs people of all ages that more than one in six people still lack reliable access to sanitized waters.  The project is co-sponsored by the Global Health and Education Foundation and the NAS.

Global Warming Facts features an examination of ecosystems, highlighting the shifting penguin population.  The Adelie penguin population decreased 22% during the last 25 years, while Chinstrap penguins increased 400%.  The two species depend on different habitats for survival; Adelies inhabit the winter ice pack, while Chinstraps remain in close association with the open water.  A 7-9 degree rise in temperatures on the western Antarctic Peninsula during the past 50 years and the receding sea-ice pack reflects their changing population.

Based on population estimates, only 3,000-4,500 Bengal tigers remain in the wild.  The number in Bangladesh is projected to decrease due to rise in sea levels.  For tigers and many other species that inhabit the forested wetlands of Bangladesh, migration to higher ground is not possible due to human habitation of adjacent lands.

Included with all the data on weather and climate change, the Koshland does manage to answer the question, “Do cows contribute to global warming?”

I chose to highlight the Koshland Science Museum due to the early geology work of my great uncle, J Harlan Bretz.  His early theories on the movements of glaciers in the Channeled Scablands of Washington State were considered counter to the accepted theories of the day, and he was continually challenged over his lifetime and eventually proven correct.  He also participated in an expedition to Greenland in 1933 with Louise Boyd, taking samples near the De Geer Glacier.  When I looked through his archive at the University of Chicago, I was struck by how much information it contained that could be used in the growing study of global warming.

De Geer Glacier, Author's Collection

Next Monday I will be taking a virtual tour of the Getty Museum in California, many great suggestions have come from them via Twitter, I am sure there will be plenty of art to share.  If you have any museums that you have visited and would enjoy seeing covered on Museum Monday, please feel free to let me know in the comments.
Mary Jo


1 Comment

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One response to “Koshland Science Museum

  1. Incredible find, Mary Jo! Seeing how many things the Koshland is involved in really makes me want to visit them. Your uncle Harland sounds like an interesting guy. Perhaps a piece on him in the future?

    Great post!

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