Are these the Droids™ you’re looking for?

by Damon Lowe, Chief Curator of Science & Technology and Curator of Biology

robot_RobotAreaIntroR2_D2_SmallTo many people, the term “droid” conjures up one of two images: a sleek new smart phone, or a somewhat annoying, but equally endearing protocol robot that is “fluent in over six million forms of communication.” It is the second one that is the most fascinating because the reality of these types of robots isn’t as far away as we might think. Sure, we don’t have C-3PO or other “droids” acting as ambassadors and diplomats like they do in the Star Wars® movies, but we are moving much closer to that reality.

The Star Wars saga shows droids performing many different tasks, from repairing Luke’s injured hand, to fixing vehicles and even fighting battles. It may not come as a surprise that contemporary robots can do most of these things too, but the level of sophistication they are achieving makes them seem like they would be right at home in the Star Wars universe. There are many different types of robots in the real world, and they don’t all fit the definition of droid, which is “a mobile robot usually with a human form.” Human-controlled surgical robots have been around for a couple of decades, but these are merely extensions of the surgeon’s arms, just like the welding robots used for industry are replacements for part of a human’s functionality, not the entire being.

robot_RobotAreaIntroC_3POPuppetUpClose_SmallIt really gets interesting with the newest advances, where the droids start looking like they stepped right out of the Star Wars universe. One of these robots, Honda’s ASIMO, is humanoid in appearance and movement, and even has some form of artificial intelligence that allows it to assist people who lack full mobility. ASIMO can run, open screw top containers, pour juice, recognize people and even stand on one leg! Another human-like robot is Boston Dynamics PETMAN, which is being developed to test chemical protection suits for the military. Like the Star Wars droids, these real world robots don’t have unlimited power supplies, and they need wires or battery packs that require frequent recharging. While technology hasn’t quite caught up to the Star Wars universe, we aren’t light years away either. Visit the Indiana State Museum to check out the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination and learn about droids and other out-of-this-world technologies!

Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, presented by Bose Corporation®, was developed by the Museum of Science, Boston, and Lucasfilm Ltd. Star Wars objects in this exhibition are on loan from the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum.
TM & ©2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved. Used under authorization.
This material is based upon work supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0307875.

Local Sponsor: McDonalds of Central Indiana
With additional local support from WISH-TV8 and Hamilton Exhibits

Luke Skywalker’s robotic hand

by Damon Lowe, Chief Curator of Science & Technology and Curator of Biology

I remember watching Star Wars®: The Empire Strikes Back as a young boy and being totally devastated when my hero, Luke Skywalker, lost his hand to the evil Darth Vader. That sadness was quickly replaced with a sense of awe as I watched two medical droids fix him up with a brand new hand! Wow, to be able to suffer a devastating injury like that, and then to have a fully functional replacement would be the ultimate in technological advancement. I was quickly disappointed again when my older, more knowledgeable brother explained that, while Luke could get a new hand, in the real world it was impossible. The technology didn’t exist yet.

prosthetic_SWMedicalUpClose_SmallFast forward 30 years and, while we aren’t quite capable of affixing a fully functional hand that can feel and do everything the original hand did, we can come pretty close. Take for instance the new i-limb ultra prosthetic hand. This amazing piece of technology is made from aluminum, contains a rechargeable battery, and has a rotating thumb and individually powered fingers — each with their own tiny motors and powerful microprocessors to make it all work together. This allows for a surprising amount of dexterity in an artificial hand. The i-limb ultra allows its users to perform tasks such as tying a shoelace and using a computer mouse. It even has senses when things are slipping and automatically tightens its grip!

Another cool thing about the i-limb ultra is how users interface with it. The i-limb is myoelectric, meaning that is uses small electric signals generated by the muscles in the remaining arm to control the hand. These signals are detected by electrodes placed on the arm and the signal is transmitted to the tiny computer in the i-limb, which then controls the movement of the hand. If this isn’t high tech enough, the i-limb can also be controlled by your iPhone! It connects via Bluetooth and the user can choose from 24 pre-programmed grips or gestures, but light saber grip isn’t one of them … yet. So, while we aren’t quite able to have droids replace hands when an evil Sith Lord chops them off, we are getting much closer. Come to the Indiana State Museum to see Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, May 25 through Sept. 2, and see what other science fiction technologies have become real!

Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, presented by Bose Corporation®, was developed by the Museum of Science, Boston, and Lucasfilm Ltd. Star Wars objects in this exhibition are on loan from the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum.
TM & ©2013 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved. Used under authorization.
This material is based upon work supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0307875.

Local Sponsor: McDonalds of Central Indiana
With additional local support from WISH-TV8 and Hamilton Exhibits

Dialogue Blog: Camp Favorites

by Katy Creagh, School Programs Developer, and Eric Todd, Gallery Programming Manager

041113_katy_ericKATY: Eric, I am so excited! My job has changed and I am now the Indiana State Museum Summer Camp Director. Now, I know you have a special place in your heart for Summer Camps, so I thought it might be fun to discuss our Top 5 favorite things about camp.

ERIC: If there are two things I love, they are camp and lists. So sure, I’ll play along. 

KATY: Great, I’ll go first.  At number five, I have recess. You get to spend time outside playing games and enjoying the summer weather. It has all the perks of recess when you were in elementary school.

ERIC: You may have just stolen one of mine, but that is fine. My fifth favorite thing about summer camp is the free camp t-shirt. Every time I get one, that’s one more day before I have to do laundry.

KATY: Are you sure it’s just one more day? For number four, I went with looking for fossils. That includes microfossils in Diggin’ Indiana and Exploring Nature Camps and then sifting dirt in Paleontology II. It’s something I’ve never experienced before coming to the museum, and it’s fun to think that I’m doing the same work that REAL scientists and paleontologists do.

ERIC: That is cool, I agree. My number four is making things. You might call them crafts, but it’s really more than that. By summer’s end my desk is always filled with awesome new decorations that also serve as reminders of the fun I had.

KATY: Perfect transition, my number three is also crafty—weaving. You get to try weaving in two different camps (Indiana Artists and History Alive!) and make my favorite, “mug rugs.”

ERIC: I would normally give you a hard time about “mug rugs,” but I do have one at my desk that I use daily. My number three choice is a repeat of one of yours, but you’ll notice I placed it a bit higher on my list. Recess, lunch break and snack time. I have so much fun in those moments! I loved recess as a kid, but now I really appreciate it. And, if my boss is reading this, Susan — what are your thoughts on instituting museum recess?

KATY: I’d vote “yes” for that one. Alright, now we’re getting down to the big ones. At number two on my list, I have all things crafting. See how high it is on my list compared to yours? From the end of the week presentations to making a mosaic in Diggin’ Indiana camp … I love all the projects and crafts we get to make.  

ERIC: I am shocked that is not your number one, frankly, especially with the new Indiana Fashion Runway Camp which I imagine will let you craft around the clock. My number two is behind-the-scenes tours. As you know, even as museum employees we don’t have access to everything in the museum, but during camp, we get to go places and see things that most visitors — and staff — never see.

KATY: Nice choice. But now the big one. My number one favorite thing about summer camp at the Indiana State Museum is … the campers! Spending time with old friends and making new ones — I get to play games and learn new things about Indiana and don’t have to sit at my desk all day … I get to hang out with cool people all day which is way better.

ERIC: Great minds think alike — my number one choice is also the people. I always meet the coolest people in summer camp. From wildlife experts (with their animals) to Abraham Lincoln himself, you never know who you’ll see stopping by an Indiana State Museum camp. Oh, and the campers and counselors are pretty cool, too!

Lovina Streight: Portrait Conserved, Story Preserved

 by Meredith McGovern, Arts and Culture Collection Manager

It took a village — or so it seemed — to conserve and display Lovina Streight, an 1880 painting of an Indianapolis woman who fearlessly marched with her husband, Colonel Abel Streight, and his troops during the Civil War, nursed wounded soldiers on battlefields, and whipped a pistol from beneath her skirt to escape the Confederate enemy. After 130 years and multiple transfers from Mrs. Streight’s parlor to the Statehouse to the Indiana State Museum, the brittle canvas had torn in six places. Patches applied to hold the torn edges together bulged and puckered from misalignment; previous efforts to replace flaked paint resulted in pools on the surface. The portrait was not suitable for display.

Thanks to a grant through the Lockerbie Square Chapter of The Questers, an organization dedicated to heritage preservation, the painting was conserved in the fall of 2012 by Michael Ruzga. The patches were replaced, the pools of paint reduced, and layers of dirt removed from the canvas surface. Details that were previously undetectable now popped: the delicate diamonds glittering in Mrs. Streight’s earrings; her cameo ring; the swirling scrollwork in the rug; and the artist’s signature. The portrait was again ready to tell the story of the bold and spirited Lovina Streight.

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In a stroke of serendipity, just a couple weeks after I picked up Lovina Streight from the conservator, the tour coordinator at the Indiana Statehouse asked to borrow the portrait for programming. It took a lot of synchronization, but we were able to display it on the fourth floor of the Capitol with the help of staff from the museum’s exhibition, collections, conservation and new media departments; a driver from the Indiana Commission on Public Records who transported the painting; and a crew from the Indiana Department of Administration Facilities Management who helped hoist the 8-foot, 80-pound portrait high into the air and secure it to the wall. Many thanks to all involved, particularly The Questers for helping make this project possible! Watch this video to learn more about Lovina Streight and the conservation project.

Visit the Indiana Statehouse to see the newly-conserved portrait on display until August 2013.

Green is more than just a color

by Katelyn Coyne, Gallery Facilitation Specialist

Emerald is the Pantone 2013 Color of the Year, but Going Green has been a fashion must at the Indiana State Museum for five years now! On March 15 and 16, the Indiana State Museum hosts its fifth annual Going Green Festival and we are keeping ourselves ahead of the curve on the latest in green technology and environmental sustainability.

It’s impossible to deny that green has become a way of life in the 21st century. Consider a trip to the grocery store and you’ll see what I mean. From chemical free cleaning products to biodegradable packaging to organic food sections, going green has invaded every aspect of our lives. Even the bag-boy leers at you from the end of the check-out line if he has to ask, “Paper or plastic?” because you forgot your reusable canvas bags.

Though I forget my grocery bags as often as the next gal, I try my best to turn off lights when I leave a room. I ride my bike to work instead of driving, and I’m conscious of my water consumption when washing pots and pans Yet, I’m always looking for more ways to make my daily life even greener.

going_green_bag_ladyThat’s why I got involved with the Going Green Festival when I started working at the Indiana State Museum. I can’t wait to meet exhibitors from local, environmentally focused organizations, play green games and learn how to make green more than just a color that brings out my eyes.

So far, I’ve armed myself with a few fun factoids about how to go green. For instance, did you know that recycling a single aluminum can would run a TV for three hours? That the amount of sunlight that falls on the Earth’s surface in one minute is sufficient to meet the world energy demand for an entire year? That we could save $3 billion dollars in energy costs annually if the entire population of the United States washed their clothes with cold water instead of hot?

Helpful tidbits like this will expand your mind as you learn the best practices for living an environmentally sustainable lifestyle at Going Green Festival. You can chat with urban farmers, meet artisanal food makers, learn about watershed and the White River, discover alternative transportation options and more. Presenting sponsor Indianapolis Power and Light will be on hand to help consumers learn how to save money and energy with simple tips about energy efficiency.

On Saturday, March 16, Jim Poyser, managing editor of Indiana Living Green and NUVO, will enlighten visitors with his very special Climate Reality Project presentation. Also on Saturday, visitors can take advantage of discounted admission ($2 for up to four people) by bringing electronic recyclables including cell phones, TVs, computer monitors and more. Our partners at RecycleForce will be on hand to haul away your junk.

I’m hoping that by attending the Going Green Festival, I’ll be able to prepare myself to live a more sustainable lifestyle — that I’ll have a chance to hook into a community of people ready and willing to support my green efforts with information, resources and encouragement. Because it’s true: green is more than just a color, it’s a way of life!

Meteorite strikes northwest Indiana! Devastation complete!

by Peggy Fisherkeller, Curator of Geology

The author conducting geological arm waving at the impact site, now the Rogers Group Kentland Quarry. Photograph courtesy Nelson Shaffer.

The author conducting geological arm waving at the impact site, now the Rogers Group Kentland Quarry. Photograph courtesy Nelson Shaffer.

Okay, this is a fictional headline, because there wasn’t anyone around to write it when the impact happened, sometime between 17,000 and 300 million years ago. But with spectacular recent events in Russia, a reminder of Indiana’s very own brush with obliteration is justified.

Kentland, Indiana, is home to one of the larger meteorite craters in the United States, with the area of ground disturbance coming in at more than 7 miles in diameter. You wouldn’t know it though, without the quarry that’s there now. Like most of northern Indiana, the ground surface is covered with glacial till.

The Kentland meteorite crater is part of a great mystery story, because geologists were only convinced that it was a meteorite impact within the past 40 years. Everyone knew that something was up, though, because the rocks there just weren’t right, with layers making a huge irregular bull’s eye pattern where only flat-lying rocks were supposed to be.

A shattercone from Kentland Quarry.

A shattercone from Kentland Quarry.

What really happened has been roughly sketched out, based on evidence at the site and comparison to more obvious crater sites from around the world. A (big!) meteorite struck with such great force that the ground beneath was compressed, bouncing back hundreds of feet higher than before (though the part that was above the ground has since eroded away). Preserved in these vertical, contorted rock layers were shattercones, pointing toward the direction of impact, micro-sized shocked quartz and brecciated rock (containing angular fragments).

Some mysteries remain. How big was the meteorite? Well, big. When did it strike? We know it hit after the Pennsylvanian Period (~300 million years ago), because the crater crosses through rocks of that age. We know that it happened before the end of the last glaciation, because glacial till is deposited on top. With chemical and physical techniques, researchers have done a little better, putting the impact maybe between 97 million and 300 million years.

Polishing silver at the museum

by Gaby Kienitz, Head Conservator

In period dramas like Downton Abbey, footmen or maids get the dreadful task of polishing the silver. Culbertson Mansion doesn’t have staff hidden in the basement ready to polish the silver; instead, that work is done in the Conservation Lab at the Indiana State Museum. Here in the Conservation Lab, we don’t think of polishing silver objects as drudgery, because we don’t have to polish the same object more than once every 10 years. How do we get away with it? We have a secret ingredient.

Tarnished silver: a punishment for footmen since time began.

Tarnished silver: a punishment for footmen since time began.

Removing the layers of corrosion on silver objects is entirely done by hand with just de-ionized water, precipitated chalk and small pieces of cotton wadding. Once the corrosion layers are removed, the object is carefully rinsed and dried. All of that is pretty much in keeping with Downton-style polishing. The trick up our sleeve is to apply a lacquer coating onto the freshly polished silver. The lacquer prevents a new layer of corrosion from forming on the silver, sealing the shiny silver from things in the environment that might cause corrosion to form again. Unfortunately, the coating isn’t

With all those stubborn nooks and crannies, we’re lucky it won’t need our attention again for a decade.

With all those stubborn nooks and crannies, we’re lucky it won’t need our attention again for a decade.

strong enough to withstand normal household use; it’s meant for objects that get the “white glove” treatment at museums and historic sites. Our most recent polishing project was this lovely silver coffee urn, which took three pairs of hands and many hours to complete.

So, bring out your silver, try on your British accent, and keep regularly polishing at home. Look for the coffee urn to make its appearance at Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site.