Visit the greenhouses!
I took this photo at the entrance to the Palm House at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I’m a sucker for greenhouses / botanical gardens in general in Kew is probably the coolest one I’ve ever visited. I’ve been wanting to go there ever since I was a child and it exceeded my high expectations. I spent 3 hours there and wasn’t able to see all of the greenhouses, or really much of the grounds, in that time. The palm house was probably the coolest part of Kew for me. It was cold and rainy when I went so it would have been worth it for the climate alone, but all of the rare and odd plants made it even more worth it. The cycad in the foreground of the picture is 245 years old, making it 1 year older than the USA and also the oldest living potted plant in the world. Seeing that right when I walked in was pretty awe-inspiring.
I also visited the greenhouses at the Cambridge Botanic Garden, the Chelsea Physic Garden, and Darwin’s greenhouse at Down House. All of those were also very worth seeing. They were unique in their own ways, but seeing the commonalities to all of these Victorian greenhouses also helped me imagine what botany might have been like in England in the 19th century.
No Sheep Worrying!
These sheep were watching me as I walked along Darwin’s “thinking path” at Down House. The woods there are in a very different state than they would have been in Darwin’s time, but it was still very cool and humbling to be able to retrace his steps. It was a bit “meta” to be thinking about Darwin thinking there. I’ll admit I didn’t come up with anything as brilliant as “descent with modification” on my walk.
The caption here refers to a sign near the entrance advising visitors not to “worry” sheep. There wasn’t an explanation of what that meant, and I assumed it was telling people not to harass the sheep. I Googled “sheep worrying” later and found out it was actually telling people not to let their dogs harass the sheep. Definitely a very English thing to call it.
Jar of Moles?
Why is there a jar of moles? No idea. I saw this in person at the Grant Museum of Zoology and there was no further information about this than the label in the photo. I visited the Grant and also the University Museum of Zoology at Cambridge, and would highly recommend visiting both. They contained a lot of really interesting and rare zoological specimens. A lot of mounted skeletons, stuffed birds, and very confusing jars of things in formaldehyde or alcohol. Both contained multiple specimens of the extinct thylacine, or “marsupial lion”, from Australia. It was really cool to see their bones in person, but also a bit depressing when you consider that hunting thylacines for museum collections would have played a role in their extinction. I’d still really recommend visiting both zoological museums though.
I found the podcast project pretty interesting. Both to do, and to listen to other peoples’ projects. The opportunity to interview Joseph Krzycki about his discovery about the 22nd amino acid was really great, and something that I probably wouldn’t have been able to experience without taking this class. I learned a lot from interview him with Tristan. Both about pyrrolysine and related subjects, and about interviewing and recording via editing the raw audio from that interview. Having to listen to it over and over to shorten our ~30 minutes of recorded audio down to ~13 minutes made me too aware, at least temporarily, of my verbal tics. In future interviews, I will likely be more conscious of that going into it and cut down on how much I say “oh cool”, “yeah”, etc. at points in the conversation where it’s not necessary.
I also learned quite a bit from other peoples’ presentations. For example, the OSU women’s expedition to the Antarctic was an interesting historical event I was not aware of. To be honest though, most of what my former conception of what Antarctic research and research stations are like comes from repeat watchings of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), which is probably not the most accurate depiction.
To me, Dr. Mathur’s ability to so clearly and concisely explain astrophysics concepts was almost more amazing than the subject matter itself. I’ve known generally what a black hole is and that Stephen Hawking became well known in part due to his work on them, but why there might be black holes, how they functioned, and what Stephen Hawking’s research on them was weren’t questions I had thought much of. If I had, I probably would have assumed that these things would be completely beyond my understanding before Dr. Mathur’s lecture.
Dr. Mathur suggested that a “string star” model would work better at explaining how black holes work than Hawking’s model, where density could be infinite within a black hole’s event horizon anwhere, with a small enough radius and strong enough gravity, new particles could “pop” into existence. Whether they end up being true or not, these hypotheses were pretty fascinating to me.
I found Dr. Kinghorn’s statements that roughly 2/3 of the world’s population still relies on plant medicine, and that most modern plant-derived medicines had previous ethnobotanical uses initially very surprising. When I thought it over a bit more, both of these things make quite a bit of sense. I know plenty of people who use various herbal remedies, and my family uses home remedies like ginger, chamomile, lemon juice, etc. for minor ailments. It also makes sense that the majority of plant-derived medicines were from plants with ethnobotanical uses, because these would be the most likely candidates when selecting target plants to analyze for new potential drugs.
I was also surprised by just how much foundational research in plant alkaloids as medicines occurred in France; Jussieu’s standardization of “-ine” endings for alkaloids the discoveries of caffeine, quinine and strychnine being good examples.
Taxol, an important chemotherapy drug, being derived from yew trees was also interesting to me. I’ve eaten yew berries before, which have a very unique taste, but have been very cautious in eating them because of how poisonous the rest of the plant is. That one of the alkaloids that make this plant toxic to humans would also have a medicinal use was not something I had previously considered.
I was aware of some of Pasteur’s scientific accomplishments before this lecture, but not how much of a role the Franco-Prussian role may have played in his later research on anthrax and rabies. “The Story of Louis Pasteur” seemed to be making this case as well, but I’m not sure how much the details were embellished in it. As far as I know, Robert Koch also wasn’t mentioned in the movie despite Pasteur’s competition with him during the period covered.
I was also previously aware that Pasteur had worked on fermentation, specifically with champagne yeast, but didn’t know how foundational this work was to his later research and germ theory in general. That Lister was then able to take Pasteur’s research on microbes in the production of alcohol and realize the implications for human diseases was also very impressive.
I found the discussion of Priestley and Lavoisier’s work in the context of the Enlightenment very interesting. I was somewhat familiar with Priestley’s experiments with “phlogiston” previously, but didn’t know anything about his politics, religion, or life more generally. His rejection of the divinity of Christ while maintaining the existence of the Abrahamic God reminded me a lot of Thomas Jefferson’s religious views, especially his “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth”. Dr. Cogan mentioned later in the lecture that Priestley became good friends with Jefferson after moving to America. In Googling this further, I found that Jefferson cited Priestley as an inspiration for his religious views. I also found Priestley’s correspondence with Benjamin Franklin very interesting. Franklin, in his response to Priestley’s letter about the “mint and mice” experiment, seemed to realize surprisingly early how vital forests are to keeping our air clean, and his stance against deforestation also seemed very ahead of its time to me.
I was already familiar with some of the more well known early women scientists Dr. Breitenberger mentioned, but a lot of the women mentioned, and the accomplishments of some of the women I was already familiar with were new to me. I knew of Marie Curie, for example, but didn’t realize that she’d won not 1 but 2 nobel prizes, or that her daughter, Irene Curie-Joliot, also won a nobel prize for her work on radioisotopes.
Dr. Breitenberger mentioned that when women were able to be involved in science early on, they were generally doing field work, or more general data collection or analysis. Bill Bryson mentions this as well in the context of astronomy. I study mycology myself, and in my research I’ve come across a surprisingly high number of late 19th and early 20th century field mycologists.
I really appreciated Dale’s talk. I learned a lot of interesting details related to paleontology that I had previously not known. For example, that mastodon were more common in Ohio than mammoths, or that Peale, who painted many portraits of George Washington, was also a paleontologist. His advice on where to see various important paleontological specimens in Paris and London, and in the US, was very interesting to me, and I will likely be taking his advice when we go abroad in March. I am especially looking forward to seeing all of the the hall of fossil mounts in the Paris Museum of Comparative Anatomy & Paleontology.
I found Dr. Anelli’s discussion of the historical context of Darwin’s work very interesting. I was somewhat aware of the background, but there was a lot I didn’t know or hadn’t really considered seriously before. For example, I was aware generally of the “Great Chain of Being” idea, but had assumed that it was some sort of Medieval Christian idea. I wasn’t aware that it was an idea that traced its roots all the way back to Aristotle. Also, I was not familiar with John Ray or Rev. William Paley, especially how many modern creationist arguments trace their roots back to these two. It was interesting to me that Darwin was initially a follower of Paley’s, but makes sense in that looking for “God’s hand” in nature seems very compatible with a more general awe of, and fascination with, nature.
I found Dr. Weisenberger’s lecture, especially the first portion on the early faculty of OSU very interesting. Having grown up around North Campus and being interested in mycology and botany, the early history of Ohio State, the research that happened there then, and the early history of Columbus are things I’ve been very curious about for a while. I’m glad to be able to add a bit more of that (hopefully) to the memory bank. I’ve been going to Tuttle Park my whole life, and have practiced microscopy on things I’ve found there as a kid. I think it’s wonderful coincidence that I did that in a park named after a microbiologist.