We have created light in the Visual World Investigate Lab…well kind of. Last night 13 visitors created a computer game to guide a beam of light through two dimensional space using mirrors and trigonometry (somewhere right now a high school math teacher is crying with joy) to light up a computer screen. Each person was given a partially completed program and instructions on how to create the game by adding in their own lines of code.
After about ten minutes of typing we had created a powerful seven lines of code and conquered the graphics window, displaying our own gaming window with an image of a 500 x 500 pixel grid. After creating the game window, we designed code that would allow us to place mirrors inside of the window. Each mirror required three inputs: an x position (horizontal location) and y position (vertical location) of the mirror and the angle we wanted to rotate the mirror. After a brief refresher on coordinate planes and rotation, we were throwing mirrors in that window left and right and rotating them from -360 to 360 degrees.
The goal of our game was to arrange the mirrors in a way to reflect a beam of light around obstacles and into a yellow light box. This is where it got really fun. Not one person solved the game the same way. Some played it safe with 45 degree angles. Others went crazy with negative degrees and near horizontal lines. The image at the bottom of this page is just one example of a winning method. Here is the funnest part though…while solving the problem each person learned a few principles of computer programming. We created variables, arrays, for loops, and more. Some people took it even further and started hacking our code. A few completed the game without using any mirrors by figuring out how to move the light box or remove the obstacles. Someone even went into the images and changed the light beam into a picture of a koala (seeing a koala bounce around mirrors is actually quite amusing). Learning some programming fundamentals and how to edit code can get you pretty far these days, and this is only the beginning
So, if this sounds fun to you (believe me, it is) check out our Thursday night classes (http://naturalsciences.org/programs-events). Twice a month we offer a class either in electronics or computer programming. We do something different each time, so it never gets old. Even you can make cool games like the one below.
This is Walt Gurley, longtime lurker, first time blogger. I’m an environmental scientist by training but on a continuing techie educational track. I help run the Visual World Investigate Lab (VisLab), one of the three Investigate Labs of the Nature Research Center (NRC). If you aren’t familiar with the lab, here are the basics:
The VisLab is located on the 3rd floor of the NRC and is open seven days a week from 10–4, with the exception of Thursdays (open 10–1) and Sundays (open 1–4). The lab features twelve interactive computer stations where you can investigate science through cutting-edge augmented reality, 3-D exploration of the Solar System, protein folding, and many other rotating interactive programs. In addition to these stations, we have monitors dedicated to topical scientific information and live HD viewing of microscopic organisms. The lab also employs robotic technology, and we frequently have robotics demonstrations featuring our Arduino-based autonomous wheeled robot and our interactive humanoid robot.
So if you like computers, robots, or technology with your science, you’re going to love this place. If you’re a Luddite and only like science, you’ll still love this place: we have some magnifying glasses and textbooks spread out through the lab for you to use while your friends or family enjoy the computers.
If you want to take it one step further, the VisLab currently offers a course on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) weekdays for school groups and courses on electronics and computer programming for the general public on Thursday nights. Each of these courses is for beginners and delves a little deeper into some of the technologies that we use here in the lab and that are used by scientists around the world. Check out the links for more information, we’d love to have you come and learn with us.
At any rate, come have fun and explore science in the Visual World Investigate Lab.
When you visit the Nature Research Center wing of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, you will of course be greeted by a wide array of exhibits, educational Investigate Labs, and welcoming staff. But now, you may also be greeted by a diminutive but no less personable staff member, who is the latest member to join our team. This team member dropped in to visit us the other day at our Micro World Investigate Lab, where we captured him in action on video.
We hope to see you soon in all of our labs, and hope you will come meet our newest staff member, who is based in the Visual World Investigate Lab!!
Have you ever heard of an animal that glides over surfaces by moving its cilia? Have you ever heard of an animal whose mouth is right in the middle of its body where it sticks out as a long muscular tube? Well if you have visited the Micro World Investigate Lab recently you may have seen one of these fantastic creatures.
They’re known by different names — flatworms, planaria, triclads, turbellarians. Often they are called simply flatworms, though scientists usually call the ones we have, “triclads.” ”Flatworms” is probably too vague because it includes freshwater, marine, and terrestrial species, microscopic as well as macroscopic.
The ones in our lab are macroscopic turbellarians, called either planaria, or triclads, named after the order they are classified in, Tricladida, within the phylum Platyhelminthes, which makes up all of the flatworms. Triclads are so named because they have a three-lobed gut, or gastrovascular cavity. One lobe extends from the mouth towards the head and the other two extend from the mouth towards the tail.
Here’s a picture of one that was taken out of our aquarium for display recently. It is most likely named Dugesia tigrina, which is the commonest species in the USA.
Someone asked us recently how long triclads live. The answer: “it depends.” It’s all in the reproduction.
Flatworm species vary in how they reproduce and this affects how long they live. Some reproduce sexually, others asexually by dividing, and some by alternating between the two depending on environmental conditions. For example, some reproduce sexually during the spring, when temperatures are cool. However, when temperatures rise in the summer, their reproductive organs degenerate and they switch to asexual division.
Species that reproduce asexually may live indefinitely. Some kept in lab cultures have survived for years. On the other hand, species that reproduce only sexually may live a few weeks to a few months. Those that can develop a cyst form during adverse conditions may live longer. Most large species divide about every 5–10 days while the smaller species can divide more often.
Another interesting thing is that all flatworms are hermaphrodites. That means they have both male and female sex organs in each individual. However when they reproduce sexually, they do not fertilize themselves but must obtain sperm from a different flatworm. In spring, egg capsules (called cocoons) are laid and fastened to a hard surface, like a rock, by a little stalk. Iowa State’s website has a good image of this cocoon.
When the baby flatworms hatch out they want food! But the problem is, so do the adults! This creates competition for food, and when supplies are not sufficient for everyone, the flatworms begin to shrink. They get shorter and shorter until either food becomes more abundant or they die. This phenomenon has been described by scientists conducting careful quantitative studies of flatworm population ecology.
In the photo given to us by a researcher, the scientist carefully removes Dugesia tigrina from the surface of an artificial substrate with a paintbrush so that they can be taken to the laboratory for measurements.
The really interesting thing about this “shrinking” action, is that the shrinking is due to the loss of cells, not by reducing the size of the cells they have!
Triclad flatworms viewed with a microscope seem to have two eyes, which appear cross-eyed. In reality, they are called eyespots because they do not form images. The eyespots help the flatworms detect light and dark. This allows them find dark areas to hide in, protecting them from predators. Some flatworms have numerous eyespots in a line along the front of the head.
Virtually all triclad flatworms live in freshwater where they typically lurk under rocks looking for suitable prey. Because flatworms move slowly they often rely on finding injured organisms or those that can’t otherwise escape. The flatworm will glide on top of its prey and seek an opening in the body where the flatworm can stick its long tubular pharynx. Then the flatworm secretes digestive enzymes into the prey so that it can suck out the partially digested contents of the prey’s body
Here is a video of a flatworm feeding:
For some additional information, check out the Animal Planet page on flatworms.
Given that they live in spots not usually seen by the average person, getting to see one up close is a rarity. We are pleased to have a healthy population living in our “pond tank” in the lab. So we hope you’ll come by to visit us and have an opportunity to view one of our fantastic flatworms on our large-screen TV!
Written by Todd Folsom & Deb Bailey
As part of the new policy of the Museum being open on Thursday nights, the Investigate Labs will be offering classes on some of those nights. People can register in advance and join us for a mix of science with family. All three Investigate Labs will be taking turns offering these classes.
The Micro World Investigate Lab will start off with a class on Microscopy — a little bit “How to use a microscope” mixed with “Who was that protozoan that just swam by?”
We hope you will join us. And while you’re at it, check out offerings in the other Investigate Labs. A couple of upcoming Thursday night classes in the Visual World Investigate Lab are: Electronics for Beginners, and Computer Programming for Beginners, and the Natural World Investigate Lab will start their evening programs with “Birds of a Feather” in March.
To register, contact Debbie Huston at 919.707.9840.
Just a bit of a “celebration of milestones.” My supervisor and partner-in-creativity in the Micro World Investigate Lab, Christy Flint, compiled some end-of-the-year statistics. These show that we have NOT been idle, nor has our visiting public:
The Museum’s one millionth visitor inspired me to compile the visitor statistics for the Micro World Investigate Lab. No wonder Deb and I are tired but satisfied!
Since opening in April and through the end of December, the Micro World Investigate Lab has:
- Welcomed 36,776 visitors to the lab during its 1,112 public hours
- Presented 75 programs to 1,599 participants
So we thought you would like to know that our lab has been a smashing success. We thank all of you for your interest and visits and hope to see you all (as well as new visitors) back in our lab very soon! We will do our best to continue to offer new and quality educational programs and have lots of ideas for the future. So stay tuned and keep coming!