From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist


Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 06 November 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

Politics. Religion. Salad dressing. There are a few topics that ignite heated, emotional arguments. With the opening of the AMNH Dinosaur Gallery at COSI, and its emphasis on evolution, some team members may be faced with skeptical - and even hostile - reactions and comments. While there are no perfect universal techniques, over the years I have developed a few guidelines that might prove useful:

- Any person at COSI is our guest, and we treat our guests with respect and hospitality.

- This isn't personal. This isn't an argument. It's not about winning or losing. We don't need to convince anyone of anything. We're here to share what we've learned through the scientific process.

- We are just a mouthpiece for the evidence. It's not "I believe such-and-such" but the much more dispassionate "The evidence shows such-and-such".

- Any open, honest question should be answered. If someone has a specific question, answer it to the best of your knowledge, and leave it at that. Don't take that as an opportunity to go on the attack. Sometimes the best offense is a good defense.

- You're not just talking to the person in front of you, but to all the people within earshot.

- If a conversation isn't going anywhere, pivot. Share or show something they might find interesting within the gallery.

Like I said, there's never a perfect approach, but if you find yourself in a potentially confrontational conversation, it's up to you to de-escalate the situation and put the focus back on where it should be: science has revealed the beautiful, complex world around us, and we're here to show it off.

"Leaving Leaves"

Written by Paul Sutter on Wednesday, 01 November 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

This week's memo arrives courtesy Dr. Katherine O’Brien, a postdoctoral fellow at OSU and the community outreach specialist for the Museum of Biological Diversity.

In the stretch between Halloween and Thanksgiving, fall is in full swing. Despite the characteristically grey weather this is my favorite time of year watching chemistry play out on leaves all across the city. As leaves stop producing chlorophyll as the days have been getting shorter, this shows the other pigments in a leaf like yellow (xanthophyll), orange (carotene), and red (anthocyanin).

If you want to see these underlying colors in leaves that have not changed, you can! All you need are some leaves (spinach works great), rubbing alcohol, a white coffee filter, a pie plate, pencil, a glass, and some plastic wrap. Okay, ready for some home science?!?

1) Tear up the leaf and place it in the glass with enough rubbing alcohol to cover the leaves.

2) Cover the glass with the plastic wrap - this keeps the alcohol from evaporating.

3) Fill the pie plate with warm water and place the glass in the water for 30 minutes so that the alcohol becomes green.

4) Cut the paper filter into strips and tape them to your pencil.

5) Suspend the filter so it is just touching the liquid- set aside for 30-90 min.

What you will see are the pigments that are inside the leaf being masked by the green (chlorophyll) and a large strip of green pigment.


Written by Paul Sutter on Monday, 23 October 2017. Posted in From The Desk of...The Chief Scientist

This week's memo arrives courtesy Dr. Meg Daly, Directory of OSU's Museum of Biological Diversity.

To help ourselves prepare for the upcoming dinosaur exhibit at COSI, Katherine O'Brien and I traveled to New York to visit the exhibit mothership, the American Museum of Natural History. We were accompanied on this trip by Dr. Laura Wagner, the OSU faculty member whose experience running the COSI Language Pod has made her our go-to for connecting academic research with COSI exhibits.

Although our primary focus was on dinosaurs and on developing ways that we can use the massive collections in the Museum of Biological Diversity to support learning about them, I couldn't help but be distracted by some of the non-dinosauran treasures on display. Featured prominently in the hall of Biodiversity were incredibly detailed glass models of microscopic plants and animals in which even the internal anatomy of these tiny organisms are rendered in glass. These models are the work of the renowned father and son team of Leopold and Rudof Blaschka. The detail of the glass models exceeds what the average person would see under a modern, research-grade microscope, an especially astonishing feat of technical and observational skill given that the models are more than a century old.

Learn more about the Blaschkas and their sea creatures in glass

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