Beijing Aquarium – Home of the Rare Chinese Sturgeon

After visiting Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City, and Mao’s Mausoleum in Beijing, head on over to the Beijing Aquarium. Located within the Beijing Zoo, the aquarium is the largest inland aquarium in the world. One of its specialties is the Rare Chinese Sturgeon Hall.

Beijing Aquarium

The building itself is shaped like a huge conch shell. It relies on over 18,000 tons of artificial seawater to highlight seven main sections: Rainforests, Coral Reefs, Sharks, Whales, a Touch Pool, a Marine Theater, and the aforementioned Sturgeon Hall. Over 1000 marine and freshwater species are bred on site.

Beijing Aquarium sturgeon

Of the 41 aquariums around the world I’ve visited, this one is unique in that it has a large area devoted to sturgeon. These ancient fish in the family Acipenseridae are an oddity of nature. Their skeletons are almost entirely cartilaginous, like sharks, despite being classified as bony fishes since their ancestors actually had bony skeletons. Sturgeons also are at least partially covered with bony plates called scutes instead of scales. Like catfish, they have four barbels, sensory organs near their wide, toothless mouths, that they drag along the bottom substrate as an aid in navigation and food gathering. They are an odd fish indeed.

Most aquariums toss one or a few sturgeon into the big tanks with sharks and other common fish. In Beijing there are dozens of representatives of the 27 known species of the world. The highlight is the Chinese sturgeon (Acipenser sinensis), a critically endangered species considered, like the giant panda, a national treasure in China. Sadly, like many species of sturgeon, the Chinese sturgeon is nearly extinct in the wild due to overfishing and habitat loss.

The aquarium doesn’t stop there. There are also large tanks with beautiful white beluga whales…

Beijing Aquarium beluga

…many species of moray eels…

Beijing Aquarium moray eels

…and quite a few sea turtles.

Beijing Aquarium sea turtles

Given my previous work with jellyfish I’m always drawn to that section of aquariums and the Beijing Aquarium has one of the best displays I’ve seen. Quite a few tanks exhibit different species, with a variety of light effects to highlight their beauty.

Beijing Aquarium jellyfish

Overall I was greatly surprised – and impressed – by the size and quality of the aquarium. During my visit it seemed clear that the zoo and aquarium cater more to local Chinese rather than tourists, most of whom never get beyond the major tourist attractions mentioned in the first sentence above. This focus is emphasized by the signage, most of which is only in Chinese.

Beijing Aquarium sturgeon

So if you’re in Beijing, take a side trip to the Beijing Aquarium. It’s about 3 miles or so northwest of Tian’anmen Square in the Beijing Zoo, reachable by taxi, bus, or even easier, via subway line 4. You won’t be disappointed. More information here.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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Hot White Snow and The Dake Page – Catching Up

Life has been busy, so in case you missed it, let’s do some catching up on Hot White Snow and The Dake Page.

fake smileHot White Snow is where you’ll find my more “creative” writing, includiing responses to writing prompts, some memoir-ish works, and articles “On Writing.” Featured recently:

Two headsThe Dake Page focuses on communicating science to the general populace, with a sometimes emphasis on climate change. Recent articles:

I’ll save the update on Science Traveler posts for another day.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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The Thundering Wet Dry Tortugas

Our small De Havilland Otter hovered a few hundred feet over the seas as the thundering clouds released torrents of rain highlighted by jagged bolts of lightning. The Dry Tortugas were anything but dry.

Most people think of Key West as the end of the Florida keys, but there are several smaller keys stretching beyond the famed home of Hemingway. About 70 miles west of Key West is Dry Tortugas National Park, accessible only by boat or float plane. I flew, though we almost didn’t take off. Cooling our heels at the small Key West airport, we watched the early morning lightning bring in wind-swept squalls. After an hour or so delay we got the okay and eagerly rushed the tarmac to board our 10-person flight. Storm clouds and rain parted in Moses-like fashion, just enough for our plane to squeeze through. Passing over reefs and wrecks we a lit on the water and coasted to the pier moments before the rain doused us once again.

Approaching Dry Tortugas - Ru Sun

For the record, the “dry” part of the name refers the lack of fresh spring water, a major problem for the inhabitants. Tortugas is Spanish for turtles, the name thanks to Ponce de León after seeing several sea turtles around the island.

Dry Tortugas

The main feature of the Dry Tortugas is Fort Jefferson. The largest all-masonry fort in the United States, it was constructed from 1846 to 1875 but nevertheless was never quite finished. During the Civil War concerns grew that the weight of the brick and cannons was causing the small island it sat on to sink. It served as a Civil War prison, though it’s most famous use was to house the four conspirators sentenced for their role in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Samuel Mudd, Edmund Spangler, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlen served time in the fort; Mudd’s medical service during a yellow fever epidemic that killed many prisoners (including O’Laughlen) would result in his pardon and release by President Andrew Johnson. This fact is one of the main reasons I went out to the Tortugas.

Dr Mudd cell Dry Tortugas

Another reason is the rich ocean life adjacent to the fort and the other small islands that encompass the 100 square mile National Park. Due to the weather we had only a short time for snorkeling, but still saw many fish and pelicans.

Pelican Dry Tortugas

Rain again cleansed the plane as we skimmed the sea surface, briefly glimpsing a couple of the famed tortugas on the flight back. The skies seemed to light up as we touched down at the Key West airport. At least we could look forward to a delightful afternoon exploring Duval Street and Mallory Square. The Dry Tortugas could have been drier, and we could have seen more turtles, but the experience was still heavenly. This trip included time in the Everglades, in the Keys, and on the reefs, so there is much more still to show and tell. Stay tuned.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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[Note: All photos David J. Kent except first one by Ru Sun]

Walking Up Waterfalls in Jamaica

You read that right – walking UP waterfalls. Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica, to be exact, and the experience is magical.

Jamaica is the land of Bob Marley, reggae, and all-inclusive resorts hugging the coast. The adventure began in one of those resorts, at the Grand Bahia Principe Hotel not far east of Montego Bay and nestled into Runaway Bay on the northern beaches.

Jamaica

Squeezed in between rum punches and peaceful beach enclaves were ample reminders of the science all around us. The most noticeable geology near the resort were karst formations in the limestone. Plant life ranges broadly from various palms, bamboo, ferns, mahogany and rosewood in wet areas to cactus in dry areas.

Jamaica

But one of the biggest attractions was a little further east along the coast near Ocho Rios.  Dunn’s River Falls is a terraced waterfall system over 600 feet long. As the river flows downward it cascades over dozens of mini-precipices, dropping from one ledge to another down the hillside, occasionally resting in small pools interspersed in the vertical walls. That vertical is a mere 180 feet or so but the varied dips and dives is what makes the waterfall so special. As does the fact that you can climb it.

Dunn's River Falls, Jamaica

The falls are a major tourist attraction in Jamaica, drawing thousands of visitors a year. We started on the white sandy beach at its base, then joined a line of other intrepid souls carefully hiking up the slippery rocks while lush tropical vegetation cooled us from the morning sun. The water shoes we purchased the night before came in handy as we battled the splashing streams pushing us downward while we forged our way upward. Steadying ourselves in the hands of total strangers a minute before, now suddenly friends (or perhaps, co-conspirators in our survival quest), we reached the top in fulfillment of our goals after about an hour and half trek. Being drenched from head to toe was overwhelmed by the smiles on our faces that warmed us from skin to soul.

Jamaica

Relaxing back at the resort, we reveled in the joy of listening to live reggae music on the veranda while sipping another rum punch and marveling at the science that is all around us.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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[Note that all photos were taken by me except the one of the waterfall, which is a stock photo I grabbed off the internet. After all, I was busy being wet at the time.]

Thomas Edison – Birth of an Inventor

Edison cover on BNThomas Edison is well known as one of America’s greatest inventors. But how did he get his start? My new book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (July 2016 release date), takes a look at how Edison fell into a career of invention, feuded with other inventors like Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, and changed the world. From the prologue:

One misty morning in 1862, as the Civil War raged throughout the nation, the teenage Tom Edison saved a life, and in doing so set the stage for a career of invention that would change the lives of millions. Lingering at the train station in Mount Clemens, Michigan, Edison was gazing over the freight cars being moved around the rail yard. Suddenly, he noticed Jimmie MacKenzie, the stationmaster’s young son, playing on the tracks and oblivious to a rail car speedily approaching. Recognizing the danger, Edison “made a dash for the child, whom he picked up and lifted to safety without a second to spare, as the wheel of the car struck his heel.” Falling hard along the gravel embankment, both Edison and Jimmie cut their faces and hands, but were otherwise unharmed. It was the scare of their young lives. In return for his heroic act, the stationmaster offered to teach Edison the art and science of telegraphy, and Edison accepted. This decision would change his life—and ours.

There was another profound impact from his train days – deafness.

He recounted being roughly lifted onto the train by his ears, at which point he heard a “pop!” After that, his hearing steadily degenerated. Another report suggests a baggage master on the train “boxed his ears.” Or perhaps it was a history of illness as a child or a congenital disease? Although the cause is unknown, Thomas Edison became progressively hard of hearing during his lifetime, which impacted both his inventive ability (he claimed the affliction helped him concentrate better) and his attitude (he would “not hear critiques at convenient times”). His hearing impairment played a recurring, and sometimes ironic, role during his long career.

These two fundamental events as a young man helped shape his personality and his career path. Suddenly the idea of toiling away all night and day in the lab doesn’t seem so surprising. That said, there are many things you don’t know about Thomas Edison.

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World is due out in July 2016 from Fall River Press, Sterling Publishing. The Nook e-book version is already available for pre-order on the Barnes and Noble website. The hardcover book will be available for pre-order shortly. Please help spread the word and watch for more previews here.

And if you’re interested in Nikola Tesla, check out this comparison: Edison vs Tesla: Two Very Different Men of Invention.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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Abraham Lincoln Close Up

Like all Presidents, Abraham Lincoln seemed to age decades during his four years in office. On my recent trip to Springfield, Illinois I got to see this close up. As you might expect, there are several statues of Lincoln around town, all of which have been photographed millions of times by the steady stream of tourists into this relatively small city.

I did the same, of course. But I also have a penchant for close ups. It was here that the aging process was brought home to me. Let’s start at the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, standing on the corner across the street from the Old State Capitol. Here we find a relatively younger Lincoln the lawyer and statesman with his family, his wife Mary straightening his tie as he prepares to give his 1854 anti-slavery speech. This is a close up:

Young Lincoln

A couple of blocks north you’ll find Union Square Park and, yes, more Lincoln statues. I liked the one of him standing strong against an unseen wind as he gives his first inaugural address. In this close up the flag atop the tower of Union Station highlights a now bearded Lincoln.

Older Lincoln

Now imagine how much older he looked after four years of war.

The statue sits across the street from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. I spent two days inside the library doing research with the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project, skipping across the street only to see a special exhibit “Unfinished Work” temporarily showing in the museum. I’ll be coming back out to Springfield in September for a full-scale tour of Lincoln-related sites including New Salem, the Lincoln house, and tomb. Even though I’ve just returned, I can’t wait to go back.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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In Honor of Earth Day – Earth: The Operators’ Manual by Richard B. Alley

Earth Operators ManualFor Earth Day – Earth: The Operators’ Manual by Richard B. Alley (A Book Review)

Richard Alley is a climate scientist. While many may not have heard of him before, some will have seen him give a demonstration of the Earth’s tilt (and its relationship to climate change) in a House hearing in 2014. Using his head, with his bald spot representing the North Pole, Alley schooled Republican Rep. Rohrabacher on historical climate science. Alley uses the same humor and adroitness of analogy in Earth: The Operators’ Manual to give us an engaging look at our planet, the changes that are occurring, and options for moving forward.

The book is a companion to a PBS documentary. The book is divided in to three parts totaling 24 chapters. The first part gives us a glimpse at how we have used energy over the millennia, how we have impacted the planet, and how we have moved from “peak trees” to “peak whale oil” to eventually (or even already), “peak fossil fuels.” The second part gives us a dozen chapters that make it clear that human activity is changing our climate. The third part focuses on options for non-fossil fuel energy sources.

Throughout, Alley’s whimsical side shows through, as does the ease at which he can communicate the science with apt analogies that all of us can understand. Who knew that climate was a bit like watching a kindergarten soccer game? With climate, many factors appear to be kicking around randomly but then, eventually, there seems to be an order to the chaos. As Alley takes us through the science it becomes undeniably clear that we are warming our planet.

While the first two sections may be the most entertaining, the final section is probably the most important part of the book. Alley examines “the road to ten billion smiling people,” that is, the options we have to providing energy for our ever-growing global population. Starting with toilets (I kid you not), he discusses the smart grid, solar and wind solutions, and pretty much everything else from hydroelectric to nuclear to geo-engineering. Some seem more promising than others, and Alley largely believes that some combination of renewable energy sources are the likely future.

Overall, I found the book interesting and definitely informative. It’s a worthy read for anyone interested in the topic.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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[Earth]

Jefferson, Lincoln, CPRC, and the Science Among Us

It’s been a busy five days of science traveling – Lincoln, Jefferson, CPRC, More Lincoln.

Thursday night started off with the Bull Run Civil War Round Table, with John Quarstein speaking about the Battle of Mobile Bay. Featuring two great Admirals – Franklin Buchanan for the South and David Farragut for the North – and a bunch of ironclad ships. Buchanan had captained the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack) during its impromptu attack on the Union fleet during its shakedown cruise. Chased away by the USS Monitor, a pillbox type ironclad, the Virginia was later scuttled and Buchanan made his way to Mobile Bay where Farragut defeated him after making a bold (some would say fanatical) run through the Confederate torpedo field, which spawned the famous (slightly incomplete) order to “Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!”

at Monticello

Saturday put me at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation home in Charlottesville, Virginia. Jefferson was as close as they come to a science geek of the time, designing the house and many of the mechanical devices on the property. Twice a day for forty years he would record the temperature and wind direction, keeping meticulous notes about his activities related to archeology, paleontology, and other sciences. His famous anteroom clock is powered by cables hung with small cannonballs as counterweights. He had to “rewind” the clock every seven days and, noticing this allowed him to use the clock also as a calendar, had labels attached to the wall designating the days of the week. Unfortunately, it was a seven day clock and he had only five day walls, so a hole was cut in the floor for the weights and days Saturday and Sunday continue into the basement.

CPRC - Sharon Hartzell

After a morning on the University of Virginia campus (built by Jefferson as a school for science), Sunday afternoon began the annual meeting of the Chesapeake and Potomac Regional Chapter (CPRC) of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, an international organization that I’ve been a member of for a long time and recently won a big award. I have sponsored CPRC for the last four years and find their meetings incredibly informative. Sunday afternoon was a short course by climate policy expert Dr. Paul Wagner of Virginia Tech. Monday was a full day of platform presentations and posters documenting recent research by CPRC members.

Dr. Cornelius at LGDC

Tuesday was back in Washington, DC at the monthly meeting of the Lincoln Group of DC. This month we had Dr. James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Cornelius fascinated us with newly found letters and other artifacts related to Lincoln, including some surprising forgeries along with genuine finds. He even mentioned a recent find in which Lincoln had written the name of the person he borrowed a book from so he could return it. This is important because the book was called “Types of Mankind,” which was used by many to promote a “scientific” basis for the differences between the races and a rationalization for racism and slavery. The methods used and arguments put forth are not particularly scientific, but it was a highly influential book at the time. Meanwhile, Darwin (who was born on the same day as Lincoln) published his “Origin of Species” in 1859, just as Lincoln was preparing his run for the presidency.

I’ll see Dr. Cornelius again within a week because I’m flying out to Springfield to spend a few days working with the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project as research my new book.

So it’s been a busy week for Presidents and Science. And there will be much, much more so stay tuned.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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Science in Charlottesville

In the final years of his long productive life, Thomas Jefferson established what is now the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He wanted a place where students could get a science education.

Today the Chesapeake and Potomac Chapter of SETAC comes to UVA to show what we have learned.

The photo below is the Poe Room maintained by the Raven Society on campus just as it was when Edgar Allen Poe was a student.

You can soar with eagles here on campus.

More on the conference shortly.

Extra!! President Abraham Lincoln is Dead

Our Dear President is Dead

Assassinated by Cowardly Actor

Watching a Play at Ford’s Theatre

Secretary Seward Attacked – Injuries Feared Fatal

Washington in Mourning

Washington City, April 15, 1865: President Abraham Lincoln is dead. He was shot last night while watching a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre and died this morning at 7:22 A.M. May he rest in the peace he struggled to achieve over the course of this long, hateful war.

Ford's Theatre decorated for President Lincoln's attendance April 14, 1865

Ford’s Theatre decorated for President Lincoln’s attendance April 14, 1865

Witnesses in the theatre immediately identified the assassin as the actor John Wilkes Booth. Booth sneaked into the Presidential box, cowardly shot the President in the back of the head, slashed Major Rathbone, who was attending the play as the President’s guest, and leaped to the stage. Several shocked theatre-goers claimed that Booth screamed Sic semper tyrannis as he landed, before seeming to limp off to stage-right to his escape. A manhunt is being directed by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

Simultaneous to Booth’s shooting of the President was a vicious attack on Secretary of State William Seward. The Secretary, who has been laid up in bed since his recent serious carriage accident, was gravely wounded by the assailant. We fear the wounds may be fatal. Also severely wounded was Frederick Seward, the Secretary’s son, and other members of the family. The extent of their injuries are unknown.

Fears of a Confederate conspiracy to decapitate the Union are evident. The coordinated attacks, and the possibility that other attacks were attempted or are imminent, suggest this was a plot by the failed Confederacy to continue the war they so recently lost. The fact that Booth yelled Sic semper tyrannis, the state motto of Virginia, reinforces the likelihood that these attacks were ordered directly from Richmond. It is understood that rebel leader Jefferson Davis is on the run and presumed headed for Texas to continue guerilla warfare. The Army has been put on guard for the remaining Cabinet members and other key federal officials, by order of Secretary of War Stanton.

The scene in Ford’s Theatre was pandemonium. Witnesses claim that when they first heard the shot they assumed it was somehow part of the play. They then could see a struggle going on the Presidential box between the murderer and Major Rathbone, who had been seated nearby with his fiance, Clara Harris, and the President’s wife, Mary Lincoln. According to sources, Major Rathbone sustained a serious knife slash to his arm as he rose to protect the President. The assassin, Booth, the jumped to the stage, uttered his dastardly phrase, then escaped. Several witnesses say that Booth may have injured his leg as he landed on the stage.

Dr. Charles Leale, a young military surgeon, who was in the audience last night, rushed to our beloved President’s box to attend to his injuries. Inside sources inform this reporter that Dr. Leale immediately knew that the wound would be fatal and, desiring that the President not die in a theatre, especially on Good Friday, ordered his transport across the street in into a boarding house owned by one William Petersen, a local tailor. Leale, Cabinet members, and other doctors stood vigil over the dying President through the night until he finally breathed his last breath early this morning, just five days after Army of Virginia General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Grant, who had been announced as the President’s guest at the theatre last night, instead traveled to New Jersey on family business and thus was not present to save the President.

Mrs. Lincoln has been escorted back to the Executive Mansion in a severely distraught condition. The Lincoln’s oldest son Robert is looking after her and his only remaining brother, Tad, who was watching a performance of Aladdin at the nearby Grover’s Theatre when the news of his father’s assassination was reported.

The search for the killer is being directed by Secretary Stanton and the City is on high alert to ensure further actions of this dastardly Confederate plot are thwarted. Funeral arrangements will be announced as soon as they are made. The City is in mourning.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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