This Earth Month, learn more about the importance of regenerating healthy soil, how plants breathe and how experts track volcanic eruptions. Here are some of the programs you shouldn’t miss at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History this April.
Discover How Plants Breathe
April 7, 1 p.m. ET
Have you ever wondered how plants breathe? If so, join plant scientist Nidhi Vinod for a deep dive into the structure of a leaf. Vinod, who works with the Smithsonian’s Forest Global Earth Observatory (ForestGEO), will illustrate how all plants — from blades of grass to soaring trees — perform respiration, a process similar to how humans breathe through our noses and mouths.
When humans breathe, we inhale oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Plants do the opposite: they take carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen out of the air through specialized holes in their leaves called stomata.
In this online webinar for children, Vinod will share with students how plant respiration is an important tool for cleaning our air and mitigating the effects of climate change. She will focus on why this science matters by connecting leaves to forests and helping students understand why this process is important to our ecosystems. For example, after plants pull gasses like carbon dioxide out of the air, they pump out clean oxygen for people and other animals to breathe. During the interactive program, students will share their ideas, answer questions using poll and chat functions and can ask questions.
To understand the natural origins of gender, world renowned primatologist Frans de Waal has observed humans and our closest relatives — apes like bonobos and chimpanzees — for decades. He has discovered that these apes do not necessarily abide by humans’ traditional gender roles. Instead, their complex societies test common assumptions about gender and authority, leadership, cooperation, competition, filial bonds and sexual behavior. Political power and leadership roles within their groups are not solely reserved for males.
In his lecture, de Waal will explain how chimpanzees and bonobos challenge the traditional human definitions of masculinity and femininity. He will also be joined by Briana Pobiner, a paleoanthropologist and educator in the museum’s Human Origins Program, to discuss how these ideas impact the long-running debate on the intersection between gender and biological sex.
To learn more about this topic and de Waal’s groundbreaking primate research, audience members will be able to purchase de Waal’s new book, “Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist.”
Tune in to the next Science Café to meet Smithsonian scientists studying the diets of ancient human relatives, the farming techniques of tropical ants and the data underlying volcanic eruptions around the world.
Using clues preserved in the teeth of ancient human ancestors called hominins, zooarchaeologist Elizabeth Grace Veatch is able to reconstruct diets and environments from tens of thousands of years ago. One of her subjects is Homo floresiensis, a hominin that lived in Indonesia 50,000 years ago and was so tiny researchers nicknamed it “The Hobbit.”
Emilia Zoppas de Albuquerque, an entomologist in the museum’s AntLab, studies a resourceful group of ants that cultivate fungal farms — which makes them some of Earth’s first, and most successful, farmers. Her work focuses on understanding how these insects grow their own food to thrive on the crowded rainforest floor.
While we all hear about major volcanic eruptions on the news, few outlets are capable of reporting the full story. Which is why volcano data researcher Kadie Bennis and her colleagues at the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program record crucial data beyond the bubbling lava to accurately track volcanic activity around the world.
To help you set the stage at home for this virtual science cafe, the museum is teaming up with DC-area restaurant Busboys and Poets. You’ll receive an order link when you register for the Science Café, whether you’re local or non-local, and you can shake up a themed drink based on one of the restaurant’s recipes.
Millions of years ago, the earliest human ancestors lived on the savannas of eastern Africa with a variety of large animals. Now, scientists like Kevin Uno, a researcher at Columbia University, are trying to piece together what these ancient environments were like and understand how these settings impacted human evolution. It turns out the clues to answer these questions may be preserved in mud.
To learn more, tune in to this webinar for adults. The discussion will be moderated by museum paleoanthropologist and educator Briana Pobiner and is part of the ongoing HOT (Human Origins Today) Topic Series.
Watch the Documentary Kiss the Ground and Learn About Regenerative Agriculture
April 21, 5 p.m. ET
Most of us take soil for granted. But in an age of ecological upheaval, few things are as vital as the dirt below our feet. Healthy soil is an environmental game changer: it helps curb the effects of climate change, produce nutrient-rich food and even restore lost ecosystems.
Although soil has been degraded through intensive agriculture, deforestation and urbanization, the good news is that we also have the power to restore hearty, environment-altering soil through practices of regenerative agriculture. To learn more about how we can reinvigorate one of our greatest natural resources, join the museum community to watch Netflix’s new documentary film “Kiss The Ground.” This rare dose of environmental optimism is the latest installment of Natural History on the Big Screen, part of the NMNH After Hours event series.
In addition to the screening, there will also be a virtual Q&A discussion with Karen Rodriguez (VP of Program Operations at Kiss The Ground), Michael Kotutwa Johnson (member of the Hopi Tribe, a PhD in Natural Resources, and traditional Hopi dryland farmer) and Carrie Vaughn (Farm Director at Building Bridges Across the River). Angela Roberts, an exhibit writer and editor at the museum, will moderate the discussion.
Can’t make one of the events? Check out the museum’s archive of past programs.
Meet the Scientist Studying How Humans Started Eating Meat
These are the Decade’s Biggest Discoveries in Human Evolution
Artists Show Human Impact on the Planet in New Exhibit
Here’s How Scientists Reconstruct Earth’s Past Climates