- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

Most museums devote their space to one specialty, be it science or history. However, for a few months, District residents will be able to view examples of everything from archaeological findings to DNA discoveries under one roof as the Carnegie Institution of Washington celebrates its 100th anniversary with a multidisciplinary exhibit at the institution's headquarters at 1530 P St. NW.
"Human curiosity is the theme of this exhibit," says Margaret Hazen, the exhibit's curator. "The idea is to tell the story of individuals who made a difference in the world with the help of the Carnegie Institution."
The exhibit, "Our Expanding Universe: Celebrating a Century of Carnegie Science," features more than a dozen scientists in various fields who are or were tied to the Carnegie Institution.
One of the showcased scientists is astronomer Vera Rubin, 73, who as a young girl growing up in the District was fascinated by stars and
knew she wanted to make discoveries relating to the universe which she did.
Ms. Rubin discovered "dark matter" in the universe, and as the name indicates, scientists are not quite sure what it is; they just know it's there.
More than three decades ago, Ms. Rubin started looking at how stars orbited in galaxies. It was expected that the farther away a star was from a certain galaxy's center, the weaker the gravitation pull and therefore the slower the star's velocity would be.
Ms. Rubin, however, showed that the stars farthest away from the center of a certain galaxy moved just as fast as, or faster than, those close-in. What could explain this phenomenon?
"The discovery was a surprise. The only rational explanation is there is a lot of matter that we don't see," Ms. Rubin says.
The dark matter has a gravitational effect on the stars, pulling them along. Ms. Rubin's discovery implies that at least 90 percent of the mass of the universe is invisible to us, detectable only through its gravitational effect on other objects.
In her lifetime, Ms. Rubin who has no plans to quit watching the stars says she would like to see someone figure out exactly what dark matter is.
In the meantime, she continues to make new discoveries. Her most recent one shows that in the Virgo galaxy, some stars move clockwise and others move counterclockwise.
"It's very, very exciting to realize that you have seen or learned something that wasn't known before," Ms. Rubin says. "I will be doing this as long as people give me telescope time I can't imagine what I would do if I were to stop."

Another field of scientific study featured at the exhibit is archaeology, which the institution focused on in the early part of the 20th century but later abandoned.
The most famous of the institution's archaeologists were Sylvanus Griswold Morley, Alfred Vincent Kidder and Earl Morris, who inspired the film character Indiana Jones. The three were involved in the excavations at Chichen Itza, one of the greatest Mayan monuments. The Mexican excavation helped later generations better understand the Mayan culture. The team uncovered paintings that showed that the Mayan culture saw violence as an integral part of life. Other discoveries showed that the Mayans had an advanced knowledge of astronomy.
One of the exhibit cases shows photos of the archaeological team back in the 1920s, when archaeologists wore bow ties and suits even out in the field.
One of the pictures an aerial view was taken by Charles Lindberg, the famous aviator, who also was tied to the Carnegie Institution. Also on display are artifacts found during the digs and Mr. Morley's diary with tiny, almost illegible handwriting.
• • •
The exhibit space is housed in three rooms, of which the first is a wood-paneled boardroom. It was used by the original board members in the early part of the 20th century. The exhibits in this room highlight Andrew Carnegie's wishes for the institution and records of the $10 million dollars he put into it.
"We aim to find the geniuses of the Republic and set them to work on the higher problems," Mr. Carnegie wrote of the purpose of his institution.
The one original feature of the room is a portrait of Carnegie that hangs over the fireplace.
The Carnegie Institution of Washington was founded in 1902 by Carnegie as an organization for scientific discovery. It has five departments around the country devoted to the studies of plant biology, astronomy, developmental biology and the earth and planetary sciences.
The exhibit also features such scientific greats as Alfred D. Hershey, who shared the 1969 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine, and Martha Chase, who helped prove that DNA carries genetic information.
Harry Wood and Carl Francis Richter are among other scientists highlighted. Their exhibit case shows the 1933 Long Beach earthquake reading (seismogram) and the Wood-Anderson torsion seismograph that conducted the reading of the shock waves as they traveled through the earth.
"Harry Wood was also instrumental behind the scenes," Ms. Hazen says. "This was a time when building codes in California were ignored, but he started this public relations campaign that told people that they ought to build sturdier buildings."
Mr. Richter of course later developed the famous scale to measure the magnitude of an earthquake, the Richter scale.
Even with the great inventions and discoveries by these and other scientists, scholars still cannot perfectly predict an earthquake, according to a display case's text.
Other Nobel laureates who were connected to the Carnegie Institution and are highlighted in the exhibit include geneticists Barbara McClintock and astronomer Edwin Hubble, who discovered that the universe is expanding.

The last room of the exhibit is devoted to the present day and the future of scientific discovery.
Images of cells are projected on the walls along with some of science's unanswered questions: "How do embryonic cells communicate with each other?" "How big is the Universe?" and "How much mass does the Universe contain?"
"The answers keep shifting, and the new answers lead to new questions," Ms. Hazen says. "We hope whether you are well-acquainted with science or that this exhibit would show the enthusiasm of the people who ask the scientific questions. We hope it shows the drive to get knowledge for the sake of knowledge. We hope to show that it's a worthwhile way to spend your time."


WHAT: "Our Expanding Universe: Celebrating a Century of Carnegie Science"
WHERE: 1530 P Street NW.
WHEN: Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, with extended hours to 8 p.m. on Thursdays through May 31.
TICKETS: No admission charge
PHONE: 202/387-6400



Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide