55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
94118
415.379.8000
Regular Hours:

Daily

9:30 am – 5:00 pm

Sunday

11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:

Tuesday

8:30 – 9:30 am

Sunday

10:00 – 11:00 am
Closures
Notices

The Academy will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

There are no notifications at this time.

From the Stacks 

June 19, 2014

Science in Action at Odd Salon

On Tuesday June 24th, our own Kelly Jensen (Digital Production Assistant) will be giving a talk about the Academy Archives as part of Odd Salon. Topics will include our recent digitization and preservation projects, particularly the film reels of the Academy’s 1950s-era television show, Science in Action.

N3632

Science in Action was one of the first television shows to present science in an entertaining fashion, with a different guest each week to explain topics as diverse as “Exploring Mars,” “Muscles,” or “Trout Lore – Fact and Fancy.” Hosted by Earl S. Herald, director of the Steinhart Aquarium, the show was a popular institution in the Bay Area and paved the way for later programs like NOVA, Connections, and Cosmos.

SIA_opossum

In an effort to preserve the films, we are currently in the process of digitizing as many as we can, both to create digital surrogates, and to make the programs viewable by the public. We’re very grateful to the California Audiovisual Preservation Project for their support in digitizing these films; with their help we expect to have 30 more episodes available soon!

 

Several episodes of Science in Action can now be watched at Internet Archive and on the California Academy of Sciences’ YouTube channel. Don’t miss the Animal of the Week at the end of each program!

N4572
Odd Salon (“Learn Something Weird”) is a twice-monthly evening of short talks on broad topics such as “Rogue,” “Lost,” and “Secret.” Kelly’s talk will add a bit of insider museum lore to “Preserved.”

 


Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Library News,Science in Action — Archives & Special Collections @ 11:09 pm

January 6, 2014

Archives Unboxed: Ynes Mexia.

The archives at the California Academy of Sciences hold the life’s work of many amazing scientists and naturalists.  While recently undertaking a survey of our photograph collection, I had the chance to revisit the work of a true pioneer, Ynes Mexia.

Ms. Mexia was a fiercely independent botanist who traveled through the taxing wilderness of South America, Mexico, and Alaska in search of plant specimens from the mid-1920s through the late 1930s. Mexia was often only accompanied by hired guides and carried what she could in order to sustain her and more importantly, to support her work gathering specimens. Like many of the plants she was so fond of, Ynes Mexia was a bit of a late bloomer.

Portrait of Ynes Mexia

Click to view the image larger in a new window.
Ynes Mexia © California Academy of Sciences.
“Young Black-headed Grosbeak.”
Portrait of Ynes Mexia, ca. 1921.

Ynes was born in Washington DC in 1870. When her parents separated in 1879, Ynes moved with her mother and attended schools in Philadelphia, Toronto, and Maryland.   After her compulsory education was complete, she was sent to live with her father in Mexico where she would manage his estate and eventually inherited the family ranching business. Mexia made a life for herself in Mexico for nearly 30 years but after two unhappy marriages and a nervous breakdown, she moved to San Francisco to strike out on her own and discover her true passion, botany.  In 1917, Mexia joined the Sierra Club and she participated in hikes exploring the California landscapes where she became deeply involved with conservation efforts to preserve the Redwoods. At age 51, Mexia enrolled as a special student at the University of California at Berkeley. If you think a 51 year old enrolling in University is uncommon now, you can only imagine how anomalous it was in 1921 when Mexia enrolled! Nevertheless, Mexia’s spirit for learning and eagerness to participate in university expeditions introduced her to botanical collecting, which kindled a fire inside of Mexia that she had not previously known. Around this time, Mexia also formed a friendship with renowned California Academy of Sciences botanist, Alice Eastwood. Eastwood proved to be a great mentor and Mexia joined her on collecting trips throughout California.

Mexia, Ynes, 1870-1938

Click to view the image larger in a new window.
Ynes Mexia © California Academy of Sciences.
“Bringing home the specimens.”
Contra Costa County (Calif.), 1923.

Mexia, Ynes, 1870-1938

Click to view the image larger in a new window.
Ynes Mexia © California Academy of Sciences.
“Nest and eggs of Spurred Towhee.” ca.1923.

In 1925, Mexia was invited to join an expedition bound for Sinaloa, Mexico. In the early days of the expedition Mexia decided that she would be better suited to traveling alone.  At Mexia broke off from the expedition, gathered provisions, and sent for supplies to make her way to Mazatlan and down the Mexican coast. On this collecting trip Mexia gathered 3,500 specimens. This would mark the first of thirteen years of collecting expeditions in new and unexplored landscapes. Mexia’s solo expeditions would take her back to Mexico, across South America, and even into Alaska, where Mexia would be the first collect the flora of what is now the Denali National Park.

The California Academy of Sciences holds many of Ynez Mexia’s photographs from her numerous travels both domestically and abroad. Much of her collection is comprised of negatives shot on a cellulose nitrate film base, which was a plastic that was commonly used as a flexible film base from 1889 to around 1951. The nitrocellulose in the chemical composition gradually decomposes, making it vulnerable to specific types of deterioration over time.  Here at the California Academy of Sciences, we are taking measures to help slow down the inevitable deterioration process of Mexia’s collection of beautiful photographs so that future generations can benefit from her experiences.  We are currently in the process of digitizing Mexia’s nitrate negatives in order to retain access to the images while the artifacts are stored at a very low temperature. The negatives will be kept in a -20 degree stable environment to try and slow the deterioration process down to an imperceptible crawl. Ynes Mexia’s work embodies a pioneering spirit that we hope will continue to inspire curiosity and excitement in naturalists of all ages for generations to come.

Mexia, Ynes, 1870-1938

Click to view the image larger in a new window.
Ynes Mexia © California Academy of Sciences.
Probably Middle Fork Canyon area, Kings Canyon National Park (Calif.) ca. 1919-1938

 

Mexia, Ynes, 1870-1938

Click to view the image larger in a new window.
Ynes Mexia © California Academy of Sciences.
“Sentinal Dome – Glacier point – Jeffry Pine. Nature class with Dr. Bryant. July 2/21.”

 

 

-Yolanda Bustos, Project Manager and Archives and Digital Collections Assistant Librarian


Resources

Anema, Durlynn. Ynes Mexia, Botanist and Adventurer. Greensboro, N.C: Morgan Reynolds Pub, 2005. Print.

Mexía, Ynés. Ynes Mexia Papers. , 1910. Archival material.

Polk, Milbry, and Mary Tiegreen. Women of Discovery: A Celebration of Intrepid Women Who Explored the World. New York: C. Potter, 2001. Print.


Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 11:36 pm

May 25, 2013

Archives Unboxed: Episode #355 of Science in Action (1959)!

In 1949, the California Academy of Sciences furthered its longstanding mission to engage and educate the public in the sciences by expanding to the media of television. With generous underwriting from the American Trust Company (now Wells Fargo Bank) the California Academy of Sciences was able to produce Science in Action, a half hour science program which consisted of  twenty-two and a half minutes of programming on a specific scientific topic, presented by the Academy’s then curator of the Steinhart Aquarium Earl Herald in tandem with a foremost expert on the show’s subject. Over its sixteen year run, the show included interviews with several Nobel Laureates, including Harold Urey, Linus Pauling, Glenn T Seaborg, and Wendell M Stanley, all recipients of the Nobel Prize for chemistry who spoke on topics ranging from the Earth’s origins (Episode 107) to Cancer research (Episode 191). Science in Action also featured great innovators of American craft and design like Buckminster Fuller and Charles Eames.

Episode #355, “Earth’s Radiation Belts,” explored the methods used by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to determine the intensity and effects of Van Allen radiation belts surrounding the Earth.  This particular episode aired in 1959 – two years after Soviet dog Laika became the first animal in orbit, two years before Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin completed the first successful human spaceflight, and three years before astronaut John Glenn piloted the Mercury-Atlas 6 around the Earth.  In 1959, the question voiced by host Earl Herald was one of the key scientific mysteries at the start of the Space Race: “What [are these radiation belts] going to mean for the first person to take off from the earth as a space traveler?”

Herald interviewed three researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (then known as the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at UC Berkeley). Dr. R. Stephen White (Leader of the Nuclear Effects Group), Dr. Stanley Freden (Senior Staff Physicist), and Mr. Albert Oliver (Head of Processing Department), explained LLNL’s  method of radiation testing in the Van Allen belts: mounting an emulsion stack on a rocket, which was then launched into the region of the radiation belts using a rockoon (a rocket suspended from a high-altitude balloon), recovered upon returning to Earth, and processed to test for radiation intensity.

In Dr. Herald’s own words: “Compared to the excitement surrounding the man/satellite program, this little box [the emulsion stack] may not seem like much.  But when you stop and think of the fantastic amount of vital information that has been derived from it, and what this information will mean to the safety of future space travel, and a better understanding of the mysterious forces which surround the earth, then this little box takes on quite a different meaning.” The subject interview was  followed by a three minute “animal of the week” segment featuring Academy Herpetologist Ted Papenfuss and a series of rattlesnakes he collected from Southern Arizona and New Mexico.

As the first science television show on the west coast, Science in Action quickly made a name for itself as the finest in family programming with praise and support pouring in from both the media and viewers. The media regaled the show as one which “far exceeds anything else in the field of educational and science television.”[i]  Fan mail from children, parents, and educators indicated that the show was regarded with great affection. In 1951, Science in Action’s ratings indicated that the show tied for second place in children’s programming alongside Howdy Doody and trailing only slightly behind Hopalong Cassidy and hedging out the Lone Ranger! Additionally, Science in Action went on to win five Emmy Awards for Best Cultural and Educational Program (1951 and 1952), Best Live Show (1952), Special Achievement Award (1954), and the Excellence in Education Award (1955). The show also received a host of local and national awards for excellence.

Special thanks to Jim Oliver for generously providing the funding to transfer this classic from 16mm film to preservation-quality digital video.  We salute you!

For more information about Science in Action, visit http://research.calacademy.org/library/collections/archives/SIAtelevision and feel free to drop us a line.

 

- Heather Yager and Yolanda Bustos
Archives and Digital Collections


[i] Foster, Bob. “S.F. Holds Its Own in TV Shows Locally Produced”, San Mateo Times. August 8, 1951.


Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Archives finds,Science in Action — admin @ 12:06 am

May 15, 2013

Archives Unboxed: A letter from Einstein, a proclamation from Grant

Part One: The Einstein Letter

As an archivist here at the California Academy of Sciences, it is our job to preserve, organize, and make available for use the records of scientific activity and discovery. We undertake this effort in a variety of ways; from making available new and beautiful images of the natural world freely available for educational, personal, and non-profit use through the Manzanita Image Project, to digitizing field books and linking the resources to newly digitized specimens and published materials through our work on the Connecting Content Grant, to more traditional processing of our large collection of scientific records in an effort to make the material accessible to those who wish to consult it. Archival materials may include formats such as paper, photographs, film, video and audio recordings on analog or digital media, works of art, and other realia of significance to our collections. In short, you never know what you’ll find when you open a box.

I often boast that this exciting discovery is the best part of the job. As archivists, we get to be part Indiana Jones and part Sherlock Holmes (with equally zany fashion sense) and we are given the opportunity to preserve and explore the treasures of the past and allow for new connections and discoveries to be made as a result of our making the collections available. Moreover, in making these collections available, we uncover exciting items that we want to immediately share with you. With that in mind, we have decided to do a monthly (or perhaps more often if we just can’t wait) series of posts dedicated to highlighting some of the exciting new discoveries in our collections.

In our inaugural installment  we would like to share with you a recent discovery (to us) when we opened a collection known to us as “Special Collections”. The records themselves were fairly straight forward and were comprised of documents that captured the history and processes that formed the California Academy of Sciences Special Collections but as we perused the contents, a series of “Files from the Rare Book Room” brought forth unexpected treasure. A few items stood out, including the hand written account of a meeting in 1885 between Adolph Sutro, California fish commissioner Joseph D Redding in which the “Sea Lion Question” was addressed. In case you are curious, the sea lion question was essentially, “ Do the sea lions who occupy the bays and coasts near San Francisco pose a threat to the fish populations?” We also found a California land patent for a small section of Mount Diablo signed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872.

1872 lang grant for lots of Mt. Diablo

1872 land patent for lots on Mt. Diablo

 

Additionally, we found a letter signed by Albert Einstein!

Letter from the emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists dated February 10, 1947.

Letter from the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists dated February 10, 1947.

The letter itself is a form letter asking for money to fund an educational endeavor regarding the responsible use of atomic energy after the tragedy of Hiroshima . Einstein was at the head of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists for its brief existence. The University of Chicago holds the organization’s records, and you can read more about the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists here: http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.ECAS

I can only speculate that this letter came to the Academy by way of ECAS member and Nobel laureates Harold Urey and Linus Pauling, who were closely affiliated with the California Academy of Sciences and appeared on several episodes of our Academy produced television program, Science in Action.

Stay tuned for more great finds as we dig into our archives and uncover the history and intrigue of our past!

 

-Yolanda Bustos

Connecting Content Project Manger & Archives and Digital Collections Assistant Librarian

 


Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Archives finds — Archives & Special Collections @ 4:06 am

April 10, 2013

A Naturalist’s Garden of Verses, Part Two

April is National Poetry Month here in the United States (and National Poetry Writing Month, hint hint…), and so we thought it time for another installment of “A Naturalist’s Garden of Verses.”  These four poems feature swaying owls, cloud-riding, and actual sea moss specimens mounted on the page.  Enjoy!

Verse from Sea Mosses, by Clara B. Heath (1881), lettering and specimen mount by Grace A. Hall (1890 ca.)  From the Grace A. Hall collection.

Were these the trees of a mimic isle,
Never at loss for the sun or dew?
Or only the branches that decked a while
A fairy boat with its fairy crew?

Verse from Sea Mosses, by James Thomas Field (1849), lettering by Grace A. Hall (1890 ca.) From the Grace A. Hall collection.
These tributes plundered from the sea
These many-colored variegated forms
Sail to our rougher shores and rise and fall,
To the deep music of the Atlantic wave.
Such spoils we capture where the rainbows drop
Melting in ocean.

The Owl and the Stars, by Arthur L. Bolton (1930 ca.) From the Bolton Family collection.
The little Stars were playing in the sky,
When the Man-in-the-Moon came sailing by;
He winked at them and they winked at him,
And they winked at the Owl on the old dry limb.
They played hide-and-seek, for the night was still,
And the Moon slipped down behind the hill,
But the little Stars kept winking still
And nodding in a roguish way,
To see the Owl sit there and sway
Till the Sun came up, when all he could do,
Was to sit on that limb the whold [sic] day through.

Untitled, by George S. Myers (1930 ca.) From the George S. Myers collection.
O would that I could ride a cloud
Over far vistas bright
O would that I might be a star
To scan the dim vastness of the night

O would that the world before me lay
All visible to my roving eye
For… [unfinished -HY]

A Naturalist’s Garden of Verses, Part One
-Heather Yager
Academy Archivist


Filed under: Academy History,Archives — Archives & Special Collections @ 10:51 pm

April 5, 2013

The first botanical Illustration Smackdown

Stepping away from our previous animal focused Smackdowns, our focus today is Foeniculum vulgare, also known as common fennel. This culinary herb from the carrot family (Umbelliferae) is native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean area. You can read more about its usage and cultivation in Culinary Herbs, among other volumes.

(c) Henry Evans. to order prints, contact Marsha Evans: marsha@henryevans.com

Henry Evans made numerous botanical prints throughout his career. This fennel image is among several housed in the Archives, likely from an exclusive Academy exhibit.  Revered by botanists for his faithful portrayal of important characteristics, each species is created life size.

Henry Evans at his press, courtesy of the CAS Archive

(c) 2103 Diane T Sands gouache & colored pencil; magazine image created in Photoshop

(c)2013 Diane T Sands

I approached my own image of this plant by asking the question, what sort of client would ask me to create a botanical image of this species today? The most likely option would, I think, be a cooking magazine. So I laid out my image as if it were a magazine cover. The painting was created using gouache, and colored pencils.


Filed under: Archives,Scientific Illustration,Smackdown — Dsands @ 7:46 pm

March 13, 2013

A Naturalist’s Garden of Verses, Part One

I’m always delighted when I find unexpected treasures in the archives.  In addition to the species lists, invoices, and specimen images common in natural history archives, one can find all manner of music, poetry, and comedy if one knows where to look.  Many of our scientists and naturalists found themselves gripped by the Muse on long, cold nights in the field (or long, cold days in the office), and put pen to paper in order to view their science through the lens of art.  Over the past few months I’ve been making notes whenever I come across a bit of verse in the collections – over the next few weeks I’ll bring you some of my favorites, starting with these three.

Alice Eastwood Acrostic, by Eunice Taylor (1940 ca.) From the Alice Eastwood collection.

Attuned as some rare violin to life,
Listening to and seeing Nature’s heart,
Interpreting her beauty and her art
Cherishing her mystery and her lore
Endowed with wisdom, kindliness and cheer.

Earth smiled triumphantly when you were born
And hailed you as her own beloved child
Saluting Canada’s proud gift, she gave
To California your spirit brave
Where she decreed that you should reign
O‘er all her giant trees and lovely flowers.
Oh! brighter is the world because of you
Disciple true, of Nature’s wondrous powers.

Untitled (early 20th century) From the B.W. Evermann collection.

I wish I was an eagle’s egg,
As stale as stale can be,
All cuddled down in a big old nest
In the top of a white oak tree.

Then when a greedy ‘ologist
Climbed up to me in glee,
I’d bust my nasty rotten self
And sprinkle him with me.

Yonder, by Arthur L. Bolton (1930 ca.) From the Bolton Family collection.

Yonder, where the spruces dwarft and aged,
Crouch beneath the overbearing snows,
Yonder, and beyond, where mountains soaring,
Bear the flush of early morning rose,
There, among the ptarmigan and willows,
Where Nature rests immaculate, sublime,
Shall I find a Peace at one with Heaven,
Shall I know the majesty of Time.

- Heather Yager, Archivist
Subscribe to our RSS feed


Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Archives finds — Archives & Special Collections @ 12:18 am

February 28, 2013

Even Though It Was Raining (Switzer 1935 ca.)

Today we bring you a blog post from the past, describing in detail the tenacity of the dedicated collector. George Switzer, famed Smithsonian mineralogist (responsible for bringing the Hope Diamond into the Institution’s collection) wrote this tale of soggy derring-do while completing his undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley in the mid-1930s. From the L. Courtney Decius collection at the California Academy of Sciences Archives.

EVEN THOUGH IT WAS RAINING

This is just by way of proving that it takes more than a mere rainstorm on a semi-liquid mud lake to stop a real mineral bug.

The lake visited was Borax Lake, formed by lava damming a mountain cove, in Lake County on the southeastern border of Clear Lake. It was in this lake that, in 1864, the first commercial production of Borax in American [sic] was begun. The lake is now nearly dry with a crust of Halite, colored violet by organic life, covering it. Under this crust is a thick mud with a decidedly “soapy” feel due to the large amount of Borax in solution.

The trip was made by a party of four, including Mr. M. Vonsen, a well-known mineralogist of Petaluma, California. It was unfortunate that we picked a very rainy day for the excursion because, during the whole time we were collecting, it rained in torrents. To make matters worse, the lake is so soft that one cannot walk on it. This was remedied by walking on skis made of one by six pine boards about six feet long tied to the feet with ropes. And beware! For if you step off the skis, you immediately sink to the hips in the mud and it is impossible to get out without assistance.

In spite of being soaked to the skin by rain and coated from head to foot with mud, the trip was very worth while. For by skiing to the middle of the lake, breaking the Halite crust and groping arms deep in the mud, we felt an occasional second layer, which proved to be excellent specimens of Halite and Borax crystals on Trona and Natron. The Natron, however, was so deliquescent that we were unable to preserve any of them. We also obtained minute crystals of Northupite and Gay-Lussite, both insoluble in water, by dissolving a specimen of the Borax and Trona in water. Then with a low powered microscope we were able to separate the Northupite octahedrons from the monoclinic Gay-Lussite crystals.

We were indeed fortunate to be able to get any specimens at all, for it was the first time in twenty years that chemical conditions in the lake had been right so that the minerals could crystallize out. Following the heavy rain the specimens were again gone, perhaps only for the winter, or maybe for another twenty years.

Misson and Switzer.

- Heather Yager, Archivist, on behalf of George Switzer, Mineralogist.


Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Archives finds — Archives & Special Collections @ 2:13 am

February 22, 2013

The archives are a real hoot!

Yesterday morning, California Academy of Sciences archivist, Heather Yager was looking through some documentation and stumbled upon quite a gem. In the archives, finding something wonderful isn’t really that rare; recently we found a letter from the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists signed by Albert Einstein. So, while big finds never cease to humble and astound us, we’re not exactly surprised.

However, yesterday we found a letter from local mycologist Lillian S. Mott (who described and named the mushroom endemic to the vicinity of Grass Valley and Nevada City, Boletus mottiae Theirs) to then California Academy of Sciences art director, Johan Kooy expressing an interest in donating slides and images for use in Academy publications. While this in its own right is special, Lillian also included two photographs of owls which she hilariously captioned, leading us to believe she may have unwittingly invented the owl meme in 1971.

(c) Lillian S Mott, 1971.

(c) Lillian Mott, 1971.

Ms. Mott, if you read this, we recognize not only your fine contributions to science but also your wit and innovative spirit. We salute you.

-Yolanda Bustos
MAS, MLIS,  IMLS grant manager, and lover of acronyms and memes.


Filed under: Archives,Archives finds,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 8:06 pm

January 3, 2013

A Beetle Browed Smackdown

This Smackdown we feature the largest beetle in the world, Goliathus goliatus. Goliath beetles are often described as the largest and heaviest of all beetles. Adults range from 2-4 inches in length, while the larvae can top 5 inches and weigh 0.25 pounds a piece! There are five different species of Goliathus across the African continent (see this link for a nifty map).

Black and white drawing of beetles, genus Goliathus From Cyclopedia published by Longman, Hurst, Rees & Orme 1810

These magnificent engravings of spiders come from Natural History volume five in the Cyclopaedia or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Science and Literature.  Abraham Rees, Presbyterian minister and educator, produced this Encyclopedia in 45 volumes between 1802 and 1820.  On the title page of the Cyclopaedia, Rees’ 100 contributors are qualified with the “assistance from eminent professional gentlemen” and “illustrated by most distinguished artists”.

18th Century ‘encyclopedists’ developed the modern idea of recording and widely distributing knowledge as distinct from only publishing facts. The still familiar Encyclopedia Britannica was first published between 1768 and 1771. Rees’ Cyclopedia was noted for its high quality of illustrations. And we can still enjoy the beauty of nature through these 19th century engravings.

The publisher of this book put out some beautiful and strange illustrated books in the early 1800’s including Musci exotici :containing figures and descriptions of new or little known foreign mosses and other cryptogamic subjects by William Jackson Hooker. (http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/41803) and A Dissertation on Gunshot Wounds by Charles Bell. (http://www.bibliopolis.com/main/books/1869071/A-dissertation-on-gun-shot-wounds-Bell-Charles-Jeremy-Norman-Co.html) Regardless of the subject it looks like they were masterful printers and included really amazing etchings in their work.

(c) Diane T Sands. Gouache and colored pencil on colored paper

Drawn from specimens housed in the Academy’s Naturalist Center, this color image contrasts the female (left) and male (right) of Goliathus goliatus. For the black and white image below, I wanted to show less of a dead, pinned subject and more of a living critter.

(c) Diane T Sands. Ink on scratchboard


Filed under: Archives,Rare Books,Scientific Illustration,Smackdown — Dsands @ 8:25 pm
Next Page »

Library Contact Info

   

For general inquiries about the Academy Library please contact:

Library Reference
415-379-5484
library@calacademy.org

Visit Library homepage »

Chat live with a Librarian »

Academy Blogroll