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Why Do Bug Bites Itch?

Never Stop Asking Why: Why do bug bites itch?Long days and short nights. Beaches, lakes and pools. Campfires and cookouts. Playgrounds and sprinklers. A visit to the museum any day of the week.


Is there a downside to summer? We can only think of one – bug bites. Even if you use every type of insect repellent, those annoying mosquitoes seem to find a way to our sweet skin, take a drink of blood and leave us with an itchy, itchy red bump. So why do bug bites itch so much? We answer this question with help from Hank Green at the SciShow.    


Warning: While reading this blog, you might feel a little squeamish. You might want to scratch an existing bug bite. And in some cases you might call out, “Yuck!”


Let’s start at the beginning. You’re outside enjoying a summer activity when you realize there is a spot on your skin that is very itchy! You look down and there is a small red bump.


This is the result of a mosquito using its proboscis to stick your skin and drink some of your blood.


The proboscis, a long, straw-like tube, is made up of other long, bendable extremities. After the initial puncture into your skin, the mandibles and maxillae stretch the tiny hole wide enough to make room for the labrum and the hypopharynx. The labrum then sucks your blood while the hypopharynx injects saliva back into your skin. Because the mosquito’s saliva is an anticoagulant, it prevents your blood from clotting around the opening and allows that pesky bug to keep drinking until you swat it off or scare it away.


You can thank this saliva for what happens next, because chances are you’re allergic to it.


The allergy causes your body to produce histamine, a protein that causes inflammation and widens your capillaries so that white blood cells can attack the allergen.


For a reason that scientists don’t yet understand, histamine makes us itch. If you have seasonal allergies, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Your body’s production of histamine in response to a pollen allergy is what makes you want to rub your eyes and nose.  


So it’s not the actual bug bite that makes you want to scratch, scratch, scratch! It’s the histamine.


Looking for more Never Stop Asking "Why?" questions? Catch up on all of the past "Whys" on Pinterest or on the blog!


Saturday Science: Balloon Hovercraft

Saturday Science: Balloon HovercraftHovercrafts are pretty cool. They use air to hover a couple of feet up and can travel over land, snow, and even water. Since air is all around us, with a couple of things from around the house you can wrangle that air into a small but functioning hovercraft!



  • An old CD or DVD (make sure it’s one nobody wants to use anymore)
  • A pop-top from a water bottle or soap bottle
  • Duct tape
  • A pushpin
  • A balloon
  • A hot glue gun



  1. Tear off two 2-inch square of duct tape. Use them to cover the hole in the CD from both sides so there’s no sticky stuff exposed.
  2. Using your pushpin, poke 6-8 holes through the tape around the edge of the CD hole. This will concentrate the air flowing through and help the CD hover.
  3. Using your hot glue gun, glue the pop-top cap over the hole. Make sure the seal is completely airtight by opening the cap once the glue is dry and blowing through it. Air should only be coming through the holes you poked in the tape. If it’s leaking out the edges of the cap, add a bit more glue.
  4. When the glue is all dry you’re ready to add your air! Blow up the balloon as big as you can get it but don’t tie it off. Make sure that the pop-top is closed and pull the neck of the balloon down over the top part of it.
  5. Your hovercraft is finished! Pop the cap open to get the air flowing and watch it float!



So how come the CD hovers instead of blasting straight up?

The CD hovers because the air coming through those holes you poked gets spread out into a cushion underneath the CD, pushing it up off whatever surface you put it on. This is partially due to a scientific principle called Bernoulli’s Principle, after scientist Daniel Bernoulli. It says that fast moving air has low air pressure and slowly moving air has high pressure. When you concentrate the flow of air through those tiny pushpin holes you raise the pressure and lower the speed to help it form that cushion rather than simply blasting the CD across the room (like when you let go of an untied balloon).

Experiment with different bases for your hovercraft. How does a paper plate work? A Frisbee? An old record album? If you want to kick it up a notch you can go online and find blueprints for a full-sized hoverchair you can ride! Just make sure you have an adult handy to help you build it!

Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

Meet Kelsey the Triceratops

Kelsey TriceratopsYou’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere– but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, you learn the behind the scenes story on all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the cretaceous period to their discoveries!

Who is Kelsey?

Kelsey is a Triceratops horridus which means "horrible three-horned face." Why do you think they named this type of dinosaur that way?

Kelsey was discovered by the Leonard and Arlene Zerbst family in the fall of 1997 on their ranch in Niobrara County, Wyoming. The ranch is part of the Lance Creek fossil bed, where the fossils of many dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous Period have been found. The Zerbsts named Kelsey after their 3-year old granddaughter, Kelsey Ann.
Alongside Kelsey were found more than 20 fossilized teeth of predatory dinosaur, Nanotyrannus, a smaller cousin of T. rex. Did the Nanotyrannus kill Kelsey, or did Kelsey die of natural causes and the Nanotyrannus just happen along to scavenge on the already dead Triceratops? Does this explain the tiny bite marks found on Kelsey's leg?

Triceratops at the Indianapolis Children's Museum.

Interesting Facts about Kelsey

Like other Triceratops, Kelsey had a big head. It was as long as a human adult is tall (over 6 feet) and was nearly one-third as long as its body. The fossilized bone of the skull is up to 2 inches thick and is very heavy. The skull is bumpy (scientists refer to this as "rugosity"). Some scientists think this bumpiness might have been a sign of old age.
No dinosaur is discovered 100 percent complete. Due to erosion and other factors, some fossilized bones are always missing. The people who prepare the dinosaurs for exhibits create casts of the missing bones, usually from other dinosaurs that have been discovered, to fill in the missing pieces. Very few Triceratops have been found and most of the ones that have been found aren't very complete. More than 50 percent of Kelsey's skeleton has been found, which makes it possibly the most complete Triceratops ever found and one of the top three ever discovered. 

The Life of a Triceratops
Kelsey lived in the late Cretaceous Period, more than 65 million years ago. Triceratops like Kelsey could be found in the western part of the United States and in southwestern Canada. You can tell Kelsey is a Triceratops by the three horns on its head. Scientists call a horned dinosaur like Triceratops a ceratopsian. The two horns above the eye sockets were up to 3 feet long. The horns were sharp and covered with a thick coat of the same stuff your fingernails are made of, called keratin, which made them strong. They came in handy in a fight with any T. rex that decided Kelsey would make a nice meal.
Although Kelsey wasn't a predator looking for a fight, it wasn't defenseless if attacked. In addition to having horns, Triceratops could use its size to defend itself. Triceratops could be as tall as a basketball goal (10 feet), and as long as three basketball goals laid end-to-end (30 feet), and could weigh as much as three cars (six tons). A Triceratops' eyes also helped it defend itself. They were on the sides of its head and helped it scan for any predators coming after it.
You can't miss the big bone sticking up at the back of Kelsey's head. This bone is called a frill and scientists used to think it was there to protect the neck area. Some scientists now think the frill may have been important in helping male Triceratops attract females or distract potential male rivals for a female's attention. Another possible explanation for the frill is heat regulation. As the Triceratops' body warmed up, heat escaped from the frill and the body temperature returned to normal.
Kelsey was a herbivore, which means it ate plants instead of meat. Because a Triceratops was so big, it ate many pounds of plants a day. It ate low-lying plants such as ferns and cycads. Scientists think it may have used its horns to knock down small trees and then snipped off the leaves with its parrot-shaped beak. Scientists know some of the plants it ate by studying phytoliths, tiny parts of plants that left scratch marks on fossilized dinosaur teeth or remained between teeth after they fossilized. Scientists debate whether Triceratops lived in herds. Some think they might have roamed the Cretaceous forests on their own and did not migrate.

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!


Behind the Scenes—The Making of the Emperor’s Portrait

Emperor's Portrait in Progress

Rob Day is a nationally-recognized illustrator, with work appearing in Smithsonian, Time, Business Week, Rolling Stone and more. Day’s portrait of Emperor Qin Shi Huang is his second project for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. You can also find his first painting of the infamous Captain Kidd in the Museum’s permanent exhibit, Treasures of the Earth.

When visitors to the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit are welcomed by the larger-than-life image of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, they might never guess that the emperor had a “stunt double.” Many thanks to David Donaldson, The Children's Museum's Chief Technology Officer, for graciously agreeing to be photographed—wearing full emperor garb—for reference images that have made the emperor’s portrait come to life!

The Reference Image: Shooting reference shots is often necessary when historic images are rare or difficult to obtain. As an illustrator, I’ve found many a model over the years to help me capture just the right reference images. When combined with historic information, they make for a much more realistic and engaging painting. Working with Children's Museum Creative Director Ned Shaw, we found just the right model in David, who Ned described as having “a regal bearing of an emperor.” (I wonder if this is a prerequisite for all CTOs?) Knowing that we needed a full-length portrait that captured the power and posture of Emperor Qin, we went to work shooting various poses that ultimately would be combined in the final portrait. 

The Research: One of the things that I enjoy most about working as an illustrator is the opportunity to research and learn about the subjects that I paint. I began by investigating existing images of Emperor Qin, costumes, and sword designs of ancient China. During my research I learned details about the emperor that would be included in the portrait. For instance, did you know that the dragon shown on the emperor's clothing always has five toes? Or, that the emperor is always portrayed wearing an unusual cap called a Guan Mian? In the Chinese idiom, Guan Mian Tang Huang translates: "elegant and stately in dressing". The "Guan" and "Mian" refer to cap. 

The Sketches: As Ned and I reviewed the dozens of reference photos taken from our shoot, we chose several images to combine for the portrait. I created pencil sketches incorporating details gleaned from my research to achieve an historically accurate portrayal of Emperor Qin's physical likeness. After discussing final elements with Ned and his team, I began painting the emperor’s portrait.

The Scan: The painting, which is 23"x38" oil on paper, took three weeks to complete. The next step was making a high resolution digital scan of the painting. Color corrections and costume details and embellishments were made digitally. Museum staff reproduced and enlarged the image and today the portrait of Emperor Qin towers over guests who enter the exhibit.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the history of what is considered to be the most significant archaeological find of the twentieth century and look forward to being one of the thousands of visitors who will be welcomed by Emperor Qin as I visit The Terra Cotta Warriors.

Want to see the portrait for yourself? Buy your tickets to see Terra Cotta Warriors: The Emperor's Painted Army.


All photos and sketches are courtesy of Rob Day, 2014.

Meet Frannie the Prenoceratops

Prenoceratops at the Indianapolis Children's Museum.You’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere– but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, you learn the behind the scenes story on all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the cretaceous period to their discoveries!

Who is Frannie?

Frannie is an adult Prenoceratops and is about 60 percent real fossilized bone. No dinosaur is discovered 100 percent complete. Due to erosion and other factors, some fossilized bones are always missing. The people who prepare the dinosaurs for exhibits create casts of the missing bones, usually from other dinosaurs that have been discovered, to fill in the missing pieces.

Dorothy and Leo Flammand found Frannie in 1995 in the St. Mary's Formation in Pondera County, Montana while working for Canada Fossils Ltd., a commercial paleontology group. Frannie is named after Fran Julian, a supporter of The Children's Museum.

There are two Prenoceratops in Dinosphere. In addition to Frannie, there is a cast model made from Frannie's bones. Some scientists believe that Frannie could be an entirely new species of Prenoceratops!

The Life of a Prenoceratops

Not all dinosaurs were big or had long necks and sharp teeth. Many dinosaurs were quite small. Frannie, an adult Prenoceratops, is less than 6 feet long and 3 feet tall and would have weighed less than 150 lbs in life. Prenoceratops lived in the Middle and Late Cretaceous Period, approximately 65 to 74 million years ago in western North America and Australia.
There's something mysterious about Prenoceratops. It doesn't seem to belong to the usual cast of Cretaceous creatures. At the end of the Age of Dinosaurs when Prenoceratops lived, most dinosaurs had adapted and evolved in special ways to meet the challenges of a changing environment. Prenoceratops, however, was around for a very long time in geological history and did not seem to develop unique adaptations. Perhaps it survived on the fringes of the forest or in the uplands where there was less competition for food and fewer predators.

Prenoceratops is a cousin to Triceratops. Both are members of the Ceratopsian family of dinosaurs, which means they have horns. But Prenoceratops does not have a horn, even though its name means "slender horned face." Prenoceratops did have some things in common with Triceratops. Both were herbivores, which means they ate plants instead of meat, and both had a beak like a parrot that they used to snip plants to eat. Prenoceratops also had a frill, but it was smaller than a Triceratops frill. Prenoceratops had teeth different from the teeth of Triceratops and other Ceratopsians. Prenoceratops teeth were broad rather than long, perhaps for eating a variety of plants. Each tooth also had only one, rather than several, replacement teeth available. The Prenoceratops teeth had one root rather than double roots like the teeth of Triceratops.
Prenoceratops probably walked on all four legs, but may have had the ability to stand on two feet for feeding. Its slender build indicates that it could move quickly. Some scientists think Prenoceratops may have used its hind legs to burrow into the ground to hide from predators. Other scientists disagree and think Prenoceratops could have run swiftly to escape predators. Scientists also aren't sure if Prenoceratops lived alone or in herds. Six, however, were found together in a bone bed in 1999. Could this be a clue?

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

Creating and Sharing the Artwork of our Youngest Visitors

Playscape Art WindowStephanie Eddleman is the museum’s Early Childhood Specialist and manager of the Playscape gallery. Playscape offers a wide variety of sensory and play-based learning experiences for families with children ages 0-5.  

Pablo Picasso famously said that, “Every child is an artist,” and in the Playscape Art Studio that is certainly the truth! From the small scribbled drawing of a toddler to a preschooler’s patterned painting, each child is encouraged to express their own creativity and unique abilities when creating a work of art in our studio. 

Our Playscape art projects also help our youngest visitors build visual literacy skills as they're encouraged to notice and make observations about the details of authentic works of art. Our staff encourages children to talk about the lines, shapes, and patterns in a work of art in order to build critical math and science foundational skills. 

My favorite thing about the Playscape Art Studio is that we not only strive to provide rich artistic experiences, but we make our visitor’s learning visible when we display their work. We love to place on display the community art that multiple visitors have completed together. 

Twice a month (every third Thursday and fourth Saturday) our artist-in-residence, Linda S. Cannon, helps our visitors add their own creation to a larger work of art. So far we've created a pen and ink drawing, sumi painting, water color painting, and much more! Children and their families have worked together to leave their own mark on each of the community pieces. Linda recently blogged about her experience in Playscape—be sure to check out her perspective on the Art Studio, too!

On your next visit to Playscape, take a look at the artwork lining the windows and you'll see that Picasso was correct. Whether you're in or outside of Playscape—all children are artists. We proudly display this fact on the walls of our studio.

Join us daily at 10:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. in the Playscape art studio and witness the artist inside your own young child! You may be surprised at the wonderful creativity they unleash!

Playscape Art Wall Playscape Art Sample

Meet Bucky the Teenage T. rex

Bucky the teenage T. Rex at the Indianapolis Children's Museum.

You’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere– but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, you learn the behind the scenes story on all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the cretaceous period to their discoveries!

Who is Bucky?

Bucky is a Tyrannosaurus rex (T. rex) which means "tyrant lizard king." Bucky is a teenager almost the size of an adult T. rex. Although still young, Bucky is already big, about 34 feet long and more than 10 feet tall!

A young rancher and rodeo cowboy named Bucky Derflinger discovered Bucky in 1998. That's how Bucky the T. rex got its name. Bucky Derflinger has been collecting dinosaur fossils since he was 9 years old. He was 20 when he saw Bucky's fossilized toe bone sticking out of the ground. The part of the fossilized bone he saw was white because it was weathered and had been bleached by the sun. Bucky Derflinger is the youngest person ever to have discovered a T. rex. You don't have to be a professional paleontologist to be a dinosaur hunter!
Bucky DerflingerMost of Bucky's fossilized bones were scattered and difficult to find. The dig site for its bones was about half the size of a football field—the largest dig site ever for a T. rex. Bucky was extremely well preserved and easy to prepare for display in the museum because the rock surrounding its fossilized bones, called the matrix, was soft and easy to remove.

  • Bucky is the sixth most complete T. rex ever found and the first teenage T. rex put on permanent display in a museum.
  • Bucky is the first T. rex to be identified with a furcula (also called a wishbone). This is very important because modern-day birds have wishbones. Does this mean that dinosaurs are distant relatives of birds?
  • Bucky also has a nearly complete set of gastralia and is only the third T. rex to be discovered with an ulna, or elbow bone.

The Life of a T. rex

Bucky lived in the late Cretaceous Period, around 65 million years ago. Tyrannosaurs like Bucky could be found in parts of western North America. Bucky lived at the top of the food chain, but life during the Cretaceous was tough and it wasn't easy to find food. Tyrannosaurs were carnivores, which means they ate meat instead of plants. Starvation, disease, and fights with potential mates and rivals were some of the bad things that could happen to a T. rex.

Although adult tyrannosaurs were one of the largest and most powerful of all predatory dinosaurs (about as heavy as an elephant, tall enough to look through a second story window and long enough to stretch out the width of a tennis court), some other dinosaurs, such as a large duckbill or Triceratops, may have been too big and powerful for a T. rex to kill by itself. Some scientists think tyrannosaurs worked together in families or groups to kill prey.
Bucky had a strong sense of smell, powerful legs that may have allowed it to move quickly, and forward-looking eyes which allowed it to quickly spot and focus on prey—characteristics that made it a ferocious hunter. (Some paleontologists believe tyrannosaurs were actually slow moving.) Bucky's lower jaw hinged like a door at the midpoint between its jawbone and chin so it could open its mouth wider to take bigger bites. Scientists think the T. rex moved its lower jaw backwards so its sharp lower teeth could tear through what it was eating while its upper teeth held the food in place. Fully grown tyrannosaurs were relatively lightweight for their size (around 6 tons—about as heavy as 3 cars) because their bones were hollow and they had large openings in their skulls.

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

Why Is My Hair Blonde?


Never Stop Asking Why: Why is my hair blonde?Do you have platinum, strawberry, golden or even dark blonde locks of hair? If you’ve ever looked in the mirror and thought, “Why is my hair blonde?”, then keep reading! We answer this question with help from Discovery News.    


Like all genetic questions, the simple answer is that you got your goldielocks from your parents. While this holds true, there’s more! In early June of this year, evolutionary biologists reported that they had identified one of the genetic mutations that codes for blond hair in one-third of Northern Europeans.


They found the mutation in a long gene sequence called KIT ligand (KITLG), a gene we could not survive without. It not only affects pigmentation, but it also affects blood cells, nerve cells and sex cells. When David Kingsley, an evolutionary biologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Stanford University in California, and his colleagues discovered the mutation, they wanted to know how it could alter hair color without damaging other essential aspects of life.


It turns out that when the blonde segments are tagged with a gene that codes for fluorescent-blue, the blue hue appears only in hair follicles. Because no other parts of the body change color, Kingsley and his team concluded that the gene mutation was activated only in hair.


"There's a half dozen different chromosome regions that influence hair color," said Kingsley. "This is one, but not the only one. The combination of variants that you have at all those different genes — that sets your final hair color."


Looking for more Never Stop Asking "Why?" questions? Catch up on all of the past "Whys" on Pinterest or on the blog!


Saturday Science:

Meet the Didelphodon

The Jaw of a DidelphodonYou’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere– but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, you learn the behind the scenes story on all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the cretaceous period to their discoveries!

Who is the Didelphodon?

Didelphodon is a mammal, not a dinosaur. Despite its small size, Didelphodon was among the largest mammals in the world 65 million years ago. But dinosaurs ruled the land and even the largest mammals were an easy target. In Dinosphere, you will see a fossilized Didephodon jaw bone and two models of a complete Didelphodon.

The discovery of the Didelphodon jaw is important because it is the first Didelphodon jaw containing teeth. The jaw will help scientists determine the size, position and number of its other teeth, and will serve as a useful comparison tool when studying other early mammals.

Barry Brown was searching for fossils in 2001 in Harding County, South Dakota, when he spotted a small area of eroded rock that was filled with "micro material" - tiny fossilized bones, teeth and claws from mammals, fish, amphibions, reptiles and dinosaurs. Included in the fossilized material was the Dinosphere Didelphodon jaw.

The Life of a Didelphodon

Didelphodon was a small creature that lived among the forests of the Late Cretaceous Period around 65 million years ago, along with T. rex, Triceratops and the duckbill dinosaurs. If you have ever seen an opossum, you know what Didelphodon might have looked like. Though no one has found anything more than a few pieces of a Didelphodon - fossilized teeth, jaw and skull fragments - scientists have speculated that it resembled today's opossum in shape and size. In fact, the name Didelphodon means "opossum tooth."
Didelphodon likely burrowed in the ground and slept during the day for protection. At night, it relied on its keen sense of smell and good vision to scavenge for insects, small reptiles, amphibians, other mammals, or dinosaur eggs. Its teeth were especially suited for crushing, so it could probably feast on hard-shell clams, snails or baby turtles. Like today's kangaroos and koalas, Didelphodon was a marsupial and probably carried its young in a pouch. Although marsupials are found today mostly in Australia and South America, Didelphodon fossils have been found only in North America.

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

Three Lessons I Learned From an 11-year-old in China

Jackie school deskLast year I had the privilege of traveling to Quan Zhou, China to do research for the now open Take Me There:® China exhibit at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. It was my job to photo-document and interview the Wang family who is represented in the exhibit. I was only there three days, but I was completely immersed in their day-to-day life. This family was one of the kindest, most generous, most hardworking families I’ve ever met.

I grew especially fond of eleven-year-old Wang Yijie (Jackie). These are three lessons I learned from Jackie that I still carry with me today.

1. Eat Bitterness. 
This means that when hard things happen, you have to endure them in order to accomplish your long term goals. It’s a common saying in the Chinese culture, but to hear it come from an eleven-year-old is pretty special, in my opinion. When I was interviewing Jackie he told me this was a lesson he learned from his parents and grandparents and something he really admired about them. Any time I am struggling I think of this phrase.

2. You can communicate without speaking the same language.
While I did travel with a fantastic translator there were times when I sat with Jackie alone in the back seat of the car as we were traveling to our next destination. Jackie speaks some English, but my Mandarin-speaking skills are, well, non-existent to say the least. It was ok, though! We communicated with hand gestures and facial expressions and still managed to form a strong bond over those three days. Often when we sat down to a meal Jackie would watch my facial expression. If he thought I didn’t know how to eat a certain food he would get my attention and show me so I didn’t feel awkward. It’s not always about what you say, it’s your actions that can matter the most.

3. Challenge yourself.
One of Jackie’s favorite activities is chess. Why you ask? Because it’s complicated and it helps with your critical thinking and strategic planning (these words are coming from an eleven-year-old, remember!) I was so impressed when I heard this response to my interview question. When I think back on this it reminds me that I should challenge myself every day. If Jackie can do it, I can do it! 

What unexpected lessons have you learned from a child?

The Gorgosaurus Gets the Royal Treatment

Gorgosaurus Phil quoteBy Dallas Evans, Lead Curator of Natural Science and Paleontology

The museum’s large predatory dinosaur Gorgosaurus will make its first appearance in Europe at The Summer Science Exhibition of the Royal Society in London. 

Among scientists, that’s a pretty big deal.

The Royal Society has played a role in some of the most important discoveries in the history of science. It was first created in the 1600s and is the world’s oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. Its membership has included famous names like Newton, Owen, Plot, Foucault, Planck, Einstein, Schrodinger, and Hawking.

This puts our Gorgosaurus in some great company.

The Summer Science Exhibition was created as a way to highlight some of the most exciting science and technology developments in the UK. Some of that technology is being utilized to take a closer look at prehistoric life.    

A cast of the Gorgosaurus will become the centerpiece for an exhibit entitled X-Appeal showing the work of Dr. Phil Manning and his colleagues at the University of Manchester. Phil and his fellow researchers use state of the art imaging techniques to look at “pathologies” or healed injuries that are evident in the fossil bones.  
On exhibit will be some of those real bone pathologies of the Gorgosaurus on loan from The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.    

In the Royal Society exhibit and in his blog Dinosaur CSI, Phil  looks at how researchers “help unlock the story of how this dinosaur accumulated so many healed injuries.”

The Children’s Museum values special collaborations—like this one with the University of Manchester—that provide great opportunities to engage ever-broader audiences and to promote scientific research. 

Meet the Gorgosaur

Gorgosaurus at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

You’ve seen the dinos in Dinosphere—but have you ever taken the time to really get to know them? Well now’s your chance! In the Meet the Dinos blog series, learn the story behind all of your favorite dinosaurs, from their lives in the Cretaceous period to their discoveries!

One Interesting Gorgosaur
We can tell by the injuries found on The Children's Museum's Gorgosaur that she lived a very rough life. Her injuries included broken bones, bad teeth, and a brain tumor! The Gorgosaur's brain tumor may be the first one ever discovered in a dinosaur. It may have contributed to the Gorgosaur's other injuries, and may even have caused her death. Almost all the fossilized teeth of the Gorgosaur are intact and attached to her jaw, but she had a bad infection in her mouth that caused her to lose some teeth. Because of all her injuries, scientists believe this Gorgosaur walked with pain and most likely had help from others in her pack to survive.
The Gorgosaur's injured bones include:

  • A broken fibula. Instead of being strong and straight, this twisted and bumpy lower leg bone healed poorly.
  • Crushed caudal vertebrae. These tail bones began to grow together as they were healing.
  • A broken femur. This leg bone was so badly injured that a section of the bone tore away from the rest.
  • Broken gastralia. These belly ribs helped protect the gorgosaur's vital organs. Some of the ribs healed.
  • Broken scapula. This gorgosaur had a shattered scapula, or shoulder blade. A huge growth formed around the bone to stabilize it as it healed.
There are several things about this Gorgosaur which make scientists think this may be a new species of dinosaur previously unknown to science. These include a manus claw, a sharp, curved claw similar to that of a T. rex; a furcula which leads some scientists to suggest that dinosaurs may be related to birds; and a rugose (bumpy) lacrimal. Preparators working on the Gorgosaur skull also found delicate structures in her nose. These structures, which are unusually well preserved, are called vestibular bulae. They may help scientists learn more about the anatomy of dinosaurs.

Gorgosaurs vs. Tyrannosaurus

Gorgosaurus means "fearsome lizard." Gorgosaurus lived in the Late Cretaceous Period, about 70 to 80 million years ago in the western United States. Gorgosaurus looks like its cousin T. rex. The two have a lot in common. Both were fierce carnivores, which means they ate meat instead of plants, with dozens of sharp teeth designed for biting and swallowing prey. Both were bipeds, which means they walked on two legs, and had small, muscular arms and long tails that they used to balance themselves. They both had eyes on the front of their heads which helped them look in the distance for prey, and they had a strong sense of smell, which also helped them find prey.
Gorgosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex weren't exactly alike, however. Gorgosaurus lived several million years before T. rex, had a bony plate over its eyes and was slightly smaller than T. rex. An adult Gorgosaur was approximately 25 feet long and 10 feet tall at the hip. Gorgosaurs had strong, powerful legs, which helped them to run more than 20 miles per hour when they were chasing prey. They had three-toed feet with sharp claws. A Gorgosaur had a strong, muscular neck to support its huge head and jaws. It had more than 60 teeth 4 to 5 inches long. The teeth were serrated, which means they had notched edges like a steak knife. The teeth were not well suited for chewing, so the Gorgosaur may have swallowed large chunks of flesh whole.
The Gorgosaur's Discovery
What do you do on your summer vacation? The Linsters—Cliff, Sandy, and their seven children—are a family of amateur paleontologists who hunted dinosaurs on their summer vacations. They found the Gorgosaur in 1997 in Teton County, Montana. Finding a Gorgosaur is more rare than finding a T. rex. There have been only 20 Gorgosaurs ever found and this one is the most complete.
The body of this Gorgosaur is about 75 percent complete and her skull is about 90 percent complete. No dinosaur is discovered 100 percent complete. Due to erosion and other factors, some fossilized bones are always missing. The people who prepare the dinosaurs for exhibits create casts of the missing bones, usually from other dinosaurs that have been discovered, to fill in the missing pieces. A Maiasaura and a Bambiraptor were found with the Gorgosaur.

Want to learn more? Be sure to meet all of the dinos in Dinosphere!

Saturday Science: Air Rockets

Saturday Science: Air RocketsWhen we think of rockets we often tend to think of giant metal rockets, blasting up into space on a column of jet fuel. A rocket doesn’t need to shoot fire to get going. Isaac Newton’s laws of motion let us use lots of things as rocket fuel, even air!


For your rocket launcher you will need:

  • One 10-foot PVC pipe, 1/2-inch in diameter
  • One 1/2-inch 90-degree PVC elbow
  • Saw or PVC cutter
  • Lots of 2-liter bottles
  • Duct tape
  • Twine

To build your rockets you will need:

  • Scotch tape
  • Old magazines (the kind with a staple in a center crease)
  • Cereal boxes
  • Scissors


  1. Using your saw or PVC cutter, have an adult cut your 10 foot PVC pipe into the following lengths:
    1. One 5-foot piece
    2. One 2-foot piece
    3. One 1-foot piece
    4. Two six-inch pieces
  2. Use the 90-degree elbow to connect the 5-foot piece and the 2-foot piece forming an L-shape. Stick ‘em in there tightly. You can glue them together if you want but sometimes the launcher is easier to transport if you can take it apart.
  3. Using your twine, tie the two 6-inch pieces across the 5-foot piece. They should be perpendicular to the 5-foot piece and about 3 feet apart from each other to act as stabilizers. The 2-foot piece should be facing skywards. Tie the twine tightly and secure it in place with some duct tape.
  4. Your launcher is almost done! Stick the open end of the 5-foot piece into a 2-liter bottle. Push it about an inch or so into the opening in the bottle. It will fit snugly but secure it with some duct tape just in case.
  5.  Now it’s time to make a rocket! Open your old magazine to the very middle and have an adult remove the staples for you. Pull out a sheet or two of paper.
  6. Using your last piece of pipe, the 1-foot piece, roll the pages around the pipe. You can go long-ways or short-ways, whichever you like. Once the paper is rolled all the way up around the pipe use the scotch tape to tape it lengthwise, creating a paper cylinder. Don’t make it too tight on the pipe or it won’t fit onto the launcher!
  7. Take your rocket body off the pipe. Using your scissors, make four 1/2-inch cuts in one of the open ends in an X-shaped pattern. Fold the four flaps down on top of each other and tape them shut until the top of your rocket is airtight.
  8. Cut some fins, whatever shape you like, out of the cereal box and tape them to the bottom of your rocket. Remember: fins are important for a rocket to fly straight but too many fins will weigh it down and make it fly a shorter distance.
  9. Slide your rocket onto the end of the 2-foot piece. You’re ready to launch! Give a countdown and then stomp as hard as you can on the 2-liter bottle.


How far did your rocket go? A well-built rocket with a really good stomp can fly close to 200 feet in the air!

Big space rockets use Newton’s third law of motion to get moving: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The rocket fuel pushes down (action), and the rocket gets pushed up (reaction). Your rocket is a bit different. Newton’s first law provides the mechanism to get it moving: an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. The air in the 2-liter is at rest until you, the outside force, stomp on the bottle and get it moving. The rocket is at rest until the air hits it, putting it into motion, and then it shoots up into the sky!

You can get 20-30 good stomps out of one 2-liter bottle by blowing into the launcher and puffing it back up with air over and over. Make sure you put your hand around the launcher so your lips don’t touch the pipe, though! When your bottle is about finished, just take it off and pop a new one on. Experiment with different sizes and shapes of rockets to see what flies the best!

Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.

How Fireworks Work

Fireworks are more than just a loud bang and beautiful colors showering the night's sky—they're chemistry in ACTION! This Fourth of July, learn and teach your kids how fireworks work.

Remember—safety first! It's always best to see the pros launch fireworks. If you're at home, use fireworks and sparklers under adult supervision and be aware of your local burn laws.

How Fireworks Work

The museum is open 10 a.m.–5 p.m.. Plan your visit and buy tickets at

Family Health Tip: Firework Safety

Family Health TipThis blog post first appeared on Kids HealthLine, courtesy of Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent.

The celebration of July 4th brings to mind warm weather, cookouts and, for many, fireworks. Taking in a fireworks show can be a fun time for your family on a summer night, but don’t forget the dangers of these explosives. This quiz assesses your firework safety knowledge and helps you make sure your child has a happy Independence Day.

1. Elementary school-aged children should be permitted to play with fireworks __________.

a) Under adult supervision
b) Never
c) Classified as “sparklers”
d) After a discussion about firework rules

2. Fireworks should be stored __________.

a) In a cool, dry place
b) Per package instructions
c) Far from lighting areas
d) All of the above

3. When lighting fireworks, basic precautions include having _________ on hand.

a) A first aid kit and a bucket of water
b) A firefighter or pyrotechnics professional
c) Safety goggles
d) Directions to the nearest emergency room

4. A sparkler burns at close to _________ degrees Fahrenheit.

a) 500
b) 1,000
c) 1,500
d) 2,000

5. The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to _________.

a) Light them in an area with a radius of 15 feet closed off to children.
b) Join the community fun at a public display.
c) Attend a fireworks safety course beforehand.
d) Admit this is a trick question; there is no “safest” way!

Answers: 1. b; 2. d; 3. a; 4. d; 5. b

Firework First Aid

Despite the best preparation, burns from fireworks can occur, so learn to properly care for them. First, deposit the firework that caused the injury in a bucket of water. If any clothing smolders, take it off. Major burns require specialized care, so examine the burn before continuing.

If the burn seems limited to the upper layer of skin, run cold water over it for about five minutes. Apply a generous amount of antibiotic ointment and then cover the burn with non-stick gauze. Keep the burned area elevated. Order your free first aid kit at

This article was reviewed by Mercy Hylton, MD, emergency medicine, Hilbert Pediatric Emergency Department, Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St.Vincent.

Get Ready to Try It Out!

Try It OutClaire Thoma is the museum’s Evaluation and Research Coordinator—a job only a data nerd could love!

We’ve got questions; you’ve got answers! 

You probably assume that you’ll be the one doing all the learning when you visit The Children’s Museum (and we hope you do learn cool new things every time you visit), but in my job, I am constantly trying to learn from you! Those of us who work in the Evaluation and Research department collect information from visitors to learn about the effectiveness of our exhibits and programs. We are continually trying to find out how we can make these experiences even better. This is where you come in!  

Starting June 23rd and through all of July, a small section of a Level 2 gallery will become the Try It Out! space. Staff members from a bunch of departments will be in the space to talk to you about questions they need your help to answer. Where exhibits are concerned, some of the questions are, “What types of exhibits would you be interested in visiting in the future?” and “What do you know or wonder about Transformers?” Marketing staff want to find out about your favorite parts of our holiday exhibit, Jolly Days. The curators who take care of the museum’s collection want to show you some real objects from the collection and find out which ones you think are interesting. And those are only a few of the burning questions our staff members want to know!

So if you’re visiting the museum this July, drop by the Try It Out! space on Level 2 by the slide line, and check out what’s going on. (Dates and times may vary based on the activity.) You might get to try a new exhibit element, play a game we’re testing, or vote for the next show in the Lilly Theater. We can’t wait to hear what you think after you Try It Out! 


Why Do Old Books Smell Old?

Never Stop Asking Why: Why do old books smell old?When you crack open the spine of a new or old book, do you bring the pages close to your face and take a whiff? If so, you’re guilty of being a book sniffer. You’re also not alone in this strange but common habit. There’s something about the “new-book smell” that excites any age of reader, while the “old book smell” is a nostalgic reminder that you are about to embark on a story cherished by many readers before you. But why do books smell? We discuss this scent with help from Compound Interest.    


Both new and old books have an aroma because of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) they emit. The difference, however, in their odors is caused by the difference in the compounds they contain.


Three things contribute to that crisp “new book smell” – paper, ink and book-binding adhesives. The chemicals used in manufacturing paper, such as sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide, as well as ink and adhesives, cause reactions that release VOCs into the air. As the VOCs approach our nose, we are able to smell their aroma. While VOCs are always emitted, the same chemicals are not always used when manufacturing books and therefore cause new books to smell completely different despite all having that “new-book smell.”


So what makes the fresh-off-shelf “new-book smell” change to the second-hand bookstore “old-book smell’? Over time, the cellulose and lignin contained in the book’s paper begin to break down. This chemical degradation, generally called “acid hydrolysis” because of the cellulose’s reaction with surrounding acids, produces large numbers of VOCs. These new compounds are to thank for the “old-book smell.”  


When it comes to these VOCs from old books, scientists have been able to pinpoint some of the scents. According to Compound Interest, “benzaldehyde adds an almond-like scent; vanillin adds a vanilla-like scent; ethyl benzene and toluene impart sweet odours; and 2-ethyl hexanol has a ‘slightly floral’ contribution. Other aldehydes and alcohols produced by these reactions have low odour thresholds.”


So as a book sniffer, whether you prefer the scent or a new or an old book, each time you get a whiff of the book you are about to read, you’ll know – that smell you smell is thanks to a multitude of volatile organic compounds.


Looking for more Never Stop Asking "Why?" questions? Catch up on all of the past "Whys" on Pinterest or on the blog!


Saturday Science: Sugary Snot

Saturday Science: Sugary SnotIt’s a little gross, but it’s a lot of fun! In this Saturday Science, courtesy of Science Kids, you'll learn about the important role mucus plays in our body—by playing with fake snot!



  • Boiling water (Have a parent help you with this.)

  • A cup (Choose a cup that can withstand boiling water.)

  • Gelatin

  • Corn syrup

  • A teaspoon

  • A fork



  1. Fill half of your cup with boiling water.

  2. Add three teaspoons of gelatin to the boiling water.

  3. Let it soften and then stir with a fork.

  4. Add ¼ cup of corn syrup to your mixture.

  5. Stir again with your fork.

  6. Look at the long strands of gunk that are forming.

  7. As the mixture cools, slowly add small amounts of water.



Does your sugary snot look … snotty? Yuck!


What makes your mixture look so gross is the combination of sugar and protein. Like real mucus, when you combined a sugar (corn syrup) and a protein (gelatin), you produced long, fine strings of goop. These strings are sticky, stretchy protein strands. Mucus uses these strands to  protect your body from contaminants (like dust or bacteria) by trapping the particles and carrying them out of the body and into your tissue.  


Want more Saturday Science? See all of our at-home activities on the blog or on Pinterest.


How Trees Grow (and Glow) in Lilly Theater's MULAN Jr.

Abigail Copeland is the Scenic Designer and Artist in the Lilly Theater. She's also the Stage Manager—the person who helps keep the actors and director organized. She loves being able to create a new world in the theater every few months for visitors to experience.

When you think of ancient China, what do you see? Towering mountains, flowering gardens, sacred temples? The story of one girl’s journey from villager to hero is set among these elements. In our latest production, Disney's MULAN Jr., Mulan travels from her home town to a military camp, then through the passes of gigantic mountains and finally to the Imperial Palace. How could you possibly fit all of these locations onto one stage?

The answer is what scenic designers call a “unit set.” This is a set that never changes but serves as a neutral background for all the action of the play. For Mulan Jr., the unit set has focal points that can represent many places. These include a temple arch, rocky ground, and a cherry tree with an ornamental pond. You might recognize the tree and pond as a setting from the Disney movie. 

Since you can’t get a cherry tree to grow inside of a theater, we had to create one from scratch. This involved a multi-step process beginning with a wooden frame. On top of this we added Styrofoam which was then carved into the shape of a tree. Since Styrofoam is not a sturdy material, we coated it with a roofing compound. This allows the actors to climb on the tree without damaging it and gave it the texture of tree bark. After this it was painted and the cherry blossoms were attached. The "glow" that you see is actually just the regular theater light projected on the tree. The production will have other objects that light up…but those are a surprise!

Every set for the Lilly Theater takes about one month to design, one to two months to plan for budget and materials, and six to eight weeks to build and paint. There are three full scale productions during the year which run for six weeks. Each of these productions has original sets, costumes, and lighting. But so far, Mulan, Jr. is the most technically advanced show the Lilly Theater has done. We hope you'll enjoy the show!

See Disney's MULAN Jr. in Lilly Theater, Tuesdays through Sundays, June 24–August 3!