Are you a curiosity addict?

I’ve written before about the importance of imagination and creativity, but what about that founding principle of Brain Popcorn, the irresistability of curiosity, the need to know how things work and how they connect and how one thing could also be a half dozen others?

Fortunately for those of us who are, like Einstein once declared, ‘passionately curious,’ there have been a number of articles about curiosity in the news recently.  (And not just about a certain eponymous Mars Rover, that continues to take awesome pictures even if it’s been slightly upstaged by a cousin landing on a comet this week.)

Woman Looking Over a Fence by Leon Richet.  (public domain, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

What’s over there, anyway?  Let’s find out!  Woman Looking Over a Fence by Leon Richet. (public domain, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

As it turns out, curiosity is not just a measurable mental itch, but it apparently works like chocolate–if only chocolate could help your memory the same way! (I certainly eat enough of it…)  I did particularly enjoy the following article, however, chocolate in hand or no: “Curiosity improves memory by tapping into the brain’s reward system”

And, of course, this article simply confirms something one of the wisest people I know says all the time, and she’s always right (because learning is ultimately better for you than chocolate):

 “The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
T.H. White, The Once and Future King

Curiosity was also the driving force behind a smartphone app that involved 4 million players, searching for the answer to ‘what’s inside the cube?’  The need to know kept people tapping their phones (and drawing, and tracking stats, and ‘purchasing’ tools) for 150 days to uncover the video message at the end.  The need to know outweighed the incredible tediousness of what would otherwise be mindless finger tapping.

How important is curiosity, really?  Consider this: according to, there are 21 synonyms for curiosity, and only 3 antonyms.  If, in this very verbal, information-heavy world, things that are important get many names, this is a good sign for curiosity.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
Albert Einstein

(Who’s going to argue with that?  Certainly not I.)

Are you a curiosity addict?  What kinds of things to you find yourself most curious about?  Share them with us in the comments below.

You May Also Like:

Hello, My Name is Curiosity
Why Being a Nerd is Awesome


Ideabox: Twigs

It seems like Spring’s only just decided to stay, but at the museum we’re already looking towards the fall and the September opening of Branching Out, Trees as Art.  I’ve been gleefully anticipating this show for a while now, and it’s finally getting close enough to start telling you about it!

ideabox twigs

As we’ve been investigating artists who work with assorted tree materials in surprising ways, I’ve come across some fun interdisciplinary ideas for exploring trees (especially twigs) in and out of the classroom.  Here are a few of my favorites!


Winter twig study – Indoor and outdoor ways to explore what trees are ‘up to’ in winter

Identifying parts of a tree (foldable) – A good way to practice scientific drawing and make an interactive vocabulary flashcard, from the Inspired Classroom blog.

Tree Study Foldable from The Inspired Classroom

Tree Study Foldable from The Inspired Classroom

A magnifying glass or dissecting scope will only get you so far, but check out these amazing photos of slivers of branches thin enough to distinguish the layers of cells:

Conifer cross section by Eckhard Voelcker

Conifer cross section by Eckhard Voelcker


Twig math?  Really?  Yes, really.  Check out this astonishing set of directions on how to make Skewer Hyperboloids – and then try it with twigs of the same approximate size!

Photo by Cindy Lawrence, see link above for source

Photo by Cindy Lawrence, see link above for source

Literature & Drama

From "Not a Stick" by Antoinette Portis

From “Not a Stick” by Antoinette Portis

Paeans to imagination are always a hit in my book, and Not a Stick is a  great option for dramatic play as well.  Round up a few helpers and one of the world’s simplest props to act out the scenes imagined in Not a Stick, then challenge your audience to do the same with some other every day material–blankets? Paper plates? Cardboard tubes?  See what other suggestions they come up with for imaginative play.

 Book buying options for Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis0
Pinterest collection for Not a Box/Not a Stick activities


twig painting

Twig or branch, individual or collaborative, painting can bring out natural bark patterns, and encourage close looking at details like knots and buds

A few weeks ago during the Mass Poetry Festival, we had a guest calligrapher, Elissa Barr, who demonstrated brushwork with a variety of natural materials as well as traditional ones.  One of my favorites was using a pine twig with needles still on as a great variegated brush.

Kid using a pine twig brush, photo from Rockabye Butterfly, click for link

Kid using a pine twig brush, photo from Rockabye Butterfly, click for link

Twelve Days of Popcorn (Day 2): Underwater Art

It’s far too nippy here in New England to dig out the SCUBA gear, but a girl can dream, especially when faced with some truly beautiful marine-inspired artworks.

British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor creates artificial coral reefs, not by submerging old train cars, buses, and other mechanical detritus as is often done elsewhere, but instead by creating beautiful sculptures which evolve over time as they are colonized by marine creatures. These underwater sculptures can be beautiful, spooky, or strange, but are always compelling, from their pristine state to their eventual end as the heart of a new kind of natural beauty.

The Dream Collector, by Jason deCaires Taylor. Click for link to original image.

And for those of you who prefer to keep your feet dry while checking out marine art, there is the incredibly cool collaborative crafting of the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, currently on display at the Smithsonian.  Based on the brain child of mathematician/professor/artist Daina Taimina, who first figured out how to use crochet to create this kind of mathematical form, others have gone on to build huge reefs including the Smithsonian’s Community Reef, which took contributions from interested participants in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area.

On the second day of popcorn, these ideas gave me glee — two coral reefs and a pop-up folding snow-bedecked tree…

Cool and Creepy Archaeology in October

The month is almost over, but I can’t let it go completely by without tipping my hat to Massachusetts Archaeology Month.

Since life here at PEM has been very focused on the amazing Emperor’s Private Paradise exhibit, I have to admit I’ve been more tuned to archaeology stories from that corner of the world recently, including this incredibly cool discovery which may make people reevaluate historical trade routes: Could a Rusty Coin Re-Write Chinese-African History?

In celebration of which I give you Mint Your Own Coin from the American Museum of Natural History’s OLogy page, which also features fun interviews with archaeologists, make-your-own archaeological stationery, artifact features, and more.

If you’re looking for other online archaeology interactives, check out the extensive list at Fun Archaeology For Kids.  The list includes lots of different cultures and time periods, with a great many of the interactives created by museums and other reputable sources.

And now for the creepy. (It is, after all, the week before Halloween, and I’m not entirely immune to the Salem atmosphere.)

Royal blood may be hidden inside decorated gourd.  (eeurgh!)  An intricately decorated gourd bears traces of blood which may very well have come from a handkerchief soaked in the blood of the beheaded King Louis XVI of France.

Personally, I prefer my blood 100% Pure Fake, as in the book reviewed by exhibit interactive wizard Paul Orselli.  And if that’s not enough gross and gucky exploration for you, check out Wastewater: Sewage in your face! from the San Diego department of public works, which, among other more educationally rewarding activities, has recipes for making soda and cake that look like sludge.

All creeped out?  Build an Egyptian tomb, uncover a prehistoric burial, or just make a pasta skeleton, courtesy of artist Kathy Barbro, directions here (or click the picture).

Pasta skeleton designed and photographed by Kathy Barbro. Click for link.

Art, Astronomy, and Alien Adaptations

On my recent vacation in Maine, I spent a mesmerizing half hour or longer on the dock in front of our cabin, head tipped all the way back to take in the wealth of stars and splash of Milky Way, unsure whether I was feeling dizzy because of the depth over my head or the lake under my feet.   Add in the fact that it was during the Perseid meteor shower, and you had the recipe for perfect wonder that reminded me why I spent several years growing up convinced I was going to be an astronaut.

Fortunately for those of us who are sadly earthbound, there are folks up there willing to share the wealth: Twitpics from Space.  Not to mention NASA Spots Signs of Life…On Earth, in which some of those nifty NASA folks have figured out how to search for bacteria trapped in ice by satellite.  Next stop, Mars!

I love reading stories about what life is actually like on the International Space Station or for astronauts in general, but I get an almost equal amusement and fascination out of what people *thought* life in space could be…and how many of those ideas are still around in slightly altered forms, like eco-designer Vincent Callebaut’s floating water-purifying resort and eco-refuges for when we lose the battle with climate change (dystopic design at its prettiest).

Hear Auden read “The More Loving One” and read the text of the poem at NPR’s 100th anniversary article on Auden’s birth here.

The night sky has a kind of mystery that sometimes only artists and poets seem to be able to capture…and sometimes science helps solve those mysteries, more than a hundred years later!  Forensic astronomer solves Walt Whitman mystery (Always nice to see those interdisciplinary learners in action!)

Feeling inspired to do some stargazing?  Keep your eyes open and antennae out…the BBC reports that “Alien hunters ‘should look for artificial intelligence'” while scanning the sky.  While you wait for ET to ring the doorbell, bring the search for alien life to your classroom with the web-quest Design a Space Alien, designed for middle school students, and give your studies of earth science and evolutionary biology an extraterrestrial twist.

Passing along a Job Opportunity

I’m not usually in a position to help pass such things along, but a friend asked me to share this one, and it does sound pretty darn cool.  Plus, the folks I met from ECHO at last year’s NEMA conference were awesome.

ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, located at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain on Burlington’s waterfront, seeks a creative, upbeat individual to serve as its Public Education Coordinator. The Public Education Coordinator has primary responsibility for designing and
coordinating the delivery of exceptional daily experiences and programs to ECHO’s family and public audiences.
The position includes performing regularly for large public audiences, training and supervising volunteer, intern and staff educational interpreters, and managing systems and materials  related to public programming. The public education coordinator is required to work regular weekend and holiday shifts as part of a 40-hour/week schedule.
The ideal candidate will have strong stage presence, experience using technology to enhance educational programming, and experience supervising educational interpreters. The successful candidate must have a bachelor’s degree in ecology, biology, science education or a related field, minimum 3 years experience designing and implementing educational programs and strong public speaking and communication skills.
To apply, e-mail a cover letter and resume to: with Public Education Coordinator in the subject field. You also can apply via “snail” mail at ECHO – Public Education Coordinator Job Search, One College St., Burlington, VT 05401. For a detailed job description, visit our website at The deadline for applications is March 8, 2010.

More ‘Brain Art’

Susan Aldworth (British, b. 1955) Brainscape 18, 2006

Yes, there are more fun and fabulous examples of brain-inspired art coming to a Massachusetts museum! Landscapes of the Mind: Contemporary Artists Contemplate the Brain is running at the Williams College Museum of Art from January 30–May 2, 2010.  (See the full press release here.)  Being who I am, I’m particularly excited about their family day with student-led tours and art making activities in March, as well as intrigued by the fact that this exhibit, which is all about what is literally inside your head and therefore something we never see of ourselves, is tying in with the museum’s ‘year-long focus on art and landscape.’   I think there are a lot of fun parallels people could draw with other ways artists, writers, and scientists have imagined, described, and mapped what goes on in the brainscape.

Historically, for instance, there’s all the wackiness associated with phrenology, (very popular in Victorian times).  Art-historically there are those fabulous surrealists (or insert adjective of choice depending on your own opinion) like Salvador Dali.  Scientifically we have all those brain-mapping studies, and virtual reconstructions through forensic anthropology, and Einstein’s brain in a jar (more than one jar, apparently).

Persistence of Memory by Salvadore Dali

Persistence of Memory by Salvadore Dali

Back to Lunar New Year and other fun multicultural stuff in the next post, I promise!

Just for Fun: What’s in your brain?

It’s not every day that one comes across art that so perfectly ties in with a blog named “Brain Popcorn.”  However, thanks to a tweet from Paul Orselli, I wandered over to Behance Network to discover “What have you got in your head?

(My personal favorite is this brain made of star-shaped pasta.  Fabulous.  Even if today, my brain is made of chocolate wrapped in a to-do list.)

Credit goes to Sara Asnaghi. Click the picture to see the rest of her brain-art.

So much cooler than the brain-shaped jello-mold we had hanging around the ed office for a while. (I wonder what I did with that?  I’m feeling inspired.)

Looking for further brain art?  Check out “The Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art.”  It’s a stitch.

And, just to make me feel better about the whole brain-of-chocolate business:
Chocolate, Wine, and Tea Improve Brain Performance