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Science Never Stops

Explore highlights from The Academy's scientific research. Make sure to check out the Academy Blog for more stories.

Stop the Spread of the Spotted Lanternfly

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already seen swarms of spotted lanternflies in your neighborhood. Spotted lanternflies feed on the sap of grapes, fruit trees, hops, and hardwoods, among other plants. Altogether, the crops that lanternflies threaten are worth billions and billions of dollars in Pennsylvania alone. On top of that, homeowners and farmers who use more pesticides to kill lanternflies may accidentally poison pollinators like honeybees, who are already declining in numbers.

The Academy of Natural Sciences and researchers at Drexel's College of Engineering are working to stop the spread of the spotted lanternfly by developing technology to automatically detect lanternfly eggs.

Lanternflies can “hitchhike” long distances by laying their eggs on vehicles or cargo, and this is almost certainly how they arrived in Pennsylvania. Right now, businesses who travel in and out of the lanternfly infestation area are required to inspect for eggs on vehicles and cargo. However, it can be difficult or even dangerous for humans to look for eggs in some places, such as underneath trains and shipping containers. Using cameras and computer vision to inspect for egg masses could be safer, cheaper, and more effective than relying on individual humans.

You can help this project by contributing photos of lanternfly eggs and egg masses!

Computers learn to recognize objects in photos by being shown hundreds or thousands of examples. In artificial intelligence research, this is called “training data”. More training data makes algorithms more accurate. This means that sharing more pictures of lanternfly eggs improves the technology faster.

What to do:

spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) Kenneth R. Law, USDA APHIS PPQ,
New egg clusters and an adult spotted lanternfly on garden tool
photo: Kenneth R. Law, USDA APHIS PPQ,

spotted lanternfly Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University,
Partially covered egg mass
photo: Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University,

If you see eggs (either with or without the mud-like covering) in your neighborhood, take a picture of them. We are especially looking for pictures of eggs on vehicles and other metal objects. Use the “Rule of Thirds” to make sure the eggs are big enough in your picture.

rule of thirds image showing grid over photo of spotted lanternfly eggs

Then, take a picture a few inches away of an area without eggs. This picture with no eggs is called a “control”, and it helps teach the computer what to look for. After you take the picture, destroy the eggs! To destroy eggs, either scrape them into a plastic baggie, seal, and trash; or crush the eggs with a fingernail or tool until you feel the pop.

To share your pictures:

  1. Click on the Google Photos Album Link
  2. Click the 'add photos icon
    add photos icon
  3. Click 'Select from Computer/Phone'
  4. Find your image and select
  5. Done! Make sure you destroy the eggs!

Help us spread the word! Download a flyer here.

A Shaker of Science

shaker of science logo 

A Shaker of Science is a pay-what-you-wish, interactive virtual happy hour where Academy scientists and staff can share their stories and adventures in a casual setting.

A Shaker of Science: Featuring Loÿc Vanderkluysen, PhD
Thursday, December 3, 2020
5:30 p.m.
Zoom; Pay-What-You-Wish with registration

Join us for a virtual live happy hour and unwind with Drexel volcanologist Loÿc Vanderkluysen as he shares stories of science and adventure.

Get ready to mix the baking soda and vinegar as A Shaker of Science erupts with our favorite volcano expert, Loÿc Vanderkluysen! With drink in hand, join us for a world tour featuring stories and insight into the geological marvels that have captured everyone’s attention since childhood — volcanoes! Can we predict when the next volcanic eruption will shake the Earth? What does the life of a volcanologist look like, anyway? Hear about Vanderkluysen’s great adventures over your favorite libations.  

register button

Click here for Shaker of Science recommended drinks and more information about the speaker.

The Name’s Bondi, Synodus bondi

syondus bondi fish specimen

Scientists at the Academy have a long history of contributing specimens not only to the collections of their primary field of study, but also to other collections throughout the museum. For example, Edward Drinker Cope is best known for his contributions to paleontology, but he was also an early driving force behind the creation of the Academy’s Ichthyology and Herpetology collections.

It remains common today for our researchers to bring back specimens from collecting expeditions for their colleagues in other departments. They may collect some mollusks while gathering fish or pick up some interesting specimens for sale in a market. Every so often their efforts may be rewarded with a new species named in their honor.

This is what happened in 1939 when Ichthyology Curator Henry Weed Fowler described a new species of lizardfish from Jamaica and named it Synodus bondi. The specimens used in the description were collected by an ornithologist from the Academy by the name of James Bond, a name made famous by Ian Flemming when he borrowed the moniker for his spy novels.

Read more on the Academy Blog.

Paleopalooza - A Virtual Festival


All of our 2020 virtual Paleopalooza content is now online! 

Plug in to the world of dinosaurs and other ancient creatures with a week of digital Devonian discoveries and computerized Cretaceous content! From Saturday, October 17 to Sunday, October 25, join us on Zoom and Facebook to celebrate all things paleo, from inverts encased in amber to the modern cousins of ice age animals. Download new dinosaur activities and watch exclusive videos, tune in to talk with real scientists, learn about fossils from all over the world and see specimens from the Academy’s behind-the-scenes collections. Most digital activities are free; Zoom programs require free registration but may be limited in the number of attendees.

Click here to explore all of our virtual Paleopalooza.

Bug Fest

bug fest

All of our 2020 virtual Bug Fest content is now online!  

Talk about web crawling… Bug Fest has gone digital for 2020! Join us on Zoom, Facebook and Instagram to celebrate all things creepy, crawly, sticky, prickly, wiggly, yucky, and kinda cute for our annual celebration of invertebrates. Download new activities and watch exclusive videos; tune in to talk with real scientists; learn about insects from all over the world, and see specimens from the Academy’s behind-the-scenes collections. Go ahead, get caught in our web! 

Click here to explore all of our 2020 virtual Bug Fest.

academy unscripted

Academy Unscripted is a new series featuring one-on-one conversations with Academy scientists. Explore more episodes of Academy Unscripted.

Episode 1 - Senior Director of Exhibits & Public Spaces Jennifer Sontchi talks with Interim Curator of Fishes Mark Sabaj

Is COVID-19 Affecting Our Water?


The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many lifestyle changes around the globe, namely —  people are staying at home.

The onset of this extreme, sudden and nearly universal social isolation has prompted our Biogeochemistry Section scientists to ponder what kinds of changes in water quality they might see due to COVID-19.

With the large-scale shift to people working at home and sheltering in place, there will likely be an increase in suburban wastewater effluent. Effluent is an outflowing of water or gas to a natural body of water, from a structure such as a wastewater treatment plant, sewer pipe or industrial outfall.

Will this cause changes in water quality that we will be able to detect over time, as social distancing measures continue to be in effect?

Click here to read the full article on the Academy Blog.

Virtual Meeting Backgrounds

Looking to spice up your virtual meeting while working from home? Try one of virtual meeting backgrounds and join your coworkers live from Dinosaur Hall, Antarctica or one of our beautiful stream scenes. Even have Lulu the sloth join your group! Click the thumbnail for the full sized image.

  • academy of natural sciences exterior Academy Exterior
  • Antarctica  Antarctica from Paleontologist Ted Daeschler's expedition
  • dinosaur hall Dinosaur Hall
  • stream Stream Scene 1 - Hay Creek, near Birdsboro, PA
  • takin diorama Takin diorama
  • stream Stream Scene 2 - Raymondskill Creek, near Dingman Township, PA
  • stream Stream Scene 3 - The Upper Delaware River near Masthope, PA
  • sloth Lulu the two-toed sloth

Recycling 101

recycling bins on street

In January 2019, we learned that over 50% of Philadelphia’s recycling was being sent straight to an incinerator in Chester. The problem was part of a larger issue with recycling nationwide — that the market for purchasing recycled goods, with China being the primary buyer, had shifted greatly. In 2018, China decided to no longer accept recycled materials that didn’t meet new stringent rules around contamination and mixed materials. Soon, recycling, which had actually been profitable for Philadelphia, became an expense for the city.

One of the main reasons that much of Philadelphia’s and the United States’ recycling is so expensive to sell is that it is deeply contaminated. You can help address this problem by knowing what you can recycle and how best to clean your recycling. On the Academy Blog, find out the answers to these common questions about recycling in Philly:

  • How clean should my recycling be?
  • What can and can’t you recycle curbside?
  • What can you recycle at a special facility?
  • How can you reduce the amount of recycling you create?
  • What does yard waste and composting have to do with creating less waste?
  • What resources can help me recycle properly in the Philadelphia suburbs? 

Click here to read our Recycling 101 blog.

A Real Shocking Discovery


Academy Ichthyologist Mark Sabaj is one of the co-authors on the descriptions of two new species of electric eel.  

Scientists have discovered a new species of eel that can discharge up to 860 volts of electricity – significantly more than the 650 volts previously recorded by what had been believed to be the only type of eel in existence… until now.

Mark Sabaj, PhD, interim curator of fishes at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is well-versed in techniques for catching electric eels both with and without getting shocked. He contributed to a large study of electric eels as a member of a multinational team led by Carlos David de Santana, an ichthyologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Sabaj is a co-author on the descriptions of two new species, Electrophorus voltai and Electrophorus varii, published in Nature Communications.

Click here to read the full Q & A with Mark Sabaj on the Academy Blog.

Color Our Collections


Coloring can have many benefits for people of all ages. It can help enhance motor skills and vision, reduce stress and anxiety and improve focus. 

Click here to download a PDF coloring book made of images from the Academy's Library and Archives.

kids doing science craft

Simple science activities to try at home

Science is the effort to discover and increase human understanding of how the physical and natural world works. It is amazing how science touches every aspect of our daily lives; from turning on the lights in the classroom to the snacks we eat daily. Science is about encouraging and asking questions, it is a process rather than a set of facts to memorize. As members of society, it is important that your child gains understanding of what science is and becomes familiar with the work and activities associated with science.

In all types of science, we use the same tools for investigation. We question, observe, study, experiment, and then discover and uncover new findings. As parents, we can model these activities with our children and, through hands-on activities, build and nurture their sense of curiosity. Young children are natural scientists. It is our role to encourage them to continue in their explorations.

Below, you will find fun, interactive, hands-on activities that are easy to do with materials you usually have at home. Explore with your child and learn together while having fun. We hope you enjoy the activities listed here. However, the most valuable aspect will be the time spent with your child, sharing your knowledge and gaining new experiences as you explore the world of science together.


Google Arts and Culture Exhibits

These five online exhibits feature images from our collections and field research and were created in Google's Art and Culture platform.

Get Lost on the Academy Blog

A new species of shipworm.

Our blog features hundreds of stories, here's a few favorites from recent times:


Localish explores the Academy's Collections

In June 2019, we moved a life-size Spinosaurus from New Jersey, over the Ben Franklin Bridge and to Logan Square outside of the Academy.

Watch paleo-artist Christopher DiPiazza draw a life-size version of Hadrosaurus in our Drawn to Dinosaurs exhibit. Filmed during Paleopalooza 2019. Watch an interview with DiPiazza here. See more time lapse videos of all of our Drawn to Dinosaurs artists including Jason Poole, Ray Troll, David Zinn, and Christian Rodriguez on the Drawn to Dinosaurs page.

Recommended Reading

Some of our favorite science stories from the last few months:

More Highlights From the Academy Blog: 

Mussel Survey

scientists look for mussels in river

In late September, Academy staff scientists and collaborators conducted a mussel survey on the Schuylkill River upstream from Boathouse Row. Their goal was to document the presence or absence of mussels and, in particular, whether there were any Tidewater Mucket (Leptodea ochracea) in this stretch of the river. This survey was the last in a series that was conducted throughout the lower Delaware River watershed.

Click here for details and to see more photos.

Four Ways to Cut Your Carbon

scientists on boat

Looking to reduce your personal carbon emissions? There are some big steps you can take. For example, if you need to travel a long distance, you can choose rail or even sailboat — to follow in Greta Thunberg’s wake — rather than flying. The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist last week completed a transatlantic journey by racing yacht to attend the United Nations summit meeting on global warming this month. Few of us fly every day, and fewer sail. So how can we do our part to reduce CO2 emissions (which contribute to harmful greenhouse gases largely blamed for driving global warming) in our daily life?

Click here for four ways you can reduce your carbon.

A Relic of Botany History

wildflower illustrations

Dr. Carl Ludwig Willdenow’s Anleitung zum Selbststudium der Botanik: ein Handbuch zu öffentlichen Vorlesungen (Dr. Carl Ludwig Willdenow’s Guide to Self-Study of Botany: A Handbook for Public Lectures) has been added to the Academy's library. Willdenow is a major figure in the field of botany. The book was not previously contained in our vast collection and contains several brilliantly colored plates. 

Learn more about the title's addition to the Academy:

Time Outdoors: It’s Healthy

academy scientists in creek

Doctors and psychologists have long recognized that spending time in nature leads to a healthier well-being, and a growing field of research aims to better understand and quantify the benefits of spending time in nature. Time spent outdoors is related to lower stress levels, decreased blood pressure, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as asthma, allergies, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

So, if the prescription is to spend more time in nature, what’s the dosage? A recent The New York Times article highlights some new findings, namely that researchers have zeroed in on the ideal amount of outdoor time for reaping nature’s maximum health benefits: 120 minutes per week. Two hours in a week doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but it can sometimes be difficult to fit that time into our already hectic schedules.

Click here for some easy suggestions for adding 120 minutes of outdoor time to your week. 

Where Does Your Water Come From?

scientists on boat

The Wissahickon Creek watershed is 64 square miles and covers portions of Montgomery and Philadelphia counties in Pennsylvania. The Wissahickon is a small but important part of a larger system. It is a tributary of the Schuylkill River, which in turn is the largest tributary of the Delaware River. The whole Delaware River Basin covers 13,500 square miles and provides water for more than 15 million people, including half of New York City’s potable water supply. Do you know the source of your drinking water?

Read more:

Keeping Tabs on the Environment

scientists in stream

Summertime means the height of field work season for many Academy scientists. They can be found up and down the Delaware River watershed measuring fish, collecting algae samples, measuring sea level rise due to climate change, testing water for the presence of harmful chemicals and more. Wading in cool streams, hiking bucolic trails, walking through wetlands, and boating to find the fish are all involved. But so are smacking mosquitoes, sweating in waders, battling sun burn, and lugging equipment in heat and humidity. But all in all our scientists agree: it beats sitting in the office! 

Learn where our scientists are this summer.

Five Things You Can Do Now to Help the Environment

pristine mountain stream

Did you know that a recycling shipment with as little as 0.5% non-recyclables can be considered unusable and trashed? Are you aware that livestock is a major source of greenhouse gasses and that eating less could reduce your environmental impact? Have you tried adjusting your thermostat one degree to save 10% on your energy use? Learn five things you can do to reduce your footprint on our earth.

Read more:

Support Science

scientist with entomology specimens

Make a difference today with your gift to the Academy’s Annual Fund. The Annual Fund provides vital support for the Academy’s most critical needs, including research, collections care, education and exhibits. Your support of the Annual Fund will protect the Academy’s irreplaceable collections, including the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s botany collection and John James Audubon’s birds; support world-class research addressing today’s most significant questions in environmental science, biodiversity and evolution; help support science education for more than 80,000 schoolchildren each year; and fund outstanding exhibitions, educational programs and environmental forums for learners of all ages.

I Support Science: