In just over a week, the new wing of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences opens with a 24-hour kick off party. The new wing, called the Nature Research Center, will be a one-of-a-kind, 80,000 square-foot building in downtown Raleigh, where research scientists can work in public view and hopefully inspire science educators and students, all led by the Center's director, Dr. Meg Lowman.

While the current Museum of Natural Sciences does a great job of teaching visitors what scientist know, the goal of the new wing will be to answer the question, “How Do We Know?” The Museum has come up with some unique examples of this new research into figuring out how we know what we know. Below are a few examples (and for more, visit the Nature Research Center website).

Dinosaurs Taste Like Chicken

“Some of the world’s leading paleontologists are attempting to recreate a dinosaur — or something a lot like a dinosaur — by starting with a chicken embryo and working backward to engineer a “chickenosaurus” or “dinochicken,” project leader Jack Horner told Discovery News. Such “reverse evolution” has been successfully performed in mice and flies, but those studies focused on re-introducing just a few bygone traits. The dinochicken project instead has the goal of bringing back multiple dinosaur characteristics, such as a tail, teeth and forearms, by changing the levels of regulatory proteins that have evolved to suppress these characteristics in birds. “Birds are dinosaurs, so technically we’re making a dinosaur out of a dinosaur,” said Horner, a professor of paleontology at Montana State University and curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies.”

Excerpt from “‘Dinochicken’ Scheme Puts Evolution in Reverse” by Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News.

One Fourth of All Animals are Beetles
Beetles are the dominant form of life on earth: one of every five living species is a beetle, and one fourth of all animal species are beetles. Coleoptera is the largest order in the animal kingdom, containing a third of all insect species. Aristotle described beetles as insects with wing cases, thus Coleoptera, from the Greek koleon “sheath” and pteron “wing.”  There are about 300,000 known species of beetles worldwide, 30,000 of which live in North America. Various species live in nearly every habitat except the open sea, and for every kind of food, there’s probably a beetle species that eats it. Beetles first appeared during the lower Permian period, about 240 million years ago.

Spider Silk is 5 Times Stronger Than Steel

Spider silk may seem fragile, but it actually has a tensile strength that is a whopping five times more than steel! Scientists have been trying to replicate and harness the properties of the elusive material for years and now researchers from the Technische Universitaet Muenchen and the University of Bayreuth have actually unlocked the secret of how spiders construct the elastic fibers. Armed with this new knowledge, they’re planning to build an artificial spinning apparatus that will mimic a spider’s silk glands, which could eventually lead to a material that could have an unlimited number of applications from medical to construction.

Interesting, huh? Be sure to check out the Nature Research Center website for even more "How Do We Know?" facts and information on the new wing of the museum. If you're planning on heading to Raleigh for the 24-hour party next week or are coming in the next few months, be sure to check out Raleigh's New World for details, plus tons of great deals on hotels, restaurants, and things to do in town.

All information in the blog post was provided courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.