Q: I have seen fashion designers promoting clothes made from Ghana kente fabric. Is it insensitive for non-Ghanaians to wear it?
—Lilia Morris | New York City
Colorful kente fabric – made from hand-woven silk and cotton – has been part of Ghanaian tradition for hundreds of years. The colors and patterns in a given room tell a story. In Ghana, kente designs are used for specific occasions and are even protected by law. Diana Baird N’Diaye, a cultural specialist at the Center for Folklife and Culture Heritage, thinks it’s fine for Americans, especially those of African descent, to wear appropriate kente patterns at events such as graduation and graduation. funeral, as long as the fabric itself was. hand woven in Africa. When designers create abstract patterns based on the look of the kente, she thinks they should make it clear to the audience where they get their inspiration from. But they shouldn’t copy the actual kente models. “It’s not just a decorative impression,” she says.
Q: How do zoos prevent infectious diseases from spreading among animals? Are there special vaccines for lions or bears?
—Christopher Hu | Shaker Heights, Ohio
Many zoo animals can thank pets for their vaccines, says Kailey Anderson, resident veterinarian at the National Zoo. Most vaccine research has been done on domestic animals. So when vets want to inoculate a giant rat, for example, they use a vaccine developed for pet rodents. Sometimes a species is not related to a common pet or farm animal, so vets will look at factors such as diet, metabolism, and behavior. This is why elephants receive vaccines designed for horses and bears receive vaccines designed for dogs.
Q: Does paved ground have microbial life? If not, can germs ever come back?
—Dorothy West | Reston, Virginia
Before workers pour cement or roll asphalt, they strip the upper level of the ground where many tiny life forms thrive. Microbes need plants to thrive and vice versa, says Pat Megonigal, a biogeochemist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. The tiny organisms break down dead parts of plants, turning them into nutrient-rich soil. Even after the pavement is removed, the soil ecosystem can take hundreds of years to recover. But scientists are speeding up the process by introducing nutrient-rich compounds that help both microbes and plants thrive.
Q: My son-in-law and I disagree on why the moon is always bigger when it is near the horizon. He says it’s an illusion caused by distance. I think it’s the humidity of the atmosphere that acts like a magnifying prism. Are any of these ideas correct?
—Paul Ziebarth | Buffalo, New York
The atmosphere can play a role, especially in the change of color of the moon. But “the moon illusion,” which has fascinated humans since ancient times, has a more widely accepted explanation, says David DeVorkin, curator of space history at the National Air and Space Museum. When the moon is on the horizon, it is often positioned near objects like trees and houses, making it appear taller than it does when isolated high up in an empty sky. However, that is not the whole story. Astronauts in space also see the moon change in size, even though there is nothing in the foreground. The reasons for the illusion are still a bit of a mystery – a reliable topic of conversation under the night sky.
It’s your turn to ask the Smithsonian.
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