Behind the Scenes – Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup

Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup

 I have noticed that the overdosing of paracetamol to young children has hit the headlines again.  Jane Hanson of  The Sunday Telegraph wrote “half of all parents give their children paracetamol when they don’t need it – and many get the dose wrong.”

Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup Bottle: Queensland Museum

Well I am glad these overdosed children and their parents didn’t live in Brisbane in the late 1800s and early 1900s, or the outcome may have been far worse.  At this time, chemists sold a medicine called Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. The syrup was the invention of Mrs. Charlotte N. Winslow and first marketed by her son-in-law Jeremiah Curtis and Benjamin A. Perkins in Bangor, Maine, USA in 1849. Their advertising said “it is perfectly harmless and pleasant to taste, it produces natural quiet sleep by relieving the child from pain”.  However, often parents were “relieved of all further care of their infants” through its use. ” (American Medical Times 1860)

The formula consists of Morphine Sulfate (An opiate analgesic related to heroin), sodium carbonate (water softener), spirits foeniculi (an alcohol that seems to be only associated with this product), and aqua ammonia (a cleaning agent). I find it had to believe that it was “pleasant to taste”.

Courtesy of the US National Library of Medicine, here’s an 1885 advertising image produced by Meyer, Merkell & Ottmann in New York.

The product was widely marketed through newspapers, parenting information and even postcards and found favour with solders returning from the battlefields of World War I.

It was eventually withdrawn from sale here in Queensland after State Government investigation into child deaths associated with the medicine.

The results eventually contributed to the strict controls we have in our pharmacies today and the process drug companies must complete before their products are certified.

Sea Spiders – from the South Pole to the Tropics

Dr Claudia Arango, a research fellow at Queensland Museum, is one of the few world specialists on pycnogonids (or sea spiders). She has been working on Australian fauna since 1998.

Dr Claudia Arango

Claudia studies these spiders to work out how they evolved; their ecology; relationships among the families and species; and to help understand their position in the arthropod Tree of Life.

Claudia is currently leading a three-year project with an international team of researchers studying the diversification and evolutionary history of sea spiders in Antarctica. She is interested in the connections Australasian species have to Antarctic and deep-sea species.

Antarctic sea spiders tend to be bigger, more abundant, and more diverse than their relatives from warmer locations, particularly the tropics.

The image below shows representative species from four different lineages of sea spiders (Pycnogonida). Nymphon unguiculatum (top left) and Decolopoda australis (top right), a spectacular ten-legged form, both from Antarctica. Endeis mollis is a common tropical species, here feeding on corals from the Great Barrier Reef (bottom left), and Eurycyde raphiaster mostly found in shallow tropical waters from the Caribbean to the Indo-Pacific (bottom right).

In her research, Claudia and her colleagues have found certain ‘hot spots’ of biodiversity in benthic organisms in the icy deep Antarctic waters. They are determining baseline measures so future studies can determine the effects of climate change on existing species abundance and distribution.

Sea spiders feed on a variety of sessile organisms, (or ones that are fixed in one place), particularly bryozoans, which are known to be very susceptible to climate change.

What will be the effect of ice melting and other climate changes on sea floor communities?

To learn more about Claudia’s research visit her Biography Page.

Behind the Scenes: The Mimeograph

What did teachers do before photocopiers?

Prior to the commercialisation of the photocopier, many schools used a duplicator.  There are two types of duplicator, a spirit duplicator which uses a multi layered, ink impregnated wax based master copy and a mimeograph which uses a single layered waxed paper master copy.

To prepare a spirit duplicator master a teacher would write or type onto the top sheet. The pressure applied would transfer some of the wax from the bottom sheet onto the back of the top sheet.  This wax, which was impregnated with ink, usually aniline purple, would form a “negative” image of the back of the original document.  The negative would then be wrapped around a drum. Spirits would then be applied to the paper which would dissolve a little of the ink in the wax as it came into contact with rotating negative.  This dissolved ink would dry on the paper, forming a copy of the original.

A Mimeograph uses a single sheet of waxed paper.  When the paper was typed or written on, the wax would be dislodged creating a stencil through which ink could be passed.  Once the stencil was complete, it was placed on an ink filled drum.  When paper was forced between the drum and a roller, ink was forced through the stencil onto the paper forming the copy.

So why would Queensland Museum keep an example of a mimeograph?  Prior to World War II, these sorts of duplicating machines were imported from the United States.  With wartime restrictions on shipping, the supply of these machines ceased, yet the demand grew. A Brisbane stationary company and importer of mimeograph machines, Jackson & O’Sullivan, saw this as an opportunity and started to produce their own version, “The NATIONAL” duplicator.  Different components were produced around Brisbane with the final assembly taking place on the fifth floor of the company’s Queen Street premises. The duplicator was a sales success with examples even purchased by the United States Navy for use in the Pacific theatre.

Unfortunately, like a lot of Australia’s wartime manufacturing industries, production of “the National” mimeograph ceased after the war as trade re-commenced and products from around the world came back onto the market.

For more ideas and resources to teach science and technology in the classroom visit QM Loans. Loans kits include Telecommunications, Early Queensland Living and Australian Inventions.

DNA Detective

Dr Jessica Worthington Wilmer is a research scientist in the Biodiversity and Geosciences program at Queensland Museum (QM). She’s also the Manager of QM’s Molecular Identities Laboratory and Frozen Tissue Collection.

Dr Jessica Worthington Wilmer

Jessica gets to work on some really cool things!

She’s used genetics to look at the population structure of tiny little aquatic snails living in Artesian springs in Australian deserts; used DNA to determine the influence of incubation temperature on the sex of Brush-turkey chicks and embryos; and also identified new species of fabulous things like leaf-tailed geckos and sea anemones.

Currently Jessica is working on the landscape genetics of SE Queensland mammals (specifically koalas, northern brown bandicoots, yellow-footed antechinus, sugar and squirrel gliders) with collaborators at the University of Queensland and with four of SE Queensland’s super-councils.

In the image on the left Jessica is working over the Trans-illuminator gel documentation system, preparing samples for DNA testing.

Next year, the Molecular Identities Laboratory (MIL) at Queensland Museum will celebrate its 10th birthday.  Since it was established in 2002, the lab has hosted research across a wide range of animal groups, always with the overarching aim of using DNA data to identify new and existing species.  The primary work of MIL is species-level discrimination using DNA tools. However, sequence data is used further to explore the evolutionary inter-relationships among groups and species.

Genetic Sequence Data

Note the A T G C letters in the DNA sequence data at the left. These represent the four nitrogen bases in the genetic code: namely adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine.

Later this year Jessica and colleague, Dr Kathryn Hall, will be presenting posters at the International Bar Coding of Life conference in Adelaide, showcasing the role that the QM and the MIL have played in several international bar coding collaborations.

To find out more about the research that Jessica does, watch the video Applications of DNA technology or visit her Biography Page.

You may also like to look at an online learning resource where DNA techniques were used to determine the life cycle of a parasite that infects the Sydney rock oyster. The resource is called Disease Detectives.

Behind the Scenes: The bushel as an imperial measure

But I thought Bushel was a brand of tea?

 If you have ever watched TV programs like Stateline, you will hear the term Bushel during the market report. So what is a bushel?

A bushel is an imperial measure of volume used in the sale of dry goods, first introduced by King Edgar in the city of Winchester in the 10th century.

The use of a bushel as a standard measure to trade salt and grains in England, was officially put into law in 1670. This is also the point in time when the Bushel was resized (3%larger) at 8 new gallons (36.38 litres) to standardise all imperial measurements.   This practice of using a bushel continued over hundreds of years, until the introduction of the metric system.

To prevent disputes about the size of a bushel, and to assist in regulating industry, governments would hold a standard bushel, from which all others could be measured.  The official Queensland Government bushel is made of brass and was produced in London in 1875 by L. Oretling, the largest and most famous makers of precision weights and measures in Great Britain.

This unique piece of Queensland history was donated to the museum by the Queensland Government in 1982, and is currently in storage at Queensland Museum South Bank

This is a fascinating insight into how Mathematics, science and technology has changed over the last 100 years.  For more ideas and resources to teach science and technology in the classroom visit QM Loans. Loans kits include Telecommunications, Early Queensland Living and Australian Inventions.

For more information on the history of the bushel and other imperial measures have a look at this link.

Prehistoric Beasties!

Federica Turco is a post-doctoral research fellow working at Queensland Museum. She and research associate, Geoff Monteith, are investigating some amazing beetles living in dark caves near Rockhampton. These beetles have been around since the Pleistocene epoch (approx 2.6 million – 12,000 years before the present) and possibly even the Late Pliocene (3.6 million years ago).

They belong to the genus Mystropomus (Order: Coleoptera; Family: Carabidae) and the whole family is composed of ground-dwelling predatory beetles.

Adult Mystropomus

These ancient creatures crawl over cave floors, lying in wait for their invertebrate prey. Even the larvae are predatory using a weird structure at the end of their abdomen to snare their prey. First they dig out a burrow in the soil in a sheltered place.

Larva in burrow

Then they close over the hole with their enlarged abdomen covered with sensitive setae (bristles). As soon as any prey walks over this, the setae trigger a quick response from the larva, which backflips to grab the prey with its huge mandibles (jaws). So these creatures have amazing structural and behavioural adaptations to help them catch their food.

Larva ready to attack

Beetles such as these once inhabited the rainforest regions of Queensland but with the Great Drying some moved to higher rainforest regions and some found shelter in cave environments. Fede and Geoff are collaborating with Wendy Moore (University of Arizona) and Andrea Di Giulio (University “Roma Tre”), who are specialists on this sub-family of Carabidae (Paussinae). There appears to be two species, one that is found from Sydney up the coast to Mackay, and another species that inhabits the wet tropics from Bowen to Cooktown. The cave populations may belong to a third new species but work is still in progress.

You can learn more about animal adaptations by watching some animal adaptation videos that come with a student worksheet linked to the Australian Science Curriculum. To learn more about some of the effects of the Great Drying and how this affected the evolution and distribution of some Australian species, you can view the online learning resource Dinosaurs, Climate Change and Biodiversity.

Visit Queensland Museum’s website on Beetles to find out more about these amazing creatures.

Goblin Spiders

Dr Barbara Baehr is a PBI (Planetary Biodiversity Inventory) Research Fellow working at Queensland Museum. For the last 5 years she has been working for the PBI Goblin Spider project and this will continue for the next two years.

Dr Barbara Baehr

Goblin spiders are very small, funny-looking spiders that look a bit like goblins, hence the name. There are lots of species and some have hooks, long leg spines, or scutae (shields or armour over the body). These spiders can be found in the canopy, under bark, or in leaf litter.

Ishnothyreus sp. nov. male dorsal view
Prethopalpus sp.

New species are being discovered and there is a blind species (a member of the new genus Prethopalpus) that was discovered in Western Australia in boreholes about 60m deep.

Like most spiders, Goblin Spiders immobilise their prey with venom. They secrete digestive enzymes into their prey to start the digestion process. Then they suck up the liquefied food. Common prey of Goblin Spiders includes small insects such as springtails.

Some Goblin Spiders have leaf-like setae (bristles) on a concavity on the underside of their abdomens. After identifying and naming new species, research is then carried out to determine the functions of some of these strange structures.

Cavisternum sp. male showing sternum

To help with this huge task of naming new species (taxonomy) people from Queenslandhave donated money to the project and in so doing they have had species of spiders named after them. For Example, Roger Kitching founded the IBISCA project and there is a new species of Goblin spider named Opopaea rogerkitchingi.

SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) images below show the elongated fang of the male Goblin Spiders from the genus Cavisternum.

Scanning Electrom Microscope image of fangs of male

A member from the Oonopidae family is shown below. These small spiders (0.5-4.0mm) possess only 6 eyes and generally have an armour of abdominal scutae (plates). Barbara is currently revising the Australasian Opopaea genus which will include about 70 species.

Opopaea male, front view

To learn more about the amazing world of spiders visit the Spider section of our QM website, or view a video on Funnel-web Spiders. To learn more about Barbara’s research visit Dr Barbara Baehr’s Biography page.