Shrew poo and worm goo are science too

Last week I had the pleasure of being a speaker at Buck Lodge Middle School’s Career Day. Several public schools in Maryland, where Buck Lodge is located, and other states organize important events like these to get students thinking about future opportunities. Do you remember what it was like to be in middle school? To the middle school me, a career seemed distant, vague and, frankly, too overwhelming to really think about. But the big question was always on my mind: What do I want to be? As I told the students at Buck Lodge, at the time, I knew I enjoyed writing and painting and found science fascinating, but that was the scope of my “career path.” I chose a high school and college known for their science programs—seemingly small decisions that actually said quite a bit about my true interests. But it wasn’t until a couple years into college that my advisor told me about a career in science writing; the more I learned about it, the more I knew it was the right fit. I was able to learn about the latest research and share it in creative ways. As I tried to express to the students, this is why I chose science: It can be fun, weird and important all at once, and it can show you a side to the world you never knew existed. So when I explained my career to the students at Buck Lodge, I wanted to show my excitement about the two main components of my job: science and writing. The science part was, naturally, what the students found most entertaining. At the beginning of each class, I asked the students how many of them liked “science, any kind of science.” Usually a sprinkling of hands rose. Then when I asked how many students liked animals or bugs, the hands shot up. “That is what I do,” I said, “I write about animals, bugs, plants, bacteria and how they all interact with each other and their environment. This science is called ecology.” The students inevitably wanted to know about the “coolest” or “weirdest” thing a (ecological) scientist has studied. I asked them if they had heard of the water bear. In one class, the students logically guessed a water bear is a bear that is particularly good at swimming. But the room erupted in “Ew!”s and “Gross!”s when I explained that the water bear is a microscopic animal living in mosses and wet environments all over the world—that they may have actually touched a water bear and not even known it. The students continued to comment on its translucent cuticle...

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Brown faces, urban places and green spaces: achieving diversity in environmental fields
Mar30

Brown faces, urban places and green spaces: achieving diversity in environmental fields

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2009 Programme for the International Student Assessment results showed the United States ranking 19th in math and 14th in science out of 31 countries. Following this news, President Obama announced a $250 million proposal to increase funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. As he stated in his budget message, “In a generation, we’ve fallen from first place to ninth place in the proportion of our young people with college degrees. We lag behind other nations in the quality of our math and science education.” The following post, contributed by Kellen Marshall-Gillespie, graduate student at University of Illinois-Chicago and recent recipient of ESA’s 2011 Graduate Student Policy Award, tells how diversity in environmental fields shows promise for the future of science. The student diversity was astounding, beautiful brown faces with shining eyes sat attentive and hanging on every word of the career panelists. This was the scene at last year’s Green College and Careers Fair organized by the Ecological Society of America and The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program. The goal was to diversify environmental and ecological careers by reaching out to underserved communities: The hope is to change the face and fields of environmental careers by providing opportunities to those who traditionally lack access. The career fair was hosted at The New School in New York City—over 100 high school students (from 9 schools around the New York-New Jersey area) were treated to a highly professional career fair, including structured school-to-college workshops. The event was made possible with support from the Toyota USA Foundation. Students received information about environmental and natural resource careers and topics such as research ethics, laboratory work tips, resume guidelines, reference letters and tips on being successful in college. Other sessions included exhibitor presentations, a financial aid workshop, mock job interviews and a career panel. The career panelists—Victor Medina, Kellen Marshall-Gillespie, Charlee Glenn and Ann-Marie Alcantara— were young professionals and alumni of both the LEAF and ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program. They addressed more than just traditional college talk—they got to the heart of being minorities in fields where they are underrepresented. Glenn, a panelist and SEEDS alumna, shared her story of how ecology became an interest, which subsequently developed into her current position as Diversity Programs Assistant for ESA’s SEEDS program. Medina, a LEAF alumnus, discussed how he uses his educational and personal success to influence others within his community to do better—not only for themselves but for the environment as well. Alcantara, also a LEAF alumna, talked about her goals of being...

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Immersed in the clouds: Interview with tropical cloud forest researcher

There is a world within the canopy of a tropical cloud forest that not many people get to see. In this unique ecosystem—maintained by the exceptionally wet microclimate of cloud cover—orchids, moss, lichens and other epiphytes grow in every crease and pocket of the supporting tree branches. Here, hundreds of species of birds, along with monkeys and other mammals navigate the aerial landscape, scattering seeds along the way (see below video). (Resplendent Quetzal Canopy in the Clouds from Colin Witherill on Vimeo.) Greg Goldsmith, tropical plant ecologist from the University of California, Berkeley, spends his days harnessed in this “canopy in the clouds”—also the name of the interactive, educational website he is currently working on with photographer Drew Fulton and cinematographer Colin Witherill. The website, which explores the topical montane cloud forest in Monteverde, Costa Rica, will be launching a Spanish version called “Dosel en las Nubes” in the next couple of weeks. Goldsmith, who is the host in the Canopy in the Clouds videos, explains the microclimates, landscape, plants, pollinators, insects and the many other fascinating aspects of the forest. “I am still absolutely blown away by the sheer quantity of green that you see when you first walk into one of these forests,” said Goldsmith in a recent Ecological Society of America Field Talk podcast. “I am still amazed and still totally enthralled by the idea of seeing something I have never seen before, every single day. And that is a function of the incredible biodiversity that exists in this part of the world.” Thanks to the many hours of work from the crew, Canopy in the Clouds has numerous panoramic photographs embedded with short videos that describe a specific process or aspect of the forest. According to Drew Fulton’s photography website, “This group spent over 200 days in the field, bringing together [their] passions in pursuit of a new generation of science education media…” It was the first time Fulton and Witherill worked in the tropics. With the website completed, Goldsmith can guide visitors to experience a unique perspective within and above the canopy at the highest elevation—an area that is largely inaccessible without careful training. So, instead of telling a student that “the canopy is almost always immersed in this beautiful layer of clouds,” as Goldsmith said in the podcast, he is able to show them firsthand. Photo Credit: All photos copyright of Drew...

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Taking a shot at photographing science and nature

Go to Google Images and search for “science.” What are the results? More than likely, the search will come up with beakers, protons, lab coats, double helixes, pulsars, microscopes and perhaps a smattering of trees and images of the globe. Photographs of researchers boot-high in streams collecting samples, for instance, or of a Cayman Island blue iguana in its natural habitat, would probably be few and far between. But images such as these—which show an aspect of the biological sciences, environmental processes or a subject of ecological research—rarely show up, even though they are of course also science.

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Inspiring an Environmental Stewardship Generation

It’s been said that, for better or worse, the experiences from your early childhood tend to stick with you for the rest of your life and influence the adult you become. Policymakers, environmentalists and ecological scientists are wise to take this sentiment into account in their efforts to get average citizens to care more about the environment and inform policy as it relates to environmental stewardship.

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ESA Policy News: October 29

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Terence Houston.

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Injecting science and nature into video games

Twenty-five years ago on October 18, Nintendo launched its Nintendo Entertainment System in the United States and—depending on your point of view—began a video game revolution that has taken entertainment technology to previously unfathomable heights. Or it has captivated the attention and interest of millions of children and adults, in over two decades of software and console development, prompting Americans to stay indoors and avoid exercise. Perhaps you see it both ways.

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ESA Policy News: October 18, 2010

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Terence Houston.

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