March 6, 2015

Talking about Plant Science at SciTech Days

by Melissa Harding

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Yesterday, we spent the day with the future scientists of Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Science Center’s SciTech Days! This twice yearly event is a chance for both middle and high school students to meet with science professionals to learn more about their careers in the growth areas of Pittsburgh –  robotics, biotechnology, eco-technology and health. The day also features a variety of workshops and educational programs, as well as a chance to explore the exhibits, all of which is linked to the Next Generation Science Standards. We were there to represent the importance of biology and the natural world in our lives, as well as to talk about careers in the environmental field.

Kate and Melissa manned a table focusing on clean air plants, which are plants that help to clean toxins out of the air. They spoke with students about indoor air quality, including some of the products that bring chemicals into their homes. Students are always surprised that the air in their home can be 2-10% worse than the air outside! They also talked about the process by which some plants are able to increase the cleanliness of indoor air. Finally, they planted philodendron plugs with students to take home with them.

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Dr. Emily Kalnicky also led a workshop entitled “Biophilia: Connecting with the Environment“, in which she spoke about how a strong connection with nature leads to an increase in conservation attitudes. In addition to talking about why people choose to behave in environmentally responsible ways, she also discussed the concept of biophilia and the growing proliferation of biophilic design in the built environment. She particularly highlighted our new CSL building, including some of the natural design elements within, and how it takes a holistic and integrative approach to human and ecological wellness.

While yesterday’s bad weather did keep some schools at home, we still had a great turn-out and enjoyed our time with the students. We can’t wait until the next SciTech Days this fall!

The above photos were taken by Science Education and Research staff.

 

 

 

 

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March 5, 2015

Upcoming Evening Ed-Venture: Fun with Food!

by Melissa Harding

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This month, join us for the next installment of Evening Ed-Venture, Fun with Food.  Phipps Evening Ed-Ventures are programs for children ages 6-9. Each session has a separate, exciting theme and will include an element of science, healthy living, and exploration of the Conservatory. In Fun with Food, campers will learn about healthy foods through crafts, games and cooking!

Please join us on March 27, 6:30-9:30pm for Fun with Food!

If you would like to sign up your child for this or any other camp program, please contact Sarah at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

For a complete list of all our camp offerings, including our summer camps, please visit our website.

We hope to see you there!

The above photo was taken by Cory Doman.

March 3, 2015

Interview with a Scientist: BIA Fellow Aurélie Jacquet

by Melissa Harding

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If there is one segment of society that is often misunderstood, it is people who work in science fields. Public perception of scientists tends to lean towards lab coats, crazy hair and beakers full of chemicals, especially in the eyes of children.  In reality, most scientists are just regular people who want to make the world a better place through scientific discovery. The best way to dispel the myth that scientists are boring or crazy is to get to know them; the purpose of this segment is to talk with real scientists to ask them what they love about their jobs and why they think their work is fun and important.

For our next installment in this series, we sat down with BIA Fellow Aurélie Jacquet. The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed, first, to excellent research, and second, to educational outreach. The BIA program provides Fellows with funding for use towards field research in the US or abroad and a trip to Phipps, to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to share his or her research to public audiences. Aurélie has been a BIA Fellow for three years, researching ethnobotany and traditional herbal medicines.

We interviewed Aurélie about how she combines her love of nature, people and plants into her research:

1. Introduce yourself and your work in 5 sentences or less. 

My name is Aurélie, and I am working on a Ph.D in the department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Purdue University. I study traditional herbal medicines and their potential protective effects on Parkinson’s disease. I traveled to Nepal and I work with Native Americans to learn about the medicinal plants they use, and now I have selected a few to study in the lab.

2. Why did you become a scientist? 

I became a scientist because I realized that I could help others with my work. At an early age, I knew that I wanted to work with medicinal plants and find a way to help people by turning these plants into medicine. Science was the best answer to achieve this goal!

3. What part do plants play in your research?

Plants are the basis of my work. Everything I do involves plant and plant extracts. For example, when I go to the field to interview people, I ask how plants are used as medicine. I also collect herbarium specimens to deposit in herbarium for future references. After collecting plants, I make extracts. I basically make a tea, dry it and use the remaining powder for my studies. I also have small plants in my office, just to keep me grounded!

4. What is the most exciting thing you have ever done at work?  

The most exciting thing for me is to meet indigenous people and learn their traditions. Last year, I had the honor to be offered to smoke the sacred pipe! I witnessed the ceremony, the central importance of plants, and I am very grateful to have experienced it. It is a real gift that I will never forget.

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5. What skills do you use in your job? 

Because I have an interdisciplinary project, I need to use a variety of skills. During the fieldwork, I need to be able to communicate with healers and local people. Often, my questions about the uses of plants need to be handled carefully so that people don’t misunderstand my goal, which is to help find medicines and not steal knowledge. I also need to be able to write for multiple audiences. For example, I write differently if I return my research results to my participants or if I publish in a scientific journal. During my time in the lab, I need another set of skills. More than anything, I need patience and precision because I want to be able to reproduce my results several times. I couldn’t forget to mention analysis skills, because when I look at my results I need to be able to understand what they mean, find explanations and design the next experiments to be done.

6. What is your favorite part of your job? 

My favorite part of the job is without doubt to be in the field, feeling the plants in my hands, listening to stories and being remembered how precious Nature is!

7. If you weren’t a scientist, what job would you choose? 

If I wasn’t a scientist, I would be a photographer or a reporter. I would still want to learn about people, just in a different way!

8. Why is science education important? 

Science education is important because everybody need to be educated about how our world work and what need to be done to preserve it. Science is not worth much if people don’t have access to the new knowledge. I believe an educated population will be able to make the best decision for itself.

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Aurélie is not only an exceptional scientist, but also an incredibly accomplished photographer who has won numerous awards for her work. She is an example of someone who combines a love of both art and science into one career. Check out this blog post to learn more about the connection between art and science!

To follow Aurélie’s adventures in research at, check out her website!

The above photos are used courtesy of Aurélie Jacquet and Phipps Science Education.

March 2, 2015

Biophilia: Pittsburgh, March 5 – “Powering Places: The Aesthetics of Renewable Energy”

by Melissa Harding

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Biophilia: Pittsburgh

Thursday, March 5, 2014 – 5:30 p.m.
Free to attend – RSVP required.

The March 5 Biophilia: Pittsburgh meeting will feature Robert Ferry and Elizabeth Monoian, Founding Directors of the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI), who will introduce the discussion topic, “Powering Places: The Aesthetics of Renewable Energy.”

Robert and Elizabeth will discuss how the LAGI project is a part of a global conversation on the shifting aesthetics of sustainable infrastructure. The presentation will show how interdisciplinary collaboration is playing an important role in defining the design influence of renewable energy on our constructed environments and point out the reciprocal role of society in defining the aesthetics of renewable energy infrastructure itself. Several submissions from past LAGI design competitions held for sites in Dubai, NYC, and Copenhagen will be shown as case studies of how renewable energy technologies can be integrated into artworks as a way to create sustainable and educational urban parks. Learn more about the LAGI project at www.landartgenerator.org.

About Biophilia: Pittsburgh
Biophilia: Pittsburgh is the pilot chapter for a Biophilia Network dedicated to strengthening the bond between people and the natural world through education, discussion and action. The group meets monthly at the Center for Sustainable Landscapes classroom at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens where, over delicious small-plate food and a happy-hour cash bar, a discipline or behavior will be identified — often by an expert guest speaker — and discussed among the participants in the interest of sharing ideas and identifying opportunities. Join the conversation!

RSVP by sending an email or signing up at the group’s Meetup page.

What is Biophilia?
The term “biophilia,” stemming from the Greek roots meaning “love of life,” was coined by the social psychologist Erich Fromm. It came into use in the 1980s when Harvard University biologist E.O. Wilson defined biophilia as “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms.”

In the last twenty years, studies examining human attraction to nature have yielded convincing evidence that links interactions with nature with positive gains in productivity, increased healing rates, and even enhanced learning comprehension in a wide range of sectors.

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The top image was taken by Science Education and Research staff.

February 27, 2015

Challenge #4 of Fairchild Challenge at Phipps: Eco-Scientist Graphic Novels

by Melissa Harding

 

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When you think about a hero, it is pretty easy to name the stars of comic books and movies, but often much harder to think of the real heroes who work every day to make our world a better place. One kind of hero that often goes unrecognized is the scientist; scientists devote their lives to learning more about the world around them so that society can be healthier and safer. In particular, environmental scientists work hard to learn how human actions affect the planet and how we can all be better stewards of the Earth. During the latest challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps, high school students were asked to choose one environmental scientist whose work they admire and turn their life and work into a graphic novel. Students did extensive background research on their subjects, creating a biography crossed with a superhero comic book. Over 70 students participated in this challenge and the results were really incredible.

The subjects of these novels included such inspirational heroes as Rachel Carson, John James Audubon, Julia Butterfly, and Aldo Leopold; they included both past and contemporary scientists, as well environmental researchers, conservationists, writers and artists. The judges were blown away by the artistry, creativity, beauty, and humor of the submissions.

1st Place: North Allegheny Intermediate High School
2nd Place:  A. W. Beattie Career Center
3rd Place (tie): West Mifflin Area High School and North Allegheny Senior High School

Special Merit Awards:
Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 for “Poetic Imagining”
Woodland Hills High School for “Future Cartoonist”
West Greene Middle Senior High School for “Comic Style and Humor”

But don’t just take our word for it – check out some of the winning submissions in the slideshow below:

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Above photos of the winning entries were taken by Phipps Science Education and Research staff.

 

 

 

February 26, 2015

We Just Launched Our New Website!

by Melissa Harding

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You may not have noticed, but we are going through some pretty exciting changes at Phipps in 2015. First, we created an entirely new Tropical Forest exhibit and now we are debuting a new website! Over a year in the making, the new online home of Phipps offers lots of never-before-seen features, including highlights from our plant and art collections, an improved online tour, and a smart design that works on desktops, tablets and smartphones. The new website is beautiful, informative and has many more features to help visitors learn more about Phipps and the programs that we offer.

We have also improved the process of registering for programs! If you are interested in signing up your child or students for one of our children’s programs (or yourself for some of our awesome adult education classes), the new online Phipps store makes signing up a breeze; now it is easier than ever to use your member discounts on classes. With so many exciting summer camps coming up, you’ll want to try out the new system soon!

Please visit and have a look around: phipps.conservatory.org

We hope that you love it as much as we do!

Photo © Paul g. Wiegman

 

February 25, 2015

Home Connections: Paper Sculptures

by Melissa Harding

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As this stretch of wintry weather continues across the country, many schools are closing their doors in face of extreme cold temperatures and high amounts of snowfall and ice. While playing outside in the snow is a fun way to spend the afternoon, being outside in negative temperatures is not very safe and many parents prefer that their children spend their time inside on days like today. If you are a parent who finds yourself in a similar situation, we have a fun craft that we think will help your kids spend the hours occupied and entertained: paper sculptures! This fun craft is a great way to reuse newspapers, junk mail, magazines or other kinds of old paper and a good excuse to raid your recycling bins. Combining repurposed materials with a healthy dose of messiness, paper sculptures are a great winter day project.

At Phipps, we make our paper sculptures out of newspaper, craft glue and water. You will also need a large bucket or container in which to create your mixture and a base on which to create it. We often repurpose shallow, plastic containers for this purpose, but anything that has a shallow lip will work.

1. Shred your newspaper into small strips; the smaller the strips, the faster they will start to disintegrate into a usable pulpy mixture.
2. Put your shredded strips into the bucket and add water until you cover them. Let this mixture soak for at least an hour to become soft.
3. Once your paper is soft and feels pulpy to the touch, squeeze out the excess water and remove it from the bucket.
4. Mix in craft glue until the mixture is a gloppy consistency and will hold a shape if squeezed. (You can also use a flour/water paste if you are out of craft glue; just add your paste until the mixture resembles paper mache.)

Now you are ready to model! Be sure to work with your paper pulp on a covered surface and keep it on the base. It will drip some water as it dries, so keep an eye out for that as well. If you want to add some flair to your pulp, using colorful paper or magazine pages will do the job. You can also try adding paint to your mixture for optimal mess and color!

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Not sure what to sculpt and looking for some inspiration? Check out some field guides or nature picture books to find a plant or animal to create or research some famous sculptures. You can also look out the window and see what inspires you or take a short walk. Anything can be an inspiration for art, so use this time to encourage your child to explore some of his or her favorite subjects – dinosaurs, alligators or even robots – for ideas. Happy crafting!

Interested in repurposed crafts? Learn more about how we repurpose cardboard, plastic, and glass.

Check out this post to learn how art can foster a connection with nature.

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.

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