May 5, 2015

We’re Moving!

by Lorren Kezmoh

We’re pleased to announce that we will be moving the Science Education and Research blog over to Phipps’ main website!

If you’ve really come to love the content on this blog, don’t worry! Not only will we be keeping the current Science Education blog up and running, we will also be transitioning our most popular blog posts over to the conservatory’s main website as well.

Starting today, however, we will be moving over to our new address, https://phipps.conservatory.org/sciedblog, and we hope you’ll make the trip with us!

May 1, 2015

Interview with a Scientist: Science Communication Fellows Theresa Dankovich and Dorothy Borowy

by Lorren Kezmoh

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.

This week we will be featuring our Portal to the Public Science Communication fellows, Theresa Dankovich and Dorothy Borowy. The Portal to the Public program at Phipps seeks to bring scientists and public audiences together in face-to-face public interactions that promote appreciation and understanding of current scientific research and its application. As part of our Portal to the Public programming, Phipps will be holding it’s first “Ask a Scientist” public program this May where visitors can engage with our science communication fellows and learn all about their research and occupations and even see the very instruments and equipment utilized everyday by scientists. And, to kick off our “Ask a Scientist” event, which will take place Saturday, May 2nd from 11:00am until 4:00pm in the Tropical Forest Palm Circle, we want to introduce to you our scientists!

Science Communication Fellow, Theresa Dankovich

Introduce yourself in 5 sentences or less: I’m a postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Environmental Engineering. I invented a new filter paper for killing bacteria in dirty water in developing countries.  These filter papers are in “The Drinkable Book” — a manual for the how and why for clean drinking water.  The Drinkable Book is a transformative tool for water purification — education plus technology. I have tested these filters in the lab and in the field in a couple different African countries.

Why did you become a scientist? I became a scientist because I wanted to work on projects that can improve people’s lives.  I really enjoy the hands-on experience of learning science.   Discovering how the natural world works has always interested me.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done at work? The most exciting thing I’ve done at work is to travel to Africa to conduct field studies. In Ghana, we showed people from traditional mud hut villages how to use The Drinkable Book to filter water.  Little kids really enjoyed watching the filters in action!

What skills do you use in your job? I use many different skill sets in my job!  These include the technical skills, such as experimental design, problem solving, and understanding the scientific material, and non-technical skills, such as communication and organization. The non-technical skills are very useful for sharing the knowledge gained from conducting scientific studies.

What is your favorite part of your job? I enjoy problem solving and working on creative solutions.  I also really like how this Drinkable Book project cuts across so many different fields — I’ve worked with everyone from scientists and engineers to social scientists, physicians, designers, business people, and librarians.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be? I would probably be a chef, as I love to cook and to try different types of food.

Why is science education important? Science education is unique from other basic skills, such as reading, writing, mathematics, because of the emphasis on discovery as a means of inquiry.  Encouraging curiosity in the natural world is very motivating and engaging for students.  Science education is highly important beyond developing the skills of learning through discovery and curiosity.  It also creates better informed citizens on numerous important issues from healthcare to energy to climate change.

Science Communication Fellow, Dorothy Borowy

Introduce yourself and your work in 5 sentences or less: My name is Dorothy Borowy and I am a student at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.  I study how plants interact with one another and the environment.  If you look at a patch of plants growing together, you might assume that it’s just a random assembly of different species, what’s fascinating is that it’s not!  Different processes are responsible for determining what species are found in a given location at anytime.  I am interested in understanding which processes are important for determining the way different plant species are organized into these local patches and how they change in response to human actions.

Why did you become a scientist? I have always been fascinated with the natural world.  As a child, the bookshelf in my bedroom was filled with David Attenborough documentaries, National Geographic magazines and a “precious” rock collection, which I later learned were just oddly shaped pieces of cement I found.  Every time I learned something new about the world around me, I felt like I made a new discovery.  Luckily my family helped foster this curiosity by always encouraging me to explore and by not freaking out when a clutch of gecko eggs I incubated hatched and escaped into the house!  Being a scientist means I am able to always satisfy my “inner child” because the #1 requirement for my job is to explore the natural world and make new discoveries.

What part do plants play in your research? Plants play a major role in my research.  Because plants form the living base of most ecosystems, they tell you a lot about the other organisms that rely on them for survival, both directly and indirectly, and ultimately how the entire ecosystem functions.  Very few species could survive on Earth without plants; they are responsible for providing food, shelter and even oxygen to a host of bacteria, fungi, insects and animals.  However, plants not only influence living organisms and the environment, they are also affected by them.  Humans play a large role in determining which plant species are likely to be found in certain habitats and environments.  This influence in strongest in cities where many people live and work.  As a result, I study plants in urban environments so that I can understand why some species are able to survive and thrive in these harsh conditions and why others cannot.  I hope I can use this information to help restore native plant communities in cities, which will benefit many other species, including humans.

What is the most exciting thing you have ever done at work? Being a scientist means I never relive the same day, which is pretty exciting. However, I think my most memorable experience was when I spent a summer monitoring lions on a game reserve in South Africa.  We received a call that the two dominant males on the reserve had escaped into a neighboring cattle farm, which is like an all you can eat buffet for lions!  We quickly assembled a team and set out to find and return them back into the reserve.  Wandering through the bush at night looking for a pair of 400-pound lions was both thrilling and a little nerve-racking.  However, the real excitement happened while the game warden and I were transporting one of the sedated males in the back of a pickup truck.  Halfway to our destination, I turned around to see our once sleeping lion now sitting up and staring at me through the back window of the vehicle.  Nothing makes a car stop faster than telling the driver there is a lion peering through the window six inches behind him. Luckily, we reacted quickly and were able to re-sedate our passenger for the remainder of the trip and safely release him back into the reserve.

What skills do you use in your job? My job has many components and each requires a different set of skills.  Depending on the day, I may be conducting research in the field, organizing and analyzing data in the lab or writing.  If I am out in the field, I need to be organized and efficient because I often only have a narrow frame of time within which to complete my work.  I also need to be adaptable.  I realized early in my career that nothing goes exactly as planned, so being able to adjust to a variety of situations is important, which is why I always bring duct tape and an extra pair of socks with me whenever I do field work.  Working in the lab requires patience and attention to detail.  Organizing and analyzing pages of data is not always the most exciting part of my job, but it is really important.  I always need to make sure I am thorough and precise so that my work is represented accurately. Finally, writing requires creativity and clarity because these are the skills that allow me to effectively communicate my thoughts and conclusions to others.

What is your favorite part of your job? Learning something new and sharing that information with others.  In college, my botany professor was fanatical about plants and this was reflected in the way he taught every class.  I remember thinking that botany must be interesting because there was no possible way anyone could maintain that level of enthusiasm for an entire semester if it wasn’t.  Dr. Windler’s energy soon rubbed off and botany quickly became one of my favorite classes.  Getting the opportunity to interact with other people and share my passion for the natural world, in the hopes of engaging and inspiring them the way my professor inspired me, is by far the best part of my job.

If you werent a scientist, what job would you choose? Wow, that is a really hard question.  Clearly I’m not in this for the fame or fortune, so I think actress or stock broker is out or the running.  I would probably be a photographer or naturalist-a job that allowed me travel and spend much of my time outdoors.

Why is science education important? Science is the foundation of everything we know about the world around us.  It ignites curiosity and imagination in children and has the power to guide decisions and influence policy.  But these effects cannot be realized without first communicating and teaching this knowledge to both children and adults.

April 29, 2015

Interview with a Scientist: Science Communication Fellows Andrea Stevens and Stephanie Mack

by Lorren Kezmoh

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.

This week we will be featuring our Portal to the Public Science Communication fellows, Andrea Stevens and Stephanie Mack. The Portal to the Public program at Phipps seeks to bring scientists and public audiences together in face-to-face public interactions that promote appreciation and understanding of current scientific research and its application. As part of our Portal to the Public programming, Phipps will be holding it’s first “Ask a Scientist” public program this May where visitors can engage with our science communication fellows and learn all about their research and occupations and even see the very instruments and equipment utilized everyday by scientists. And, to kick off our “Ask a Scientist” event, which will take place Saturday, May 2nd from 11:00am until 4:00pm in the Tropical Forest Palm Circle, we want to introduce to you our scientists!

Science Communication Fellow, Andrea Stevens

Introduce yourself in 5 sentences or less: Hi! My name is Andrea Stevens and I am a graduate student at Duquesne University and I am working towards my Ph.D. I completed my Master’s degree at Chatham University in conjunction with The University of Pittsburgh with a focus on Parkinson’s Disease.  I also completed my Bachelor’s degree at Duquesne University in 2009.  As a local Pittsburgh girl, I really enjoy running in the city parks and escaping to the nearby national state parks to enjoy time outdoors with my husband and dogs!

Why did you become a scientist? I became a scientist because I love exploring and finding out things for myself! As an undergrad, I was first exposed to many different types of scientists and all sorts of different topics to study.  I spent time in a mosquito-malaria lab and then spent most of my time exploring gender differences in the human knee bone.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done at work? Everything I do at work is really exciting! However, the most exciting thing I’ve ever done recently is work with a well-known neurobiologist learning how to remove the entire spinal cord from rats in one swift move.  It may sound gross to others but dissections are my favorite!

What skills do you use in your job? My job requires many different skills.  I have to be precise and accurate when I am in surgery, patient when I am conducting a long experiment, and analytical once I get those really cool results.

What is your favorite part of your job? My favorite part of my job is working with other scientists be able to constantly learn new information.  I really love learning and this is a job that allows me to do so on a constant basis.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be? If I weren’t a scientist, I would be a physician.

Why is science education important? Science education is important because science is the basis of everything! It’s important to learn how to hypothesize an idea and test it to see if it works.  It’s something most people do all the time, unknowingly.  Learning about different scientific topics also allows to be more educated in our everyday lives.  Knowledge is power!

Science Communication Fellow, Stephanie Mack

Introduce yourself in 5 sentences or less: Hello! I’m Stephanie from Philadelphia PA. I did my undergraduate work at Lehigh University and am now a PhD graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University in chemistry. I now work on using nucleic acids as a therapeutic tool to treat diseases. In my spare time I like to read books and help plan graduate student social events.

Why did you become a scientist? I became a scientist because I’ve been interested in understanding the world around us, specifically how diseases function in the body. With this knowledge I hope to make therapies that will help improve the lives of people across the world.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done at work? The most exciting thing I’ve done at work is build DNA and RNA using a synthesizer that makes customizable sequences.

What skills do you use in your job? The skills I use day to day are mostly critical thinking and time management. I need to be able to carefully plan out sets of experiments and make sure I have proper controls to make the outcomes meaningful.

What is your favorite part of your job? My favorite part of my job is running experiments on a daily basis. I like the hands on aspect and the ability to take the ideas in my head and bring them into reality.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be? If I wasn’t a scientist I would be a baker. I spend many weekends perfecting recipes to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie. This week’s recipe uses brown butter.

Why is science education important? Science education is important because science is all around us. Science impacts all areas of life, from health and medicine to materials that make cars and planes. Having more people interested and educated about science will help progress the field further and faster than ever.

April 27, 2015

Interview with a Scientist: Science Communication Fellows James Gardiner and Djuna Gulliver

by Lorren Kezmoh

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.

This week we will be featuring our Portal to the Public Science Communication fellows, starting with James Gardiner and Djuna Gulliver. The Portal to the Public program at Phipps seeks to bring scientists and public audiences together in face-to-face public interactions that promote appreciation and understanding of current scientific research and its application. As part of our Portal to the Public programming, Phipps will be holding it’s first “Ask a Scientist” public program this May where visitors can engage with our science communication fellows and learn all about their research and occupations and even see the very instruments and equipment utilized everyday by scientists. And, to kick off our “Ask a Scientist” event, which will take place Saturday, May 2nd from 11:00am until 4:00pm in the Tropical Forest Palm Circle, we want to introduce to you our scientists!

Science Communication Fellow, James Gardiner

Introduce yourself in 5 sentences or less: My name is James Gardiner and I do research on how energy production affects water quality. I think it’s funny that I became a scientist because I honestly didn’t like my high school science classes. It wasn’t until I went to college and was able to do more hands on research that I became fascinated with the Earth’s chemical and physical processes. For hobbies, I really enjoy listening to music and playing music. I listen to many genres, but here are my favorite artists in no particular order: Lou Reed, The Clash, A Tribe Called Quest, Kaki King, Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, and Tom Petty.

Why did you become a scientist? As an undergraduate, I spent a summer in New Mexico, where all of the colors and layers of the Earth were exposed, making me wonder how and why they formed. I would end up spending the next decade studying geology and groundwater issues and becoming the scientist I am today.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done at work? The most exciting thing I’ve done was taking water samples from streams at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in eastern California. It was definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

What skills do you use in your job? I use my analytical skills (observing and identifying issues) a great deal, but I also use a lot of other skills that you might not expect to be necessary for a scientist. Communication, planning, and creativity play an important role. When we’re planning an experiment, we do it as a team, and it involves a lot of problem solving that can be fun when you’re working together.

What is your favorite part of your job? My favorite part of my job is being able to go out into the field and collect samples. Field work gives you the chance to observe firsthand what you’re studying—for me, it might be a set of water wells in New Mexico or a natural gas field in southwestern Pennsylvania. You learn a lot from this exposure and meeting the people who live and work in the area.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be? I’d probably be a DJ or a music director at a radio station. I worked at a college radio station during college and loved it—I definitely miss having a radio show and would love to do that again!

Why is science education important? The fundamental aspect of science—the scientific method—can be used across all disciplines, even if they’re not considered a science. I’ve used my science background to diagnose car problems and plumbing issues in my house. When coupled with other educational cornerstones, like strong writing and reading skills, science education helps to create a person who can understand and address more complicated problems, like how to build a bridge or how to answer tomorrow’s energy needs.

Science Communication Fellow, Djuna Gulliver

Introduce yourself in 5 sentences or less: My name is Djuna Gulliver, and I am an environmental microbiology and environmental engineer. I look at the DNA of microorganisms that live in rocks, soil, and water. I then figure out what the environment does to these microorganisms, and what these microorganisms do to the environment. The chemistry, physics, and biology of our planet are all intertwined, and are constantly affecting each other. The Earth really is a living, breathing thing.

Why did you become a scientist? As a scientist, I am constantly learning about fascinating phenomena that is on par with even the wildest of imaginations. I learn about microorganisms that build tall thin tentacles that stretch to food sources. There are microorganisms that shield themselves in a cocoon to wait out a catastrophic event. There are even microorganisms that use magnets in their bodies to help navigate the terrain.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve ever done at work? Field work is always something of a treat.  My last field site was on an oil rig set up in the sweeping plains of Kansas. We stayed up until 3 am, prepping and waiting for samples. And then, of course, we all slept until noon.

What skills do you use in your job? Problem solving is used every day.  Often the types of microorganisms that appear are unexpected.  It’s my job to figure out why those microorganisms are there. The ability to work with others is another vital skill. No scientist can be an expert in everything. It’s important to recognize when you need help, and to be able to work with other experts to get the job done.

What is your favorite part of your job? My favorite moment in my job is when I finally see all of the microorganisms of a new sample. It’s something of an unveiling of the environment, and the “ah-ha” moment that we’ve all been working towards.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be? I would open an Aerial Silks Studio. Nothing helps reset the mind like climbing 20 feet in the air and dropping.

Why is science education important? The more we learn about science, the more we can appreciate everything around us. You begin to realize that the Earth is a miraculous thing, and something we should all appreciate and look after. Also, science is fascinating, and can insight curiosity and wonder.

April 23, 2015

Bringing Science to the Public at Phipps

by Lorren Kezmoh

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Last month Phipps was excited to offer a brand new program, Portal to the Public, for graduate students, faculty, staff, and other professionals from across a wide array of scientific fields interested in connecting, and ultimately sharing, their work to diverse public audiences. The goal of the Portal to the Public program is to provide training in science communication to graduate students and other professionals from across scientific disciplines so that they can easily convey their research and occupations to the public in a fun and understandable way, as well as, provide an opportunity for these individuals to apply their training firsthand through public interactions.

DSC_0051 (2)Phipps is proud to be one of several informal science education institutions participating in the Portal to the Public Network and is excited to provide both the science communication training as well as venue for scientists and the public to actively discuss science. Our first round of science communication fellows recently participated in a science communication workshop, facilitated by our Science Education and Research department, where they developed tools for communicating scientific concepts to the public. Our fellows also had the chance to network with colleagues from across a wide array of scientific disciplines and organizations. With the successful completion of our science communication workshop our fellows will next have the opportunity to apply their newly acquired skillset at our “Ask a Scientist” Public Program on Saturday, May 2nd.

From 11:00am until 4:00pm on Saturday, May 2nd our science communication fellows will be in the Tropical Forest Palm Circle sharing their work with visitors to the conservatory. Guests will be able to ask our scientists all about their research and occupations and even have the chance to see the very instruments and equipment utilized everyday by scientists! From environmental microbiology to understanding pain perception, our scientists come from a variety of disciplines and are eager to share the work they love with visitors to Phipps. So if you plan on visiting Phipps for the opening of our Summer Flower Show on May 2nd, don’t forget to stop by the Tropical Forest Palm Circle to chat with our science communication fellows and get the inside scoop on today’s latest scientific research!

Photos taken by Emily Kalnicky.

April 21, 2015

Celebrate Earth Day and FutureFest with Phipps!

by Lorren Kezmoh

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Don’t have plans for Earth Day just yet? Stop by Phipps!

What better way to celebrate the big, blue planet that we call home than by visiting some of the greenest buildings on it and surrounding yourself with some of the most exotic foliage that covers it! Come and see firsthand how our horticulturalists put together each of our stunning flower shows and take a sneak peek at our long-awaited Summer Flower Show, which officially opens May 2nd, and the return of our four-winged friends in Butterfly Forest.

But, if you can’t make it to Phipps this Wednesday for Earth Day, don’t fret! Phipps will also be hosting FutureFest 2015 Saturday, April 25th from 10:00am to 4:00pm on the front lawn of the conservatory. Get a glimpse of the world of tomorrow through art, demonstrations, performances, science and hands-on activities for all ages — from scavenger hunts to craft stations! A large, free public festival, FutureFest 2015 is the result of collaboration between several stakeholder organizations, working across different sectors, with the same goal of celebrating and promoting Pittsburgh’s vision of an achievable, sustainable future.

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For more information about the festival and to view the full schedule of events, please visit FutureFest 2015.

Looking for additional Earth Day activities and events? Visit Pittsburgh Earth Day to see what other celebrations are taking place throughout the city!

Photographs taken by Lorren Kezmoh.

April 10, 2015

Phipps and ALCOSAN Host Teacher Workshop on Connecting Students With Nature and Conservation

by Lorren Kezmoh

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Last month Phipps hosted a teacher workshop for K-12 educators on connecting students with nature and conservation in conjunction with ALCOSAN, Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, a wastewater treatment organization. Entitled “Connecting Students to Nature and Conservation Through Classroom STEAM Activities,” this workshop focused on providing educators with hands-on activities and suggestions that they could apply to their own classrooms for connecting students to nature and conservation. The overall purpose of the workshop was to explain the facets of sustainability and how nature connection plays a role in conservation attitudes and behavioral changes in children and adults alike, as well as, to increase understanding of how built landscapes affect learning and the developmental process of sustainability education.

The workshop included plenty of hands-on activities as well as a special tour of the Center for Sustainable Landscapes. Participating teachers left with not only a working knowledge of how nature connection affects developing conservation attitudes and behaviors, but also with a huge amount of teaching resources, and Act 48 Continuing Professional Education credits. We want to extend a special thanks again to ALCOSAN and all the educators who participated in this exciting workshop!

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To learn more about ALCOSAN and to find future workshops, click here!

To learn more about how Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes is revolutionizing how we view the built environment, click here!

Photos taken by Phipps Science Education staff and Erica LaMar of ALCOSAN.                   

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