Archive for ‘botany’

January 26, 2015

Confessions of a Plant Lover: BIA Fellow Jessi Turner Published in EcoMyths!

by Melissa Harding

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Yet another of our Botany in Action Fellows has been honored this month – Jessica Turner is the author of a recently published article at EcoMyth! Entitled “Why Plants are Awesome to Study: A Love Song from a Scientist“, Jessi’s article speaks about why she prefers to study humble plants over more exciting animal and human subjects. She not only explains why plants are such great subjects for research, but also why they are important to each and every one of us.

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. We are so excited for Jessi to have this great opportunity to share her work with a larger audience!

To read Jessi’s article, check it out on EcoMyth! Additionally, check out this piece that Jessi wrote last year for the blog, Understanding the Human Connection the American Ginseng.

Learn more about Jessi and follow her research at her website !

The above photo of Jessi was taken by Chelsie Romulo.  

January 7, 2015

Botany in Action Now Accepting Proposals!

by Melissa Harding

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Phipps is now accepting proposals for its 2015 Botany in Action Fellowship program!
The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed both to excellent research and educational outreach. Open to PhD students enrolled at US graduate institutions and conducting plant-based scientific field research, 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 with a broad range of public audiences.

Current BIA Fellows are engaged in research in locales from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and Illinois to Nepal and India. Their work covers topics ranging from the role of green roofs in urban biodiversity and the influence of heavy metal soil pollution on plants and pollinators to identification of plants used by healers that protect brain cells from the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

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Open to PhD students enrolled at US graduate institutions and conducting plant-based scientific field research, the BIA program provides each Fellow with:

1) $5,000 for use towards research-related expenses at sites in the US or abroad (including expenses for course fees, books, supplies, and equipment),
2) an all-expenses paid trip to Phipps, to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to translate and communicate his or her research to non-scientific, public audiences through written, visual and/or oral means, and
3) subsequent opportunities to connect his or her research with the public through program, exhibits and other outreach venues.

Supported plant-based science research must address one of the following priorities (listed in no particular order):*

  • Ethnobotany, with special interest in plant use for physical and/or psychological well-being;
  • Diversity and conservation, particularly in regional (southwest Pennsylvania and tri-state area) and tropical forests;
  • Landscape and brownfield restoration, particularly in plant-based ecosystem services;
  • Sustainable landscapes.

Deadline is January 16, 2015. Download the Call For Proposals: Phipps BIA CFP 2015.

To learn more about the BIA program and see photos from the 2014 Science Engagement Weekend, click here!

Above photos were taken by Amanda Joy.

January 6, 2015

Home Connections: Bringing the Forest Inside with Terrariums

by Melissa Harding

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The winter is a hard time to be a plant person, especially a gardener. No one wants to putter around in the yard when the wind chill is below zero and, no matter how beautiful a fresh snowfall is, it is hard to plant flowers in a frozen ground. One way to cure the winter blues and feel more connected to nature is through the use of houseplants. Houseplants are beautiful and make a house feel homey; additionally, caring for houseplants can reduce stress and the plants themselves earn their keep by cleaning toxins out of the ambient air. Houseplants are a real winner and the winter is a great time to invest in some new ones! One of the ways that we get our students excited about houseplants in the winter is by planting terrariums. Children love to take home plants; planting a beautiful terrarium garden is a great way to combine the fun of taking home a plant with learning about tropical ecosystems, the water cycle and clean air plants.

Terrariums are not only on trend, but are a great way to give kids the experience of having their own greenhouses. Typically a terrarium is a closed ecosystem, with the water recycling itself over and over again. However, not every terrarium has to have a lid; in fact, sometimes it is better to leave the lid off if you are planting anything that would easily die from overwatering.  Plant selection is important in this regard. Some of our favorite plants to put in a terrarium with children are: mosses, spider plants, Pothos, and Philodendron. Make sure that the plants you choose are short enough to fit in your container, as it will look a little silly if it is not all the way inside the glass. Remember that after you add soil, there is significantly less space for your plant. If you want to mix it up, try some succulent plants in a lid-less “desert” terrarium.

Any clear glass container will make a great terrarium; finding jars that are uniquely shaped or particularly beautiful is fun, but a spaghetti sauce jar works just fine as well. This is also a chance to repurpose a recyclable item and give it new life, rather than purchasing something new. The same goes for plants; try taking a cutting or two from your favorite houseplants and propagating them within the terrarium, as the moist environment is great for root growth. Pothos and Philodendron are especially great plants for propagation.

To make your own terrarium, you will need:
Glass jar (lid optional)
Activated charcoal (available in pet stores near the aquarium section)
Potting soil
Plants
Small stones or gravel
Other decorative objects (optional).

1. Fill an inch of the bottom of a clean jar with charcoal.
2. Layer some small stones over the charcoal, followed by a layer of potting soil; this is necessary to assure proper drainage.
3. Plant your plants.
4. Give them a small drink of water. (Remember, the water that you add will remain in the terrarium until you open the lid, so just add a little.)
5. Add any decorative objects you wish and close the lid.

This is a great time to get creative – anything that will not decay in a wet environment is perfect for adding to a terrarium; plastic animals are a favorite of ours. You can also get creative by decorating the lid or the jar itself, taking care not to block too much of the light.

Terrariums are easy to make from materials that you already have. No activated charcoal, no problem! Feel free to improvise and have fun with your project. The goal is to have some fun with plants and create something that will inspire you and make you feel connected to nature for the cold months to come!

To read more about how nature, including plants, can make us happier, check out this post.

If you are interested in creating a fancy terrarium, check out Terrarium Ideas and Inspiration at By Stephanie Lynn. Very pretty!

Photos by Science Education and Research staff.

January 2, 2015

Backyard Connections: Take a Holiday Hike!

by Melissa Harding

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As the old year comes to a close, so does the traditional winter holiday that most students enjoy during this time of the year. While it’s always great to have a break, the lack of structure and schedule can make normally laid-back kids turn cranky. The same can be said for parents. The winter break can also be a long period of time to occupy your family, especially when there is the added holiday expectation of infusing every outing and activity with extra meaning. One activity that is always a winner for both kids and adults alike is a holiday hike. Spending the afternoon in nature is beneficial for everyone: it soothes frayed holiday nerves, provides an outlet for energetic children, and is the great backdrop for having meaningful experiences together as a family.

Taking family hikes is also a great way to help turn your children into future naturalists. Research has shown that having positive outdoor experiences with a trusted caregiver – especially a parent or grandparent – play an important role in the formation of a conservation mindset. When adults identify figures in their childhood who were most influential to the development of their love for nature, they most often mention family members. Your children will learn their environmental values from your actions; they see every time you stop to smell the roses or observe animal tracks in the snow and will derive more meaning from that than anything else. Hiking or taking nature walks as a family is a wonderful way to share your love of the natural world with your children and for them to share theirs with you!

Taking a hike together can be as easy as stepping out your front door or can involve a drive to your local park or green space. No matter where you decide to take your hike, you will have ample opportunity to breathe in fresh air, feel the wind on your cheeks, and observe the plants and animals around you. Whether you are in a warm or cold locale this January, there is a lot to see and do outside.

Here are some suggestions to make your family hike fun for everyone:

1. Plan a scavenger hunt: Make a list of easily-found nature items like leaves, bark, birds, mud and sticks for younger children; add harder to spot items like specific species of birds and animals for older children. Scavenger hunts are always fun for kids, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself playing along too!
2. Journaling: While not every kid is into writing, most love drawing and coloring. Bring along your nature journals or some paper and a variety of vibrant pens, colored pencils and crayons. If you have room in your pack, watercolors are fun to bring as well. Encourage your family to draw their favorite plants, trees, rocks, animals, landscapes or each other. Make leaf and bark rubbings. Play games to see who can draw the best tree from memory or who can draw the best leaf with their eyes closed. Don’t be afraid to be silly and definitely don’t forget to spend some time creating art yourself!
3. Engage the senses: Observation exercises are a great way to engage the senses on a hike. Classic outdoor education activities like Meet a Tree or Hide and Seek are fun ways to get everyone looking closely at the natural world without seeming too much like school. For more ideas for encouraging observation, check out this this blog post!
4. Play trail games: A meaningful hike in nature doesn’t have a to be silent! Play word and observation games together as a family to keep everyone interested and laughing at they walk down the trail. Ideas include playing I Spy, Twenty Questions, and telling riddles and jokes. For a great list of trail games, check out this website by the Washington Trails Association.

A few safety reminders: Remember that not every child will have the stamina to hike very far or for very long. Be sure to bundle everyone up so that discomfort doesn’t make their hike a poor experience. Also be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks to keep everyone feel full and hydrated. Finally, always take a trail map and know where you are at all times; a family hike is not the place to try new paths!

No matter where you hike or how long you spend in the woods, your family will all benefit from an afternoon spent away from the TV and on the trail! Long or short, there is no wrong way to take a hike, so get outside!

Looking for more ideas of how to spend your time outside? Check out this blog post of fun winter activities!

To learn more about the importance of caregivers on environmental attitudes, check out this post!

The above photo was taken by Science Education and Research staff.

 

 

 

 

December 19, 2014

Interview with a Scientist: BIA Fellow Stephen Murphy

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 Stephen Murphy. 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. Stephen is in his first year as a BIA Fellow, researching tree growth in southwestern Pennsylvania.

We interviewed Stephen about his surprising love of computer work, the thrill of publishing his first paper, and why he loves working outside:

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

My name is Stephen and I’m currently a graduate assistant and PhD student in the ecology and evolution department at Ohio State University. My research focuses primarily on temperate deciduous forests in southwestern Pennsylvania. I’m very interested in helping to understand why trees grow and thrive where they do, and how they interact with each other across space and time. I’m also very involved with undergraduate education, and have been a teaching assistant for courses ranging from introductory biology to sustainable agriculture.

2. Why did you become a scientist?

I grew up loving science. I come from a family of physicians, so science (and particularly biology), has always been of great interest to me. I always knew that I would major in biology in college, but it wasn’t until I took a botany course my junior year that I actually got interested in plant ecology. To be honest, the only reason that I even took the class was because the other elective that I wanted to take filled up and there weren’t any other options! It’s funny how little things like that can have such an impact on the rest of your entire life. I can’t imagine doing anything different now that I’ve been pursuing a career in plant ecology for so long now. The work suits my personality and interests perfectly. I have always enjoyed working outdoors, camping, and the likes and now I get to do that as part of my work. It’s very rewarding work.

3. What part do plants play in your research?

Plants, and trees in particular, are my primary area of interest. I’m fascinated by how trees interact with each other and with their surrounding environment. I’m hoping to make a career out of better understanding exactly how these interactions work in nature.

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

Submitting my first paper was probably the most exciting thing that I’ve done thus far in my career. It is both exciting and nerve-wracking to put your work out there for review, but knowing that you will leave a permanent contribution to the field feels very rewarding. Other than that, working outside in the woods is always an adventure. I’ve ran into bears and rattlesnakes and bobcats, and have definitely had to work through some tough weather conditions before. You never know what’s gonna happen!

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 5. What skills do you use in your job?

Whenever I meet a student who expresses interest in pursuing a career in the natural sciences, I always ask them two questions: do you like to read, and do you like to write? With few exceptions, these two skills are more important than any other in science. These two skills have probably helped me in my career more than any other. You don’t necessarily have to be a mathematical wizard or a world authority on something to be a good scientist, but you do have to know how to read and write effectively. Reading skills are important for scientists to keep up-to-date with the vast amount of information that’s out there, and for developing new ideas for future projects. Conversely, writing skills are paramount for disseminating your own work to a wide audience, including both scientists and non-scientists alike. Beyond these two skills, I also use statistical methods and programming software for analyzing data, as well as graphical software for producing figures and maps. Public speaking is also an important part of my job, both for teaching and for presenting my work at scientific conferences.

6. What is your favorite part of your job?

Working in the field collecting new data is definitely at the top of the list. It’s always great getting back outside and away from the office for a while. However, I also really enjoy the data analysis component of research, which was a rather unexpected turn because I never had much experience with it prior to graduate school. I think my job is great because once I get bored with one thing it’s usually time to get back to other. I get the best of both worlds!

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

If I had to truly start everything over and choose a career outside of science, I think computer programming would be an ideal job. I have discovered that I enjoy the computer-oriented aspects of my job a lot more than I expected, and it’s hard to think of any aspect of my job that doesn’t at least indirectly involve a computer in some way. I really was never much of a tech ‘geek’ growing up, but now that I realize how vital computers are to my life and my job, I definitely wish that I had been. I also think being a computer programmer would be fulfilling in similar ways to being a scientist. Both involve problem solving, and at the end of the day you can feel like you created something or learned something new. And, as an added bonus, the job market for computer programmers these days is quite good.

8. Why is science education important? 

Science education is just as important for non-scientists as it is for scientists. A lot of people think that science is a purely academic pursuit, but this is totally not true. I think it’s safe to say that we use science on a daily basis more than any other subject, even if we don’t realize it. From making dietary choices, to driving our cars, to using our phones, to recycling, science is really everywhere in our lives. And I think a really important point is that all of this information is based off of primary research that real scientists have conducted. It’s easy to forget where the data originally comes from for information that we take for granted in our daily lives. Just flip to the back of any science textbook. What you will find is a long list of hundreds of primary articles that were written by scientists, and which are being used as the foundation for the material presented in the textbook. It’s important to recognize the link between the two. We may not need to know exactly how the phones in our pockets work, but we should recognize that decades of scientific research went into their development. We may not need to know the exact strategies that the National Park Service is using to conserve Grizzly Bear populations in Yellowstone, except to recognize that their efforts are certainly based off of years of important ecological research.

Stephen is a great example of someone whose life was changed by a great science class. It was by chance that he ended up in the field of plant ecology, but he was hooked from the beginning. To learn more about the importance of science communication, check out this post.

Follow Stephen’s adventures in research at his blog!

The above photos are used courtesy of Stephen Murphy and Phipps Science Education.

December 10, 2014

Follow the Botany in Action Fellows on Their Websites!

by Melissa Harding

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Our Botany in Action Fellows are not just out doing wonderful research, but have also been busy creating outreach opportunities that allow them to share their work with others. As part of their science communication training during the BIA Science Engagement, the Fellows learn principals of written communication, as well as how to use photographs to tell a compelling story. As a way to use these skills to reach out to visitors and students, each Fellow has also created their own website. Similar in purpose to the Follow the Fellows” pages on the official BIA website, these new websites allow each Fellow the ability to tell the story of their research in their own way.

These websites allow the reader to vicariously participate in science by following the Fellows in their work. Each website is a little different and helps the reader to really understand what it is like to engage in botanical research. This is includes both exciting adventures in the field and not-as-exciting adventures in crunching numbers and writing papers;  all of these pieces are necessary parts of strong research. By creating a complete picture of their lives and their work, they are able to convey not only what a scientist really does and looks like, but why their work is important.

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Advocating for good science communication is an important outcome of the Botany in Action program, but it is not an easy one. It requires not only rethinking preconceived notions about the role of a scientist in communicating his or her own work, but also rethinking what science communication should look like at all. The model of publishing research has not changed in a long time and neither has what happens to that research; it often exists in publications where only other scientists can access it, making it almost impossible to be seen by the public. The Botany in Action program helps Fellows to champion their own work and add to a public body of knowledge, as well as to reach out to students, educators and others who would find their research compelling. By communicating their love for science and showing why their research matters in the real world, the Fellows will inspire readers to dig deeper into their own passions, helping to create a future generation of biologists, chemists, physicists and more!

To learn more about our Fellows and to follow them through the research process, check out their wonderful websites:

Chelsie Romulo: http://cromulo.wordpress.com/
Kelly Ksiazek: http://greenroofresearch.wordpress.com
Anna Johnson: http://urbanplantscience.com/
Stephen Murphy: http://stephenjosephmurphy.weebly.com/
Aurelie Jacquet: http://frenchpeonies.com/research/
Jessica Turner: http://jessicabturner.weebly.com/

To learn more about Botany in Action, check out the website or this blog post.

To read more about the importance of science communication, check out this blog post!

The above images are used courtesy of Kelly Ksiazek and Phipps Science Education, respectively.

December 4, 2014

Botany in Action Now Accepting Proposals!

by Melissa Harding

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Phipps is now accepting proposals for its 2015 Botany in Action Fellowship program!
The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed both to excellent research and educational outreach. Open to PhD students enrolled at US graduate institutions and conducting plant-based scientific field research, 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 with a broad range of public audiences.

Current BIA Fellows are engaged in research in locales from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and Illinois to Nepal and India. Their work covers topics ranging from the role of green roofs in urban biodiversity and the influence of heavy metal soil pollution on plants and pollinators to identification of plants used by healers that protect brain cells from the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

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Open to PhD students enrolled at US graduate institutions and conducting plant-based scientific field research, the BIA program provides each Fellow with:

1) $5,000 for use towards research-related expenses at sites in the US or abroad (including expenses for course fees, books, supplies, and equipment),
2) an all-expenses paid trip to Phipps, to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to translate and communicate his or her research to non-scientific, public audiences through written, visual and/or oral means, and
3) subsequent opportunities to connect his or her research with the public through program, exhibits and other outreach venues.

Supported plant-based science research must address one of the following priorities (listed in no particular order):*

  • Ethnobotany, with special interest in plant use for physical and/or psychological well-being;
  • Diversity and conservation, particularly in regional (southwest Pennsylvania and tri-state area) and tropical forests;
  • Landscape and brownfield restoration, particularly in plant-based ecosystem services;
  • Sustainable landscapes.

Deadline is January 16, 2015. Download the Call For Proposals: Phipps BIA CFP 2015.

To learn more about the BIA program and see photos from the 2014 Science Engagement Weekend, click here!

Above photos were taken by Amanda Joy.

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