Archive for ‘botany’

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.

December 3, 2014

What Does a Phipps Field Trip Look Like?

by Melissa Harding

 

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Even though the year is almost over, we still have hundreds of students pouring in to Phipps to learn and explore. While it’s always a treat to walk through the steamy Conservatory rooms on a cold day, these students are not just coming to us for a change in scenery; they are coming to learn about the importance of plants through one of our many hands-on field trip experiences. While a field trip at other institutions is certainly educational, a field trip at Phipps literally transports students to the heart of the tropical forest or the desert. Students can walk through new worlds and discover their passions for the importance and beauty of plants in their lives.

To best illustrate how our field trips use hands-on activities and experiential learning to teach scientific principles, look no further than Stupendous Seeds. This is one of our most popular field trips for children ages Pre-K through first grade, a class devoted to the smallest of plants and how they grow. In this class, students get up close and personal with a variety of seeds, using their observation skills to be seed scientists and learn more about the scientific process. First, our seed scientists learn about the diversity of seeds through a seed investigation, observing dozens of different seeds and selecting them based on given characteristics. Next, the students try to answer the question “What’s inside a seed?” by making some group hypotheses and then performing an experiment to find out the answer. They dissect a lima bean seed, pulling it apart into its components and learning how the embryo inside gets the energy to sprout.

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After all this science work, the students play a game called “seed or not a seed” in which they look at pictures of seeds and guess whether  they are really seeds. How would we find that out? Why, we would “put it in the soil, give it sun and water, and wait, wait, wait to see if it sprouts!” The students enjoy chanting this rhyme along with us and enjoy even more trying to guess what plant the seeds will grow into.  They really love the final seed, a coconut, which we pass around for them all to observe. Many students have only seen coconuts in  stories, so imagine their surprise when they get to hold the biggest seed in the world!

Next, it’s time for our students to take off their scientist hats and put on their acting hats, as we all perform a play of the life of a seed. Students play sleepy seeds, hibernating in the ground and waiting for spring. As the ground warms and the rain falls, they sprout and grow bigger and bigger, until they finally make flowers which are then visited by bees and butterflies. Of course, after pollination, our flowers turn back into seeds and the play starts again. Students enjoy playing all the different parts, especially those who get to “pollinate” their friends on the head.

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Finally, we look at uses for seeds, from eating to musical instruments. We share examples of seeds that we eat, seeds that help us make our clothes, seeds that make jewelry, and seeds that we can shake to create sound. After the class, students will tour upstairs in the Conservatory and hunt for seeds in the variety of tropical fruits and flowering plants that live there. Our docent-led tours take students on a tour through the entire Conservatory, with special stops for exciting plant sightings. Students will discover banana plants, cacao trees dripping with pods, tropical fruit trees in bloom, a variety of palms covered in fruit and a whole room of gorgeous orchids, not to mention our seasonal flower displays and outdoor gardens. Questions and sensory engagement with our plants are encouraged; each docent creates a special experience for our students as they introduce them to our plants with enthusiasm and passion!

Every field trip is different, and we offer topics ranging from seeds to worms to world biomes. All of our field trips meet Pennsylvania Department of Education standards for Environment and Ecology for students Pre-K through grade 8. Our older students can have just as much fun solving conservation mysteries and being pieces in a classroom-sized board game, all in the name of plant science!

To inquire about our field trips, contact Sarah Bertovich at 412-441-4442 ext. 3925 or sbertovich@Phipps.conservatory.org.

To learn more about our offered field trips, read summaries of each in our School Program Spotlight section. You can also check out our website for more details.

Why do field trips matter? Learn more about the developmental importance of field trips here!

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

November 14, 2014

Interview with a Scientist: BIA Fellow Chelsie Romulo

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.

It’s a new year with new scientists! For our next installment in this series, we sat down with BIA Fellow Chelsie Romulo. 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. Chelsie is in her first year as a BIA Fellow, researching the aguaje palm in the Amazon rainforest.

We interviewed Chelsie about her childhood playing outside, her love of bees, and the time that she climbed up a palm tree:

Introduce yourself and your work in 5 sentences or less. 

My name is Chelsie Romulo and I am a doctoral candidate in the Environmental Science and Policy Department at George Mason University. I study the economy and ecology of a palm called aguaje that grows in the Amazon rainforest. This species is found in peatlands that can store large amounts of carbon and it produces a fruit that is a very important food source for many animals. I am interested in how the fruit market affects the distribution and ecology of the tree, especially since people cut down the tree to harvest the fruit. My research tries to understand how people who harvest, buy, sell, and eat the fruit make decisions and how their choices affect management of the species.

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Why did you become a scientist? 

As a child my favorite activities consisted of mucking about in creek beds and overturning rocks and logs, and then bringing home critters that I had found. They would then be placed in tanks all over the house, as well as my mother’s potted plants and eventually released where they had been found. Over the years I watched with fascination as many tadpoles and caterpillars transformed into frogs and butterflies. My mother has always been an avid gardener and encouraged us to dig in the dirt and admire living things with her. I’ve always been fascinated with nature and watching things grow and spending as much time outside as possible. Though I’ve never wanted to do anything else except be a scientist, I was surprised at the diversity of options within the field of life sciences. I never would have guessed that I would be studying the economics of an Amazonian fruit but I love being where I am today.

What part do plants play in your research? 

My research focus is on the aguaje palm tree (Mauritia flexuosa) that grows in the Amazon Rainforest. The trees produce a fruit that is an important food for animals and is also eaten whole, or processed into ice cream and juice, by people in the Peruvian Amazon. This tree also grows in peatlands that have the potential to store a lot of carbon dioxide.

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

During the summer of 2013, while working with a colleague setting camera traps in the forest, we had the chance to climb an aguaje tree. We used a harness developed by a group of local people who were committed to find a more sustainable harvest method. It was much scarier and dirtier than I had ever imagined. You have one strap around your waist and your foot in another loop, hanging dozens of feet up in the air! Having that experience really helps my perspective when talking to harvesters about their decision to cut or climb a tree. Here is a picture:

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What skills do you use in your job? 

People skills are very important. I depend on a lot of people to get my research done, both in the United States and abroad. I have to be able to communicate effectively to a variety of different people, and sometimes in Spanish! Spanish language would be another skill as well, since I need to communicate with my colleagues and field technicians in Peru. It also helps to stay fit throughout the year because tromping through heavily forested swamps can tire you out quickly.

What is your favorite part of your job? 

I love meeting new people whose research is similar to mine and sharing new information with each other. Part of being a scientist is spending your life learning and sharing new things.

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

I think if I wasn’t a scientist I would want to be a beekeeper. Actually, I am already a beekeeper, but I just have a few hives as a hobby. I could watch them for hours and hours. Actually, I would probably just be another type of scientist. I can’t imagine not being a scientist.

Why is science education important?

Science is the way that we explain and describe our world, so science education is very important. Science education is needed to help people understand how we got to where we are and why scientists say one thing or another. It is also important because all people need to be thinking critically about how we interpret observations and reach our own conclusions. I think that some people are intimated by science and scientists and this causes a barrier to communication and understanding. It is part of our job as scientists to help people understand and enjoy science, and contribute to science education. For my project specifically I am working with people who harvest, buy and sell aguaje fruit in the Amazon rainforest. Many of these people are less than a high school education, so it is up to me to help them understand what my research means for them and the future of their business in the fruit trade.

Chelsie is a great example of someone who turned a childhood love of nature into an adult career. Research shows that children who spend significant time in nature are more likely to develop positive environmental attitudes as adults. To learn more about the power of nature on child development, check out this blog post.

Follow Chelsie’s adventures in research at her blog!

The above photos are used courtesy of Chelsie Romulo.

October 20, 2014

Interview with a Scientist: BIA Fellow Jessi Turner

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.

It’s a new year with new scientists! For our next installment in this series, we sat down with BIA Fellow Jessica Turner. 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. Jessi is in her second year as a BIA Fellow, researching the American Ginseng plant in West Virginia.

We interviewed Jessi about her passion for her work, her childhood playing outdoors and why studying plants is so great.

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

My name is Jessica B. Turner and I am a passionate outdoor-enthusiast, who loves creating art and traveling. I am also a scientist at West Virginia University, and I study THE most interesting plant in the world: American ginseng. Ginseng is harvested in Appalachia and then sold to China to be used for medicine, so this amazing plant is medicinally, culturally, and economically important on a global scale! Ginseng may not be around in the future…people overharvest it and surface mining is reducing the amount of forest where ginseng grows. As a scientist, I study how we can keep ginseng around for the future, so people can keep using and enjoying this beautiful plant!

2. Why did you become a scientist? 

As a kid, I was always in the mud, catching frogs, looking at insects, pressing wildflowers, and memorizing facts about animals. My parents had a big influence on my future occupation, as well. For every Christmas and birthday I received something science related, such as a microscope, chemistry kit, or a field guide. As a family, we would go to parks, zoos, conservatories, and arboretums together. My folks helped foster a curiosity in the world around me, and I knew that they considered no question to be stupid or silly… so I asked a lot of questions. And now, my job is to ask questions and answer them!

3. What part do plants play in your research? 

YES!!! Plants are great to study for many reasons. Plants are everywhere in every ecosystem! They are the bottom of the food chain, and they provide us with oxygen (pretty important stuff!). I study American ginseng, which is a fantastic plant that people all over the world care about. Since plants don’t move, you can study them over time (this is a GREAT reason to study plants). I study my plants by tagging them with an ID number, and measuring them every year. If the plants are growing, and producing a lot of seed, we know that is a good environment for the plant. If a plant is getting smaller over time, then the plant is probably not growing in the best area. With this simple scientific process, we are able to answer a lot of questions. I have hundreds of plants I visit and measure each year, this is how I collect my data!

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

Being a scientist has given me so many extraordinary experiences. I have been able to pet rhinos, giraffes, and cheetahs, count tropical fish while doing reef surveys in Hawaii, and I have seen isolated parts of the Appalachian forest that are so beautiful it takes your breath away.  One of the coolest moments in field research happened when I was doing climate change work in Alaska.  I was dropped off at a field site to measure plants on the tundra.  As I looked around at the Brooks Range, felt the wind rushing over me, I realized this was the most isolated I had ever been in my entire life.  I was there with the plants, the mountains, and whatever large wildlife was lurking around in the willows.  It was a profound moment in my life, which I would not have experienced if it were not for my career path.

5. What skills do you use in your job? 

My job requires a whole bunch of skills, such as attention to detail, organization, etc. But my job also requires a healthy does of creativity, curiosity, and an excitement about learning. This job also requires an understanding that fieldwork is not always comfortable. We work long days in the summer, dealing with  a lot of insects and, often, less than ideal weather. I am not always outdoors, I also get to work with some cool computer programs… everything from web design, to photo editing, to statistical analysis. I feel like I have the best job, because I get paid to learn about the world, and in turn, teach others about how things work!

6. What is your favorite part of your job? 

I love working with people, and I love getting people excited about the world around them. One of the greatest perks is when I get to teach different age groups about science.   With kids, it is a blast coming up with different games or activities to teach certain concepts about biology. With the elderly, they are excited to learn, and they relate what they learn to their own personal experiences.   I have met some amazing people from all walks of life, and the natural world gives us a million ways to connect with anyone. I love sharing my passion and excitement about nature.

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

I would probably be an artist or a naturalist. As for being a naturalist, I love working with people and getting them interested in the complexities of nature. As for being an artist, I love creating and making things. There is something that is so satisfying about seeing the final product of something you created. That is one of the reasons I love science. I can ask a question, figure out how to answer that question, and then I get to answer it and explain it! At the end of it all, I can look at all of the work I did, and I can see the journey I took to get there. Science is like art, because you need to be flexible and creative.

8. Why is science education important?

Science explains how the world works. Learning about how to ask and answer questions logically can be an important framework for making educated decisions. Appreciating the natural world can connect people. For example, I could talk about ginseng to someone in Appalachia- who has never left his or her home county- or someone in Hong Kong who takes ginseng medicinally. This plant provides ‘common ground’ to two very different people with very different experiences. Science can help show us our similarities and bridge communities.

 

Jessi is an example of someone who loved being outside as a child and was inspired to a career in science because it. She has a passion for her work and telling everyone about what a great and important plant American Ginseng is!

To learn more about the importance of science communication, check out this post.

To learn more about Jessi’s work, check out her Follow the Fellows page on the Botany in Action Website.

The above photo was taken by Amanda Joy.

October 1, 2014

Botany in Action Science Engagement Weekend

by Melissa Harding

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This past weekend was our Botany in Action Science Engagement, a four-day event that brings our Botany in Action Fellows to Phipps for a series of workshops and public engagement opportunities. The goal of the Science Engagement is to help the Fellows become more skilled at interpreting their work for a public audience, including children, and to give museum visitors a chance to learn more about their research. Fellows spent their time at Phipps developing skills in public speaking, radio, field photography, photo editing, multimedia, and popular and creative writing for a public audience.

In addition to working with Phipps educators and polishing their skills, they also spent some time doing public outreach to students. Last Friday, the Fellows worked with local high school students as part of the Eco-Challenge. They shared their experiences in the field, as well as their love of science, with groups of students. Both students and teachers came away excited about the enthusiasm each Fellow has for his or her work. Many described it as the highlight of their day at Phipps!

 The Fellows also had a chance to work with family and adult audiences. Saturday morning, the Fellows set up informational tables throughout the Conservatory to display tools they use in the field and to talk more informally to visitors about their research. That night, they presented at “Peek Behind the Petals”, a lecture series for members to talk about their research and why science matters.

Check out images from both public events in the slideshow below!

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Additionally, the Fellows were interviewed by the Saturday Light Brigade, a family radio show, to talk about their work as a scientists and a significant plant they each encounter during their work. This will be complied into a short segment called “Herbs in Action” and will be aired throughout the fall.

Check out this space throughout the coming year to see profiles of each Fellow and their research. Read about past year’s Fellows at “Follow the Fellows”.

If you missed any of the public events this weekend or would like to learn more about the Fellows and their work, you can check out the Botany In Action blog!

The above photos were taken by Science Education Staff and volunteers.

September 24, 2014

Save the Dates: Meet Botany in Action Research Fellows at Phipps this Month!

by Melissa Harding

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Meet Phipps’ Botany in Action (BIA) Fellows and enjoy presentations about their adventures as global field scientists studying the relationships between people, plants, health and the planet at this special one-day event, free with Conservatory admission.

Members Only: Peek Behind the Petals
Saturday, Sept. 27:  9:30-10:15 a.m.
 The upcoming installment of Peek Behind the Petals will highlight the work of our Botany in Action Fellows, emerging scientists who are conducting plant-focused field research around the globe and sharing their findings with the public through educational outreach efforts.

Meet the Scientists
Saturday, Sept. 27:  1 – 2:30 p.m.
Tropical Forest Conservatory
BIA Fellows will be stationed throughout Tropical Forest India to display their research tools, answer your questions and offer intriguing details about the work of field scientists.

Visiting Botany in Action Fellows:

aurelie jacquet  Phipps Botany in Action science education researchAurélie de Rus Jacquet
Purdue University, Indiana
Geographic Focus: Nepal
Research Focus: Neuroprotective effects of Nepalese traditional medicine on Parkinson’s disease models

anna johnson  Phipps Botany in Action science education researchAnna Johnson
University of Maryland Baltimore County, Maryland
Geographic Focus: Maryland
Research Focus: Novel urban plant communities: causes and consequences of diversity

jessica turner  Phipps Botany in Action science education researchJessica Turner
West Virginia University, West Virginia
Geographic Focus: West Virginia
Research Focus: The root of sustainability: Understanding and implementing medicinal plant conservation strategies in the face of land-use change in Appalachia

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Chelsie Romulo
George Mason University, Virginia
Geographic Focus: Peru
Research Focus: Working to conserve and sustainably manage the ecologically, culturally, and economically important palm tree Mauritia flexuosa (aguaje) in the Peruvian Amazon (Peru).

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Stephen J. Murphy
Ohio State University, Ohio
Geographic Focus: Pennsylvania
Research Focus: Forest landscape change in southwestern Pennsylvania

Read previous posts about BIA Fellows’ research and science outreach work here.

To follow the fellows as their adventures continue, visit phippsbotanyinaction.org.

The above photos were provided by Aurelie de Rus Jacquet, Anna Johnson, Stephen J. Murphy, Jessica Turner and Chelsie Romulo.

August 8, 2014

Phipps Hosts 1st Annual Youth Garden Summit

by Melissa Harding

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We recently hosted a gathering of youth from across the region who are working on food growing projects and education. It was an opportunity to share stories, eat food and collaborate towards growing the youth food movement in the Pittsburgh area. This cohort of over 50 students included our own 2014 high school interns, as well as students from the following summer youth programs: Bridge to College, the Grow Pittsburgh Urban Garden Project; Children’s Museum Food City Fellows; Braddock Youth Project, Grow Pittsburgh Braddock Farms Team; Braddock Youth Gardening Team; and The Women for a Healthy Environment Food City Fellows and Wilkinsburg Youth Project. They were enthusiastic and engaged, bringing a positive energy to the workshops. The day included team building, breakout sessions and reflective exercises designed to get everyone thinking about how best to move their respective programs forwards in the future.

The day started with a welcome from Phipps staff and several college interns from the Children’s Museum’s Food City Fellows. Then, each group gave a presentation about their program and what they learned. For lunch, each group contributed produce from their gardens and worked together to create a big, beautiful salad. After this communal meal, the students worked in breakout sessions, both with their own intern teams and in mixed groups. They looked deeply into their program and talked about the good and the bad, how they could be improved, and what impact the program had on the community and themselves. Finally, they reflected on their experiences in the form of a folding poem, sharing with the group what they were “taking home with them” from their experiences.

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It was a wonderful day – thank you to all the students and group leaders who made this possible!

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

 

 

 

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