Archive for ‘botany’

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.

 

 

 

August 4, 2014

Summer Camp Recap: Plant Your Plate

by Melissa Harding

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Summer Camp Recap is our easonal segment featuring our summer camp programs. This is the place for camp parents to find pictures of their campers in action and see all the fun things we did all week. It’s also a great place for educators to pick up craft, story and lesson ideas for their own early childhood programs!

Plant Your Plate is a fun way to look at botany through the lens of food. Where does our food come from? How do seeds turn into cucumbers and then how do those cucumbers turn into pickles? Campers learned how to turn whole foods into salsa, pizzas, and even pickles. They sprouted radishes in a bag, made tea sandwiches and designed their dream gardens. Throughout the week, campers painted T-shirts, made chef hats and molded seed balls. They loved chopping, pickling and cooking their way through camp!

Check out the slide show below for more images from the week!

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For more pictures from Summer Camp, check out our Facebook page!

The above photos were taken Science Education and Research staff.

July 23, 2014

In With the Interns: Week Four

by Melissa Harding

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In with the Interns is our new segment featuring the 2014 high school interns; this segment will explore what they do, learn and experience this summer. Written by Kate Borger, this segment will also feature original words and artwork from the interns.

This week, we were especially grateful for the unseasonably pleasant temperatures which made all our outdoor ventures that much more delightful, from a street tour with Matt Erb, arborist from Tree Pittsburgh, to weeding the Tree Pittsburgh nursery and the gardens at Phipps Garden Center. The week ended on a scrumptious note as we cooked with Rosemarie Perla from Slow Food Pittsburgh. And in between: work with the horticulture staff and an introduction to fracking and renewable energy sources.

Here are some of the interns own words about this week and what they learned:

 “This past week has been as entertaining and enlightening as those before it. We began our week by splitting into groups and helping out Phipps horticulture staff. In the morning my group potted and staked plants that will be incorporated into the fall show, while in the afternoon we spread mulch in the Palm court. On Tuesday we visited Tree Pittsburgh and toured around the streets of north Point Breeze, identifying trees and learning about the process of planting trees in the city.  On Wednesday my group worked in the Fruit and Spice room. We finished our week, once again, by working at the Phipps Garden Center, where we made lunch and did a bit of tree identification.”
-Ahmir Allen

“My highlight this week was our cooking experience! We cooked amazing parmesan cheese noodles with a side of multi-grain bread and salad. It was amazing. I feel like we  as a group bonded making this meal. This was by far the best cooking experience so far in the program.”
- Alexis Smith

“I enjoyed learning about renewable energy, which was this week’s theme. The new information I acquired about fracking offered me a view of a world I wasn’t that familiar with and showed me another way I could help the environment. On top of that, my favorite activity this week was the field trip to Tree Pittsburgh. Personally, I would do tree identification all day. It just connects me more to nature, knowing specifically what’s around me, and it makes me enjoy it more. Oh and let’s not forget about cooking Thursday; the pasta and zucchini sauce was very delicious!”
- Larissa Koumaka

“Week three was a really fun week. We had the chance to go to Tree Pittsburgh, learn more about how Phipps chose Tropical Forest India, a little bit about India and Africa, and we also had the chance to work with the horticulture staff again. The most fun thing about this week was learning about India and Africa from a staff member. His job is to go to other countries and see how it can improve on the decoration at Phipps. That was really interesting to hear stories of how they choose the Tropical Forest.”
- Ephraim St. Cyr

“This week was full of some new work experiences with the horticulture staff, in which I worked around the Tropical Forest doing exhibit cosmetic work, along with staking plants in the production greenhouses. During the week I learned more about fracking and some of its down sides. I am looking forward to learning about environmental issues that can affect Pittsburgh in the final two weeks.”
- Aaron Sledge

“My favorite part of the week was probably helping Mike in the Edible Garden with Ephraim. It’s the physical labor in the morning that I really love doing here at Phipps, especially when I get to plant or harvest crops. We also discussed fracking a lot, which I really enjoyed. We also watched the movie Gasland, which is an amazing documentary on fracking. Overall, this was a really interesting, informative and fun week.”
-Dani Einloth

“My favorite part of this week was when Ben came in and talked with us about how he designs the Tropical Forest. He travels to places like Africa or India, taking pictures there. He recreates his memories in the Conservatory to share with the public. I also learned about specific plants in that room, things I never knew before. For example, this one plant is the main ingredient in Chanel No.5 perfume.”
- Anna Steeley

“The date is Tuesday, July 15th, the setting features Tree Pittsburgh’s nursery. Amongst all of it, Phipps 8 interns, including myself. Not only did we help with weeding their nursery, but we were given a tree identification walk around the neighborhood. This was extremely interesting as well as practical because I see these trees everywhere I go and now I can  identify their type.”
-Will Grimm

Another full week comes to a close with minds and taste buds open to new experiences!

The above photo was taken by Kate Borger.

 

July 22, 2014

Home Connections: Flower Pigment Art

by Melissa Harding

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“The earth laughs in flowers.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are many different crafts that we make with flowers – gluing them to crowns, making flower petal butterflies, or using them as paint brushes. In fact, flowers are a wonderful part of just about any nature craft; they add pops of color to nature weavings, mobiles and nature journals. One of the new ways that we have been using them this summer is for their pigments. The most common plant pigment is chlorophyll, which is used primarily for photosynthesis. Other colors found in leaves, like reds and yellows, are secondary colors that also help absorb light energy. Flower pigments, the colors in the petals and sepals, are used to attract pollinators. Plant pigments are made out of a variety of molecules, including anthocyanins and carotenoids. While the biology of plant pigments is fascinating, it is also really easy to get them out of the plants themselves. So easy, in fact, that kids do it all the time (think grass stains). All you need to do is rub the plant against some fabric or paper and the pigments come right off onto the surface. With this in mind, we have being creating some fun crafts that use flower pigments as color.

Flower Pounding
A really fun way to get the pigments onto paper or fabric is by pounding. This can be accomplished in any manner of ways, but we like to use small stones. While a wooden mallet or small hammer will do the best job of evenly flattening the flowers, small stones are more kid-friendly. Specifically, we use flat, decorative driveway stones that are about 3 inches square or less in size. There is no need to hit the flowers hard; a gently tap will do it. Lay your flowers flat on the surface of your choice and place a small piece of white paper or fabric over the flower, then gently tap the flower all over with the flat of the stone. Remove the cover and peel off the flower; you should see the flower’s shape echoed in the pigment print.

The best paper to use for this project is watercolor paper. Unlike office or drawing paper, watercolor paper is thick and has dimples that will readily hold on to the flower pigments. We like to make bookmarks and picture frames out of our flower pounding projects, but the sky is the limit. If using fabric, unbleached linens and muslins will work best. Ideas for fabric include lavender sachets, cloth napkins and table runners. You will want to start with a white or cream base, as the pigments will not always be dark enough to show up on colored fabric or paper.

Flower Rubbing
Pounding is a technique that can sometimes be difficult for younger children. In lieu of pounding with a small stone, flowers can be rubbed across the surface to produce a color. In this case, it is much more difficult to recreate the shape of your plant on the base. Rather, you will end up with smears of color. However, the sensory experience of rubbing flowers to produce colored pigment is a wonderful activity for small children. The scent, color and texture of a variety of flowers will be a worthwhile nature exploration activity, even if the results are not as polished.

Not all flower are pigmented equally…
While all flowers have some pigment in them, not all of them work equally well in this activity. Some petals are too watery or too thin and will not produce a good image. Test all your flowers on scrap material or paper before you put them on your finished product. We recommend pansies, chrysanthemums, goldenrod, colored daisies, and marigolds to start out. Additionally, leaves will add a lovely pop of green to your project. Like with flowers, stay away from thick, watery leaves. Explore your yard and local green-spaces to find a variety of colors and textures from your project. Or simply buy a bouquet of grocery store flowers – any flower and leaf has the potential to make beautiful art!

Other crafts using plant pigments from around the web:
Nature Colors by Fakin’ It
“A Day with No Crayons” Flower Pounding Craft by The Crafty Crow
Flower Pounding Prints by Rhythm of the Home

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.

 

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