Archive for ‘Research’

January 30, 2015

Backyard Connections: Help Scientists by Joining The Great Backyard Bird Count

by Melissa Harding

Are you ready for some science? It’s been a whole month since the most recent citizen science challenge posted here and it’s time for another one! The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, is another chance to help scientists gain a better understanding of overall bird health around the world. Taking place February 13-16, 2014, the GBBC is an annual four-day event that asks bird lovers to create real-time “snapshots” of where birds are. Birders count the number of birds that they see in their backyard, area park, or local green space and submit this information to scientists, who combine it with data from the Christmas Bird Count and other sources to get a more complete picture of what is happening to bird populations.

Why have two bird counts so close together in time? Bird populations are dynamic and constantly in a state of flux. Birds are always moving from place to place in search of food and shelter, especially during the winter months. Scientists need citizen help because no single team of scientists could ever completely document the complex distribution and movement of so many birds. The longer and more frequently bird populations are documented, the more useful the data becomes, especially as scientists begin to assess trends over time. Having so much data also helps scientists to ask more difficult questions, such as why bird diseases affect different regions or why the phenology of migration patterns changes from year to year. Even better, the February GBBC used to only take place in the United States and Canada, but now that it is a global count, birds are counted in all seasons. This gives scientists even more useful data!

The GBBC is such a great program because it is accessible to everyone, even beginning birders and families. Anyone can participate for as little as 15 minutes or as long as each day of the event. It’s easy to get started – simply create a free GBBC account to submit your checklist. Once you have an account, tally the number of individual bird species that you see during the count period and then enter those numbers on the GBBC website. If you decide to count on multiple days or in multiple locations, just be sure to submit a separate checklist for each day and/or location. You can also send in photos of your backyard birds, the best of which will be posted on their website as part of a photo gallery.

To learn how to participate in the GBBC, visit the Cornell Lab website. Get comprehensive instructions here, as well as answers to frequently asked questions.

New to bird watching, check out Cornell’s excellent resources for identifying difficult birds, using binoculars, and more!

Learn more about citizen science projects to do with your family on the blog!

The above video is used courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

January 26, 2015

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

by Melissa Harding


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 21, 2015

Phipps Is Hosting a Spring Science Communication Workshop – Apply Now!

by Melissa Harding


We are offering an exciting opportunity for graduate students, faculty and staff scientists to connect their work to diverse public audiences. Please consider participating in our new Portal to the Public program at Phipps this spring!

The goal of the Portal to the Public program is to provide training in science communication for graduate students and professionals in science fields and provide an opportunity for the public to interact with scientists. Phipps will provide the communication training and the venue for scientists and the public to discuss science. Scholarships will be provided to all accepted members of the 2015 cohort. Please review the flyer below for more details, including a link to the application, and share it with all potentially interested contacts.

Completed applications are due to Amanda Joy by February 27, 2015.

Click on the flyer below for more information:

PoP Flyer

Download the application HERE.

Apply today!

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


January 16, 2015

National Living Lab is Back for Winter!

by Melissa Harding

Shape Game

After taking a holiday break, The National Living Lab science communication program is back for the new semester! Phipps visitors will once again have the opportunity to help real scientists gather data for their research.

In the National Living Lab (NLL) model, scientists in the fields of child developmental and psychological research conduct their studies at local museums, recruiting study participants from museum visitors. These researchers then work with museum educators to communicate  their work to visitors through innovative activities and one-on-one interactions with the researchers themselves. These studies occur on the museum floor, in plain view of visitors, allowing them to be drawn in to the process. Participants and viewers alike learn how science is applicable to their own lives, how research is conducted, what scientists look and act like and how to answer tough questions using the scientific method.  Studies on the effectiveness of this approach have found that watching children participate in research studies increases adult awareness of child development as a science and that one-on-one conversations between adults and scientists increase adult understanding of the scientific process and their overall scientific literacy.

At Phipps, we have been working with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Discovery Process Lab to provide a museum setting for their work. CMU’s Discovery Process Lab is concerned with exploring children’s scientific reasoning. Phipps is partnering with Dr. Audrey Kittredge, a post-doctoral researcher at the lab, as part of the National Living Lab program; Dr. Kittredge is committed to understanding children’s scientific thinking and problem-solving. In particular, her current studies focus on young children’s independent exploration and experimentation, and on the ways that teachers and other adults may shape children’s learning of these skills. Dr. Kittredge is also committed to making her work applicable both formal and informal educators and to providing them with useful knowledge to help better engage their students.

Dr. Kittredge and her research staff will be continuing to conduct research on a regular basis this winter and spring. In addition to collecting data for her work, she and her staff will also be engaging all visitors about their research and why it is important. The goal of the NLL program is not just to conduct research in a public setting, but for scientists to have face-to-face communication with the general public and give them access to science as it is happening. We are so excited to be able to provide our visitors with this exceptional educational experience!

To join Dr. Kittredge and her team at Phipps, check them out from 9:30 -11:30 am and 1:00 – 3:00pm:
January 17
February 7
February 21
March 21
March 28

You can also follow us on our Phipps Science Education and Research Facebook Page for updates!

Having researchers working in public settings, like museums and libraries, is a great way to involve families in the scientific process. Through participation in studies and interaction with scientists, visitors, researchers and museums can all benefit!

If you are a museum professional and would like to learn more about a Living Lab hub near you, check out the National Living Lab Initiative.

To learn more about the National Science Foundation, click here!

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



January 12, 2015

BIA Fellow Aurelie Jacquet Receives Prestigious Photography Scholarship!

by Melissa Harding



Botany in Action Fellow, Aurelie Jacquet, recently received a scholarship from the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) to attend the 2015 NANPA summit, receive training and meet with editors! NANPA’s mission is to promote the art and science of nature photography as a medium of communication, nature appreciation, and environmental protection; provide information, education, inspiration and opportunity for all persons interested in nature photography and foster excellence and ethical conduct in all aspects of our endeavors and especially encourages responsible photography in the wild.

Aurelie’s photography is inspired by her field studies at home and abroad. As an ethnopharmacologist and self-taught photographer, she uses photography to communicate both scientific and cultural knowledge. As part of her application for the NANPA scholarship, she submitted a series of photographs from her fieldwork.

Aurelie is currently pursuing a Ph.D at Purdue University and studying how plants used in traditional medicine can help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Her studies have taken her to Nepal to interview traditional healers, local people and collect plant samples. You can follow Aurelie and all of the BIA fellows as they study plants across the US and across the world at their individual websites.

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

To see more of Aurélie’s photography, check out her website!

The above photo of a traditional Napalese healer was part of her winning submission.

January 7, 2015

Botany in Action Now Accepting Proposals!

by Melissa Harding


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.


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 19, 2014

Interview with a Scientist: BIA Fellow Stephen Murphy

by Melissa Harding


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!


 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.


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