Posts tagged ‘interview with a scientist’

October 23, 2013

Interview with a Scientist: BIA Fellow George Meindl

by Melissa Harding

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“Interview with a Scientist” is a new feature in which we sit down with scientists and learn what makes them love their jobs.

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 happen to be passionate about plants, brains, or DNA and 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 new 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.

Starting us off is a scientist from the University of Pittsburgh –  Botany in Action Fellow, George Meindl. 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. George is in his second year as a BIA Fellow, studying heavy metal contaminants and their effect on the ecosystem.

We interviewed George about why science matters, why being a scientist is fun, and growing up near the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

  1. Describe your work:
    As a PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, I study the movement of toxic heavy metals through ecosystems.  Pollution resulting from coal and mineral mining has left many natural environments contaminated with heavy metals, which may negatively affect both plants and animals that live nearby.  Some plants, however, are known to accumulate soil contaminants and thus may be used in efforts to clean polluted soils.  Unfortunately, these metal-accumulating plants may negatively affect pollinators and herbivores, which feed on plant tissue, if they eat them.  Understanding the fate of environmental contaminants is vital for land managers whose goal is to clean contaminated soils without negatively affecting surrounding wildlife.
  2. Why did you become a scientist?
    Growing up near the Sierra Nevada mountain range, I have always enjoyed being outside, and this general interest in nature developed into a scientific career.
  3. What is your favorite part about being a scientist?
    Field work.  Just like when I was young, I enjoy myself most when I am outside, observing nature in action.
  4. What is the most important quality in a scientist?
    Dedication.  Things will not always go to plan, and one must be willing to keep working despite difficulty.
  5. What is the coolest thing you have ever done at work?
    Hiked the Pacific Crest Trail as a Master’s student while conducting fieldwork.
  6. If you weren’t a scientist, what other job would you want to do?
    Professional athlete.
  7. What are your hobbies outside of your research?
    Hiking, camping, sports in general.
  8. Why is science important?
    Science is important because it helps us understand natural processes (for example, plant growth), which can then lead to an improved quality of life for humans (for example, increased crop yield).
  9. Why is it important for kids to learn science?
    If children are taught the importance of science and the scientific process at a young age, then they will fully develop their skills as problem solvers and critical thinkers.

George is a great example of someone who became invested in science from an early age. His childhood playing outside helped him to develop an appreciation of nature that eventually lead to a career in environmental research. To learn more about the importance of outdoor experiences in creating an appreciation of nature in children, check out this post.

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

The above photo was taken by Amanda Joy.

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