Category Archives: science outreach

Plants in ecological webs

Images: spider web © Kenneth Allen, CC BY-SA 2.0; ants tending aphids © Judy Gallagher CC BY 2.0

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden.  I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.

A visit to any Botanic Garden surely means attention paid to plants – that’s what “Botanic” means, after all.  When you visit our Fredericton Botanic Garden, for example, your attention will probably first be drawn to our flowerbeds and forests; to the primulas in the Hal Hinds Garden and the daylilies in our newly expanded Daylily Bed; to the reeds by our ponds and the ferns along our Woodland Fern Trail.  All these beautiful plants are worth your time – but we hope you’ll look beyond them, too.  That’s because each of our plants is also part of a larger ecological web. Continue reading

Gardens, beachheads, and invasions

Photo: Japanese knotweed © gerald_at_volp_dot_com, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden.  I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.

A visit to a garden is a chance to see beautiful plants, and often, unfamiliar ones.  For centuries, gardeners have scoured the world for beauty that evolved in far-off lands. Many of our most cherished garden plants, then, originated somewhere else – and being the first to grow something new and strange has always been something to boast of.  The quest for new accessions is a fundamental part of gardening, and it’s fun and educational, but over the years it’s had its dark side, too.  That’s because gardening has been an important pathway for the arrival of invasive alien plants (and other creatures). Continue reading

Accidental SciComm

Photos: Possibly my nerdiest T-shirt; and town of Norris Point, Newfoundland.  Both CC BY 4.0.

Recently, I had to drop off a cheque at my university’s Donor Relations office.  I was run off my feet that day, but that office is only one building away from mine, so I figured I could pop over and be back at my desk in 3 minutes flat.  I was wrong.  It was more like 20 minutes, and the extra 17 were because I was wearing my “Two bees or not two bees” T-shirt.

I wear a lot of nerdy biology T-shirts, and one of the useful (I believe) results of that is occasional bouts of what I call Accidental SciComm.  Continue reading

Three witches in the woods

Photos: witches’ butter © Daniel Neil CC BY 2.0; witch-hazel © Mike Peel CC BY-SA 4.0; witches’ broom © Scot Nelson CC BY 2.0.

Happy Hallowe’en!

Tonight, you’ll no doubt see neighbourhood children traipsing door-to-door in costume, shrieking and laughing along the way.  You’ll see superheroes and scarecrows, pirates and police officers, wizards and witches. Some costumes go in and out of fashion; but there are witches every year.

There are witches in the woods, too. Continue reading

Why is our Garden green?

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden.  I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.

 

It’s spring, and our Garden is beginning to turn green.  That sounds utterly unsurprising; and yet, lurking in that simple observation is one of the deepest mysteries in the science of ecology.  Why, exactly, is the world green? Continue reading

The botany of henna

Photos: Henna body art NYHENNA via flickr.com CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; Henna flowers and leaves J.M. Garg via wikipedia.org CC BY-SA 4.0

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden.  I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.

 

Henna-based body art has thousands of years of history in India, Africa, and the Middle East, and it’s an increasingly common sight in the Western world too.  The intricate designs are beautiful, and many traditional designs are packed with symbolism and story.  But the henna itself has a story, too – a botanical one.  For those of us who love plants, history, and naming, there’s a lot to like about henna. Continue reading

Life under the snow

Photo: Vole tunnels revealed by melting snow, © John Fowler (johnfowler.photoshelter.com), used by permission.

 Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden.  I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.

             On a cold February day, when breath hangs visible in the frigid air and even our winter-resident birds are huddling out of sight, it’s easy to think that life outdoors waits suspended for a thaw.  Think twice, though, because when that thaw comes it will bring evidence – like the networks of vole tunnels in the photo above – that this apparent suspension was just an illusion.  There’s a lot going on, even on the coldest days of winter; but a lot of it is happening out of sight, under the snow. Continue reading

Knowing, and naming, your audience (with “lay audience” poll results)

Last week, I asked for advice on preferred terminology for what’s often referred to as a “lay audience”.  I’d been uncomfortable with that term, because to some ears it carries an unfortunate implication of scientists as a priesthood.  I did wonder, to be honest, whether I might be the only one who cared, but that clearly isn’t the case – responses were thick and enthusiastic both in the Replies and on Twitter.  (Only 5% of poll respondents picked the option “Holy overthinking it, Batman”.)  I’ll report here on the poll results and on the other suggestions people offered for better terminology.  But I’ll also build from that to a more general and very important point about writing – one that emerged from discussion around the poll that was, happily, much more interesting that I expected.  Continue reading

Is this blog a “science blog”? If not, what is it?

Warning: mostly navel-gazing, albeit with some thoughts about SciComm and the openness of science.

I didn’t know much about the blogosphere before Scientist Sees Squirrel was born. Turns out maybe I still don’t, since I’m asking the rather obvious question in the title of this post.

So is Scientist Sees Squirrel a “science blog”?  Well, it’s about science (inasmuch as it’s about anything), so in that sense, surely the answer should be “yes”.  But I’ve just read Science Blogging: The Essential Guide, and according to that book, the answer is pretty clearly “no”.  This surprised me a little, but it also crystallized something I’d been wondering rather vaguely about anyway: what is, and what should be, my audience here? Continue reading

There’s fungus among us

Photos:  Top, yellow fly agaric, Amanita muscaria, Bernie Kohl via wikimedia.org, released to public domain; middle, chicken-of-the-woods, Laetiporus sulphureus, Gargoyle888 via wikimedia.org, CC BY 3.0; bottom, parasitic Cordyceps on fly, Moisés Silva Lima via flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden.  I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.

 

Autumn has arrived, and that brings fresh pleasures to a walk in our Garden: fall-blooming asters and goldenrods, the first tinges of fall colour in the trees, and (less obviously) fungi.  While you can see mushrooms and their fungal relatives almost any time of year, the fall is their peak season. If you train your eye just a little, you can see an amazing diversity of forms, and beauty to rival anything the plant kingdom has to offer. Continue reading