Powered by the People: A Citizen Science Sampler

April 28th, 2014 - Posted in 2014, Dimensions by Emily Schuster

This is an extended version of an article that appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of Dimensions magazine.

Many people think that cities, especially ones as large and stereotyped as Los Angeles, are devoid of nature, and certainly devoid of any nature worth studying. Scientists at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) think otherwise. “We are just as likely to find a new species of insect in Los Angeles as in the forests of Costa Rica and Brazil—that is, 100%,” said Brian Brown, NHM entomology curator. In fact, Los Angeles is located in a biodiversity hotspot, one of 34 scientifically recognized places on Earth that are home to an incredibly high level of biodiversity and that suffer high threat from human actions.

But how do you study biodiversity in a vast metropolis where much of the land is private and thousands of observations and specimens are needed? “Citizen science is the only feasible answer,” said Greg Pauly, NHM herpetology curator and project leader for Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California (RASCals). The public has the time, capacity, and access to private lands (such as backyards and schoolyards) that scientists do not. The fact that scientists have a real need for help is not lost on participants. As it turns out, it is a key motivator. One participant in RASCals noted, “If I didn’t contribute, then your map of distribution would have had less data. I had to make sure that Woodland Hills [a neighborhood in Los Angeles] was represented!”

The “Team Sport” of Science Center Learning

April 25th, 2014 - Posted in 2014, Dimensions, From the CEO by Anthony (Bud) Rock

Watching young visitors move among the exhibits in science centers and museums, I am often reminded of how my children first learned to play soccer (or football in most of the world). We called it “pack ball” because of the way the entire team tended to follow the ball in unison. Groups of young people often navigate through our science centers in much the same collective fashion. This is not surprising, but it creates a challenging knowledge acquisition environment that must accommodate both individualized experiences and the dynamics of small group learning.

Do you think the current surge of making and tinkering spaces in science centers and museums is a temporary fad, or are they here to stay?

April 24th, 2014 - Posted in 2014, Dimensions, Viewpoints by Emily Schuster

This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the May/June 2014 issue of Dimensions magazine.

Making and tinkering are not fads. Their presence in science centers and museums may be a fad for many, but “making” is a human biological imperative. We are the species that makes over its environment to suit our needs more than any other. In many ways, a great number of us have become consumers rather than creators. Encouraging making and sharing useful skills seem like perfect jobs for informal education institutions. Making and tinkering spaces in museums should be fluid, they should change, they should grow and contract, they should be “made” and made again. At the very least, making should fit your mission and you should define what a making or tinkering space is within your institutional culture.

Elena Baca, educator and external relations coordinator, and Eric Meyer, educational services director, Explora, Albuquerque, New Mexico


Q&A with Sean Carroll

April 24th, 2014 - Posted in 2014, Dimensions, Q&A by Emily Schuster

Interviewed by Joelle Seligson

This interview appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of Dimensions magazine.

Ron Howard and Natalie Portman are among the Hollywood elite whose work has been influenced by Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology. Based in Los Angeles, Carroll counts working with television and movie bigwigs among his many extracurricular pursuits. The Science and Entertainment Exchange, a program of the (U.S.) National Academy of Sciences, links Carroll and other experts with entertainment industry figures who are looking to add a scientific dimension to their productions. In a recent discussion with Dimensions, Carroll recounted favorite moments from consulting on box office smashes, as well as the importance of adding elements of science to unexpected realms.

Read the full transcript, or listen to the podcast.

Cultivating the Future: Science Centers and Agriculture

April 17th, 2014 - Posted in 2014, Dimensions by Alejandro Asin

March/April 2014

Inspired by the International Year of Family Farming 2014, this issue of Dimensions examines how science centers and museums are addressing the diverse, complex, and sometimes controversial issues surrounding agriculture.

We all depend on agriculture—whether we live in a rural or urban area, in a developed or developing country. Agriculture encompasses some of the world’s most critical issues, including combating hunger, protecting the environment, and spurring economic growth.

Science centers and museums are ideal places to examine this universally relevant topic. As community meeting places and educational resources, science centers are engaging audiences in agriculture by holding farmers markets and dialogue forums, creating exhibitions and outreach programs, and getting kids’ hands dirty in urban gardens. Agriculture provides an opportunity to address science-related topics ranging from nutrition to nano. We invite you to explore with us the many facets of this critical subject, so deeply rooted in science, technology, and our communities.

Family Farming: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth, by Conchi Quintana
• Promoting the Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy for Agriculture in Thailand, by Nanthaka Saengchan
• Exploring Agricultural Sciences and Careers, by Michele Laverty
• Growing an Advisory Group, by Bruce Quast
• Contain Yourself: Exploring Agriculture Through Container Gardens, by Tracy Calogheros
• From Heritage Fruit Trees to “Space Lettuce”: Agricultural Projects from Around the Field
• Farming for Fuels, by Wayne Robinson
Scientist for a Day: Interpreting Brazilian Biodiesel, by Vivian Chies and Daniela Garcia Collares

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