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  • Scientist Q&A Roundtable with Karen Kramer Wilson

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    Tags: scientists, citizen science, roundtable, career, science, science education

    Created: 1/2/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    This blog post is part 1 of a 3 part series, divided up seperately by scientist. Part 2 with Dr. Doug Taron and part 3 with Steve Sullivan will be published at a later date.


    Before Doug Taron, Steve Sullivan and Karen Kramer Wilson were scientists at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, they were like many of our young guests. They loved immersing themselves in nature, visiting museums and asking questions.

    Decades later, after studying science and nature in college, the trio have made nature their laboratory. They work at the Nature Museum and answer questions from colleagues and guests. But that love of nature and spirit of inquiry has never left. In fact, they ask just as many questions today as they did when they were children.

    We sat down with Doug, Steve and Karen for a wide-ranging conversation on why they fell in love with nature and science as children, what it’s like to work at a Museum and why it is critical for people to maintain a connection with nature. The following is the interview with Karen Kramer Wilson, Living Invertebrate Specialist.

    Karen Kramer Wilson
    Karen Kramer Wilson

    How do you describe your job to families at the Museum?
    I tell people I work with the things that people are most creeped out about, but that are also the most numerous species on the planet and among the most interesting. There are so many compelling stories and information to discover. Even the things we think we know about entomology we don’t fully understand.

    What fascinated you about nature growing up? What experiences stand out?
    We had a dense garden, and some of my earliest memories were of mucking about in the gardens. Across the street, there was a vacant lot with a stream and we spent almost all of our summers there. I vividly remember when I was in seventh grade they fenced in the lot for some kind of development and we lost the sounds of the frogs every night.

    How did your college experience prepare you for the Museum?
    As a freshman in college, I took an environmental science class, and it struck me that one of the biggest sources of pollution was agricultural chemicals. I found that interesting. Instead of strapping myself to a tree, I decided to see how the industry worked from the inside and how we could pollute less. As part of that, I ended up taking an entomology class that started at 7 a.m.. My classmates in the program were from farming families in the surrounding communities and really had a grip on their farming knowledge. But the Entomology came more naturally to me. So I ended up tutoring them in that class. I was hooked.

    Working on the Nature Museum's rooftop beehives.
    Working on the Nature Museum's rooftop beehives.

    Why is there a growing sense of disconnect from the natural world, especially among children?
    For many kids, exposure to the natural world consists of the mowed grass of a football or softball field. They don’t have the opportunities we used to enjoy of simply hanging out and exploring; many parents don’t consider that to be a good use of time and I think that’s incredibly unfortunate. Some kids are now afraid of nature. Our challenge is to turn that fear into curiosity so that curiosity can become amazement.

    What is the significance of the rising popularity of citizen science?
    It’s fantastic. We like to say the natural world needs citizens, and citizens need this natural world. This gives people a structure and a chance to realize the power of their own observations. It should be
    empowering for citizen scientists to realize how much professional scientists need and value their input.

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  • Scientist Q&A Roundtable with Dr. Doug Taron

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    Tags: scientists, citizen science, roundtable, career, science, science education

    Created: 1/2/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

    Subscribe to the Nature Museum blog and never miss a post!

    This blog post is part 2 of a 3 part series, divided up seperately by scientist. Part 3 with Steve Sullivan will be published on a later date.


    Before Doug Taron, Steve Sullivan and Karen Kramer Wilson were scientists at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, they were like many of our young guests. They loved immersing themselves in nature,visiting Museums and asking questions.

    Decades later, after studying science and nature in college, the trio have made nature their laboratory. They work at the Nature Museum and answer questions from colleagues and guests. But that love of nature and spirit of inquiry has never left. In fact, they ask just as many questions today as they did when they were children.

    The Nature Museum News sat down with Doug, Steve and Karen for a wide-ranging conversation on why they fell in love with nature and science as children, what it’s like to work at a Museum and why it is critical for people to maintain a connection with nature. The following is the interview with Dr. Doug Taron, curator of biology, vice president of conservation and research.

    Dr. Doug Taron
    Dr. Doug Taron

    How do you describe your job to families at the Museum?
    A lot of what I do is overseeing the live animals and plants, and helping to manage and take care of the Academy’s collection. My own research focuses on imperiled butterflies in the Midwest, particularly butterflies of the wetlands. I also lead the Museum’s work with Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, which engages citizen scientists to collect data on butterfly populations. This allows land managers to evaluate longterm trends in a changing landscape.

    What fascinated you about nature growing up? What experiences stand out?
    My siblings and I learned from a young age that when you passed a brown sign on the highway, something cool was nearby. We enjoyed feeding the birds and doing all sorts of things that kept us in touch with the natural world. I got my first butterfly net from the Easter Bunny when I was seven years old. In middle school, I started taking shoe boxes and cutting the fronts and back out and making a cage to keep butterflies. It was a mini-butterfly haven. I had no way of knowing what I was doing would presage a future career.

    Dr. Doug Taron working in our butterfly receiving room.
    Dr. Doug Taron working in our butterfly receiving room.

    How did your college experience prepare you for the Museum?
    In high school, I discovered chemistry and ended up majoring in biochemistry in college. When I was at graduate school at Northwestern and living in Evanston, I started to feel disconnected from the natural world. That’s when I discovered the prairie restoration projects in the Chicago area. Then in 1982 I began volunteering at Bluff Spring Fen. That was very important in my ultimate career trajectory.

    Why is there a growing sense of disconnect from the natural world, especially among children?
    It’s puzzling and troubling that so many people feel disconnected. So much of the news on the environment is dire. One way to get people to care and forge a bond with the natural world is to describe the wonder of the natural world and hook them on it. All we need is the opportunity to make “nature’s case.” The subject material is so wonderful that it sells itself.

    What is the significance of the rising popularity of citizen science?
    Citizen Science empowers people and gives them the opportunity to contribute directly to scientific research. The citizen scientists of the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network have not only gathered important data, but the Network is now a model for the rest of the nation.

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  • Scientist Q&A Roundtable with Steve Sullivan

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    Tags: scientists, citizen science, roundtable, career, science, science education

    Created: 1/2/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

    Subscribe to the Nature Museum blog and never miss a post!

    This blog post is part 3 of a 3 part series, divided up seperately by scientist.


    Before Doug Taron, Steve Sullivan and Karen Kramer Wilson were scientists at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, they were like many of our young guests. They loved immersing themselves in nature, visiting Museums and asking questions.

    Decades later, after studying science and nature in college, the trio have made nature their laboratory. They work at the Nature Museum and answer questions from colleagues and guests. But that love of nature and spirit of inquiry has never left. In fact, they ask just as many questions today as they did when they were children.

    The Nature Museum News sat down with Doug, Steve and Karen for a wide-ranging conversation on why they fell in love with nature and science as children, what it’s like to work at a Museum and why it is critical for people to maintain a connection with nature. The following is the interview with Steve Sullivan, senior curator of urban ecology.

    Steve Sullivan with taxidermied squirrel
    Steve Sullivan and friend.

    How do you describe your job to families at the Museum?
    I work at a bigger version of the room I built when I was in junior high called Steve’s Museum. It was my systematic collection of natural history specimens and regionally-themed vivaria. Now, I spend a good part of my day learning about animals and teaching people about why nature and science are so interesting and have direct application to their own lives - things I would do for fun anyway.

    What fascinated you about nature growing up? What experiences stand out?
    One story I always remember is that my grandpa told me he saw snakes in his garden. I had never seen one and I challenged him to bring me one. In the end, he brought me a male and a female garder snake. He put them in a paper bag by the door and all of a sudden I had to figure out how to care for them. When you start to look at the details of a species, there are so many questions to answer. You can learn so much just from watching them; you never get bored.

    How did your college experience prepare you for the Museum?
    Pets were not allowed in the dorm rooms but we would keep praying mantises anyway. We loved to feed them katydids because these insects are large enough for us to easily see muscles and organs as the mantid dissected it. We invited people to watch the feedings, which had ancillary benefits because people we might enjoy hanging out with would watch with real interest; boring people would stay home.

    Steve preparing a bird specimen in the Beecher Lab.
    Steve preparing a bird specimen in the Beecher Lab.

    Why is there a growing sense of disconnect from the natural world, especially among children?
    We have isolated ourselves from nature in a way that our perception of what “nature” is has changed and been simplified. In fact, nature is a complex and amazing system of plants and animals, and many
    other kingdoms of life that we are just beginning to figure out. It also includes interactions between living and non-living things like water and air. Nature includes us and is around us, on us, and in us constantly. As we remind people about how fascinating nature really is, they get excited about it and make more sustainable decisions. At the Nature Museum, we are always describing to people how they are connected to nature and trying to interest them in the natural world.

    What is the significance of the rising popularity of citizen science?
    When people have the opportunity to contribute to a citizen science project such as Project Squirrel, it connects them to an issue in a way they weren’t before. Project Squirrel has had more than 6,000
    observations and counting. The data we have access to would literally be impossible to have accumulated without the work of citizen scientists of all ages and from all across the country.

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