Glowing Ants

Just in time for Halloween, MJ Epps and I have created glowing ants. Like mad scientists, we locked ourselves in our office last week with only the faint glow of a black light escaping under our door. With petri dishes scattered across our desks and our fingers stained with fluorescent dye, we finally ended up with a colony of ants that glowed.

Why glowing ants? We have been trying to figure out what ants eat. What seems like a simple question can be surprisingly difficult to answer for an animal the size of a grain of rice. For a large animal […]

By |October 31st, 2014|ants, Behind the Scenes|1 Comment

Spooky Spider

I love Halloween. It’s the time of year when I can leave all the spider webs up around the front stoop and call them decorations.

This harmless garden spider, the Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia) is not long for the world. She’ll die soon as the nights grow colder. But I’ll keep an eye on her wee ones in the egg sac she left by the railing. In the spring the baby spiders will hatch out, spin a little silk parachute to catch the breeze and sail away to a new home!

Learn more about the garden spider by revisiting

Happy National Cat Day!

Apparently, cat fanciers love celebrating their feline friends with official holidays. A few months ago we were celebrating World Cat Day (August 8, 2014). And now today, just in case you missed the memo, is National Cat Day!

We thought we’d seize this opportunity to update you on our Cat Tracker project.

To date, we’ve had 350 cat-owners sign up their kitties for our GPS tracking study, including owners in nearly every US state!

We’re intensely recruiting cat-owners on Long Island so that we can better understand cat movement and behavior before and after coyotes colonize. Last week, we […]

By |October 29th, 2014|Cat Tracker, Participate|0 Comments

June Beetle Boogie

Because I’m an Entomology graduate student, meeting people is often like this:

Me: Hi, my name is Emily.
New friend:
Hi Emily, what do you do?
Me: I study insects.
New friend: OMG, that’s so cool. So, I have these ____ on my _____  . Do you know what they are?**

(**I just realized doctors probably have similar conversations, but the blanks are filled with stuff I can’t fathom.)

These interactions usually leave me feeling like an imposter, because there are too many insects in the world, too many in our backyards even, to know them all. Plus, observation is the step of science I’m not […]

By |October 27th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Urban Ecology, Video|1 Comment

Before They Were Scientists: Randy Woodson

When I learned that North Carolina State University had a scientist as our Chancellor I made it my personal goal to tell his middle school story. Finally, after a year of conducting Before They Were Scientists interviews, I had my chance. I recently sat down with Chancellor Randy Woodson in his office overlooking the iconic NCSU Bell Tower. He started our conversation by opening a three-ring-binder and flipping through the exhaustive list of questions I had sent the week before to help him prepare, “I went through all the questions and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m […]

By |October 24th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

A Tale of Two Hemlocks

I have never poisoned anyone. I recently learned that if I were to try, I would be very bad at it. The hemlock I thought was poisonous turns out to just have an unfortunate common name. And rather than brewing up a batch of tainted tonic, I would apparently make my intended victim an aromatic cup of tea loaded in Vitamin C.

While hiking around the Appalachians this past weekend, I spied tons of hemlock trees. “What a great post for October and Halloween… Hemlock!” I thought and pulled out my sketchbook.

Sketch done, I hopped online to find out just

By |October 21st, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Belly Button Portraits – An Opportunity to Create Art through Science!

We’d like to think that over the course of the last few years, our Belly Button Biodiversity project has inspired quite a few things.

By |October 20th, 2014|Belly Button Biodiversity, Participate, Science Art|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Doug Emlen

I recently sat down with evolutionary biologist Dr. Doug Emlen when he was in town to give a seminar at NC State. We met at the Hunt Library, and after testing out a few of their famous chairs, we settled in for an interview that took us around the world. Read on to learn how Doug spent the first six months of sixth grade in Kenya with his dad studying birds, got singled out in science class and learned early on in his academic career that he would never be Indiana Jones.

Lea: We’re thinking about middle school — what’s […]

By |October 17th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

A visit from the garden spider

This past week I noticed something other than Brussels sprouts in my garden — a beautiful garden spider!

I did what any curious entomologist and gardener would do… I got as close as I could and took a picture and watched in amazement as she sat and waited surrounded by meals in little to-go containers of silk in her web. A week later I stopped by to say my daily greeting to her and noticed she was gone, her web reduced to a single strand connecting my rosemary to my tarragon. And then something moved out of the corner of my […]

By |October 16th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard|4 Comments

Students Discover Celebrates National Fossil Day!

To celebrate, we here at Student’s Discover, and especially me the resident paleontologist, want to give a quick update on the incredible results that middle school kids have already made on the Shark Teeth Forensics project through the Paleontology and Geology lab at the Nature Research Center, NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

First, I need to give a huge “Wow, I’m impressed” to the three Kenan Fellows teachers working on this project (Kimberly, Kerrie, Juliana) because they’ve transformed their middle school classrooms into real deal research teams. And second, I need to shout […]

By |October 15th, 2014|Education|0 Comments

BioBlitz at the New York Botanical Gardens

How many plant, mammal or invertebrate species live in the New York Botanical Garden? While it seems like there should be a straightforward answer – it is a well-known, carefully maintained and studied garden, after all – the truth is, nobody really knows. Along with the plants and animals that are deliberately planted, maintained and tracked, there are a slew of other organisms, including other plants, insects, fungi, mammals and microbes that might take up residence without being noticed, even in such a well-visited garden.

To try to tackle this question, more than 400 Macaulay Honors College students and […]

By |October 13th, 2014|ants, Behind the Scenes, Urban Ecology|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Jonathan Bujak

Dr. Jonathan Bujak (on the right in the photo above) had a reputation for causing trouble, one that started on his first day of school. Read on to learn how doing a little better in chemistry helped him survive the 1960s, how chance played a very special role in his life, and how finding a fern in an Arctic ocean sediment core completely changed the trajectory of his career.

Lea: How about you tell me a little bit about where you were in middle school between the ages of 10 and 14?

Jonathan: I was in a town called Blackpool, a […]

By |October 10th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|2 Comments

Warts & All!

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire, burn; and cauldron, bubble.

Shakespeare’s witches open Macbeth by tossing a toad into their cauldron, along with parts of snakes, newts, bats and other dejected, unfortunate creatures. Why such a bad rap? After all, people LOVE frogs – they turn into princes and are considered quite lucky by some cultures. But toads? Feared, reviled. What’s the big difference?

Toads (like the American toad, Bufo americanus, pictured above) tend to live in drier environments than frogs. In the frog’s aquatic environment, escape is just a hop away. For toads, though, warts are the key to survival. The […]

By |October 8th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|1 Comment

Students Discover Goes to Washington

Members of the Students Discover team recently visited the Nation’s Capital to present at the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE) Washington Symposium. This conference highlighted university, college, and community programs that are incorporating STEM education into real world applications. We were invited to speak about Students Discover and shared our experiences passionately. As part of this conference, we also met with Representative David Price of North Carolina’s 4th district to talk about our work and discuss the successes of the Students Discover program to date.

Liz Baird, Director of Education at the North […]

By |October 7th, 2014|Education, News|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Anne Madden

Interviewing Anne Madden was both enlightening and entertaining, I’ve never before wished that a recorder would break so I could repeat an interview — it was that much fun. Anne is a postdoctoral researcher — an early career scientist — and yet her life experiences and work in industry prior to graduate school have given her a very nuanced and intriguing perspective on science. Read on to learn about how her clinically diagnosed phobia of middle school did not stop her from achieving academic success, how the artist and the scientist are almost indistinguishable, and how high heels and […]

By |October 3rd, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|2 Comments