Lea Shell

About Lea Shell

Lea Shell is an entomologist and educator who devotes her time convincing others just how wonderfully important insects and microbes are to our lives. She enjoys playing with slime mold, ants, GPS units, climate loggers and interviewing scientists about their middle school experiences.

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|5 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|3 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

Before They Were Scientists: Julie Hecht

Julie Hecht began our interview by admitting she was nervous because, to her, middle school was horribly awkward. I assured her that she would never have to go back, but just had to share a few memories with me. Our interview, punctuated by lots of laughter, reinforced that even if you’re not into science as a middle school student, it doesn’t mean that you won’t end up a scientist. Learn how she eventually found her way into researching human’s best friend after being obsessed with Archie Comics, her dead end (pun intended, wait for it) career as a thespian, […]

By | September 26th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|1 Comment

Humans vs. Ants

This past weekend was BugFest at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. The Your Wild Life team was on-location, chatting with visitors about our various arthropod-themed citizen science projects, including School of Ants, Camel Cricket Census and Meet Your Mites. As a special treat, Dr. Amy Savage led a version of the Ant Picnic experiment in the rain garden of the Nature Research Center.

In addition to showing off live insects and mites, we couldn’t resist asking festival attendees about their experiences with ants and how ant […]

By | September 23rd, 2014|ants, Events, Video|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Jelena Vuckovic

On our next stop for the “Before They Were Scientists” world tour, I sat down with Jelena Vuckovic, who spends part of her year in Germany and the other part at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Read on to learn about her experiences as a middle school student in the former Yugoslavia where she played with Legos, almost became a French teacher, and was never told it was unique for a girl to love physics.

Lea: Can you tell me what comes to mind when you think about middle school?

Jelena: I have a six-year-old daughter now and when I think back to […]

By | September 19th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Daniel Solomon

Sitting down with Daniel Solomon, dean of the NC State College of Sciences, to talk about his middle school life was certainly a highpoint for the “Before They Were Scientists” series. In this interview Dean Solomon opened up about how his life as a child in the Bronx allowed him to appreciate a diverse learning environment, how he got in trouble trying to escape the island he lived on in Florida, and how his parents’ drive for him to go to medical school shaped so much of his young life.

Lea: Where were you in middle school? 

Daniel: In […]

By | September 15th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Emilie Rissman

It was an honor to chat with biologist Dr. Emilie Rissman before she officially assumes the role of department head for the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Sciences here at at NC State University. My M.O., of course, was to learn about her life as a middle school student and what it was about her particular experiences back then that brought her to where she is today. Read on to learn how her middle school years spanned very different experiences in Chicago and northern California, how she is decidedly unlike her artist father, and how she has […]

By | September 5th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|1 Comment

Before They Were Scientists: Peter Bijl

My second installment in a series of interviews from the Netherlands is with geoscientist and climate change expert, Dr. Peter Bijl. He recalls constantly observing his surroundings as a child and questioning why he didn’t get to use his ice skates as much as his parents. This childhood curiosity translated to a career trying to understand how the Earth works. Read on to learn about how being a scientist is more than just being the smartest person in class, the role of chance in science, and how Peter’s dad is his toughest critic.

Lea: You went to […]

By | August 29th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Junior Scientists Take on Invasive Ants in New York City

Two junior researchers, Stephen Coyle (a rising college sophomore, top) and Kevin Catalan (a high school student, bottom), have been hard at work at Fordham University in New York City looking at how different colonies of invasive ants have been affected by Superstorm Sandy. I sat down with them virtually to discuss their exciting research in the lab of our collaborator, Dr. Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis.

Kevin, I’ll start with you. Maybe you can tell me a little bit about yourself and what is it that you do?

Kevin: I’m a student at the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics.  I’m a rising […]

By | August 26th, 2014|ants, Q & A, Student Features, Urban Ecology|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Michelle Wcisel

In the swing of Shark Week, I was able to virtually sit down with white shark researcher, Michelle Wcisel. As we talked, I noticed a “Smarty Pants” mug full of pens resting on top of a dresser and a sticker-covered door visible just behind her shoulder. Books lined the walls behind her head and there was a sense of nostalgia all around her – it was as if she was sitting in her den recounting middle school life from the very place it happened. I enjoyed chatting with Michelle about how she, a land-locked Michigan native, evolved into a […]

By | August 22nd, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Eefjan Breukink

In planning a trip to the Netherlands for some secret missions for Your Wild Life, I reached out to area scientists to get a different perspective on middle school life. Motivated after reading about his involvement in a scientific debate, I contacted Dr. Eefjan Breukink at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Read on to learn about how this accomplished scientist decided he did not want to become a vet, has a fresh perspective on the meaning of “right” and “wrong” in science, and at the heart of it all — is still a kid inside.

Lea: Can we […]

By | August 14th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Claire Gordy

Dr. Claire Gordy (left) has always been a writer — in middle school she had a column in her local Oklahoma newspaper. Now she continues to write with support of her fellow SPIRE postdoctoral scholars at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Read on to learn how Claire Gordy got picked up in an interesting vehicle to get to dance class, the importance of taking time to write as a scientist, and hippopotamuses.

Lea: Let’s jog your memory about middle school: Where were you? What was it like? How was it?

Claire: I grew up in Edmond, […]

By | August 8th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Rob Dunn

It seems kind of shocking that I’ve interviewed 32 scientists and science writers for our “Before They Were Scientists” series, and yet somehow our fearless leader, Dr. Rob Dunn, has escaped my probing questions about life in middle school. We’ve rectified that today. Read on to learn about the origins of Rob’s curiosity, his obsession with chasing critters (that’s him holding the two fish in the photo above), and his estimate for how many species live on and in the human body.

Lea: How did you first become interested in science?

Rob: The answer to any question like this one […]

By | August 1st, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|1 Comment

Q & A with Tyler Vitone

It’s always fun to have visiting scientists come to our lab — it gives us a chance to show off our beautiful campus and city and, mostly, reinvigorates us and reminds us why we do what we do. Plus we get to eat ice cream in the middle of the day using the thinly veiled excuse: “It’s made right here on campus!” Tyler Vitone, a master’s student in Andrea Lucky’s lab at the University of Florida, drove up to Raleigh this week to meet with the Dunn Lab and Your Wild Life to about ants.

By | July 31st, 2014|ants, Q & A|0 Comments