Serving Up Beer (and Science!)

Generally speaking, any time we get to leave the confines of our labs and offices to engage the public in the science of their daily lives, we’re pretty stoked.

When that public engagement has something to do with BEER, well, that’s just AWESOME.

So was the case Saturday when Your Wild Life, in partnership with the NC Science Festival and the NC State Brewing Lab, set up shop in the Science of Beer Tent at the World Beer Festival in downtown Raleigh.

We served up samples of three beers, inviting Festival guests to participate in an experimental taste experience, an experience for which they had to thank a wasp, [...]

Yeast. Bugs. BEER!

Collaboration – when scientists come together to share knowledge and know-how in order to tackle complicated problems, answer tough questions and develop big new ideas – is one of my favorite parts of the scientific process.

When the outcome of a scientific collaboration is something DELICIOUS, that’s MAGICAL.

Over the last couple months, we’ve been part of a team that includes microbial ecologist Anne Madden (who will join us soon as a new postdoc), Anne’s undergraduate students, and John Sheppard (NC State’s resident beer scientist). Our challenge: find wild yeast, more specifically insect-associated yeast, that could be used to brew beer (and more specifically, beer that tastes good).

And guess [...]

The Odor of the Odorous House Ant

This past weekend at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences annual BugFest, we convinced a couple hundred people to sniff ants. We started off light, with a bouquet of lemon and citrus from the citronella ant, Lasius claviger. Then we plowed ahead, shoving an angry carpenter ant under the nose of anyone who would take it to demonstrate the acrid, vinegar smell of formic acid. If the participant was still with us, we moved onto our main quarry: the odorous house ant.

First, I have to admit that through this entire exercise I had an ulterior motive. The odorous house ant is unquestionably odorous, but [...]

You haven’t forgotten, have you?

Back in February, we issued a call for help. As Dr. Eleanor had keenly observed while researching species for her Book of Common Ants, Forelius pruinosus, a very common North American ant with a big personality, had NO common name. Unacceptable! Especially given that so many other common ants have interesting and descriptive monikers: big-headed ant, carpenter ant, thief ant, and the like.

We solicited your suggestions on our blog and in-person during outreach events at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. And WOW! The suggestions really rolled in — We were so impressed by your creativity and enthusiasm. With the help of [...]

Countdown to Indoor Evolution Meeting

We’re getting REALLY excited about the upcoming meeting on the Evolution of the Indoor Biome. Thirty scholars representing many disciplines  – from art and anthropology to epidemiology, and entomology — will convene June 10-13 in Durham, NC, at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Their charge: To develop concepts and a suite of preliminary hypotheses to frame our understanding of the evolution of the species we spend the most time alongside in the domestic environment (whether those species be microbes or fungi, arthropods, vertebrates or plants).

Over the last few weeks we’ve tried to pique your interest in the evolution of the indoor biome with a series of [...]

Buzzing about cicadas: Launching a new project!

Over the last few weeks, we’ve watched and envied reports and photos coming from those of you living within the emergence zone of Brood II 17-year periodical cicadas (from Georgia to Connecticut). We even traveled westward to witness the magical Magicicada spp. in action in Greensboro, North Carolina (as our own backyard in Raleigh is too far east of the emergence zone). We encouraged you to report your observations of emergence online to help out other cicada researchers.

And yet, we felt something was missing. We were hungry to do some cicada-related public science. But what?

We wracked our brains. We consulted experts like the awesome [...]

Time to Meet Your Mites!

May we scrape your face for SCIENCE?

I imagine this is not a question one generally expects to be asked when visiting his or her friendly neighborhood natural history museum.

And yet it’s one we’ve asked on a fairly regular basis during public outreach events over the last few months at the Nature Research Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

You would be AMAZED (I know I have been) at the number of enthusiastic volunteers who have stepped right up to participate, curious to learn a something about the tiny organisms that call their pores home.

In January 2013, we launched Meet Your Mites, our latest public science [...]

The Unresolved Mysteries of the Mold in Your House

Today we have another in our series of guest posts by participants in the upcoming meeting on indoor evolution at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in June. Rachel Adams is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California at Berkeley who studies the dispersal of fungal spores into homes.

In the early 1940s, the promise of the drug penicillin far exceeded its production. Scientists were on a quest to find a strain of the penicillin producing fungus, Penicillium, that would produce more of the “mold juice.” In the most rotten citizen science project ever to be staged, researchers at the then-named Northern Regional Research Laboratory [...]

How Wild is New York City? Reflections from ScioTeen

Today we have a guest post from Andrew Collins. We met Andrew while doing fieldwork on the streets of NYC and have been impressed by the innovative work he’s doing to improve student engagement in science research and conservation. Andrew recently attended ScienceOnline Teen, and shares his experience below. Enjoy!

Beaver! Fox! They called out. An Owl! Looks like a Coyote! As the camera trap videos continued to play, more and more species took form. Yet while the students alertly watched on, listing one wild animal after another, we sat patiently … waiting to reveal a secret.

The secret (and ancient) lives of houseplants

Today we have a guest post by Laura Jane Martin, a participant in the upcoming meeting on indoor evolution at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in June. Laura is a writer and PhD candidate at Cornell University, where she researches the ecology and conservation of wetland plants. Follow her new blog: https://sedges.wordpress.com/

My local coffee shop is populated with potted plants. The four closest to my favorite table are Zanzibar gem, bamboo palm, jade, and pothos – species from eastern Africa, Madagascar, South Africa, and China.

People have grown plants in pots for centuries, but it’s only recently that houseplants proliferated. The story of how plants moved [...]