Category Archives: Earth & Environment

Into the Wilds

A Bactrian camel, a rhinoceros and an onager walk into a bar… well, not really, but close.

bactrian camel
bactrian camel

Last week I attended the National Association of Science Writers meeting in Columbus, Ohio.  Ohio State hosted this meeting which is a mix of workshops on practice and sessions on cutting-edge science.  On the last day there was a field trip.  We drove 90 minutes east from Columbus and turned into a road that would have looked more comfortable in Colorado.  After a bit of meandering, we arrived at the entrance to The Wilds, a non-profit conservation park located on the site of a former coal strip mine.

First, we met Eastern Hellbenders and found out why they are called “snot otters.”  When they get scared, they excrete slime through their skin.  The Wilds has a program of raising and returning to the rivers and streams in the wild these reclusive amphibians.  Continue reading Into the Wilds

Of Ants, Audio-Visuals and Science Writing

In most cultures, when the queen dies, the next closest relative takes the throne, but then in human royalty, the fate of all reproduction does not rest on the new queen (or king).  Among Indian jumping ants, when the queen dies, the females compete and the winner changes hormonally and physically and becomes a Gamergate.  She supplies all the fertile eggs for the brood.

That little tidbit is what I learned from Matt Shipman, a science writer from North Carolina State University during a one-day workshop in science writing.  Continue reading Of Ants, Audio-Visuals and Science Writing

Part Two, Research on the Road…and Sea!

In Part One of this recap, I described how the plans unfolded for Research On the Road’s trip to our alumni chapter in Puerto Rico, and shared the details of the talk given by Iliana Baums, a Penn State faculty member and marine biologist.  In this final installment, I describe our day trip with chapter members, a journey out on the ocean to get a hands-on –or “hands off!” in the case of coral–experience of the marine life of Puerto Rico.

Bright and early the next day, we set out from the marina in Fajardo on a power catamaran heading for the islands that make up the Cordillera Keys Nature Preserve, including Icacos, Palomino and Palominito.

Sunrise in San Juan

There were about a dozen Penn Staters, family members and friends on board, and the mood was understandably upbeat as we headed out.  Continue reading Part Two, Research on the Road…and Sea!

Research on the Road…and Sea!

Sometimes all signs point in a certain direction. So it was last winter when I met with folks from the Alumni Association to begin planning our spring semester “Research On The Road” events. They mentioned that the alumni chapter in Puerto Rico is rapidly growing, with hundreds of Penn State grads on the island, and increasingly active membership programming. I left that meeting (bundled up against the cold and snow) pondering their enthusiastic suggestion to bring ROTR to Penn State’s hopping Caribbean alumni group.

Just hours later, I happened upon a Penn State video about the work of Iliana Baums, associate professor of molecular ecology in Penn State’s biology department. Trained at the University of Miami and the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, Baums focuses her work on the coral reefs of the Caribbean and, in particular, has ongoing research projects on Elkhorn corals in Puerto Rico. 


Continue reading Research on the Road…and Sea!

Raptor in residence

I don’t like birds. They creep me out. Sparrows and chickadees and all those tiny birds that peck around when you’re eating your lunch outside. From a distance I don’t mind them — in fact, I think birds can be quite majestic creatures.

However, raptors are a completely different story. I love them. They totally fascinate me; I could watch them for hours. I know that raptors are birds (“birds of prey,” in fact), but somehow they seem like a different species* to me.

Red-tailed Hawk hanging out in a tree behind Ritenour Building. Photo by Patrick Mansell.
Red-tailed Hawk in a tree behind Ritenour Building. Photo by Patrick Mansell.

So you can imagine my delight when a red-tailed hawk visited our office building the other day. The juvenile hawk perched in a tree just outside of our second-floor office windows. She was beautiful! And hunting. (Sidenote: It was unclear whether our feathered friend was male or female, and so for ease of reading our hawk will be a lady.) She hung out in the tree for a long while, surveying the parking lot full of construction workers’ trailers, the sidewalk, and the ivy. And maybe us.

Continue reading Raptor in residence