News

Into The Woods: Cincinnati Nature Center

For over 50 years, the Cincinnati Nature Center (CNC) has aimed to inspire people, especially children, to enter nature and explore. Children have innate fascination and curiosity surrounding nature; CNC has a history of fostering this fascination and of getting children and adults alike “into the woods.” In 2020, students in our course Public Engagement with Science partnered with CNC to lead and judge a virtual poster contest, challenging K-12 students to create materials about planting native. This week, the Public Programs Manager Jason Neumann shared part of CNC’s story with the Center for Public Engagement with Science.

 The Cincinnati Nature Center came to be as people were becoming more aware of environmental issues; Silent Spring had recently been published, and new parks and nature centers were being founded. CNC is made up of two locations, Rowe Woods and Long Branch Farm and Trails, with two different stories. Prior to their donation, both sites were mostly farmland. Rowe Woods was the original semi-wooded site for CNC, named for and founded by Stanley Rowe. Rowe was involved in his community and was an advocate for nature and education. He and a core group wanted to found a nature center. They purchased land owned by the Krippendorf family who wanted to sell the land but avoid it being developed. From the beginning, Rowe meant for CNC to captivate children’s curiosity. Schools came there for field trips, founding members led educational hikes, and people bought memberships to hike the trails.

Long Branch Farm and Trails was donated to CNC in 1972 by owners who wanted it to be used to teach people about where their food comes from. Like Rowe Woods, it has hosted a lot of field trips over the years. It operated as an educational farm with domestic animals until 2005. When school curricula changed in the early 2000’s to no longer include agriculture, fewer school groups visited the site.

Since then, Long Branch Farm and Trails has been more focused on native plants, converting old farm fields to pollinator habitat, and removal of invasive species. More recently, native perennial edibles  plants such as pawpaw, persimmon, passionfruit, a variety of berries, black walnuts, and sumac have been added with future visitor engagement in mind. Mr. Neumann started a small foraging group that eventually grew to 500 members who hike at Long Branch Farm and Trails and learn to harvest these plants. They teach the slogan “right plant, right part, right time, right preparation” in reference to foraging safely. Mr. Neumann says that a food-based interaction with the natural world can inspire people by giving them deeper interactions with the natural world. Being able to recognize plants and animals on a trail; being able to recognize, sustainably harvest, then eat part of a plant adds yet another level to being outside. This can even include beer and wine! Currently some of the Long Branch Farm and Trails produce is taken to a local brewery and the resulting brews are served as story-laden beverages at member events. CNC is planning to scale this up in partnership with HighGrain Brewery to make things out of plants such as elderflowers.

Much of CNC’s story that Mr. Neumann recounted involved more recent events, since he began work at CNC 25 years ago. Although people still join CNC for access to the hikes at both Rowe Woods and Long Branch Farm and Trails, other programs and opportunities have continued to be developed.

Even with new programming, the core goals of CNC have hardly changed. Its mission still centers around encouraging children’s curiosity and getting people into nature, as well as being responsible stewards of their sites. In 2011, they opened one of the first “Nature PlayScapes” for children. Not just a playground, the space is filled with natural materials for open-ended play and is intended to be a place where children can build and dig, providing them ways to explore nature that are not always available in a city. Their efforts inspired other groups in the region to create similar spaces, including in local parks and schools.

CNC focuses on meeting people where they are and helping them learn. Their focus has shifted from purely natural history focus to applications of natural history knowledge, which appeals to more people. Cincinnati Nature Center staff create public programs, including the foraging group at Long Branch Farm and Trails, weekend children’s programs and a teen interest group. The teen interest group is designed for adolescents who enjoy nature and gives them a community of like-minded peers. They hike, work at Long Branch Farm, get involved in science summits, and do other projects.

CNC began using reservations to control numbers and keep visitors and staff healthy. Even with the new system, CNC’s membership “skyrocketed” as people have sought safe diversions during the pandemic. Mr. Neumann is excited for the new creative opportunities that CNC has to serve members’ interests, both now during the pandemic and in the coming years.

Krippendorf house pre-1934, on the property that would become Rowe Woods

Affiliate Spotlight: Dr. Arnie Miller

Arnold Miller

This week, we highlight the work of Dr. Arnie Miller. Dr. Miller is an Advisory Board member of the UC Center for Public Engagement with Science, as well as Professor Emeritus, former Head of the UC Geology Department, and former Senior Associate Dean of the UC College of Arts and Sciences.  

Dr. Miller is an evolutionary paleontologist and paleoecologist. His research has focused on mass extinctions and their impacts on global biodiversity, environmental gradients, and anthropogenic effects on modern coastal communities. Dr. Miller differs from a lot of paleontologists in that his passion did not stem from a childhood interest in dinosaurs or other fossils. He grew up in New York City, and with the exception of the American Museum of Natural History, there are not a lot of fossils to be found there. Dr. Miller found became interested in geology while living among geology majors in college. He took a course in geology to learn more about what his peers were talking about, ultimately leading to him pursuing majors in geology and biology. During his studies, he was inspired by a professor who introduced him to using fossils as data to study biodiversity and mass extinctions, which is when he first became passionate about paleontology.  

In 2007, Dr. Miller was elected as a Fellow of the Paleontological Society for, among other work, being instrumental in the Paleobiology Database (PBDB). This website is a compilation of  fossil data, where they were found, the publication that described them, and where they can be found now. It is used by paleontologists with an interest in “big data”- the use of multiple collections to piece together an understanding of broad trends in space and time. However, this database is open source, and is also used by instructors to give their students experience processing data.  

Since then, Dr. Miller has served as the President of the Paleontological Society; he is currently finishing his term as Past President. In this position, he has strived to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion. He has encouraged the scientific community to acknowledge our previous shortcomings in these areas. He is co-chair of the Society’s ethics committee, dedicated to ensuring that Society is inviting, safe, and inclusive for all participants in its activities. He and his colleagues are working to improve opportunities for people with diverse backgrounds to enter all fields of science. The Society has been developing financial opportunities for underrepresented minorities, and Society representatives now regularly attend  meetings focused on minority inclusion in science, such as the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). They also work to increase education and outreach that specifically targets underrepresented audiences.   

Dr. Miller also addressed outreach and community involvement in science in his role as Head of the Geology Department and as A&S Senior Associate Dean. When the Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) closed for renovations a few years ago, he was a part of a group that worked to bring some of the exhibits to the University of Cincinnati campus. Along with this, they scheduled programs such as a panel on global climate change that drew in community members in Cincinnati. CMC exhibits were also set up at the airport, and the teams behind this and the University exhibits held a townhall at a conference for museum professionals about their experiences setting these up. These exhibits being in different environments effectively brought the museum to people who might not normally visit, resulting in more engagement than may normally be possible.  

Dr. Miller also has had the opportunity to engage in debates about evolution and creation. He thinks that engaging people of all backgrounds and belief systems is important without being perceived as condescending. As part of the 2009 North American Paleontology Convention hosted at UC, Miller, who was chair of the organizing committee, took 75 paleontologists to visit the Creation Museum to give them a firsthand look at what and how ideas were being communicated there. Members of the group found the visit to be eye-opening, with respect to how professionally ideas were presented from a strictly technical standpoint, even though those ideas diverged from accepted science. Responding to dissent is important, but scientists do not always communicate well, and doing so well with humility and respect is crucial. Every year while teaching an introductory-level course on the history and evolution of life , he spent a week on the creationism-versus-evolution question, including inviting a representative from the Creation Museum to speak to the class at the end of the semester ; this was followed by extensive, in-class discussion . While Dr. Miller does not think that direct debates with creationists are helpful or productive, he does encourage scientists be aware of  and understand the bases of other views. Through the study and discussion of creationism, he hoped that students would come to understand what information was being taken out of context. He also encouraged them to listen, rather than making wholesale judgements about what others think; everyone’s beliefs and ideas have multiple dimensions and need to be taken seriously. 

As an emeritus professor, Dr. Miller is continuing to work with the Paleontological Society and University. Besides his work on the Center’s Advisory Board, he is also helping to develop a Digital Futures Consultant program for new and young faculty at the University of Cincinnati. He’s also becoming more politically involved; in the most recent election, he served as a poll watcher and on a “Protect the Vote” hotline for people who had questions about how to vote.  

Dr. Miller’s message is one of encouragement. He wants people to keep their minds open to other people and opportunities around them, especially those outside of the classroom. Had it not been for the experiences he had in college, especially those that focused on working with data  , he likely would have taken a different path. In recruiting diverse participants to paleontology and geology, he advocates speaking  about the diverse opportunities there are for people who want to work in these areas.  “Field work and adventures in the out of doors can be off-putting, at least initially, to people who grow up in  urban settings, for example, and yet we do other things that aren’t field work, such as working on computers and in geochemistry labs.” Paleontology and geology are not just for those who enjoy field work and dinosaurs; these fields, and science in general, are diverse and have something for everyone.  

Science Policy Ambassadors Social

The Science Policy Ambassadors, a new student group at the University of Cincinnati, will be hosting an online social on Monday, November 9th at 5 pm.   

Affiliated with the Union of Concerned Scientists, this student group aims to provide graduate and undergraduate students opportunities to learn and engage in science policy, and ultimately help them gain experience as advocates for science. The Science Policy Ambassadors aim to help build a network of these opportunities, to create resources for students with an interest in these careers, and promote the opportunities that already exist. 

This student group is open to all majors, and hosts six to seven speakers each semester. You can follow them @SPAUCS to get involved, and RSVP for the social hour here

Welcome Dr. Ryan Feigenbaum

We are excited to welcome Dr. Ryan Feigenbaum as the Center for Public Engagement with Science’s new Program Director. Dr. Feigenbaum will also serve as the new Executive Director of the Philosophy of Science Association (see PSA announcement here). He combines experience in digital media, web development, and digital humanities with expertise in the history and philosophy of the life sciences. His writing encompasses everything from best practices for the visual aspects of online communication to digital exhibits that explore the intersections of history, science, and art.

Dr. Feigenbaum’s efforts in public engagement include a digital exhibit called “Poetic Botany,” created for the New York Botanical Garden. In this exhibit, Dr. Feigenbaum explores the biology of each of nine plant species, incorporating art and poetry from people who were inspired by these plants, as well as the stories of these artists and scientists. The end result has the potential to reach a broader audience than a physical exhibit would, and appeals to people with a variety of interests.

“The Sensitive Plant,” part of the Poetic Botany virtual exhibit

Dr. Feigenbaum has also written about seemingly less exciting organisms, such as algae. In “Visions of Algae in Eighteenth-Century Botany,” he recounts how scientists discovered and improved our understanding of algae. He begins with the early classification of algae and perceptions of it as unremarkable, and then he walks his readers through the observations of its biology that led to it being more appreciated and sought out by more scientists, and even referenced in literature. He ends with a quote encouraging us to “look again” as something that once failed to capture our imaginations; perhaps this encouragement is useful elsewhere as well.

You’ll find more enagaging writing on Dr. Feigenbaum’s website. He has written about human sleep cycles, and the language we use to discuss it; philosophical arguments about whether life can be explained with science; and other intersections of history, science, and art. He also provides guidance for effectively creating digital spaces for communication and offers suggestions for best practices in web design.

With his abiding interest in communicating science and philosophy to a broad audience, and helping others do so, Dr. Feigenbaum will be a tremendous asset for the Center for Public Engagement with Science.

Samanthan Finkelstein: Science Outreach for Social Impact

Join us (virtually) on Friday, October 23, for a talk by Samantha Finkelstein:

Science Outreach for Social Impact

Practical lessons from experience design, pedagogy, and social justice

This virtual presentation is taking place in the middle of a pandemic while school children around the country are Zooming into their classrooms – there is no better time to talk about opportunities to break some unquestioned classroom norms. This talk is about designing meaningful outreach, and how to think about what meaningful means for you and – more importantly – for the people you’re engaging with. I want to share a few real life examples of creative and powerful outreach programs at different scales that can inspire your own designs, and talk through some frameworks you can use to bring your ideas to life.

Samantha Finkelstein earned her PhD from Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction program in 2017. She has focused much of her work on supporting the needs of marginalized communities, especially youth. She’s spent time in classrooms, and worked on projects that involved web interfaces, conversational agents, mobile platforms, and immersive and augmented virtual reality systems.

To join the talk, go to https://ucincinnati.zoom.us/j/98596246956 

To find a local number to dial in, go to https://ucincinnati.zoom.us/u/abniEA5nQt

Affiliate Spotlight: Dr. Abel Gustafson

Abel Gustafson

This week, we highlight the work of our newest Faculty Affiliate with the Center for Public Engagement with ScienceDr. Abel Gustafson, Assistant Professor in the UC Department of Communication.  

Dr. Gustafson studies public opinion and strategic communication in science and environmental issues. Using surveys and communication experiments, he assesses how various demographic and political groups think about and respond to these issues. For example, his research has identified how political polarization develops on environmental issues, and how the public reacts to portrayals of uncertainty in science.  His findings help develop more effective strategies for communicating science to the public  

Dr. Gustafson became interested in science and environmental communication as a graduate student. At the time, he was studying theories of persuasion and social influence. However, he wanted his research to make a positive impact on society. This led him to study persuasive communication related to climate change and other environmental issues. 

Dr. Gustafson has collaborated with a wide range of scholars (from political scientists to geographers and literary scholars) and a wide range of organizations (from nonprofit advocacy groups to media companies). A primary goal of his work is to help these different groups improve the way that they communicate about science issues to the public.

A key player in public science communication is the news media. In a forthcoming report, Dr. Gustafson and his colleagues at Yale and George Mason Universities use public opinion data to show that many Americans want the news media to do more to address the issue of climate change. Dr. Gustafson says this study is particularly important, because many people get their information about science and environmental issues from the news. If news organizations are made aware that their audience wants more and better information about important issues like climate change, this may lead to increased news coverage, which can in turn have large impacts on public support for climate action.

Dr. Gustafson noted that the current COVID-19 pandemic is a fascinating example of the oftentimes fraught and polarized relationship between science and the public. Currently, opinions about the dangers of pandemic and participation in recommended preventative actions show a sharp divide along party lines. Dr. Gustafson noted that this is a clear example of the need for clear, effective science communication from trusted experts. In a study conducted earlier this spring, Dr. Gustafson and his colleagues found that the CDC’s official recommendation to wear masks resulted in an immediate and dramatic increase in mask-wearing behavior.

You can read more about Dr. Gustafson’s publications and work here

Affiliate Spotlight: Dr. Nate Morehouse

This week, we want to highlight the work of one of the Center’s affiliates, Dr. Nate Morehouse

Dr. Morehouse leads a lab that studies insects and spiders. He has a special interest in how they see the world, and how their vision influences the choices they make. He was drawn to the University of Cincinnati because the school has a strong community working on the biology of vision, philosophy of perception, and other fields related to sight. He is currently part of an effort to create a central place for this community through the Institute for Research In Sensing (IRIS). Planning is ongoing, but programming is staged to begin by Spring 2021. 

Dr. Morehouse is partly interested in the vision of spiders and insects because of the diversity of ways that their eyes function. Vertebrates all have eyes similar to a camera; they have a single lens in front of a cavity above a sheet of cells that receives light. Arthropods have a wider diversity of types of eyes. In insects, the most common is the compound eye, which has thousands of individual flat lenses that are all sensitive to light. The information from these pieces together a clearer mosaic image. They also have a lens that gives them separate information about which way is up and helps them make quick decisions important to flight. Spiders are even more complex; they have 8 eyes. 6 of these evolved from compound eyes, derived from a common ancestor with insects. However, these have lost their ability to create a detailed image, likely because spiders lived underground for a large part of their evolutionary history. These eyes have a very low resolution and cannot see color, much like our peripheral vision. Their other eyes collect information for a more complex color image. They form at a different stage in the spider’s development, and even connect to a different part of their brains. This pair of eyes has a single lens, with a long cavity behind it, like a Galilean telescope. This is called a diverging lens, and magnifies anything they focus on. This means that despite having eyes that are only ½ mm wide, they can see patterns as well as an elephant can and can see better than most other animals their size. 

One of the overarching questions Dr. Morehouse and his lab are pursuing is “why?” Spiders have 3-color, vision like humans do, although the exact colors they see are different. Some can see even more than 3 colors. Their interactions, especially during mating, are very reliant on visual cues and color. However, it is unlikely that these displays evolved until after their vision did; after all, why show off if no one can see it? So why did they evolve such complicated vision in the first place? To help them hunt? To avoid something toxic? This research has taken them around the world. 

Ongoing research in the lab includes whether the male and female audacious jumping spiders see the world differently. Both sexes track each other’s movements closely during mating and develop in similar ways. One notable difference is that the females have an extra stage or two of development (instars) before maturity, which might allow their eyes to get bigger. There are some differences in the way genes linked to vision are expressed, but the physical effects of that expression are still being figured out. Dr. Morehouse also has students working on the evolution of illusions and how non-human animals discriminate faces. Such studies are possible with arthropods because the lab has technology that can track the movement of their eyes.  

Dr. Morehouse was inspired to study arthropods when he was three years old; he would go into his backyard and pick up bumblebees, get stung, and pick them back up. He tries to foster the curiosity of children through long term mentoring programs. He participates in the STEM Girls programs at the Cincinnati Museum Center, afterschool programs, and summer camps. Most recently, he ran a summer camp that allowed students to write their own superhero persona, including a disguise, personality, and power, that was inspired by the natural world. At the end of the week, he showed up in disguise as a supervillian with his own powers, and challenged them to defeat him with their own creativity.  

Dr. Morehouse continues to be excited about his field. It has incredible implications for technology; understanding how animals process information could inspire biomedical advances, the engineering of computers that can process information as quickly as arthropods, and programming for the decision making of autonomous cars. In his words, “the natural world has had millions of years to figure out the answers to questions that we are only beginning to ask.” But Dr. Morehouse’s main mission is more philosophical.  

“To be honest, those [questions] aren’t what motivate me. Its cool, but it doesn’t drive me. I would feel like my life had been wasted if I didn’t spend it in the pursuit of curiosity. …I actually think that to be curious is an essential part of what it means to be human. If we forget …it as a basic human pursuit, we’re lost. We should encourage healthy curiosity. In part, what I’m doing is art: I want to spark the curiosity of others. Have I changed how people view their world? Is there more magic to their backyard? If I can just move people’s feet from where they were before, that’s success.” 

To read more about on-going research in the Morehouse lab, click here.