Be a Scientist!

Be a Scientist

A special edition Keir Wefferling guest post

I have been really enjoying working with “my” 7th-graders over the last few weeks as we explore what it means to be a scientist! The “Be A Scientist” program is organized by Berkeley-based Community Resources for Science, who partner with Berkeley Public Schools to bring local volunteer scientists (students, postdocs, faculty) to the classroom for a 6-week start-to-finish science project. We guide the 7th-graders in formulating their questions and hypotheses, designing experiments, collecting data, and interpreting and presenting their results. This has been an amazing and fast-paced experience to see how the different students each approach questions and problems. They are incredibly quick to adapt to changing plans and to accept unforeseen results. I am learning a lot, both about what gets them excited and about how they ask questions about the world around them. Slimy, gooey science!
Working in a public school in Berkeley is exciting on many levels; it brings me out of my specialized sub-field (plant cytology, biogeography, and systematics) and gives me the opportunity to communicate about the scientific process to a diverse group of citizens in their formative years. My hope is that my enthusiasm for my research with plants—and for science more broadly—will make a lasting impression on the students and show them that science (as well as math, careful planning, researching an idea and following through with the investigative process…) can be fun and satisfying. Of course, the scientific process can be messy at times, and a “failed” experiment will often teach us more than we expect. I am very grateful for this experience that is bringing me in contact with some interesting and bright young people. Their curiosity, insightful questions, and flexibility has certainly made an impression on me!
I am looking rather amazed by a coil of pipe-cleaner presented by J., as A. prepares her wicks for growing salt crystals. Photo by Tyler Chuck, CRS.
Darlene, Project Coordinator for Community Resources for Science, has been in the classroom every week, helping students set up their experiments and providing support for the mentors. Photo by Tyler Chuck, CRS.

 

Pteridophyte Collections Consortium

Introducing the Pteridophyte Collections Consortium

UC Berkeley is the lead institution on a freshly funded TCN (Thematic Collections Network–part of NSF’s Advancing the Digitization of Biodiversity Collections [ADBC] program): The Pteridophyte Collections Consortium (PCC for short). Cindy Looy, Diane Erwin, and myself are the Berkeley PI team, aided and abetted by our Portal Manager Joyce Gross and our Project Manager Amy Kasameyer.

The focus of this grant, and of the PCC, is to digitize over 1.6 million extant and fossil pteridophyte specimens from 36 herbaria and museums throughout the U.S. For each specimen an image will be taken, and the collection data digitized–both images and the digital collection data will be available online through our Symbiota portal and data aggregator sites such as iDigBio, and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). The other main goal of the PCC is to help unite the paleontological and neontological pteridology communities (the people interested in fossil and living pteridophytes, respectively). Typically, these two communities tend to be in different university departments, go to different conferences, and their study collections are housed in different institutions (paleontology museums and herbaria). The PCC will bring these communities, and their collection data, together in a single location, and promote an integrated approach to the study and appreciate of pteridophytes from their origin ~420 million years ago to the present.

See here for a cringe-worth introduction to the PCC.

 

PCC at the iDigBio Summit

Bringing the PCC to Gainesville

The Pteridophyte Collections Consortium (more posts on this soon!) represented at the 2018 ADBC (Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections)/iDigBio summit in Gainesville, Florida, in the first week of October. It was simultaneously overwhelming and inspiring–we have a lot of pteridophytes to digitize!

Carl presenting the PCC introductory lecture at the iDigBio summit.

 

Look at all those digitizers! Plus that oak is probably full of Pleopeltis.

 

The Genomes Have Landed

Last but not least … ferns enter the genomic era

Humans have their genomes sequenced, there’s a lycophyte genome, a moss genome, a liverwort genome, shloads of angiosperm genomes… but until this week no fern genome had been sequenced. It was the last frontier! But we need wait no longer — with the publication earlier this week of “Fern genomes elucidate land plant evolution and cyanobacterial symbioses” we have not one, but two fern reference genomes: Azolla filiculoides and Salvinia cucullata. Special congratulations to lead author (and former Rothfels Labmate) Fay-Wei Li, by whose blood, sweat, and tears (mostly tears) this achievement was made possible.

And it got the cover! Who can blame them — look at this beauty (photo credit: Laura Dijkhuizen):

This paper has also received some cool press–Discover Magazine, Cosmos, Earth.comCornell Chronicle, BTI press release, and  Nature Plants News & Views–it’s great to see people excited about ferns, and fern biology.

 

Joyce in Space

Dinner with a scientist, and not just any scientist!

Twice a year, 220 guests come together at the Chabot Space and Science Center for “Dinner with a Scientist.” And on May 8th that scientist was…. Joyce!!!

The program includes a TED-talk style presentation from the keynote speaker (did I mention that that was Joyce?) describing their personal journey in science, group discussions, and science activities, with the goal of bringing together Oakland middle- and high-school teachers, their students, and local scientists.

Congratulations to Joyce for her work to inspire a current generation of educators and a future generation of scientists!

Joyce in action.

 

Such sciencing! (I believe I even see a fern involved.)

 

(I promised Joyce I wouldn’t mention the standing ovation she got. But my fingers were crossed: STANDING OVATION!)

 

Nerds Unite for Woody Vines

Joyce brings the wonder of lianas to the Oakland masses

The Rothfels lab outreach all star does it again! Joyce, bringing the weird world of wood to Nerd Nite East Bay (“be there and be square” — best slogan ever.) I wasn’t able to make it  🙁 , but a few well-placed spies reported back that she did a fantastic job! You might think it would be a tough sell, getting a non-scientific audience excited about the evolution of woody vines, but Joyce made it look easy. Second standing ovation for the month?

See the full talk here.(time 1:22:49)

The spotlight is on liana evolution at Nerd Nite East Bay!

 

Candidate Mick!

Mick is a PhD candidate!

On the entirely coincidental date of 4.20, Mick passed his quals! And with flying colours, by all accounts. Thanks to Ben, Brent, Britt, and Cindy for being on his committee, and to Carrie for organizing the celebrations. And congratulations to Mick!!!

Getting the festivities going! Ah, awkward cheese. (Mick demonstrating some of his non-academic skills).

 

Cutting the cake.

 

And what a cake!!!!!! Look at those Azolla! (Culinary and artistic genius: Carrie Tribble).

 

 

Back-to-back AJB pubs from RLab grads!

On a publication roll!

Rothfels Lab grads are on an American Journal of Botany publication roll! The January issue featured Mick’s article on a previously “undiscovered” gene in the chloroplast genome of ferns, and included the the publication of the transcriptome and chloroplast genome sequence of Adiantum shastense, the Shasta Maidenhair. You know, no biggie.

And today come the announcement that Forrest’s study of the continued evolutionary morphological simplification of Isoetes is available online! This result is super cool–showing that the pattern of morphological reduction for their once large tree-like ancestors is continuing in Isoetes. However, I have a particularly soft spot of the methods: this paper demonstrates the power of reversible jump MCMC and Bayesian model averaging (and irreversible models of character evolution) for studying processes of morphological evolution. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of this type of approach!