More Than a Walk in the Snow

By Rob and Maria

Pittsburgh woke up to a beautiful snow this morning! It seems like we haven’t really had winter since Thanksgiving, and while no one particularly enjoys cleaning icy remnants off their cars before heading to work Monday morning, there is something reassuring about the familiar seasons. Plus there is something ethereal about the muffled quiet of a city when it’s blanketed in snow, and something wildly fun about trompsing about outdoors in winter weather! Since nature has a lot more going on out there in the snow than you would expect or imagine, we went on a mini adventure through a city park this afternoon to explore it all. Check out what we found! Continue reading

New Year, New Ways to Think About Trash and Plastic

By Rob and Maria

Our trash never goes away. It just goes somewhere else.

That mantra is important to keep in mind for this post. We’re all very good at generating trash, and then we bundle it up and place it bins for either trash or recycling…and it rolls away. Theoretically, the trash goes to a landfill and the recycling goes to be made into something else—another generation of plastic or aluminum. Continue reading

Yuletide Citizen Science

By Rob and Maria

We woke up to pouring rain outside. It was still dark. The sun wouldn’t rise for another 90 minutes or so, but we probably wouldn’t notice right away through the heavy clouds anyway. Ah well, the rain might dampen the ground, but not our spirits! Today was our Christmas Bird Count, and science stops for no rain! We just pulled on layers of leggings, wool socks, thermal shirts, and flannel, topped with rain jackets and rain pants. It was time to count some birds! Continue reading

Holly Jolly Bio Trivia

By Maria and Rob

Worried about conversations lagging at all of those holiday parties coming up in the next few weeks? Or positively fretting that someone will bring up the latest political scandal at Christmas dinner? Never fear! We have the perfect solution for moments when you need just a little extra loquaciousness: Christmas-themed science trivia. Your casual yet intriguing small talk will amaze your hosts and ensure that you will be invited back to fabulous parties year after year! Or be purposely not invited next year…it could go either way, really. But we would totally re-invite you. Continue reading

A Science Career Outside of Academia

By Maria

In the past year, I’ve attended at least three different fairly large meetings where the topic of post-PhD job prospects was a central topic. I’ve spoken to multiple highly accomplished post-docs frustrated with how many jobs they have applied for, and I’ve seen some very nervous grad students when mention of the future comes up. It’s a serious issue! Only 7-14% of PhD-holders in STEM will go on to a tenure-track professor position within three years of graduation, and only 9% of PhDs in the life sciences will end up in a professor position at all. In a worrisome way, this makes sense given that the number of PhD-holders aged 35 and under has increased roughly 60% since 1993, yet tenure-track positions have remained nearly stagnant in that same time frame. Continue reading

Why Science Outreach?

By Maria

This past summer, I taught a conservation-themed day camp for 9-13 year olds. For each day of the camp, I invited a different biologist to visit the class and tell the students about their research and career paths. They weren’t long visits—perhaps 20 minutes of presentation and half an hour of conversation with the kids. Nothing that can’t be added on occasion to even the busiest researcher’s schedule.

Still, the experience very distinctly left a mark on the kids. The scientists’ research topics later appeared unprompted in the children’s art work and their free time conversations. One girl even approached me with her observation of common experiences the researchers had all shared from when they were her age (“All of them in their presentations talked about playing in creeks as a kid, like me!”). Meeting a scientist each day of the camp had been impactful for them. They weren’t just reading about a faceless researcher online or watching a TV news clip about a latest study. Local scientists had made time to talk to them. That mattered. Continue reading

Does Familiarity Really Breed Contempt?

By Rob

I don’t think the old phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt” applies to nature conservation.  If anything, it’s the opposite.  Years ago, when I had first moved from the suburbs to the city for college, I often saw pigeons congregating in disorganized flocks.  They strutted around, not even caring about cars barreling down the street.  Once they did become bored and decided to move on, they often left a mess behind.  I heard quite a few other folks refer to them as “rats with wings.”  Yes, they are indeed as ubiquitous in a city as the rodents that people fear will infiltrate their food cupboards.  They’re brazen, willing to swoop around an unsuspecting tourist like mosquitoes seeking a quick blood meal.  They’re unwanted, with the only way to keep them off historic landmarks is by placing sharp metal spikes.  Why should anyone care for these messy, bothersome birds that probably harbor mites? Continue reading

Exciting World Awaits!

Hi folks!

It’s been quite a while since I updated this blog, but I’ve been working through a great opportunity to write on a different platform. If you’d like to keep up with my work, you can subscribe from the most recent of the posts. And, as always, keep exploring!

A Seasonal Tradition of Citizen Science – Outside the kitchen window, the sun was rising over the snowy, tree-covered hillsides — streaks of pink light contrasting with the blue-tinted shadows of the early morning. Inside that kitchen in Hampton Township, just north of downtown Pittsburgh, a group of seven finished gulping down their coffees and hot chocolates, ready for their adventure to begin.

A Tale of Winter’s Opposites: Urban Heat Islands – Have you ever noticed how it’s often warmer in a city than even just a few miles outside of it? Why is that? Let’s explore!

Drowsy December: Hibernation, and Acorns, and Bears-Oh My! – When the temperatures drop, some of us might want to curl up under a warm pile of blankets and hibernate like one of Western Pennsylvania’s black bears until spring! But true bear hibernation might not be the long winter’s nap that it seems.

Year-round Feathered Friends – Most of us can recite the conventional wisdom that birds fly south in the winter without even thinking about it, but we also know that, really, not all birds do. Why do some birds stay put here in Pittsburgh while others migrate?

Any opinions that appear on Linnaeus and the Lamppost are purely my own, and do not reflect that of any other organization.

Can We Talk To A Gorilla?

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Source: koko.org

By Maria

In 1999, PBS released a Nature documentary called “A Conversation with Koko”—a feature all about the story of a Western Lowland gorilla named Koko and the primary researcher behind the communication efforts, Dr. Penny Patterson. Dr. Patterson had begun teaching sign language to Koko all the way back in the 1970’s and was still working with her and two other gorillas on a daily basis. Through their unique abilities, the gorillas were able to share their personalities in a way few animals can, and it was fascinating to watch their progression from their first three signs “eat,” “drink,” and “more” to thousands of complex words and phrases. Continue reading