Community Outreach by Wild49 Grad Students

This week several students from the University of Alberta visited Yellowknife as part of a Let’s Talk Science rural science outreach program, including Jessica Haines from our lab. During this week-long trip they visited several schools in Yellowknife to do hands-on activities on physics, chemistry, and biology, including talking about Yukon wildlife researched in our lab. You can read more about their adventures on the Let’s Talk Science blog (http://outreach.letstalkscience.ca/blog/2015-outreach-trips/yellowknife-nwt.html), but they have not been alone in taking time to volunteer in their community. Over the past year, many of our lab members have been volunteering with non-profits to do public presentations about science. We are passionate about our research and about science in general, and these are great opportunities for us to share our passion with others.

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The biggest event we volunteered at was the School of Witchcraft and Wizardy: Science is Magic through Let’s Talk Science at the University of Alberta. Our volunteers’ passion was contagious as children and their families enthusiastically learned about science in herbology and the owlery. In herbology, we shared our knowledge about strange adaptations that plants and fungi use to survive and reproduce. For example, did you know that there is a fungus that turns insects into zombies, manipulates them so they run to a good place for the fungus to release its spores, and then kills them and explodes out of their bodies? Or that acacia plants live in symbiosis with ants: the plant provides them with shelter and specially developed leaves for food, while the ant protects its host plant from herbivores and competing plants?

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In the owlery, we discussed how owls are adapted to their environment and how they communicate. The students got to listen to owl calls recorded from the wild, check out some great owl specimens, and even meet Colonel Slade – a live barred owl! Colonel Slade took the attention in stride as she always does and was a hit amongst everyone who met her.

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We also volunteered with Let’s Talk Science at other events throughout the year. We visited schools to talk about how animal populations change and played games where the students pretended to be foraging animals. We also helped with other activities, such as flaming chemistry demonstrations or liquid nitrogen ice cream. We also volunteered with Nature Alberta last summer to talk to them about mammals. Children (and their parents) had the chance to look at and touch real animal skulls – including a polar bear, a grizzly bear, a bighorn sheep, and other Canadian mammals. We played games to talk about how animals use their adaptions to get food. Some of our Wild49 members have also done public lectures at museums, nature clubs, and at the Edmonton NerdNite.

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Overall it has been a great year devoted to sharing our knowledge about nature and science. Thanks to all of our lab members who have donated their time this year to educate others. And thanks to all the families, teachers, and students who have joined us to hear from us. We look forward to more outreach in the future!

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Post by Jessica Haines

 

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