The Buzz on Native bees at Waverley library, Sydney Science Festival

Sharing the Buzz on Native bees at Waverley library with Sydney Science Festival 2018!

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Who am I? Game show quiz! Who are these little, metallic native solitary bees?
Spoiler: A Homalictus punctata! )

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Brainstorming the importance of bees in the city and our cities for bees!

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What a fun night of participatory learning, thanks to everyone for your amazing ideas and contributions! Keep buzzing!

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Super bees at Science in the Wild!

What a bee-sy day at the Australian Botanic Gardens! We brought 'Pollinate like a super Blue banded bee' and 'See like a bee in UV' to the super-hero-themed Science in the Wild event with Sydney Science Festival! What a buzz! Thousands of kids (and big kids) came to learn about our native bees, and draw a bee for the 1700 native bees project! Big thanks to Yolanda and Isaac, without their help this certainly wouldn't have been sustaina-bee-le. Another shout out goes to Erica Siegel, Alison Mellor and James Dorey for their bee-utiful photographs we displayed on the day!

Missed out? Don't worry! Come find us at Science in the Swamp at Centennial parklands on Saturday 18th August!

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First Australian Native Bee Conference

I shared my PhD work so far (In 3 minutes!) at The First Australian Native bee Conference 2018! 

What a fantastic day of learning about native bees in urban areas, the bush and farmlands. So many folk looking into the potential of native bees as pollinators of our food crops; like blueberries, raspberries and macadamias! Some crafty inventions to follow native bees with UV lights, painted wings and meta-barcoding! Excited to continue learning and follow these fantastic ecologists, bee keepers and farmers with their journeys!

If you’re wondering what my research is actually about, here’s a 3 minute snippet!

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Native Bee ID and Habitat Making Workshop with Sydney SCB

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Did you know we have over 1700 native bees in Australia? 

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I teamed up the Sydney Society for Conservation Biology (Sydney SCB) on the weekend to learn and share our knowledge of native bees, how to identify them in the lab, and build habitats to bring home. 

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We began with a quiz to share our knowledge of who is who and who lives where. What a ka-HOOT! 

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Participants identified native bees under the microscope- contributing to real science looking at the resilience of bee pollination in community gardens of Sydney.

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Jasmine identified a masked bee to species! 

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People got very crafty building native bee habitats from recycled materials!

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Hollow bamboo makes great homes for Leaf-cutter and Masked bees

Reed bees love bundled stems of dry lantana.

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Drilled hard-wood logs makes wonderful habitat for Resin and Masked bees.

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What a delight to be joined by so many members of the community interested in our native bees! Watch out for the next workshop, August 17th!

Science is playful.

As children, we follow the ants, wondering where they are going and why? What is there home like? Lets make them a home! A maze to pass through! A bridge they need to cross! Wow look how they work together!

This play and creativity is what we as experimental ecologists do everyday. Designing experiments to try find answers to these questions. Designing a “Y maze” to test if ants use visual or olfactory (smell) cues to find food- well that involves crafting something up that the ants will actually walk through, figuring out how to stop them from escaping, thinking about materials and shape and pattern and colour and cutting and gluing (or 3D printing)… that's pure creativity, crafting, playfulness. Experimentation is playfulness.

And this playfulness is something that children are so wonderfully brilliant at. How often are we stumped at the raw, honest questions asked by our five year old friends? And the imaginary worlds they take us to when we play together? The beautiful creatures they make from mud and twigs? The mazes they make with chalk on the ground? We have much to learn from our five year old friends as scientists.

Not only is the playfulness important to our practice as ecologists, but I think the more we share science in a playful way in non-conventional ‘educational’ contexts, the more we can communicate our research, and learn from others what questions they wish to know. It creates conversations around research questions and design, pathways to encourage folk to practice their own experimentation which links local and scientific knowledge.

I was beautifully reminded of the power of this playfulness at the town festival as I embodied my character of  ‘insect entomologist’ (an insect studying insects).  Playing ‘Bee, fly, wasp’, a very simple game of guess who is who based on large images of insect pollinators which all look similar, as a way of learning basic taxonomical differences between them, was such a joyous way to share my passion for pollinators with folk who are so interested to learn! And it opened up fantastic conversations about native bee conservation, the threat of Varroa mite, ethics of honey consumption, the role of non-bee pollinators, and the different plants folk are trying out in their homes and community spaces ‘for the bees’. Together we learned, shared, questioned- and it all began with a simple game.

And its not just children! When we as adults are in a playful space (a festival being a pretty ideal setting) our minds are open- yearning for creative fun. I wonder how much more ‘science’ we could create together if we allowed the time and space for this play in our busy lives?

To this festival , I also brought my old dissection microscope to the grassy field on the rim of main stage. I invited folk to bring objects that they always wanted to see up close. From leaves, flowers and crystals, to their lunch, beards and beer- folk had some fun items to discover! We skill-shared how to change the magnification and focus, and folk passed these learnings onto each other. Someone even donated a resin preserved locust for others to look at (the best gift in this nerdy entomologist’s opinion). The joy of sharing amongst the music, outdoors in the sunshine as people danced and played and laughed and science-ed was so powerful for me. And the feedback and cute letters in my town mailbox suggested folk felt that joy too.

The practice of science is playful. And sharing our science in playful ways has the power to not only communicate and further inform our science, but to allow folk to be inspired as the citizen scientists that we all are.

So here's to playfulness in science!

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Science at The Town Festival 2018

Bringing science to the dance-floor at The Town Festival! A place based on playfulness and creativity- inviting folk to discover the leaves, flowers, bark, sand, insects and even beer was such a delightful way for this ‘insect entomologist’ (an insect studying insects…) to play the game! Roving ‘Bee, Fly, Wasp’ was another fun one. See you with the microscope and new games in a paddock soon!

 

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Citizen Science as activism: A call to students

Originally published in Honi Soit, the weekly student newspaper of the University of Sydney, Australia. Print Edition PDF available here.

Citizen Science as Activism

It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing science as purely academic and activism as unrelated. The science we learn at University is often highly theoretical and dominated by knowledgeable ‘experts’. Somehow it is seen as impartial, and beyond application to the real world it stems from. But, what of the people who’s lives the science actually affects? Where does the citizen go to get information?  And, if scientific research and methodologies are so inaccessible to ordinary people, how can we keep those doing the research accountable?

‘Citizen science’ is science conducted by ‘non-scientists’, aka ‘citizens’. It exists on a spectrum from collecting ‘big data’ for an expert-led research project, to a community of non-scientists defining and executing their own projects. By itself, citizen science is not an inherently radical practice. But, when highlighting and valuing the power of local experiences and fortifying these with ‘numbers’, citizen science can play a role in environmental justice. When science is done with community and led by community, this is a form of activism.

Let’s look at Maules Creek, bordered by the Leard State Forest in rural North-West NSW, where farmers are concerned with elevated coal dust and noise from the open cut coal mines within a few kilometres of their crops and homes. Whitehaven (the mining company) self-monitors dust and noise pollution which (supposedly) rarely exceeds national pollution standards. However, to locals, the heavy haze that hangs over the mine each morning, and the thick layer of dust that they scrub off their letterboxes tells a different story.

When it's the mining company that is in control of information on pollution, locals don’t have access to the science to back up their observations. This means they have no recourse to challenge the industries that are undermining their community, with no way to appeal to the experts.

So ‘citizens’ take research into their own hands.

Since 2016, students have joined these local farmers through the Leard Forest Research Node to create and maintain a community air quality monitoring network. Using basic glassware familiar to anyone who’s made cider at home, these ‘citizen scientists’ measured the quantity of dust at different distances from the Maules Creek mine each month. Now, when the mining company, Whitehaven, attempts to assure residents that air quality levels on the frontline of open cut coal mines are “better than Randwick in Sydney”,  long term data for community, collected by community, is there to challenge these claims. With a sustained and collaborative effort to monitor dust levels in the area, we now have data with which we can communicate the issues locals feel in a language that even the mining companies cannot argue with.

Meanwhile, other students of The University of Sydney have done some ‘data mining’ of their own. Third year Mathematics student, Margot used her passion for Excel spreadsheets to find that over 25% of the air pollution data reported by Whitehaven coal in 2016 was ‘invalid’ or ‘negative’. To put that in context, try to imagine what a negative number of dust particles in the air might look like. Having trouble? We did too. Probably because there is no such thing as negative dust. That's to say that most of the data they reported was actually impossible. But without a passionate student to dive into the mess of inaccessible spreadsheets, no one would ever know!

Now that’s some worthy procrastination from your Maths assignment. Or… is it a worthy topic for your Maths assignment?

Furthermore, many of us will be considering Honours, Masters and PhD topics in the future. Why not spend those years critically engaging with research that is both relevant and actually useful to real life communities?

Being at university should be equally about developing critical thinking skills as it is about getting that degree. To engage with communities and know when to call out the ‘experts’ in industry and government is to be critically engaged citizens.

Science can be used to silence. And it can be used to empower.

Many students are in a unique position with the freedom to choose our research projects. Why not choose to work with communities who have research questions and needs of their own? Done well, this kind of citizen science is activism.

Not sure where to begin?

The Sydney Uni Enviro Collective, with the Australian Student Environment Network (ASEN) is regularly organising trips to the Liverpool Plains and the inland Forests of NSW to participate in citizen science activities. You can email environment.officers@src.usyd.edu.au and leardforestreseachnode@gmail.com or check out either on Facebook to learn more! 

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