young naturalists

I saw a little girl today who was absolutely riveted by the life in the rotting seaweed around the harbour. I love seeing these little moments, because it takes me back to some of my first experiences as a ‘young naturalist’ of sorts.

I was nearby, photographing and identifying pollinators: I was just about to go over and ask her what she had found…

Both of us had our moments shattered, however, as her mother started screaming at her about getting her clothes dirty. Unfortunately, I also have memories of moments like these, where the female obligation to be decorative trumped my right to be fascinated and curious about the world around me.

She immediately started crying when he parents took her by the arm and led her away.

For those of you who are parents or caregivers, think of what is means to prioritise a child’s appearance over her learning and interests. It’s not fair to socialise girls this way: it breeds self-consciousness, insecurity, and I’m absolutely sure has a direct link to why girls and women are under-represented in the sciences. 

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This afternoon at the Museum, the twelve winners of the 2015 Young Naturalist Awards were honored at the Museum for their outstanding scientific investigations. The winners, ages 12-18, hail from 10 U.S. states, and were selected from over 800 submissions for this year’s prize. 

Winners include Beatrice Brown, an 18-year-old student from Bellmore, New York, who with her family lost her home during Hurricane Sandy, and who then developed a novel model for predicting hurricanes on Long Island. Soon Il Higashino, a junior from Ossining, New York, identified beneficial bacteria on Eastern redback salamanders that inhibited a toxic fungus associated with amphibian decline. Katherine Handler, a 15-year-old from Woodbridge, Connecticut, studied photos from automated game cameras in Kenya to analyze scavenger activity on wildebeest carcasses. 

Students were presented with their awards by herpetologist Christopher Raxworthy, associate curator in the Museum’s Division of Vertebrate Zoology and Associate Dean of Science for Education and Exhibition, who brought along his pet tortoise, Persephone, to the awards. Raxworthy purchased Persephone in a London pet shop in 1979, and cited the tortoise as a physical reminder of his own early love of science. 

Learn more about the Young Naturalist Awards