NatureVolve digital magazine - issue 1

Page 1

NatureVolve Summer issue 2018 Issue #1 11 Jul

Cover image: Highlands of Scotland, United Kingdom.

NatureVolve digital magazine (issue #1)

Painting by C W Nature Art - Emerald skies (mixed media). © 2018 C W Nature Art

Web - Twitter - @Naturevolve


Clarissa Wright

Guest writers

Stephanie Leonida, Chris Long.


Alexandra Nobre, Anna Riddell, Antaia Christou, Anthea Challis, Beata Edyta Mierzwa, Bianca Botha, Bridget Macklin, Carolyn Yates,

Welcome to NatureVolve

Ghudaina Al Issai, Hebert Bruno Campos, Jasimen Phillips John Walker, Laura Castañeda Gómez, Leah Bury, Leslie Sobel, Maggie Gourlay, Nick Taber (Comprehensophy), Nikolina Kovalenko, Osama Harraz, Sara Kaltz, Sarah Watkinson, Stan Lewry, Thomas Merritt, Zahidah Zeytoun Millie

I am excited to share the first issue of NatureVolve digital magazine with you. Thank you to all those who have contributed to this issue, we have unique and interesting perspectives to share here. You will see we have a range of content to share with you, from articles on themes in biology and geoscience in the Science & Research section, to stories about the work of conservationists in the Conservation section, to a showcase of artwork in the Art Gallery of the Art section, and even poetry in the Written Word section.

Contributing organizations: Rainforest Trust (CEO - Dr. Paul Salaman)

Copyright notice

Published by NatureVolve Copyright 2018. The copyrights of all published written and visual content are retained by the original contributors of the work. All copyrights are reserved by the content creators. Reproduction of any published material without the written permission of the magazine’s publisher is prohibited.

Right: Clarissa Wright (Editor) painting the Empty Quarter desert before embarking on an expedition there in 2014. © 2018 C W Nature Art

A note from the Editor

To introduce myself, I have a background in both science and art, having painted in my spare time through my art project C W Nature Art, while studying BSc Geology & Petroleum Geology at University of Aberdeen, and Msc Applied & Petroleum Micropalaeontology at University of Birmingham. I was always inspired by the natural landscape of my homecountry, Scotland (UK). After university I began working in academic publishing and as a freelance science journalist, and realised an increasing need for scientists to engage their research with the wider public. This not only supports the researchers but also invites a wider community into niche areas of study. I believe that artists also have a similar need to reach out and allow a wider community to enjoy their work. With the idea that art and science can be combined based on a common interest in nature, I set up, having received encouraging interest from all around the world. Thank you to those who have shown support, and to all contributors and guest writers. Best wishes and enjoy,

Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.

Clarissa Wright


NatureVolve Issue #1 Contents - Geoscience, Biology, Sci Story

Science & Research 5 9 12 16

Tides of time - analysing changes in sea level to reconstruct Earth’s history Uncovering the secrets of Pterosaurs The Oman Central Botanic Expedition - A cross-cultural venture Electrical signalling in brain capillaries Conservation

19 22 26

- Out-of-the-box, Art Gallery, Art Story

Making music with lasers Jasimen Phillips Maggie Gourlay Bridget Macklin Anthea Challis Alexandra Nobre Laura Castaneda-Gomez Mangroves from the water Saving Trees Through Art Written word

61 64 66 67

- Blogs, SciArt, Events

Exploring evolution through 'Darwinian Adventures' Molecular Biology SciArt Microscopic illustrations in cell biology Icy artwork inspired by climate science field work SciArt show at Laurentian University Art

47 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 58

- Charity, Conservationists

How buying parts of the rainforest can help us save it, through Rainforest Trust A pursuit of conservation in South Africa Wildlife crime: Hidden and in plain sight? Scicomm

30 32 36 39 42

- Fiction, Thought-notes, Poetry

The seed keepers The internet, instant gratification, and the lost art of thinking Zugunruhe . . . The Alchemy of Elder (Sambucus Nigra)

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Science & Research

Science & Research


Tides of time - analysing changes in sea level to reconstruct Earth’s history A fascinating area of geoscience is the study of land-surface motion to understand more about sea level change. Anna Riddell (University of Tasmania, Australia) is a geodesist who shares this topic with us, emphasizing that considering land mass movement is an essential piece of the puzzle in reconstructing Earth’s history.

Above: Measuring vertical land motion with global positioning systems (GPS) at tide gauge sites is essential for understanding global sea level change. © 2018 Anna Riddell

Sea level change has been used as a key indicator for the effects of global warming. The Antarctic is a continental landmass, where ice overlies bedrock, and drains into the ocean when melted, thus increasing sea level, therefore it is a prime area to study the effects of the Earth’s climate change. In the past, researchers used sea level gauges. While these were useful for understanding fluctuations in sea level, they didn’t take into account land mass movements on the Earth. Now, geodesists who measure changes in the shape, size and gravity field of the Earth, are incorporating this aspect into their work, like Anna Riddell, who discusses this further below. Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.


Science & Research

Q & A - Anna Riddell What is your background, and what led to you to begin researching the surface motion of the Australian tectonic plate)? My undergraduate degree was in Surveying and Spatial Sciences and I was lucky enough to have lecturers that were willing to incorporate their fascinating research into the courses. This lead to sparking my interest in geodesy and mapping how the Earth changes shape and size over time. My honours research project looked at calibrating the tide gauge down at Macquarie Island (half way to Antarctica) with a GPS-equipped floating flowerpot buoy. This then lead to asking questions about how the Australian tectonic plate is moving, and the repercussions this has for global change measurements. Below: Decadal scale processes that change the surface of the Earth. © 2018 Anna Riddell


How does the permanent GPS station array covering the Australian continent work? Using the same signals as your phone or in-car navigation system, we have a network of permanent stations all over Australia that are receiving and recording a position (latitude, longitude and height) every 30 seconds from satellites orbiting in space. This data is then transmitted back to a national hub in Canberra at Geoscience Australia where it is processed and recorded as time series. Having a time series of data allows us to see how the stations are moving over time, and we can study how the surface of the Australian continent is changing. We can monitor both the horizontal and vertical motion, and some of the stations in Australia have been operating since the early 90’s, giving us over 20 years of data. A map of active stations and their data can be found here: analysis.html Which large surface mass changes have the greatest influence on the ‘wiggle’ of the Earth’s centre of mass? The motion of the Earth’s centre of mass is most sensitive to changes in water across and within the Earth’s surface. For example, consider water stored as ice during the changing of the seasons as water freezes and melts at the poles as well as the transfer of water through the hydrological system. Ice is heavy, and will cause the Earth’s centre of mass to change location as the Earth body

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Science & Research


repositions itself to deal with the extra gain or loss of mass at the poles. Kind of like how a parent changes their body position when carrying a child on their hip to make sure they keep their balance.

Can understanding surface land motion changes improve both our understanding of sea level change, and the Earth’s centre of mass?

What kinds of patterns in surface land motion have you been searching for in your current research?

Yes! Measurements of land surface motion can help us improve our understanding of both sea level change and the motion of the Earth’s centre of mass. Understanding surface land motion is essential for correcting measurements of sea level change from tide gauges. Because the tide gauge instruments are attached to land, they are subject to land motion, which can bias the sea level measurement at that point. For example, in some areas where the land is sinking, and sea level rising we end up with a larger than normal sea level rise scenario in that area that can cause severe flooding and damage.

Some of the patterns of surface land motion I have been looking for include those from water loading, i.e. can we see a land motion patterns in response to the wet and dry seasons in northern Australia; or can we see land distortion in Australia at the time of and after large earthquakes in our region, including earthquakes in New Zealand, Indonesia and the South Pacific. Earthquakes are caused by huge stress releases and sometimes we see that expressed as land surface motion close to the source of the earthquake, but we can also see land surface motion hundreds of km away from the source as a slower change, almost as if the Earth is relaxing back into a new equilibrium.

Conversely, if the land is rising at a slightly faster rate than sea level is rising, then we get an apparent sea level fall in that area. For comparison with other sea level measurement techniques (like satellite altimetry), it is important to account for the motion of the land. So on one hand it’s important to know the relative (uncorrected) sea level change for regional events like flooding, but we also need corrected sea level measurements to be able to

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Science & Research


compare with other locations around the world to be able to come up with a global average of sea level change. Although we have fantastic sea level records from satellite altimetry which are not affected by land motion, the altimetry records only date back to the 1990s, whereas we have tide gauge measurements that are over 100 years old, providing an invaluable record back in time. The combination of land motion measured by GPS, tide gauge sea level measurements and satellite altimetry sea surface measurements provide us with excellent global and regional estimates of change. Using observations of surface land motion can help us understand how the centre of mass is changing because of the comparison between surface motion observations and computer simulations. We have a theoretic explanation for the movement of the centre of mass, and these can be validated with observations. What implications could this research have for improving our understanding of environmental concerns, such as climate change? My research has many implications for understanding how our planet is changing. Most of the work that I am doing is focused on our recent history (the satellite era from the 1980s onwards), so it encompasses the period of most change if we are looking at a metrics like sea level change. Global mean sea level rise remains one of the most important indicators of climate change.

Final thoughts As Anna Riddell discusses, changes in sea level can provide us with clues about how our planet is changing – whether it be the motion of tectonic plates, climate change or even the changes of the Earth’s centre of mass itself. Through her research, she is seeking to help us understand these changes, by utilising GPS data from Geoscience Australia. She emphasizes the importance of measuring land surface motion, which can help us correct for measurements in sea level, and the Earth's changing centre of mass.



Anna Riddell

Twitter - @Wiggly_Earth

Anna Riddell works as a geodetic scientist at Geoscience Australia, but is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania researching the motion of the Australian continent. Her research focuses on how the surface of the Earth changes. Using Global Positioning System (GPS) data from Australian sites with a focus on the vertical motion of the tectonic plate, Anna aims to improve the estimation of sea level change along the Australian coastline.

Global map of active stations (Geoscience Australia) -

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Science & Research


Uncovering the secrets of Pterosaurs Pterosaurs, such as the well-known pterodactyl, lived among the dinosaurs, though were not actually dinosaurs. They are instead known as ‘flying reptiles’, or the first flying vertebrates. They became extinct around the same time as the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. In palaeontology, their study is an ongoing process, with many new discoveries being made in recent years and on an ongoing basis. Pterosaurs (also known as ‘winged reptiles’) existed alongside dinosaurs from the late Triassic (228 million years ago) to the end of the Cretaceous (65 million years ago), dominating the skies. They are the earliest known verberates to have developed the ability to fly, having been an enigmatic subject of study. Today, we talk with Hebert Bruno Campos who is a pterosaurologist, as we discuss with him more about this group and his passion to study them.

Q & A - Hebert Bruno Campos What led you into palaeontology and your specific focus on pterosaurs? Since I was 7 years old, I was interested in Egyptology and Palaeontology, especially dinosaurs and their weird names, which can be difficult to pronounce, such as Compsognathus longiceps. However, I was intrigued about pterosaurs because I saw that they lived together with large dinosaurs, but they were poorly represented in movies and cartoons. I realized that the pterosaurs lived in a unique world in Mesozoic aerial environments, as they lived in a way that was different from dinosaurs. Normally, the unique pterosaur species represented was Pteranodon longiceps from USA, with long and pointy bony

© 2018 Hebert Bruno Campos

Above: Hebert Bruno Campos analysing any concretions with pterosaurs bones from the Santana Formation.

cranial crest. My reaction when I heard from my sister that she had watched the movie Jurassic Park in 1994 was: “How do pterosaurs not escape the island ?!” The large dinosaurs were terrible, but pterosaurs were enigmatic. I think that this was the main inspiration for my focus on pterosaurs. Has scientific knowledge about pterosaurs changed much in recent years? Yes, certainly. For example, the diversity of species and groups of pterosaurs has grown considerably in the last 10 years, including new “families” of pterodactyloid pterosaurs, as the chaoyangopterids and thalassodromids. There are known eggs and embryos of distinct pterosaur specimens of

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Science & Research

Hamipterus tianshanensis from Cretaceous of China and this provides the first stages of development and inference about the behaviour of neonates. Another very exciting study about the ontogenetic development was based on a series of skulls and skeletons of the tapejarid Caiuajara dobruskii from the Cretaceous, found in Brazil. In both cases, the considerable number of individuals found allowed researchers to establish a growth series, showing how individuals developed through their ontogeny.


show a lot of similarities with the modern birds. Some researchers also use analogies and inferences of the locomotion which could be like that of modern bats. Another important feature shared with the birds are the complex internal trabecular structures and hollow cavities and very thin bone wall, the pneumatization, and physiological and neurological aspects, which could show similarities to the bird group.

Recently, a new study about any of the last pterosaurs from the Maastrichtian (last age of the Cretaceous, about 65 million of years old) of Morocco has revealed that the pterosaur extinction occurred abruptly, and there was no previous decline of general diversity that led to the complete extinction of the group. But, interestingly, several aspects that were well explored in dinosaurs and Mesozoic birds are still poorly known in pterosaurs, as for example: the neuroanatomy, physiology, and anatomy of microstructures.

What is your current key topic of investigation?

Although, many issues are still investigated and need to be better studied: “Who is the common ancestor of pterosaurs and other Triassic archosaurs? Are all the pterosaurs covered by pycnofibers?

I am interested specifically in certain aspects in pterosaurs that were little explored previously. Today, there is a new methodological technological of analysis that is applied to fossil specimens, however that alone is not enough!

How does the distribution of actinofibrils (linear keratinous structures present internally in the wing membrane and pedal webbing) differ in different pterosaur species? Did all the pterosaurs fly? Is the flight style and wing model the same for different pterosaurs?�.

Can we find any evolutionary evidence of pterosaur-like features in animals today? Yes. The best group for comparative anatomy are the birds. Cranial structures such as the horny beak (as shown in rhamphoteca), soft and bony head crests; skeletal anatomical structures, keratinous claws and inferences of the flight; ecology and wing membrane,

I am investigating the anatomy of new pterosaur specimens from the Crato and Santana formations of Brazil. I am finishing the study of an exceptionally well-preserved pterosaur from the Jurassic Solnhofen of Germany, which includes a complete wing membrane with the unusual presence of internal structures, that are very rarely preserved in the fossil record and are barely studied.

The interpretation is an important part. I am using CT (computer tomography) of three-dimensionally preserved skulls of Santana pterosaurs to collect information about the general neuroanatomy of derivate pterosaurs and in the future any intriguing aspects related to the pterosaur skull. The olfactory and visual system, vascularity, intelligence, for example, can be secondarily evaluated revealing important data. Pycnofibers and actinofibrils are part of my attention, but there are few pterosaur specimens that preserves these structures.

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Science & Research

What role does paleoart have in your research? Have you worked with paleoartists? Well, I have a solid background in art. From childhood I had access to technical books of artistic design. The most important works in paleoart are the reconstruction of an ornithocheiroid pterosaur of the Santana Formation, based on a specimen with many complete bony elements shown in a museum in Japan. This work was done with the Russian art expert Vlad Konstantinov. There is a collection of reconstructions showing the pterosaur fauna of the Araripe Basin, which was developed in partnership with the paleoartist Sergey Krasovskiy, which will be part of an illustrative book on the subject. The book is in preparation and should be published in the future.


There are other two works still under development: A technician, who explores structures preserved in a wing of a small pterosaur Aurorazhdarcho of the Jurassic of Germany. And another, involving the combination of artistic and scientific elements of an exceptionally well-preserved skull of a new pterosaur from the Crato Formation. Of course, I also worked with one colleague from Brazil (Helder da Rocha). He developed reconstructions of light and detailed skeletons of pterosaurs with scientific accuracy, using data from 3D bone elements of Santana pterosaurs. You know… heavy skeletons can be a problem to be mounted on museum ceilings. However, Helder’s skeletons are dynamic and can be easily dismounted, transported to other locations, with the ability to mount the animal in different poses (flight, attack, landing, etc.). They weigh a few kilos, different from the skeletons displayed there that can weigh more than 30 kilograms.

Final thoughts As Hebert Bruno Campos discusses, we can look at modern day birds and bats and see a resemblance with the pterosaurs. At least, we can see pterosaurs as the ancestors of flight, which we see modern day animals utilising today, whether they are bats or birds. To understand more about pterosaurs will involve much more fossil analysis, with help of cutting-edge techniques such as CT scanning.


Hebert Bruno Campos

I am investigating the anatomy of new pterosaur specimens from the Crato and Santana formations of Brazil. Additionally, I am finishing the description of an exceptionally wellpreserved pterosaur from the Jurassic Solnhofen of Germany, which includes a complete wing membrane with the unusual presence of internal structures, that are very rarely preserved in the fossil register and are barely studied. I am interested specifically in certain aspects of pterosaurs that were little explored previously. The new methodological technologies of analysis that are applied to the specimens allied to interpretation are an important part of the original collected data. I am using computer tomography (synchrotron and microtomography scans), as well as laser-stimulating photographs and UV light applied to three-dimensional skulls of Santana pterosaurs to collect information about the general neuroanatomy of derivate pterosaurs and then to apply to any intriguing aspects related to the pterosaur skull – olfactory and visual system, vascularity, intelligence, for example. Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.

Links Web - https:// pterosaurologist.files. Email - pterosaurologist@


Science & Research


The Oman Central Botanic Expedition by Stephanie Leonida A cross-cultural venture (guest writer)

Above: The expedition teams’ basecamp at night, in the central desert of Oman

Plants are sensitive to their environment, and may become threatened or extinct when faced with increased desertification and the onset of climate change. Therefore, gathering data on plants is of increasing importance, particularly in regions which have been under-studied. To address this, many botanists are helping to protect plants and maintain records on threatened species. Landscapes prone to desertification, such as Oman, show increasing urgency to record and study the plants (particularly endemics) which span the country’s varied landscape. Ghudaina Al Issai is a botanist and Plant Record Officer at the Oman Botanic Garden (OBG) who is working on such a cause. In January 2017, Ghudaina joined an international team of scientists in the Oman Central Desert Botanic Expedition. This venture was supported by the Anglo-Omani Society whose main goals are to foster the relationship between Oman and the UK; educating their respective cultures and uniting them through a common initiative. The aim of the expedition was to survey endemic plant species in order to establish and assess biogeographical boundaries. Research generated from this expedition will serve as the foundation stone for predictive models of where other plant species are located and the adaptive response of these plants to climate change. This will prove invaluable in protecting and conserving the unique and diverse flora of Oman. Here, we discuss with Ghudaina the motives behind this expedition and the OBG’s research.

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Science & Research


Q & A - Ghudaina Al Issai What can the data produced from the Oman Botanic Expedition 2017 bring to your research? The purpose of the Central Desert expedition was to establish a distribution pattern of the 7 surveyed endemics. The data will produce distribution maps as well as prediction models of where these species could be found elsewhere in the area using available climate data, soil analysis, and historical records. The findings will help us explore new areas to look for potential locations of these species. The data produced will also highlight some areas where there is lack of information and further research is required to further understand the pattern of the distribution of these species. What can the plant species mean for understanding Oman’s air systems, and climate change? It is possible that the species are concentrated based on some climate factor. We know that the central desert receives very minimal quantities of precipitation and the vegetation relies mainly on the fog system and mist that is the main source of moisture. However, there are no studies about the fog system and the amount of moisture the plants receive from this source. Finding these plants and some in abundance, showing their full growth cycle means that plant must receive moisture from somewhere. Climate change is a broad subject that cannot be speculated without the necessary data, however, I believe plants could tell us more about the effect of climate change.

How might this research benefit the conservation of Oman’s environment? Understanding the plants more and where they are found, especially those listed in the National Red List and are endemics (not found elsewhere in the world except Oman), will help to draw attention to the importance to conserve specific areas and to raise awareness about protecting those ecosystems where those rare and endemic plants are found. We aspire to draw attention to that area before any development project take place. Assessing the status of the plants and getting to know their abundance is crucial to be able to produce conservation action plans or monitoring programs or just raise awareness. Which plant species are of the highest interest and importance in this project, and why? Well, it is not easy to say, to me, they are of equal importance more or less, because all of them are endemics, however, there could be one single species of a higher interest due to its rarity and we hardly found one spot with this species, Polycarpaea jazirensis, I would personally like to know more why it’s so rare! What is the next step in your research goals? The next step is of course making our findings first available to all the partners who have kindly contributed to the success of this project and to the public. Secondly, this project has highlighted the importance of understanding the local climate in the central desert, and to understand the full picture, climate research has to be carried out in that area. Moreover, train more field botanists and field people to carry out such work and teach them the techniques and encourage the youth to train and work in the field of conservation.

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Science & Research

Thoughts from the writer Ghudaina has emphasized that this work will help to raise awareness about Oman’s botany and hopefully encourage conservation in the future. As an expedition member for the Oman Botanic Central Desert Expedition, I had the pleasure of witnessing Ghudaina’s passion in the field. The most striking feature of this expedition for me was the culmination of such a mentally and physically cohesive team of people. The instant our international team of scientists and science enthusiasts came together on the footsteps of Muscat University’s student halls, we all knew that each individual was here, present and completely invested in the purpose of this expedition. This was the prime medium which bound the team together. Our expedition team leader, Andrew Stokes-Rees was also formative in creating an efficient, well-oiled research team. Andrew was behind every meeting liaising between our team and members of the Oman Botanic Garden (OBG); pouring over survey maps under a starry night sky beside the campfire, coordinating team tasks and guiding the team through every step and providing an extra encouraging shove up a steep escarpment when my courage waned. Below: Expedition team being given tea and fresh fruit by passers-by (ex-pat construction workers)


- Stephanie Leonida

Throughout our scientific and cultural journey in Oman, my team and I consolidated strong friendships with Omani nationals from the OBG. Saif Al Hatmi and Abdulrahman Al Hinai, both botanists from the OBG were up there with Indiana Jones and William Beebe in my eyes. These botanical explorers of the new age were my teachers. They taught our team and I the defining characteristics of plant families we encountered and always indulged our questions, all the while retaining breadth of knowledge and brevity in explanation with a side of enlivening enthusiasm. Ghudaina only added to the enjoyment of our cultural exchange by bringing her knowledge of botanics and a lively spirit. One night at camp she went over the classification of plants collected in the field that day and offered to teach me how to write in Arabic; writing out the letters and spelling my name while sitting on our wadi mat upon the sands beneath the Arabian sky. Some of the expedition’s most defining moments manifested itself in the form of chai (tea) and chatter. While on the road, whether by the coast of Ras Madraka or within the uterine oasis of the Hajar mountains, the team and I were met by the Omani people with unwavering hospitality. Chai, coffee, dates and fruits are a traditional form of welcome and respite. This tradition harbingers back to the time of the nomadic Bedouin (seminomadic today), where such offerings welcome friends, neighbouring tribes wishing to trade goods and information regarding troubles including war, struggles regarding water, farming and family life. The expedition was a humbling learning experience. Scientifically, there was a central moment for me that resonated the importance of such raw ground-level research. Saif had unexpectedly stumbled across an extremely rare plant… Caralluma flava. It looked other worldly, like it was hand-picked from Avatar or After Earth. It looked like a succulent, thick and fleshy with a distinctive square stem. He scrambled

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Science & Research

Above: Rare plant ‘Caralluma flava’ collected in the field in Stephanie Leonida’s botanic field book. © 2018 Stephanie Leonida

Biology up the jagged sunbaked escarpment and broke off a piece of his specimen for my own collection. Later that day, our team received a surprise visit from a local seminomadic bedu couple. The lady came to sell handmade baskets woven from palm fronds and a traditional mask like those worn by the ladies for modesty. While I purchased the mask, I asked the lady through Raid, botanist and translator, what C. flava may have been used for.

She told me how to prepare it to relieve eye irritations with rash-like symptoms and inflammation. Saif later told me that this special plant also held properties that could alleviate the symptoms of diabetes. The invaluable raw data of the seven plant endemics collected on this expedition along with discovering rare and important plant species were central in making this scientific and cultural venture a success.

Bio Ghudaina Al Issai Ghudaina Al Issai is an experienced botanist at the Oman Botanic Garden (OBG) in Oman, having previously studied MSc Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants at University of Edinburgh.

Above: Ghudaina Al Issai, field botanist / researcher. © 2018 Ghudaina Al Issai


OBG LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin. com/company/oman-botanic-garden/ Expedition web:

The knowledge gained from analysis of our team’s findings will be shared through the interactive centre of the OBG, which will house Oman’s diverse flora for the enjoyment of national and international visitors. To preserve these species is to preserve the integrity and culture of Oman, its history and its people.

About the guest writer Stephanie Leonida Stephanie completed her BSc in Biology at Queen Mary University of London and followed on from her degree with a funded Masters focusing on the molecular components of ageing at Pretoria University of South Africa. She led plant specimen collections for the Oman Botanic Gardens as part of the Central Oman Botanic Expedition 2017, an initiative of the Diwan Royal Court.

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Science & Research

Sci Story

Electrical signalling in brain by Osama Harraz capillaries Dr. Osama Harraz shares with us an artistic rendition representing electrical signalling in brain capillaries, shown below. Also, he discusses key points in his research on blood flow in the brain, and the role of a phospholipid in the plasma membrane named phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate ('PIP2').

Above: Pictured is an artist’s rendering of a group of electric cables reflecting electrical signals transmitted in the brain capillaries. Image courtesy of Osama Harraz. © 2018 Osama Harraz Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.


Science & Research

Sci Story

Story behind the image written by Osama Harraz Capillaries, the smallest blood vessels, mediate the on-demand delivery of oxygen and nutrients required to support the function of active cells throughout the brain. But how blood flow is directed to cells in active brain regions to satisfy their energy needs is poorly understood. In a recent research article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), Harraz and colleagues report that the capacity of brain capillaries to sense neuronal activity, initiate and communicate electrical signals through coupled endothelial cells to feeding blood vessels is tightly controlled by a minor phospholipid, PIP2, in the capillary wall. The study demonstrates that the plasma membrane phospholipid, PIP2, is fundamental to sustaining the activity of inwardly rectifying potassium channels—the molecular feature that allows capillary endothelial cells to sense ongoing neuronal activity and trigger an increase in local blood flow. This phospholipid ensures efficient capillary-to-artery electrical signaling and therefore adequate blood flow to active brain regions. This study also shows that some chemical factors released in the brain, including those associated with neuronal activity, lower the levels of PIP2, which cripples capillary electrical signaling and cerebral blood flow.

Final thoughts The artistic image (shown on p16) which Dr. Osama Harraz has shared with us is used to represent key findings behind his research on blood flow to the brain. As part of his research team, he has found that a key phospholipid, PIP2, plays a key role in allowing an increase in blood flow to particular regions of the brain. This is because it helps drive appropriate electrical signalling between capillaries and arteries.


Dr. Osama Harraz Osama Harraz, PhD is currently a postdoctoral associate at the University of Vermont. Over the past 8 years, he has been exploring the cerebral circulation and the control of blood flow to the brain. Recent work by Dr. Harraz has revealed a novel aspect of brain capillaries and their dependence on minor phospholipids to control cerebral blood flow.

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Links See the research article which inspired this work by Harraz et al.



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How buying parts of the rainforest can help us save it, through Rainforest Trust

Above: Borneo Rainforest - shot from a drone. Image acredited to Rainforest Trust. Š 2018 Rainforest Trust

Rainforests are treasure troves of biodiversity which also absorb CO2 in the atmosphere combatting climate change, with roots that help stabilise soil and prevent erosion-induced deforestation and desertification. Today, protecting rainforests is becoming increasingly important as human land use has had devastating impacts in recent years. Though the rate has reduced, deforestation still remains a problem for rainforests. Individual conservationists, groups and larger organizations all have potential to combat deforestation in rainforests. Rainforest Trust has achieved significant results, by offering the public the opportunity to choose which conservation project their donation supports, and through this model, aims to achieve more. Today, we talk with the CEO of Rainforst Trust – Dr. Paul Salaman, about this vital conservation issue and the work of Rainforest Trust.

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Q & A - Paul Salaman Can you tell us a little about your personal background, and how Rainforest Trust began? At the age of eight, I met Sir David Attenborough and became enthralled by international wildlife conservation. As a teenager, I managed a nature reserve in London and traveled across the tropics visiting rainforests. A graduate of Oxford University, I described four bird species new to science over the last 20 years and joined Rainforest Trust in 2008. Rainforest Trust was started by a small group of concerned conservationists during a meeting in New York City in 1988. Our first office was in Washington DC, where we remained a small but passionate organization. About 10 years ago, we moved out to the rural VA countryside, where we have been able to steadily grow in size and scope, now housing a team of almost 40 and protecting more than 18 million acres.


Have there been any major challenges faced so far, such as with negotiations with communities that are local to the sites you seek to conserve? We strive to involve local communities from the beginning and make them a part of the protection process along the way. Not only has this made it possible for us to really avoid having conflicts with local communities, but it is also proven as the most effective long-term protection model.

Has your unique model to protect threatened tropical settings through the purchasing of land and protected area designation proven to be reliable and effective? Absolutely! We believe our record speaks for itself. We have placed over 18 million acres of tropical habitat into protection through purchase and designation. But we don’t stop working at a site after it is protected. We continue to help manage the protected area and ensure it remains protected into perpetuity.

Right: Caloola Nature Refuge in Australia - shot from a helicopter. Image acredited to Rainforest Trust. Š 2018 Rainforest Trust

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Conservation What are your proudest achievements so far? Our overall proudest achievement is 30 years of sticking to our mission statement to purchase and protect threatened habitats across the tropics, placing more than 18 million acres into protection and working towards another 32 million more by 2050.

Do you have any advice for other conservationists working on the problem of deforestation and climate change?


protected. I recommend conservationists focus on the tangible impacts of protecting tropical forests as quickly as possible.

How can our readers go about supporting your cause? Donating really is the best way to support our work! Our system is designed so that 100 percent of every donation goes directly to conservation action, thanks to the support of our board. And since we can protect an acre of tropical habitat for an average of just $2 and every donation is currently matched through our SAVES Challenge, every donation really matters at Rainforest Trust.

The majority of rainforests around the world remain unprotected; it is vital that conservation organizations work in partnership with local communities to ensure these habitats are

Final thoughts The urgency to protect rainforests is emphasized by Dr. Paul Salaman, who through an effective model at Rainforest Trust has used donations to directly purchase and protect land, creating immediate conservation results. This strategy could give food for thought on how other conservationists can achieve direct results for causes such as deforestation. Perhaps with the rising popularity of crowdfunding and social media, this could be a key way we can conserve our rich rainforests under threat, minimizing the effects of environmental problems such as climate change as a result.


Dr. Paul Salaman (CEO) At the age of eight, I met Sir David Attenborough and became enthralled by international wildlife conservation. As a teenager, I managed a nature reserve in London and traveled across the tropics visiting rainforests. A graduate of Oxford University, I described four bird species new to science over the last 20 years and joined Rainforest Trust in 2008.

Rainforest Trust Rainforest Trust is a leading international conservation organization that has been steadfast in its mission for 30 years to save endangered species through the purchase and protection of imperiled tropical habitats in partnership with local partners and communities. Above: Dr. Paul Salaman in the field. Š 2018 Rainforest Trust.

Links Web - Facebook - Twitter - Instagram -

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Conservation Conservationists

A pursuit of conservation in South Africa

Bianca Botha is an aspiring

conservationist in South Africa. Having faced various challenges in her pursuit for conservation, her drive to protect South Africa’s wildlife carries on. Having worked as a Conservation and Eco-tourism manager on a private ranch, she shares her personal experience of pursuing a path in conservation in South Africa, discussing key issues facing the wildlife in South Africa, offering solutions to tackle these.

Above: Bianca Botha leading an environmentally focussed program with children from the local township in Suipingstad. Song and dance along with storytelling easily bridge communication barriers with the local children. © 2018 Bianca Botha

Q & A - Bianca Botha Please provide a brief summary of your work and interests in conservation My work in conservation has involved veld reclamation and population control on a Private Ranch in Vivo Limpopo, South Africa. As the Conservation and Eco Tourism Manager I filled all conservation roles on the ranch, including, but not limited to; planning, research and implementation and supervision of these projects. For Eco-tourism, I was also responsible for hospitality and catering for our guests – many of which were from the USA or UK. I like to use these opportunities to do some environmental education, offering the clients game drives or guided walks where I can teach them more about Africa, the fauna and flora and most importantly get the message out about the conservation crisis in South Africa and what they could do to help, even if it is just talking about it back home. My interest in conservation has and always will be in research, however, being in the tourism industry is currently

helping me get a great picture and view of things from a different perspective, which I believe is now not only beneficial, but crucial to any research I do in future, be it in my articles themselves or in the way I present them to the public. My interactions with the rural communities and foreign clients has opened many new lines of thought and conversation. ..and your background? Conservation has been my passion from a very young age, since I can remember I wanted to be in the African Bush and learn about animals and the environment they live in. I grew up in Johannesburg, and spent most holidays on our family farm in Swartruggens, where I practiced my skills in tracking and identifying animals as well as meticulously recording their behaviour; (As well as a 5 year old could). When I was about 12,

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Conservation Conservationists I attended an Outdoor exhibition where I was approached by students from the Technical University of Pretoria and told about the degree in Nature Conservation, they wanted to sign me up right there and then, I didn’t want to tell them I was only 12. Since that day I did all my research into the university, the course they offered and how it compared to similar courses offered by other universities, and came to the conclusion the best place for me to study would be the Technical University of Pretoria. I attended the prep course in Grade 11 and was accepted to study for my National Diploma (NDip) before I had even completed my Matric exams. At this point I felt my life was made. Everything was perfect and I was on my way. I Completed my first two years being in the top 5 of my class and even having my Animal Behaviour lecturer hand back my second-year assignment after assessment with the comment that should I ever wish to do my Masters I should hand him that assignment again as is. I couldn’t believe it, I had handed in a Masters level quality assignment in my second year National Diploma course. Again, I felt nothing could take this away from me. As life is, it will always find a way to knock you at some point. Towards the end of my second year, my parents divorced. It wasn’t pretty. I was at home one day over December and found a bunch of my father’s bills and accounts, did some math and realized that I could not go back to University without condemning the rest of my family, or at the very least my Father to crippling debt for the rest of his life. My brother was going to complete his final year to become a Physiotherapist, and my sister needed to complete her last year of high school. Both such important years, I couldn’t take that away from them, nor allow my father to incur even more

debt in order to pay for them; as well my third year, while still trying to stay alive himself during an ugly divorce. I sat my father down when he got home and told him I will not be going back to university, and that I will find a job to attempt to pay for my studies myself. I struggled to find work at first, and when I did, I realised it was going to be difficult to save enough money to study. Moving from one job to the next, I hoped each would be better, and help me reach my goal sooner, it has been 8 years and no such luck. Due to the unemployment rate in our country, the fact that I only have a matric certificate to my name, my status as a white bisexual female who is also Afrikaans, all proved to be hindrances to being hired. Many years passed and many character building experiences later, I finally got the opportunity to work on a Game Ranch in Limpopo. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands, and was there for almost 4 years. I started as the hospitality manager, keeping my hopes up that should the position in the breeding, game management or conservation field open up that I would be given the chance to take over these positions. The hard work and waiting paid off – as mangers left the ranch, I was moved up and assigned the new title of Conservation and eco-tourism manager. Having the opportunity to do what I love, I turned my focus to new possibilities and means of completing my studies. The University of South Africa now also offers NDip Nature conservation and I can do this course via mail or online channels, needing only to attend a few practical courses and examinations. I am able to keep my current position, while studying for a diploma and hopefully soon after, my degree. The only barrier is funding. I was lured to accept the position on the ranch with the promise of assistance to complete my studies. This proved to be fruitless, my salary also did not permit for me to save more than R100-R200 a month, at which rate I would only be able to apply to study by age 38 and pay the balance by age 60. It was with this realization that I turned to crowdfunding, a popular concept in USA and some places in the UK, however, not so popular or well-known in South Africa. My crowdfunding page was up for a year and not a single donation came in. I lost hope and became seriously depressed. I straightened myself out and decided to try again, I reactivated the page and hit twitter, Facebook and every other social media platform I could imagine. I also started a blog and started writing about the work I

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Conservation Conservationists do, the thoughts I have and the trials and tribulations I go through in this struggle to reach a dream I have had since I was a very young child. I now take every free moment I have to share my information and my request for assistance. I plan to approach a number of corporates to ask if they would mind sponsoring a dream, I constantly speak to friends and family about it and it’s starting to pay off. To date I have received R2500.00 in donations toward my studies, A far cry from the R100000.00 + needed, but it’s a start. What has inspired you for your current pursuits in conservation? Conservation and the entire spectrum of work involved in it has always been my passion so very little inspiration is needed for me to do any work relating to conservation, it comes naturally and is easy for me and I love it. I would say though, that seeing what my friends from University have been doing, and the projects they have been working on; the difference they have been making has been an inspiration to me. At times I would feel depressed, feel I’m not doing enough or I could be doing what they are, only I can’t for the simple lack of a piece of paper, however, since I became conservation and ecotourism manager I made it my mission to do as much as I possibly can, where I can I try to involve my fellow conservationists, researchers, Public Relations Officers and the community around me a much as possible, finding more inspiration in that as I do. Regarding issues with the snaring of wildlife in South Africa, what can be done to discourage these practises? The best thing that can be done to discourage these practices is to hire and implement more Public relations officers and environmental education. Public relation officers are our direct connection to these people and can give us, and them, the best understanding of what the other needs, wants and is going through on a day-to-day basis. Education is the first step, the next step is of severe importance; to train the community, give them jobs and/or incentives to protect the Parks, ranches and natural habitats and

Above: Madikwe elephants at Impodimos waterhole. The elephants in Madikwe are proof of Madikwe's conservation success after their relocation from other parks and countries. They may, however, be too successful and conservation will need to carefully control the population so they do not exceed the areas carrying capacity. © 2018 Bianca Botha

animals around them. If land and farm owners had better relationships, and people in rural areas could be assured a weekly wage or meal that evening, they would stop poaching. This has been tried and tested on a few ranches, having shown great results! The land/ranch owners simply need to get together with the public relations officer and the chief/king of the local tribes and come to an agreement of what can be offered in exchange either for service, to find and remove snares and scrap wire or string from the ranch, or for assistance in reporting poachers. So, in short, to discourage poachers, we must identify the reasons they are poaching - is it to eat, to sell to the bush meat market, or to the Sangomas (Traditional healers). Finding out whether it is for food, money or other reasons, will give the best indication of what measures to implement, ie. such as providing them with food, employment, or education. In particular, education is key. It should be emphasized by any conservationist, regardless of who they are talking to, whether it be the Queen, or the homeless man on the street. Are there any other key conservation or environmental issues you would like to share? Hollywood. A very out of the box concept is that the media of Hollywood could benefit conservation, but very few people have used this. Hollywood has an incredible reach to the African nations and people,

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Conservation Conservationists they strive to be what they see on the silver screen. So, just an Idea that I had, is that if the silver screen, could include more people picking up litter, not using plastic, having recycling bins in their homes or being involved in recycling projects, which may then spill over to the viewers, where they would follow suite with their heroes on screen. I also think that companies that reuse or produce plastic or Styrofoam waste should own up for their part in the global pollution problem, but do so in a positive way that would help others. Firstly, they should connect with persons or corporations who use plastic to create new items, such as furniture made of recycled plastic. Secondly, countries that have a high consumption of these items should be incentivised to collect them, to benefit the country/organization that collects the most. For example, in South Africa, schools

Final thoughts

are approached by Collect-A-Can which incentivizes schools to collect cans, the school collecting the most cans wins a prize. Some schools even do this just on their own, offering a prize, often a day off or an excursion, to the grade collecting the most cans. Imagine if this could become a global initiative. Pollution is one of the main conservation issues we face, which has been around the longest. At the moment I think that’s the one I would focus on. What would you like to achieve next? Obviously my most important achievement to focus on now is raising funds for my NDip. Once I have that It will be to complete my Diploma in record time and Graduate. Once I have Graduated I will most definitely aim to be more involved with the communities around me and to start implementing recycling projects and monthly Environmental education excursions for the children of local communities. We need to start by educating them, they will go home and educate their family. By educating the young, they will be the change needed in their communities, resulting in a better future for us all. Right: Bianca Botha - Having previously worked as a conservation and Eco-tourism manager for a small ranch, she hopes to raise funds to complete her studies in conservation and start programs in local rural areas to do environmental education. © 2018 Bianca Botha

Bianca Botha emphasizes education is vital when resolving conservation issues in South Africa. If stability can be provided for those in need, people would not be so inclined to resort to snaring and poaching wildlife. She also suggests that the media, notably Hollywood, could have an important role to play for the promotion of conservation and sustainability in South Africa, and perhaps across the world also. With a motivation to take her work further, she is crowdfunding to fund her education.


Bianca Botha Bianca Botha is a young aspiring conservationist working in tourism while striving towards further education. Crowdfunding for her studies through her “Dollar for a dream – Conservation study campaign”.

Links Facebook - Twitter - @BiancaBotha211 Blog - https:/ Instagram -

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Conservation Conservationists

Wildlife crime: Hidden and in plain sight?

by Chris Long (guest writer)

While wildlife crime may be becoming an increasing problem, and can come in

many forms, there is an increasing need for conservationists to work to reduce it, as outlined by The Wildlife Trusts - “Wildlife crime can take many forms… These range from organised crimes, such as the trade in endangered species, to people shooting at birds with air guns”. Here, we discuss what inspires Antaia Christou to help fight the wildlife crime of illegal bird trapping, having studied conservation in the United Kingdom, inspired by her experience of this illegal practice while growing up in Cyprus. The wide range of forms of wildlife crime can make it difficult to both monitor and prevent. Similarly, those that engage in illegal activities concerning wildlife also have a wide range of motivations for their actions. Farmers may kill predators they consider a threat to their livestock such as predatory birds like hawks, or lynx and wolves. As custodians of the land they often feel that financial compensation for lost earnings doesn’t quite cover the cost of losing control of a landscape they play a key role in maintaining. In other cases, wildlife is a resource instead of a problem: bush hunters hunt bushmeat to sell at markets when their jobs or farming is not enough for them to make ends meet, or for their own consumption. Rare animals are sought after to sell to professional Above: ‘Black cap on a limestick’. CABS Camp, Cyprus, September 2015. Antaia criminals, Illegal logging, mining or Christou - “The moment I first saw a blackcap caught on a limestick. It was unable to extraction of valuable resources may also go ahead free itself, yet it was still trying to escape. We freed the bird and collected the rest of the limesticks in the area and freed another two blackcaps.” © 2018 Antaia Christou without permission, devastating an ecosystem via funding from benefactors willing to operate outside the law. In all cases the causal factors for these crimes vary widely, and thus require a wide variety of strategies to tackle them. Antaia Christou, now working with BirdLife Malta as a conservation assistant discusses how her experiences have led her to become involved in conservation work to reduce incidences of wildlife crime, including illegal bird trapping. Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.


Conservation Conservationists

Q & A - Antaia Christou Can you tell me a little about your background? I studied Geography in London. I was always interested in nature and the relationships humans have with the physical environment. Then I went on to study Conservation at UCL and became more involved with environmental NGOs and activist groups such as CABS (Committee Against Bird Slaughter). After my studies, I began working with BirdLife Malta as Conservation assistant, where part of my work was tackling and reporting wildlife crime as well as wild bird rehabilitation. What inspired you to focus on wildlife crime in particular? In Cyprus there is a long (and sadly still) living tradition of bird trapping and eating songbirds as delicacies. This practice is illegal since 1974 but it dates back to medieval times. Small songbirds are still trapped with mist-nets and with sticks that are covered with glue (limesticks). Being Cypriot is impossible not to notice the cruelty and the corruption involved with this illegal practice since it fuels a “business” with millions of euros turnover. The moment I came across a blackcap trapped on a limestick (as shown in image ‘Blackcap on a limestick’) I became inspired and decided to focus on this area of work. This small bird, no bigger than a 15 cm, weighing not more than 25 grams, having its wings, its tail and legs completely stuck on a limestick; I was shocked. Freeing that female blackcap, with much patience, some water and some saliva and seeing it flying off I was hooked. This area of work can be both deeply saddening and hugely rewarding. [see image above of a Blackcap on a limeestick].

that protect nature in their country or abroad. Furthermore, even if people do notice an illegality, wildlife crime is thought of as a “lesser crime” by many. Therefore, many people wouldn’t report it to the police or the local authorities would say that they have “more important” crimes to tackle. All of these make it seem like wildlife crime does not occur very often. Is there a particular area of wildlife crime you are concerned about, and would like to share? I believe that illegal development is one of the most devious practices because they can go unnoticed and are controlled by big corporations with big sums of money and power most of the time. Furthermore, sometimes certain companies would in fact receive the approval from the government to build and destroy areas that are protected by national and/or international law. These are also the kind of crimes that many people won’t be aware of, or if they are aware of it is much more challenging to tackle because of the corruption that supports the illegality. Illegal development is therefore an area of wildlife crime that I am concerned about because of the irreversible effects it has on the area and the biodiversity that exists and also because of the challenges in halting such developments.

Do you think wildlife crime occurs more often than is generally thought? I believe wildlife crime occurs on an everyday basis, however on a bigger scale it happens in secrecy. Therefore, it is very hard to notice, especially for people who are unaware of the laws in place Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.


Conservation Conservationists

Thoughts from the writer

- Chris Long

Many would agree, along with Antaia Christou, that trapping birds and wildlife to many is sinister and heartless. Though, others may be more concerned with issues affecting human beings first and foremost, or have more concern for domesticated animals, rather than wild animals. Local traditions may drive wildlife hunting on many scales, while contributing to the under-reporting of these crimes. It would be very clear to anyone what was going on if stumbling across a bird glued to a branch, or trap set to snare a predator. Because of emotive experiences like this, animal rights and environmental groups from Friends of the Earth to hunt saboteurs gain members yearly. This difference in opinion will always cause conflict. Addressing what drives people to commit these crimes in the first place may often be the only solution, so it is important to identify where the symptoms can be treated.

Bio Antaia Christou I studied Conservation at UCL and Geography at Queen Mary University of London. The last years I have been working and volunteering with organizations that focus on wildlife crime. At the moment I am working for BirdLife Malta on a project about bird tourism on the Maltese islands.

Antaia acknowledges how larger-scale organized crime and corruption can have very long-lasting and severe effects on an ecosystem while going unnoticed by most. Although conspicuous, illegal and/or ecologically damaging development by corporations still go unnoticed under the assumption that all development projects are authorised and legitimate. It is organized wildlife crime of this nature that has proved so difficult to stop. The power held by corporations is often too much for an individual, and has spurred groups like Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace and local communities to protest and take direct action to stop such practices. Anyone interested in nature and the environment are encouraged to be aware of their local issues. Getting involved in something you care about helps you to make connections with people, learn more about your interests and discover new ones too. Preventing wildlife crime may not be for the faint hearted, whether it be reducing animal suffering or hindering ecologically damaging operations, volunteering your time with local groups can make a real difference.


About the guest writer Chris Long

Twitter - @antaiachristou

I studied Ecology and Environmental Science (BSc Hons) at the University of Edinburgh. Currently volunteering with the Iceland Environment Agency, I am developing practical skills & experience for a future career. Science communication has been central to my life and without it my worked would be very different. I'll always jump at the chance to share my enthusiasm for understanding the world around us!

instagram - https://www.instagram. com/antaia.christou/

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Scicomm (Science communication)

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Exploring evolution through 'Darwinian Adventures'

Sara Kaltz is the creator of

Darwinian Adventures - a blog helping us understand and appreciate evolution, supplemented with her own artistic graphics. This creative scicomm project helps consolidate scientific concepts about evolution in eye-catching and understandable ways. Here, we discuss more about this project and her interest in evolution.

Above: ‘Mutualistic Coevolution Between Insects and Plants’ The hawk moth and sacred datura flower are one example of coevolution between insects and plants. The hawk moth has a long proboscis (tongue) that it uses to reach the nectar at the bottom of the long-tubed sacred datura flower. © 2018 Sara Kaltz

Q & A - Sara Kaltz What is your background and what brought you into your current area of study? I have always loved learning about animals. When I was a kid, my mom subscribed me to an animal themed magazine. These fascinated me and I still have a couple of my favorites. It was this fascination with the animal world that led me to study Zoology for my Bachelor’s. I later did my Master’s in Science Communication and Natural History Filmmaking, where I combined my passion for nature with my thirst to learn new programs and technology.

Why is evolution a key interest of yours? I first heard of evolution in grade school, but the description consisted of only a couple of lines in our textbook. Then at university, a whole class was dedicated to the topic. Everything I learned in that class made sense. The more I learned, the more I looked at the natural world differently. My thinking changed from ‘animals are fascinating because they do interesting things’ to ‘animals are fascinating because of how they adapted to their environment’.

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Scicomm Are there any particular topics in conversation you would like to share?

Bio Sara Kaltz My name is Sara Kaltz. During the day I work for Women in Science Parkville Precinct, a nonprofit organization that aims to boost the number of women scientists in leadership positions. And at night, I share my curiosity about our natural world through Darwinian Adventures.

Even though my initial interest was in the animal world, I’ve grown an appreciation for plant life. Photosynthesis is what allows other life to exist. And flowering plants, in particular, are incredibly diverse at around 400,000 species! Then we get into the topic of coevolution between flowering plants and animals. Insects and other pollinators are built to feed from certain flowers. There’s a delicate system and humans have only a small understanding of it.


fall asleep. I needed a creative outlet, and I needed to grow an understanding and appreciation for how evolution shapes our world. Darwinian Adventures was born. What will you be working on next? The next step is to create videos focusing on new research. I want to popularize fields such as evolutionary biology, zoology, and paleontology.

Can you tell us a little about your blog and what inspired you to create it? I was working as an assistant editor at a television production company. I was learning new technical skills, but I didn’t have a hand in creating anything. At the same time, I read these results from a survey conducted by Pew Research: Having grown up in a religious family, I understand the hesitation to accept evolution and the misunderstanding of the topic. Then, as many could probably relate, I had the idea for Darwinian Adventures during a night when I couldn’t

Links Web - www.darwinianadventures. com Instagram - darwinianadventures Twitter - @DarwinianAdvntr

Above: ‘Public Acceptance of Human Evolution’ This infographic is based on the results of a 2015 survey conducted by Pew Research Center to see how the general American population viewed evolution. © 2018 Sara Kaltz

Final thoughts Many scientists can relate to Sara's childhood passion for animals, developing into an interest in evolution and environmental adaption. Evolution continues to have enough mystery for us to make more and more discoveries, especially with the onset of technological advancement, such as more powerful genetic and genomic sequencing tools. Popularizing an interest and understanding in evolution, which Sara Kaltz helps to do, will hopefully share the appreciation for nature in communities which are less familiar with science.

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Molecular Biology SciArt

Beata Edyta Mierzwa creates SciArt to communicate ideas in molecular biology

and spark more creativity in the scientific community. In addition to making engaging visuals, she has consolidated complex science concepts into visually engaging and meaningful caricatures, which has been helping others remember key scientific concepts. Here, she speaks with us about her background and shares a few unique ways in which she creates artwork to communicate science.

Above: ‘Minibrain’. Illustration by Beata Edyta Mierzwa, © 2018 Beata Science Art

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Q & A - Beata Edyta Mierzwa How and why do you make SciArt? My curiosity about the wonders of life and what we are made of inspired me to pursue a career in science, and spending a lot of time behind the microscope made me start to appreciate the visual beauty of biology. I realized that science and art have a great deal in common and that combining these passions creates a unique way to communicate science. I want to add some creativity to the conventional forms of scientific communication, with the aim to spark interest inside and outside the scientific community. I made my first science artwork to depict the theme of my PhD research, and realized that showing a drawing as part of my scientific presentations tended to stay in people’s memories. This is one of the initial reasons that I began making sciencethemed art, and I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback I received from the scientific community. These incredibly rewarding experiences encouraged me to start creating illustrations for other people’s research as well as my own, and I started spending countless nights drawing in addition to my daily experiments in the lab. I create my artworks by making a detailed pencil drawing on paper and then adding colors digitally. Drawing by hand allows me the greatest level of details, and for me, nothing can replicate the texture and feel of a real pencil on paper. When the black and white drawing is finished, I make a highresolution scan and add the colors using a tablet computer, allowing me to experiment with different styles and color schemes. In addition, I design science-inspired clothes printed with drawings and microscopy images. Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.


I have made artwork for conferences, journal covers, and research groups. I love learning about other people’s research and the challenge of translating their exciting scientific discoveries into visuals, breaking down the essence of their findings. It is a very individual process and to me every drawing is special and unique. What brought you to specialise on researching cell division in animal cells? After studying Molecular Biology, I initially worked in very diverse research fields, but it was during my Master’s thesis that I discovered my passion for cell division. I was fascinated by a recent discovery about the final step in cell division – that cells use spirals to narrow their connection up until they separate. I was intrigued that such a prominent structure, involved in a process that had been studied for centuries, could remain undiscovered for so long. The chance to uncover such mysteries is the reason why I chose to focus on cell division. How do you utilise art to communicate science? I create my drawings to communicate science in different ways – for scientists to appreciate biological findings in a refreshing way, and for non-scientists to discover the beauty in fundamental biological principles. To communicate complex research findings, I mix abstract biological concepts with intuitive elements. For example, a pair of hands pulling apart DNA (see p34) shows how cells need to generate force to segregate their chromosomes during mitosis, or cells using scissors to cut their connection in the last step of cell division.




Above: ‘Chromosome segregation'. © 2018 Beata Science Art

I love showing processes within the cells that make life possible and most of my drawings focus on the molecular level. For every drawing I post on my website and social media, I attach a brief explanation about the biology behind the artwork. With this, I want to make sure that fascination for biology is not forgotten among so much controversy and disbelief about scientific facts today. I want to show how biology offers so much more than the oversimplified concepts from the textbooks, and how much there is still to discover. Can you share a little about what inspired your ‘microscopy fashion’? As I started doing a lot of microscopy during my PhD, I realized that cell division is not only a beautifully orchestrated process but is also visually stunning. As scientists we have a great privilege to appreciate the beauty of cellular structures, yet we rarely share these images beyond our labs or conferences. My microscopy fashion was born out of the desire to

share these images with the rest of the world and to give everybody a glimpse of what has been fascinating scientists for centuries. My science fashion turned out to be a great way to communicate science as well. Even just wearing these clothes on the streets often sparks conversations about biology. It’s always a pleasure to explain that the prints are not just random colorful patterns, but actually a part of the tiny universe that lies within all living organisms. How has your science-art been received by scientists, and the public? Ever since I presented my first drawing, I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback I received for the unconventional style and the hand-drawn character in a field where computer generated artwork has been prevailing. Many people both from inside and outside the scientific community started reaching out, including some scientists whose work I really admire, as well as other science artists that have inspired me for a long time.

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Those moments are incredibly rewarding and a wonderful motivation for me to keep on making art, and I’m excited to continue my artistic adventures in the future. Which pieces are your proudest sci-art creations?

Above: ‘Worm secrets’ illustration. © 2018 Beata Science Art

Bio Beata Edyta Mierzwa ('Beata Science Art') Beata is a scientist based in Austria, focusing on animal cell division. Through her project titled 'Beata Science Art' she combines her passions in science and art' to create unique illustrations.

For me every drawing is unique in its own way, which makes it challenging to pick a favorite. What counts for me is not only the end result, but also the process of translating complex scientific findings into aesthetic visuals while experimenting with new styles that are outside my comfort zone. Though I can’t pick a favorite, some of my works stand out for the attention they received. It was amazing for me to see my drawing ‘Chromosome Segregation’ (see p34), which I made for the poster of the 82nd Cold Spring Laboratory Symposium, displayed in institutes all over the world. It was also a huge honor to receive the first prize at the Worm Art Show for ‘Worm Secrets’ (see image above), and I received great feedback for ‘Minibrain’ (see p32), which was picked as the cover for the EMBO Journal and the poster for an upcoming EMBL Symposium.

Final thoughts We can see that Beata shares an inner world of molecular biology with us through her work, in her project 'Beata Science Art'. Her unique method of combining hand drawings with digital color creates vibrant and eyecatching results. While the symbolism used is simple and effective, it helps us remember key concepts which could be considered complex scientific processes. Her art has been shared in both the world of science and art, being featured on academic journal covers, and in art exhibitions.

Links Web - Twitter - @beatascienceart

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Microscopic illustrations in cell biology

Observing natural objects under the microscope helps us

understand structures and mechanics at work on a deeper level, and we can also appreciate them aesthetically. Leah Bury is a biologist and artist who has a fascination for the microscopic world, focusing on cell biology. We can look into microscopic-level biological processes like cell division with Leah’s art, fuelled by her scientific and creative interests, as she discusses with us, below.

Above: ‘Telophase’ by Leah Bury © 2018 Leah Bury

Above: ‘Telophase’ by Leah Bury © 2018 Leah Bury

Q & A - Leah Bury What drew you into the field of cell biology? My journey into the world of cell biology was quite serendipitous. I did not grow up knowing I wanted to be a scientist. Of course, I could say as a child I was unusually inquisitive and curious about the living world that surrounded me – but then again, what child isn’t? In high school, my interests and talents spanned a large Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.

field – I enjoyed chemistry and biology, but also art, Latin, philosophy, and literature. One of the common themes perhaps was a passion for solving problems. The pride and pleasure I received from successfully translating a sentence from Latin, or solving a math equation, was extremely satisfying and motivating for me. When two of my closest friends, whose opinion and judgement I highly valued, decided to study biochemistry, I started wondering whether that was something that I could do, too. While doing research 36

Scicomm online, I came across a program called Molecular Medicine which was offered at a selected number of universities across Germany, The more I read about it the more excited I became - so I applied. The program, a fusion between medicine and biology, made me appreciate the larger context and gave me the “big picture” view of cell biology. Through classes, including anatomy, pathology, histology, and internal medicine I became aware that every organ, every tissue in our bodies is made up of billions and billions of cells whose proper function is fundamental to our health [potential standfirst?], reproduction, and survival. This ignited my curiosity and, I wanted to understand more about how these miniature factories work… What interests you about the microscopic world? There are two primary aspects about the microscopic world that appeal to me. Firstly, cells are just absolutely beautiful – sitting in front of the microscope is never boring and every single time I’m in neverending awe. Secondly, the logic inherent to biology never fails to amaze me: every single protein that is made has a function and specific purpose. With these proteins, cells have figured out the perfect way for everything: the perfect way to divide, the perfect way to bundle up their entire DNA into miniature compacted chromosomes, and the perfect way to build an entire human body. As scientists, all we are doing is constantly chasing after them, trying to understand the amazing ways nature has chosen to solve all these essential problems. Above: ‘Interphase’ by Leah Bury. © 2018 Leah Bury Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.


Overall, what are you aiming to share through your art? My goal is to show people that science can be very funny and humorous. Yes, we do work in labs and wear white coats (occasionally), but there’s a lot more to us than that! Science is fun, and it is everywhere, and it should concern and interest every one of us. Are there any particular art pieces you would like to share and discuss here? What first comes to mind is my series on mitosis. My PhD work, as well as my postdoc project involve studying cell division. Therefore I feel most passionate about this work and fascinated by its sheer beauty. Mitosis is the process of cell division, in which one cell produces two new daughter cells that will be genetically identical to each other. Mitosis occurs during development, in order to build more cells to allow an organism to grow. It also takes place throughout the lifetime of an organism, as means to replace old cells with new ones. Defects during cell division could result with cells containing either too few or too many chromosomes, which is why the process of mitosis requires absolute accuracy. These defects are associated with developmental disorders, and with diseases such as cancer. Based on visual observations, mitosis is classically divided into five phases: prophase, prometaphase, metaphase, anaphase and telophase. The goal of mitosis is to line up the duplicated chromosomes in the middle of the cell, and then split them apart. A tool, known as the mitotic spindle, which assembles a spider-like structure, supports this process. 37

Scicomm The spindle consists of microtubules that connect to the chromosomes and, by growing and shrinking, provide the forces required to separate the duplicated chromosomes from each other. While the chromosomes move to opposite poles, the center of the cell contracts, pinching off the two new-born daughter cells. What do you think is the value in combining science and art? For me, art and science complement each other and are similar in many respects, yet they are so very different on other


levels. Let me explain: In science, you address problems by forming a hypothesis and following a sense of logic. You need to properly plan and control your experiments. In art, you have the freedom to go with your instincts. Art allows space for playfulness, creativity and for spontaneous exploration that science does not. Science can be abstract, whereas art is inherently visual. Art therefore has two functions – it balances my brain doing scientific work, but it also has the power to translate science and thus to communicate complex and abstract ideas in a simplified visual way.

Bio Leah Bury I am Leah, a cell biologist working as postdoc at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, MA (USA). I am also an artist, and combining my two passions, I create unique, science inspired art.

Above: ‘Metaphase’ by Leah Bury. © 2018 Leah Bury

Links Web -

Above: ‘Prometaphase’ by Leah Bury. © 2018 Leah Bury

Final thoughts While both the aesthetic aspects and the appeal of solving a puzzle have engaged Leah Bury in her studies, through her illustrations, she shares the magic of natural processes in cell biology, which we cannot see with the naked-eye. Here, we can take home the idea that although art and science are fundamentally different, the two areas can balance eachother out, as art can be a powerful communicator to demonstrate hidden processes occuring in nature.

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Icy artwork inspired by climate science field work

Climate science is a growing field,

with modern-day importance. Climate scientists often extract cores of ice from glaciers, and apply sophisticated analysis techniques to the ice samples to help us understand more about what has been going on in regions of the earth, and about climate change as a whole. Outside of the lab, the art world can have an important role to play for climate change awareness as well.

Above: ‘Snowy Ridge II 11x14’ by Leslie Sobel. © 2018 Leslie Sobel

Leslie Sobel is an artist who has had the unique experience of working alongside climate scientists first-hand, while exposed to the icy elements of the Eclipse ice field in the Yukon Territory, Canada. Leslie has experienced working alongside these field scientists, and here shares her experience and art with us...

Above: ‘Sheep Mt & Kluane Lake’ by Leslie Sobel. © 2018 Leslie Sobel

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Q & A - Leslie Sobel Coming from a family with strong interests in science (as I read on your blog), what pulled you towards pursuing art, and how has this background influenced your art? 
 I have always been driven visually. As a child I drew, painted and photographed. It was never a conscious decision - I just always interacted with the world from a visual standpoint. With two parents who were scientists we always looked at the world through a scientific lens as well. That meant family vacations which included rock hunting, camping and hiking as well as lots of museums. We had all kinds of animals home over vacations from my mother’s science classroom and subscriptions to publications like Science News and National Geographic in the house.

Above: ‘Slims River Drainage - triptych’ by Leslie Sobel. © 2018 Leslie Sobel

When I got interested in microscopic things my parents got me a microscope which I still have and use. My parents were supportive of my art interests even though they were obviously worried I wouldn’t be able to earn a living. Given an upbringing where science was omnipresent and so were deep interests in culture it wasn’t a reach to become an artist. My parents were more culturally connected with music and while I am deeply moved by music I have little talent and certainly don’t think musically whereas I do think visually.

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What inspired you to embark on the climate science expedition to the Eclipse ice field (Kluane National Park, Yukon Territory)? I was actually trying to get to Antarctica! I had written a proposal to the National Science Foundation’s Artists & Writers in Antarctica program. I am interested in glacier melt and sea level rise so had reached out to glaciologist Seth Campbell about working with him. Seth was enthused and had written a letter of support. When I didn’t get funded he said he also worked in the north, it’s easier and less costly to get there and did I want to come? I’ve long been interested in the effects of climate change on the high latitudes and wilderness and how that has an impact on everything else so I was delighted to have a chance to get there. Seth and I hope to continue working together north and south in the future since he is strongly vested in the idea of communicating the science in as many modes as possible. Did your perspective on the reality of climate change alter after your expedition experience? It did! Before I even got to the Yukon I had heard about how the Slims River had been “poached” by the retreat of the Kaskawulsh Glacier. Instead of feeding the river and being the main source of water filling Kluane Lake the glacier had retreated so far that it flowed into the Kaskawulsh and then Alsek Rivers. As a result the lake level was down more than a meter when I was there (and more than 3 meters today). This was dramatic - the dry river bed filled the air with glacial dust on windy days. I flew over the empty river channels twice on my way to and from the high country so was able to photograph it. 40

Scicomm What artwork have you been producing as a result of this experience, and what mediums do you use? I work in a variety of media including photography oil, encaustic painting and monotype and mixed media assemblage. I have been making a series of mixed media assemblages that I refer to as shrines or reliquaries. These pieces include imagery of places that are changing due to climate change, often incorporating scientific data and aerial imagery. I have worked largely in encaustic for most of 20 years but that often ends up combined with other media, especially if I am including scientific data or imaging in a piece.


What take-home message would you want to share with others after this experience? We tend to assume that what we see is the norm and that it has always been that way. Scientists monitoring changes over long periods of time counter that misapprehension. As an artist being in the field and learning what was changing was powerful and made me think hard about how to express that idea visually as art not scientific illustration. One of the central fallacies from those fighting climate change action is that what is here now is normal. It takes data to demonstrate that it is not and we artists can make that into a form that people resonate with in a way that they may not with scientific reporting alone.

Final thoughts Bio Leslie Sobel Leslie Sobel is the daughter of two scientists. She’s a hiker, activist, music lover and an MFA student at midlife. Mother of three, married for 32 years.


Leslie Sobel's art speaks out with environmental concern, through which she emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the effects of climate change in our environment. As Leslie discusses, effects of the retreat of the Kaskawulsh Glacier within Kluane National Park, has dried up the Slim’s river, lowering the water level of Lake Kluane which it feeds into. The travel path of meltwater was moved into the Kaskawulsh river instead. While the retreat of the Kaskawulsh Glacier has had these effects, perhaps it could have further impacts across the Yukon territory, Canada. Leslie witnessed the dried up river beds of the Slim’s river first hand, which may have enhanced her concern on the reality of climate change. While many of us know about climate change's existance, close-to-home experiences like this may make the reality of it more alarming to us.

Above: ‘Icefield edge’ by Leslie Sobel. © 2018 Leslie Sobel


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SciArt show at Laurentian University

SciArt is an artistic form of science communication which has a growing

community. Events such as exhibitions at universities can bring different communities together, and invite art into the 'scientific workplace'. Thomas Merritt has helped to found an event which brings SciArt into his home territory - Laurentian University. This is the ‘LU SciArt Show’, encouraging students in science to think creativity, and engage creatives in science. Thomas Merritt shares with us more about this unique event.

Right: LUSciArt at Science North Over 8,000 people saw the Laurentian University SciArt show while it was on display in the lobby of Science North, Canada’s second largest science centre, in Spring 2018. © 2018 Thomas Merritt Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.



The SciArt show


by Thomas Merritt

SciArt, an intersection of science and art, engages both traditional and non-traditional audiences in science and cultural and ethical issues around science. Since 2014, I’ve worked with a small group of professors to organize a SciArt show on the Laurentian University (LU) campus. The LU show came to be as I was looking to creatively engage the community in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). I wanted to engage not just people like me, the dedicated science-types, but also people like my brother, the professional sculptor. SciArt was the perfect solution. It encourages scientists to think creatively and artists to explore scientific concepts. Every year I’m blown way by the talent of the participants – and also their creativity and insight into both scientific concepts and cultural issues. Over the last five years, partnerships have helped to expand the reach of the show on campus and in the broader community. Originally envisioned as a way to engage students, staff, and faculty across campus, we now have a substantial number of participants, (over half of the show in 2018!) from the community of Greater Sudbury (a city of 160,000 in Northern Ontario), including representation from local primary and secondary schools. We have also diversified efforts across campus, including “traditional” science departments like, Chemistry, Physics, and Biology, but now also humanities groups including the School of Education and the Department of Sociology. Throughout, we have had strong support from Osman Abou-Rabia, the LU Research Office and the Dean of the Faculty of Science, Engineering, and Architecture. For the last two years, the LU SciArt Show has partnered with Chantal Barriault and the Laurentian University graduate program in Science Communication (SciComm). This unique hands-on program guides students in developing the knowledge and skills needed to understand and effectively engage diverse audiences in science and the cultural complexities of science. As part of the LU SciArt Show, with support from David Lesbarreres, the Dean of Graduate Studies, a SciComm graduate student goes directly into science classrooms. This student works

Above: ‘Portrait of Alan Guth’ by Hadyn Butler. Guth is a theoretical physicist whose work explores the fundamental nature of the universe. Butler captures the wonder and excitement of Guth’s work, and the central role of bubbles in his theorizing, in this stained glass piece. © 2018 Thomas Merritt

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Scicomm with teachers and students to develop scientific ideas into art concepts and helps them complete the work. In addition to the artwork, the SciComm student works with the students to craft artist statements about the science of the piece and the artistic connection. These statements are an integral part of the audience experience and the work of the SciComm students. This year, the LU SciArt Show developed two new partnerships. These new connections enabled us to expand from a one-day event to a two-week event and increase the size of the show from 30 pieces to almost 90. One critical new connection was with the local Indigenous Community. Laurentian University is a tri-cultural university and in conversations with the students and faculty at the LU Indigenous Sharing


and Learning Centre we recognized that SciArt is way to engage the Indigenous Community in STEM. The partnership is in its infancy, but this year four artists who identify as Indigenous received awards in the show and the connections made are an important part of our reaching more broadly across our community. The second new partnership this year was with Science North, Canada’s second largest science centre. The staff at Science North, which is a mere kilometer from LU, saw a natural partnership with the SciArt show. They generously offered to not just host the show for two weeks, but also to create a set of awards highlighting connections between science, the environment and the local community. These awards were a great incentive to participate, especially for the primary

Above: ‘Anatomy of the Human Condition’ by Sudbury Secondary School Student Hannah Tessier Tessier explores the human condition and the barrage of hostile new stories in this mixed media piece. School students work with a Science Communication graduate student, this year Liz Vickers-Drennan, to investigate ideas and develop both their works of art and the artists’ statements that accompany them. © 2018 Thomas Merritt Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.




and secondary school students. The big draw, however, was the prestige and exposure of being at Science North; approximately 8,000 people saw the show during its exhibition there. The location and partnership also gave the show additional credibility in the community and we expect even greater participation next year. Most importantly, these partnerships contribute towards the fundamental aim of the LU SciArt Show – to engage, educate, and promote discussion. On a Saturday morning, about halfway through our time at Science North, I was setting up a handful of late pieces and got to eavesdrop on families as they walked through. The interest was infectious; parents and kids alike were studying and exploring the pieces. At one point, I overheard a young mom. Using a quilt, a painting, and artist statements, she first explained particle physics, then genomics, to her kindergarten-aged daughter. STEM outreach at its finest.

Bio Thomas Merritt Thomas Merritt, PhD, is a Professor and Canada Research Chair in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Laurentian University with a longstanding interest in science outreach.

Right: ‘A shiny Spider’ by Isabelle Ratte. Here the medium is both the art and the science. Ratte repurposes scientifically engineered items to meticulously assemble sculptures representing living organisms and everyday objects, encouraging us to re-examine both the items she repurposes and those that she represents. © 2018 Brandon Grey

Final thoughts

In 2014, he started the LU SciArt show with one stipulation: No Interpretive Dance. In 2018, he helped 160 4th, 5th, and 6th graders at RL Beattie Primary School create an interpretive dance of DNA replication, proving you’re never too old to correct your mistakes.

Links Twitter - @tjsmerritt Web - Science North web The Laurentian University Science Communication Program web

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SciArt events such as the Laurentian Art Show are not only beneficial for bringing scientists and artists closer together, as Thomas Meritt discusses it also is a way that other cultures can be engaged in that community. This event has been growing since its onset, particularly with the support of partnership and community engagement. Reflecting on the importance in communication of SciArt, perhaps this not only has value for education and bridging boundaries between scientists and artists, but also in community engagement.



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Art Out-of-the-box

Making music with lasers Stan Lewry experiments with lasers to create strange sounding, yet unique music in the project Optonoise, which has been demonstrated in the Tate Modern. Lasers, spinning disks, plastic beads, solar panels and even sugar crystals are used to create unusual effects, in both sound and light. A solar panel is connected to an amplifier, and a device that can give off light. By using various objects that give off light, picked up by the solar panel, the energy is translated to the amplifier to give off sound. As a result, the project not only manifests an audio performance, but a visual display too. Stan Lewry tellls us more about the xunique project.

Left, above: Snap-shots of Stan’s work, as shown on the Optonoise youtube channel (see ''Links' section) where the image stills were sourced from.

Q & A - Stan Lewry Can you briefly describe your background, and what inspired this project? Well, I studied Physics at Masters level and fell into IT (information technology) after a while. Having tried to get computers to do all kinds of things, I realised the kinds of things they can’t do, and decided to develop that creatively. I see what I do as being post-digital. I didn’t want to go down the normal route of using analogue modules, as that has been done and is essentially retro, so looked for something new. After some thought I decided to try to develop something using optoelectronics,

lasers and solar panels. Getting away from the digital culture allows me the freedom to express myself more, whether it be for creating relaxing, or thrilling sounds. What kinds of tools and equipment do you use? Basically, I’m composing my music with light. The solar panels just plug straight into an amp and a recording device. Some set ups are for making sounds, others for composing pieces. One of the most fundamental parts is the spinning disks. I place semi-transparent materials on them and the

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Art Out-of-the-box solar panel beneath them. Passing a laser through the material directly changes the texture of the material into a sound. There is no restriction made by using digital mediums, as infinite varieties of materials are used to make unique sounds with. I’ve used leaves, fruit, sugar crystals, metal, wood, plastics and all kinds of cloth. The sounds can be varied by moving the lasers and by changing the angles in the case of more three-dimensional disks. It’s kind of like making sound sculptures. I use all kinds of lasers from laser diodes, like my SuperK white laser. How was your exhibit at the Tate Modern received by the public? The public seemed to be incredibly puzzled. I don’t think people could believe that musical sounds could be made in such a simple way without computers, they kept asking what was inside the box and I kept telling them it’s just solar panels and an amp, and light. I think the immediacy of the sound was part of the appeal too. You get a really strange feeling from moving a beam of light around and getting different sound so responsively, like it’s physically connected in some magical way. Can you tell me about what you are working on next? At the moment, my main focus is building an optoelectronic organ. So far, I have a working prototype that can play one octave. The sound is incredibly rich and the sounds of the inscribed notes on the disks can be distorted in so many ways. The first set of disks I made were inkjet printed acetates. After testing, I accidentally splashed some water on them. So, I thought, let’s play them and see what they sound like, and sure enough they sounded different, perhaps a little more ‘sploshy’ sounding. I am now playing with different hand printing techniques from laser cut stamps. When most

Above: The ‘spinning disks’ from Stan’s work, as shown on the Optonoise youtube channel where the image stills are sourced from (see 'Links' section).

people look for precision, I am looking for as many different types of error, so that I can capture the characteristics of materials in audio and music. I’m also hoping to create a dance project with dancers who would reflect beams of light to directly made sounds. The immediacy of doing this analogue really makes it a strange sensation, almost like touching but using the ears. I’d love to take it to the Burning Man festival on a larger scale. Are there particular aspects of the natural world that inspire your project? The fractal nature of natural materials fascinates me. In fact, the whole breadth of rich patterns that are present in them. Applying simple transformations ensures that the beauty is preserved, while the sounds become weirdly abstract. Early experiments also proved that purely mechanical devices make mechanical sounds. That sounds obvious, but it’s really critical to expressing emotion in music. The gentle touch of a pianist even one playing just one key can be infinitely more expressive than a heavily produced digital piece or in my case, a piece composed by bounding lasers of spring or pendulum mounted mirrors.

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Art Out-of-the-box Can you briefly describe some of your favourite creations and how they work?

Bio Stan Lewry As the creator of the project ‘Optonoise’, Stan Lewry is continuing to release new inventions in this project, as shown on his Youtube channel.

One disk I made started off as a Perspex disk and ended up burning in a carpark with lighter fluid poured over it, reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix and his guitar. The resultant disk made a beautifully soft range of sounds but even more interestingly, a limitless array of fractal like caustic visual effects emerged. Most of my instruments reflect a lot of the light, so the ceiling is typically painted with a synchronised light show. This disk created such a beautiful array of patterns that we spent far too much time just moving the laser through the disks, watching the gradually evolving patterns, like staring at a never-ending firework display. I also loved the laser gloves, featuring laser diodes strapped to my fingers. One weird side effect of those was the strange touch at a distance effect. Watching the red dots move across the ceiling actually caused a shortcut in the brain, quickly translating into a sensation in my fingertips of touching the ceiling.

Apart from the lasers and the textures on the disks, I have made all kinds of musical instruments. A laser guitar, laser kazoo, laser beat machines, laser effects pedals (using faraday waves on water). I’ve also made compositions with complex harmonic pendulums, chaotic pendulums, springs, servos (not technically postdigital) and all kinds of disco lights. Now that I’ve started, I’m rather hooked. I look at things in the real world, and think to myself, “that looks interesting, I wonder what it sounds like..”. What kinds of tools and equipment do you use? Laser cutting has made projects like this a lot easier for people like me. Apart from being able to make complex mathematical forms, it’s also great for making cases. For the disks, I try to use as many different tooling methods and materials as possible.

Final thoughts Coming from a background in fixing computers, Stan's project Optonoise could be a way of looking into a mechanical world, diverting our attention from the digital world which surrounds us today. This is an unconventional way of creating sound, as today, sounds are often made by modern-day synthesisers, audio software tools and digital audio workstations (DAWs).

Links Youtube - UCTPXLUZl6OcVlfFDfXO5B4w Web -

What kinds of instruments have you made?

It’s been fascinating to hear about how Stan takes parts of his environment and translates it into sound using his innovations, whether it be the texture of the wallpaper, or a crystal. His project, Optonoise, has a different way of looking at music production, and the world around us, through this interactive and unique project. I look forward to seeing what new sounds are uncovered next by the Optonoise project.

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Art Art Gallery

Jasimen Phillips Bio I have always been fascinated with understanding how nature impacts human development and how human interactions are shaped by the natural environment. This interest is what led to my graduate studies in Environmental Science. Therefore, many of my art pieces allude to the interconnectedness of humans and nature.

Artwork Above: ‘Yamadashi (2017)’ [© 2018 Jasimen Phillips]- In this painting, Phillips depicts the Onbashira Festival in conjunction with an abstraction of natural elements. Phillips Yamadashi (above), is glittered-infused acrylic painting inspired by her 2004 travels to Nagano, Japan. The free form brush strokes and interplay between colors and textures reminds the viewer of the unique experience that is created when the interdependence of nature and man is celebrated. Links Web - Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.


Art Art Gallery

Maggie Gourlay Bio Maggie Gourlay is a multidisciplinary artist working in the greater Washington DC metro area. Her recent installation, Adaptation/Migration in the Anthropocene, was mounted in a former 30 foot shipping container at the National Zoo, The exhibit focused on invasive insect species and their relationship to climate change. Gourlay will be a resident artist at Lacawac Santuary and Biological Field Station in Pennsylvania this summer.

Artwork Above: ‘Resource Drain’ [© 2018 Maggie Gourlay]- - screenprint on paper.The resource referred to here is implied not depicted— water—and suggests a contest between our consumption of natural resources like clean water with the Earth’s ability to sustain and provide a healthy and resilient ecosystem. Right: ‘Invasive Species (Stinkbugs and Pothos)’ [© 2018 Maggie Gourlay] - screenprint on paper. Invasive species like the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug and Golden Pothos plant are not native to the United States, and can therefore multiply without fear of natural predators. Links

Web -

[Note- Imagess above and right non-downloadable for copyright purposes]

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Art Art Gallery

Bridget Macklin Bio Geology is at the core of Bridget’s ceramics: Working in porcelain, with its connotations of value and beauty, she mixes in materials found in the landscape into her vessels and then scrapes back to reveal fantastic and colourful strata. Artwork ‘Small North Norfolk vessels’ [© 2018 Bridget Macklin] shown in all images. Repeated refining of the work and taking risks with the materials, she is constantly striving to make the most lustrous, delicious pieces that only reveal their full natures and hidden treats on close inspection. The title of my project, and the name of the Norfolk exhibition it will be exhibited at as well, is ‘Earthlines ‘. Links

Web -

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Art Art Gallery

Anthea Challis Bio I am a PhD student at Western Sydney University, Australia. My PhD project is on the response of a Eucalypt tree to climate change. In my spare time I paint and my art revolves around climate change impacts and botany.

Artwork Above: ‘Death deep below’ [© 2018 Anthea Challis] - This art piece was created using water colour on paper. The piece portrays a kelp forest in Tasmania, Australia that is in decline as a result of climate change. Decline of kelp forests around Australia has been occurring in parallel to the more well known coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef in response to ocean warming and heatwaves. Links

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Art Art Gallery

Alexandra Nobre Bio I am a biologist, PhD in Sciences and Professor at the Biology Department of University of Minho, Portugal, where I teach in the area of Microbiology. Over time I have been moving my interests and research from applied microbiology to science communication. Presently I coordinate STOL - Science Through Our Lives, a Scicom project that engages different publics with science and art. Nature is our main inspiration. Artwork Right, below: 'Caixas de Vida' (Dishes of Life) [© 2018 Alexandra Nobre] - The cultivation of microorganisms in nutrient solid media, in Petri dishes, allows the observation of microbial colonies with the naked eye. In fact, although cells of bacteria, yeast and mold have dimensions of the order of micrometers, their multiplication according to a geometric progression of base two gives rise to colonies (circular cell masses) with colors, textures, glows and opacities, contours and elevations of enormous diversity and beauty. That is what I meant to recreate in “Caixas de Vida” (Dishes of Life) without worrying about being too realistic. Links

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Art Gallery

Laura CastanedaGomez Bio I’m a 4th year PhD Candidate at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, in Sydney, Australia. I work with the soil carbon cycle and the role of microbial communities in this process. I love to paint, either to de-stress or to help me visualize and communicate my research outputs. Artwork Top row: 'Ozi Birds' [© 2018 Laura Castaneda-Gomez] From left to right, a collection of my favourite Australian birds: Sulphurcrested cockatoo, Superb fairywren, Cassowary and Kookaburra.Acrylics on canvas. 1st on the right: 'Fossilised Microbat' [© 2018 Laura Castaneda-Gomez] This painting shows a replica of a fossilised microbat from the genus Icaronycteris, from the Green River formation in North America. Bat fossil records are quite scarce and being able to observe such an intact specimen is a great opportunity for palaeontologists around the world to understand the development of these amazing creatures. Mixed media on canvas. 2nd on the right: 'Roots down under' [© 2018 Laura Castaneda-Gomez] Working with soil, I’ve always been amazed with the great amount of life below our feet, which is usually ignored. Plant roots are the fuel for many of the soil life forms and are comparable in size and complexity to their aboveground counterpart. Acrylics on canvas. Below: 'Chameleon' [© 2018 Laura Castaneda-Gomez]Chameleons are fascinating creatures, some capable of changing colours, thanks to a superficial skin layer that contains pigments. This is my own, colourful version of one of these “ground lions”. Acrylics on canvas. Links

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Art Art Story

Mangroves from the water A mangrove is a small tree or shrub which often grows in tropical and subtropical tidal areas, with their roots submerged in either fresh or slightly salty water. The mangrove trees tend to be salt-tolerant and well adapted to the harsh environment of low oxygen (anoxia) with their unique root structures and salt filtration system.

Different mangrove species have adapted to the particular challenges of their unique environment. Artist Zahidah Zeytoun Millie works among other artists on the project ‘Mangroves from the Water’ to raise awareness of the mangroves in the United Arab Emirates, emphasizing the power of the mangroves to absorb Co2. Here, she shares with us her inspiration to grow an awareness of the mangroves through her art.

Right: ‘The Self ', Zahidah Zeytoun Millie - acrylic colour, resin, chopped tree found in the mangroves, mask of Zahidah's face and hands, heavy knife found by the mangroves used to chop trees, wire, wood, plaster, leaves, cardboard inner shoe, 2017. Created and exhibited during the Mangroves Festival 2017 in Umm Al Quwain, UAE. Donated to a school near the mangroves in Umm Al Quwain. Zahidah is currently living in Geelong, Australia, continuing the mangroves campaign through art in Australia. © 2018 Zahidah Zeytoun Millie

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Art Art Story

Story from the Artist - Zahidah Zeytoun Millie As an artist I see the importance and the beauty of the mangroves. I feel connected to nature, with a sense of responsibility to protect them by producing art highlighting their beauty and importance. I’m very much aware that mangrove forests contain some of the highest carbon eating stocks of any forest type ( Also, that the forests cover around 2 per cent of the 2,000 kilometres of Victorian coastline ( regions/australia/victoria/). Mangroves are important; the trees and the associated sea grasses are very effective in reducing carbon from the air and providing us oxygen in our age of global warming.My family and I have been living in Geelong since last July having moved from the UAE. I’m from the Mediterranean coast of Syria, currently a stable part of a country suffering from war since 2011 that has resulted in the fleeing of refugees around the world. I am fortunate that my family is still living safely in Syria. As an artist I can’t stop the war in Syria, but I can run a campaign to protect the

mangroves and in doing so, the Earth. I actually started painting mangroves in the UAE from a kayak around the time the war in Syria started. I saw a connection between the war and the destruction I witnessed to the mangrove region near my home in Umm Al Quwain. The resulting project included of 250 sketches and three installation pieces: Coffee Morning Orchestra, the Self, Mangroves from the Water (over 250 small paintings). My aim was to spread awareness about the mangroves. With a group of artists I started a team and we commenced a Mangroves from the Water blog and a social media campaign which I continue running from here in Geelong. A touring exhibition between 2014 and 2016 culminated in the 2017 Mangroves Festival, the first of its kind in the UAE and the first in the Arab region. The initiative rose voluntarily from artists from the wider community supported by the Government of Umm Al Quwain. Protecting the mangroves is not only for the welfare of our environment, but also for humanity. Artists are able to lead change in social attitudes, just like the painter Henri Rousseau and the 19th Century American philosopher HD Thoreau. I believe in the power of art and the strong message it can deliver. By art we can make our voice loud and effective in protecting the mangroves in the world. Links

Web - Blog- https:// mangrovesfromthewater.

Left: Zahidah Zeytoun Millie painting mangroves from a kayak. © 2018 Zahidah Zeytoun Millie Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.


Art Art Story

Saving Trees Through Art Nikolina Kovalenko's art is about humanity’s fragile connection with nature. In this article, she share's with us pieces from her project 'Saving trees through art'. Through her dreamy rainforest inspired paintings and projects focusing on reforestation, the artist strives to increase the world’s awareness and expose the consequences our everyday actions have on the environment. Nikolina Kovalenko was born in Moscow, Russia in 1987. In 2011 she received her MFA from Moscow Surikov Art Institute and studied at Universität der Künste Berlin. She holds a Gold Medal from the Russian Art Academy. The artist currently lives and works in New York City. Her exhibition history includes solo shows at Gitana Rosa Gallery and Dacia Gallery. The group shows include Townsend Modern/Contemporary, Cheryl Hazan Contemporary, Mayson Gallery, Select Art Fair, 212 Arts, Andrew Edlin Gallery, Aureus Contemporary, Drawing Rooms, Erarta Gallery, and Museum of Russian Art(NJ) among others. In 2014 she attended LMCC “Artist Summer Institute”. Nikolina was a resident artist at ESKFF, MANA Contemporary in spring 2017. Nikolina’s artwork has been reviewed in art blogs, newspapers and magazines. Her work is in numerous corporate and private collections worldwide. Top: Carlos, Brazilian. Idesam Middle: Tais, Japanese-Brazilian. Co-owner, Instituto Soka-CEPEAM Bottom: Oscar, German. Forest Engineering student at UFAM © 2018 Nikolina Kovalenko Copyright © 2018 NatureVolve, no content to be re-used without permission. All indiviudal content providers retain the rights to their original work.


Art Art Story

Story from the Artist Nikolina Kovalenko ‘Saving Trees Through Art’ is my environmental art project dedicated to the Amazon rainforest. In August 2017 I went to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil to sketch the remains of logged trees. For me a stump left after the extermination of a tree resembles a fingerprint. Indeed a tree has a unique identity, formed by a distinctive pattern of age rings and other unmistakable marks drawn from the tree’s life experience. Firstly, I went to logging sites and took the “fingerprints” of the trees (by placing a paper on the cut and rubbing over it with graphite). After capturing this ongoing devastation, I interviewed several environmental NGOs and independent activists committed to the restoration of the rainforest, and took their fingerprints. The final artwork is diptychs pairing my drawings of cut down trees with a fingerprint of a volunteer planting a new tree. I view this as the yin and yang of the world, recreation striving to balance out destruction. Each person I interviewed works tirelessly (and often without any compensation) on saving the rainforest. From volunteers planting trees, families buying land from the government and creating natural preserves to save the

Top: Manuel, Brazilian. Center of Native Amazonian Seeds. Bottom: Pedro, Brazilian. Forest engineer, eco farm owner, Ecoforest Adventure founder © 2018 Nikolina Kovalenko

primary forest, professors teaching forest engineering and management, sustainable farmers, to scientists who study the genetics of the local seeds to ensure the healthy and rapid grow of the secondary (replanted) forest and big organizations like Idesam whose mission is to promote sustainable use of natural resources and to find alternative solutions to environmental conservation, social development and climate change mitigation. Along with the volunteers’ fingerprints I asked them to write couple of sentences about WHY they care for nature and what motivates them to act. My goal is to exhibit the series and donate part of the profits from the artwork sold to the local communities in Brazilian Amazon to help funding reforestation projects. Just think about it, in the time it takes to read this text, an area of the rain forest larger than 48 football fields will have been destroyed. Links

© 2018 Nikolina Kovalenko

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Written Word

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Written word

The seed keepers


by John Walker

This article/story was first published by Hartley Botanic magazine

Back in the 21st century, food security was taken out of our hands, and all but destroyed. But our keepers haven’t just saved seeds and knowledge – they’ve saved hope.. As he peered over the edge, Noah’s long golden curls floated on a warm, skyward breeze smelling all at once of cabbages, beans and onions. Among these powerful scents, he could just make out carrots, parsnips, and his favourite, peas. Although it was officially off limits, the top of the old quarry was his favourite spot. He still had lots to learn, and even more to remember, and found this the perfect spot to set about memorising the teachings; if you’re going to remember everything there is to know about breeding vegetables, why not learn them by smell as well? It wasn’t just smells he was getting good at; he’d come top at identifying crops by their seeds alone – and blindfolded at that – even learning to tell broad bean varieties by their seeds. His mentor Lucasz, peering

through the long white hair draping his dark, sun-aged face, said that he was just showing off. “Remembering what the parents of ‘Ryton Bronze’ are, and where we grow them, is the important thing, Noah, not telling it from its seed.” Even so, Lucasz did think how useful it could be if the seed harvesters got a batch muddled up. Having no written records, apart from the name of each variety, was safer, and hack-proof, but relying on memory alone made life difficult at times. ‘Ryton Bronze’ was just one of the broad beans they used to grow and keep at the Heritage Seed Library. Noah had heard its story the week before. It had been bred in the second half of the 21st century to help boost the numbers of wild bees, which were still declining after the ‘great poisoning’ by the ’noids.

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Written word Eventually, the ’noids found their way into the water, the soil, the rivers, lakes and oceans. Nowhere escaped the pollution, and insects of all types suffered the most. Tiny amounts of the old insecticide, which hid in sap, pollen and nectar, slowly poisoned them. Lucasz was one of the keepers who brought ‘Ryton Bronze’ about by crossing the purple-flowered broad bean with a plant with tiny, bright orange flowers found by chance on a northern allotment. Lucasz sweated out four ‘severity class’ summers selecting the resulting offspring – broad beans with flowers (and beans) in rainbow shades no one had ever seen before. He spent searing hours each day watching and memorising the insects which visited them, especially the hard-pressed solitary bees (domestic honey bees were long extinct). The new plants with their small, bronze flowers enraptured the wild bees; finally they could reach the nectar which their big bumbling cousins had to cheat from varieties with black and white flowers. Their dark and delicious fresh beans cooked up a treat. Noah swung his tanned legs in the warm, dusty air, which carried voices up from the quarry below. On each of the wide ledges snaking around the quarry sides, people were busy threshing and sieving seeds, the dry ascending air making it a perfect seed cleaning day. He eventually spotted Ambra through a pale cloud rising from a small, laughing group thrashing big yellow dry stalks (cabbages, probably) against the blue rock. She always wore a red mask for the dust. As midday approached, a huge curving mesh of woven willow, on which live honeysuckle grew, was winched higher, casting its dappled shade over those working below. Even at night the rock walls radiated heat, gently drying the thousands of pods and seed-heads strung out along them. Beyond the quarry, Noah saw rounded drifts of green and bronze in the forest clearings, hazed by the heat of the sun, buzzards wheeling lazily overhead. ‘Ryton Bronze’ was being grown all over the country now, and bee numbers were slowly rising. This winter he and others would take seeds, and logs filled with bee nests, to the east, where wild bees were scarce and crop pollination was still difficult. They would return laden


with promising new varieties bred by seed keepers in the east, their parentage cached only in memory. It was the Plant Gene Protection Act which had changed things forever. Noah had learned, in his sessions on gene history, how the government devised – and eventually enshrined – legislation giving the state the power to ‘collect and protect the entire known gene pool of all commercially or privately cultivated crops’. This meant that the gene collectors could turn up at anyone’s garden or allotment, smallholding or market garden, and seize both seeds and any records, notebooks or digital files a grower might have. Looking through the news coverage of the time, Noah read how this was portrayed as ‘safeguarding future food security for all’, and how the government’s ‘nominated seed protectors’ would then bid to take control of our beetroots, spinaches and squashes, and develop them ‘in line with commercial goals that serve and complement the food industry’. Once a variety had been assimilated into the gene register, you needed a license to grow it, which only a governmentapproved ‘foodfuture’ company could get. Despite all the protests, the Act went through. Everyone who cared knew that fighting it would only buy them time to plan ahead. When the ‘gene police’ eventually arrived at the Heritage Seed Library, they found the seed store empty, and all the records gone. Asked about what they’d been growing, the few gardeners left looked puzzled, saying that they couldn’t remember. Wherever the gene police went, it was the same, in back gardens, on allotments and so forth. They raided potting sheds and took away tablets and hard drives, but they found no trace of any seeds, or of their origins – some of which reached back centuries. The Act had tried to cover everything, but it couldn’t counter willful forgetfulness. Noah’s grandmother, who they called ‘the pea lady’, who had guarded old varieties all her life, became an amnesiac overnight. It was from her that Noah had inherited his own remarkable memory, and why he was now being entrusted, alongside others, with the knowledge of a seed keeper. Peas were also Noah’s thing; he was already called ‘pea boy’, much to Lucasz’s irritation.

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Written word


“If you remember everything about peas you’ll forget about something else.”

Bio John Walker John Walker is an awardwinning gardening and environmental writer and author. His work explores the often jarring relationship between gardening and our natural world. John is currently eking a new earth- and climate-friendly garden from a once brackenriddled hillside at his home in Snowdonia.


Web Twitter @earthFgardener Hartley botanic profile https://hartley-botanic. john-walker/

“Noah! Come on down, it’s time.” He knew Lucasz well enough to sense the urgency in the command echoing around the quarry. Ambra looked up and waved as Noah began to descend the inch-thick honeysuckle vines. This was to be the first time he would attend a meeting with the big growers. The senior keepers had been reluctant to work with the large-scale growers, but they had known the time would come. Lucasz had explained how the genes in the big crops were failing, and how even modification and using beebots couldn’t help; pests and diseases had eventually overcome all attempts to outwit them, and yields were falling. With their own gene banks exhausted – the ones they’d ‘protected’ all those years ago – they now needed the seed keepers’ help. “You should come down the proper way, Noah. A dead memory’s no good to anyone.” Noah brushed faded honeysuckle flowers from his hair as they set off through the forest. As they passed a small field of broad beans, their bronze flowers fizzing with bees, they stopped, and each drew in a deep breath of the sweet-scented air.

NatureVolve Book Offer NatureVolve readers in the UK can order a copy of John’s latest book - Weeds: An Organic, Earth-friendly Guide to Their Identification, Use and Control (ISBN 978-09932683-4-2) at £3


“It's wonderful to see what weeds are helpful in encouraging insects and wildlife and can be safely encouraged.” Amazon review This accessible, full colour, hands-on guide, with over 100 photographs encourages us all to see weeds as much more than simply unwelcome garden invaders. Order Weeds for £15* (p&p free) online from *UK addresses only.

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Written word Thought-notes

The internet, instant gratification, and the lost art of thinking by Comprehensophy

Previously, I made the case that the majority of society suffers from an impulse to categorize the world when attempting to understand it, instead of actually thinking (see here). That is, we equate understanding things with categorizing them. This has a number of negative consequences including emboldening our biases...

If either I have sufficiently made this case to you or you’ve experienced it yourself and it’s already apparent to you, I’d now like to consider where this actually comes from. In particular, what kind of role might information technology play in this? I am by no means a luddite, but information technology is omnipresent in our lives and most would agree that it changes the way that we think or has the potential to.

issue, you can gain a feeling of really understanding it in a similarly short amount of time. I invite you to savor the novelty of that unsettling reality for another moment: we use the internet to feel like we understand something complex and ambiguous in the world virtually instantaneously. The implication of this would be that our ever-expanding desire for instant gratification has colonized our cognitive abilities.

Consider that we often want to understand the world around us very quickly. But real understanding of complex things in the world doesn’t come easily. You have to deal with ambiguity and the ache of actually thinking before you can get to understanding. Categoritis, as it were, allows us to feel like we understand the world very quickly by merely categorizing.

If I am curious about a complex and ambiguous issue that is shaping the world we live in, I can find something that will allow me to feel like I understand it. That piece of content will meet me exactly where I am at in terms of my biases and personality.

Now, consider how the Internet relates to this. If someone wants an answer to a factual question, all that they need to do is search on Google and it’s done in 20 seconds. That’s fair enough. BUT if you want an understanding of highly-complex and ambiguous

I can find an NY times Op-ed article from a prestigious columnist, I can pull up a clip on Youtube of Joe Rogan extrapolating the issue with a belligerent comedian, watch Tucker Carlson talk to Fabio about something outrageous, see hipsters on Vice news investigating the issue with an ironic panache, watch Sean Hannity terrify me about the world collapsing before our eyes — and I will certainly feel like I

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Written word Thought-notes understand the issue at hand much better. Granted, I probably am closer to understanding the issue than I was before, BUT the key is that I feel like I have a real grasp of the issue now. And if you have this feeling, you will probably just stop there with your newly fashioned opinion and ignore the remaining uncertainties. So, with the help of the internet and its powers to instantaneously give us a feeling of ‘understanding the world’, one gets accustomed to feeling like they can understand something complex instantaneously and begin to think that this is how things should be. If we feel that this instantaneous understanding is how it should be, we find ways to meet this expectation, namely, categorizing things rather than actually observing, listening, and thinking. If we do this, are we missing nuances to things that could otherwise be very important to actually understanding the world? Almost certainly. And we see the consequences of this. One example would be the political divisions in the United States which are absolutely unprecedented in recent times. People in different groups can’t even conceive of seeing anything eye to eye because they are attached to their boxes they use to categorize the world and have an enormous amount of emotional investment in these ideas.

So what is the alternative to all of this? What have we been missing as we’ve been feeding ourselves an illusion of understanding and, largely using the internet to do so? This issue, in my view, is fundamentally about ordinary individuals claiming their independence and individuation in the world. Emerson interprets the matter perfectly when he says “Some great decorum, some fetish of a government, some ephemeral trade, or war, or man, is cried up by half mankind and cried down by the other half, as if all depended upon this particular up or down. The odds are that the whole question is not worth the poorest thought which the scholar has lost in listening to the controversy.” What are you or I losing when we invest so much of ourselves into such things? When we unwittingly invest our emotions into the views of others we get through the internet and mass media, we are divesting from our capacity for original thought. And it is the original thought of human beings that moves the world forward and always has been.

When one person wants to get their quick fix of understanding, they read one guy, and when another wants to get their quick fix of understanding they watch soundbites of another guy, etc. It seems that deep divisions in society is the price we pay for our extreme arrogance to think that we can understand the complex world with such ease and lack of effort by tuning into bites of extrapolation and commentary.


Comprehensophy (blog) Comprehensophy looks at the art of thinking and its implications for the individual and civilization in the 21st century.

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Written word


Zugunruhe . . . by Sarah Watkinson

It’s that disquiet they feel now winter-tired and hungry in the plains’ starved thaw, sparse grains in barren mud not enough to breed. The sun, higher now, speaks to them of elsewhere. Restless, they flutter up land again, hop, run glance here and there listen. Certainty comes on the air – they rise as one, some sky-pull lifts each bird until the eye’s compass steadies, sun on the right, and they’re a flock, following the leaders’ northbound wingbeat aware, somehow

In ethology, anxious behaviour in birds during the normal migration period. It is seen in white-crowned sparrows about to leave the cornfields of Illinois for their breeding area in the Canadian tundra. Neonicotinoid seed dressings have been proved to disorient them and interfere with this migration.

of willow-folded water cotton grass, bog myrtle shadowed tussocks, moss a tundra landing. There, each cock builds a well-placed nest and sings, expecting the hens

Source: (Eng, M. L., et al. (2017). “Imidacloprid and chlorpyrifos insecticides impair migratory ability in a seed-eating songbird.” Scientific Reports 7(1): 15176.)

though everything depends on timely travel, northward take-offs (sun on the right), and never filling the gizzard with the Earth-predator’s blue brain-spin pebbles.

Bio - Sarah Watkinson

Sarah Watkinson is a scientist whose debut pamphlet ‘Dung Beetles Navigate by Starlight’ was a winner of the Cinnamon Pamphlet Prize. She co-hosts SciPo, an annual science poetry event at St Hilda’s College Oxford’


Twitter - @philonotis Web -

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Written word


The Alchemy of Elder (Sambucus Nigra) by Carolyn Yates

I do not notice the first leaves unfurl, until the froth of flowers pin prick light against the creosoted fence. Each loose spray becomes a bridal dream smelling foetid as the drunken breath of that disgraceful relative. The tiny stars push off, fall and brown, leave small green nipples that slowly swell, ripen blush, deep rose and purple-black, a chandelier of glossy fruit, a blackbird’s feast. Be patient. Capture that first flush of flower, strip lace from stems with the tines of a fork, add sugar, bottle up in sterile glass. Lock away the bloom of early summer. Your reward? A viscous stream of golden, silken cordial, or, if prepared to take the risk, a wild dazzle, champagne for that wedding toast.

Bio - Carolyn Yates

Carolyn Yates is a poet and playwright, with an MSc in Playwriting from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland, UK). Among other things, she’s writing a play about James Clerk Maxwell. She’s worked in science education and cognitive development. She lives in Dumfries and Galloway and runs a youth theatre in Stranraer.

This shrub tree, squat dwarf in winter will, on the cusp of midsummer’s day turn water into wine, and like a marriage, turn from barren to fruit and back again.

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