Profile: Cristina Russo
Scientist with a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics. Works as a science writer and content manager for Owen Software. Former ballerina and current Zoo interpreter. Lives in Washington, DC with husband and canine best friend Ford. Views are her own and do not represent those of her employers.
NoteStreams By Cristina Russo
“He had black fur and a horn on his head,” my sister said. She came to DC for a few weeks and spent many afternoons visiting our local zoo. After one of those visits, she hurried to Google Chat to report that a big tall bird was chasing her behind the fence of his enclosure. My sister described the bird as having long fur-like feathers and a horn. She has never seen anything like that before and was genuinely curious. She was familiar with the belligerent bird’s neighbors, the rheas (ratite birds like ostriches and extinct moas). Rheas are native to South America, as are we, and we’ve seen them before while growing up in south Brazil. “Mystery bird” was about to become a perfect example of zoo education.
It was Monday Night Football and season opener for the Washington NFL team when I joined friends to watch the game at a sports bar. Between bites of chicken wings I saw one particular scene that amazed me. I’m not talking about a touchdown, but of a 3D animation with a Toy Story-like human in a hospital gown undergoing knee surgery. And I was not the only one surprised.
Perched on a cantaloupe slice, the palm-sized animal – with its glossy chitinous surface and half dozen legs – sat motionless. The black-green bug looked more like a statuesque chess piece and less like a creepy insect. It was probably the reason why Dan Babbit chose the Atlas Beetle as his companion and ice breaker. Babbit is the manager of Smithsonian’s Insect zoo, and that day he was addressing a new group of museum volunteers and he started with the blunt question: “Is anyone afraid of bugs?” How can we teach entomology to such a crowd? Can we break the bug phobia stereotype?
A conservation advocate, Chris Palmer believes that filmmakers “have a responsibility of raising viewer awareness of the serious environmental problems facing the world”. Wildlife films are a great opportunity to educate the general public about science and spread a message of conservation. But, like Chris said, “[solely] promoting the beauty of the natural world is not the same as conservation.” How can we use wildlife films to educate?
This is part of a Series called Real Life Science.
Even before that day when Gregor Samsa woke up as a monstrous, verminous bug, people have disliked bugs. The bug hatred can be deleterious for science and for the way the public perceives science. Studies have quantified how people (adults and children) are repulsed by arthropods and do not grasp the invertebrate’s impact in agriculture and our economy. So let’s consider “bugs” arthropods and break down the hatred in a Buzzfeed-type list!
By Sci-Ed PLOS, licensed (CC BY 3.0)