Integrative Biology

CDI Team in San Fransisco & the ICB Journal

Integrative and Comparative Biology Symposium

Frequent CDI Collaborators from WSSU, UNCSA, UNC, TERC, U-Minn, and USFWS build new connections and create new work



Science in the Public Eye: Leveraging Partnerships  

January 4th 2018, representatives from CDI:  Betsy Towns, Nick Hristov, and Louise Allen, as well as collaborators Katherine Gil (Tributary Land Design), Martha Merson (TERC), Shauna Marquardt (USFWS) and Carol Strohecker (University of Minnesota) gathered to discuss current projects, future endeavors & areas of potential collaboration, and to finalize their January 6th symposium, part of Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology 2018 Annual Meeting.  The symposium, “Science in the Public Eye: Leveraging Partnerships” was sponsored by iSWOOP/TERC/NSF.

Together with Martha Merson of TERC, the symposium’s founders brought together fellow scientists, project collaborators: artists, educators and researchers from governmental organizations to discuss topics not often found at biology conferences.  Topics included effective ways of communicating science to the public, the design process for sites of STEM learning, citizen science, and developing visualizations that enhance science understanding.

Four Publications

CDI-Authored Articles in Oxford’s Journal of Integrative Biology

Martha Merson, Louise C. Allen and Nickolay I. Hristov, Science in thePublic Eye:Leveraging Partnerships-An Introduction”

Louise Allen, Cynthia Char, Nickolay Hristov, Tracey Wright and Martha Merson, “Beyond the Brown Bag: Designing Effective Professional Development for Informal Educators

Nickolay Hristov, Carol Strohecker, Louise Allen and Martha Merson, “Designing for Broad Understanding of Insights from Practice”

Katherine Gill, Jocelyn Glazier and Betsy Towns, “Cultivating Collaboration Site Specific Design for Embodied Science Learning


Science in the Public Eye: Leveraging Partnerships—An Introduction


With stories of struggle and dramatic breakthroughs, science has incredible potential to interest the public. However, as the rhetoric of outrage surrounds controversies over science policy there is an urgent need for credible, trusted voices that frame science issues in a way that resonates with a diverse public. A network of informal educators, park rangers, museum docents and designers, and zoo and aquarium interpreters are prepared to do so during millions of visits a year; just where science stories are most meaningfully told—in the places where members of the public are open to learning. Scientific researchers can benefit from partnerships with these intermediaries who are accorded status for their trustworthiness and good will, who have expertise in translating the science using language, metaphors, encounters, and experiences that are appropriate for non-experts. In this volume, we describe and probe examples wherein scientists work productively with informal educators and designers, artists, staff of federal agencies, citizen scientists, and volunteers who bring science into the public eye.

Beyond the Brown Bag: Designing Effective Professional Development for Informal Educators:


Most researchers are keenly interested in disseminating their work beyond traditional publication routes. With an eye to increasing broader impacts, scientists can benefit from partnerships with informal educators who interact daily with the public and see their role as translating science to increase the public’s intellectual and emotional connections with the natural world. Typically, researchers give a one-time lunch hour talk, generally a modified version of a presentation aimed at scientific peers. Talks during which scientists show slides and interpreters mainly listen are a missed opportunity. They leave the scientist no wiser about the public’s interests and the nagging questions interpreters have. Such talks leave the conscientious park educator with insufficient resources for overcoming challenges in interpreting the science for the public. The Interpreters and Scientists Working on Our Parks (iSWOOP) project proposes a model of professional development (PD) that involves a deliberate partnership where scientists and educators work together. During site-based PD sessions, they tease out the relevance to public audiences and begin to develop programs about the science. This article describes iSWOOP’s approach to supporting productive collaborations that promote an understanding of scientific research to public audiences. Results from a pair of surveys indicate that both sides of this partnership benefit from extended contact and clear communication. 

Cultivating Collaborations: Abstract

Immersion in well-designed outdoor environments can foster the habits of mind that enable critical and authentic scientific questions to take root in students’ minds. Here we share two design cases in which careful, collaborative, and intentional design of outdoor learning environments for informal inquiry provide people of all ages with embodied opportunities to learn about the natural world, developing the capacity for understanding ecology and the ability to empathize, problem-solve, and reflect. Embodied learning, as facilitated by and in well-designed outdoor learning environments, leads students to develop new ways of seeing, new scientific questions, new ways to connect with ideas, with others, and new ways of thinking about the natural world. Using examples from our collaborative practises as experiential learning designers, we illustrate how creating the habits of mind critical to creating scientists, science-interested, and science-aware individuals benefits from providing students spaces to engage in embodied learning in nature. We show how public landscapes designed in creative partnerships between educators, scientists, designers, and the public have potential to amplify science learning for all.

A smaller group of the UNCSA students met again during the spring semester. We honed down the ideas that we generated as a group during intensive arts, and composed a more concise message to communicate to the audience and discussed how we wanted to convey this message. Do we want to make the audience feel guilty about the negative impact we have on the climate? Do we want to make them hopeful, motivated, angry? We realized that in order to convey a message that would make a worthwhile impact, we would have to represent each type of person and their relationship with the environment. Someone who takes from the environment, someone who gives to the environment, and someone in between.

Design for Broad Understanding of Science: Abstract

With the acceleration and increasing complexity of macro-scale problems such as climate change, the need for scientists to ensure that their work is understood has become urgent. As citizens and recipients of public funds for research, scientists have an obligation to communicate their findings in ways many people can understand. However, developing translations that are broadly accessible without being “dumbed down” can be challenging. Fortunately, tenets of visual literacy, combined with narrative methods, can help to convey scientific knowledge with fidelity, while sustaining viewers’ interest. Here we outline strategies for such translating, with an emphasis on visual approaches. Among the examples is an innovative, National Science Foundation-funded professional development initiative in which National Park rangers use scientists’ imagery to create compelling explanations for the visiting public. Thoughtful visualizations based on interpretive images, motion pictures, 3D animations and augmented, immersive experiences complement the impact of the natural resource and enhance the role of the park ranger. The visualizations become scaffolds for participatory exchanges in which the ranger transcends the traditional roles of information-holder and presenter, to facilitate provocative conversations that provide members of the public with enjoyable experiences and well-founded bases for reflection and ultimately understanding. The process of generating the supporting visualizations benefits from partnerships with design professionals, who develop opportunities for engaging the public by translating important scientific findings and messages in compelling and memorable ways.

I believe that in the end our project was able to show how hard it is to piece our climate back together if the deterioration is outweighing the improvement. With the perfect music-dance pairing, eye-opening videos of the environment, the mounds of dirt supplied to help the dancers convey the human-environment relationships), and elemental lighting, we presented a powerful message. A message that declares, “yes”, the climate is changing, it is our fault, we have the capability to lessen our impact, so what do we do now? Are you going to leave a gentle handprint on the world, or just a pile of crinkled up soda cans?