DISCOVERING THE WORLD by Paul Attea, Science Educator


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Adventure Science Center Blog

Science Educators and guest authors exploring our world and the science and technology that connects us.



DISCOVERING THE WORLD by Paul Attea, Science Educator

Photo from The New York TimesIn the book The Forest Unseen, David Haskell tells the fascinating the story of the life he observes in a 1x1 meter patch of woods over the course of a year.

Inspecting a cicada wing at 15x magnification with the help of my handy dandy pocket lens. Look at those veins!

My sketch of the pattern of a bumblebee’s stops at a patch of white clover flowers. The bee’s route went off the top of the page and continued at the bottom. The middle right drawing shows the route’s overall shape.

A walk through Nashville led me to a swarm of these little red bugs, which turned out to by Rosy Aphids.  Cool!

Have you ever watched a tiny spider wrapping its dinner in a bundle of silk?  How about a wasp plowing head first into a wild flower? Little moments like these are unfolding around us every moment, and whether it’s tracking birds, observing the hairs on a bee’s back, or documenting the trees in your backyard, nature provides us with an infinite amount of material to delight our curious minds. 

Sometimes it just takes a change in perspective. My college forestry professor once said, “You haven’t lived a full life until you’ve looked at the world at 10x magnification.”  It’s an adventure that isn’t too expensive, and it’s easy to arrange.  A $10 pocket magnifier can reveal the world from an insect’s perspective, the delicate beauty of a moth’s wing, or the menagerie of life occupying a corner of your backyard.

But if you’re waiting for that lens to arrive in the mail, why not go outside with a pen and pencil?  One of my favorite observations occurred during a lunch break outside.  A bumble bee was pollinating a patch of white clover around me when I started to think, “What kind of route is it taking?” So I pulled out my sketchpad and started to make a map of flower visits, charting the direction, and a rough estimate of how far away.

The more we observe little moments like these, the more we yearn to know more—to learn the names and stories of the life around us.  My favorite resource is a handy set of Audubon field guides.  With books covering wildflowers, birds, insects, trees, and numerous other forms of life, these rugged handbooks provide great photos and keys to quickly help you discover what you’re looking at.  

I love my set of Audubon Field Guides. Check out the May Beetle on the bottom left.  You may be seeing those around your house this summer.

Take just a moment to stop and observe your surroundings today.  Include your kids if you have them.  If you see something interesting, dig a little deeper.  You may learn that interesting little bird outside your window is a Purple Martin or that the bug that just landed in your lemonade is called a Sharpshooter.   The variety of life contained on this planet is miraculous and fascinating.  All you have to do to enjoy the show is stop and look around.  

- Paul Attea, Science Educator

Posted by Molly Hornbuckle at 12:00 PM
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