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Southern Flannel Moth (  Megalopyge opercularis  ) caterpillar photographed at Palmetto State Park in Gonzales, Texas

Southern Flannel Moth (Megalopyge opercularis) caterpillar photographed at Palmetto State Park in Gonzales, Texas


NanoWhat?

Nano: (prefix) a factor of 10^−9
Naturalist: (noun) one who studies natural history
NanoNaturalist: (noun, proper), a chemical engineer and nanotechnologist who became inexplicably fixated in taking pictures of bugs and making people on the internet look at them
Synonym: Alysa Joaquin


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Science and nature belong to everybody.

I was lucky to grow up in the Pacific Northwest, with a big back yard, a cheap (but good enough) microscope, and a library card. Reading about the strange and exotic animals could only excite me so much, I needed to see things for myself. With patience, creativity, and persistence, I was able to find all sorts of interesting insects and spiders (even a swallowtail chrysalis I overwintered successfully).

This fondness for nature carried on well into adulthood, and exploded as soon as I moved to Texas for graduate school. While I was there (growing stem cells on different materials to see how their behavior changed), I learned about iNaturalist and began participating in BioBlitzes with other local naturalists. I’d been contemplating a career directing science and natural history museums, so I was devastated when medical issues forced me to master out of my PhD program.

Nevertheless, with patience, creativity, and persistence, here I am. I wanted to work in museums because my drive to share the fascinating things I see with others is so immutable, it just seemed like museums was where I could do that. But museums have walls and admissions fees, so why not take it a step further? Why not bring the museum to the people? Or even better, why not show people that the whole world is a museum, you just need to look?

I currently serve as the Director of Outreach and Education for the Lost Pines Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, so I frequently organize and staff activities at nature and STEM-themed outreach events in Central Texas.

Philosophy

I often interact with adults and children who have never seen a caterpillar before, because their sole interaction with the outdoors is the space between their house and their car. But just a few minutes of watching this caterpillar eat a leaf, crawl around, poop, squish up its face, lay down a mat of silk, etc., is enough to make them see nature a little differently. The goal of outreach is to spark curiosity. What are the chances these people will look for caterpillars on a plant that has been chewed up and is covered in poops? What are the chances they will look up how to raise butterflies?

How can we expect the public to support measures that protect the environment if they don’t care about it? It is not common knowledge that humans are part of the environment, and the supremely sub-par educational system in the US means that it’s the responsibility of those of us in science communication and outreach to build a connection between nature and the everyday person.