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Southern Flannel Moth (  Megalopyge opercularis  ) caterpillar photographed at Palmetto State Park in Gonzales, Texas.  Warning: These babs are so cute you will want to cuddle them. Do not cuddle. They have painful stinging spines . Inset shows me taking the above photo. Not pictured: me squealing over how much I wanted to cuddle him and how cute his little face was.  December 15, 2018

Southern Flannel Moth (Megalopyge opercularis) caterpillar photographed at Palmetto State Park in Gonzales, Texas. Warning: These babs are so cute you will want to cuddle them. Do not cuddle. They have painful stinging spines. Inset shows me taking the above photo. Not pictured: me squealing over how much I wanted to cuddle him and how cute his little face was. December 15, 2018


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 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 my 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 nature enthusiasts. 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 learned with others is so immutable, it just seemed like museums were the natural place to 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 (a 501(c)(3) non-profit), so I frequently organize and staff activities at nature and STEM-themed outreach events in Central Texas within that role, and give talks and presentations in areas that serve the Texas Master Naturalist mission.

I’m interested in broadening the impact of my work in science outreach and communication, and would love to draw on my experience in other areas of science, technology, and engineering to support organizations and non-profits who share in my vision of a more curious, more scientifically-literate world. Poorly orchestrated outreach may actually turn an audience off to a topic, and our underserved areas deserve the best possible support we can give them!

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.

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 with taking pictures of bugs and making people on the internet look at them
Synonym: Alysa Joaquin


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