KBS LTER graduate students lead hands-on activities at MSU’s second annual science festival

By Bonnie McGill, KBS LTER graduate student

Three LTER graduate students—Erin Haramoto, Christine Sprunger, and myself—spent this past Saturday in Lansing at MSU’s second annual SciFest (http://sciencefestival.msu.edu).  The week long festival brings scientists out of their labs, away from their computer screens, and in from the field so they can share their excitement in and knowledge of science with the public.  Us three LTER students shared two scientific concepts near and dear to every KBS LTER-er: soil conservation and aquatic food webs.  Erin and Christine brought buckets of soil from different environments, soil sampling tools, root samples, and a fun coloring activity featuring “Sammy Soil.”  You guessed it, “Sammy” is none other than a soil aggregate.

I brought a food web game where visitors pretended we were in a Michigan stream and I had magnetic images of various plants and animals that live in the stream.  A visitor would roll the die and, depending on what number they roll, something changes in the system.  For example, the snapping turtle (the top predator) disappears or the Emerald Ash Borer invades the riparian forest or the farmer upstream builds a fence to keep her cows out of the stream.  Then I would ask the visitor questions about how the change would affect the different organisms in the food web.  Even though it was a little complicated for the youngest visitors, most kids were intrigued and caught on quickly.  By the end we had demonstrated trophic cascades and eutrophication, no problem.  After playing the food web game, kids got a name tag that read “Hello my name is: Scientist”.

I also brought along a few of my “treasures” I have found walking around KBS and other places in Michigan—raccoon and possum skulls, a few deer bones, a painted turtle shell, chestnuts, sycamore seed heads, some fossils, and feathers.  A lot of kids were really intrigued by my treasures and I told them that they, too, could have a collection like this just by walking around outside—Michigan has lots of hidden treasure, you just have to look!

Christine Sprunger, KBS LTER graduate student, talking about soil with a young visitor. (Photo credit: Bonnie McGill)