Scientific Literacy at the Roslindale Farmers’ Market

While wandering through the booths filled with edible greens, baked goods, and handmade soaps at the Roslindale Farmers’ Market on this muggy Saturday morning, I spotted a sign with the word “Literacy” and magnetically fluttered towards it like a moth drawn to light.

The sign read:

Boston University ALES: Advocates for Literacy in Environmental Science

Boston University ALES: Advocates for Literacy in Environmental Science

Attached to the sign was a table with scientific instruments and props. And behind the table were the ALES themselves!

Three of the ALES with their scientific tools at the Roslindale Farmers' Market

Three of the ALES with their scientific tools at the Roslindale Farmers’ Market

I learned that the ALES are a group of Boston University graduate student scientists who travel to various locations (including public schools) to promote science by providing explanations and demonstrations of what scientists do. Their goal is to create public awareness of the contributions that scientists make to society. They strive to show that scientists do not exist  in “ivory tower” laboratories, but rather solve problems and study phenomenon presented by the world. The ALES certainly proved their capability to meet their objectives through their delightful demonstrations this morning.

The demonstration below served to personify soil by showing that it is a breathing entity that exhales carbon dioxide.

The breathing soil with a CO2 monitor

The breathing soil with a CO2 monitor

Maple woods, like the strips seen here, makes up the floors of bowling alleys.

Maple woods, like the strips seen here, makes up the floors of bowling alleys.

The prop above shows the growth of various maples. A member of the ALES informed me that maples are used to construct the floors of bowling alleys.

133 year old Red Spruce

133 year old Red Spruce

I learned that some species of trees do not deal well with shade, but they grow very quickly with enough sunlight. However, species that can tolerate shade often outlive sun-worshipping species. The BU ALES explained this as “Tortise and the Hare” syndrome. I also learned that I can classify the Red Spruce as a “tortoise” because it is able to withstand shade.

The BU ALES offered a variety of fungi to grow at home.

The BU ALES offered a variety of fungi and plants to grow at home.

Finally, the BU ALES offered goody bags of plants and fungi to grow in your home, and they explain to you how to create appropriate soils and containers for your goodies.

The 20 minutes or so at the BU ALES booth enriched my meager knowledge of environmental scientists, and I will definitely be contacting them in the fall to arrange for them to visit my classroom. I cannot wait to learn more from them and enhance my scientific literacy. Thank you to the BU ALES for promoting literacy in our community!

The Boston University Advocates for Literacy in Environmental Sciences are available for school visits and public presentations. Please contact ales@bu.edu for more information.

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