Archives de Tag: botany

Harry Potter and the Opportunity for Science Education

A whole generation grew up on the Harry Potter books and the films adapted from these books. So, what does it mean? Everybody and their little sister is going to pay attention if you use dear Harry as a teaching prop!

For zoologists, both books and movies are a mine of educational opportunities. All those owls flitting to and fro, bringing wizards messages — oops! The species mentioned in the books are not always the same as those used in the films. In part because, for instance, it would be difficult, and quite dangerous, to have a huge eagle owl landing on the tender shoulders of a school-age kid… (Yes, even Draco.)

Harry Potter and the PSA, by lyosha

Now, if you are a botanist, how about telling us what a real willow looks like? Not like the films’ poor angry Whomping Willow, in any case!

And then, there’s genetics. This is straight from book canon, and basic knowledge about how wizards can be born from Muggles stock. (Hat tip: @SLSingh).

That’s creativity for you, people! Yes, creativity. Science can has it too.

Darwin the terraformer

This is beautiful. Charles Darwin, father of the modern theory of evolution, was also a pioneer of ecology. And with a botanist friend of his, Joseph Hooker (who would become the director of Kew Gardens), he took upon himself to build up an ecosystem (cf. BBC News) on the tiny volcanic island of Ascension, in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

Kept arid by the hot trade winds from Africa, Ascension Island lacked trees and rainwater, so the two English scientists (with the logistical help of the Royal Navy, for whom Ascension was a useful base of operations) decided to import tall tropical trees in the hope that they would capture moisture from rainclouds, reduce evaporation and enrich the soil with their leaves.

The effect of this artificial vegetation cover? It boosted the evolution of the ecosystem! What would have normally taken tens of thousands, or maybe millions of years, by the slow, gradual process of co-evolution (birds bringing plant seeds with their feces, plants adapting to the new environment, etc.), was accomplished in a matter of decades. There is now a forest on Ascension’s peaks, and it does capture moisture from drifting clouds, and transformed the cinder-like volcanic island into a lush, green, tropical oasis in the midst of the ocean.

Can it get better? Perhaps. Some scientists, among them the British ecologist David Wilkinson, think that the Ascension Island experiment could help devise strategies for the terraformation of other planets, like of course Mars.

From the Victorian pioneers of biological sciences to (maybe) tomorrow’s space conquests? We do live in a world of science fiction!