Glorious Bug Overlords and BugBowl 2016: Gwen Pearson at Real Scientists

We’re delighted to welcome our next curator, entomologist Dr Gwen Pearson (@bug_gwen); former researcher, and current Education and Outreach Coordinator, Department of Entomology at Purdue University, USA. Gwen is a freelance science journalist whose work has appeared in Wired, Washington Post, Nature and other publications. This Gwen_pweek, Gwen will be talking about her work as an entomologist, outreach coordinator, writer and communicator. Gwen will also be covering Bug Bowl at Purdue, and we’re looking forward to such events as Cricket Spitting, possibly come cockroach racing and many other weird and wonderful events featuring insects – and arthropods – of all kinds, including some spiders. It’s going to be a fun week! Here’s Gwen’s story:

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a scientist! I think it was all the time I spent running around in the woods and on a farm that shaped my interest in biology and animal behavior.

I never intended to be an entomologist–as an undergraduate I studied general zoology. I took one entomology class and was hooked! I immediately changed my major. 

Insects are a great way to study behavior, or nearly any other biological topic. They reproduce quickly, and don’t take up space. If I was studying mammals, I might need to wait decades to see any effects of my work. With insects, the time scale is much quicker–and it often has a bonus of helping farmers or public health.

My work at Purdue has three main components. I plan large science outreach events like Bug Bowl–we usually have >30,000 people visit during that weekend.  I maintain our live collections, including USDA permitting and containment facilities. And I deliver and schedule K-12 presentations for schools, camps, and community groups. That includes writing new curriculum and training students too.

Everyone needs insects! Most people have heard about bees providing pollination services, but other insects are critical to ecosystem functioning. Without dung beetles, flies, and other decomposers, we’d be up to our knees in corpses and poo. Other insects help build and aerate our soils, making plants grow better. Predatory insects prevent an estimated 4.5 billion dollars of crop damage yearly.

Gwen in Insect cosplay at SciFi conventionsInsects are eaten by fish and birds, and a whole host of other animals (including people on occasion.) A world without insects would not be a world we would enjoy (and possibly might not be able to live on).

My “Batman” job is being a science writer. I’ve written for WIRED, Nature, and the Washington Post, among others. Unfortunately, my Purdue job is so time-consuming that I’ve had to do less of that science writing this year.

I also spend a lot of time as a scientist at Science Fiction conventions. It’s a blast! I’ll be at GeekGirlCon this fall talking about insects and forensics.

My main “hobby” is really work; I’m working on a book, and I publish with several science magazines/newspaper outlets.

Ideal Day Off? A sunny day, a book, and my cat in my lap as I read.  And then a long nap.

Please welcome Gwen to Real Scientists!

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