Science in the USA

I just spent 3.5 weeks in the United States, which is the reason for the lack of posts since the 4th (when we left). As I haven’t read much science news (or any other news) since we left, I’ll have to draw on my actual experiences (gasp) for this post. So, here is a round-up of the science-related touring that we did.

  1. In the Muir Woods, California, we saw the giant redwoods, which are beautiful and awe-inspiring. We also listened to an ecology talk run by a volunteer, in which we learned why the woods were named after John Muir (William Kent, who bought the land to conserve it and donated it to the government, wanted it named after his hero) and a bit about redwood biology (they can reproduce sexually or asexually, and can grow so tall because they have symbiotic fungi that draw water in from the fog).
  2. We visited the aquarium in Monterey, California, which is renowned for its three-storey kelp pool containing many of the local species, including the lovely leopard sharks. We saw penguins, sea otter, and lots of fish. We managed to get to the penguin feeding, otter training, and kelp pool diver feeding (that is, a diver fed the fish). The keeper talks were excellent, especially the otter talk, which explained how they care for injured otters, foster hurt babies, and release them back into the wild. Conservation is important at the aquarium, and the otters that they have kept are considered unreleasable.
  3. In New York, we went to the American Museum of Natural History. The museum is huge and we didn’t get through the whole thing. But we saw the space exhibit and the planetarium show (“Cosmic Collisions”, narrated by Robert Redford — it was excellent), quite a lot of the biodiversity exhibits and of course the dinosaurs and extinct mammals. The museum reminded me a lot of the Australian Museum, but it was less child-oriented and at least three times the size.
  4. On our last day in New York, we visited the Central Park Zoo. This is a cute little zoo, which you can get through in under an hour. We loved the polar bears and penguins and puffins.

Other general observations:

  • Conservation and environment really is a big deal in California — it’s not just a media beat-up. Cars are smog tested yearly, everyone I met recycles absolutely everything, and public transport around San Francisco was excellent.
  • The staff (paid and volunteer) at every attraction we visited, were passionate and enthusiastic.
  • In New York, people were interested in the environment but far less knowledgeable about it.
  • We didn’t meet anyone who believes in “Intelligent Design”, but I think that’s just a testament to flying over the “fly-over” states.