Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sophie: Bug Scientist

Last Thursday was a special day for Sophie. She was practically levitating with anticipation on Wednesday and woke up - by herself - on Thursday anxious to get ready and leave. She went to work with her Dad, spending the morning reading Harry Potter and watching movies on the couch in his office. After going out for daddy/daughter pizza, they drove to the U of M St. Paul Campus. I'm going to let Bryan tell you about the visit - just know that these photos give me the heebie jeebies.

Hi, Bryan here. I had been working on setting this up for a while, and we finally got a private tour of the U of M's insect collection -- the 19th largest in the world, with over three million insects -- by its curator, Dr. Ann Fallon, a real live bug scientist, along with lots of live insects in her own office that she had ready for the occasion. Ann was a wonderful hostess and could not have been more delightful in teaching Sophia all about the insects we looked at. She had also arranged for a special assistant, a ten-year-old daughter of another entomologist, to be there as well to help show Sophie around.

We saw more truly amazing insects than we could believe, including the largest moth species in the world, some really gargantuan stag beetles, and an astonishing variety of butterflies and beetles with the most unbelievably iridescent colors and intricate patterns. An entomology lab technician, Anna, visited for a while to help explain work they are doing right now on mosquito genetics that affect the mosquitoes' capacity to spread malaria, to help prevent the spread of malaria in Africa, so we saw that doing science can even help save people's lives.

Ann and Anna both urged Sophie to come back and visit them again, and were anxious for Sophie to bring in her bug house and show them the insects that she has collected. And, Ann sent Sophie off with several live bugs to bring home! The pictures above show a sample from that collection, a large moth and a chrysalis that will hatch into the same type of moth in the next couple of weeks. Sophie also received another chrysalis that will soon hatch into a butterfly, a petri dish filled with thousands of tiny proturans (actually a type of non-insect hexapod), and a bucket of pond-water filled with many types of aquatic insects, and her own pipette. Sophie was thrilled with the trip and while cradling her new bugs on the way home discussed with me her plans for an upcoming expedition to the park to search for new insect species that no one has discovered yet.

I had a real blast going on this trip with Sophie. As long as she has come up with this special interest in insects, I am keen on encouraging it. Even while the number of women has equaled that of men in business school and even surpassed men in law school, there remains a profound gender disparity in science and engineering, which all the research indicates is due to persistent cues in our culture to otherwise scientifically inclined girls and women at all stages of life that this is not something for them. I think it's really important for Sophie to grow up seeing and interacting with women scientists, and to grow up understanding and taking for granted that girls can understand and can do absolutely anything they're interested in.


  1. That is one really cool adventure! I can only imagine how much Sophie loved it.
    My friend at church has a PhD in science (biology) and she studied brain cells! You can definitely do a lot with science. And maybe you can find a way to prevent the spread of encephalitis with those mosquitos as well.
    I don't particularly like bugs, but I think it's pretty cool that Sophie likes them so much! She's hilarious how much she loves them.

  2. This is very interesting. I have always enjoyed science. Actually, there are more and more women going into pharmacy. The only bugs that I despise are the ones that leave me itching.

  3. Bryan- You are one amazing dad!
    To Bryan and Stacey- That is one amazing daughter you have!

    She is truly my hero, and there are a lot of times that I wish she was here to save me from what I think are scary bugs, but I'm sure she would like them.

    On a completely different note: Stacey-I'm so sorry, we have been so busy! We are going to get together over this weekend and pinpoint exactly what we want in the invites and get them back to you. Again, I am sooooo sorry that it has taken this long!

  4. I never was too crazy about bugs, i guess kids like them!