Dr P. spent a great hour talking about science education and careers in STEM with nearly 300 12-year old students at Bukit Panjang Primary School. It so happens Dr P. attended this same school nearly 20 years ago and it was great to be back giving a talk as an alumni.
The 45 min Q&A session was a particular highlight because there were numerous questions spanning a whole range of topics. Dr P. was especially impressed by a young boy who asked her if the gender pay inequality existed in science. He also her asked what the trade off was between economic growth and environmental sustainability. Other questions included queries about the Big Bang, how hurricanes are formed, the role of humans in triggering earthquakes, what it was like studying overseas as well as which came first, the chicken or the egg. Overall it was a truly enjoyable experience. But as usual, this is Singapore... so the very first question was "How much money do you make?".
When you tell someone you are a scientist, the image that pops into their mind, is often that of someone working in the laboratory, wearing a white coat and retro safety glasses. And that is not far from the truth for many in the STEM fields.
But for those of us in the natural sciences, there often exists another glamorous component... Fieldwork. In our lab, this often involves travelling to different countries and exploring different kinds of habitats to sample insects. From swampy mangroves and dense forests to urban neighbourhoods, insects can occupy a whole range of niches. We collect insects from different environments and whenever possible, we try to observe what they do in the 'wild'.
One of the main insect models we use in our lab are sepsid flies: a family of flies that are closely associated with dung. Yep... they are poop flies. These flies play a vital role in breaking down organic waste and in nutrient cycling. Plus, they have really cool morphology and mating behavior (https://www.youtube.com/user/sepsidbehavior2009). Dr. P started working on them as an undergraduate and has now spent more than a decade chasing cows and their patties across the world.
Now, you might be wondering, where can you find cow dung in the urban jungle that is Singapore. Well, it turns out, the Zoo. Since 2006, the kind folk working at the Singapore Night Safari have been collaborating with the Evolution Lab at NUS in providing different kinds of animal dung to be used for research purposes. Now, we at the ReproLab, have joined the band wagon.