Darwin’s Legacy: Keeping Order

It’s hard to keep up with Erica McAlister as she darts through the labyrinth comprising the entomology department at London’s Natural History Museum. She’s eager to show off its treasures: iridescent beetles from South America, bugs with plantlike bodies, damselflies and dragonflies from around the world. “I was bitten by that, showing off,” she says, pointing to a wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi) in a case displaying preserved arachnids. She was at a party, trying to impress the guests by determining the spider’s sex, when it bit her. “I could probably give you a tour of things that have bitten me,” she says.

Instead, the current tour reaches its climax at the end of the corridor. “This is my room,” she says, pushing through a door to a corner room filled with several rows of 5-foot-tall green metal cabinets, stacked two high. The cabinets house the museum’s collection of insects from the order Diptera–the true flies, which include gnats, midges, and mosquitoes. McAlister, 35, is one of three Diptera curators among the entomology department‘s curatorial staff of about two dozen.

McAlister shows off the Diptera collection like an adoring parent: the lovely bee flies; the curious hairy legs of the robber fly; the amazing eyes of the stalk-eyed flies; the mosquito with feathered mid-legs that look like legwarmers; U.K. crane flies with wide wingspans and long, delicate legs; the horse fly with a 2-inch-long proboscis; the bot flies that lay their eggs on mosquitoes for transportation. “There’s so much diversity,” she says. “They’re amazing, insects.”

Read the rest of this story on Science Careers.

Science Careers Podcast

In 2007-2008, I did nine pieces on various career topics that were aired in the Science podcast. For most, I conducted the interviews, and wrote and voiced the script. Links to each of them are below.

Science Careers Podcast: Synthetic Biology [MP3]
17 October 2008
Hear three scientists talk about their career paths and the future of synthetic biology research.

Science Careers Podcast: Geoscience Careers [MP3]
8 August 2008
Hear from experts and geologists about the current job market for geoscientists.

Science Careers Podcast: An Interview with Catherine Cardelús [MP3]
13 June 2008
The young rainforest ecologist talks about her career path, her research, and what it’s like to work in the forest canopy.

Science Careers Podcast: European Visa Issues [MP3]
16 May 2008
A European policy official talks about coming to Europe to do science.

Science Podcast: Radioprotective Drugs; Modeling the Supergreenhouse; New Treatments for Alcoholism; Generation Y Workforce [MP3]
Rob Frederick, Kate Travis, Lucas Laursen. 11 April 2008
New drugs help cells survive exposure to radiation; how fewer biological materials in the atmosphere may have led to the Cretaceous supergreenhouse; an expanding suite of therapies to treat alcoholism; characteristics of the Generation Y workforce; and more.

Science Podcast: Predator-Induced Cloning; Organic Molecules in Protoplanetary Disks; Assessing Agricultural Science and Technology; Industry-Academia Collaborations [MP3]
Rob Frederick, Kate Travis, 14 March 2008
Sand dollar larvae respond to predator cues by cloning themselves; finding organic molecules in protoplanetary disks around stars; planning for future food and fuel needs with the largest assessment of agricultural science and technology; getting industry funding for scientific research; and more.

Science Podcast: Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases; Science Budget; Good Mentoring; Reproducing in Cities [MP3]
Rob Frederick, Kate Travis, 8 February 2008
A new model suggests that land use changes would release more greenhouse gases than biofuels can save in the next few decades; examining the 2009 U.S. science budget; the characteristics of a good mentoring relationship; understanding lowe