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Science for Citizens

Chesapeake centers keep us almost as smart as Big Nate’s Gina
      Journalism is a nosy business. “Curiosity is a writer’s greatest asset,” said outdoors writing great Bill Burton, our columnist from his retirement from The Evening Sun in 1993 until his death in 2009. At Bay Weekly every one of us — from writers to delivery drivers to ad reps — is driven by curiosity’s itch. We want to know — as my father got in the habit of saying during his World War II service as a shore patrolman in Key West — what’s happening on Duval Street … and everyplace we go.
      That’s why, in Bay Weekly’s pages, you’ve read stories of characters like the late, great Vera, impresario of Vera’s White Sands; and the late Muskrat Greene, Guinness oyster-slurping champion; about auctioneers and swan callers; about presidential motorcycle outriders and presidential press secretaries; about master gardeners and master chefs.
      Especially, we’re drawn to Chesapeake Bay, the defining force of our part of the world, where every experience urges us to spend more time and gain more knowledge. Like everybody else who wants to know the whos, whats, whens, wheres, whys and hows of Chesapeake Country, we’ve found answers in the two great scientific research centers that are our neighbors, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater. 
       Because both have made education as well as science their mission, they build talking to people into their routine of writing their grants, studying our world and making sense of what they find out. 
      Even before Bay Weekly and routinely for all our years, I turned to those science centers to learn this new place so different from the riverine country of Missouri and the corn prairies of Illinois. I took my first paddle in Chesapeake rivers with the Smithsonian, and my first and only elevation into the tree canopy. When I needed to know more about jellyfish, noew retired Dr. Denise Breitburg was my go-to. For crabs — including the mudcrab body­snatching parasite Loxo, Smithsonian director Dr. Anson ‘Tuck’ Hines. For catfish, clams and cownose rays, Dr. Matthew Ogburn. I’ve learned about recycling as well as research through the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, dedicated to keeping citizens abreast of science.
      Bay Weekly’s Kathy Knotts and Audrey Broomfield have trained with them as citizen scientists. Bay Weekly Production Manager Betsy Kehne and her husband Mark Behuncik got saturated there in the music of the Chesapeake. But they just missed hearing from Smith Island storyteller Janice Marshall how Smith Island cake earned its promotion to our state cake.
      With the Chesapeake Biological Lab, I went cruising to slake my curiosity about cownose rays and clearnose skates. There I had my first taste of Chesapeake eel (I loved it) and the once-upon-a-time new Bay oyster contender Ariakensis. ­Husband Bill Lambrecht talked there about his first book on the global politics of food, Dinner at the New Gene Café.
      It’s the kind of place science can spark revelations, as it did in the September 7 comic strip Big Nate for overachiever Gina Hemphill-Toms
who, according to comic artist Lincoln Peirce, “conducted research on levels of ocean acidity in the Chesapeake Bay” at the Lab.
       This week, it’s Smithsonian Environmental Research Center where we can all be like Gina and smarten ourselves up on our oceans with Jane Lubchenco, ocean scientist and former NOAA administrator — the first woman to hold that title.
     There’s no better time to learn about The Ocean: Our Future in this event hosted by the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. 
       Lubchenco is a heavyweight of marine biology, and she lands in Annapolis at a most fretful time, weeks after an ominous report on the health of oceans from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
      Lubchenco offers a depressing reading, writing in Science that it “details the immense pressure that climate change is exerting on ocean ecosystems and portrays a disastrous future for most life in the ocean and for the billions of people who depend on it.”
       But she brings optimism as well, highlighting hopeful actions underway.
      The Ocean: Our Future: Tues., Oct. 15, with light reception at 6pm, lecture at 7pm, St. John’s College Key Auditorium, Annapolis, free: www.serc.si.edu/oceans-our-future. 
 
My Bay Weekly Wheel of Memory
       This week, let me reintroduce you to the incomparable Janie White, a spunky World War II-model wife, mother, widow and working woman who asked if she could come volunteer for us to keep busy after a grown daughter’s death. Janie, who’d worked at The Washington Post, made our classified renewal calls and, with her husband Arthur White, a retired D.C. detective, became our mailing team. But Janie’s biggest contributions were love and wisdom, with plenty to go around for all.
       About Matt Pugh, featured last week, I have to correct myself. Two of my attributions — his marriage and the band Willies Light — are in his past. One, owning his own PR business, is still in his future. His new band is Hot Pocket.