Search Results for: inspiration

Thursday Inspiration: Waves


Find more ocean quotes here and you may also want to visit the Beach Chair Scientist “Conservation Inspiration” Pinterest board. What inspires you? Artists? Books? Songs? Please share, I’m always looking for more fresh ideas.

10 techniques for science bloggers to discover inspiration

I’ve been blogging for five years and lately what has happened is that I’ve been fortunate to share my successes and challenges with other people. Fresh off the plane from Science Online Oceans (the most unconventional, inspiring, and interactive conference I’ve ever attended – loved every minute!), I noticed a reoccurring challenge that other online science writers and myself often face – finding inspiration. So here are 10 techniques for creating posts. Now this list isn’t anything monumental, but given that I barely posted this summer I thought writing this list might help me get out of the rut (I know … so selfish!). If you have any other ideas that may be useful, please don’t hesitate to comment below.

1. Google Alerts: Knowing the most up to date information will certainly generate some inspiration! Whatever your specialty, make sure to know when it’s mentioned in the news, if a video on the subject is released, or when someone else writes a blog post on it. These alerts go straight to your mailbox daily, weekly, or as they are published … depending on how you set it up. Make sure when you put your specialty into the search query that you surround it in quotes. For instance, I want articles of “horseshoe crabs” to come to my inbox, not articles that might mention “horseshoes” and “crabs”.

2. Your photo albums: Come on, I know you have extensive catalogs of pictures from fieldwork or on trips with the family. All you have to do is place a picture into PowerPoint or inDesign, put a caption or a favorite quote around it, save as a jpeg and you have a short, sweet, and original post. Below is my husband looking out at a lake on our honeymoon in Maine with a John Muir quote attached which I posted on John Muir’s birthday.

Colin in Maine

3. Mentors: Sure you have a mentor and you typically focus on what they do NOW as a goal … but, take time to focus on HOW they got to where they are today. Interviews make great posts. Were there any particular people – in or out of science — who helped and encouraged their interest in science at an early age?

4. Citizen science projects: You may be in a rut because you’ve dissected your methods and discipline to death on your blog. Take time out to participate in a citizen science project or volunteer project that you might enjoy and write about your experience. What do they do that you could incorporate into your own discipline?

5. Other “non-science” related blogs: You might obsess over science blogs to see what others in our cohort are doing these days, but take time out to check out blogs of your other interests as well. For instance, I found the inspiration for the series “What Marine Conservationists Are Into …” from my cousin’s fashion blog. You know you’re into your cars, music, food … how do they do it and how can you do it better?

6. Google search: horseshoecrabsearchYes, it’s THAT simple sometimes. I’ve been known to type in a word and see what phrases populate in the Google search bar. I like to think to myself “populate” is linked somehow to “popular” so this is what people are reading about on this particular subject. For instance, when I type in “horseshoe crab” you see what populates. Along those same lines, Google image searches can provide some interesting inspiration as well.

7. Your audience: Looking through the statistics of your blog and reviewing how your audience is referred to your blog can draw some interesting inspiration. From those clicks you can see which posts are the most popular and you can share more on that topic.

8. Think ahead: Are there any strange holidays or major milestones in your field that are coming up? Is the anniversary of a significant paper published in your field creeping up? Are there any monumental televisions shows about to end their run? Use these events as a way to craft a post that will certainly be shared due to its timely relevance.

9. Magazine covers: This is the opposite of “Think ahead” and can help make something you may have already posted seem fresh and innovative. Use magazines to find crafty titles and then formulate a post around that title. For instance, “Secrets of …”, “6 new ways to …”, “5 myths about …”, “3 easy plans to …”, “How to easily understand …”, “Can you imagine life without …?”, “Top 8 benefits of …”, “5 things you might not know about …”, or “5 reasons … is like …” are all fun ways of drawing people in on a subject. Remember, even if you’ve already shared this information of your blog, repackaging it with new and updated pictures isn’t a no-no.

10. You: Even if you have created an “About me” page on your blog take time to share with your audience a little bit more about where you grew up, how you got into your field (this is probably not your first job), the methods behind your science (you know there is never enough room for that in a published paper), a funny story from your fieldwork, or what inspires you. Not all of that needs to be in one post. Make it a short series. It’s great practice in building a narrative which can help in translating your science to others in-person.

A Scientist’s Inspiration

Ryan K Morris/National Science & Technology Medals Foundation.

Ryan K Morris/National Science & Technology Medals Foundation.

For Dr. Penny Chisholm, a single look into the microscope as an undergraduate student set off a chain of events that led to a lifetime of work, important new research changing our understanding of the oceans and, just recently, an honor from President Obama at the White House.

The Lee and Gerldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dr. Chisholm recently shared her thoughts with Beach Chair Scientist on her recent National Medal of Science Award and her research work. She also discusses her work as children’s book author, even sharing her cure for writer’s block.

BCS: You described your recent National Medal of Science Award as a high point of your career and a thrill – something you probably couldn’t have imagined when you were an undergraduate. What first sparked your interest in microbial oceanography?
CHISHOLM: I first viewed phytoplankton under a microscope as an undergraduate at Skidmore College.  I found them beautiful and fascinating.  After a few detours, my studies in graduate school focused on a single species of phytoplankton called Euglena, which is one of the “lab rats” among the phytoplankton. I used it to begin to understand (literally) how these cells get through their day.  But I soon realized that the oceans held enormous challenges and studying them would broaden my horizons. So I sought a post-doc at Scripps Oceanographic Institution to where I studied phytoplankton in the wild.

BCS: After receiving word of your award, you told the MIT newspaper that the honor was particularly gratifying because Phytoplankton had been under-noticed despite being the base of the ocean’s foodweb. That said, what has the medal meant to you in terms of the exposure both for the marine microbiology field and for your research?
CHISHOLM: The Medal came as a complete surprise.  It is not something that is common in my field as it is relatively small compared to some others that are highly represented among the Medalists.  I feel that I accepted the award on behalf of the many oceanographers who have pushed our field forward in leaps and bounds over the past decade.  In addition, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has generously funded Marine Microbiology for the past 8 years, which has made a tremendous difference in what we have been able to discover.

BCS: For those of us who aren’t in the field, what should we know about this microorganism and why is it so important in helping us get a better understanding of our planet?
CHISHOLM: Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that form the base of the food chain in lakes and oceans. Through photosynthesis- in which they use the sun’s energy to build organic carbon (living matter) from carbon dioxide gas drawn from the air –  they produce the food for all of the other organisms in the ecosystem, from small zooplankton on up to fish. They draw as much CO2 out of the atmosphere each year, and produce as much oxygen, as all the plants on land.  As such they play an important role in balancing the global carbon cycle, which in turn has an influence on Earth’s climate.

My research for the past 25 years has been on a single species of phytoplankton called Prochlorococcus. It is the smallest and most abundant photosynthetic cell on Earth, and is responsible for a sizable fraction of photosynthesis in the oceans.

BCS: Were there any particular people – in or out of science — who helped and encouraged your interest in science at an early age? How so? What’s your message to young people considering getting into the field today?
CHISHOLM: My interest in science grew slowly as I went through school.  I think the most significant step was when my undergraduate advisor at Skidmore College mentioned to me that I could get a PhD if I wanted to. It had never occurred to me.  I loved studying, so that sounded a lot better than getting a job after I graduated.  I was also drawn to science as a “way of knowing”.  I remember being impressed by the idea that you could make measurements and do experiments, and write the results up in a publication and people would believe you.  I think I found appealing the idea of science as a platform for being heard.  Perhaps growing up in the ’50s- when women’s voices did not carry much weight – influenced me in that regard.

BCS: You’re also the author of two children’s books. What if any similarities exist in your work as an author and as a scientist?
CHISHOLM: Working on the children’s books has helped me learn how to boil concepts down to their very essence.  The truth is that we made these books with the hope that not only children, but parents and teachers would learn from them.  The books, which are narrated by the Sun, cover some very fundamental concepts about life on Earth and our dependency on plants and photosynthesis,  that most people do not understand.  I believe that if we all share this understanding, along with a sense of awe about life on our planet, we will have more respect for all of life on Earth and our dependency on it.

BCS: What’s next for you as a writer?
CHISHOLM: I have a few things on my plate.  The most immediate is third children’s book with Molly Bang, called “Buried Sunlight”.  It is about fossil fuels, how they were made over the history of the Earth, and how burning them in a few hundred years time is changing the planet.

BCS: Do scientists get writers block, too – if so, how do you tackle it?
CHISHOLM: Of course!  What I do is go for a walk.  That usually removes the block, and, more importantly, opens new channels.

To learn more about Dr. Chisholm’s research, visit, and see her children’s books, Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring Earth to Life and Living Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas.

Monday Inspiration: Persian Ceiling by Dale Chihuly

This past weekend I took a road trip to Richmond, VA and was thrilled to be introduced to the ethereal artistry of the glassworks created by Dale Chihuly at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. In particular from this exhibit, the piece ‘Persian Ceiling‘ is an experience I wanted to share. As I gazed up into the illuminated glass ceiling with the gleaming and luminescent art densely piled up (practically to the sky!),  I was certain I had been transformed to another point in time.

It was as if I was witness to the Great Barrier Reef at its apex in species diversity and brilliance of color. I wondered how he created such movement in still objects – spectacular! No doubt I was head-over-heels impressed due to the beautiful daylight that was paired with the exhibit space. I also found it incredibly playful how Chiluly interspersed echinoderms, mollusks, and cephalopods to give the illusion that you’re indeed walking under the sea (see if you can spot them in the images below). If you have the opportunity, you cannot go wrong with investigating the work of Chihuly. If you’re lucky enough to see his work first hand, it will surely brighten your day and have your feeling inspired.



Images (c) Beach Chair Scientist

A little dose of ocean conservation inspiration

This is a whimsical – yet still direct and profound – image I wanted to share from from my Ocean Conservation Inspiration Pinterest board. Do you have a particular phrase or image that drives you?

Dunes: a demonstration on the importance of stability

In case you didn’t pick up on this via Instagram or Twitter I’ve recently relocated to Chicago. It’s a far cry from my Mid-Atlantic roots but actually much closer to lots of beautiful beaches and plenty of new inspiration. In fact, one place I cannot wait to visit is the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Here’s why:

Dunes are important (and you should never walk on them!) and should be rebuilt to maintain stability after any natural disaster. I mean … we don’t want to erode the beaches away. Dunes are dynamic and lend themselves as a main cause for a beaches unique features. They’re also such an indicator of the power of the ocean and wind. But, where would they be without stabilizers such as dunes grasses?


Here’s a quick demonstration I’ve used in a high school class to illustrate 1) how wind carries materials (i.e., sand) to build dunes and 2) why we should protect grasses that stabilize dunes.

Materials: Dry, fine sand, blow dryer, twigs or branches (I have a bunch of strange fairy house trees and shrubs that make for cute miniatures), a cereal box with one side removed, eye glasses (definitely one for each student)

Prep: I create a dune without any stabilization in the center of the box. I think it’s good to make it fairly large (about six inches or so high so that something noticeable can occur.

Discussion/demo: Ask students to draw a picture of what will happen to the dune once the wind (i.e., created from the blow dryer) blows on the dune. In particular ask them what if they can predict if one side might get steeper and one side might increase its slope. I also introduce terms such as “windward” and “leeward” noting how the sand will basically blow over the leeward side of the dune. Once the demonstration is complete, and I’ve used the blow dryer on a low setting for about ten seconds about one feet away, I follow-up and ask them if the migration of the sand was the same as their prediction.

Next, I set it up again and ask them the same questions but I use the stabilizers. For the stabilizers you want to make sure that they are in firmly and won’t blow away (It’s one of those things I learned the hard way).

Outcome: The outcome should be that the students notice a difference with a dune that is stable verse one that doesn’t have vegetation. You can even mention that some dunes can be stabilized with artificial means such as rocks. Dunes that are stable can greatly improve beach erosion which is especially timely given the coastlines aren’t what they used to be. Thanks, climate change (that’s an entirely different discussion).

Note: I generally use quick introductions like this as a journal exercise to get the students thinking and warmed up. I typically ask them to break out a vocabulary section in their notes and copy down and words I might use (e.g., windward, erosion, leeward) and then set up a journal entry for the introduction to class.


Superlatives of the sea

This past Friday I had a particularly curious and enthusiastic fifth block Oceanography class. All of their questions were marine science related so I broke out some notecards and asked them to write all of their burning inquiries down. I wanted to tackle them thoughtfully … here I am! My students are amazing inspiration and I’m quite grateful to them for some fun reason to get back to writing here.

My most entertaining question was “What’s the most extravagant animal in the ocean?” I mean, there are just so many ways to think on it. I asked on Twitter and got lots of good ideas … Since I spend my days in a high school, I went with some superlative options. These are a few I came up with but I am looking to see what you all might think: Octopus (Most likely to win a Noble Prize in Physics), Frogfish (Most confident), Erect-crested penguin (Coolest hair), Leafy sea dragon (Best dressed), or the Whale shark (Biggest life of the party).

What the most extravagant animal in the sea?

What is the most extravagant animal in the sea?

Please send some other suggestions!



Saltwater vs. Freshwater: Why droughts are a real problem

Earth’s surface is about 70% water. But, only 1% of that is accessible freshwater (i.e., found in lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds). McGraw Hill pulled together this beautiful infographic illustrating the amount of water on the surface of the Earth that humans can actually use (‘Just a drop in the bucket’, so to speak). Consider this reality when thinking about the serious situations in California this summer with “its third-worst drought in 106 year“.



My favorite posts from 2013

One of the highlights of 2013 for me was gathering the family and neighbors to put in storm drains signs. Learn more on why it's important to know what's going down the drain here:

One of the highlights of 2013 for me was gathering the family and neighbors to put in storm drains signs. Learn more on why it’s important to know what’s going down the drain here:

This isn’t the typical list of the most popular Beach Chair Scientist posts throughout the year (you can find those on the right sidebar under “Top Posts & Pages from BCS” any day of the year). Those posts typically include questions typed into a search bar such as ‘Are manatees and elephants really related?‘, ‘Do sharks have bones?’ or ‘How much salt is in the ocean?’.  This list is a review of my favorite posts from the past year and why I enjoyed them:

  • 99 reasons I’m in Limulus Love: Before the horseshoe crabs started mating in May and June I sat down and cataloged a list of 99 reasons Limulus polyphemus are a creature worth respecting.
  • All five posts from the “What we do affects our watershed week: This series was a great reminder that even though you might not live anywhere near a river, lake, or stream our daily actions have massive consequences on the waterways – and ultimately the ocean.
  • Mother Nature vs. Santa Claus: 13 reasons why Mother Nature should always win: This post was a response to the Toys ‘R’ Us commercial that pitted nature against toys. It’s important to remember what Mary Catherine O’Connor with Outside Magazine stated as the “tremendous value to childhood development (as well as to self-awareness, health and confidence) that is spending time in the natural world and trying to understand how it works”.
  • A seal on the shore isn’t always stranded: This post is a nice reminder to stay back and let nature takes its course, also you never know what you’ll come across during a wintry beach walk.
  • 3 truths on the fables about dolphin-safe labels: It was an eye-opening post to write and discover that just because it’s labeled as dolphin-safe it isn’t safe for all marine life.
  • A Scientist’s Inspiration (by Jim McElhatton): This interview with Dr. Penny Chisholm, recipient of the National Medal of Science, should be a must read for anyone in school with even a slight interest in science as she explains how “My interest in science grew slowly as I went through school”. She also explains the merits of writing for children in that it helps to boil down the subject matter.
  • Beach Chair Birding, A Ray of Hope in a Sea of Chum, A Visit from Dungeness Crab: These posts are three of my favorites because they were all contributed by guest bloggers. Ernie Wilson, Jim Wharton, and Cherilyn Jose each brought a perspective as unique as they are … I can’t wait to see what they’ll share next year! If you’re interested in guest blogging please feel free to share your ideas anytime!

Nudibranchs: The elusive butterflies of the sea

The 3,000 species of nudibranchs (noo-duh-brangk) boast more colors than a box of Crayola crayons and most nudibranchs “live no more than a year and then disappear without a trace, their boneless, shell-less bodies leaving no record of their brief, brilliant lives”.

These sea slugs are found all over the world and range in size from a quarter of an inch to just about a foot. The word “nudibranch” means “naked gills”. A name appropriate since their gills are exposed prominently outside of their bodies (not covered like other sea slugs).

These gastropods are remarkable for their defense mechanisms. A listing and description of some are listed below along with some select images of these brilliantly colored sea slugs.

Warning coloration: Bright, contrasting pigments warn prospective predators they’re are inedible.
Skin: They can be can be tough-skinned, bumpy, and abrasive.
Toxic secretions: Some feast on poisonous sponges and then absorb the toxins into their body which are secreted later when disturbed.
Stinging cells: Some accumulate the stinging cells (nemocysts) from their prey (e.g., fire corals, anemones, and hydroids) and then the stinging cells are emanated from their own body when distributed.





I must admit that the title and inspiration of this post came from the book “The Highest Tide” (2005) by Jim Lynch. If you have time this summer it’s a must read if you think you might enjoy an homage to Rachel Carson secretly embedded in a coming of age story set along the coast of Puget Sound.

Image (c) top to bottom: