By Anthony Dimeglio
“The reason why the Earth is wet is because of its ever-evolving life on its surface.”
The late Dr. Lynn Margulis, a highly distinguished and respected cell biologist, shared this with me at an inaugural symposium describing trends in agriculture, just shy of a month before she passed in 2011. The Earth is wet today, but prolonged droughts, deforestation, and unmitigated industrial and agricultural pollution continue to anchor an irreversible future. This is one of the central reasons why the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization declared 2015 the International Year of Soils.
Soils are an integral proponent of entomology. All aspects — including soil’s organic carbon strengthening plant resistance against herbivory, moisture regimes for sensitive aquatic species, entomopathogenic fungi such as Beuarvaria spp. and Entomophaga maimaigato, nutrient cyclers such as diazotrophic bacteria, and sand grain sizes affecting benthic ecosystems — are critical elements to healthy insect communities.
An animation project called the “Soil is Alive!” celebrates the International Year of Soils by transforming a modern upbeat song about soils into a visual aid that is classroom-ready for teachers around the globe. The song is gleefully harmonized by middle-school students participating in a 4-H program called Adventures in Science, hosted in 2014 at the USDA-ARS in Beltsville, MD. The song was originally written to transform an in-classroom lecture about soil formation into a more captivating experience for youth.
Volunteers from a music group, The Walking Sticks, led the students into their song, the “Soil is Alive!” The song was a positive introduction to soils, allowing the students to open up and feel more comfortable about grasping novel material. It was so successful that the singing activity was subsequently recorded so the informative lyrics could be used in an animated video, creating a more valuable co-curricular resource.
The Walking Sticks are now leading a crowdfunding campaign to support this animation initiative to bring the lyrics to life. Animator Tynesha Foreman, 2015 graduate from MICA Animation Department, was recently awarded the Maryland Institute College of Art Animation Festival Golden Cockroach Award. Tynesha specializes in illustrating biting humor with educative subtlety. She is evolving the lyrics into characters with inspiring pool of insect photos sourced from discoverlife.org. Tynesha is joined by Joe Paquette (an animation student at George Mason University) to bring her characters to life with digital media overlaid with natural textures. A hip, animated song illustrating life within soils does not exists, and Tynesha and Joe are set on animating the lyrics to make a global impression.
Their animated video will be shown during a symposium at this year’s joint meeting of the Entomological Society of America, the American Society of Agronomy, the Soil Science of America, and the Crop Science Societies of America.
The symposium, which will present the significance of animation and music in communicating science, is brought together by a variety of speakers with a wide range of expertise in animation. Joining the symposium are Cable Hardin, Tynesha Foreman, members from The Walking Sticks, and Drs. Elvira de Lange & Ivan Hiltpold.
Cable Hardin, assistant professor of visual arts at South Dakota State University, is not new to entomology. He and entomologist Dr. Buyung Hadi submitted an animated public-service announcement about bed bugs to the 2013 ESA YouTube Your Entomology Contest. This project was a prime example of how interdepartmental partnerships can enhance outreach goals.
Dr. Elvira de Lange’s (Rutgers) dissertation on wild and cultivated Teosinte plant defenses was brought to life with a PhD Comic skit after she won the two-minute thesis competition at the 2013 ESA Annual Meeting. She continues to uses animation in her presentation materials to help her audience visualize the world of chemical ecology.
Dr. Ivan Hiltpold (University of Western Sydney) brings soil ecology to life with animation. The subterranean life is already difficult to visualize for the above-ground dweller, but his dedication to animating the unseen expands our understanding of soil chemical ecology. Dr. Hiltpold recently authored a paper investigating the effects of root cap exudates on plant-parasitic and entomopathogenic nematodes. Can you visualize an animation to follow?
In addition to this diverse array of presenters at this symposium, audience members will be invited to participate in a panel discussion to learn more about how they can animate their research and outreach materials. If you are curious about animating your work, or if you have a project ready to animate, please mark the following symposium on your calendar at the meeting this November:
Using Animation and Music to Communicate Science
Sunday November 15, 2015: 1:15 PM-3:15 PM
Anthony Dimeglio is a graduate student at Virginia Tech. He is studying insect behavior ecology within vegetable cropping systems.