UT graduate students bring science to Austin libraries


Emily Rees, a plant biology PhD student, explains the various forms of the shapeshifting Mimic Octopus at a Neighborhood Science session at the Twin Oaks branch of the Austin Public Library on Thursday, March 28, 2019. Neighborhood Science sessions are a new initiative from the long-running Science Under the Stars program.

Photo Credit: Conor Duffy | Daily Texan Staff

UT biology graduate students have started a new initiative called Neighborhood Science to bring science to public libraries.

The new project is a branch of Science Under the Stars, which has been hosting science talks at Brackenridge Field Laboratory for ten years, said Anne Chambers, an ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student and co-president of the project. 

The talks relate to biology but cover a wide range of topics, from fossils to insects and diseases, Chambers said.

“One of our grad students recently spoke about the science of superheroes, and she was good at talking about different superheroes and how they were inspired by biology,” Chambers said.

The program allows more opportunities for the public to interact with graduate students and scientists, said Kyle Wilhite, an ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student and co-president of the project.


“The main goal is to do more public outreach in more diverse areas,” Wilhite said. “If the public is able to engage in more scientific concepts and apply it to their lives, they are going to be more informed to make better decisions down the road.” 

These talks are trying to reach a wider audience, with a family focus toward both adults and kids, Chambers said.

“We’ve gotten really good feedback, and one nice thing about them is (the talks) are all small,” Chambers said. “(The project) can sometimes be like a hundred people. (Neighborhood Science) is much more one-on-one.”

These talks are also a way for graduate students to share their knowledge and experience with the general public, said Julia York, an ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student and co-president of the project.

“Some speakers have said to me that they were having a really hard time feeling motivated and just felt like they were kind of all on their own with their own research, and then having done the (Science Under the Stars) talks, they got so much interest,” York said. “It reminded them why they did it.”

Neighborhood Science and Science Under the Stars is a way for graduate students to practice communicating their research to the public, Wilhite said. 

“One of the things that some grad students have struggled with is the ability to communicate their research in a manner that is understood by the general public,”  Wilhite said. “So it gives the speakers an incredible opportunity to learn how to do that and translate their research.”