Lindbergh Grant Recipients Teach Through Stories
On Monday, November 8, 1999, during a special program to celebrate "150 Years of Progress" in Little Falls, Minn., Lindbergh's boyhood home, students and community members presented a program for the community which was designed to tell stories about Little Falls history and the natural elements that attracted people to the area, the effects of immigration, and the vision for the future. The stories were told using master painter, Charles Kapsner's, "Beginnings" fresco as an historical guide. Story-telling is an age-old art which is all but forgotten in today's society, but is an effective element in learning. The Lindbergh Foundation invited three grant recipients to participate in the community celebration, and in keeping with the story-telling theme, the grant recipients told students such stories as "The Three Bears," "How to be a Detective," and "Hazards of Life in the Rainforest." Through these stories, the grant recipients shared the Lindbergh Foundation's mission of promoting a balance between technology and nature.
"Just Right" = Appropriate Technology
When Robert Marquez, 1999 Lindbergh Grant recipient from New Mexico State University, spoke to fifth-graders at Lindbergh Elementary, it was his goal to demonstrate to the students the concept of "Appropriate Technology to Solve Problems." To accomplish this he asked the students to think about the story of "The Three Bears." As the class told the story, Marquez emphasized that the baby bear's porridge was "just right" and used that example to explain how appropriate technology is "just right" for the people who need it.
Because brickmakers are often very poor, Marquez's challenge in his Lindbergh Grant project is to develop inexpensive and simple ways to solve the problem of how to reduce the amount of smoke being emitted from brick kilns to reduce air pollution. Marquez showed the students how he developed appropriate technology to solve this problem.
| ||Lindbergh Grant Recipients Peter Sherman, |
Daniel DeJoode and Robert Marquez
A clay chemist, Marquez is working to develop a long-term solution to remove the pollutants from kiln chimneys, before they reach the air, in order to provide a healthier environment. The traditional process used to fire the bricks produces black, billowing clouds of smoke which are emitted from each kiln chimney for 10-12 hours per firing, and occurs every two to three weeks. With 400 kilns in the El Paso area, 20,000 kilns in Mexico, and an estimated one million kilns worldwide in such countries as China, Pakistan, Nepal, and India, this is a serious and global issue.
In response to this problem, Marquez has designed a dual-kiln system with a clay filtering/condensation section between the two kilns where the pollutants are absorbed. This system has proven to dramatically reduce carcinogenic and other toxic compounds in preliminary tests. It is hoped that this method will be widely accepted by the brickmakers because costs are minimal, and the technology is easily adaptable using common materials. Plus, the fuel savings are substantial. Using a traditional kiln, four pick-up truck loads of wood are required to fire one crop of bricks. With the dual covered kiln, only one and one-half truck loads are needed. The dual kiln system is "appropriate technology" because brickmakers can build it themselves in about one month, and the savings in fuel will pay for the brickmakers time in seven months.
While the dual-kiln solved the pollution problem, it created a new problem. Traditionally, brickmakers climb on top of the kiln and force the flames of the fire further and further into the corners by sealing off the top of the kiln with raw bricks. When the fire actually reaches into the last corner, the bricks are cooked and they can stop feeding the fire. Marquez's dual kiln chimney has a domed top, so the brickmakers are unable to use their traditional methods to monitor the progress of the firing. In response, Marquez suggested that brickmakers drop commonly available soda cans into a steel pipe placed into the hardest-to-reach temperature area of the kiln. When the cans melt (at 660 degrees Celsius, minimum), the bricks everywhere else are at least that temperature, and they are done. This is a pristine example of "innovative appropriate technology" and problem solving.
Marquez plans to make his kiln design available to anyone who has a need for it, and has indicated that there are other potential uses for this new kiln design.
"You Can't See the Forest for the Trees"
From May until September, Daniel DeJoode, a 1998 Lindbergh Grant recipient from the University of Michigan, and his wife and daughter live in a small cottage in the woods just outside the Menominee Indian Reservation in northeastern Wisconsin on the Wolf River. During these summer stays, DeJoode spends most of his time doing "detective work" in the forest as he explores the forest floor and the range of small plants and animals that live there. He studies how they interact, and how they are affected by logging. The Menominee forest area is particularly exceptional and appropriate for his study because the people of the Menominee Indian Reservation have kept excellent records of their logging practices and have sustainably logged the same 100,000 hectare forest for 140 years without extensively clear-cutting, yet large quantities of timber are able to be extracted primarily through selective logging.
During his "detective" story, DeJoode compared being a scientist to being a detective. He said, "When you are in the forest you come up with some guesses as to why things are the way they are. This is the process of developing a hypothesis. Then, by thinking up ways to prove that these guesses are true or false, you use the process of elimination to prove your guess -- sometimes with surprising results." Recently, DeJoode has found that "approximately 85% of higher plant species diversity in northern forests is comprised of understory species, not trees. In spite of the majority of species, they have received a minority of ecological study."
Over 98 percent of all forests in the Great Lakes region have been clear-cut. DeJoode's work involves sustainable timber harvesting and conservation of biodiversity in response to the global demand for wood products which utilizes vast tracts of forests throughout the world for lumber and pulp production. In the eastern U.S., for example, over 98% of virgin and old-growth forests have been lost, and in the tropics, some estimate that the rate of deforestation is in the range of 15 million hectares per year. Conversely, the Menominee Nation is widely recognized as a global leader in forest management, having practiced a well-documented sustainable yield management program.
DeJoode shared with Little Falls students some of the important aspects of the Menominee's selective logging practices, including how those practices mimic natural forest disturbance patterns. They believe it is important to maintain many attributes of unharvested forests, including some naturally fallen trees and stumps from the trees that are harvested, and allow them to decompose in the forest. This enables a variety of plants and animals to thrive in the forest, by providing habitat for animals, and added nutrients to the soil and protection for small seedlings. It is the successful balance between animals, plants, water and soil that cause a forest to thrive -- and trees are at the center of this delicate balance.
DeJoode's project strives to contribute to sustainable forest management, thus enabling a more refined balance between the forest ecosystem (water, soil, plants, and animals) and the need to provide valuable wood resources and economic benefits for society. In his recent progress report, DeJoode states that he has conducted studies of plant species diversity in a range of forest sites on the Menominee Indian Reservation, including those that have been logged at different times in the past using various techniques, and adjacent unharvested stands. This has enabled him to identify some patterns of species occurrence in response to disturbance. The patterns provide the basis for further research to search for explanations of those patterns, especially as they relate to the effects of logging. He also plans to study how individual species, and plants possessing different seed dispersal mechanisms, respond to logging.
Chronicles of Crabs and Other Creepy Creatures
An adventurer, ecologist, and teacher at the University of Arizona, Dr. Peter M. Sherman, a 1995 Lindbergh Grant recipient, shared stories with the students about a myriad of experiences in the Costa Rican rainforest. It was Sherman's intention to tell stories about slave-raiding ants, web-building spiders, dung-rolling beetles, and other creepy tales -- which he did, quite successfully. But the tale that started his research of the Giant Land Crab goes like this:
Walking through the rainforest, kicking leaves on the forest floor as he went, Peter Sherman soon discovered an area of the forest that did not have any leaf litter (fallen leaves). As he examined the area, looking for an explanation, he noticed that there were many of the same types of trees in the forest area he had just left, but discovered that in the area where there were no leaves, there were big holes in the ground. Curious, he tried looking down the holes. He could see nothing. He poked a stick into the holes. No luck. And finally (and foolishly), stuck his hand down the holes, as far as he could. Still nothing. So, he began to dig. Finally, he found the culprit -- the Giant Land Crab, with claws as big as a man's fist and a body up to five inches wide. And so, the idea for the research project was born: "The Giant Land Crab as an Economic Incentive for the Sustainability of Tropical Coastal Rainforest in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica."
During that study, Sherman concluded that current local usage of Corcovado Park was highly exploitative and included poaching, timber extraction, and gold mining which threatened biodiversity and many of the park's rivers with mercury poisoning. Some researchers have estimated that Land Crabs, which are edible, represent a greater biomass than all other animals in this tropical coastal rainforest combined, with one to five adult crabs per square meter. Sherman also investigated the effects of Land Crabs on the forest ecosystem community and function. If a sustainable harvest of crabs could be organized, the rainforests of southwestern Costa Rica may provide the motivation for local people to conserve the forests rather than destroy them. Crabs cannot be legally harvested from the national parks and there appears to be a cultural aversion among Costa Ricans to eating Land Crabs which is preventing this idea from happening, but this aversion is not shared by other countries.
Today, Sherman continues to study the rainforest and the Land Crabs. He returns to the rainforest about twice each year, and this summer he is planning a study to determine whether the Land Crabs are changing the tree composition of the forest by their selective consumption of seedlings, fruits and seeds, or if their actions are minimized by climate or other random events.
Reflecting on his message for the students, Sherman said, "Students themselves can go out and begin to do research. They can be the ones answering the questions and creating the science. Science is not what you read in a text, it is a way of studying the world, and all of us can do it."
Through these stories, each grant recipient demonstrated how acting like a detective, pondering over things, and asking questions, leads to developing a hypothesis. The next scientific step, then, is to think of ways to prove the hypothesis to be true, or to solve the problem.
Although the grant recipients' work is diverse, their respect for the environment and their ability to use science to prove nature's value to society is synonymous.