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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Science flows throughout Biosphere Discovery Nights

While walking across the lawn toward the entrance of the UA’s Biosphere 2, I tripped over a hula hoop.

Such an object would normally be out of place in the 3.14 acre lab facility in the middle of the desert, but on that Saturday night, it was to be expected. The lawn was filled with tables manned by UA students talking science, face-painting booths, vendors selling food and yes, hula hoops.

The festive atmosphere was in honor of the Biosphere’s third Discovery Night.

“This is an attempt to do something new, something different, offer some different experiences,” said Kevin Bonine, the director of education and outreach for Biosphere 2.

The Discovery Nights began on Sept. 28 and will run each Saturday night from 5-9 p.m through Oct. 26. Each night has its own theme; since the Oct. 12 theme was Sci-Fi night, there was a showing of the movie “Silent Running” and a panel to discuss science fiction.

Normally, Biosphere 2 runs 75-minute tours throughout the day, led by tour guides with a vast knowledge of the initial mission and current research. However, the gates close at 4 p.m., which means the public is usually only allowed to see the facility during the day.

“For a long time there’s only been one type of experience to have at Biosphere, and that’s a guided tour,” said Nate Allen, Biosphere 2 sustainability coordinator and assistant staff scientist.

Now, with Discovery Nights, the public is able to see a new side of the Biosphere — the Biosphere at night.

“Life and activity inside the Biosphere at night is quite different,” Allen said. “You can see different bugs are out, plants are behaving in a different way, the smells are different, the sounds are different than what you experience during the day.”

During Discovery Nights, attendees can still learn about the ocean or the rainforest or the savannah, but instead of the usual 75-minute tour, people are free to wander around and spend as much time as they want in areas that particularly interest them.

“Even if they’ve come here before for a general tour, they’re going to be able to take their time and take in the facility at a level of detail that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to have time to do,” Allen said.

The event was intended to make Biosphere 2 more accessible to families, since the tours can be hard for children, according to Allen. Instead, during Discovery Nights, tour guides are stationed in different locations along the path, armed with walkie-talkies so that if they don’t know the answer to a question, they can get it immediately.

The family-friendly atmosphere was perfect for Corey Simzyk, who toured the facility with her husband and sons.

“I’ve lived here all my life, I’d heard about it and my children are into this,” Simzyk said. “They’re at that age now in school where they’re starting to study this.”

Simzyk added that they were making their second round through the flow-through tour.

Not only does the flow-through model provide a different experience, but a number of UA students and researchers are spread about on the tour to shed light on their research or areas of interest.

One of them was Ian Shiach, a master’s student in the UA School of Natural Resources. He sat behind a table on the lawn, explaining how phenology works.

“I like to make sure that the science I do is applicable to the general public and to laypeople in general,” Shiach said. “Why else would we be doing science if we weren’t trying to make the world better and make a difference?”

With the efforts of scientists standing on platforms explaining their experiments, the UA students by the ocean teaching about the marine environment, and others, the Biosphere is succeeding in spreading scientific knowledge.

“We absolutely feel like these [nights] are worthwhile and we’re quite excited about the success of them,” Allen said. ”We’ll be doing more in the future for sure.”

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