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Biodiversity Blog


Science Under the Stars is back with new hybrid format

SUS Feb2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed our lives. One thing that will probably never go away, for better or for worse, are remote meetings and online classes. But as some events begin to open up, the online formats are offering both in-person and remote experiences, thus opening access to audiences who could not have seen them otherwise.

One of those experiences is the Science Under the Stars events held at the Brackenridge Field Lab (BFL). February 10, 2022 was the first live event held since February 2020. The event titled “Fossil reptiles and amphibians from the ice age” was presented by David Ledesma. David is a graduate student and Stengl-Wyer Fellow studying the responses of herpetofauna to environmental changes.

Science Under the Stars is a monthly public outreach lecture series founded and organized by graduate students in the Department of Integrative Biology at UT. The organization was founded in 2009 and has hosted 99 speakers so far. Before the pandemic, the events were held entirely outdoors onsite at BFL, an 82-acre biological research site in the heart of Austin. Outdoor settings are perfect places to experience lectures about the natural sciences. But if you aren’t in Austin, don’t worry! Events are now streamed live and available to watch at any time on the Science Under the Stars YouTube channel.

To talk about these unique experiences and the pandemic challenges are the current leaders of Science Under the Stars: Julia York and Kyle Wilhite. Julia studies how polar animals sense temperature and how they might respond to climate change and was herself a Stengl-Wyer Fellow for 2020. Kyle studies how body condition influences sexual selection in a neo-tropical frog species in Panamá in terms of how males compete and how females choose their mates.

How was it to be back holding events at BFL? What made this February 10th event particularly special?

Julia: It was a perfect evening to have our first in-person event in two years, the weather was a balmy 65°C and the sky was clear and starry. We had excellent turnout, 50+ attendees in person and another 20 tuned in online. We had a lot of kids who had a great time checking out the fossils and activities. David gave a great talk and we are really grateful to have the opportunity to share it with everyone in Austin and now the world through our new hybrid format.


Can you speak on the challenges of having the events go online for the pandemic? Were there any positive changes with this sort of format you all hope to keep moving forward? 

Kyle: Once the logistics were figured out, transitioning online wasn’t hard to maintain, but it just wasn’t the same. I think one of the biggest challenges Julia and I had to deal with was the loss of our team. Once we went online, Science Under the Stars essentially just became a bare bones operation because we lost the capacity for grad students to help out. Thankfully, when we wanted to get back outside, we were able to rally some new members. Some positive change occured. I think more people were comfortable asking questions, we were able to reach a broader audience a few times and one session had over 250 attendees when we paired up with the Texas Science Festival. The Q&A became a little more lively as well as it turned into more of a conversation with the host and speaker talking about the questions that came up.

Julia: We were one of the first groups at UT to cancel our in-person events. We switched to Zoom and while I was glad to be able to provide the opportunity for researchers and the public to connect, I agree with Kyle that it just wasn’t quite the same. However, we had some really great talks and now they are available to re-watch anytime on YouTube! Going forward, we will take with us the new online streaming presence which I think is great because it makes our events more accessible.

What future live events do you have in the pipeline? 

Julia: We have a great line up this semester. Next on March 10, 2022 UT grad student Sam Smith will present on the amazing diversity and variety of pregnancy in the animal kingdom. At the April event grad student Whitney Behr will talk about plant identification and in May grad student Carly Scott will present on ancient corals. To make sure you get the latest news about events please sign up for our listserv!

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