By Lily Hamilton
“I’ve actually learned a lot more about people as a scientist than biodiversity,” Meg Lowman said.
Lowman, the Director of Global Initiatives, Lindsay Chair of Botany and Senior Scientist in Plant Conservation at the California Academy of Sciences, proved she knows a quite a bit about both subjects in a talk at Elon University Wednesday night.
The scientist, who has over 30 years of experience in the fields of biology and ecology, specializes in canopy studies. Half of the biodiversity on land lives in the treetops, Lowman stated, and her discipline allows her to examine the insects, birds and flora that inhabit the top branches of forests across the globe.
While Lowman’s primary job is in ecology, her second job is acting as a role model for women and minorities in science.
“We still don’t have an overwhelming number of women in our textbooks,” Lowman commented. Women make up over half of the global population, yet their presence in the world of science is lacking. “Usually there are only a handful of women people know about,” she said of female scientists.
Lowman encountered the gender imbalance early in her scientific career. She recounted her experience as a young girl entering a New York science fair: she won second place in a sea of 500 bright students. The catch? Out of the 500 participants, Lowman was the only female.
“I had to work twice as hard,” Lowman commented in regards to gaining prominence as a woman in a male-dominated field. She encourages female scientists to support each other’s careers and makes it her mission to inspire scientists of all genders, races, ages and socioeconomic backgrounds to pursue their passion.
“Kids don’t grow up with any understanding of what lives in their ecosystems,” Lowman said, emphasizing the importance of environmental education as a critical aspect of elementary and secondary education. “From the mouths of students come the truth,” she said. The more scientifically educated students are, the more change they can make in the future.
In addition to women and the youth, Lowman seeks to educate people living in Third World countries about the environment. During a trip to Ethiopia, she did this through religion.
“I want to conserve biodiversity, they want to conserve all of God’s creations,” she said of the 200 priests she workshopped with while abroad. Western scientists should make their work more accessible to people in other countries, Lowman stated.
“Our science needs to be applicable to global problems,” Lowman stated toward the end of her presentation. Weaving science into bigger ideas, such as religion, inspires interest and understanding from more people, she said.
“We need to write for more than just our peers in science,” she commented. Her publicly released book, “Life in the Treetops,” is printed in multiple languages.
“Explore, explain, and sustain life:” that is the California Academy of Sciences’ mission, and Lowman takes this very seriously, with the hope of extending the same motto to an array of diverse scientists around the world.