Stand Up and Be Heard!

The highly informative and popular WCSU lecture series “Science at Night” brought a diverse array of speakers from academia and business to Western during the 2010-11 year to address science-related themes of policy significance and public interest.

An important theme addressed during the 2010-11 series was the potentially harmful environmental impact caused by invasive plant and shellfish species in the fresh-water lakes of Connecticut and the Northeast. Dr. Leslie Mehrhoff, director of the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England at the University of Connecticut, discussed the spread of non-native plant species and their damaging effects on the state’s biodiversity in a lecture on Sept. 23. The “Science at Night” series also sponsored a public forum on Nov. 15 to explore environmental implications of the recent discovery of the invasive zebra mussel species in several western Connecticut lakes. Speakers at the forum included Nancy Balcom, associate director of the Connecticut Sea Grant Program at UConn/Avery Point; Peter Aarrestad, director of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Inland Fisheries Division; and Ethan Nedeau, owner and principal aquatic biologist of Biodrawversity, an ecological consulting firm.

Emerging technologies were explored in “Science at Night” lectures on the subjects of solar energy and drug discovery. In his Nov. 18 lecture, chemical engineer and solar power specialist Dru Bacon discussed the costs and environmental impact of solar and wind energy development, offering comparisons with power generated from traditional sources including coal, oil and natural gas. Dr. E. Michael August, senior principal scientist in the High Throughput Biology Group at Ridgefield-based Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, reported on April 21 on current technological breakthroughs that have enabled pharmaceutical researchers to increase exponentially the scale and accuracy of screenings to identify prospective new drug compounds for therapeutic treatment.

“Science at Night” lectures during the year also offered scientists’ insights on themes of popular interest ranging from severe storms to maple syrup. Connecticut meteorologist Jim Bishop shared lessons and video recordings from more than a decade’s experience in chasing tornadoes, thunderstorm supercells and other severe weather events in his lecture on Feb. 17. WCSU Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences Dr. Thomas Philbrick celebrated the arrival of spring on March 17 with his lecture providing a scientific perspective on the biology of maple syrup production and the reasons behind the recent decline of sugar maple forests in the eastern regions of North America.

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The Science-at-Night series of public lectures covered a wide range of topics, ranging from animal conservation to local ecosystems. Noted nature filmmaker Bill Wallauer shared rare footage and firsthand observations drawn from his 15 years' studying chimpanzees in the natural setting of the Gombe Stream Reserve National Park in Tanzania during a February 2011 talk.

“Invasive: Zebra Mussels on the Move” was the topic of a November 2010 panel discussion featuring Nancy Balcom, associate director of the Connecticut Sea Grant Program at the University of Connecticut/Avery Point; Peter Aarrestad, director of the DEP Inland Fisheries Division; and Ethan Nedeau, owner and principal aquatic biologist of the Amherst, Mass., ecological consulting firm Biodrawversity.