Monday, February 7, 2011

Meet a Scientist: Catalina Pimiento

This particular blog topic is very important to me. I know many scientists, it comes with the trade. I spent seven years after high school learning from, working with, and becoming friends with scientists. But most people never really get to know scientists personally. If I asked you to describe a scientist, you might picture 'a white lab coat, some sort of a beaker with bubbling liquid, wild hair, a white beard'....And I'm quite positive this type of scientist exists. But scientists come in all shapes and sizes. When I go into a classroom, I can tell my students are shocked to learn that I (a tiny young woman) am a real scientist (I get that question all the time, 'are you really a real scientist').

My dear friend Catalina (pictured right) is a scientist too (are you starting to wish you studied science instead?). The other interesting thing to know is that scientists have an extremely wide range of passions and interests. Scientists are really cool people. I am so excited to introduce you to some cool scientists, starting with Catalina Pimiento.

I asked Catalina to talk with me about herself, her science career, and her passion for Science Education.

'When I studied whale shark migrations for my undergraduate degree, I always felt like I was doing something important with my life; I was saving sharks. For my Masters degree at the University of Florida, I decided to change my focus and work with fossil sharks. [As] a paleontologist, I was discovering fossils and publishing in peer-reviewed journals. In order to predict the future of sharks, and comprehend their present, I had to understand their past. Again, I felt I like I was doing something important.'

But Catalina still felt like something was missing. 'I [discovered] that the missing ingredient was outreach. I needed to communicate my research to a broader audience.'

Catalina's idea came to her by watching her younger brother. 'I am a big fan of technology [and] I wanted to use the Internet as a tool to communicate science. I thought, children use the Internet much more than adults, so I decided to teach science to children using the Internet. '

Catalina envisioned a website that would engage children in science through fun, kid-friendly activities on fossil sharks. '...because I am a native of Colombia [and] struggled [to learn] English, I decided the site had to be bilingual (English-Spanish), so it [would be] appealing to an even broader audience.'

'I learned a lot [while designing the website]. In contrast to static, linear (read boring) textbooks, [the Internet can be used to teach science] in a dynamic way...which is closer to how science really works. This turns out to be more attractive and less intimidating to kids.' Catalina also learned that fossil sharks can spark children’s curiosity in science concepts such as biology, ecology, geology and paleontology. Additionally, the use of two languages gave more students access to science.

'By creating a bilingual, fun, kid-friendly website about my research, I found the ingredient that was missing in my life. For me, it was not enough publishing for the scientific community (which is very rewarding)...I desire to reach out to the general public, engaging the scientists, journalists, teachers and politicians of the future; the kids.'

Catalina is currently working on a PhD in the Education Technology department at the University of Florida. She continues to combine research on fossil sharks from Panama with new technologies to bring the wonderful world of science to a broader audience. I for one, can't wait to see what her research team comes up with next!

Please check out the website Fossil Sharks in Panama, and be sure to share the link with your kids (and your friends who are kids at heart!)

Thank you so much to Catalina for taking the time to talk with me about her research. If you're a cool scientist please contact me! I'd be thrilled to feature you too!

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