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Oklahoma State University

Science Café event mixes science with music

Fri, March 04, 2016
A Monarch butterfly in its natural habitat. Photo provided by Dr. Mark Fishbein.

The latest Science Café OSU program will feature original songs sung by Richmond Elementary School fifth grade students inspired by research at Oklahoma State University.

This edition of Science Café is a special community program to be held at the Stillwater Public Library that will highlight research into butterflies. The event, “Monarchs and Milkweeds: Science Meets Music,” brings OSU professors Dr. Kristen Baum and Dr. Mark Fishbein together to talk about ongoing population problems with monarch butterflies and their reliance on milkweed.

“The relationship between monarchs and milkweed is an amazing evolutionary story,” Fishbein said. “It is in a monarch’s best interest to eat the milkweed, but it’s in a milkweed’s best interest not to be eaten. Over the past five to 10 million years, the plant has developed special toxins and hazards that should be dangerous to the caterpillars, but the caterpillars have evolved, too.”

This Science Café event, however, will include a special musical element: Richmond Elementary fifth grade enrichment students, who will sing original songs they’ve written with the help of local artist Monty Harper that focus on the professors’ research. Baum and Fishbein have presented this topic before at a previous Science Café but wanted to present again, this time with the kids.

“I’m excited to see how this goes,” Baum said. “I got to meet with the kids a few weeks ago, and they were fascinated about my research and seemed excited to write songs about it. Kids love science, but they especially love butterflies. So I think this is a great topic to talk about again.”

The professors began working with teacher Carey Henderson at Richmond Elementary back in January to speak with the kids and teach them about their research. From there, Henderson and Harper helped the students write their own songs.

“I got the idea several years ago when I worked with a program called Born to do Science, which explains research to kids in a way they’ll understand,” Harper said. “Sometimes, they would sing songs to the kids to help explain the research. And I wanted to combine that with the kids’ creativity. These kids truly wrote their own songs. I only helped with little things they needed.”

Karen Neurohr, a member of the OSU Library staff who organizes Science Café events, hopes the partnership with Richmond could encourage future student involvement with Science Café.

“Monarchs and Milkweed: Science Meets Music” begins at 6:30 pm, March 10 at the Stillwater Public Library. Science Café is free to public thanks to sponsorships from OSU, The Botanic Garden, Stillwater Public Schools and the Oklahoma Arts Council. For more about Science Café, visit sciencecafeosu.okstate.edu.

Story by Matt Cohlmia