How can OIST’s OKEON project collaborate with Okinawan society so that both benefit in some way?

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While there are many different ways to answer this question, one important collaboration is with high schools in Okinawa. OKEON Chura-mori Project has been developing a new model of high school – university collaboration which benefits students, teachers and researchers alike.

For the past year, OKEON has worked with Futenma, Kyuyou, Kaiho and Hentona High Schools. Each school has collaborated with OKEON in slightly different ways, but students have primarily focused on ants found in their local area as the material of their school research activities. Planning and conducting scientific research is often beyond school curriculums, so in order for the high schools to take part, OKEON project leaders Yoshi and Masako created a training programme for high school teachers.

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The programme involves lectures, and a course for planning research, collecting, sorting, mounting and identifying ants.

By taking part, teachers can gain the skills and know-how to create their own research programmes using data from the OKEON project. For Kawabata-sensei, his study of ants during his university years led him to have a personal interest in revisiting the laboratory. Takara-sensei did not research biodiversity at university, but having done Time-Unit Sampling at his school for a year before taking part in the programme, his ability to identify species is already extremely high. Both teachers spoke about how they were looking forward to working with their students to come up with a research plan using their new skills based on current research. Their goals included wanting to encourage students to develop their interest in science and research, but also to create a knowledge network between teachers which exchanges information, and has access to but is not dependent on a university faculty.

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The high school teachers trained by OIST will have the skills and know-how to implement environmental monitoring activities and research, and specialist biodiversity data collection. These skills will in turn be passed down to the next generation of high school students.

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Once a full cycle has been completed (the student’s research is generally for a year), teachers and students can develop and improve their research methods, thereby improving the scientific capacity of the entire community. Because each high school will have unique ways of researching and contributing to OKEON, as well as different goals, there is scope for a self-sustaining network to evolve where teachers and students can share research methods and data.

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This high school teacher training programme is valuable to OIST and OKEON for two main reasons. The first is that there are enormous amounts of data being generated through OKEON, and the sampling system is currently focused on winged insects. Students will be able to focus on worker ants in their local area, generating data which can become the basis for further research at OIST.

The second reason is that this programme is a way to contribute to the sustainability of Okinawan society in the broadest sense possible. Through the training of high school teachers, OIST and OKEON can contribute to education in Okinawa. At Hentona High School, for example, there are specific classes pertaining to the environment, within which this research can become an important component.

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Students can take the specialist research skills they learn into their further study, perhaps even coming back to OIST to work with OKEON data. OIST can play an important role in allowing a strong research community in Okinawa to flourish, which will have the capacity not only to understand but to appreciate and protect the biodiversity of the island.

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Museum Is a Time Capsule: A Step Towards the Future- An Essay by Masashi Yoshimura

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Museum Is a Time Capsule: A Step Toward the Future

(Written by Masashi Yoshimura, Translated by OIST Media Section)

This summer, we have been working on the exhibition with the theme, “OKEON Churaumi Project” at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum.  Of course, it is my first experience to create a full-fledged exhibition at a museum with the help of project staff members.  It would be my pleasure if museum visitors can sense our feelings toward this project.  At the same time, we learned a lot how difficult it is to develop a museum exhibition this time.

For most visitors, a museum should be just a place where they can see exhibitions and some lectures.  On the other hand, for researchers, a museum is a place where samples can be collected and retained over a long passage of time as if in a time capsule.  A museum is a research base where we can approach the truth of evolution and biodiversity taking place on our earth.

One person can live for a hundred years at most.  The amount of time one researcher can spend on research is even shorter.  It would not be easy for a person to know what kind of living things had existed 100 years ago unless the person has a special time capsule in his/her desk drawer.  Even the names of the living creatures could be altered after 100 years.  Only samples retained in museums could come as their real figures to us living in modern time.

Compared to our busy daily lives, the changes of nature are taking place rather slowly.  Because of this slow progress, we tend to overlook the changes, which may give tremendous impacts.  To learn from the past and hand down the lessons of now to the future, our ancestors created a giant time capsule called a museum.  Okinawa-a place with rich natural environment, a place that has been and is being changed.  “What can we reserve now for future learning?”

I have been working on our project asking myself such a question day by day.

 

The original article in Japanese can be found here

Ryukyu Shinpo Spin-Off Event in collaboration with OIST

Following on from the success of Dr Yoshimura’s column in the Ryukyu Shinpo, OIST hosted a joint event on Sunday 31st July featuring Dr Yoshimura himself. Attendees were able to meet Dr Yoshimura, listen to his experiences as a researcher both in Japan and overseas in the USA, and learn how to use a magnifying glass to spot different types of ants.

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Dr. Yoshimura spoke about how he became a researcher, and in particular why he became interested in ants. He discussed his experiences moving to San Francisco, working as a researcher and the difficulties he faced. One of the ways that Dr Yoshimura coped living in the USA where there was limited funding for researchers was by starting a one-man band, the Male Ants Project, and earned extra money by busking. Event participants were treated to a performance by Dr Yoshimura of the popular Sukiyaki song.

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After the talk, participants were taught how to use a mini microscope to investigate which creatures were in their own surroundings, starting with the Inner Garden at OIST. Children who were already interested in ants or looking for a topic for their summer research project had the opportunity to hear from an expert researcher. Over 50 people attended, and the event was highly successful, with children, parents and university students alike engaged and interested.

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For more information and links to the Ryukyu Shinpo Column please click here and here.

New ant species- in 3D!

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We have two new papers out in PLoS ONE today describing some new species and highlighting the potential of micro-CT for ant taxonomy.

The first paper, headed by Eli and co-authored by Georg, revises one crazy spinescent Pheidole group from New Guinea, and notes interesting findings on the musculature under the spines.

We named these species Pheidole drogon and Pheidole viserion after the dragons from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

The second paper, led by Georg, revises the Pheidole knowlesi group from Fiji including complete micro-CT galleries of all castes of six species from the group. This knowlesi group is not as morphologically spectacular as cervicornis, but is of great interest to us as it pertains to our work on the taxon cycle hypothesis.

We hope these show a glimpse of what cool things can be done with micro-CT for organismal biology, biodiversity studies, and taxonomy.
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