10.16.2012

Deb Chachra — scientist

By Josh

A recent article in the journal Science notes that a professor of psychology and philosophy at UC Berkeley had young kids play with a setup that lit up and played music only if particular pieces were arranged in a certain way. In the course of their playing, the kids tried different combinations and arrangements (i.e., they experimented); they learned what worked and what didn’t (i.e., they gathered data); and they changed their approaches based on that evidence (i.e., they used the gathered data to draw new conclusions). Thus demonstrating that the scientific method comes very naturally to kids! It’s a form of highly structured play.

Our friend Deb Chachra, who contributed a fun and informative feature to UNBORED on how kids can “Be A Citizen Scientist,” is a scientist who loves her job as much as a kid loves to play.

Chachra is a materials scientist who specializes in biological materials; she is currently studying plastic made by bees! When you think of bees, you probably think of honeybees, living in a hive. But there are nearly twenty thousand known species of bees, all over the planet. The particular species that Deb studies is called Colletes inaequalis, and it’s sometimes known as the polyester bee. Here’s a picture of a female polyester bee, covered in pollen:

In the spring, the female bees dig underground nests and line them with what looks like cellophane. They fill the nests with pollen and nectar, lay an egg, and then seal the chamber. Here’s a picture of a filled nest cell:

Deb is studying the nests to learn what kind of plastic they’re made of, and she hopes to learn more about how the bees make them.

When she’s not studying bees, Deb can be found teaching engineering at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering outside Boston, at concerts, or making dinner for all her friends. She also publishes an extremely compelling tumblr called DAILY IDIOMS. We’re so thrilled that Deb contributed to UNBORED — she’s the coolest.