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Families will be researchers in new zoo-based program

12/15/2006

Sample design of what a research station may look like
With a new $2.5 million award from the National Science Foundation, Miami University's Project Dragonfly and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden will invite families into the community of science and conservation via Wild Research, a national program to deepen public engagement at zoos. Wild Research seeks to revolutionize how zoos serve as public learning institutions.

The Cincinnati Zoo will serve as the test bed for Wild Research, which allows families to move from being spectators to active investigators. Families will make observations and record data at a research center in the three-story, glass-enclosed Discovery Forest and at six Wild Research stations at popular zoo exhibits. Zoo visitors will share their findings, both on zoo grounds and on an interactive Wild Research Web site.

"We've discovered that zoos underutilize their potential to engage people in science and conservation," said Chris Myers, professor of interdisciplinary studies and principal investigator of Wild Research. "Where else can local kids get face-to-face with elephants or tigers or gorillas? Wild Research gives kids the tools they need to see themselves as investigators and to work to sustain life on earth."

The Wild Research stations - to be developed over the next three years - will connect zoo exhibits to global conservation efforts, according to Dave Jenike, vice president of education at the Cincinnati Zoo and co-principal investigator on the grant.

"Families will become genuine participants in the story of global conservation," said Jenike. "I can think of no higher purpose for any zoo."

A network of zoos, educators and scientists will expand the impact of Wild Research nationally and internationally. Wild Research collaborators include the Brookfield Zoo, Ill.; Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Ohio; Indianapolis Zoo & Gardens, Ind.; Louisville Zoo, Ky.; Oregon Zoo, Portland, Ore.; Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, Columbia, S.C.; Santa Barbara Zoo, Calif.; John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Ill.; Zoo Atlanta, Ga.; and the Wilds, Cumberland, Ohio.

Over the next five years, Wild Research is expected to engage more than 30 million zoo and aquarium visitors in science and conservation.



Wild Research involves faculty, staff and students across Miami University.

Graduate students at Miami working on Wild Research on a daily basis include three students in Miami's Institute of Environmental Sciences, one student in computer science, and one student in educational leadership.

Undergraduate students are participating in fall coursework designed specifically around Wild Research:

• At Miami's School of Interdisciplinary Studies, more than 100 first-year students were in a Natural Systems class devoted entirely to Wild Research. This team-taught course had students studying, designing and researching various components of Wild Research.

• In computer science and systems analysis, 43 seniors in a software engineering course are developing technical components and activities for kiosks that will guide families' research experiences at the Wild Research stations.

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Wild Research expands on programs encouraging real kids to do real science
A boy records data for an investigation about crowned lemurs at the Cincinnati Zoo.

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