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Cool Talks 'bout Hot Science

Hot Science — Cool Talks series sparks interest for the whole family

Frog chameleon lecture
Understanding why animals use camouflage can help human beings understand evolution, too.  Photo courtesy of Dr. Molly Cummings
Dr. Molly Cummings/ UT professor
Dr. Molly Cummings leads the lecture series. Photo courtesy of Dr. Molly Cummings
Fish and diver
How do whole schools of fish know to change color? Find out! Photo courtesy of Hot Science- Cool Talks
Frog chameleon lecture
Dr. Molly Cummings/ UT professor
Fish and diver

Watching a chameleon change shade may be a familiar site, but have you ever wondered exactly what triggers the lizard’s metamorphosis?

During a free lecture on November 22 titled Now you see me, now you don't: Colorful strategies for surviving in nature, Dr. Molly Cummings, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin, will explore why animals like poison frogs and fish change color to show or hide themselves.

“Evolution helps us understand the forces that drive change and how animals have adapted to different environments,” says Dr. Cummings, who has been studying why animals look the way they do for over fifteen years. “Knowing this helps us better appreciate the world around us but also helps us find solutions to our own problems.”

 “Evolution helps us understand the forces that drive change and how animals have adapted to different environments. Knowing this helps us find solutions to our own problems,” says Dr. Molly Cummings .

In addition to enjoying her presentation, attendees can look forward to interacting with live animals during a pre-lecture fair and witness a little visual magic while participating in a demonstration that lets attendees see polarized light the way animals do. 

The speech is part of the Hot Science – Cool Talks public outreach series sponsored by the Environmental Science Institute at The University of Texas. Started in 1999 as a way to reach out to K-12 science teachers with the latest scientific discoveries, the lectures have attracted a much broader audience than the institute could have imagined. 

“Our first hall held 300 people, and 600 people showed up for the lecture,” says Dr. Jay Banner, director of the Environmental Science Institute. “That told us there was a need out there. We moved to a larger hall and now average 400 people per session.” Hot topics, such as a lecture about human mating held in September, draw as many as 1,200 attendees, causing the program to enlist overflow rooms for larger crowds. 

Each lecture is aired over a live webcast and includes an extensive question-and-answer session from the live and online audiences. Teachers who can’t make it to campus often host watch parties for their students and can use the taped webcast, presentation and lecture materials to bring the learning into their classrooms.

“Normally a scientist does research, publishes it, then it gets proposed for a textbook and, if it gets accepted by the textbook committee, it makes it to the classroom,” explains Dr. Banner. “It can take years for that happen. This outreach speeds up that process with a more direct route to the teachers.”

The pre-lecture fair was initially designed for students to have a hands-on experience, but the adult attendees have been as enthusiastic about the interactive portion as the kids. “It’s great to see people of all ages engaging with the science, but the kids definitely have the best questions. Often the adults put their hands down after they hear what the kids are asking because the questions are so good,” says Dr. Banner. “That’s the most important thing, seeing the kids get into it.”

The 2014 season of the series will kick off in late January with another round of interesting speakers and fascinating science to feed those curious minds. 


Now You See Me, Now You Don't: Colorful Strategies for Surviving in Nature will be held on Friday, November 22. The pre-lecture fair will begin at 5:45 pm with the lecture following at 7 pm. It is free and open to the public.

For more information about the Hot Science-Cool Talks program, including information on upcoming lectures, please visit the website.

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