1. Things to Do

March for Science heads to Washington, St. Petersburg and around the globe

Cancer researcher Sinéad Aherne is the coordinator of Taste for Science, an annual festival that features local scientists who will speak at coffee shops and pubs about their research and the importance of science to the community. JAMES BORCHUCK  |   Times
Cancer researcher Sinéad Aherne is the coordinator of Taste for Science, an annual festival that features local scientists who will speak at coffee shops and pubs about their research and the importance of science to the community. JAMES BORCHUCK | Times
Published Apr. 22, 2017

On Earth Day, an unprecedented outpouring of science advocates will march on Washington, D.C., and fill the streets of more than 500 cities across the world — including St. Petersburg's Poynter Park.

Today's March for Science has picked up steam since January on social media, where scientists likened it to the Women's March as a way for the scientific community to push back from political attacks.

Some Tampa Bay scientists will head to Washington while some join in St. Petersburg. Some will focus on next week's Taste of Science speaking series in local pubs and coffee shops.

Some are staying out of it altogether. University of Florida professor Joe Funderburk spoke up when the Entomological Society of America endorsed the march, fearing it could harm the group's credibility.

"My reputation is everything," said Funderburk, who is often called on by federal and state agencies for advice on pesticides. "I provide knowledge, and it must be seen to be free of bias."

But the march has been endorsed by almost 100 different organizations, as well as science celebrities such as Bill Nye "the Science Guy." Here's what some Tampa Bay scientists said about their weekend plans.

Lindsey Shaw, microbiologist at the University of South Florida

"We need a lot more scientists out there talking about what they do, fighting this image of elitism," said Lindsey Shaw, 40, a microbiologist whose lab at USF has attracted national attention for breakthroughs in the study of the bacterial infection MRSA, the hard-to-treat staph infection.

His talk at the Refinery in Seminole Heights on Tuesday is his third appearance in the Taste of Science festival, the series that brings researchers, scientists and laymen together. He wants to see more scientists in public.

"We need a lot more scientists telling their stories," he said. "We have to broaden perspectives."

Sinéad Aherne, researcher at Moffitt Cancer Center

A visiting research fellow from Dublin, Ireland, Sinéad Aherne, 33, works in the prostate cancer research lab at Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. She's organizing the Taste of Science speaker series and will be speaking at the March for Science.

Aherne works with Petri dishes loaded with aggressive cancer cells swirling in strawberry-colored liquid to understand how prostate cancer metastasizes and spreads.

She got involved last year as a speaker in the Taste of Science series. "But this year in particular, I feel more like an activist," Aherne said. "The ethos of science is, the data speaks for itself, so we stayed out of the politics until now. I think we as a scientific community are waking up, that it is our responsibility to speak up and explain what we do and why it should be protected."

Lis Gallant, volcano expert

It's hard to believe that in pancake-flat Florida, some of the country's most renowned volcano scientists are at work in USF's Volcanology Group.

"We do have a handy airport," said Lis Gallant, 30, a doctoral candidate studying lava flows.

The volcano scientists at USF are working with NASA to figure out how to measure volcanoes on Mars. The team was on the ground in Nicaragua within days of the historic eruption of Momotombo in 2015. On Tuesday night, Gallant will talk volcano science at St. Pete Brewing Co.

"There are so many ways these things can kill us," Gallant says of volcanoes.

That, she said, is why she looks for opportunities to teach the public about what they do.

"It was luck," she said, that saved a town in Iceland from a lava flow in the 1970s, "that coincided with a little bit of action and knowledge. We need the knowledge."

Eric Lau, tumor researcher

The professor with hipster glasses and an intricate flower tattoo from shoulder to elbow will head to Washington, D.C., for the March for Science. Eric Lau's lab at Moffitt has made some promising finds in stopping the growth of melanoma in lab rats.

Lau, 35, is alarmed by President Donald Trump's calls for slashing the National Institutes of Health by nearly $6 billion.

"It will be catastrophic," Lau said. He also worries that potential changes to immigration policy could hinder the flow of international scientists to the United States.

Lau will speak Wednesday at Tampa's Hidden Springs Ale Works about his innovative research and said he has no qualms about speaking up.

"I stopped caring a long time ago what people thought about me if I wasn't diplomatic," Lau said.

Christine Downs, wetlands expert

A doctoral candidate at USF's School of Geosciences, Christine Downs is at home among the mangroves using ground-penetrating radar and electromagnetics to measure and study them. And she's sounding the alarm about how wetlands are part of the climate change story.

"Coastal wetlands suck up more carbon (than algae) and they hang onto it longer," Downs said. It's what she'll explain Wednesday at the Bunker in Ybor City. "The problem is over the past 100 years, we've destroyed 50 percent of the world's wetlands."

Downs, 36, not only plans to join the March for Science, she has joined a group that will be visiting legislators later this year to lobby on behalf of the scientific process in decisionmaking.

"The threat to science seems frighteningly real."

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at Follow @SharonKWn.