Story by Sarah Yerrace
For two hours every Monday, from April 17th to May 22nd, the UW Ichthyology Collection was busy with 16 girls, each working on describing a ‘new’ species. The girls —all from different Seattle high schools and all part of the Burke Museum's Girls In Science program — split into small groups to not only measure and count features on their ‘new’ species (Hexagrammos stelleri, Icelinus filamentosus, Artedius lateralis, Xeneretmus leiops, or Pholis clemensi) but also compare these measurements and counts from two other species within the same genus. Jessica Heide, a scientific illustrator, helped the groups draw a key morphological feature that varied between the three species. The Icelinus group, for example, chose to illustrate the unique dorsal fins of their three species while the Pholis group decided to draw the pigment patterns on the body of their fishes. By the end of the six weeks, the groups produced a poster, complete with a full write-up from the introduction to the acknowledgements.
The first session started off with a tour of the collection and an introduction to basic fish anatomy. The girls got their hands on some preserved specimens and practiced using keys to identify the fishes down to the family. While they may have been hesitant at first, none of the girls were squeamish around the preserved fishes and things picked up by the second session. They readily looked into a gaping mouth of a gadid to see its pharyngeal teeth and gill rakers. The teams worked great together to get the measurements done efficiently with every member assigned to a specific set of measurements for consistency across the three fishes. When it came time to create the poster, some of the teams got creative and themed their posters around a personality they saw in their fish. The Xeneretmus group, for example, saw poachers as a dragon like creature. They drew dragons on their poster and used an old script font. The new Latin name for their fish was Xeneretmus draco. While the format of the posters may not have been traditional to science, the girl’s enthusiasm was encouraging to see. At the end of the six weeks, the girls received some pins with fishes on them to remind them of the experience. Some of the groups even exchanged contact information to stay in touch. A mother said she has never seen her daughter more outgoing and comfortable around others. She said that when her daughter saw other women doing science, she felt like she could do it too. That is ultimately the goal of the Girls in Science program: to inspire young women and increase accessibility to STEM fields.