Alemseged Lab

Research Speaks at the Field Museum

May 3, 2024

Two of our students, Laura and Maddie, were able to share their research at the Field Museum’s UChicagoGRAD Research Speaks in April, a new event established this year. This single day program grants students the opportunity to discuss their research with the general public, which sometimes requires a different set of skills than presenting to a conference audience. For instance, students need to think about engaging both adults who have never been exposed to their field of research and children of all ages; either group requires keeping their delivery and content fun yet meaningful for all visitors.

Field Museum + UChicagoGRAD Research Speaks flyer

Research Speaks not only encourages students to sharpen their public speaking skills but also to think about the impact of their work for the wider public community. Our crew were just two of the twelve presentations on hand at this year’s event.

Laura presented “How Hands Made Us Human” in the “Evolving Planet” exhibit. She presented the adaptations necessary in the thumb and wrist for the different grips required in tool use, as well as some of the morphological distinctions that separate us and our early ancestors from other primates. Laura’s presentation was also highlighted in the UChicago News article reporting on Research Speaks.

Field Museum + UChicagoGRAD Research Speaks - Laura's flyer

Laura at the 2024 Research Speaks event

Photo used with permission

As she engaged visitors, Laura stood by reconstructions of Australopithecus afarensis – both Lucy and the Dikika child, the latter of which was discovered by Zeray. Laura’s table of show-and-tell items included a model of a chimpanzee hand, some 3D printed carpal bones, and an early stone tool cast. She also brought two models she created that demonstrate the differing biomechanical properties of a chimpanzee and human lower arm. You can read more about it (and her research) at her website here.

Laura at the 2024 Research Speaks event demonstrating her hand model

Photo used with permission

Maddie presented “Ancient Human Environments” at the “What is an Animal?” exhibit. She had many specimens on hand from the museum collection and our 3D printer, including the astragali and calcanei of antelopes. She also brought out mandibles from a kudu, a reedbuck, a warthog, and a zebra.

Field Museum + UChicagoGRAD Research Speaks - Maddie's flyer

Maddie at the 2024 Research Speaks event

Photo used with permission

Maddie’s station was near the lions of Tsavo exhibit, which echoes her fieldwork in paleoenvironmental studies. Her presentation focused on how two main data points of her research help her reconstruct the habitats of our early human ancestors: the chemistry of mammalian teeth and the shape of bovid ankle bones.

Maddie's setup at the 2024 Research Speaks event

The students enjoyed the program and received great feedback from the museum visitors. We hope to participate again in Research Speaks!

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