Michelle Trautwein, PhD
Assistant Curator of Entomology and Schlinger Chair of Diptera
Thrill of Discovery
Entomologist Michelle Trautwein first felt the spark of science fascination when she was—of all things—an undergraduate art student. “I was just completely blown away by the beauty and diversity of insects,” she says, describing her first encounter in a college entomology class. That fascination, sharpened by years of exploring the natural world, prompted a surprising detour from art to dipterology (the study of flies).
In her role as a museum scientist, Trautwein engages people of all ages in the process of doing science. The life-changing “thrill of discovery” Trautwein first felt as a young art student remains a driving force in her career, inspiring her to mentor the next generation of entomologists and encourage international citizen scientists to become full-blown advocates for biodiversity.
Arthropods In Your Home
Arthropods—our tiniest roommates—don’t merely share space with us; they’ve evolved with us over the course of hundreds of thousands of years. Trautwein is traveling the world, enlisting members of the public to help document this overlooked life on all seven continents.
Non-scientists too often link biodiversity with far-away locales, like rainforests and coral reefs. “The truth is,” says Trautwein, “life is all around us. This work empowers citizens from all over the world to help us investigate human-arthropod relationships while taking a hard look at how they can help protect local biodiversity in their everyday lives.”
Each time a study participant finds and helps identify an arthropod from their home, Trautwein’s team capitalizes on the chance to explain that animal’s role in local ecosystems. Sometimes, Trautwein says, “it’s most important to simply marvel at its interesting colors or neat adaptations—anything to spark an interest in the surrounding environment.”
Mentoring the Next Generation
Trautwein’s research trips often involve the help of university students working alongside local citizen scientists who are rediscovering their own homes.
“Mentoring future scientists is critical to the future of our planet,” says Trautwein. “We need enthusiastic scientists with a knack for big-picture thinking to help build capacity in countries around the world—especially those struggling to protect threatened ecosystems. For local students, participating in this project might be a first step towards choosing a career in science and global sustainability.”
Misha Leong—a postdoctoral fellow working with Trautwein—is an important face of the Academy’s arthropod study and what Trautwein calls “the embodiment” of the modern public scientist. “Leong gets people from all walks of life excited about science. Watching her work gives me great hope for the future of our field and for aspiring scientists everywhere.”
Title: Assistant Curator and Schlinger Chair of Dipterology
Arthropods Of Our Homes