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Worm poop, bottle caps and science

As I suggested in "Science is Boring... or not", a great way to get people involved in and excited about science is to unpack the fun parts of science from the parts of it that are perceived as scary or boring. Now that I'm out of formal science classes, I never have to open a textbook again! I can, mind you, if I want to, but I don't have to.

Well, okay, but where does that get us? In my case, it keeps me thinking about science-related activities that might have broad appeal as fun or useful not because it's science, but because it's an activity that stands on its own as engaging. Call it stealth science.

Now, two of the realms of science about which I, personally, am most passionate are related to growing things (especially tomatoes, because, really, what's better than a tomato right from the garden, sliced onto a
piece of bread right out of the oven, drizzled with a bit of olive oil and cracked pepper? Oh, sorry, okay, so I'm also passionate about food science, but that's another post!) and sustainability.

TerraCycle is all about sustainability, because their products are made of various forms of waste. They sell worm poop (aka, fertilizer) in reused (not recycled) plastic bottles. How awesome is this? You can't see it, because you're not in my living room with me, but I am doing a little chair dance of joy about it. Trust me.

But what does this have to do with getting people into science? Well, they have this contest, you see. They have a use for the bottles, but they have so many bottle caps they don't know what to do with them. And they want you to help them figure out a use for what would otherwise be trash.

And what does this have to do with women in science? Well, I'm a woman and this is science... Besides, we know that real world applications of engineering and scientific principles is a draw for populations who are historically underrepresented in STEM (science, engineering, technology and math) fields, including women. If someone isn't interested in science for the sake of pure science, the hook of a useful application is powerful. This contest links a real world application to current social and environmental issues in a way that makes it relevant to a broader spectrum of people than a pure numbers problem from a textbook might.

This could be a great project for school groups of any level, science or engineering clubs with an interest in issues of sustainability, or just regular old individuals such as yours truly, who isn't sure yet what she can do with a pile of bottle caps, but is looking forward to finding out.