Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Meet Abby, 11-year-old biology prodigy

Here's the story of a kid who truly, deeply loves biology and whose parents have been wise enough to get out of her way. Prepare yourselves, people, the kid is amazing.

Abby discovered biology as a tiny tot, when she fell in love with David Attenborough documentaries, especially one featuring disgusting parasitic insects. Go girl. Her pretend play with animals soon filled up with biological jargon so thick that her parents couldn't understand what the heck she was talking about. Now she is taking a biology course on the late high school/early college level. Yes, she is 11.

Welcome to our interview with Abby, winner of the Evolution & Art Contest in the 10-12 age group.
Kate from Charlie's Playhouse: We loved your entry about the star-nosed moles!

Abby: Thank you. I did a bunch more entries too, but I chose the moles. I've always had a "thing" for star-nosed moles. They're cute! I also did a water buffalo, a kangaroo and a polar bear.

Kate: Oh, so you evolved all those animals in your mind and drew pictures of them?

Abby: Yes. I like to play a game with my mom when we're walking together. She names an animal and I evolve it for a new environment, usually to make it cuter. So it's easy for me to think of how animals evolve. I did the star-nosed mole with her one day.

Kate: How did you first learn about evolution?

Abby: Well, I was a dino freak when I was little. I knew all the dinosaur names, and I loved the little mammals that lived with the dinos. I wanted to learn how the little mammals from that time came to this time.

Kate: So what did you do to learn about that?

Abby: My dad would go to the library and get a bunch of books on mammals and evolution. Then I would draw them all. I realized that I could take every one of those mammals, and just using the powers of time and adaptation, I could make a totally new animal!

Kate: Cool. Can you give me some examples?

Abby: I like to imagine a domesticated fox, mountain lion, and prairie dog. They get cuter when they're domesticated.

Kate: So let's see. They're wild animals, and you imagine how they might evolve to be domesticated. So what's their new environment?

Abby: A house!

Kate: Oh, nice. So do you know what natural selection is?

Abby: Of course I know what natural selection is! I'm taking a high-school biology course! Also I'm such a book-lover, I read about it all the time.

Kate: OK, last question. Let's imagine that you could travel back in time and visit with Charles Darwin at his home in England. You're having tea in his study. What would you want to talk about? What would you ask him?

Abby: Oh! I do that a lot, travel back in time in my mind to talk with people from history. Mostly with Jefferson.

Kate: Really! So what about Darwin?

Abby: I would ask him how much courage it took to actually get his ideas out into the public. To think that far away from the mainstream. That's what I admire about him.

Kate: Anything else you'd like to add?

Abby: Yes, I have an imaginary world where all my made up animals live. I'm a scientist in that world, studying them. I have radio collars and video cams on nine of the animals, and I collect information about them. The males have some terrifying fights over food and territory!

So there you have it, folks. She's collecting data from the field. Abby, we await your findings!

P.S. Parents tell me that entering the Evolution & Art Contest was a fun learning activity even apart from the contest. So feel free to grab a kid, download the instructions here, and see what happens! We're always delighted to see kids' work if you'd like to send it in.

Happy holidays all around.

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