Meet Your Lecturers: Prof. Adam Hart

This is the fourth of Tolga Aktas’s blog posts as Guest Editor…

Previously in the ‘Meet Your Lecturers’ blog series we focused on Dr. Matt Wood, Dr. Liz Hamilton and Prof. Anne Goodenough. On this blog post today, we focus our attention towards Prof. Adam Hart, who is a lecturer in Ecology and Environmental Sciences. He is well known for his research on entomology, ecology and his science communication efforts through the media. I asked him a series of questions in an interview and this is what he had to say:

  • What inspired you to get into the field that you are in currently?

I grew up by the sea in South Devon with parents who were both involved in science, although mostly chemistry, not biology. I had science at home and was surrounded by rock-pools and hedgerows and I just always wanted to be involved in biology and science in some way. I also liked the idea of travel and adventure and I think reading Willard Price books filled my head with the idea that biologists got to do cool things – and we do!

Adam with Chris Packham on the set of Hive Alive, a 2-part documentary he co-presented on BBC2

  • Was your current discipline/field what you always strived to get into, or did you happen to get there by chance?

I am not sure I really have a field as such any more – notionally I am an entomologist, but I am now involved in a wide range of things, from trail behaviour of ants to the thermal imaging of antelopes. I guess “ecologist” would cover it! I was initially interested in PhDs on mammals and birds – particularly social species – but after spending a couple of months in Sheffield working to earn money for a Central America trip, I took during a year off after my degree I ended up working part-time in a lab studying ants and bees. I quickly realised that they produced much bigger sample sizes than birds and didn’t require early starts! I was applying for a lot of PhDs at the time, all on vertebrates, but I ended up staying at the Sheffield lab and studying leaf-cutting ants and honeybees instead. It was during this time that a bit of luck in some research and agreeing to do a few things well outside of my comfort zone at that point led to developing science communication as a big part of what I do.

Giving a public lecture on insect pheromones

  • What would you consider to be your most ground-breaking work to date?

I am not sure many scientists would admit to any of their work necessarily being “groundbreaking” to be honest, but in terms of citations, my work on leaf-cutting ant hygiene has been well-received. The work on Twitter for ecological data mining with Anne Goodenough was also a very neat and interesting bit of research that was fun to do.

  • Is there any advice that you would give fellow students/individuals looking to embark into the same field that you’re in?

Learn what opportunity looks like – say yes to things and don’t be too fixed in your path or your thinking.

Recording script for a BBC Radio 4 documentary series on accidental discoveries in science

  • What is the latest research project that you’re focusing on right now?

The Big Wasp Survey is a major focus at the moment, largely because we have a lot of wasps to sort out (volunteers needed please!). Also, Anne, Will and I are always planning for our various South Africa research projects – the next one in May involves a pick-up truck, 10 fake poachers, a thermal imaging camera, whistles and 30 glow sticks…

“I love all biology but particularly those insects that live together in large colonies, like ants. However, I’m just as likely to be talking about antelopes and rhino as I am ant-lions and rhino beetles.” – Prof. Adam Hart

The Life of Poo Book by Prof. Adam Hart – it is worth the read. Science Communication at its finest! Click the image to purchase it 🙂

Stay tuned for future posts giving you an insight to the lecturers that teach you, their backgrounds and what inspired them to stand at the front of the class and teach you all that they know.

Edited by Tolga Aktas, Second-year BSc Animal Biology student

Twitter: @tolgaaktas_

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