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Farewell to a valuable pair of volunteers

This article appeared in the May 27, 2011 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

By Liz Shenaut
Special to the Enterprise

Since March 2009, Nick Ruppel and his wife Barb Swedo have shared their love for science – plant science in particular – with learners at Explorit Science Center through informal demonstrations, summer camps and public visitor hours.

As Ruppel gets ready to move on from his postdoctoral position at UC Davis to a professorship at Oberlin College in Clevland, Ohio, he reflects on his experiences volunteering at Explorit as opportunities to develop his teaching skills.

“When I was applying for this job in Ohio, they wanted teaching experience,” said Ruppel. “Honestly, I think my record with Explorit volunteering with Portal to the Public and summer camps were enough to get me this job.”

Portal to the Public is a program at many science centers around the country that promotes interaction between scientists and the general public to promote appreciation and understanding of science. Ruppel, a plant biologist, co-organized demonstrations about plants with Swedo, a plant ecologist, as part of Portal to the Public at Explorit.

One day at public visitor hours Ruppel and Swedo laid out different fruits and vegetables and asked visitors what part of the plant each fruit or vegetable comes from.

“Most people knew a carrot was a root, but a couple were surprising,” said Ruppel. “Mostly they thought [brussel sprouts] were leaves or flowers but they’re more of a bud – they’re called lateral buds.”

Another day, the pair brought more plant science to Explorit with a goal of demonstrating how plants are essential for our everyday lives. One station showed a video of an aquatic plant releasing bubbles of oxygen that we breathe in, and another invited kids to build with Lincoln Logs to remind them that trees are plants we use to build our homes.

During Summer Science Camp last year, Ruppel and Swedo were a hit when they demonstrated carnivorous plants several times for groups of campers.

“I just had a blast with that,” said Ruppel. “It’s hard to get [kids] excited about a plant.”

However, it was not hard at all to get kids excited about the carnivorous plants Ruppel and Swedo brought. The kids were enraptured by the sight of plants that could trap insects and delighted by the descriptions Ruppel and Swedo gave for each plants’ method of catching and ingesting its prey.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Portal to the Public provides resources to science centers around the country so they can coordinate public programs with scientists in their local area. Ruppel and Swedo helped make Portal to the Public successful at Explorit.

Portal to the Public is made possible by the collaboration of the following team of science centers: Pacific Science Center in Seattle, WA; Explora in Albuquerque, NM; North Museum of Natural History and Science in Lancaster, PA; and Institute for Learning Innovation in Annapolis, MD.

In addition to Portal to the Public demonstrations, Ruppel and Swedo also volunteered their time regularly at public visitor hours, where they assisted families with various experiments in Explorit’s exhibits.

Explorit staff are thankful for all the enthusiasm Ruppel and Swedo have shared over the past two years. Best of luck to this friendly pair of scientists!


Explorit’s coming events:


Summer Camp, Jun 13-Aug 19: Several spaces are still available in the preK-K and 1st-2nd grade sections of Explorit’s Summer Science Camp.  To get information about openings, visit or call (530) 756-0191 Monday-Friday from 9-4:30. 
Explorit Science Center’s 3141 5th St. site is the location for field trips, programs for groups, astronomy club meetings, and Summer Science Camp.  It is also the hub for Explorit’s traveling programs that reach an 18-county region.  The site is open to the public for special events and to groups by reservation. For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit

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