Tuesday, August 08, 2006

2006 IUSSI Congress in DC

Oh my goodness.... so much has happened and I have so much to say. The IUSSI congress was great, although DC was ridiculously hot. I presented my poster, which seemed to go over well. I had a lot of very excited folks wanting me to make them probes, which I really don't have the ability to do right now. I did, however, make a Do-It-Yourself web page with pictures and information on how to make your own probes, which I hope will be useful. I also put up more data from the probe experiment in case anyone wants to see that. What I really need to be doing right now is trying to finish that paper and get it published somewhere ASAP. That's next on my list after this.

The seminars I enjoyed the most were:

Symposium 12: Ant phylogenetics: new molecular trees to address old problems in ant biology
Symposium 14: Ant communities and biodiversity: global assessments and monitoring

The ant phylogenetics were quite interesting. The idea that subterranean ants are the most ancient group (as I have quoted in my poster) was called into question, which is too bad. I also liked the study on Pachycondyla which seems to show quite conclusively that they are not monophyletic and should almost certainly be divided into more than one genus. I'm sure someone is getting right on that.

I got to meet a bunch of ant folks, which was nice. And I got to visit the Smithsonian collection, which was also great. The comparison between that and the Harvard ant room is amazing. The Smithsonian ant room is large, brightly lit, climate controlled, with multiple rooms and offices for students and researchers, lots of equipment, and electronically controlled rolling stacks. In comparison, Harvard's room seems ancient, dingy and forgotten. There is not enough space for all the ants, there is a sad little window air conditioner, and barely enough room for more than a couple of people to do anything useful at the same time. And yet my understanding is that the Harvard collection is superior in terms of the actual specimens. I really don't understand why Harvard, which has more money than they know what to do with, is allowing the world's premier ant collection to stagnate. It's a crime. Anyway, visiting the Smithsonian was awesome. Maybe I can work there one day.

I also listened to EO Wilson's talk on the evolution of eusociality, which still seems a bit wonky to me but he did give my favorite quote of the congress, which was: "a scientist would rather use another scientist's toothbrush than his vocabulary." I think it depends on the scientist.

By Friday I was so overwhelmed with everything that I couldn't listen to one more talk so I skipped out and went to visit the baby panda, whose name is Tai Shan, but who I am told is called Butterstick by the locals. Adorable!

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