Married Entomologists Donate Insect Collection Worth $10 Million


Lois, 89, and Charlie O’Brien, 83, spent over six decades becoming two of the world’s preeminent entomologists. The married scientist couple amassed a personal collection of more than 1.25 million meticulously kept insect specimens—including their personal favorites: weevils (Charlie) and planthoppers (Lois). Now, they’re giving it all away, NPR reports.

The O’Briens are donating their vast collection, estimated to be worth $10 million, to Arizona State University (ASU) in hopes that it will foster further research that could have huge scientific value. The treasure trove of creepy-crawly pests doubles ASU’s current collection, called the Frank Hasbrouck Insect Collection, which consists of nearly 1 million specimens.

The O’Briens have also donated $2 million to ASU—the place where they first met—to endow future professorships with the sole goal of studying and identifying new species.

Charles W. and Lois B. O'Brien Insect Systematics Endowment from ASU Now on Vimeo.

“The O’Briens have placed great trust in us as a research community,” Nico Franz, the Hasbrouck Collection’s curator and long-time colleague of Charlie O’Brien, told ASU in a statement. “And at the same time, it’s a responsibility for us to make sure this collection has the greatest possible impact in terms of research and mentoring for future generations.”

The donation will likely have the biggest affect on the agriculture industry, specifically on invasive species like Charlie’s weevils. ASU notes there are about 65,000 identified weevil species but that estimates put the total number of species at about 220,000. Different species of weevils devastated U.S. agriculture during the Dust Bowl by burrowing into plant stalks, laying eggs, and leaving the hatched larvae to scarf down the plant parts. They continue to plague farmers all over the world.

But just because the scientists are donating their life’s work doesn’t mean they’re getting out of the bug business.

“We work seven days a week, we used to work 14 but now we’re down to 10 hours a day,” Charlie told The Guardian. “We love it so much, even if I’m getting a little old for field work.”

[h/t NPR]

College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

Northeastern University Is Now Handing Out Echo Dots to Its Students

Northeastern University is welcoming new students with an unusual addition to their dorm rooms this fall: an Echo Dot. According to USA Today, the Boston university will give some of its incoming students the option to receive a specialized Echo Dot smart home device that can help answer questions related to their school experience.

Northeastern's Echo Dot program doesn't just provide standard-issue smart home devices. The university has developed a special "Husky Helper" skill (named after the university mascot) that can answer common questions that students might otherwise pose to student services over the phone. The idea is that students will get answers to their questions quickly, and student services won't have to put so many employees to work answering basic queries about issues like dining hall meal card balances.

They can ask it things like whether they have a health insurance waiver on file with the university (a requirement for students who don't have university insurance) or have the device set a timer when they have to leave for their next class. Of course, they can also use it for all the things a non-student might use a Dot for, like playing music or getting weather updates.

Students can decide whether to opt in to the program and how much access to give Amazon. They can add information about their class schedules, meal plan accounts, tuition payments, and more. Students who ask about some sensitive information, like their grades, are instead directed to the proper university department to call, rather than their private data being read out for the whole dorm to hear.

The Northeastern Echo Dot program started out with a 60-student pilot for the 2017 - 2018 academic year, but will expand to more students in the fall.

[h/t USA Today]


More from mental floss studios