Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

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STRI special events,
August 2022

August 31, 2022

Q?rioso Inauguration, Panama Book Fair, Jaramillo Award, Tony Coates Fellowship, QGIS Workshop.

$3 Million from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF)

Congratulations to STRI staff scientist Owen McMillan and deputy director Oris Sanjur. Thanks to their leadership, STRI received a $3 million NSF RAMP (Research and Mentoring for Postbaccalaureates) award with Global Sustainability Scholars, a program to “train and support rising young professionals from diverse backgrounds, disciplines and worldviews.” These funds will allow STRI to host 36 post-baccalaureate scholars from under-represented groups in the US to work for 1-year fellowship periods with STRI scientists over the next 4 years. 

Q?rioso Inauguration

On Aug. 24 STRI celebrated the inauguration of the Q?rioso hands-on learning space at Punta Culebra Nature Center. The brightly painted walls and lab-style tables with drawers full of treasures replace an empty military bunker built into the side of a hill at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.

More than six years in the making—this labor of love coordinated by STRI’s education, public programs, communication, and facilities offices, with help from researchers and many other STRI employees, contains activities approved by Panama’s Ministry of Education (MEDUCA) intended to supplement classroom learning and is a unique space along the Pacific coast where scientists will interact with families and children.

At the opening ceremony, Josh Tewksbury, STRI director and Gladys Navarro de Gerbaud, president of the Fundación Smithsonian joined Jimena Pitty, science education specialist for the ribbon cutting. Gerbaud thanks the many donors who made this project possible: the Arosemena family, Fundación Alberto Motta, Fundación Sus Buenos Vecinos, the Heilbron Ortega family, Miguel Heras and Mirei Endara de Heras, Ricardo Arango and family, Marie and Luca del Buono, the Fidanque family, Hothem Foundation, Liz Henriquez, Ana Lisa Simmons and family, Alex Hanono, Gustavo Arango and family, Julio Escobar, Enrique Olarte and family, Arturo Gerbaud, the Hawthorn Foundation, the U.S. Embassy in Panama, Jaime and Pilar Alemán, Juan Raúl Humbert, and Juan David Morgan. 

Jaramillo Lifetime Achievement Award

STRI paleontologist Carlos Jaramillo received the “2022 Life-Achievement Award” given by the Latin-American Association of Paleobotany and Palynology, his fourth major career award this year. Carlos’ studies pollen and other plant remains to understand how tropical forests evolved. He’s probably best known by the public as discoverer of the Titanoboa and, in Colombia, for a beautifully illustrated volume about the geological history of the country called Hace tiempo. Un viaje paleontológico ilustrado por Colombia.

At STRI’s Center for Tropical Paleobiology and Archaeology, Carlos’ lab is a jumping off point for hundreds of students, interns and fellows from the Americas who go on to positions at other prestigious institutions. In Panama, his excavations near the Panama Canal during its expansion and of other little-explored areas contribute greatly to models showing how and when the Isthmus of Panama formed to connect continents and separate oceans.

GIS Workshop for Emberá Indigenous Techs

Milton Solano, Geographical Information Systems Specialist at STRI, welcomed forest monitoring technicians from Emberá indigenous communities in eastern Panama to a workshop where they learned to use QGIS software to create and edit maps. The technicians edited maps to include the Emberá names of rivers and tributaries. Catherine Potvin, STRI research associate from McGill University and her team set up the workshop. Technicians from Balsas river communities are setting up a large-scale, long-term forest monitoring plots in some of the most impressive, old-growth tropical forests north of the Amazon, using methods established by the Smithsonian Forest Global Earth Observatory (ForestGEO) network. The group from the Bayano river valley manage a reforestation project intended to neutralize STRI’s carbon footprint in the community of Ipetí-Emberá.

Tony Coates Fellowship

A new fellowship honors Tony Coates: geologist, renaissance man, mentor and long-time STRI ambassador who received visiting scientists and potential donors with enthusiasm and a warm handshake. Upon his retirement, Tony’s friends came together to establish an endowment in his name that will support three-year fellowships for innovative young scientists. Thank you, Tony, for inspiring us!

Fundación Smithsonian Meeting

This month, the Fundación Smithsonian had its first in-person meeting since the beginning of the pandemic. Director Josh Tewksbury, deputy director Oris Sanjur, associate director for communications and public programs, Linette Dutari, and the Our Ocean Conference Panama science and conservation coordinator, Ricardo De Ycaza, discussed plans to strengthen and expand STRI’s marine program.

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