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Canopy Career Chronicles

Leo, the Research Scientist. Trees, tales, and time capsules
Leo and his 8-year-old niece are roasting marshmallows over a campfire. She asks, "Can you tell us another story, Uncle Leo?" He says, "Sure. Let's see now... okay, here's one I began telling way back in college."
Flashback to Leo's college days. He is stilling under a tree, writing in a notebook. He says, "I was always writing -- fiction, poetry, you name it. I took every creative writing class I could find. But I also loved being outside."
Leo, the narrator, says, "So I took a couple of botany classes, figuring they'd help me get a job outdoors. It turned out I loved plants!" He holds a microscope slide up to eye level. A microscope sits nearby.
Leo, the narrator, says, "After graduating, I landed a job as a ranger." He stands proudly wearing a ranger's uniform. A forest is in the background.
Leo's niece asks, pulling a marshmallow off of her stick, "In a forest?" Leo explains, "It was actually an arboretum -- an outdoor living tree museum -- and it was amazing."
Leo, the narrator, says, "Exploring the grounds every day, I wondered about the plant diversity I saw." He is striding down a path in the arboretum. He thinks to himself, "What is a species? How many are there? How are they related?"
Leo, the narrator, says, "I soon realized it would take scientific research to figure out the stories about where plants come from and why there are so many. So I headed back to school to study botany, the biology of plants." He is walking toward a door labeled "Botany Department," with a folder under his arm.
Leo, the narrator, says, "You see, each plant species we see today has its own story to tell. You can think of them kind of like characters in a novel." He is looking at pages of a book floating around him, each with a different picture of a tree.
Leo, the narrator, says, "And the wy these characters relate to each other is what makes the story so interesting." He is looking at a family tree of different plant species, including Lycopodium obscurum, Lycopodium clavatum, Lycopodium annotinum, and others.
Leo's niece, poised to take a bit of her s'more, asks, "Wait, the plants tell you stories?" Leo points at her and says, "Yep! But we have to tease them out of the plants. We start by collecting plants in the field."
Leo, the narrator, says, "We deposit them in our herbarium, a library of dried plant specimens, safeguarded for future generations." He is looking at a specimen in a large drawer in a tall cabinet. In the background are more tall cabinets in the herbarium.
Leo, the narrator, says, "Herbarium cabinets are like time capsules. The specimens inside should outlive the plants they were collected from by hundreds of years or longer." He is holding up two herbarium specimen sheets.
Leo, the narrator, says, "We also freeze plant parts to preserve their DNA for future research. DNA-based research helps us figure out whether collections may be undiscovered species and infer how species are related." He is standing in front of a large freezer, holding onto a bag of frozen leaf specimens.
Leo, the narrator, says, "We also freeze plant parts to preserve their DNA for future research. DNA-based research helps us figure out whether collections may be undiscovered species and infer how species are related." He is standing in front of a large freezer, holding onto a bag of frozen leaf specimens.
Leo, the narrator, says, "DNA data helps us estimate how many millions of years in the past two species shared a common ancestor. We use this information to describe the tree of life that connects all species. Those same DNA data show us that gene movement between species makes some portions of the tree of life more of a web. Biodiversity is complex!" He stands in front of a huge chalkboard, upon which he has draw a huge tree of life diagram connecting different tree species.
Leo, the narrator, says, "The story really comes to life when other researchers help me tell it. My colleagues from all over the world share plant samples and knowledge for species they study." Several people are adding to the huge tree of life diagram on the chalkboard. One person is on a ladder. A few more tape paper to the sides to accommodate additional species.
Leo's niece asks, "What's your favorite part of the story?" Leo, marshmallow smoking on a stick, says, "Good question. The truth is, I enjoy every part of figuring out the story."
Leo, the narrator, says, "I love being the field, collecting and finding plants where they live." He is on his knees in the forest, picking up plants and putting them in bags.
Leo, the narrator, says, "I love studying plants in the herbarium, making close observations and identifications." In the upper right, he is striding past the tall cabinets of the herbarium.
Leo, the narrator, says, "I love the programming, the data analysis, working with my team of amazing, passionate, scientists." In the bottom left, he is sitting with a colleague in front of a computer.
Leo, the narrator, says, "I love teaching, mentoring, and working with students." In the bottom right, he talking to a group of students in the forest.
Leo says to his niece, holding up a handful of pages, "And of course when we've figured out some part of the story through close study, I love telling people about it. Scientific publications, blog posts, popular articles, children's books... there are so many ways to get it out there!" His marshmallow is thoroughly burnt.
Leo says, "How the world is put together -- it's a huge story to tell and I've been at it most of my life. And most of it has yet to be figured out!" He is oblivious to the charred remains of the marshmallow on his stick.
Leo's niece says, frowning, "Maybe you focus on your marshmallow and I'll tell the next story?" She hands him a marshmallow to replace the one he's burnt. He reaches out his hand and says, "Deal."