PhD Student Andy Quitmeyer Heads to The Dissemination Lab in Madagascar

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This month, Andy Quitmeyer is heading to Madagascar, where he’ll be working with Dr. Brian Fisher from the California Academy of Sciences and a host of other researchers. They will be working to develop new ways of sharing field research using digital technologies.

This sounded too exciting not to ask him a few questions, and he was generous enough to take the time to chat.

So, how’d this whole project get started?

For the past six years of my graduate research, I have been working with insects and digital media. I often work very closely with scientists from many fields, but entomologists have always been my primary collaborators. Despite all of this, I had never been to an actual biology conference. It was thrilling to be able to see all these researchers I had worked with throughout my career in the same place. Great chance to catch up with former contacts, and make new collaborators. In fact, I managed to meet with Dr. Brian Fisher, head of entomology at the Cal Academy of Science, where we formed an impromptu collaborative project being launched in January 2015 in Madagascar at The Dissemination Lab. I really got to galvanize my research and solicit lots of great feedback.

What would you say is the main purpose of the hike for the group? Do you have a personal purpose or goal that is different?

My PhD research looks at how we can get computers into the wild to study animals in their natural environments. My goal is to digitally augment the entire process of the scientists; so not just making devices that help their experimentation go quicker, but technology that can help their early exploration as well as their final dissemination stage where they share their discoveries.

For this project we are focusing on this dissemination part. We are looking to figure out ways to share, in real-time, the activities the scientists do, and the behaviors of the animals they study with people both locally and globally from a very remote location.

Is this hike going to be significantly different than your others? Why Madagascar?

It will be more focused on outreach. My others looked at tools primarily for exploring animal behaviors, but this one aims to figure out how to share them. We are going to Madagascar because that’s where Dr. Fisher does a lot of his insect research. He knows the people and the lay of the land which is incredibly useful on such an unpredictable adventure. This location will be an excellent testing ground for our Hiking Hack because of how remote it is. We will spend most of our trip cut off from any kind of electrical power or communication equipment other than what we can carry. So by solving the problems of working with digital technology in such a remote environment, our techniques should be able to work anywhere!

If other students wanted to get involved with adventurous hike-hacks, where is the best place to start looking for information?

Find adventurous scientists and make friends with them!

Safe travels and good luck, Andy!