“6 Minute Science” is a podcast series by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) that features scientists presenting the depth and breadth of their research in 6 minutes followed by a short Q&A session. In No Bones, we'll communicate the lightning talk tales of Invertebrate Zoology (IZ) scientists in 6 questions or less.
IZ senior scientist Dave Pawson (emeritus), curator of echinoderms, relates the story of deep-sea echinoids in “Faith, Hope, and Charity in Deep-Sea Sea Urchins.” Originally from New Zealand, Dave arrived at NMNH “at the dawn of time, in 1964." and "was given a manual typewriter and a magnifying glass and told to get to work.” Since those early days, Dave has pursued a variety of investigations into deep-sea echinoderms, which “occur in enormous numbers” and “are of great ecological importance.” For example, Dave has investigated the covering responses of sea urchins, which often decorate their surfaces with debris. For some of his research interests, including sea urchins and other historical perspectives, Dave also works with his wife, Doris.
Question 1. It seems a tall task to prepare a six-minute talk for an audience that includes both your scientific colleagues in NMNH and the public. Did you find it difficult? About how much time did you spend putting the talk together?
Six minutes is a short time indeed, but preparation of a six-minute talk can take a long time, much of the time taken up deciding what not to talk about!
Question 2. As if six minutes is not condensed enough, what is the one thing you would like viewers to take away from this presentation?
The one thing that I hope the viewers take away from my talk is this: we’re learning more about direct connections between what we humans are doing on shore, and how deep-sea animals are making their living. What we do in terms of local or widespread devastation of habitats can have a direct and adverse effect on deep-sea animals.
Question 3. What, if anything, would you have added if you had time to include one more point or bit of information?
If I could include one more point of information, it would be to warn listeners that they should not believe all that they read on the internet about the deep sea. There’s a lot of misinformation and worthless speculation out there!
Question 4. You seem to enjoy word play a great deal. Outside of your scientific pursuits, what sort of literature or art do you appreciate?
I do enjoy word play, and I am constantly reading for relaxation. I seem to read a lot of mystery fiction, and I also enjoy biographies, especially of 17th and 18th century people.
Question 5. You work with your wife Doris. What makes you such a good team?
Doris and I have worked together for many years, and we have numerous projects in progress, not only on our deep-sea animals (starfish, sea urchins, and their relatives), but also historical research on the work of the Steamer “Albatross” (1883-1921), as well as on eminent scientists who pioneered research on our favorite animals.
We work together very well. Doris is well-organized, and I am not. She likes to finish things, and I like to jump from one unfinished thing to another. Best of all, we enjoy each other’s company.
Question 6. You recently retired to life as an active emeritus member of IZ. Is there anything you miss following the transition? Or have you left all of the annoying parts of the job behind?
After 50 years of work here at the museum, and when I finally realized that indeed the U.S. government could get along perfectly well without me, I retired 3 months ago. It’s great fun being retired, and I can recommend it! As you suggest, all of the annoying parts of the job have been left behind, and we can now continue as before, doing our research – whenever we feel like doing it!