Witte

Witte

Recent Articles

The Sweep of Time

Article originally submitted for The Leaflet (June 2014) by Brian Witte, PhD, BRIT Research Associate Most of us live in the moment. Paycheck-to-paycheck, living for the weekend, summer vacation, twitter updates. Updates now are measured in seconds. America, too, is a young nation. Few places west of the Appalachians boast buildings over 150 years old, and most of us live in suburbs built in the decades following World War II. So much around us is new…even our landscapes are new, transformed by mechanized farming, car culture, and introduced species. That’s not entirely news, and it’s not entirely new, either. Look, for example, at this sheet I recently encountered while tidying up a database of digitized herbarium specimens. Click to enlarge and read labels. This was one of the last colle...
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The Living Herbarium: Many Hands Make Godzilla

Article originally published in The Leaflet (May 2014) by Brian Witte, PhD, BRIT Research Associate There is a stereotype of the scientist as a lone genius, laboring in obscurity until their “Eureka!” moment changes the world. If Hollywood is to be believed, this Eureka moment is usually followed by the destruction of Tokyo and/or New York by a giant robot/genetic mutant/superstorm. In reality, we have a tragic lack of giant robots, and nothing that we’ve done in the herbarium has (yet) threatened a major metropolitan area. We also rely heavily on collaboration, rather than solitary toil. In fact, I would venture to say that collaboration is the fundamental characteristic of science. NOT what we do…exactly. Nowhere is this more on display than in the herbarium at BRIT. Over the past month,...
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The Living Herbarium: Instructions for Life

Article originally published in The Leaflet (April 2014) by Brian Witte, PhD, BRIT Research Associate (Disclaimer: The technical aspects of this article are dramatically simplified in the interests of communicating with an audience entirely unfamiliar with molecular biology. Send me an email ( bwitte@brit.org ) if you would like a deeper explanation.) We like to repeat, loudly and often, that there are over 1 million plant specimens in the Philecology Herbarium at BRIT. It’s a nice, big, round number, and it sounds cool when tour groups come through. What if I told you that as imposing as that number sounds, the real number is closer to a thousand billion (1,000,000,000,000) plants*? The goal of an herbarium is to preserve plants. The ideal specimen, in many respects, has all the essential...
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