Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Conversations with Outstanding Americans: Jane Lubchenco A World-Class Researcher, This Professor of Zoology Has a Down-to-Earth Perspective on the Unprecedented Changes Affecting the Natural World and Is Joining Fellow Scientists in Voicing Her Concerns More Vigorously. Series: Jane Lubchenco (L.) at a Global Warming Conference with Vice President Gore and President Clinton.AP/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Conversations with Outstanding Americans: Jane Lubchenco A World-Class Researcher, This Professor of Zoology Has a Down-to-Earth Perspective on the Unprecedented Changes Affecting the Natural World and Is Joining Fellow Scientists in Voicing Her Concerns More Vigorously. Series: Jane Lubchenco (L.) at a Global Warming Conference with Vice President Gore and President Clinton.AP/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

Article excerpt

It's early morning along the Oregon coast, and Jane Lubchenco is doing what she loves most - mucking about in tide pools.

Rubber-booted and sure-footed, she moves over the rocky area, checking the marine plants and animals exposed during low tide, noting the harbor seals loitering on rocks just offshore, greeting the graduate students she oversees at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

"This is one of the most lovely places in the world to work," she says. As a Distinguished Professor of Zoology and a world-class researcher, Dr. Lubchenco has been documenting marine life along the coast here for more than 15 years. It's sophisticated science, sometimes involving helicopters, remote sensors, and satellites. But she also totes a plastic bucket labeled "Bob's Secret Sauce" (formerly used at a fast-food joint) to carry the more mundane tools of her trade. A screw driver to pry starfish off rocks. The turkey baster for slurping water out of sea anemones. "Tuffy" pot scrapers, which, fixed to rocks, attract mussels for study. It seems idyllic and timeless, a place where native Americans spent time hundreds of years ago, leaving behind piles of broken shells still visible along the bank. But when Lubchenco talks about what's going on here and what it represents in the bigger picture of life on Earth - climate change, the loss of biological diversity, the spread of toxic wastes, human population expected to double before the end of the next century - there is an urgency in her tone, a sense that mankind's impact on the land and seas needs to change. "We're changing things faster than we understand them," she says. "We're changing the world in ways that it's never been changed before, at faster rates and over larger scales, and we don't know the consequences. It's a massive experiment, and we don't know the outcome. "And we should not be blase about the results. There are going to be very big surprises, and {they} are not likely to be in our favor. And therefore, we should be more cautious...." In person, Jane Lubchenco is low-key and a bit of a science nerd. (This reporter struggles to keep up with photosynthates, Pfiesteria piscicida, and "a really nasty dinoflagellate.") But she has taken a lead public role among ecologists concerned about this "massive experiment." And increasingly she's being listened to. By members of Congress, by fellow scientists, by religious leaders. And most recently by the White House, where she was one of seven experts summoned to a briefing on global warming. Still at mid-career, Lubchenco has racked up an impressive resume. Among other places, her work has taken her to Central America, China, and the Aegean Sea. Next month, she'll be in the Black Sea. Over the years, she also has worked hard to maintain time for family. For 10 years, she and her husband, Bruce Menge (also a professor of marine biology at OSU), split a faculty position so that they could devote time to their two sons. It was a decision to shun both the "fast track" and the "mommy track" in favor of what they call the "sane track." When the two biologists spent several months each year doing research in Panama through this period, their two young sons tagged along. "We were able to spend much more time with our children than would have been the case," they wrote in the April 1993 issue of BioScience magazine. "It was easier to breast-feed; to trade taking care of them; to volunteer as soccer, baseball, and basketball coaches; and generally to share in the joys, frustrations, tribulations, and rewards of parenting." As the boys got older (Duncan is now 16, Alexei is 19), Lubchenco and Dr. Menge worked three-quarter time for two more years. Both are now full-time tenured professors. But in addition to teaching courses in ecology, environmental sciences, and marine biology, Lubchenco now spends much of her time traveling in the United States and abroad carrying the message that anthropogenic (human-caused) changes are impacting the earth in ways that need to be better understood and acted upon. …

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