Science affair

Earth Day march magnifies importance of research, experimentation

Becki Brunelli and LaDawn Haws are leading the charge for Chico’s March for Science.

Becki Brunelli and LaDawn Haws are leading the charge for Chico’s March for Science.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

March for Science:
11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, April 22 (Earth Day), with tables with activities starting at 11 and march through downtown at 12:30 p.m. Trinity Commons lawn on the Chico State campus. For more information, go to

Becki Brunelli is of the mindset that everyone is born a scientist, naturally curious about the world and eager to experiment and ask questions.

“I want to encourage that type of thinking,” the Chico State biology and animal behavior professor said during a recent interview. Her colleague, LaDawn Haws, echoed her enthusiasm for the subject.

“There are a lot of things that we take for granted,” she said. “We want to show people how science affects their daily lives.”

Together, Brunelli and Haws—who teaches math at Chico State—are organizing the local March for Science, which will take place this Saturday (Earth Day, April 22). Held in conjunction with a main event in Washington, D.C., and over 500 other satellite events all over the country and the world, the march is meant to remind people of the importance of science in our everyday lives and in affecting policy.

“There’s been a shift in the atmosphere around science,” Brunelli explained. “When it comes to policy-making, science is being ignored. So, scientists realized it was time to stop being silent—it’s time for us to speak.”

Talk of a March for Science in D.C. began in earnest in January. Brunelli, who has taught science at K-12 schools as well as the university, was instantly on board and began researching how she could hold a satellite event in Chico. She quickly learned that Haws had the same idea. So, naturally, the two joined forces. Although her main concentration is math, Haws says she’s long been a champion of science education. She’s worked with the hands-on science labs in K-12 schools and on exhibits at the Gateway Science Museum.

“People think that math and science are different,” she said. “But in science, you do experiments to discover patterns. And math is the language of expressing patterns. You can’t do science without math.”

That’s part of the message she and Brunelli hope to convey at Saturday’s event—that science is everywhere, interconnected with everything, and accessible to everyone. They cited just a few examples: Medicine. Cellphones. Clean drinking water and air. As a way to highlight the subject, more than 30 local clubs and organizations will run booths, many of which will offer interactive, hands-on science experiences. Groups range from Chico State and community clubs to nonprofits like Butte Environmental Council and the Stream Team to creative co-op Idea Fabrication Labs.

Leading up to the event, Brunelli and Haws held poster-making parties, and everyone is encouraged to bring their own signs. They should, understandably, highlight science. Brunelli emphasized that “this is a nonpartisan event. People are frustrated right now because of the administration, but this is a march for science, not against any political party. This is not an anti-anything rally—it’s really just pro science.”

Haws offered an appropriate analogy: “Gravity works no matter what party you’re a part of.”

Political affiliations aside, they said, policymakers must go back to respecting scientific research and considering results when making laws. It can make a difference in the health of our planet and its inhabitants, including human beings.

“Years ago, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer,” Haws said by way of example. In addition, they found that aerosol cans were speeding the depletion of the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from the sun’s powerful ultraviolet rays. “They decided we need to get rid of [aerosol] spray cans—lawmakers acted on it and the hole is closing.”

Brunelli added: “It’s disastrous when policy is made without scientific data to back it up.”

Part of the problem, Brunelli suggested, is that there’s so much false data available online that true scientific research is getting lost in its midst. “Scientific evidence used to be respected,” she said. “But there’s so much misinformation on the Internet that it’s easy for people to get confused.”

The March for Science, she hopes, will remind people of all of the scientific discoveries that make our lives what they are today. “Science is for everyone,” she said. That’s a reason the march will lead participants from the campus, where the booths and speakers will set up, and through downtown. The hope is that the entire Chico community will feel welcome and become engaged.

Finally, Brunelli and Haws said, this is just one step in a movement toward embracing science and encouraging more participation in it. “This is just the beginning,” Brunelli said.