Pinhead Letters from the Field
by Pinhead Intern, Ouray Resident Nakoa Martinez
Jul 30, 2009 | 760 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Nakoa Martinez (Courtesy photo)
Nakoa Martinez (Courtesy photo)
Each year the Smithsonian Affiliate Pinhead Institute, a science-educational nonprofit based in Telluride, places approximately 10 regional students at renowned scientific institutions for six to 10 weeks to work with leading researchers on critical issues facing the world today including biodiversity, indigenous cultures, influenza study, sustainability, habitat loss, and climate change. Ouray High School student Nakoa Martinez is currently working at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) located in Fort Worth. BRIT is a global institute for the conservation and preservation of botanical heritage through education, research, scientific publications, and collections. As part of Nakoa’s internship with Pinhead, he submits weekly “reports” about his learning experiences.

From Nakoa:

Life at BRIT is a little easier now that I have been here for two weeks; I have done more scanning and more data entries. The scanning I have done involves plants from the “Andes to Amazon Biodiversity Program;” more specifically the plants are ferns. I am scanning the plants so that later I can post them into our newly created program called Atrium. Atrium is a way for botanists around the world to examine and identify plants without actually having to enter the Herbarium at BRIT. In addition to Atrium making the one million specimens that we have acquired more accessible to the public and people within the science community, it also provides a log of all the plants we do have, which makes it easier to look up a specific plant collected.

While I was working in the Herbarium with the South American nutmegs, I met a women who is a zoologist researching the behavioral patterns of the South American tree kangaroo. After talking with her I have come to find how botany is applicable to zoology. Because the Tree kangaroo is a nomadic and nocturnal animal, it is very elusive and hard to track. This woman was able to learn about their habitats, diet, and some behavior patterns by identifying the plant mater within the scat.

So after learning what this woman was studying, I began to ponder different scenarios. What if we were to apply the same type of investigation to people around the world? Maybe we would be able to discover why certain types of people and races are more susceptible and or isolated by disease. Just through talking to this one woman I was completely enlightened; I have begun to realize how significant one branch of biology can relate to another even if they are very different.

This week we are going to go out into the field and collect some specimens so that I can understand that task in the life of a botanist. (This will come in handy if I’m ever collecting specimens when I begin my research on cancer).

I have truly fallen in love with the people and work that I am doing here in the republic of Texas. Thank you Pinhead for providing this experience!

P.S. I have slipped tree times already in one day and have said "Y'all" (Oh no! There must be something in the water, no wonder it tastes funny!)

To learn more about the Pinhead Institute or read other intern “Letters from the Field,” visit

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