When it comes to awe inspiring, technology doesn’t stand a chance beside the sheer breadth of life on earth. That’s evident upon viewing the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), a free, online resource that’s been redesigned and vastly expanded to offer 700,000 pages on individual species, up from the 30,000 at EOL’s 2008 launch.
A new interface makes it easy for users to find organisms of interest and to find or upload images, video, or sound. And the ability to create “virtual collections” would allow a middle school teacher, let’s say, to adapt the scholarly resource “Invasive Insects of North America” into a classroom unit on local ecosystems.
Beyond the Web, EOL is expanding its reach to third-party mobile and desktop applications through the EOL API. Developers and users alike will appreciate knowing that all EOL content is available for reuse under a Creative Commons license.
Also new is the educator’s resource, which includes “Field Guides” and other tools. Of particular interest is the One Species at a Time podcast series. The series—covering wide-ranging subjects, from branch-tip spiders to Ediacaran fossils—provides a brief radio presentation that through audio alone fires the imagination.
In one podcast centered on the “purple and azure torpedoes,” aka the Atlantic bluefin tuna, scientists describe what it’s like to tag a fish that comes as large as a Volkswagen. To hear the scientist’s description of being in a boat watching 800-pound specimens become airborne in pursuit of prey is better, dare I say, than actually seeing this. An accompanying Google Earth Tour shows distribution of the species using data collected from tagged fish.
The audio experience continues as podcast users are encouraged to leave their comments via a handy online recorder or a link to Skype. A link for “Educational materials” provides lesson plans for various grade ranges. Interestingly, the lessons on the Bluefin tuna are tied to ocean literacy principles.
There’s also a podcast on E. O. Wilson, the famed biologist behind the creation of EOL. If you haven’t caught his 2007 TED Talk, it’s a treat and as good as anything we’ve seen for inspiring young scientists.