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Plants, climate change and the importance of being curious, an interview with Bert Drake

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

If you’re looking for a good conversation about science, history or life – talk to Bert Drake. He’s a plant physiologist and renaissance man who’s been with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center for nearly four decades. Drake retired in January, but will continue his investigations as an emeritus scientist. We caught up with him before he took well-deserved vacation.

Wideshot of Drake on the boardwalk that winds through his marsh research station.

Drake's research unfolds at the Kirkpatrick Marsh, located in Maryland on a subestuary of the Chesapeake Bay.


How did you earn a living before you became a scientist?
I was a drummer in a jazz band, a ski guide, the host of a jazz radio program and a high school science teacher.

How did you get drawn to the world of plant physiology?
Nature has always fascinated me and science is about discovering how nature works. I grew up in northern Maine. My father was a barber, but loved the outdoors. I was outside year-round: skiing, canoeing, trapping animals, fishing and taking photos. I knew I wanted to do something connected with biology. I became a science teacher, but it wasn’t until I attended a summer course in ecology that I wanted to get inside a lab and practice science.

In science you almost always get an approximation of an answer because an experiment is only an approximation of reality.

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