Mighty Science in Defense of Nature

by Mike Hamilton

These two favorite quotes sum up my life! 

I cannot recollect a time I was not captivated by science and the natural world, and at the same time by the inner workings of the latest technologies. My parents encouraged my explorations, and through the 1950s and '60s, I bounced between collecting plants and wild animals, building electronic gadgets, and reading as many science fiction and adventure novels or natural history field guides as I could get my hands onto at our local library. The Apollo Space Program was a huge motivator as I prepared myself to become an astronaut (an exobiologist to be precise). But my eyes had other plans, so as stigmatism with a dash of near-sightedness developed in junior high, the 20/20 vision requirement for astronaut training ended that career goal. Undaunted, I plowed ahead in the biological sciences, while keeping my attention on engineering and computer sciences, until I happened into a summer job as a seasonal wilderness ranger in my freshman year. I always loved camping, and I was successful in the Boy Scouts, but living all summer in a wilderness area, studying the plants and wildlife of the San Jacinto Mountains, pushed my curiosity and brainstorms into exciting new directions.

Fast forward to today -- I'm a retired Biological Field Station Director. Over my career, I managed two extraordinary University of California field stations and natural reserves, while collaborating on research that merged the lines between ecology, engineering, and conservation. I lived off the grid since 1982, using solar photovoltaic power before it was commonplace outside of orbiting satellites (the first bank of solar panels we installed were in fact purchased as surplus equipment from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory).

As an explorer — a digital naturalist — I've been figuring out ways to quantify nature and amplify our understanding of the interactions of species and their ecology in our protected natural areas. If information is power then knowledge is unstoppable!

Working on interdisciplinary teams with faculty and students, we would design, engineer, and field test cool tools for the remote sensing of organisms and ecosystems -- incorporating cameras, sensors, wireless networks and robotics. Robots became mobile sensor platforms capable of semi-autonomous operation. Drones could conduct aerial surveys of vegetation and microclimate, and were able to collect water samples from lakes and rivers. "Tree-bots" navigated along cables strung through a forest canopy and measured photosynthesis, while underground robots captured thousands of microscopic images of the subterreanean mycorrhizal connections between plant roots and fungi. There were even small robotic boats and submarines which measured water quality at any location and depth, and would photographically document the health of a coral reef.

We have learned a lot through these myriad uses of digital tech, but what has motivated me the most was the sense of urgency to quantitatively document as much of nature as it becomes irreversibly changed, and to explore scientific and technological solutions to aid in nature conservation and the defense of nature!

My website is under contruction so check back over the next two months as I tell my stories -- and share a slice of my data -- about the animals, plants, and robots that have entertained me for so many years.

Mike Hamilton - October 2019

Here I am trying out the NASA Space Shuttle Simulator (Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory OV-095) at the Johnson Space Center in 2007

my professional CV:  Dr. Mike Hamilton, retired eco-geek

Software and hardware used for this site: Everweb version 2.9, Adobe Photoshop CC 2018, Security Spy version 4.2.7, Davis Instruments Vantage Pro II+ weather station, Amcrest UltraHD camera, and of course built with and hosted on a Mac  

This site and web hosting is made entirely in Oregon City, Oregon, with a little help from Comcast Business Internet

“Science will continue to surprise us with what it discovers and creates; then it will astound us by devising new methods to surprise us. At the core of science's self-modification is technology. New tools enable new structures of knowledge and new ways of discovery.  The achievement of science is to know new things; the evolution of science is to know them in new ways. What evolves is less the body of what we know and more the nature of our knowing.” 

Kevin Kelly - The Technium, 2006

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” 

Robert Heinlein - Time Enough for Love, 1973


Funding for research described in this website was provided by the following agencies and organizations