Around the Green

 

Forman School featured in new BBC nature show

We are so proud to announce that Forman School’s long history of study in the Costa Rican rainforest will be featured in a new show from the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Natural History unit. “Animal Impossible” is on Animal Planet in the United States. Tim Warwood and Adam Gendle host the program which takes a light-hearted but serious look at various claims of animal abilities and feats. The episode featuring Forman asks the question, how strong is spider silk?

Wendy Welshans, Forman’s Director of the Rainforest Project, has been taking Forman students to Costa Rica for 28 years to pursue various areas of study through hands-on research. Their work with spider silk has resulted in the school holding two patents, one for a silk extraction method and one for farming spiders by identifying characteristics of places spiders successfully colonize.

“The show found us,” says Welshans. “The producers liked what they saw on our website, particularly work by Natalie Canterbury '14 and Jason Epstein '18. They particularly liked Natalie’s work comparing the tensile strength of spider silk to kevlar, hemp, cotton, and nylon monofilament, as well as seeing how spider silk could enhance those materials.” 

As luck would have it, in July of 2019 Natalie and Jason were able to accompany Ms. Welshans and the BBC production crew down to Costa Rica and work once again with the amazing Golden Orb Weaver spider.

Natalie studied Pre-Med Biology and Psychology at Southern Vermont College and graduated in 2019. She is currently studying nursing at Utica College. “I must say that Logan Faucett '17 and Parker Broadnax '17 collaborated with me at Forman and in the rainforest,” she says. “I loved the trip back to Costa Rica for the show. The producers were so genuine in their approach. They asked a lot of questions which I appreciate as a scientist.” 

Jason is a junior at Penn State where he is studying marine sciences. He too enjoyed the trip for many reasons but one in particular. “I’ve always looked up to Ms. Welshans,” he says. “She was my adviser and she meant a lot to me at Forman. I was humbled when asked me to help out on the production of the show. It is great to see her work recognized in this way.” 

Another alumnus, Will Dietrich '16, did an independent study in support of Ms. Welshans’ preparation for the trip and the show. “Will spent about 100 hours redesigning the spider silk extractor,” says Welshans. “We call it “The Silkanator”. Will made it more efficient and user-friendly for the cameras.” Dietrich received college credit at Marist College for his work.  

Ms. Welshans has not seen a final cut of the show but she is confident that all involved delivered on the premise of the show. 

“Ounce for ounce, this silk is stronger than steel,” says Welshans. “It will be fun to share what we’ve learned on the show. The silk of the golden orb weaver is remarkable and it has many potential uses. Among the things it can be used for are bulletproof vests, cable, and sutures for use on humans.”

While originally produced as a segment on the BBC show "Animal Impossible", the piece has recently appeared on Animal Planet in the United States on a show called "Beast-Kept Secrets." Check both show names and channels in your local listings as a definitive air date and time have been hard to pin down.