Mother, scientist and superhero

Much of my childhood was defined by Freckles. Not the tiny brown spots on my nose, although I had those too, rather a golden eagle. My parents were both scientists, and we used Freckles, who had been injured and was unable to fly, to capture wild eagles to test for lead contamination.

My mom not only conducted top-notch science but also homeschooled my two sisters and me from the backseat of our 1980s Ford Bronco. I learned the basics of math, writing and history just like any other kid, but my science came firsthand. I considered myself as much of a scientist as my parents.

Over the years, I came to realize that juggling three little girls, our schooling, snacks and several eagles simultaneously made my mom a superhero. The lessons I learned on the bumpy back roads of Idaho define who I am today. As a science communicator at the International Arctic Research Center, I now help share the stories of countless other scientists, including many amazing mom scientists and incognito superheroes.

Erica Craig holds a golden eagle during a research project in Idaho. Her three young daughters, the lower right being the author of this story, help display the eagle’s tail for aging purposes. Photo by Tim Craig.

Adventure awaits

If you’ve met a mom scientist, you’ve likely been on an adventure with them. Exploring the outdoors and learning about the world around them, kids in tow, comes second nature. 

No mom embodies the adventure superpower more than Dr. Nancy Fresco. Nancy is mother to twin girls and a climate scientist at the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning. She recently wrote an entire book on how to get kids, from days-old infants to independent teens, outdoors in Alaska. 

To many, Nancy and her family’s day-to-day lifestyle would be an adventure. She and her family not only live in a dry cabin but also typically walk or bike rather than drive. It’s not unusual to see Nancy and her daughters on foot around town, and it’s equally normal to hear of the trio biking into the heart of Denali, running the Equinox Marathon or winter camping in the White Mountains.

Nancy Fresco pedals on a multiday bike trip several years ago with her twin daughters. Photo provided by Nancy Fresco.

It’s a juggling act

Moms around the globe have faced new challenges as the coronavirus pandemic forced families home for remote work and school. To keep the pandemic blues away, Dr. Donna Hauser packed up her family for a change of scenery.

Taking advantage of the same hotspot technology that let them work from home, Donna and her family spent part of last summer on a boat in Kachemak Bay and Prince William Sound.  

Donna continued her work as lead scientist at the Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowledge Hub. She gives voice to local observers in northwestern Alaska who are documenting dramatic shifts to sea ice, wildlife and coastal waters — changes that continued even as the world ground to a pandemic halt. 

As the mother to a fifth-grade son, Donna also found ways to make Zoom math lessons more fun. 

“If [dad] pops five shrimp heads to every one head that [son] pops, and we caught 54 shrimp, how many heads did each of them pop?” she asked.

Donna’s ability to maintain cutting edge Arctic research while meeting pandemic motherhood full on demonstrates yet another superhero mom skill — juggling.

Donna Hauser and her son kayak in Kachemak Bay. Photo provided by Donna Hauser.

No one remembers a job done right

Not everyone in science is a scientist. Countless people work behind the scenes to move science forward and make it more relevant to society. This role is a lot like motherhood — making things look so effortless that no one even knowns you were there. If there’s one person with this superpower, it is Tina Buxbaum.

Tina is program coordinator for the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy. Her job is to help orchestrate scientists as they work to improve the ability of Alaskans to respond to climate change. To those who work with her, she is the glue that holds the research together. 

“In a lot of ways, the organizing, scheduling, planning, getting people on the same page, the herding cats skills from dealing with kids, has a lot of overlap with what she does at work!” said Ken Carr, Tina’s husband. 

Tina helps expand the work of well-known scientists like Alaska climate specialist Rick Thoman. “I’ve been trying to think of a good ‘Tina’ story, but because she is so good, and so consistently good at what she does, it’s hard to find just one,” said Thoman.

It’s not just organizing and planning that defines Tina as a professional and mother. She goes all in on big ideas. Whether she’s trying out the newest hovercraft with her 5- and 10-year-old boys or planning the next big research project with world-renowned scientists, Tina is known for her brilliant ideas and impressive follow through.

Thoman described how he once off-handedly suggested to Tina that Alaska should be the next host of one of the nation’s biggest climate workshops.

“Tina made it happen,” said Thoman. “To say she did [us] proud would be a serious understatement. Without Tina Buxbaum the premier climate services meeting in the U.S. could never have been held in Alaska.” 

Whether it’s taking their kids for an adventure, juggling a new challenge or doing the little things to move the world forward, today I recognize all the moms, and especially the mom scientists, who forge their own paths using their superpower skills to improve the lives of everyone around them.  

Tina Buxbaum and her sons tap a birch tree in Fairbanks this spring. Photo by Ken Carr.