By Hiroko Sato
BOSTON — Nichole Powers has heard about Arctic ice caps melting.
But the 20-something art student from Boston’s Brighton neighborhood isn’t sure what that really means to her day-to-day life.
To find that out, David Lustick said, Powers will want to keep her eyes out for Ozzie the ostrich while riding the T.
In posters featuring Ozzie, which are posted inside subway cars and on platforms, the bug-eyed bird tries to answer such questions as what percentage of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change.
Don’t discount the bird as a gimmicky mascot. It’s an “invitation” to visit a website, www.sciencetogo.org, to explore climate-change issues, said Lustick, associate professor of mathematics and science education at UMass Lowell.
A series of Ozzie posters will pop up on the Orange and Red lines over the next year to intrigue T riders with questions and dialogues.
Powers said the strategy works for her.
“I look at them all the time,” she said of ads on the subway.
Lustick and some fellow scholars from around the state hope such T riders’ behaviors will help make their $2.2 million public-education project a success.
ScienceToGo.org Climate Change Campaign kicked off earlier this month as Lustick and other campaign organizers hit the Boston Common to tell Bostonians about Ozzie the ostrich. The organizers and volunteers randomly stopped people passing by and told them about the posters that began appearing on the subway this week. They also took people to a life-size cutout of an ostrich propped up on the ground and asked them to answer a multiple-choice question about climate change printed on the cutout by putting a sticker on what they believed was the right answer.
The project came about some time ago when Lustick told others in his field about his idea to transform mass-transit into an informal classroom to teach the public about climate change. Information about climate change can be too complex and scientific for the general public to quickly digest, Lustick said. Bu, he believes such “informal learning,” involving entertaining characters like Ozzie, helps.
With 500,000 commuters using the Orange and Red lines daily, subway ads would also be a cost-effective way to get the word out about climate change, Lustick said.
Five principle investigators for the project are: Lustick; Jill Lohmeier, assistant professor at the Graduate School of Education at UMass Lowell; Robert Chen, professor of environmental, earth and ocean sciences at UMass Boston; David Rabkin, director of current science and technology at Museum of Science; and Rick Wilson, associate professor of marketing and international business in the Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University.
The team secured a $2.2 million in grant from the National Science Foundation for the three-year project. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority supports the project by sharing some of the unused ad spaces on the train and the platforms that are dedicated for “pro bono” use.
Contents of the posters will change once a month so that T-riders can learn something new.
“The story of the ostrich will unfold,” Rabkin said.
Each poster comes with a quick response (QR) code — a square barcode — that T riders can scan with their smartphones. The code will take users to the ScienceToGo Website.
So, why do they use an ostrich?
Simply because ostriches are cute, Lohmeier said.
“People will connect with the characters and learn along with them,” Lustick said.
Lustick said the team’s goal is to debunk the misconception that climate change is something happening afar.
“I want them to realize climate change is a local phenomenon,” Lustick said.