Occasional Talk - Chris Hawn

We Keep Us Safe: Building a Web of Action in Social & Environmental Justice

Thursday, April 8
9 - 10:30 a.m. AZ time
Via Zoom



Chris Hawn uses lessons learned from grassroots organizing to apply to the field of public science to create an accessible and justice-oriented science. In this talk, they discuss the reasons why broadening participation is a necessary shift for the whole field, and not simply siloed in community science. Using data from Falling Fruit, an international project dedicated to mapping edible plants in urban areas, Hawn shows that the lack of diversity in project participation can impede project goals of justice and equity. Hawn developed a justice-driven model for public science and applied it to a local outreach project in Baltimore measuring the contaminants of pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

Through evaluating the potential sources of data and skills of participants, they converted an educational summer outreach experience for high school students into an authentic public science project. Further, by evaluating who else in Baltimore was affected by sewage leaks, they expanded to a justice-oriented project by identifying and centering a local neighborhood that received a disproportionate burden of sewage overflow events. Finally, Dr. Hawn used these lessons to develop a public science project, Spidey Senser, to monitor air quality through the collection of spider webs. In re-evaluating projects and centering justice movements, public science can fulfill its aspiration of being a democratic science for all.


Dr. Chris Hawn is an Assistant Professor of Geography and Environmental Systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Their research platform uses public science to blend conservation ecology with social justice to benefit groups that are subjected to oppression. Dr. Hawn has developed a justice-oriented public science project called Spidey Senser, an air quality monitoring project using spider webs to detect air pollution. They use spiders as bioindicators to test the quality of the environment and use Black feminist theory to understand the broader social implications of environmental inequality.