Cornell University

A tribute to Carl Sagan

Metarhizium black holes in a swirling Beauveria cosmosCarl Sagan died ten years ago today. In his honor, the blogosphere, a strangely cohesive and disparate universe, brings you the Sagan blog-a-thon. Kudos to Joel Schlosberg for initiating this–here is his meta-post that compiles all the other Sagan tributes posted today.

I overlapped Professor Sagan here at Cornell by a few years, but never met him. I knew him mainly through his television show, Cosmos, as a popularizer of science. For many years that was what I wanted to be. Later I turned more toward the research side of science and became a fungal systematist…but look at me now, writing about mushrooms for you, my dear readers.

Carl Sagan brought us all to the farthest reaches of the universe, and to the depths and workings of our own brains. For this we owe him a great debt. He also taught us how good science education can be–how compelling. In terms of my own career, I owe a great debt to just a few key educators who caught me in my formative years, and showed me that wonder is at the heart of science. Those three people are my father, Jerry Hodge, a biology teacher and school principal in Toronto; David Suzuki, a Canadian geneticist and science popularizer; and Carl Sagan.

My own interests are firmly rooted here on earth, where small universes of unknown fungi dwell, and where fully 95% of fungi remain to be discovered. Given that one fact, I am more interested in discovering life on this planet than on any other. But like Sagan, and like most people, I have kept one ear cocked for news of life on other planets.

I hold that the popularization of science is successful if, at first, it does no more than spark the sense of wonder.

Carl Sagan, 1995.
The Demon-Haunted World.

Today the Cornell Mushroom Blog holds up its small candle to a man who shed light on the whole universe.

Next time you’re here in Ithaca, New York, honor Carl Sagan by walking the Sagan Planet Walk. It will take you on a tour of the solar system (at a one to five billion scale) beginning at the Ithaca Commons and ending up at our fabulous Sciencenter.

Since I don’t have any solar system photos around, the image is of molds growing in a Petri dish. The white colonies are Beauveria bassiana, and the greenish ones are a Metarhizium sp. They have been captured from tree bark on a selective medium high in dodine (which suppresses most other fungi), and tinted with crystal violet. Thanks to Ryan S. for showing me his plates. You didn’t really expect a whole post without fungi, did you?



2 Responses to “ A tribute to Carl Sagan ”


Most people don't pay much attention to fungi, which include things like mushrooms, molds, yeasts, and mildews. Here at Cornell we think they're pretty fascinating. In fact, even the most disgusting foot diseases and moldy strawberries are dear to our hearts. We'd like to talk to you about fungi, so that like us, you too can tell gross stories at the dinner table. Afterwards, maybe you'll notice some things you would have overlooked before, and we think this could be good for the planet.

Kathie T. Hodge, Editor

Beneath Notice, our book of borescopic mycology.


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