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Biologists, students to develop iPad nature discovery app for Audubon Park

Loyola press release - July 28, 2014

Loyola University New Orleans biologists Aimée K. Thomas, Ph.D., and James Wee, Ph.D., are helping college students teach younger children the wonders of nature right in their own backyard through an iPad app they are creating for the popular New Orleans urban park—Audubon Park.

The first phase of the project is an interactive nature hike through Audubon Park that teaches children—and people of all ages—about the seemingly invisible world of microbes. The "Nano Safari," developed by Wee and his students, will be beta tested in the fall. After testing, it will be available as an additional component to an already existing nature app created by Thomas, the “GO to Lake Thoreau” iPad app.

This summer, Thomas and her Loyola biology students began laying the groundwork for the next phase of the iPad app—which will be a stand-alone Audubon Park nature app. Five Loyola students volunteered to serve as naturalists, leading groups through Audubon Park for a “hands-on and minds-on” nature walk the group is testing in order to convert for the app.

For example, Loyola students led young students from Anna’s Arts for Kids, a Treme-based organization, to inspect the insects and pollinators at the iconic Gumbel Memorial Fountain in Audubon Park. The group discovered in a hands-on way why flowers are shaped in certain ways to encourage insects to participate in the pollination process, according to Thomas.

“The nature is there, it’s just getting children to look at it in a new way and get engaged,” Thomas said. “This is a way to get them to think about how they look at nature and learn about science.”

Thomas hopes to secure funding for the second phase of the project and make the Audubon Park iPad app template available to others for adaptation to other parks in other cities.