Braidwood Moderates the Iowa Water Scholars’ June 2020 Book Club Discussion

By: Meghan Hanley, Outreach and Engagement Assistant


The Iowa Water Center started the Iowa Water Scholars Book Club where members of the Iowa Water Scholars community read and discuss novels on pressing water issues.

For the June 2020 book club discussion, the Iowa Water Scholars Book Club read Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, or Blue Mind for short, authored by Wallace J. Nichols. This novel delves into the science behind why people are drawn to water, as well as the many benefits this has.

Alex Braidwood is a professional sound artist, designer, and educator. He records sounds found in nature and the relationship between art and science.

Just as music exemplifies emotions, Braidwood explains that sounds in nature also hold a lot of information. This information, presented in a unique platform, creates an opportunity for new discussions to happen in several communities, especially in the art and science communities.

While people may typically think art and science are two separate worlds, they often collide without anyone noticing. Braidwood views artists and scientists to have jobs that complement each other.

A similarity that Braidwood has found throughout the years working with both artists and scientists is that both occupations have comparable starting processes.

First, they start with a question, then they go through a process to figure out how they can find their answer. Although both fields of work start from different perspectives, they both require detailed observations, documentation, questions and methods in order to reach their end goal.

Both occupations come along with very in depth concepts and information. Because of this, it can be very difficult to disseminate the information found with people outside of their field. This is when scientists and artists can collaborate to help each other. In Braidwood’s view, scientists and artists have a cyclical relationship. Since both occupations derive from varying perspectives, this can allow a scientist to review an artist’s work, and vice versa, and create the opportunity to bring up new viewpoints, as well as help make the information more accessible for the public to understand.

One of Braidwood’s intentions of his work in acoustic ecology is to help people be more aware and appreciative of their surroundings. Braidwood commonly refers back to the term “active listener.” He explained that the act of hearing is the mechanical process ears go through, but listening is when the mind is involved and engaged. In order to help people become more aware of their environment, Braidwood tries to implement several participatory projects in his work, such as walking tours.

In Blue Mind, mindfulness is discussed frequently, and Braidwood shared that he had to learn several lessons about being able to just sit in silence. He also presented a few tips for people to practice if they are wanting to improve their active listening skills. He said that simple exercises are the best way to start. First, start off small, and just pay attention to your ears and the sounds you are retrieving. Then, start testing yourself. What is the smallest sound you hear? What is the farthest sound? What are you hearing to your left? To your right? Being able to center the mind on hearing comes with different psychological calming effects that everyone can benefit from.

Braidwood has always been drawn to sound. He grew up playing in bands and always enjoyed music, then started studying as a graphic designer and would incorporate sounds within motion designs. His interest in electronic music spiked his curiosity to research how sound and communication coincide. Along with playing music in his younger years, Braidwood also spent a lot of his time outdoors. It wasn’t until around the time that he was starting graduate school that he realized he could combine these two parts of his life.

Braidwood has done sound projects all over the world, ranging from Australian national parks to Iowa farms. A major area that Braidwood often returns to is the Iowa Great Lakes region in Northwest Iowa. With all of the prairieland, wetland and lakes, Braidwood explained that he is able to retrieve very rich and diverse soundscapes. He also shared that his favorite nature sound is a thunderstorm.

“It’s my favorite sound for a bunch of different reasons,” said Braidwood. “I have done enough [self] investigation of this and it comes from growing up in Michigan and having epic thunderstorms rip through, and then living in Southern California with very few thunderstorms, and to now come to Iowa and experience the Midwest Plains version of a thunderstorm … it doesn’t even compare.”

Blue Mind brought up the idea that everyone is drawn to water in some capacity. Braidwood agreed with this theory, and mentioned that he was initially drawn to the novel because of this idea. He explained that he had never thought of water as in depth of a concept as that before, but after reading this novel, it helped him have an understanding of why this is.

If you would like to watch the full recorded discussion with Alex Braidwood, here is the link.

If you are interested in joining the Water Scholars community, visit our Water Scholars page.

You can view some of Alex’s work here.

Success Stems from the IWC’s Water Scholars Program in its First Year

By: Meghan Hanley, Outreach and Engagement Assistant

Water is extremely versatile. Everyone benefits from and can appreciate the water around us.

Following in water’s versatility, there are many different occupations and fields related to water. These different occupations range from biologists and engineers to sociologists and artists.

With these different occupations in mind, the Iowa Water Center (IWC) set out to create a community where individuals in these water-related fields would have the opportunity to collaborate. As a result, the IWC debuted the Iowa Water Scholars program this past year.

The Water Scholars program is an internal learning community at Iowa State University (ISU). ISU has more than 220 faculty members who are in one way or another involved with water resources. Before the Water Scholars program, these faculty members had few opportunities for communication and collaboration with one another.

Given the broad range of subject matter between these water-related occupations, the purpose of the Water Scholars program is to overcome obstacles that have been unintentionally built between these different fields of practice.

Membership applications for ISU faculty were accepted throughout the summer of 2019. The application process resulted in 26 initial Water Scholars community members. This initial group of 26 members was composed of 14 different departments at ISU and 23 unique representations of water resources.

Throughout the year, more ISU faculty members discovered the Water Scholars program solely through word-of-mouth. The final number of members by the end of the school year rose to 37. With the additional 11 members, the Water Scholars program increased its breadth and depth of departments and individuals with expertise on various areas of water resources.

“I appreciated the sessions, the range of information presented, and the opportunities for multi-disciplinary conversation and networking on water-related topics.”

During the 2019-2020 academic year, the Water Scholars program provided meetings on a monthly basis. These meetings consisted of small group work to examine the plethora of disciplines revolved around water science on ISU’s campus. Each meeting spotlighted a specific topic and hosted an expert presenter to further discussions and answer questions.

Topics focused on common necessities and professional development skills for faculty and staff. Specific subject matter included grant writing, science communication, team-building skills, and educating policymakers.

The world paused when COVID-19 hit. In spite of this, the IWC continued to keep the Water Scholars community connected through virtual social hours in March and April. In May, the Water Scholars program took it one step farther and started the Water Scholars Book Club in May 2020.

After receiving feedback from the first year of this program, it became obvious how vital it is to connect departments that work in the same discipline.

For the 2020-2021 academic year, the Water Scholars program is expanding (virtually) to universities across Iowa. Applications to join the Water Scholars program are available here.

“Excited that it will continue next year! The general team-building and professional development topics are always great.”

By the end of the 2020-2021 academic year, the IWC looks forward to gathering all of the Central Iowa locations for a Water Scholars Research Symposium to increase connectivity between interdisciplinary teams, providing a unique professional development program opportunity.

Meet Jon Nania, the Iowa Water Center’s Advisory Board Chair

Jon Nania, Deputy Director for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Central Midwest Water Science Center, is the current Chair for the Iowa Water Center (IWC) Advisory Board.

Nania grew up in the Chicago suburbs in an Italian-Polish family. His interest in the environment is rooted from his mother’s passion and care for the environment, as this impacted him greatly growing up. Nania attended the University of Iowa to study geography, with added focuses in environmental studies and water resources. After going through his coursework at the University of Iowa and completing an internship at the USGS, Nania’s attention was drawn to the importance of providing high quality water-related information to Iowans, including water quantity, water quality and groundwater. This newfound understanding inspired him to strive for a career in his field. Nania has been a member of the IWC Advisory Board since 2017 and has served as Chair since 2018.

“What I’ve enjoyed most about being on the IWC’s Advisory Board, besides working with a great group of water resource experts in Iowa, is the process of reviewing the applications for the Competitive Grant competition. It is really exciting to see new and innovative ideas in water resources in Iowa.  Even for the applications that do not get awarded, it feels good to provide constructive advice to the applicants for future grants.”

“I look forward to bringing together water resource experts to share and foster growth in water-resources knowledge across Iowa. There are so many aspects to Iowa’s water-resource community that goes beyond my scientific expertise. The IWC Advisory Board members have a diverse role in the water resources of Iowa, and as a group bring together a wealth of knowledge to help address water resource needs. Accurate, unbiased science is needed to help guide decisions about our state’s water resources.”

Compare and Contrast of “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” by Dan Egan

The Iowa Water Center started a monthly book club, called Iowa Water Scholars Book Club, where members of the water community can read novels surrounding around current water quality issues, as well as have Zoom discussions regarding these novels with an “expert of choice” on the topic of the month.

May was the first month that the Iowa Water Scholars Book Club was put into action, kicking off with the novel “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” by Dan Egan.

“The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” is a novel that discusses the past, present and future of the Great Lakes, the dangers they face and the ways people can take action to repair and protect them.

We turned to Jeff Kopaska, a biometrician for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), to compare and contrast the events and management techniques of aquatic invasive species that Iowa has experienced with events discussed in the novel. Kopaska’s areas of expertise involve fisheries, data and analysis of fisheries, water quality and applications of technology to natural resource challenges.

A popular issue that Iowa is currently dealing with in regards to invasive species is invasive carp. They first originated in the Mississippi River and then made their way up into Iowa’s interior rivers. There are a few different types of carp, including bighead, silver and hybrid, but all carp try to relocate quickly once in water. Bighead carp seemed to pioneer this invasion, but silver carp are more commonly found. In the past, invasive carp have found their way in Iowa lakes through Missouri drainage systems as well. This caused East and West Okoboji Lakes to have several carps.

Another common invasive species that Iowa encounters are mussels. The two types of invasive mussels are zebra and quagga; Iowa mainly has issues with zebra mussels whereas “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” frequently discusses issues with quagga mussels. As mentioned in the novel, quagga mussels have a much deeper depth range than zebra mussels. Iowa does not have many lakes that are deep enough for quagga mussels to become a major issue, so zebra and quagga mussels are typically treated in the same way instead of separately handled.

There are a few different methods of tracking invasive species. One way to track zebra and quagga mussels is by going through veliger sampling, which consists of testing a water sample through a filter, showing the possible toxicities in the water. Another way to keep track of intruders is to be checking hard surfaces. When docks are pulled out every fall, they are inspected for any sign of an invasion.

In addition to invasive creatures, Iowa also deals with invasive vegetation. Each summer, interns travel around Iowa and take surveys of lake water to view the aquatic vegetation, what types of species there are and if any of them need extra management.

In “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes,” past experiences of managing aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes are explained, allowing readers to understand the history of this issue and the progress that has been made. Kopaska then shared some of Iowa’s past experiences with invasive vegetation and grass carp.

In the early 1970’s, there was some extra research done Red Haw Lake, near Chariton, Iowa. It was decided that this lake would be best to use as a “guinea pig” of sorts to test the lifespan of grass carp. Staff placed grass carp in that system (“Probably too many,” Kopaska added) with the expectation that the vegetation would only survive around 10-20 years. In 2004, there were renovations made at Red Haw Lake, and there was still a large number of grass carp there, over 30 years later. They have since stopped stocking grass carp and have turned to chemical and mechanical management.

The use of chemical and mechanical means to manage vegetation has come with some controversy. The public does not seem to be fond of adding chemicals to water to solve invasive species issues. The disagreement with chemical use may lead to the resurgence of grass carp to control invasive vegetation. When asked what dealing with the management of aquatic systems is like, Kopaska replied,

“It’s kind of like managing a forest,” Kopaska said, “except you can’t see any of the trees, and they’re all moving around.”

With as many management techniques there are, there is a lot of information collected with each situation to ensure that the best decision is made for that specific body of water. Some management techniques are more of a resource or economic investment, so it is important to feel confident in the management process chosen.

Kopaska not only shared his knowledge on invasive species in Iowa with us, but also how his passion for fisheries started. Fishing has always been one of Kopaska’s favorite things to do since he was a child, even though he mentioned that he doesn’t get much time to fish recreationally as much as he would like. He grew up fishing in areas around his house, and this deep rooted love for the sport led him to his career field.

Jeff Kopaska, proudly holding a freshly caught trout.


At the Iowa DNR, Kopaska serves as their fisheries data steward, oversees data management activities and how that data is distributed to the public and controls a survey that inquires what the public is thinking about current DNR activities and where there is room for improvements. Along with working for the DNR, Kopaska is also the president of the North Central Division of the American Fisheries Society and cohosts a monthly podcast on KXnO called The Fishing Report.


If you would like to watch the full video discussion with Jeff Kopaska, here is the link.

If you are interested in reading “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” by Dan Egan, here is a link to find an independent, Iowa bookstore that carries it!