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ScienceIamA elephant scientist AMA on World Elephant Day!

Aug 12th 2017 by FancyScientist • 19 Questions • 1169 Points

We are Solar Team Twente, a group of 19 students who took a break of a little over a year from our studies in order to build the world’s most efficient solar car. Also, here we are with our solar car and bonus points for finding our mascot in the 360 view of our car and race team.

Our car will be partaking in the biennial World Solar Challenge in Australia, which will be held again this year in October (8-15 October for those wondering). There are multiple classes and we’ll be competing in the Challenger Class, which we like to call the F1 of solar car racing. This basically means that we built a single seat efficiency masterpiece built according to regulations set by the organization.

The team consists of a management team, communications team and technical team and basically functions like a small business, except we don’t get paid ;). We are also proud of the fact that we do almost everything ourselves; from designing, building and testing the solar car to securing all funds and in kind sponsoring and even our own management and public relations. As you would expect we have a great variety of study backgrounds, but let’s not give away everything just yet!

Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper AMA introduction without proof. The image is a little bit outdated (oops sorry), but the guy on the right is clearly so ugly that he can only be me. The two people in the image are also your hosts for this AMA. I, Luc, am one of the aerodynamicists of the team, while Gearte Nynke (good luck pronouncing that) is our communications manager. You can ask us anything you want. Questions could be about the car or other technical aspects, but also about our motivations to join the project or any other aspect of the project you can think off. Don’t be shy, Ask Us Anything!

Q:

In /r/travel you often see posts asking about where one can ethically ride an elephant.

Such threads quickly degenerate into half saying "nowhere" and half claiming to have had a "totally legit" experience.

What's your personal take on the elephant riding industry...should it be a 100% no-go if you wish to be an ethical traveler or are some elephant sanctuaries truly on the up-and-up to the point that riding with them is an overall win for the animals?

A:

Can you ask Tom Everett Scott if his favorite band is still "Captain Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters?" Tell him it's Lenny


Q:

What's your relationship with the guys from Jabo0odyDubs? Find the parodies flattering/insulting? Have you ever met them?

A:

what are the prospects of solar powered planes entering such contests in the near future?


Q:

Asian elephants are weird because they are "tame" not domesticated. In other words, they are not bred for thousands of generations to live alongside humans. Captive elephants are still taken from the wild and the have to go through a process in order for them to be tame to humans. I am personally against this and the elephant riding industry because I think this process is too invasive and inhumane. You have to be really careful about places that call themselves "sanctuaries." A true sanctuary does not let you touch animals UNLESS they have an animal that cannot be released to the wild for some reason. But those are usually rare cases. A sanctuary where you can touch babies is likely not a real sanctuary and just a business for tourists.

A:

I will text him now!


Q:

I freakin' LOVE Jabo0odyDubs!!!! Yes I have the pleasure of meeting Jabo0ody himself. I cant say enough about how talented him in his guys are. in my view he started and is the original DUB guy, the other ones are okay but Jabo0ody is the OG!! He can dub me anytime

A:

Funny you asked! We actually held a solar plane competition for high schools. In this challenge we tasked them with building a solar powered plane.

We think it is possible that a solar plane challenge will be held in the future. The technology is there, we just need someone to pick up the task of organizing the event. One thing is sure, there is never a shortage of students willing to try their luck at one of these projects!

Why did you ask? Thinking about picking up a project yourself? :)


Q:

Do you know if it's true that their spines aren't meant to be ridden? As vet students we learn this and it makes sense but didn't know what your take was!

A:

You knew Zach Galifinakis before he was cool. What was he like on the set of Dog Bites Man?


Q:

I've always wanted to be one of the actors in the black and white portion of the commercial where the products are failing...how does one become this person?

A:

i remember asking people before, and was told that autonomous solar-powered planes would not be in hobbyist reach for a long time and wondered if that had changed with the uptick in the drone industry.


Q:

I've never heard that so I don't know if it's true. However, I would guess yes because domesticated animals like horses have been bred/selected for human use. Wild animals would evolve independent of this criteria.

A:

I knew Zach for years actually before we did DBM. And he is a truly wonderful human being. Not only one of the funniest people in the world, but also kind, supportive and smart. And he was like all of us on the set, enjoying each other and making each other laugh. But uncomfortable with the tricking aspect of the show.


Q:

Call my office and talk to Ashley - She'll get you on! We need a an inept struggling person tomorrow

A:

Solar technology in planes is still future material when it comes to massive passenger sized planes, but it is definitely starting to gain traction as renewable energy sources are becoming better and cheaper every day.


Q:

The general consensus is that elephants should never be ridden. This is indeed because there spine structure is different to that of, e.g., horses. It's obviously less harmful if there's no enormous saddle involved and if the person riding an elephant is sitting in its neck, but still an impactful weight on the elephant's bone structure.

As I've had explained to me and experienced firsthand afterwards, I fully support the below statement:

When visiting elephants, why would you even want to sit on them? It's a way more beautiful experience to walk along them, stand besides them, and look them in the eyes when interacting with them, rather than sitting on top of them and looking down at the top of their heads.

Riding an elephant is, since I had the above said to me and experienced it, just a gimmicky thing that people would want to 'cross off', so I am very happy with my decision to visit and donate to more ethical sanctuaries that are very much opposed to this.

As said above, also avoid camps and sanctuaries that allow interacting and playing with babies, for the elephants wellbeing.

A:

Veep has notoriously over the top insults and nonchalant vulgarity as a staple of the scripted dialogue, did it take any special focus to be able to make it through your scene with Timothy Simons without breaking? Is it a relief to be able to play a character on a show where the use of swearing is so liberally used?


Q:

Has anyone ever pitched an idea to you on the streets, that actually was a good idea? I know alot of people do not have the means to procure a pitch, or solicit their idea, and sometimes these chance meetings are all they got.

A:

What were the biggest challenges you faced while building this car?


Q:

Yes, I totally agree with you. I wrote other comments about not riding elephants and not supporting fake sanctuaries. I studied their social behavior, not their anatomy. The question was about their spine, not the ethics of whether they should be ridden or not. I agree with you 100% that elephants should not be ridden for ethical reasons.

A:

Fuck! I just wrote a long answer and it disappeared!! Basically, I love to swear, so it is a win/win for me. And oddly I have this ability to not break in a scene, kind of no matter what, and then as soon as they yell CUT I fall apart. And this scene was improvised in the whole rape the president part, so it was super fun.


Q:

Not from the street, I haven't been lucky enough. I've heard some great ideas but the idea is only a portion of it... An idea is just an idea. The execution is as, or even more, important that just the idea itself. It's about the action.

A:

In the beginning of this edition, the regulations of the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge changed. Instead of using 6m2 solar panels we were only allowed to use 4m2. That was a really big challenge which could make a really big change to the car. So the designers of our car made a totally new concept. Our car became half a meter smaller which affected all the other technical subteams. They all had to adapt to the winning concept: RED Shift.

It is also really important to have good team. We are a group of 19 students. We did not know each other before the project. The human energy in the team is really determining for the quality of the car. It is a really important to become a dreamteam and to stay a dreamteam. Last weekend we did a racesimulation. In the racesimulation all the teammembers were tested on collaboration. It was a great lesson and our team became a lot stronger by all the scenario's which we were in during the weekend. Is there any specific challenge that you would like to know about?


Q:

Didn't realize it only addressed that part, my apologies.

A:

My favorite aspect of your show is the relationship you have with Tom Everett Scott - great chemistry. You are so adorable, it must be easy. But was this one of the main themes you wanted to communicate in the series?


Q:

Hey, man!! When was it you discovered you were great at pitching things? Did you pitch random stuff as a child? Also I'm curious as to your thoughts on VINCE

A:

Ouch! 4m2 ? That's a drastic reduction in available power! Is the battery mass still the same?


Q:

No worries! I'm glad you care about elephants!

A:

This was truly maybe the biggest goal of the show. I feel like the show lives and breathes in the relationship of Andrea and Mike. It is the grounding force that allows my character to be pretty out there. And I had never seen a couple on TV that have been together for a long time who still love to be together and have chemistry. Which is crazy, as so many people I know are very happy together after many years!


Q:

I was told as a kid that I had verbal diarrhea! I wouldn't shut up and that I talk to fast. My reply - "You listen to slowly" I sold my parents house when I was 10. Who's VINCE?

A:

The battery mass is still the same, although increasing the battery mass does not result in as much gains as you might expect. We are allowed to start with a full battery in Darwin, and after that we can only use solar power to drive towards Adelaide (3000km further south). Since we are extracting the maximum amount of energy we can during the race, we'll never again have a full battery after the start of the race. After all, a full battery means that you are not using as much energy as you could!


Q:

In the brothers grimsby Sasha bara Cohen and his brother hid in an elephant vagina to avoid being killed by mercenaries. How big is an elephant vagina and could you effectively hide in one???

A:

I stumbled upon I'm Sorry, it's safe to say I am hooked! I just love the scenes with you and Jason together. Do any stories from real life make it into episodes?


Q:

Have you ever been given a product to pitch, that you didn't personally like? How did you drum up an enthusiastic pitch for it?

A:

Interesting. I was under the impression you could top it off during nighttime. That's very impressive. But that reduction in solar panel area must hurt. How badly will it affect overall performance?


Q:

I do not know off the top of my head. I would have to look this up, BUT a male elephant's penis is S-shaped. So the human would have to contort their body to fit!

A:

Thank you, JM is the best. This is our 5th or 6th job we have done together. We love it. And oh yes. Ass cubes, porn mom, racist daughter, asshole lesbians, rape therapy. Kind of all of it stems from something in my real life!


Q:

Yeah, I've been given some products I didn't like... and I learned to say the word NO. It's not worth getting enthusiastic about something you don't like in my line of work.

A:

Nope, no charging from the grid allowed! A reduction from 6 to 4 square meters does hurt quite a lot on the energy income side of things. After all, it's a reduction of a third of the total energy income. Of course this year's solar panel is more efficient than last year's, so that offsets it a little.

The important thing to note though, is that a smaller array also leads to a smaller car since the array is the deciding factor when it comes to the size of the car. A smaller car then results in less drag, which in turn improves the performance of the car. In the end we expect the car to be almost as fast as last year's car, even though we only have 2/3rds of the solar array area.

Of course, the speed of this year's car is also down to a lot of improvements on all aspects of the car, so it's still not a good estimator for the exact 'hurt' caused by the reduction of solar array area.

But that's the fun of a technological challenge. We are essentially trying to achieve similar results with a lot less which is a lot of fun!


Q:

Is it true that elephants have such a strong memory they do not forget anything?

A:

Thank you for the answer! Looking forward to more episodes!


Q:

Where do you think infomercials are headed in the future? Are they still going to be relevant 10 years from now

A:

Do some of the members of your team come from non-STEM backgrounds? If yes, what is their role on the team?


Q:

Yes! It's true that they have great memories. However, it's really hard to study this and probably unlikely they remember everything (just like us). We know they have good memories because during droughts they return to water sources they haven't used for a very long time. They have greeting ceremonies with elephants they know and researchers can count the number of individuals they have these ceremonies with and how long they've seen each other in between. There are also amazing greeting ceremonies in captivity. This is an amazing story of elephants that remembered each other after being separated for 20 years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lF8em4uPdCg

A:

Thank you! I do speak Spanish! It's the only other language I speak. so for the audition I just decided to speak totally normally and then for the few Spanish words go way over the top. And it worked!


Q:

Yes, We are in in over 60 countries globally. I think the length might change due to the fact that we won't have to be boxed in by broadcast air time. I think we will have to adapt to the ever changing media environment. I like the saying ADAPT OR DIE......so we will adapt! :-)))

A:

Yes, our team is divided in three subteams: Management, Communications and Technical team (STEM). The management team is responsible for the project planning and the communication team is responsible for the partners (150) which are also part of the project. I am Communications manager, which means that I am responsible for the project planning of the communications team! So I am from a non-STEM background. Though, the members of the communications team and the management team are interested in engineering as well! What is your background? Are you interested in Engineering? Or do you like the management and the communications part more?


Q:

Elephants are such intelligent creatures, do they ever get stressed out/depressed when they live in zoos? Are they simply better off in the wild?

A:

Thank you for the answer! Looking forward to more episodes!


Q:

What is your feelings on Vince Offer? Is that rivalry still hot? Also do you get along with Phil Swift?

A:

I'd like the management and communications part more. Thank you for your reply!


Q:

Yes, absolutely. Animals that we infer are stressed or depressed will exhibit non-natural behavior or repeated behaviors (like pacing or head bobbing). There is a lot of pressures on zoos today to either let go of their elephants and give them to sanctuaries or to expand elephant enclosures. Some scientists think it is unethical to hold elephants in captivity because of how social they are in the wild and how much area they use. Other scientists think it's important for elephants to be seen by the public to act as "animal ambassadors" for those in the wild. If people don't see elephants, they might not care if they go extinct. The good news is that elephants are not taken from the wild anymore for zoos (at least in the US). Zoos now try to captivity breed them. However, it's really difficult to breed them in captivity and no one really knows why.

A:

Thanks everyone. Been super fun! Have a great weekend!! xoxo


Q:

Who are these people? I have no idea who you're talking about.....

A:

You're very welcome. It is often the case that technical projects employ a great variety of non-STEM people in various roles. So if you're interested in working in a technical minded project, but you don't necessarily want to follow a STEM degree, then it is still possible!


Q:

How is that good news? An elephant still has to live in a shitty small environment

A:

i've got one more question (hopefully this isn't against the rule, this is my first time posting in an AMA)... for The Dick Pic™ in Im Sorry, i saw the video of y'all washing dildos in the sink. that doesn't mean they were previously owned dildos right? or does Trutv draw the line for giving money meant to buy new ones? i must know!!


Q:

Have you seen penguinz0's videos on YouTube of him dubbing over your commercials? What do you think of them?

Here's a playlist of some of them http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLRD7N-Zrj2DNE6S2AsY71GuuFgkRuzpWw

Edit: a personal favorite of mine if you're having trouble finding one https://youtu.be/iZjGb18kd7g

A:

Are you sure you don't mean biennial World Solar Challenge?


Q:

I agree that size is really important. But enrichment is better than nothing if there is no other option for the elephant. Some zoos have even given their elephants to large sanctuaries because they have felt it was unethical to keep them in their current enclosure and could not physically expand for other reasons.

A:

hahahaha! No, they were fresh. But Joey Slamon, my showrunner, and I were rinsing them off because we had to put them in our mouths to show the lawyers what we hoping to show in the episode. Before you ask, you will never see those photos!!


Q:

Imitation is the best form of flattery they say! But Jabo0dy Dubs is my favorite. I think if they're gonna be R-rated, it needs to be done with some panache... that's why Jabo0dy is the master- he knows where to drop an F-bomb! But penguinz0, keep em coming.

A:

I do actually! Not a native English speaker, so that one slipped through. Sorry for that.


Q:

How did you become an elephant scientist?

A:

Mustard or mayo?


Q:

Do you ever watch the remakes of some of your infomercials, if so what do you think of them?

A:

I hope I'm not too late! I've done some work with solar cells but never made my own before. How do you encapsulate your solar array? It also looks like you have 2 different arrays. One is the standard solar array that you can see individual solar cells and the other is a uniform black. What is the uniform black array? If it's a polymer-based solarl array, is there a place I can buy some? I've been trying to make a slightly bendable array to fit a curved surface but I haven't been able to find anything online.

Any help would be greatly appreciated and keep up the awesome work!


Q:

In a very indirect way! I always loved animals growing up, but the only scientist I knew of was Jane Goodall. I thought what she did was so brave - move to remote Tanzania to live with chimpanzees - that I never thought I had it in me to do something like that. I also didn't know how to become a scientist. I wanted to be an actress when I was in college, but studied biology too as a major. In case acting didn't work out I thought I could go to med school and choose the "safe" career of being a medical doctor. My brother suggested I study abroad and I loved that idea. I was looking at theater programs in Europe and I came across the School for Field Studies brochure for Kenya. I thought I would never be brave enough to travel to Kenya alone and really wanted to do it. So, I did it and I learned how to go about being a wildlife biologist. I switched my major completely to biology and then did three internships after I graduated including one with the School for Field Studies in Kenya. I applied for graduate school and chose my advisor based on her research (using non-invasive genetics to study animals). I had always been fascinated by elephants and there is SO LITTLE research done on African forest elephants that I chose them as my focal species.

A:

always both. always.


Q:

Not unless I have to! I cringe sometimes, i have a hard time watching myself back, always think I could have done it better!

A:

I'll get back to this in the break today! Don't worry, I have all the answers you need :)


Q:

How would you rate the elephant sanctuary in Hoehenwald TN? My grandma adopted an elephant there and loves it. I try to donate at least $20 a year (I'm broke!)

A:

Hi Ms. Savage, can I ask, what is the best thing a director can do for you on set?

Thank you. :~)


Q:

Did your two DreamJobbing winners ever wind up going to Florida and working with you? If so, what did they get to work on?

A:

Hi I once started studying Industrieel Ontwerpen at Twente.(never finished it due to my lacking math abilities) Back then there were student projects like this but always wondered what students got picked for those projects and what studies they did. What are you studying and what are your teammembers studying, also how did you get involved in such a great project?


Q:

Very highly! They are a fantastic organization. We have adopted elephants frequently for Christmas presents.

A:

It kind of depends on the project really. TV directors are different in their role than movie directors. And it depends if I am on the set as an actor or a creator. But I would say be prepared, set a professional tone and respect the other professionals you are working with.


Q:

We are working on that now, I am hoping to do something with the book, the pitches were great, hopefully we will be able to do something with the book. I'm good friends with the Dreamjobbing peeps so "Watch This Space"

A:

Epic username by the way, but I digress;

You might think that simply picking the smartest people in the room would create the best team for such a project, but that's not true at all. Obviously, intelligence is important and if you want to be a structural engineer in the team the right background is important. But the team members are selected based on more information than simply being smart and getting good grades. Motivation is an important factor, as is the ability to work closely together with 18 other people in a high stress environment for more than a year.

I personally am doing a Master's in Mechanical Engineering after completing my Bachelor's in Biomedical Engineering. However, I do not follow an aerodynamics master (I'm following a structural/mechanics master), yet I got chosen to fill one of the aerodynamics spots in the team anyway. The backgrounds of other team members varies quite a lot. Obviously there are a lot of mechanical engineers and electrical engineers in our team. But there are also students from biomedical engineering (function: structural engineer), applied physics (function: head electrical engineer) and even one from industrial design engineering! (function: technical manager). Outside of the technical team we have Industrial Engineering and Management, Civil Engineering and again someone from industrial design engineering.

We all got involved by simply applying after being fascinated by the project. After a three stage application process we eventually all ended up fulfilling our roles in the team, and we're now at the point that we're almost already done!

What do you do now (study I mean) if I may ask? Did you find it disappointing that you weren't able to continue IO? Or wasn't it enjoyable for you anyway?


Q:

Has there been any progress or attempts to "decode" the infrasound communications that elephants send each other through the ground?

A:

Hey Andrea! I know you're busy with your own show (love it!) but as the new season of iZombie just started filming I have to ask:

Might we see any more of Vivian Stoll? No body tends to means no death in genre shows, and we never saw her actually get on that chopper.


Q:

I loved the movie "Joy"! Do you know Joy Mangano?

A:

Thanks very much for your response! Your username is very tasty as well ;).

I'll PM you my personal story.


Q:

Yes, but most of the research on understanding elephant communication is using it to help combat poaching. If elephants go extinct, there will be no "elephant language" to decode. I wrote a blog about some of their vocalizations: https://wildlifesnpits.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/eavesdropping-on-elephants/

A:

Sadly, I doubt it. I know that is not what you wanted to hear. Sorry!!


Q:

Yes I have known Joy for almost 20 years. She's the real deal! Super hardworking, great personality, driven, awesome Mom, inventor! I have not seen her in person since the movie came out but I was super proud of her. I mean for real - David O.Russel, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper - only Joy could pull that off! In a word she's amazing, and we go to work together.

A:

Please do!


Q:

Where do elephants sleep? Do they makes nest beds or just lay in grass? Do they lay down together?

Thanks!

A:

Hi Andrea! You liked one of my tweets once and it made my day!

I love I'm Sorry, it's definitely one of the best shows of 2017. It's Curb Your Enthusiasm for parents (and just as funny) Geez I need a question here, don't I?

How much of the show is based on things that actually happened to you?

Also, please tell me you've already been renewed for Season 2?


Q:

Is there any product you pitched that later on you regretted it?

A:

Since you don't get paid, how do you cover your costs of living for this year? Does the project require full-time dedication or can you have a job on the side?

Good luck in the race!


Q:

They sleep anywhere! They can sleep standing up, but I've also (only once) seen them laying down. They do not make nests. They are weird animals in that they can be active really at any time. You'll see them during the day, but then at night they can also be really active. I worked on forest elephants and we suspected that they mostly sleep in the forest (there were some savanna patches in the park I worked in). But we have no idea exactly where for African forest elephants.

A:

Thank you!! And most of the storied are based on things that have actually happened to me. That being said, lots of details and story points are based on other writer's experiences with similar events and exaggerated for comedic purposes! I am much less inappropriate in my real life. Even if I am thinking it, I know better than to say it. Well, usually. Oh god.


Q:

PetZorb. Let's just say it was for cleaning up cat puke and diarrhea, and just leave it there :) One and done...Never again!

I also pitched a folding chair that had a design flaw I didn't know about early in my career... in hindsight I would not have done it. But luckily everyone got refunded.

A:

We get a compensation from the University to cover any college fees. However, that still doesn't cover living for a year. For most of us, having a job on the side is not possible. The project is already 1,5 workweeks for pretty much everyone involved, so doing a job on the side is unthinkable. I myself basically loan money from the state. The Dutch government has a very attractive loan system with very low interest rates for students. This allows everyone to follow a University degree, even if your financial situation is complicated.

Since I'm currently following a study which has very good job prospects, I'm not too worried about paying back those loans. Especially with the low interest rates. But you are right, doing this on a voluntary basis yet fulltime is difficult financially speaking.

Oh, Eindhoven is in a different class (Cruiser class, road legal vehicles). But last edition the Dutch were 1, 1 and 2 so let's repeat that feat once more!


Q:

What's the weirder thing about elephants?

A:

what is the weirdest cult or fad do you see emerging among fellow actors (besides scientology, juice cleanses, and improv)?


Q:

Does the Sticky Buddy really work? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlSF0dtDRD8&t=1s

A:

Oh yeah, I just noticed the different classes. In that case we can both win :) Thanks for your answer!


Q:

That they touch the bones of other elephants, even more so than other species they come across. Scientists have studied this in the wild and have presented elephants with the bones of elephants among other animals. They spend more time with elephant bones. This research was initiated because scientists in the field noticed that elephants would come across elephant bones and spend a lot of time touching them, almost like they are remembering the individual. Elephants also go out of their way to help other elephants that are in distress or dying. Even if they aren't genetically related and after already they have died. There are very few animals that do this. Humans are one of them!

A:

Someone told me they were training with a woman who specializes in relaxing your butthole. Apparently that is where we keep 90% of all of our stress.


Q:

Of Course it works, buy one and find out!!! It's slippy when's it wet and sticky when it's dry, 21 million views on youtube Jabo0dy DUBSSSSS!!

A:

You're very welcome :)


Q:

I recently read that the UK is a leading source of ivory products. Assuming it's true, why is it the case?

Also, if you're reading this and didn't upvote the submission please do it now. This is currently sitting at +1 with 5 responses.

A:

"I'm Sorry" is so much like Curb. Was this part of the pitch?


Q:

Do you ever get nervous before you pitch? If so, how do you get past it?

A:

Do you like memes?


Q:

I would have to look up the UK specifically, but I do know the US is #2 in the illegal ivory trade (or at least it was a year or more ago). US and UK have large cities with lots of rich people that can afford ivory. It's still viewed as a desirable good (worth more than gold), so as long as there is demand people will buy it. You can buy ivory legally too in these countries if it is vintage. The laws are specific to the country though and in the US specific to the state. It is a misconception that purchasing ivory products is a problem only in China or other Asian countries. The US is a big marked.

A:

Well I am a HUGE fan of Curb. That kind of show is my favorite to watch. So It was part of the pitch so much as in, it is a single point of view comedy where I play a version of myself. And the tone is very grounded, where you almost can believe these characters are real people in real relationships. But not in the tying together of stories, etc. The pilot has that element, but as a series is diverges there.


Q:

It's on my book!! First time out live on HSN or live shopping in general with a new product is nerve wracking - but I prepare like a seasoned pitchman and take the leap into the great unknown, but if you really want to know it's all in the book

A:

What's not to like?


Q:

What is your favorite outfit to wear in the field? If it depends on climate/location, give us some examples.

A:

Which movie is better, Godfather 1 or Godfather 2?


Q:

Anthony Sullivan, I never thought I would ever get to ask you this... but do you love me? I have watched nearly every single pitch of your at least twice. The way you explain the products is just so great. I love your work. You are single handedly the greatest pitchman of all time.

A:

What's the minimum a car needs to weigh to not tip over in the wind or when making a turn?


Q:

Yes, it totally depends!

Kenya: You can wear anything! Most of your work will take place in the car because it's too dangerous (because of lions, etc) and too time consuming to be on foot. You can wear regular clothes, but bring layers. It's surprising cold in the morning, but then gets really hot in the afternoon.

Mt. Kenya field work: I did this recently (https://wildlifesnpits.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/expedition-mt-kenya-the-hike-to-the-top/) and although it's Kenya the climate is different. It can get VERY cold and wet so layers are essential. I liked wearing REI or other field pants (because they are light and dry fast) and shirts mostly from sporting brands (Underarmour, Athleta). I loved the fleece running stretch pants. They are really warm and you can wear them under things.

Gabon: If I was in the car (which was most of the time) a t-shirt/tank top and field pants. I would wear sandals but bring muck boots. I tried to collect poop for DNA analysis so I had to go in the swamps. If I was walking a lot in the forest I preferred hiking boots, but Lope was pretty dry compared to other places.

I think a lot of people overthink field clothes. I mostly just wear old stuff! If it gets dirty or destroyed I won't care. I do like high quality field pants though because they last a long time and are tougher.

A:

Do I have to choose? For reals...tied.


Q:

YES I LOVE YOU, is your name Paul Moriarty by any chance?? Send me your address and I'll send you a swag bag

A:

Tipping over in a turn is mostly a problem for cars that are running a small track width. Preventing tipping over in corners is best achieved by putting the weight as low as possible in the car (also increasing track width helps obviously, as does the lateral distribution of weight in the car) , reducing the height of the center of mass. It's not so much the total weight per se, but more where you position that weight. As for minimum weight for wind not to blow us of the road; again there are many more factors in play than just weight here.

We personally test our car for a variety of alpha and beta angles. The alpha angle is the "angle of attack". Basically the pitch of the main airfoil. The beta angle is best described as the angle of the wind flow relative to our car. A beta angle of 0 is direct head on wind, while an increasing beta angle means more and more side wind.

As I said we tested our car for all realistic wind scenarios in Australia and getting blown of the road by wind is not a concern.


Q:

Is it true that just recently some African elephants are being born without tusks?

A:

What's the weirdest question a fan has ever asked you?


Q:

Is it true that you held your own against 40 samurai, when you were just 4 years of age?

A:

How do you see the market responding to a potential solar powered vehicle in the future if this is feasible at all?


Q:

Yes, definitely. Where I worked, in Lope National Park, Gabon, there was a high percentage of naturally tuskless elephants (about 10% of the females I studied). I just posted one on my instagram feed: https://www.instagram.com/p/BXs8-MmA7m3/?taken-by=fancy_scientist

A:

Did you enjoy working on Togetherness? What's it like to be married to David Benioff?...People quite often think I am Amanda Peet.


Q:

I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you.

A:

I personally see solar power be implemented as a supplementary power source next to traditional battery power at first. Funny I'm already calling electric vehicles traditional. With the world finally waking up to renewable energy the technology will become cheaper and there will also be more incentive to improve existing technology.

To be honest I think that solar power will be used in vehicles only if the cost is low and if the technology is compact, efficient and unobtrusive. This is still many years away and before it will be common place a couple of companies will pioneer the idea. In a way I think solar power on vehicles will see a similar market shift as we are now seeing with electric. Except that with solar it will be complementary to the old guard, instead of replacing it. So companies might be more inclined to implement solar in the future (as opposed to going electric now).

There is already a company looking to implement solar cells in their cars right now. It's called Lightyear and they've already sold a couple of their cars!


Q:

What is the reasoning or explanation for this happening?

A:

do you ever get confused for another celebrity (confession: when I'm Sorry started having ads, for a split second i thought you were Andrea Barber) or asked if you're related to another famous person (like ben/fred savage)? if so, has it lead to any funny/awkward exchanges?


Q:

What has been your favorite part of being a pitchman?

A:

Before they were doing like 120 mph.


Q:

Poaching (illegal killing of animals) for their tusks. Lots of the big tusker elephants are killed off. Their tusks are worth a lot of money - more so than gold. If these elephants are killed off, they cannot contribute to the gene pool (reproduce). But elephants that do not have tusks will be left alone and not killed. These elephants can reproduce and survive. If tusklessness is genetic, these genes will be passed on.

A:

Ha! Just finished typing an answer above. Amanda Peet. Often. And yes, people always have asked about Fred. No relation. I am not related to any of the famous Savages!


Q:

My favorite part is when i find a new product that blows me away - like when we first found OxiClean - we have a new one were filming tomorrow - and of course working alongside Billy

A:

You might be confusing the top speed the cars can achieve vs. the average speed during the race. Our car is also able to reach 130 kph (electrically limited), but during the race the average speed is more in the range of 90-95 kph. Due to strategy, road conditions, weather conditions, traffic etc.


Q:

Hi Dr Schuttler! Thanks for doing an AMA. Do you think we could ever wind up in a planet of the apes scenario but with elephants?

A:

You used to do stand up. Are there any videos for us to watch?


Q:

Are you from London?

A:

I've heard that the only way that space exploration is going to be able to get out of the Milky Way is if we store solar energy from surrounding stars, however, our current way of doing this is very bulky and not aerodynamic. Is your designs and engineering of the car doing anything to help advance these [non-related] space designs?


Q:

Haha, I am embarrassed to say I have never seen Planet of the Apes! But I think I get the idea of what it is about. What I can say is that elephants are among the most intelligent animals on the planet and have very sophisticated/complex social behaviors.

A:

I actually don't know. I will have to find out. I never did a special, but there must be something, somewhere. I stopped around 2006, so it was right before it would have been posted on the internet automatically.


Q:

Hi Maggie 1220 - I am from North Devon in England - it's one of the most beautiful parts of England........I didnt go to London until I was 11, to swim at a meet in Edmonton.

A:

I don't think aerodynamics will be too much of a problem for interstellar space exploration since there won't be an atmosphere. I also think that such an exploration vessel would have to be built in space anyway, since it would be too big to be launched from earth anyway. But the solar cell technology used on our car could definitely be interesting for future space ships. Solar power would most likely be the best energy source in space.


Q:

Dr. Stutler, thank you for this AMA. I'm curious, elephants appear to act so similarly to humans in many ways that it saddens me we (humans as a collective) don't appreciate them, their intelligence and awareness more. What progress have we made, if any, in learning to communicate and connect with them?

A:

What was your favorite movie/show that you've done in your entire career?

Edit: I'm surprised I passed grammar school.


Q:

How long did it take you to film pitchman?

A:

How did you start with the project?

How do you recommend another new team to start building a Solar Car for competition?


Q:

There are a lot of people who care about elephants (look at this thread!), but yes, it saddens me too that poaching is still a HUGE problem for elephants. We don't really need to communicate and connect with the elephants, we need to communicate and connect with humans. If people learned that purchasing ivory is NOT sustainable and that elephants are purposely killed for this, then many would actually not buy it. People are frequently told that elephant tusks' are shed or they are found naturally dead. This is not true. Also, much work needs to be done to stop corruption in African governments.

In Asia, human-elephant conflict is a bigger problem than poaching due to loss of habitat. Again communication and helping people live with elephants is key. It's difficult because in both Africa and Asia elephants crop raid and can ruin people's livelihoods. It's a complicated problem without an easy solution.

If you are interested in elephant communication, you can check out the Elephant Listening Project. They are interested in communication, but first are trying to work on using communication to stop poaching. I blogged about it here: https://wildlifesnpits.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/eavesdropping-on-elephants/

A:

Well. It would have to be I'm Sorry. Cause it's my other baby. But other than that. Probably STEPBROTHERS!


Q:

We started filming Season 1 in September of 2008 and it first aired on April 15 2009, we were filming right up until the last episode in June 2009. It was a tough shooting schedue, managing the business and also filming for the show and because it was new shot we had not figured out the best way to do it. Season 2 was a little more organized but missed Billy and I think it showed. I really tried to make it great but the show wrapped after Season 2

A:

Do you mean me personally? I basically got interested in the project when I switched to a Mechanical Engineering Master after finishing my Biomedical Engineering Bachelor. I saw a couple of videos (vlogs I think of the 2015 race) and got interested in the project. After that a couple of my friends introduced me to some people and the ball basically got rolling from there.

If you mean the team, that started a long time ago. The first team competed in 2005, but started work on their first car in 2001 or 2002 already. That's 10 (!) years before I even started my Bachelor's degree. I suppose all of these student projects start out exactly the same. There is someone, or a group of people who are interested in doing some off the beaten path. They want to do more than just study for a few years and then move on. Most of the time they find something they want to work on and then they just start.

If you want to start a new team you should start by finding a group of like minded people who are also interested in the subject and who are willing to do something extracurricular. After that, you will have to divide roles within the team and set up a general plan of what you want to achieve. It is very important to have a sound team structure and make sure all facets are covered. We actually have a management team who look after financials, logistics, time schedules, managing us and managing the project in general. We also have a communications team, who maintain the connections to our partners, make sure all in kind and financial support is present and who do PR and media. Of course we also have a technical team who design and build the car. It is best to make sure this technical team is versatile, our team is divided in aerodynamics, structural engineering, mechanics, electrical engineering, data acquisition and race strategy. We also have a technical manager who ensures everything will continue to run smoothly.

Create a financial plan of your expected expenditures, create a time schedule listing important deadlines and how you're going to meet them. Reach out to your university/teachers/professors. Educational institutes often encourage such projects, so getting financial or in kind backing from your university can help you a lot in getting your project off the ground. Reach out to all relevant companies and institutes in your direct (and maybe not so direct) surroundings. We now work together with more than a 150 partners to keep this project running. Of course that network has been built across a decade, but you have to start somewhere. Most student projects are completely impossible without the help of companies and institutes helping out in one way or another. Don't be afraid to ask, almost all companies love projects such as these.

On the technical side of things, look at your competitors! You will not be competitive in your first year nowadays. That is something you built over years of hard work. But a good start in designing your first solar car is try and look at what other successful teams are doing. Never blindly copy a design, always try to reason why a team chose for a design. If you can figure out why they did it and it could be beneficial to you; use it as a starting point. After creating a team you could also reach out to the community in general. Top teams are not going to help each other much, because we are very competitive. But we will always help a smaller team and smaller teams will always help each other. The community is very friendly in general.

This is of course a super broad explanation and the whole story is so much more detailed and complex. If you want to know more I could always give more in depth explanations about more specific subjects. Anything more specific you would like to know?


Q:

In the US which AZA accredited "zoos" have the best facilities for elephants (like best exhibit, best care)?

What's a really interesting little known fact about African elephants?

What is the most important thing we can teach people about African elephants?

A:

If you weren't a pitchman, what would you do for a living?


Q:

I do not know which has the best. I haven't researched this or visited all zoos. I know that Disney's Animal Kingdom does a good job and the North Carolina Zoo also does because they have A LOT of space. I have never visited the San Diego Zoo, but they have a lot of research devoted to captive and wild animals so I would not be surprised if their elephant exhibits had excellent care.

That elephants help out other elephants when they are sick or dying and even go out of their way to do so, and even when they are not related to them. There's no biological reason why they should do this! Here's a scientific paper on one dying matriarch: http://savetheelephants.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2006DeathofMatriarch.pdf

The most important thing we can teach people about elephants is that purchasing ivory is directly leading to the decline of elephants. It is not a sustainable industry. Elephants are sought after and killed exclusively for their ivory.

A:

I think about this a lot. I feel that finding new products and unique ways to sell them is in my blood, but just say that talent was taken away from me, what would I like to do???? I could spend my days being a bike tour guide for some like "Backroads" taking people on epic bike trips aruond the world, being a pro-triathlete appeals to me, I f I could train 3 times a day I would. I've thought about running for office at some point in my life, and I enjoyed writing my book but I don't know if i have the discipline to sit down and write well enough to be a full time author. And anything in or around the water. Swim Coach, Boat Captain, Pro Big Wave Surfer (Top 10 of course):-))


Q:

I work renaissance festivals and I have spent time with the elephants there. After several years around them I know they are very well cared for and are genuinely happy creatures but we constantly have activists around. Is a lot of human contact a positive thing for elephants? Do you feel having an elephant give rides is cruel or inhumane?

Edit: I do not personally handle the animals but I travel the country doing the same events as them and my friends have been the actual workers with them.

A:

Can you wish me a happy birthday?

Aside from yourself, who is the top/next top pitchman/woman on television?


Q:

Yes, I think elephant rides are inhumane and I am against them. These elephants are trained through the use of a bullhook, which is a wooden pole with a pointy end. Elephant trainers claim it does not hurt the elephant, but that they just gently "guide" the elephant. If this were true, they could use another instrument that did not have a sharp end. Yet when people try to ban the bullhook, there is a lot of opposition from circuses and other places with elephant rides. Human contact is not a positive thing for elephants and many zoos are moving to or have moved to a protected contact policy. I used to work at Disney's Animal Kingdom and the zookeepers there now train the elephants there (for medical purposes) behind a barrier. The elephants can end training whenever they want. It is also safer for the zookeepers.

A:

Send me a message with your phone number and I'll text you a happy birthday video!

As far as the other question... I like and respect John Florell.


Q:

Didja ever read Blue Remembered Earth? What do you think of the (science-fiction) ideas that the author presents, of using biological modification to genetically shrink elephants into a small container and save them from a dying earth, but neurologically linking them to a real tribe elsewhere to avoid social isolation?

A:

No, I never read this. This would be extremely hard to do! I prefer we try to save the ones we have now. There are still lots of strongholds for elephants and the biggest threat for African elephants is poaching, not loss of habitat. Where I worked in Gabon, there are still large tracks of forest for them to live in. Even though these forests are logged, elephants can live through the disturbance (and can even thrive in it!).


Q:

If you're a elephant scientist, are there walrus scientists?

A:

Absolutely! I don't know of any personally though.


Q:

Would the cancer regulating protein in elephants work in our genetics? I believe they have some extra protein that also aids in proof reading translation and transcription.

A:

This is not my area of research, but I think with the way science is advancing this could be possible, but it would be difficult to do and we are still far away from doing something like this. Scientists research naked mole rats for this reason as well. They do not get cancer and scientists are using them as a model to study how this can be applied to humans.


Q:

Hey Dr. Schuttler! Thank you for doing this AMA on one of the planet's most amazing animal. How has poaching affected the family structure of Elephants in recent years?

A:

Absolutely because individuals are completely removed from the family. I studied the social structure of African forest elephants, but we don't know to what extent it has affected their social structure: https://wildlifesnpits.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/behind-the-paper-finding-friendships-in-secretive-elephants/.

In savanna elephants, this has been studied: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(15)01366-4?_returnURL=http%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0960982215013664%3Fshowall%3Dtrue. It doesn't upset the family structure completely because the daughters learn the relationships.


Q:

Hey love! I have 2 question that I always want to know.
Are elephants really afraid of mice?
When I used to work at a plant nursery I heard that the jade plant/elephant plant (Crassula ovata) are elephants favorite plants to eat. Is that true?

A:

No, they are not afraid of mice. That myth likely started because a captive elephant got scared by one. They have poor eyesight and were likely startled by one, but similar behaviors have also been observed in captive elephants when dogs were around.

I studied elephants mostly in Gabon where they eat mostly fruit, but literally hundreds of species of plants! I honestly do not know. It looks like this plant is native to Southern Africa and my work in Africa has taken place in East and Central Africa. East African elephants also eat a large variety of plants, but have less diversity than forest elephants.


Q:

There was a Mythbuster episode where they "confirm" that elephant is afraid of mice. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXiMs65ZAeU What's your input on it?

Also, thank you for answering my second question! Happy Elephant Day! :D :D

A:

That it's not a good study! Sample size is very low (they only tested on a few animals it looks like). Also, is it the mouse or movement from an animal? Would elephants react the same way with a squirrel? Cat? Dog? Very hard to show fear too. Like the guys alluded to, is it scared or just avoiding it? It may be it didn't want to step on it. There are stories of elephants going out of their way to avoid stepping on other living animals. However, it could be true, elephants may fear mice, but this doesn't convince me. I would need a better study.


Q:

Hello Dr. Schuttler. Can elephants peel peanuts with their trunks, or do they eat it whole? In cartoons they portray elephants as "peanut lovers". Thanks for your time today!

A:

I honestly don't know because I studied wild elephants. I imagine they can. Their trunks have tips which are extremely dextrous. Wild African forest elephants can delicately pick grape-sized fruits off of plants. Here's one picking a small fruit in Gabon: https://www.instagram.com/p/BXs8-MmA7m3/?taken-by=fancy_scientist


Q:

What is your favorite and most interesting piece of information about an elephant's trunk?

A:

That it is very dextrous! They have one or two tips at the end of their trunk (depending on species) and can pick up very small things. Heres's an African forest elephant picking a fruit off of a tree in Gabon: https://www.instagram.com/p/BXs8-MmA7m3/?taken-by=fancy_scientist.


Q:

I saw a video where an elephant painted a picture under the guide if it's trainer. Is this ethical or animal abuse teaching an elephant to perform a trick like that?

A:

I think anything done for amusement under the guide of a trainer is bad. In reputable zoos, animals will only do "tricks" for medical purposes. For example, they will train elephants to present an ear because this is where they draw blood from. Elephants are trained using a bullhook, which is a heavy pole with a sharp metal end. Elephant trainers say that they use this pole to gently "guide" the elephant, yet when people try to ban it, they are against the ban. If it was really a gentle guide, they would not need a sharp, metal end. Good zoos have moved away from human interactions like these and have let contact between humans and elephants only be for medical reasons.


Q:

I've seen in several of your answers that you used to work at DAK. On Kilimanjaro Safaris they mention research that showed that elephants are afraid of bees so they are trying to get African farmers to put beehives around their land to deter elephants (and prevent farmers from killing them). Do you know anything about this research? It seems pretty interesting, and like a great solution!

I also remember seeing something there about a kind of nut that looks very similar to ivory. Do you think there is any kind of value in items made out of this? Or is part of the appeal of owning ivory the kind of "taboo" nature of it?

Love to hear your thoughts, thanks for doing an AMA!

A:

Yes, bees can be a deterrent to elephants and prevent crop-raiding. Ivory is desirable because of it's carving ability. You can make incredibly intricate statues/trinkets.


Q:

for artificial insemination?

What's that?

Using a sperm sample to impregnate a female without intercourse.

A:

I have never done this. I believe it is done with a machine or a contraption. I don't think it is done manually.


Q:

As part of your Students Discover program, are there any plans to move this to high school or college level programming? One that might offer students a chance to travel to Africa and study alongside experts for a few weeks?

Thank you for doing this AMA, elephants (and horses) are my favorite animal. Bonus points if you've read Water For Elephants

A:

In Students Discover, we want kids doing real science and the idea is for them to do it where they are. I work on eMammal camera trapping. We do have kids in Kenya set up camera traps around their school and we are definitely open to working with high school and undergrad students around the world. We do not have plans to offer the students to travel because for this program, I do not travel much to set up the camera traps. I usually do initially to bring the cameras over to the country, but once they are set up, the goal is to get the kids taking the science into their own hands. But this is a good idea and I'll keep it in mind.


Q:

How did you initially get in to this line of work?

A:

In a very indirect way! I always loved animals growing up, but the only scientist I knew of was Jane Goodall. I thought what she did was so brave - move to remote Tanzania to live with chimpanzees - that I never thought I had it in me to do something like that. I also didn't know how to become a scientist. I wanted to be an actress when I was in college, but studied biology too as a major. In case acting didn't work out I thought I could go to med school and choose the "safe" career of being a medical doctor. My brother suggested I study abroad and I loved that idea. I was looking at theater programs in Europe and I came across the School for Field Studies brochure for Kenya. I thought I would never be brave enough to travel to Kenya alone and really wanted to do it. So, I did it and I learned how to go about being a wildlife biologist. I switched my major completely to biology and then did three internships after I graduated including one with the School for Field Studies in Kenya. I applied for graduate school and chose my advisor based on her research (using non-invasive genetics to study animals). I had always been fascinated by elephants and there is SO LITTLE research done on African forest elephants that I chose them as my focal species.


Q:

Why do I hate elephants?

A:

Not sure. Need more info!


Q:

Top 10 elephants?

A:

I'm not sure what you mean by this. Photos of elephants? Or individuals? There are only 3 extant (existing) elephant species.


Q:

Specific elephants, like Dumbo, Babar, etc.

A:
  1. Mrs. Jumbo from Dumbo (Dumbo's mom). She was a kick ass elephant and rebelled against the circus.
  2. Dumbo. I love this movie, but super sad!
  3. Colonel elephant from The Jungle Book movie. I love their marching songs.
  4. Baby elephant from The Jungle Book movie.
  5. Mr. Snuffleupogus (does he count?)
  6. Horton from Horton Hears a Who.
  7. Babar (I didn't really like Babar).

I don't know of any others!


Q:

When did you start realizing you had a love for elephants?

A:

When I saw them in Kenya (2002, about 20 yrs old) and learned about them from an elephant researcher (one of Cynthia Moss'). It's so amazing to be in the presence of such a large animal. It really gives you a visceral reaction. Once I learned about their societies and complex social behavior, I was hooked!


Q:

Hi Dr. Schuttler, I would be interested in knowing if in your job you make use of data science/machine learning techniques. If you do, in what way? I suppose you could use them to try to predict their movements over land or decode their "language" (which is something I saw you mention in other posts) or use cameras to automatically track them. As a future biomedical engineer (only a few exams to go!) with a soft spot for machine learning and wildlife, I would love to give my personal contribute to saving animals using my skills. Do you think they could be useful skills in the study and preservation of wildlife? And do you know, by chance, of any universities which offer Ph.D's in the area I mentioned?

Yours is a truly significant job and I have learned a lot from the replies to other posts. Thank you very much!

A:

Thanks! I am glad you learned a lot. Machine learning is used in elephant research to study their ear patterns. They get tears in their ears which makes them identifiable. It's not used yet in vocalizations (to my knowledge) except for it may be used to identify when elephants vocalize or gunshots are heard. Elephants have unique voices and you need to capture videos of behaviors to try to determine meaning behind vocalizations, so this still has to be done by humans. In my work now with motion-triggered camera traps, we are working with computer engineers to develop programs to automatically identify the animals. We are doing it right now with experts (us) and it's pretty time consuming.

Yes, this is a very useful skill. I just want to the International Congress for Conservation Biology and there were a lot of sessions on using tech to save wildlife. I think we need way more collaborations between scientists and engineers! I do not know of specific universities though.


Q:

is Chris Ivory your favorite NFL player?

A:

Lol, no because I'm against the sale of ivory!