WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Thanks to a group of budding scientists in Washington Heights, a newly discovered wasp from the Dominican Republic has a new name.
La Luz Brillante, which translates to "bright light," was selected late last year by three different sixth grade classes at the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) at 511 W. 182nd St. to represent the newly discovered black and orange half-inch wasp species.
The name was in reference to how the species' wing “has a very shiny appearance,” said Bernardo Santos, a doctoral candidate at the American Museum of Natural History Richard Gilder Graduate School, who discovered the wasp early in the fall last year.
The full scientific name, Santos said, is Necolinoceras laluzbrillante.
Science teacher Sarah Rosenblum, who runs the program at WHEELS and is also the lead teacher for Urban Advantage, a partnership program that works to link public schools with scientific cultural institutions, said the students described the new wasp as “very springy.”
There were other creative names, Rosenblum and Santos said, including the Dominican Stinger, Zebra Wasp, Punta Cana, Dominican Killer Wasp, Black Needle and Valiente, or brave, because “they’re so small and yet they have to face the world out there,” Santos added.
Santos, who is originally from Brazil, but has been living in Washington Heights for several years, said he found the wasp after looking through a sample of wasps collected by the museum, and noticing that this particular wasp was different from another one within the same species. The other wasp, he noted, is from Cuba.
Thinking of ways to connect his findings to the community, a part he said was important to remind the public that “this type of work is still being done,” he reached out to the museum, which then connected him to the school and Rosenblum. He said he thought about his local community, which is highly populated with residents from the Dominican Republic.
Santos said he visited the school twice while working on the paper, first to present the kids with pictures of the wasp and to ask them for help in naming the new species, and then again a few weeks ago to present the students with a signed copy of the finished report, which was published in the May issue of the museum’s publication, "American Museum Novitates."
The experience overall, Rosenblum said, was “empowering” and allowed the kids to see themselves as scientists. “They could see those parallels and I think that’s a very empowering feeling for kids.”
Rosenblum said that since the kids have been doing lab reports in class, and learning about the different portions of “professional scientific writings,” they were able to connect Santos’ report with their own classwork.
“I know a lot of kids are going to keep those journals forever,” she said. “It’s one of those priceless keepsakes.”