Acorn, John

2010 Excellence in Science and Technology Public Awareness, Winner

Multitalented Ambassador for Science Inspires Future Generations

There’s no doubt about it. John Acorn is a nature nut. It’s a badge he wears proudly and loudly. He even turned it into the award-winning television series called Acorn The Nature Nut.

What began as Mr. Acorn’s childhood fascination with insects has evolved into a rich and multi-faceted 30-year career as educator, journalist, author, television host, photographer, naturalist and scientist. Throughout it all Mr. Acorn has been an enthusiastic ambassador for natural science. Through his work in the media, in print and digital publications and live presentations, he has inspired hundreds of thousands of curious minds to investigate further.

Last week I received two messages from undergrads in the States. They tracked me down to tell me they are studying biology because they watched the show when they were kids.

Profound Influence

“Of all my work, Acorn The Nature Nut has had the most wide-ranging impact,” Mr. Acorn says. As host, Mr. Acorn’s sense of adventure and fun appealed to all ages and encouraged families to get out to experience nature. The popular program aired 91 episodes over seven seasons ending in 2003. Eighty-eight are available on DVD.

“I still get messages,” Mr. Acorn says. “Last week I received two from undergrads in the States. They tracked me down to tell me they are studying biology because they watched the show when they were kids. It’s great if I can inspire kids to participate in academic research.”

Mr. Acorn’s own academic research is in entomology. After earning his masters degree at the University of Alberta, he worked briefly in a lab on campus before joining a Canadian-Chinese team creating a travelling palaeontology exhibit as a writer. Although he never lost his love of bugs, he gained a new love for which, in typical style, he became a passionate and eloquent advocate.

Impressive Body of Work

Mr. Acorn published a trilogy of children’s books called The Tiny Perfect Dinosaur that won the Parents’ Choice Gold Award. And he’s in a number of interpretive videos in the Royal Tyrell Museum where thousands of viewers see him every year.

Mr. Acorn’s comedic touch adds charm to this award-winning installation. It is infused with the adventure of prospecting for dinosaur bones. “I played the old prospector. I dressed up and we rented a donkey,” remembers Mr. Acorn, chuckling.

Mr. Acorn is a prolific author of a wide spectrum of books about nature, palaeontology and insect-specific field guides for nature lovers. His award-winning field guides have had a huge impact on amateur entomology.

As an Educator

In the lecture hall in the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta, Mr. Acorn has another kind of podium from which to share his love of nature.

“Students are a very different audience than what I get for my freelance work. They’re not only captive, they’re potentially hostile,” Mr. Acorn jokes. “I have to convince them to listen to me. And I find out if I made any sense by looking at their exams and papers. On TV I don’t know if anyone got what I said.”

Mr. Acorn says his talent is looking at the big picture. He takes joy in synthesizing information and presenting it in the just the right way to engage different audiences on meaningful levels. In this, he has most certainly achieved success.

In 1998 Mr. Acorn received an ASTech Award for Excellence in Science and Technology Journalism.