Spotlight on Science Writers: Jane Veltkamp

A select group of authors who have won or been finalists for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books have been invited to write or record an introduction to one of their books. We have suggested a few guidelines, but the format and content have been chosen by each author and will be appropriate for their book's intended audience. Science NetLinks will include related classroom resources appropriate for students and educators at the end of each Spotlight on Science Writers post. You can read all the posts in this series here.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAKJane Veltkamp on Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle:

Beauty was a magnificent, wild Alaskan Bald Eagle until she was illegally shot. The story of her 3D-printed, prosthetic beak is one of inspiration, scientific collaboration, and conservation.

Of all the raptors I have cared for and rehabilitated as director of Birds of Prey Northwest in Idaho, Beauty is unique. Where many wild raptors in need of help have major injuries or illnesses, Beauty the Bald Eagle is only missing two inches of her body—her top beak, which was shot off by a poacher. In losing this small but critical part, her entire existence was forever changed. She could no longer survive in the wild, and even in captivity would require daily human help.

A Bald Eagle's beak is vital throughout its life, from the time it uses its baby beak to peck its way out of its shell, to taking food from its parents' beaks, to ripping flesh from its prey, to preening its feathers, to drinking water, to shaping its nest, to caring for its own young. My idea to create an artificial beak for Beauty seemed like a natural extension of how humans are given prosthetic limbs, but the challenge of engineering a prosthetic beak for a wild Bald Eagle was complex.

The beak engineering project drew not just on my experience as a raptor biologist, but on the expertise of a multidisciplinary team including an engineer, a dentist, and a veterinarian. It also required Beauty's cooperation during many beak fittings and her final beak surgery.

Our first step in the engineering process was to collect all the data—measurements and dental impressions—that we would need to make the new beak exactly the right size and shape. Then we had to design and manufacture the beak using computer assisted design (CAD) and 3D printing. Designing, fine-tuning, and printing the final beak took months of collaboration, through revision after revision.

On the long awaited day of Beauty's beak surgery, our team confronted multiple new challenges. How could we anchor and attach the beak so it would stay fixed in proper position once Beauty started to use it? In addition, Beauty had to be awake and alert during the surgery, so we could be sure the new beak was fully functioning once it was glued in place.

It wasn't until we tested the beak's position on Beauty's face that we discovered still more adjustments to be made. The inside of the beak needed extra space carved out to allow her tongue full freedom of movement.

As we neared the final step of gluing the beak on, Beauty decided she had had just about enough and attempted to fly off the surgery table. Once we managed to calm her back down, we quickly glued the beak on with dental adhesive and waited for it to dry.

Now we faced the biggest challenge: would the beak work? We suspected its attachment would not be strong enough for ripping food as Beauty would have done in the wild, so we tested the beak's function by presenting her with a tub of water for drinking. With no hesitation she leaned down, scooped up a beakful of water, closed her bottom and top beak together, threw back her head, and swallowed—just like a wild Bald Eagle.

Giving Beauty back the full form of her beak immediately restored her beak's natural function. Soon she began to preen her feathers just as she would have done in the wild. Having a new top beak even prompted her to another fully natural, wild behavior. When I gathered her up to carry her, Beauty immediately tried to bite me, though I had been caring for her daily for 18 months.

Just as pioneering the prosthetic beak took a team, so did creating the book that would tell Beauty's story. Beauty and the Beak has been a collaborative effort involving my coauthor, science writer and award-winning children's author Deborah Lee Rose, in every aspect. Our true story has been enriched by the work of photographer Glen Hush, book designer Patricia Mitter, publisher Brian Sockin, and staff from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. CLO's special content about Bald Eagle conservation helped turn the story of one Bald Eagle into the story of all Bald Eagles, whose species was once critically endangered in the U.S. lower 48 states.

Despite the tragedy that befell Beauty, she has become a teacher for people of all ages, and through our book Beauty and the Beak her story can now inspire children and adults around the world.

Jane Veltkamp is a raptor biologist and rehabilitator, wildlife educator, trained nurse, and master falconer. She has lifetime care of Beauty the Bald Eagle and led the engineering team who made Beauty's prosthetic beak. Jane is the founding director of Birds of Prey Northwest in Idaho, which provides medical treatement and rehabilitation to thousands of injured birds of prey, and educates the public about raptor conservation, including live raptor programs. She is the eagle expert for the Couer d'Alene Tribe's Native American Aviaries.

Deborah Lee Rose is an internationally published, award-winning author of children's books, including the alphabet and counting classics Into the A, B, Sea and The Twelve Days of Kingergarten. Jimmy the Joey, about a koala rescue, is a RIF/Macy's Multicultural Collection title and Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Students K-12. She was a national science writing fellow, and senior science writer for UC Berkeley campus and Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science, where she helped create groundbreaking exhibits, including the NanoZone and mobile apps, including DIY Lake Science and DIY Sun Science. Deborah helped create and directed communications for the ALA/AASL-honored STEM wesite Howtosmile.org. She was also Director of Communications for Lindsay Wildlife Experience, which includes the first wildlife hospital in the U.S.

Their book, Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle, was the winner of the 2018 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Picture Book category.

Photo: Jane Veltkamp and Beauty the Bald Eagle. Photo Credit: Glen Hush.

Going Further

Related Educator Resources

  • Science NetLinks is working on a lesson for this book. Check back this summer!
  • The Beauty and the Beak Educational Guide can be found here. It includes related Common Core and NGSS standards, as well as additional resources, such as videos, close reading questions, and downloadable coloring sheets.
  • Beauty and the Beak has won the 2018 Cook Prize for Best STEM Picture Book from the Bank Street College of Education. The prize honors the best STEM picture book published for children aged eight to ten, as chosen by students in grades 3 and 4.
  • You can find the Science review of the book here.
  • World Migratory Bird Day is celebrated annually to raise global awareness about the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats. This year it occurs on May 10 and again on October 13. The 2018 theme is Unifying Our Voices for Bird Conservation.
  • 2018 has been declared the Year of the Bird by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, BirdLife International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the cornerstone legislation for migratory birds in the United States. There are monthly activism themes, as well as citizen science activities, which you could bring to your classroom. Share your own ideas on your favorite social media channel with the hashtag #birdyourworld.
  • In the Bird Beaks lesson (3-5), students explore the relationship between a bird's beak and its ability to find food and survive in a given environment.
  • In this lesson on Animal Adaptations (3-5), students explore different types of animal features and behaviors that can help or hinder survival in a particular habitat.
  • You can make a 3D model of Beauty's beak using the instructions in Go Fish, an educator's guide from Engineering Everywhere at the Museum of Science in Boston.
  • If you have students who'd like to go further and 3D print a life-sized replica of Beauty's beak, you can contact Jane using the contact form on her website to purchase the STL file.
  • The Inventors and Inventions, National Engineers Week, and Inventing Green collections on Science NetLinks have a number of lessons relating to design, invention, engineering, and innovation.
  • If you have kids who want to take the 3D prosthetics portion of this lesson further, Enabling the Future is a community connecting people who need prosthetic limbs (particularly hands) and those who are interested in building them.
  • This video demonstrates how scientists are taking 3D bioprinting to its next level by using it to print delicate soft structures and could one day allow researchers to print heart tissue.
  • This Science Update on 3D Tissue discusses how 3D scaffolding in cells helps scientists understand a patient’s cancer cells and personalize treatments.
  • Liquid 3D printing is another technique that's being tested.
  • In this Science Update, your students can learn about how scientists test 3D-printed models to learn about how mollusc shells protectively direct forces away from the animal inside.
  • If you are using this book with older students, you might consider these lessons:
    • Feathers (9-12), in which students learn more about the predictive power of scientific theories and fossil evidence by studying the evolution of feathers.
    • Birds of Prey, a middle school lesson in which students research several birds of prey and examine predator/prey relationships.
    • Extending Human Ability Through Technology (6-8), in which students explore various ways in which technology has enhanced human abilities.


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