Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

What's a Lichen? How a Smithsonian Scientist Studies a Unique Symbiosis

A Smithsonian Science How Live Webcast, November 14, 2019 at 11AM and 2PM EST

Program Details

  • November 14, 2019
  • Shows stream on this page at 11am and 2pm EST and are 30 minutes long
  • Use the "Stay Tuned" video above to test your connection. If the video does not play, try reloading the page. Use the Webcast Tech Guide for further troubleshooting.
  • The program is free, but registration is requested. SIGN UP


Lichens are all around us — on trees, rocks, and even some buildings. But, what is a lichen? And what good are they? Lichen scientist Manuela Dal Forno will help students understand the special symbiotic relationship inside each lichen. She will show students the different steps she takes to study lichens: finding them in nature, looking at them under a microscope, and analyzing their DNA. She will share why we care about lichens: Understanding the life around us is important for understanding nature and how environments are changing. For instance, many lichens are indicators of air quality and others provide habitats for insects and nest material for hummingbirds. 

Throughout the broadcast, Manuela will take questions from your students via text chat and there will be opportunities for students to share what they think using live polls.

Video – Meet the Scientist: Manuela Dal Forno

  • Standards: This webcast supports standards of learning in Life Science. See the complete list of standards alignment.
  • Skills: Throughout the program, we will emphasize the basic science skills Manuela uses that students also possess: making observations in nature, identifying patterns, working on a team, asking questions, and sharing information.
  • Archive: We originally broadcasted this show as "Exploring the Amazing World of Lichens" on March 28, 2019. View the archived webcast. The November 14 show will be live and cover the same concepts. 

How to Participate

  • Bookmark this page! This is where the live event will happen on November 14, 2019, at 11am and then again at 2pm EST.
  • During the live show, your students will be interacting with the scientist through a chat window on this page.
  • See the Science How Tech Guide for instructions on preparing for and participating in a webcast. This guide includes recommended viewing guidelines if you’re participating with a group of students.
  • Still have questions? Want to see your students featured on Science How? Email us at

Teaching Resources

Use these resources to support pre/post activities:

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Life Science

3rd Grade

  • 3-LS2-1: Construct an argument that some animals form groups that help members survive.
  • 3-LS3-1: Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence that plants and animals have traits inherited from parents and variation of these traits exists in a group of similar organisms.
  • 3-LS3-2: Use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment.
  • 3-LS4-3: Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

4th Grade

  • 4-LS1-1: Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

5th Grade

  • 5-LS1-1: Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.
  • 5-LS2-1: Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

6-8th Grade

  • MS-LS1-5: Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms.
  • MS-LS1-6: Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms.
  • MS-LS2-4: Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
Resource Type
Videos and Webcasts
Grade Level
3-5, 6-8
Learning Standards
Next Generation Science Standards
Life Science