We often bemoan the fact that we know neither whither nor whence will come the next generation of plant scientists (e.g. Sinéad Drea). Well, here’s an inspiring tale from the USA that might just give part of the answer. Challenge an assumption, get enough bodies involved in data collection, and you can generate the information needed to test that assumption. Take, for example, something as basic as leaf area. In many instances leaf area measurements can be biased because they are often estimated from dried or fossilised specimens that may have shrunk, but by an unknown amount. The commonly held assumption is that any shrinkage is negligible and can therefore be ignored. But is it? And can it be? This was tested using the inquiring minds and recording skills of 105 ‘middle school’ students from Miles Exploratory Learning Center in Tucson (Arizona, USA), under the guidance of a team of adults led by Benjamin Blonder (still only a graduate student himself) of the University of Arizona (Daniel Stolte). The army of junior researchers measured shrinkage (by comparing dry and fresh leaf area) in 3401 leaves of 380 temperate and tropical species, and tested the effects of rehydration and simulated fossilization on shrinkage in four of them. Not only did they find that leaves shrank in area by an average of 22% (and with a maximum of 82%! – in Thalictrum fendleri), but they also determined that the degree of shrinkage can be predicted by multiple morphological traits. And – as befits any thorough piece of research – this work has been subject to critical peer review (although I suspect the peers in this instance were considerably older than the majority of the paper’s authors!) and published in the American Journal of Botany. And this publication complies with that time-honoured tradition – with which research students worldwide are all too familiar – that the first and last-named authors on a paper are the ‘most important’. Accordingly, the 39 schoolchildren’s names (Stolte: ‘almost half of the participating students completed the necessary prerequisites and assignments to qualify as co-authors…’) are sandwiched between that of first-named author – Blonder – and last-named Brian Enquist, Associate Professor, and Ben’s supervisor. I guess the students will have learnt lots of valuable lessons about how research is done – and published! – from this exercise. Now, and not that I want to create any trans-Atlantic conflict or one-upmanship or anything like that, but this reminds me of the ‘Blackawton Bees paper’. That article – co-authored by five-and-twenty 8- to 10-year-olds from Blackawton Primary School (Devon, UK) – concluded that buff-tailed bumblebees can ‘learn to recognise nourishing flowers based on colours and patterns’. Both papers showcase really inspirational projects and just go to show that you’re never too young to engage in plant biology, and that there are plenty of questions out there just waiting to be investigated. And the last sentence of the Blackawton Bees’ Acknowledgements section is worth a read (as is the rest of the paper, of course… and the ‘shrinking leaves’ one, too…)!