Top of Class: Quantitative Bioscience at UT

As a service to the university, NIMBioS has unveiled a new Quantitative Bioscience website showcasing the multiple routes to success for graduate education in quantitative bioscience at the University of Tennessee.

With 20 different research areas to explore, UT has become a world-leader in quantitative bioscience disciplines. The website highlights each of these areas.

The site describes in detail the various pathways for developing a graduate program in quantitative bioscience and includes options within the Division of Biology, Department of Mathematics, UT-ORNL Graduate School of Genome Science and Technology, Tickle College of Engineering, Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education and UT’s Institute of Agriculture. 

UT has a long history as one of the world’s largest collections of faculty in quantitative bioscience, located in a variety of departments and research labs across campus. The site includes a list of 60 UT faculty who are associated with quantitative bioscience research.

To provide evidence of the success of quantitative bioscience education at UT, another page showcases student success stories, with a listing of the PhD students who have obtained their degrees under the mentorship of faculty affiliated with quantitative bioscience, along with their position following graduation, whether in academia, government or industry.

Convergence research across mathematics, statistics, computational and data science is building new frameworks and novel ways for problem solving in the life sciences. Over the past decade, NIMBioS has fostered these efforts to develop cutting-edge, cross-disciplinary collaborative connections that address the vast array of challenging questions at the interface of the quantitative and life sciences.

For more information, visit www.nimbios.org/qb. A brochure is also available.

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Saving Amphibians, One Tadpole at a Time

A collaboration with former NIMBioS postdocs Angela Peace and Suzanne O’Regan, along with UT’s Matt Gray, has culminated in a new study in Ecological Modeling that investigates the dynamics of a highly virulent ranavirus and helps to illustrate its threat to biodiversity in North America.

Globally emerging pathogens that affect amphibians, reptiles and fish, ranaviruses have caused catastrophic die-offs of thousands of larval wood frogs. In some cases, population projection models suggest that ranaviruses can cause outright amphibian extinction.

Using a highly virulent chimeric ranavirus recently discovered at a bullfrog farm in southern Georgia, the researchers combined experiments and disease modeling to examine the potential consequences of the ranavirus on wood frog tadpoles.

The disease models included multiple transmission pathways—direct contact, environmental transmission via pathogens in the water, and transmission via feeding on dead individuals. A novel modeling approach, the study also incorporated multiple host infection stages and analyzed effects as the disease progressed, which appeared to strengthen the models’ predictions.

The model simulations predicted 100% mortality of a wood frog tadpole population in two weeks.

The authors recommend that surveillance for the pathogen occur at a minimum in the river watershed, and that disease management strategies should be prioritize spatial containment of the pathogen.

All transmission pathways in the study had high invasion potential and so targeting only one transmission pathway is unlikely to be effective, the authors wrote.

Citation: Peace A et al. 2019. A highly invasive chimeric ranavirus can decimate tadpole populations rapidly through multiple transmission pathways. Ecological Modelling 410: 108777. 

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NISER Makes a Move

The National Institute for STEM Evaluation and Research (NISER), which was established as a part of NIMBioS in 2016, is now a core operation of the University of Tennessee’s lead research administration unit, the Office of Research & Engagement (ORE). The move was official July 1, 2019.

Through the support of NIMBioS, NISER Director Pam Bishop has grown NISER into a world-class STEM evaluation center, now with a staff of three research associates.

With expertise in evaluation theory, design and implementation, NISER is capable of evaluating large-scale projects to optimize decision-making and to untangle the complexity of program dynamics in order to understand how and why a project meets or fails to meet its objectives.

Under ORE, NISER will continue its mission to support STEM-related education and research and expand its portfolio to work with ORE to evaluate UT’s research enterprise.

NISER’s success and its move to be part of ORE enhances UT’s reputation as one of the nation’s leading universities providing high quality program evaluation and builds on the highly interdisciplinary approach to science and education fostered by NIMBioS.

Thus far, 23 projects have been awarded to NISER supported by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, US Department of Agriculture, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and others. This includes several major University of Tennessee STEM-related projects: the NIH-funded Program for Excellence & Equity in Research (PEER) and Possibilities in Post-Secondary Education in Science (PiPES); and the NSF-funded Adaptations for a Sustainable Climate of Excellence and Diversity (ASCEND), VolsTeach for Appalachia, and Appalachian Students Promoting the Integration of Research in Education (ASPIRE).

Additionally, NISER currently partners with grant-funded projects across the country to conduct its evaluations, to include the University of Pittsburgh, The College of William and Mary, Radford University, Northern Arizona University, the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, The University of Memphis, and The Georgia Institute of Technology.

Three current research projects with scholarly articles in preparation are the NSF-funded Quantitative Biology Education and Synthesis project on biology faculty use of open educational resources; the NIH-funded PiPES project on undergraduate and graduate student journaling in STEM-based K-12 programs; and an NSF-funded project on the BioCalculus Concept Instrument.

For more information on how to engage NISER with your evaluation project, contact Pam Bishop at pbaird@utk.edu or (865) 974-9348

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Humans Added to Ecology Equation

Symposium speakers were (l to r) Brian Beckage (University of Vermont), Nina Fefferman (UT), Madhur Anand (University of Guelph), Erle Ellis (University of Maryland Baltimore County), Christina Romagosa (University of Florida, Simon Levin (Princeton University), and moderator Louis Gross (UT).

The first ever Ecological Society of America Symposium on integrating human behavior into theoretical ecology was held at this year’s ESA Annual Meeting, courtesy of NIMBioS and DySoC.

NIMBioS and DySoC faculty organized the symposium, titled “Theory in Ecology: Adding Humans to the Equation,” which drew about 150 attendees.

The Symposium focused on building ecological theory that incorporates human actions and goes beyond the mostly static approach to human impacts of natural systems that has characterized models developed to date.

Six speakers gave talks on topics ranging from linking human behavior to climate system models, sociocultural evolution, and public goods and collective action.

One of the speakers was NIMBioS Associate Director and DySoC Faculty Member Nina Fefferman. Her presentation on “Patients as patches: Ecological challenges from the epidemiology of healthcare environments” aimed to broaden the discussion to include the unique challenges posed in human healthcare settings.

NIMBioS Director Louis Gross moderated a lively, open discussion following the presentations.

The 11th Annual ESA Meeting was held Aug. 11-16 in Louisville, KY. The Symposium was held on Aug. 13.

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STEM Adventures for Middle School Girls

In nationwide assessments of technology and engineering skills, middle school girls on average outperform boys, and three-quarters of elementary school girls say they’re interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math. But by high school, interest wanes, to just 11%. Women comprise only a quarter of the STEM workforce.

Various initiatives are underway across the country to extend the eagerness and enthusiasm for the STEM disciplines of the younger years, and Adventures in STEM Camp for middle school girls is one of them.

Although it only runs for one week each summer, the camp packs a lot into every day. Last week wrapped up the 2019 camp, which is hosted by NIMBioS and CURENT, an NSF-supported engineering center at UT

View the photo album here!

Through hands-on activities, participants learn how STEM-related concepts apply to a vast range of areas, such as epidemiology, renewable energy, biodiversity, and manufacturing. This year’s camp included computer programming, 3D printing, electric circuitry, geometry, veterinary science, and more. Campers toured the UT Veterinary Hospital and Analysis and Management Services Corporation in Knoxville. They also interviewed women mathematicians, scientists and engineers to find out about careers in STEM.

Families were invited on the last day to watch the girls present their posters about the various topics that the girls learned during the camp.

Thanks to the many CURENT and NIMBioS staff, postdocs, graduate students, and other volunteers that help make this camp possible.

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Learning from Failures: Lemon Labs, NIMBioS Partner

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s the proverbial expression driving new data science workshops organized by NIMBioS and the University of Arizona through a National Science Foundation TRIPODS+X award.

The first of two Lemon Labs workshops was held last week at UA’s Biosphere 2 with the goal to develop “10 Simple Rules” researchers should follow in data science collaboration. The three-day workshop focused on the challenges that arise in transdisciplinary teams and the strategies that have worked for meeting those challenges. The 30 participants came from a variety of data-driven disciplines, particularly in astronomy and earth sciences.

The second gathering, dubbed the Lemonade Labs workshop, will be held next spring at NIMBioS with the goal to build upon the ideas and strategies devised from the first workshop in order to improve productivity for data science teams.

“We want to encourage researchers to celebrate the times when things didn’t go quite as planned, and then to build upon the lessons learned from those trials, to improve processes going forward,” said workshop co-organizer Nirav Merchant in a UA blog post about the project. Merchant directs Data7, the UA’s Data Science Institute.

The four co-principal investigators of the “TRIPODS+X:VIS: Data Science Pathways for a Vibrant TRIPODS Commons at Scale” award are Merchant, Faryad Darabi Sahneh and Stephen Kobourov, also of UA, and Monica Papeş, who directs the Spatial Analysis Lab at NIMBioS.

The UA is one of twelve recipients of the NSF’s TRIPODS (Transdisciplinary Research in the Principles of Data Science) initiative, which brings together researchers in statistics, mathematics and theoretical computer science with the goal to develop the theoretical foundations of data science through integrated research and training activities focused on core algorithmic, mathematical, and statistical principles.

Full details about the first workshop including the NSF proposal can be found here.

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In Their Own Words: Spotlight on Graduate Research

NIMBioS awarded $50,000 in scholarships to graduate students from across campus last month, and we’ve got them on video! Check out the recipients of the 2019 Graduate Awards in their video interviews and find out what they’re studying.

The awards support research and education in areas that align with the efforts of NIMBioS at the interface of the quantitative and life sciences as well as areas connected with the four NIMBioS-affiliated programs, which include the National Institute for STEM Evaluation and Research, the Center for the Dynamics of Social Complexity, the Spatial Analysis Lab, and the Mathematical Modeling Consulting Center. The awards also support research and education that fosters new collaborations beyond the quantitative and life sciences. Full details on the awards program are available at http://www.nimbios.org/graduate_awards

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Spring Kudos to Dr. Lenhart

Suzanne Lenhart
Associate Director for Education and Outreach

As the academic year draws to a close, two laurels go out to NIMBioS Associate Director for Education & Outreach Suzanne Lenhart.

At the end of March, Lenhart was named Disability Champion by UT’s Student Disability Services. Lenhart directs the UT-NIMBioS STEM Alliance and is also a partner of the South East Alliance for Persons with Disabilities in STEM.

Lenhart was nominated by graduate student Larissa Weaver who stated at the Student Disability Services Recognition Dinner: “Dr. Suzanne Lenhart went above and beyond in founding a chapter of Alliance in STEM here at UT. This is a peer-mentoring group for disabled math and biology majors considering pursuing STEM careers. Dr. Lenhart listened to us and educated herself in issues disabled and chronically ill students have when trying to be successful as students and in the academic marketplace. She leads students to conferences and guides them on applying to grad school. I would not be in grad school without Dr. Lenhart.”

The other laurel is for a paper that Lenhart co-authored, which won the 2019 Rollie Lamberson Research Award Medal from the Resource Modeling Association. “Assessing the economic trade-offs between prevention and suppression of forest fires,” published in the journal Natural Resources Modeling, explores the trade‐offs between prevention management spending and wildfire suppression spending. The results support the conclusion that prevention management efforts offset rising suppression costs and increase the value of a forest.

A successful spring for Dr. Lenhart. Congratulations!

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Undergrads Ready for Summer Research

2019 SRE Projects

NIMBioS is pleased to announce the 18 participants selected for its highly competitive 2019 Summer Research Experience (SRE) program. Participants were selected from a pool of more than 100 applicants from around the country. The program runs for eight weeks, from June 4 – July 26, 2019.

Participants will come to NIMBioS on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus to work in teams with NIMBioS postdocs and UT faculty on six research projects at the interface of mathematics and biology.

2019 SRE participants and their assigned team projects are as follows:

Eniola Adewunmi (Mathematical Biology, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville), Ambrose Bechtel (Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville) and Giovanni Colon Cabezudo (Mathematics, Univ. of Puerto Rico) will collaborate on a project to explore the biochemical pathways for aerotaxis in motile bacteria.

Ellie Lochner (Mathematics, Univ. of Wisconsin-Eau Claire), Brandyn Ruiz (Statistics and Applied Math, Arizona State Univ.), and Abigail Williams, (Biology & Mathematics, Salem College) will team up on a project to identify areas where climate change is reshaping the potential redistribution of animal populations and thus human-wildlife interactions.

Priscilla Cho (Chemistry, Emory Univ.), Lucas Flet (Mathematics, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville), and Margaret Knight (Mathematics, Colorado College) will work on a project investigating viral infection rates of marine phytoplankton.

Cassandra Azeredo-Tseng (Biochemistry and Applied Math, New College of Florida), Michael Luo (Applied Mathematics, The College of New Jersey), and Natalie Randall (Math and Computer Science, Austin College) will team up on a project to model cell differentiation and the influence it plays in cancer pathogenesis.

Vincent Jodoin (Mathematics: Education, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville), Sheridan Payne (Mathematics, Bellamine Univ.), and Meagan Todd (Systems Biology, Virginia Tech) will work on a project to model networking and the opioid epidemic.

Brandon Grandison (Mathematics and Environmental Science, Univ. of Florida), Ana Kilgore (Organismal Biology & Ecology, Colorado College), and Hannah Yin (Biology, Tufts Univ.) will work on a project to model the impact of shifting climate on co-evolution in vectorborne diseases.

To read more about NIMBioS SRE, visit http://www.nimbios.org/sre/

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Baba Brinkman’s Different Kind of Beatbox

(L to R) Sergey Gavrilets, Suzanne Lenhart, and Louis Gross welcome rap artist and playwright Baba Brinkman (second from right).

NIMBioS and DySoC (the Center for the Dynamics of Social Complexity) along with several UT groups across campus were fortunate to host Baba Brinkman this week for some spectacular educational rap.

Baba’s first performance occurred at the end of the first full day of the DySoC/NIMBioS Investigative Workshop on Social Norms. While still sitting in their seats in the classroom, about 40 scholars from fields diverse as anthropology, economics, neurobiology, psychology and more heard some of the themes of the day in a “rap up,” which Baba wrote and performed after sitting in on the workshop, keenly attuned to the day’s discussions and masterfully taking great notes, obviously. Baba’s performance delved into topics such as the psychological experience of a social norm, social motivations in choice, collective action, and even India’s “theater of the oppressed.”

Baba Brinkman performs his “rap up” of the first day of discussions at the workshop.

Whatever he learned on the first day — no doubt a fire hose of scholarly information — he brought to bear in the evening’s public performance, the world premiere of his “Rap Guide to Culture.” The performance included several tracks accompanied with a slideshow as well as audience interaction where Baba rapped “freestyle,” improvising based on audience responses to questions. Still finalizing the rap as he went along, or as Baba would say employing “performance, feedback, revision,” Baba will perform the show this summer at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh.

Baba Brinkman’s rap up of the first day’s discussion

The “Rap Guide to Culture” can now be added to his impressive collection of guides, including rap guides to Evolution, Human Nature, Business, Wilderness, Religion, Medicine, Climate Change, and Consciousness.

Baba’s visit was also sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Music, the Departments of Anthropology, Psychology, and Sociology, the Office of Research and Engagement, and the Campus Events Board.

We were delighted to have Baba back at NIMBioS. He was last here seven years ago as a Songwriter-in-Residence. His original songs written while at NIMBioS include “Welcome to NIMBioS,” “Rising Up,” and “Mad Scientist.” “Welcome to NIMBioS” is a rap-up of the visit by the National Science Foundation during its site review of NIMBioS, which occurred while Baba was in residence in April 2012, and features “an intro” by NIMBioS Director Louis Gross. Listen to the raps at http://www.nimbios.org/songwriter.

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