Evolution Featured at Tennessee Teacher Conference

Mike Knapp, biology teacher at Hardin Valley High School, sets up a demonstration of his lactose intolerance lab while teachers are in discussion.

Mike Knapp (upper left), biology teacher at Hardin Valley High School, sets up a demonstration of his lactose intolerance lab while teachers discuss.

While socio-cultural forces continue to pressure teachers not to talk about evolution through intimidation and confusing laws, many science teachers remain committed in the face of adversity to helping each other teach their students the scientific consensus of evolution as an important unifying concept in science. A session on how to teach the evolution of the lactose tolerance gene drew 40 middle and high school science teachers and pre-service teachers into a packed room at the statewide Tennessee Science Teachers’ Association Conference last week. The session was jointly supported by NIMBioS and Darwin Day Tennessee.

Discussing the evolution of lactose tolerance with students presents an interesting case because it demonstrates how human culture can be a selective agent of evolution. Also, students can relate to the subject matter personally, since most of the world’s population, mostly people of non-European ancestry, can’t tolerate lactose in dairy into adulthood. Hardin Valley Academy biology teacher Mike Knapp introduced teachers to the lab that he uses with his own students, using cups of milk, Lactaid pills and glucose test strips to learn about the effect of enzymes on breaking down lactose into glucose.

Whitaker Hoskins, a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, co-presented a guided non-fiction reading on lactose tolerance from “Before the Dawn” by Nicolas Wade. Hoskins said interacting with the teachers was the highlight of his session during last week’s conference. He also spoke to teachers about the many events planned for February as a part of Darwin Day Tennessee surrounding Darwin’s birthday, including a day-long teacher workshop on teaching evolution which will be hosted at NIMBioS on February 7, 2015. Look for more details about signing up for this workshop coming soon to the Darwin Day Tennessee website.

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) donated teacher packets, videos and books to the teachers attending the session.

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Two Days of STEM Fun: Over 100 Middle School Students, Teachers & Parents Visit NIMBioS

Elizabeth Hobson, NIMBioS postdoctoral fellow (standing, black shirt) helping visiting students from Greenback School with an image analysis activity

Elizabeth Hobson, NIMBioS postdoctoral fellow (standing, black shirt) helping visiting students from Greenback School with an image analysis activity.

NIMBioS hosted two events for middle school students last week that resulted in over 100 students, parents and teachers visiting the institute. On the agenda were fun activities to inspire students to pursue higher education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The first event was a field trip by 7th graders from Greenback School in Loudon County, TN, which brought 60 students and three teachers for a day learning about biodiversity and computer image analysis, touring the university library, and building windmills and doing engineering lab tours at CURENT, an engineering center across campus.

Greenback School students took fun photos in the Studio at the University of Tennessee Library during a tour there. Later Eric Carr, NIMBioS High Performance Computing Specialist, ran some image altering MATLAB code that the students had learned about on the photos.

Greenback School students took fun photos in the Studio at the University of Tennessee Library during a tour there. Later Eric Carr, NIMBioS High Performance Computing Specialist, ran image altering edge-detection MATLAB code that the students had learned about on the photos.

NIMBioS also co-hosted SHADES, Sharing Adventures in Engineering & Science, a STEM symposium for 6th and 7th grade girls. The annual event organized by the Greater Knoxville Math/Science Coalition had 34 student participants from the greater Knoxville area, plus parents, Girl Scout Troop leaders, and teachers. Volunteers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Tennessee, NIMBioS, and TNSCORE all contributed activities. Highlights included T-shirt chromatography, using Geiger counters, and an engineering competition using fuel cell model cars.

A number of NIMBioS volunteers contributed to the event by helping out the Education & Outreach staff. Special thanks to Eric Carr, NIMBioS HPC Specialist, for putting together a great activity on image analysis, to volunteer helpers and NIMBioS postdoctoral fellows Amiyaal Ilany, Elizabeth Hobson, Jeremy Beaulieu and NIMBioS graduate assistant Ben Levy.

Participants at SHADES sort plastic insects for an activity on using probability to measure biodiversity.

Participants at SHADES sort plastic insects for an activity on using probability to measure biodiversity.

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The Bat Cave at NIMBioS

Little brown bat visits NIMBioS

Little brown bat visits NIMBioS

Literally and figuratively speaking, both, this little brown bat knows a good and safe spot when he sees it. The bat found refuge today on the wall outside the entrance to NIMBioS, where inside scientists have worked feverishly to save the bats from the deadly white-nose syndrome. See here and here.

We’re happy to report that this little brown appeared to be in good health.

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Math for Cholera, Drug Discovery, Environment & More at 2014 NIMBioS Undergraduate Research Conference

Julia Martinez from the College of Charleston talks about her research on the effects of antimicrobials on shrimp to a group at the NIMBioS Undergraduate Research Conference

Juita Martinez from the College of Charleston talks about her research on the effects of antimicrobial pollutants on shrimp to a group at the 2014 NIMBioS Undergraduate Research Conference

More than 100 undergraduates and faculty in math, biology and related fields convened in Knoxville at the weekend to share research and network at the 6th Annual NIMBioS Undergraduate Research Conference at the Interface of Mathematics and Biology.

Highlights of the conference included keynote presentations by Joseph Tien of The Ohio State University (“Cholera Dynamics: Blackboard, Bedside, Bench”) and Jeremy Smith of University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (“Computer Simulation for Renewable Energy, Environmental Science & Drug Design”). Later, the two joined Suzanne Lenhart, NIMBioS Associate Director for Education & Outreach, for a Q&A session on careers and graduate school. Other highlights were the student talks themselves — over 50 student poster and oral presentations on using mathematics and computer science to tackle questions in biology from the tiniest scale (genes, proteins, biomolecules) to the largest (ecology of interacting populations). View more photos from the conference on our Flickr page, and highlights and tweets via Storify.

Save the date! The next NIMBioS URC will be Nov 21-22, 2015. Come back, present new work, and bring new students, friends and colleagues!

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Postdoc Shares Latest Research with National Seed Bank

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The seed bank at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP)

Picture a library but instead of books, thousands upon thousands of seed packets on every shelf. The USDA’s National Center for Genetic Resource Preservation in Ft. Collins, CO, is a secure 5,000-square-foot storage facility for more than half a million seed samples from over 8,000 species of interest to sustainable agriculture, successful restoration, and endangered species preservation, and is adding more specimens every day.

NCGRP scientists travel to remote parts of the world to gather wild strawberries, apples, wheat, and other species in order to introduce new, useful traits into crop breeding programs. They also gather common tree and grass species for restoring degraded or burned land. The facility partners with local and national agencies around the world to “back-up” other important seed collections. The seeds are stored in a tornado proof shelter, some of them in large steel tanks full of liquid nitrogen and others in long rows of giant shelves in rooms at freezing temperature, all meticulously labeled and accessible for future needs.

NIMBioS postdoctoral fellow Sean Hoban recently visited the NCGRP to share his newest research results in a seminar with scientists there and at Colorado State University. Hoban studies how to optimally plan collections of new seeds, using cutting edge computational and mathematical models. While the storage facility is huge, the need for seed saving is great, and thus there is need for efficient collections that capture the most biodiversity in a minimum collection size.

Sean Hoban visits Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming,  one of the many places from where the US Forest Service is sending seeds to the National Center for Genetic Resource Preservation seed bank in Ft. Collins, CO.

Sean Hoban visits Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming, one of the many places from where the US Forest Service is sending seeds to the National Center for Genetic Resource Preservation seed bank in Ft. Collins, CO.

Hoban’s work has helped show where to collect from and how much seed to collect. He is now working to custom design seed collections, including collections from native Tennessee species, like the endangered butternut tree and several endangered Trillium species, found throughout the Appalachians and eastern forests.

“It was exciting to see this national seed facility firsthand, which helped me better understand the opportunities and challenges of these collections,” Hoban said. “It was also great to connect my mathematical work on species’ genetic diversity to the work of other researchers involved in seed collections, aspects that complement mine. Now we can integrate genetics with geography, climate data, plant traits and much more.”

The next stop on Hoban’s “seed-saving tour” is the Rancha Santa Anna Botanic Garden near Los Angeles, followed by an “Advancing Ex Situ Conservation” workshop at the San Diego Zoo for researchers from zoos and botanic gardens across the US.

“This will be a planning meeting for next steps in the science and practice of saving, breeding, and reintroducing rare species,” Hoban said.

Other stops on the tour include the College of Charleston and the Missouri Botanic Garden.

“It is important to take our theoretical research and apply it to real challenges in society. I’m very glad that NIMBioS encourages and helps postdoctoral fellows to do so,” Hoban said.

Aside from his seed-saving talks and travels, Hoban is also developing new models of genetic diversity of rare species and working on a related project to model resistance to diseases and pests to help save eastern hardwood forest species, such as ash trees and hemlock.

Hoban’s most recent publication is “Optimal sampling of seeds from plant populations for ex-situ conservation of genetic biodiversity, considering realistic population structure” in Biological Conservation. Click here to read more.

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NIMBioS Fall Hike: Grotto Falls and Brushy Mountain

Smokies-fall 116One of the great perks of working at NIMBioS is the number of folks who love to get outside and climb up mountains together. On Saturday, NIMBioS friends and families ventured into the beautiful autumnal scenery in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a hike on Trillium Gap Trail to Grotto Falls and Brushy Mountain. Smokies-fall 016The waterfall was a perfect for those wishing to do a short hike, while some of us continued on to the top of Brushy Mountain. We finished the day by gathering for post-hike refreshments at the Fox & Parrot British tavern. Click here for more photos — most were taken by the amazing and talented in-house photographer and NIMBioS postdoc Clemente Aguilar.

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Building New Connections at SACNAS 2014

Clemente Aguilar, NIMBioS postdoctoral fellow (right) with conference participants at SACNAS, including Carolina Guerra (gold shirt) who was a NIMBioS visiting graduate fellow from June-August 2014.

NIMBioS postdoctoral fellow Clemente Aguilar (far right) with conference participants at SACNAS, including Carolina Guerra (gold shirt) who was a NIMBioS visiting graduate fellow from June-August 2014.

This year’s Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Annual Conference in Los Angeles had a mighty NIMBioS presence: two members of the the NIMBioS leadership team, two postdoctoral researchers, and four SRE undergraduates all participated this year.

“The best thing about my experience at SACNAS was being able to interact with students, professors, and colleagues in the math-biology field. I received valuable feedback from my talk and ideas that I might be able to incorporate on my research,” said NIMBioS postdoctoral fellow Clemente Aguilar who presented his research on computational methods for immunological applications at the annual pre-conference Modern Math Workshop. The workshop, a joint collaboration of NIMBioS and the eight other NSF Mathematics Institutes, highlights the multitude of opportunities available in mathematical research.

NIMBioS Associate Director for Education & Outreach (standing) with 2014 SRE students John Shamshoian, Kelly Moran, Taylor Kuramoto and Taylor Nelson (L to R).

Suzanne Lenhart (standing) with 2014 SRE students (from L to R) John Shamshoian, Kelly Moran, Taylor Kuramoto and Taylor Nelsen.

Suzanne Lenhart, NIMBioS Associate Director for Education & Outreach, took a break from promoting the institute’s opportunities to meet for dinner with four 2014 SRE alumni at the conference. The students all received a lot of interest in the posters they presented on their summer work.

NIMBioS postdoctoral fellow Angela Peace spoke about her work during an ecology and evolutionary biology symposium organized by NESCent. “I know from personal experiences that math talks in ecology symposiums don’t always go over so well, ” she said. “However, this audience was very receptive and eager to understand the math. One student even tried to solve one of my differential equations analytically and came up to me afterwards to see if he got it right. Students were actively involved and trying to get the most of out the conference. There seemed to be a constant you-can-do-it-attitude in every conversation.  It was clear that this conference was personal for many people.”

SACNAS’s annual conference is specifically tailored to support undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and career professionals at each transition stage of their career as they move towards positions of science leadership. NIMBioS returns each year to fulfill the NIMBioS mission to support diversity in math and biology and to spread the word about our opportunities to build community connections.

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Tennessee Environmental Educators Connect Biodiversity & Probability

Kelly Sturner presenting at the Tennessee Environmental Educators Association Conference

Kelly Sturner presents at the Tennessee Environmental Educators Association Conference

NIMBioS showcased its “Measuring Biodiversity with Probability” at the Tennessee Environmental Educators Association Conference last week in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The conference drew 114 environmental educators from across the state to a day and a half of sessions on environmental education, field trips, music of the mountains, campfires and more at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. Kelly Sturner, NIMBioS Education & Outreach Coordinator, presented the biodiversity NIMBioS module which was published in NCTM’s Mathematics Teacher magazine. Since time to go outside was limited, teachers used Backyard Bug Counters (available from Learning Resources) to tally up totals of insects found in mock plots and calculate Simpson’s Index of Biodiversity.

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Meet Education & Outreach Intern Virginia Parkman

Virginia Parkman, NIMBioS Education & Outreach Intern

Virginia Parkman, NIMBioS Education & Outreach Intern

Virginia Parkman joined the NIMBioS team in the summer as Education & Outreach Intern and will be with us again for the fall semester. Virginia is a sophomore in mathematics at the University of Tennessee and also participating in the the teacher preparation program VolsTeach. She is originally from Knoxville, TN. Here’s a little more about her, in her own words:

Why did you decide to participate in the VolsTeach program?

I first learned about VolsTeach in my senior year at Bearden High School. It seemed interesting at the time, but I still wanted to explore my options during my first year at the University of Tennessee. After exploring in the first semester, I found myself tutoring friends and the people living on my hall. Once I realized I was spending most of my free time tutoring and basically teaching everyone who asked for my help, I decided I should get into the VolsTeach program.

What have you been learning so far at NIMBioS?

So far at NIMBioS, I have learned so much that I would never have had the opportunity anywhere else. The most interesting piece of technology I have learned how to use at NIMBioS is the 3D printer. Before coming to NIMBioS, I had only read and knew a little about 3D printer, and now I know how to design, print, and fix a 3D printer. Also with the 3D printer, I helped in making a poster, which for me was an entirely new experience. Along with 3D printing, I have been privileged to go to a seminar with biology teachers from around the country. From them, I learned how to approach tough subjects and how to connect math and science. I have also learned many things I want to incorporate into my future classroom but to tell all of them would take up pages.

What drew you to the field of education?

It started in my sophomore year in high school. I began to find math much easier than my classmates, so I would often be asked for help on homework. This pattern continued throughout all of high school, but when I reached my senior year, I had the most wonderful teacher. Her name was Catherine Buckner. The way she taught and cared so much about the understanding of the material inspired me to want to do the same with future students. After having her and many other wonderful math teachers at Bearden High School, I figured teaching was an option I had for the future.

What are your current plans for after graduation?

My current plans are to graduate through the University of Tennessee and the VolsTeach program and to become a high school teacher for a few years. After teaching at a high school, I want to come back and get a PhD in mathematics.

Do you have anyone who inspired you to pursue education, or who has inspired you in general?

My inspiration comes from a lot of different areas. Of course my parents inspire me to be a great person and try my hardest at everything I do, but my inspiration for teaching comes from many people. Through my education at Bearden, I met some of the best teachers who inspire me to this day. To name a few: Mrs. Buckner, Mr. McWhirter, Mr. Savery, and Mr. Vacek. They were such fantastic teachers that they inspired me to become a teacher.

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NSF Awards $2.9 Million to QUBES: Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education & Synthesis

cubeBigThe National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education has awarded a five-year, $2.9 million in grants to the project “Supporting Faculty in Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education and Synthesis (QUBES).” This intiative “addresses the Nation’s growing need to better prepare undergraduate biologists with the quantitative and computational skills needed to be successful in the workplace or in graduate school” and will include the creation of faculty mentoring networks, infrastructure for disseminating resources for teaching quantitative biology, and more. The project is spread out into three separate awards to lead institutions College of William & Mary, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The proposal for this grant was born of a “perfect storm” of at least two events from last spring that NIMBioS was involved in. One of the award’s PI Sam Donovan (Biological Sciences, Univ. of Pittsburgh) and co-PI Jeremy Wojdak (Biology, Radford Univ.) were participants in the March 2014 BIO IUSE Ideas Lab, which Louis Gross, NIMBioS Director, directed for NSF. As participants in the Ideas Lab, Donovan and Wojdak were invited to submit a proposal. Later that spring, NIMBioS hosted QUBES Consortium’s first liason meeting in May of 2014 (an RCN-UBE Incubator), at which many parallel needs and possibilities for synergy were explored between interested educational and professional organizations in math and biology such as BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium, the Ecological Society of America, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (a complete list of consortium members and PI’s available here). During proposal development, Donovan and Wojdak decided to team up with the existing QUBES initiative to leverage greater impact.

NIMBioS looks forward to being further involved in the future of QUBES, having committed to hosting an advisory board meeting and a faculty development workshop related to the newly awarded grant. Congratulations to the entire grant team that put this idea together that will hopefully benefit the entire undergraduate math and biology education community.

Note: This post corrects an earlier error reporting the award as $1.7 million.

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