Enhancing STEM Diversity at Field of Dreams

Christina Edholm

Math students from diverse groups attended the Field of Dreams Conference in St. Louis this month to hear about graduate opportunities in the mathematical sciences, and NIMBioS was represented as a part of its commitment to enhance diversity in the STEM fields.

The annual conference is organized by the National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences (or “Math Alliance”) whose goal is to build a national community of scholars from underrepresented groups in the mathematical and statistical sciences.

Christina Edholm, a postdoctoral teaching associate in UT’s math department, attended on behalf of NIMBioS and gave a talk entitled, “What Is Infectious Disease Modeling?”

Edholm has been particularly active at NIMBioS, having served as a mentor last summer for undergraduates in our Summer Research Experiences program. She has also participated in various NIMBioS workshops, tutorials, and other programs.

Her research focuses on mathematical biology, specifically infectious disease modeling and pest management.

“I was able to expose my area of research to many different students, in addition to discussing my path to a post-doc and providing advice I had for navigating through academia,” Edholm said. “Overall, the conference provided a setting that provided students with opportunities and professional connections they might not otherwise have had access to. I feel the conference encouraged students from underrepresented backgrounds to see their futures in the mathematical sciences, through the examples of those who came before.”

 

 

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Lenhart Named National Women in Math Fellow

Dr. Suzanne Lenhart (far right) advocates tirelessly for women and students from underrepresented groups to pursue careers in STEM fields. She has been selected as a Fellow of the Association for Women in Mathematics.

Congratulations to NIMBioS Associate Director for Education & Outreach Suzanne Lenhart whose sustained and lasting commitment to women in the mathematical sciences has led to her selection to the Inaugural Class of Fellows of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM).

The new AWM Fellows Program has been established “to recognize individuals who have demonstrated a sustained commitment to the support and advancement of women in the mathematical sciences.” In addition, the program “epitomizes the AWM mission to encourage women and girls to study and to have active careers in the mathematical sciences, and to promote equal opportunity and the equal treatment of women and girls in the mathematical sciences,” according to an AWM press release about the award.

The Inaugural Class comprises 25 Fellows, drawn from senior members of past Presidents of the AWM, AWM Life Time Service Award winners, and AWM Humphreys Award winners.

A Chancellor’s Professor in UT’s Department of Mathematics, Lenhart is an applied mathematician in the field of differential equations. Her research publications span several areas of biology, including HIV, tuberculosis, bioreactors, bioeconomics, cardiac function, population dynamics, disease modeling, and resource management. She was recently awarded the Lord Robert May Best Paper Prize from the Journal of Biological Dynamics for a paper she co-authored about modeling cholera motivated by Haiti outbreak.

Lenhart advocates tirelessly for women and students from underrepresented groups to pursue careers in STEM fields. She recently started a new student chapter of SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Latinos and Native Americans in Science) and is leading a new group for students with disabilities in STEM called the UT-NIMBioS STEM Alliance. For 24 years, Dr. Lenhart has directed Research Experiences for Undergraduates programs at UT and has supervised the research of 21 PhD and 31 Masters students.

“Diversity is important to me. I am committed to the AWM mission and continue to work for this organization. I am proud to be in this inaugural class,” Lenhart said.

She is a former AWM president and currently serves as co-president of the Tennessee chapter of the Association for Women in Science. She was also in the inaugural class of the American Mathematical Society Fellows in 2012, and is a AAAS Fellow and Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics Fellow.

Lenhart and other Fellows will be honored on Jan. 10, 2018, at the AWM Reception and Award Ceremony at the Joint Mathematical Meetings in San Diego. A new class of Fellows will be announced each January at the JMM. The nomination process and deadlines for the 2019 class will be announced in January 2018.

 

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Working Groups Tour SAL@NIMBioS

Working Group participants at NIMBioS this week tour the new Spatial Analysis Lab facilities. (L to R): Eric Carr, Christopher Remien, Karen Watanabe, Teresa Matthews, and Louis Gross

Synergy is the name of the game at NIMBioS, where visiting researchers from a variety of different backgrounds come together to learn from one another and produce great science. Hence, the combined effect is indeed greater than the sum of the individual parts. So was the case this week when Working Group participants visited the new Spatial Analysis Lab (SAL) at NIMBioS.

The Modeling Molecules-to-Organisms and Modeling Organisms-to-Ecosystems Working Groups were in residence this week at NIMBioS. Both groups coordinate closely with each other to achieve their goal to develop new modeling frameworks that link molecular responses through whole organism responses to ecosystem service delivery. This week’s meetings mark the fourth and final meetings for both groups, which have met three times at NIMBioS since 2015.

During a break in the proceedings, group members had a chance to tour the new SAL facilities. The lab offers state-of-the-art spatial analysis capabilities to researchers interested in understanding biological, geographic, and socio-economic processes. Services include large-scale data capture, collection, analysis, visualization, storage, training and outreach. The lab is directed by Mona Papes, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UT, along with Eric Carr as science coordinator. Carr is also NIMBioS’ computational data engineer. Read more about SAL.

 

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NIMBioS Team Receives Best Publication Award

A paper on epidemic disease dynamics by a group of NIMBioS-associated researchers has won the prestigious Lord Robert May Best Paper Prize from the Journal of Biological Dynamics.

“The impact of spatial arrangements on epidemic disease dynamics and intervention strategies” was published in March 2016. Co-authors are Michael Kelly, a former NIMBioS graduate research assistant; Joseph H. Tien, who has been involved in several NIMBioS education and outreach events; Marisa C. Eisenberg, who has been an organizer of research and education and outreach events; and Suzanne Lenhart, NIMBioS Associate Director for Education and Outreach and a Chancellor’s Professor of Mathematics at UT.

Kelly is currently an assistant professor of mathematics at Transylvania University in Kentucky; Tien is an associate professor of mathematics at The Ohio State University; and Eisenberg is an assistant professor of epidemiology and mathematics at the University of Michigan.

The paper investigates the role of spatial arrangements on the spread and management of cholera, particularly the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti. The researchers examined the effect of human and pathogen movement on optimal vaccination strategies. They make vaccination recommendations based on the model. Among the findings are that more vaccinations can be administered when outbreaks occur downstream rather than upstream, as the directional flow of rivers affects pathogen movement.

The paper is available as open access at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17513758.2016.1156172

The prize is awarded at the biannual International Conference on Mathematical Modeling and Analysis of Populations in Biological Systems (ICMA), which will be held at the University of Arizona in October. The authors are invited to give a talk on the paper at the conference. They also receive a monetary award, free textbooks and a subscription to the Journal.

Citation: Kelly MR, Tien JH, Eisenberg MC, Lenhart S. 2015. The impact of spatial arrangements on epidemic disease dynamics and intervention strategies. Journal of Biological Dynamics.

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Gross Named Fellow of Society for Mathematical Biology

Dr. Louis J. Gross
NIMBioS Director

Congrats to NIMBioS Director Louis J. Gross on being named a Fellow in the inaugural class of Fellows of the Society for Mathematical Biology (SMB).

A distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and mathematics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT), Gross also directs of UT’s Institute for Environmental Modeling. His research focuses on computational and mathematical ecology, with applications to plant ecology, conservation biology, natural resource management, and landscape ecology.

The SMB Fellows Program honors members of the Society who are recognized by the scientific and scholarly community as distinguished for their contributions to the discipline. Up to two fellows will be named every two years at the annual SMB meeting in July. Gross was among 18 Fellows of the Society named in the inaugural class.

The SMB promotes the development and dissemination of research and education at the interface between the mathematical and biological sciences. The Society serves a diverse community of researchers and educators in academia, in industry, and in government agencies throughout the world. Through its awards program, the Society honors its members and recognizes excellence in mathematical biology. For more information on the Fellows of the Society, visit http://www.smb.org/society-for-mathematical-biology-fellows/

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A Predator-Prey Model of Poverty Traps, New Paper from Ngonghala

Calistus Ngonghala (Mathematical Biology, Univ. of Florida) returned to NIMBioS last month for a short-term visit to collaborate with Olivia Prosper (Mathematics, Univ. of Kentucky). Ngonghala’s paper on poverty traps was recently published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Former NIMBioS postdoc Calistus Ngonghala has published a new paper that draws on economic, ecological and epidemiological models to examine the underlying drivers of rural poverty.

“General ecological models for human subsistence, heath and poverty,” published this month in Nature Ecology & Evolution, combine an economic model of growth accumulation with epidemiological and population ecological models. The authors show that the dynamics of poverty can be framed as predator-prey relationships, and that feedbacks between the biological and economic systems in this ecological-economic food web can lead to a state of persistent poverty.

The study finds that disease transmission and recovery rates are the most “consistently important” in determining long-term health and wealth dynamics. The findings are consistent with other studies that show improving health systems promotes economic growth and alleviates poverty.

The study was highlighted in the journal’s “News & Views” section in a commentary by Chris Desmond entitled, “The ecology of rural poverty.”

A NIMBioS postdoc from 2011-2013, Ngonghala is now an assistant professor of mathematical biology at the University of Florida.

In a press review for the paper, Ngonghala recounts his personal experiences of rural poverty growing up in Cameroon Africa that have inspired his research pursuits. “My family and friends had subsistence lifestyles, and my community suffered from a continuous burden of deadly diseases, such as malaria and HIV. These kinds of models are an essential step towards understanding persistent poverty and finding solutions for long-term sustainable development,” Ngonghala writes.

In a 2013 profile of Ngonghala in Scientific American, he elaborates on his childhood experiences and the reasons why he became a mathematician. The profile was one of series of profiles of mathematicians and computer scientists invited to participate in the 2013 Heidelberg Laureate Forum.

Ngonghala returned to NIMBioS last month on a short-term research visit to collaborate with Olivia Prosper, an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Kentucky. The research evaluates the impact of human movement on the success of bednet programs for malaria control.

We always look forward to visits from former postdocs. Congratulations Calistus!

Citation: Ngonghala CN et al. 2017. General ecological models for human subsistence, heath and poverty. Nature Ecology & Evolution. DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0221-8.

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NIMBioS Welcomes Dr. Gross

KNOXVILLE—Louis J. Gross has been named the new NIMBioS director, effective July 1, 2017.

Gross is a distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and mathematics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the founding director of NIMBioS and director of the Institute for Environmental Modeling (TIEM). His research focuses on computational and mathematical ecology, with applications to plant ecology, conservation biology, natural resource management, and landscape ecology.

While at NIMBioS, Gross will continue his responsibilities as TIEM director and as a UT faculty member.

Colleen B. Jonsson, who has served as director since January 2015, will be moving to the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis where she has accepted a faculty position as professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry, Van Vleet Chair of Excellence in Virology. She will also serve as director of the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory.

NIMBioS was founded in 2008 as a National Science Foundation (NSF) Synthesis Center supported through NSF’s Biological Sciences Directorate via a Cooperative Agreement with UT Knoxville totaling more than $35 million over ten years.

Since its first event in spring 2009, NIMBioS has engaged more than 6,000 scientists and experts from over 50 countries in over 400 projects proposed by the science community. NIMBioS activities have led to the publication of over 700 peer-reviewed scientific articles in a variety of disciplines, from anthropology to zoology. The institute has also helped to fund more than 30 grant proposals, totaling nearly $10 million, submitted by NIMBioS participants following involvement in NIMBioS activities. One of the outcomes of NIMBioS is the National Institute for STEM Evaluation and Research, which collaborates on program evaluation with a wide array of projects around the country.

Read more.

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Synthesis Centers Provide the ‘Special Sauce’

Synthesis centers like NIMBioS provide the special sauce that make the research magic happen. But you already knew that, didn’t you, dear reader?

A new paper published this week in BioScience argues that synthesis centers provide the critical research infrastructure that helps to catalyze collaboration, leading to breakthrough ideas, and that they are needed now more than ever.

“Synthesis Centers as Critical Research Infrastructure” presents the history and rationale for supporting synthesis centers as well as explores their long-term viability. The paper is a collaborative effort of researchers from synthesis centers around the world, including NIMBioS, that form the International Synthesis Consortium.

The National Science Foundation has funded four synthesis centers, beginning in 1995 with the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. Worldwide, there are also more than a dozen new synthesis centers.

The authors distinguish synthesis centers from universities or other interdisciplinary research centers as centers integrate or re-purpose data and knowledge to expand research questions in the scientific community.

Scientists who come to collaborate with others at synthesis centers often are able to make new connections and think creatively on new approaches and methods. This “associative thinking” is one of the hallmarks of a synthesis center, the authors write.

The authors posit that synthesis centers should be viewed as fundamental to science, like telescopes or ocean vessels are to astronomy and oceanography.

“As infrastructure, synthesis centers may not be as tangible as telescopes, but technology allow cannot match the brain power of a diverse group of experts who are committed to focusing their combined insights, experience, tools, and networks on a shared problem in a collegial environment,” they write.

The six critical ingredients for synthesis center success are active management, computing and informatics capabilities, flexibility (topic, length of activities, scheduling, meeting structure), student and fellow support, diversity, and the value of unstructured time, according to the paper.

The paper cites a few examples of policy impacts of synthesis-center research, including one of the most cited papers of all time, a foundational paper that helped establish the principle of ecosystem services and the discipline of ecological economics. The 1997 paper was a result of an NCEAS working group.

The full paper is available at https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix053.

NISER Director Pam Bishop who is also NIMBioS Associate Director for STEM Evaluation and Research was a co-author.

Citation: Baron JS et al. 2017. Synthesis centers as critical research infrastructure. BioScience. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix053

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Grizzlies Feel the Heat

Grizzly bears photographed with remote cameras at hair-snaring stations in Cooke City Basin, Montana. Photo credit: US Forest Service

Jack Hopkins (left) collaborated with NIMBioS postdoc Jake Ferguson in June 2015.

A short term visit to NIMBioS two years ago has resulted in a study showing the effect of climate change on the diets of grizzly bears in Yellowstone.

Lead author Jack Hopkins, an assistant professor of wildlife biology at Unity College in Maine, collaborated on the paper published in PLOS ONE in May with then NIMBioS postdoc Jake Ferguson, now a postdoc in the Center for Modeling Complex Interactions at the University of Idaho.

“Selecting the best stable isotope mixing model to estimate grizzly bear diets in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” finds that although the bears’ staple diet continues to feature whitebark pine seeds, the bears appear to be consuming more plants and berries, probably as a result of a warming climate.

The slow-growing whitebark trees were once ubiquitous in western North America, but are now listed as endangered. Warming temperatures have led to shorter, milder winters, exacerbating beetle infestations and further threatening the trees’ mortality. Other important food sources for grizzlies, such as cutthroat trout and elk, have also declined in the region.

The research team, which also included Daniel Tyers of the US Forest Service and Carolyn Kurle of UC San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences, focused on modeling the diets of grizzly bears in Cooke City Basin, Montana in the northeast of Yellowstone National Park. They measured stable isotopes in bear hair collected from 2007-2009 to determine what bears had been eating each year.

The findings could be useful in predicting how Yellowstone’s grizzly population will adapt to future environmental change — more important now than ever, as Yellowstone grizzlies are currently being considered to be delisted under the Endangered Species Act.

The paper is available open access at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0174903

Citation: Hopkins JB, Ferguson JM, Tyers DM, Kurle CM. Selecting the best stable isotope mixing model to estimate grizzly bear diets in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. PLOS ONE. 12(5): e0174903. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0174903

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2017 Summer Research Program Begins

Undergraduates begin their summer research at NIMBioS in the 9th annual program.

Sixteen undergraduates and a middle school math teacher began their summer research with NIMBioS on Monday. The Summer Research Experience (SRE) program runs for eight weeks, from June 5-July 28.

Participants come from across the United States to work in teams with NIMBioS postdocs and UT faculty on research at the interface of mathematics and biology. This year’s projects cover a variety of topics, from mating patterns in birds’ evolution to modeling the spread of La Crosse virus in East Tennessee to modeling the immune system in host-virus conflicts, and more.

NIMBioS Education and Outreach Coordinator Greg Wiggins reports that the students have met with their respective project mentors to discuss their projects. “They are excited to begin their research experience and explore the Knoxville area,” Wiggins said.

Although the main focus is research, the students also receive training on mathematical modeling and software, careers, and graduate school, as well as experience working with the media. They also make time for field trips, dinner parties and other social gatherings.

The 2017 SRE marks the ninth annual summer program, which typically receives more than 100 applicants. SRE participants have gone on to do amazing things, from publishing their research in academic journals, to winning competitions with their research, to pursuing doctoral studies in at the interface of math and biology. Participants receive a stipend, apartment-style housing, and travel support to Knoxville.

More photos in our SRE Photo Album.

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