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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New Textbook Introduces Undergraduates to Mathematics for the Life Sciences

bookKNOXVILLE—Today’s students in college biology and other science courses are increasingly being asked to analyze problems in quantitative ways, and now they have a new textbook to help them do so.

“Mathematics for the Life Sciences,” published this month by Princeton Press and co-authored by scientists at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), teaches readers about basic mathematical and statistical methods that can be used to explore and explain biological phenomena.

Suitable for entry-level students in biology, agriculture, forestry, wildlife, veterinary science, pre-medicine or pre-health, the textbook introduces readers to the variety of mathematical methods used to create and evaluate models in biology. All that is needed is prior experience with high school algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

The computer tool Matlab and the R language, frequently used in biology, are also introduced to illustrate examples and constructs in basic coding.

The textbook consists of 28 chapters in seven sections—descriptive statistics, discrete time modeling, probability, limits and continuity, derivatives, integration, and differential equations—with exercises at the end of each chapter and suggested student projects at the end of each unit.

“The general aim of the book is to show how mathematics and computational tools can be used effectively to explain problems in the biological sciences that cannot be understand as easily from verbal reasoning alone or from simply analyzing experimental data,” said co-author and NIMBioS Director Louis J. Gross. “The goal is to help readers develop an intuition for the mathematical concepts and techniques discussed in the book so that they can be applied in diverse areas of biology.”

Other authors are NIMBioS Associate Director for Education and Outreach Suzanne Lenhart and Erin N. Bodine, a former NIMBioS graduate research assistant and now an assistant professor of mathematics at Rhodes College.

More information about the textbook as well as complete data files for the textbook exercises can be found athttp://mathematicsforthelifesciences.com/

Citation: Bodine EN, Lenhart S, Gross LJ. 2014. Mathematics for the Life Sciences. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Press. ISBN: 9780691150727

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NIMBioS Undergrads Present Summer Research at MBI

NIMBioS SRE Alumni (L to R) Nitin Krishna, Winode Handagama, Margaret McDaniel and Brittany Boribong take a break from the MBI conference at the Columbus Zoo.

NIMBioS 2014 SRE Alumni (L to R) Nitin Krishna, Winode Handagama, Margaret McDaniel and Brittany Boribong take a break from the MBI conference at the Columbus Zoo.

Our 2014 Summer Research Experience students and teachers may have left NIMBioS for the summer, but friendships forged and research completed carry on! Four NIMBioS SRE undergraduates recently attended the week-long Math Biosciences Institute (MBI) Undergraduate Capstone Conference in Columbus, Ohio. Brittany Boribong, University of Scranton; Nitin Krishna, University of Chicago; Winode Handagama, Maryville College; and Margaret McDaniel, University of Tennessee, all presented their work at the conference.

Boribong said of the experience, “I had a great time at the conference! I really enjoyed it because although people came from different academic backgrounds, everyone had a common interest in how mathematics and biology intersect. It was exciting listening to the student presentations and talking to students at their posters as it allowed me to learn about the type of research that is happening right now in the field of biomathematics. It was great presenting a poster and to see that people were interested in the work my group did this summer. I don’t think anyone that came to my poster knew what a meta-analysis was so it was nice knowing that they all left learning something new. Since I will be a senior in the fall, I also benefited a lot from speaking to representatives from various graduate schools. It helped me feel more at ease about applying to graduate programs.”

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Calling All Nationally Distinguished Biologists

AIBS Distinguished Scientists Joe Felsenstein (left) and Louis Gross (right)

AIBS Distinguished Scientists Joe Felsenstein (left) and Louis Gross (right)

It’s not everyday that two alumni from the same high school learn that they are both nationally distinguished scientists.

NIMBioS Director Louis Gross and Joe Felsenstein, visiting NIMBioS this week as co-organizer of the Evolutionary Quantitative Genetics Tutorial, both graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia, going back a few decades now.

But they recently discovered that they are both recipients of the Distinguished Scientist award from the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Gross in 2006 and Felsenstein in 2009. The award is presented annually to individuals who have made significant scientific contributions to the field.

Dr. Felsenstein is a professor of genome sciences and biology at the Univ. of Washington, where he has been for more than 40 years. He is best known for his work on statistical inference of phylogenies.

Dr. Gross is, of course, NIMBioS’ fearless leader and at UT, the James R. Cox and Alvin and Sally Beaman Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics. He also directs The Institute for Environmental Modeling.

The second-oldest continuously public high school in the country, Central consistently ranks as one of the nation’s top public schools.

Dr. Gross and Dr. Felsenstein are among notable alumni from the school, including two brothers from the Guggenheim family, the popular physician Andrew Weil, and even Larry (Fine) of the Three Stooges.

Congratulations to both Dr. Gross and Dr. Felsenstein!


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Summer Research Students Present Their Findings

A little audience participation during the final presentation of the Facial Expressions project.

A little audience participation during the final presentation of the Facial Expressions project.

The 2014 Summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates and Teachers drew to a close today with the six project teams presenting their final results.

Margaret McDaniel of the Univ. of Tennessee presents as a part of her team project on Johnne's Disease

Margaret McDaniel of the Univ. of Tennessee presents as a part of her team project on Johnne’s Disease

Several groups announced plans to continue their work beyond the SRE program, hoping to continue collaborating with their mentors to prepare manuscripts for publication. Others have already been accepted or made plans to present their work at the MBI Capstone Conference, the SACNAS annual conference, and also the NIMBioS Undergraduate Research Conference at the Interface of Mathematics and Biology, which is now accepting applications to request funding (Deadline: Sept. 10).

At the final luncheon, participants exchanged hugs, words of thanks, farewells and made promises to keep in touch on Facebook or see each other at future conferences.

One participant said he couldn’t think of a better way to have spent his summer than his experience at NIMBioS.

NIMBioS’ highly competitive program accepted 18 students and two high school teachers from around the country. Several of the teams also gained some media experience along the way when they were interviewed about their research on local television and in the local newspaper.

The full set of photos can be viewed here.

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Summer Research STEM Symposium Largest Ever

NIMBioS SRE's Fanguyan Hong, Michelle Cruz, Brittany Boribong and Nikki Rooks amid posters at the STEM Symposium

(From left:) NIMBioS SRE’s Fangyuan Hong, Michelle Cruz, Brittany Boribong and Nikki Rooks at STEM Symposium Poster Session

Last week’s STEM Symposium for undergraduates, teachers and young scholars conducting summer research at the University of Tennessee featured a total of 53 projects, an all-time high for the event now in its third year. NIMBioS collaborates with three other NSF-supported research centers (CURENT, TNSCORE and NICS) on the UT campus to showcase the work of participants in their summer research programs. The result is a large combined poster session where students get to see and share their work with peers and the campus community. Many UT faculty showed up to encourage and recruit students for graduate programs or undergraduate jobs in their labs.

NIMBioS SRE‘s presented in groups on their six different summer projects. For some, it was the first time they had ever created a research poster and their excitement was visible when the posters arrived from the printer. The SRE continues, wrapping up Aug. 1 with student oral presentations at NIMBioS.

Some of the Symposium’s excitement was captured in this video from UT’s Office of Research.

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SRE Undergrads In Media Spotlight

Kelly Moran on camera

Kelly Moran on camera

Ben Roberson on camera

Ben Roberson on camera

Marina Massaro on camera

Marina Massaro on camera

(Updated: Aug. 1, 2014) Research examining facial expression of emotion and research examining the social complexity of Argentine ants — both projects of NIMBioS’ Summer Research Experiences program, were featured in the news recently, and the undergrads working on the projects had the full media experience.

Marina Massaro (Mathematics, SUNY Geneseo); Kelly Moran (Mathematics, Clemson Univ.); and Ben Roberson (Computer Science, UT-Knoxville) were each interviewed on camera, as were their project mentors, psychology professor Jeff Larsen and math professor Chuck Collins, for the facial expressions project.

All three local television news stations as well as the Knoxville News Sentinel attended the event held at Larsen’s pscyhology lab where reporters were able to view how computer software interprets someone’s facial expression while watching different films.

The goal of the project is to better understand how positive and negative emotions, and particularly mixed emotions, are expressed on the face. Understanding how emotions work helps us better understand the nature of human experience. In addition,

Students on the Argentine ant project on camera.

Students on the Argentine ant project on camera

answering questions about how people without psychiatric illness experience emotion can help us better understand emotional dysfunction associated with psychiatric illnesses including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The project was covered widely in local media. The print and broadcast stories included the following:




The Argentine ant project was also featured in local media. Nicole Rooks (Mathematics, Univ. of Tennessee, Chattanooga), John Marken (Mathematics, College of William & Mary), Brian Whyte (Ecology, SUNY Plattsburgh) along with their mentors, Keenan Mack and Matt Zefferman, were interviewed.

The research seeks to develop an agent-based model to explore how, where and over what timeframe large-scale cooperation within an Argentine ant supercolony could break down.

The following link takes you to media coverage on the local CBS affiliate, WBIR:





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Girls in Science Campers Quantify Smokies Stream Biodiversity

Tremont Girls in Science Campers tabulate their data on a dry erase board.

Tremont Girls in Science Campers tabulate their data on a dry erase board.

For the fifth year, the NIMBioS Education and Outreach Team headed to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont in June to help Girls in Science campers analyze stream biodiversity data using mathematical biology concepts.

During the week-long resident camp, the 24 girls, ages 12 to 15, worked in teams to collect data from two stream locations in the Smokies on type and the abundance of salamanders and stream invertebrates. Beforehand, the girls formed hypotheses for comparing biodiversity in the different streams. On the final day of the camp, Associate Director for Education & Outreach Suzanne Lenhart and Education & Outreach Coordinator Kelly Sturner taught the girls about the exciting world of mathematical biology and how to analyze and interpret their collected data using Simpson’s Index of Biodiversity.

Girls work in teams to analyze their biodiversity data.

Girls work in teams to analyze their biodiversity data.

NIMBioS returns to Tremont every year to help, but this year’s camp was particularly exciting. One innovation was that the girls had been working on research projects of their own design that lasted throughout the week, working as real young scientists. The other was the greater age range of the students: 12 to 15, instead of 12 and 13 year olds, which made for a more exciting dynamic where the older girls assisted their younger teammates. “I love math!” exclaimed one participant, giving Sturner a high-five. A heart-warming card arrived in the mail at NIMBioS a week later, signed by all the girls, who wrote, “Thank you for teaching us how to analyze our data!”

A second camp takes place July 28-Aug 2, and there may still be room! Contact Tremont today to inquire and sign up your girl, or keep it in mind for next summer.

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