New NIMBioS Postdocs Announced


(Clockwise from top left): Angie Peace, Jake Ferguson, Elizabeth Hobson, Ioannis Sgouralis, Suzanne O’Regan, Sandy Kawano

Congratulations to the newly selected NIMBioS postdoctoral fellows arriving this summer.

Jake Ferguson is currently a doctoral student in biology at the Univ. of Florida. Ferguson’s project at NIMBioS will be to model the role of seasonality of ecological populations.

Elizabeth Hobson received her Ph.D. in biology at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, last year. Hobson’s project at NIMBioS is to integrate methods related to the evolution of social complexity across taxa.

Sandy Kawano is a doctoral student in biological sciences at Clemson Univ. At NIMBioS, Kawano plans to conduct a quantitative synthesis on the measurement of phenotypic selection.

Suzanne O’Regan received a Ph.D. in applied mathematics in 2011 at the Univ. College Cork, Ireland. She is currently a postdoctoral research associate at the Odum School of Ecology at the Univ. of Georgia. At NIMBioS, O’Regan plans to develop a mathematical framework for elucidating the impact of environmental drivers on the incidence of emerging and re-emerging pathogens.

Angela Peace is a doctoral student in applied mathematics at Arizona State Univ. At NIMBioS, Peace will study stoichiometric food web models and how food quality affects population structures.

Ioannis “John” Sgouralis is a doctoral student in mathematics at Duke Univ. Sgouralis’ project at NIMBioS is to model dynamic renal autoregulation at the organ level.

NIMBioS postdoctoral fellowships are for two years. Requests for NIMBioS support for postdoctoral fellows are considered two times per year, with deadlines on September 1 and December 11. The deadline for Fellowships that start in summer/fall 2015 is September 1, 2014.

NIMBioS current supports 13 postdoctoral fellows.

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Prizes for Young Scientists: Mold Growth and an App Predicting Seizures

Projects at the 2014 Southern Appalachian Science & Engineering Festival held at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Projects at the 2014 Southern Appalachian Science & Engineering Festival held at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Congratulations to this year’s winners of the Junior and Senior NIMBioS Prizes for Research at the Interface of Mathematics and Biology, presented annually at the Southern Appalachian Science Engineering Fair, held at the Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Junior prize winner Michael Stapleton's project

Junior prize winner Michael Stapleton’s project

This year’s Junior Prize went to 6th grader Michael Stapleton of St. John Neumann Catholic School (Teacher: Brett Shaffer) for his project, “How Does Mold Prefer to Eat Your Food?” Stapleton answered the question with a carefully designed quantitative experiment with multiple variables and replication, including careful analysis and graphical representation of the growing percentage of area the mold covered of slices of bread over time.

The Senior Prize is shared by the team of high school seniors Maria D’Azevedo and William Mason of Oak Ridge High School (Teacher: Tammy Carneim) for their project, “Predicting Epileptic Seizures Using an Android Application.” D’Azevedo and Mason took an existing desktop computer program that predicts when someone with epilepsy is about to have a seizure and converted it to work on an Android phone. They faced the challenge of scaling down this program to work with a device with less memory, but showed promising results.

Senior NIMBioS prize winners Maria D'Azevedo and William Mason's project

Senior NIMBioS prize winners Maria D’Azevedo and William Mason’s project

NIMBioS sponsors the prizes for young scientists doing research on a biological question using mathematical methods who present at this regional fair. The prize consists of an award of $50 (Senior) or $25 (Junior), a certificate and a letter acknowledging the accomplishment. NIMBioS graduate assistants Jeremy Auerbach and Austin Milt assisted as judges.

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Posted in awards, Computing, Education/Outreach, GRAs, high school, Middle School, STEM | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Women in Math Focus of Workshop

womeninmathWomen comprise less than a quarter of the STEM workforce in the US, and they are most likely to leave those jobs compared to men. The story is not much different on the nation’s campuses, where more than half of STEM PhD holders are employed in nonacademic positions, according to a study released this month from American Institutes for Research.

But the good news for mathematics/statistics PhD holders is that a majority (61%) are working in academia, the most of those with other STEM PhDs.

The unique challenges of women in the mathematical and statistical sciences will be the focus next week at NIMBioS as some of the nation’s top academics and professionals in math and statistics gather for a three-day workshop to empower early career professionals.

The Opportunities Workshop for Women in the Mathematical Sciences aims to familiarize women in the early stages of their careers with professional opportunities in academics, industry and government labs and help them to thrive in mathematics-related fields. Speakers, panelists and discussion leaders will be women in research and management positions in industry and government labs as well as women in academia.

Co-sponsored by NIMBioS, the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute, the NSF Mathematical Sciences Diversity Committee, and the Association for Women in Mathematics, the workshop will feature four panel discussions plus eight academic talks by women who earned degrees in pure or applied mathematics or statistics. The panel discussions will focus on grant writing, different types of academic jobs, tenure, and industry and government careers. Breakout groups on job searching and early career issues, a presentation on how to network and a poster session will also be held.

Dr. Nicole Else-Quest (Pyschology, Univ of Maryland, Baltimore) will give the keynote address, “Attitudes, Not Aptitude: Understanding the Roots of Gender Gaps,” at 4 p.m. in the Shiloh Room at UTK’s University Center. The talk is open to the public.

While registration for the workshop is now closed, much of the event’s proceedings can be accessed live at

For more information, including the complete agenda and participant list, visit


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Poverty and Disease Explored in Essay

Calistus Ngonghala

Calistus Ngonghala

Former postdoctoral fellow Calistus Ngonghala’s essay examining poverty and disease is featured this week in PLOS Biology. Ngonghala and his co-authors explore how coupled models of ecology and economic growth can provide key insights into factors driving the formation and persistence of poverty traps.

To illustrate the method, the essay presents a simple coupled model of infectious disease and economic growth, which ties capital accumulation to ecological processes. In the model, poverty traps emerge from nonlinear relationships, which are determined by the number of pathogens in the system. The model shows that a system of coupled economic growth and epidemiological dynamics can change underlying equilibrium income and disease phenomena and can generate stability.

The work was begun when Ngonghala was at NIMBioS from August 2011 to September 2013. He is now a research fellow in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Citation: Ngonghala CN et al. 2014. Poverty, disease and the ecology of complex systems. PLOS Biology. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001827

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NIMBioS and University of Tennessee to Exhibit at ‘Superbowl of STEM’ in DC

University of Tennessee lab manager Courtney Patterson builds a giant paper mache mushroom for the "Fungus Among US" booth.

University of Tennessee lab manager Courtney Patterson builds a giant paper mache mushroom for the “Fungus Among US” booth.

NIMBioS and the University of Tennessee hopes to inspire the next generation of innovators at the 3rd USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo and Book Fair, to be held April 26-27 in Washington, DC.

The Festival Expo, which takes place from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. each day at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, is a free, family-friendly event that allows kids and adults to participate in more than 3,000 hands-on activities and see more than 100 live stage performances. The event is the grand finale of the Festival’s year-long science celebration.

Taking the entire convention center, the Festival Expo will also have a Career Pavilion, Book Fair—complete with signings by well-known science authors, and multiple competitions such as EPA P3’s sustainability challenge. In all, the Festival, which is hosted by founding and presenting sponsor Lockheed Martin, expects more than 250,000 people to participate.

NIMBioS and UT’s Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Department will collaborate to host a fun, hands-on booth, “Fungus Among Us,” to teach the benefits of fungi. Kids will pretend to be plants exploring the soil, with or without helpful fungi that make getting vital nutrients easier, and the results of timed trials will be graphed. Older kids and families visiting the booth will learn how mathematical models can help us understand how ecosystems work.

“We’ll show thousands of kids and families the exciting things you can discover about the natural world using mathematical thinking,” said Kelly Sturner, NIMBioS Education & Outreach Coordinator, who will help run the booth.

Also helping with the booth will be Courtney Patterson, EEB’s Ecosystems Ecology Lab Manager, and Nora Dunkirk and Brandy Pieper, two seniors majoring in biology.

The Festival features science celebrities, explorers, astronauts, athletes, authors, and experts in fields like robotics, genomics, medicine, advanced manufacturing, and even 3D printing. Participating celebrities include:
•    Dirty Job’s Mike Rowe (Discovery Channel)
•    Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
•    Bill Nye the Science Guy
•    Grammy Award-Winners “They Might Be Giants”
•    Author and Illustrator David Macaulay
•    Author and Actress (Wonder Years) Danica McKeller
•    Miss California Crystal Lee (Stanford grad, Miss USA Runner Up, and STEM advocate)
•    Design Squad’s Nate Bell (PBS)
•    Illusionist Apollo Robbins
•    Stuck with Hackett’s Chris Hackett (Science Channel)
•    “Super Woman of Big-Wave Surfing” Maya Gabeira
•    MoneyBall’s Paul Depodesta
•    Cast and crew from TV Shows like Big Bang Theory, House and Breaking Bad

Among its themes this year is a focus on encouraging diversity in STEM careers. Also with more than three million unfilled jobs that require STEM experience, the event is highlighting skills based and “do-it-yourself” professions to emphasize the dire need for skilled workers. In addition, the Festival is showcasing new technologies and their applications.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Larry Bock and Lockheed Martin Chief Technology Officer Ray O’ Johnson to address the severe shortage in science and tech talent, the USA Science & Engineering Festival is the nation’s largest science festival and was developed to ignite the next generation’s interest in considering careers in science and engineering. In recognition of the Festival’s role in making STEM a national priority, Congress recently designated the last week in April as “National Science Week” and made the Festival a focal point.

“Science is amazing…that’s our message to kids and adults attending the Festival. Staying competitive as a nation means we have to encourage more kids to think about careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). What better way to capture their imaginations than gathering the rock stars of science in one place and providing activities they can really do?” explained Larry Bock, Festival co-founder.

To learn more, visit or watch the video at

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Lend Your Ears to the Sounds of Howls

wolfAttention scientists and citizen scientists! NIMBioS is supporting a new project that aims to source the crowd for help in analyzing thousands of howls from wolves, coyotes, dogs and other canid species.

At the new Canid Howl Project website, volunteers will listen to a canid howl while viewing a spectogram image of it. Participants are then asked to “mark the howl” by clicking and drawing a line to indicate the howl’s contours in the spectogram.

The website contains thousands of spectograms and howls, so participants can mark as many as they want.

Despite being closely related, canid species have very different ways of communicating with various sounds, including howls, barks, yips and growls. By studying vocal behavior, scientists hope to understand more about the whole range of canid species and breeds, said NIMBioS postdoctoral fellow Arik Kershenbaum, who created the site. 

As there are thousands of sounds to analyze, Kershenbaum and his fellow collaborators at the project hope to enlist the help of volunteers.

“Analyzing these recordings is difficult and time consuming. It’s easy to make mistakes, and mistakes can change the conclusions that we draw. By having hundreds, even thousands, of volunteers giving their own analysis of the canid howls, any one mistake is unlikely to change the overall interpretation. The volunteers’ efforts will help us better to understand canid social behavior and conserve these species,” he said.

The goal is to determine exactly how the animals vary the pitch of their howls in time, relative to other animals that are howling at the same time, which can shed light on the meaning of the howls, such as for marking territory or for hunting. Thus, participants will measure all the pitch variations they see in the spectogram.

Humans are actually better at analyzing the sounds than computers, according to Kershenbaum. “Humans are especially skilled at finding patterns in pictures, better in fact than a computer algorithm,” he said.

Kershenbaum and his collaborators will use the analyses to convert the lines drawn by users into time and frequency data to determine exactly what sounds the animals are making.

Another way that volunteers can participate in the project is by donating their own recordings of howls from domestic dogs.



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Congratulations to SRE 2014 Undergrads and Teachers!

2013 SRE participant is interviewed about her research by the media.

A 2013 SRE participant is interviewed about her research by the media.

NIMBioS is pleased to announce the 20 participants selected for the 2014 Summer Research Experience (SRE) for undergraduates and teachers program. The program will run for eight weeks this summer from June 9-August 1. Participants will come from all over the country to work in teams with NIMBioS postdocs and UT faculty on research at the interface of mathematics and biology. To read more about this year’s SRE projects and participating mentors, click here. The roster for this year’s class of SRE participants is as follows:

Undergraduates (with their majors and institutions)

  • Vivian Anyaeche (Biology, Fisk University)
  • Brittany Boribong (Biomathematics, University of Scranton)
  • Michelle Cruz (Biotechnology, California State University-San Marcos)
  • Veronica Go (Biochemistry and Statistics, University of Tennessee-Knoxville)
  • Winode Handagama (Biochemistry, Maryville College)
  • Fangyuan Hong (Mathematics and Environmental Studies, Mount Holyoke College)
  • Tashika James (Biology, LeMoyne Owen College)
  • Nitin Krishna (Mathematics, Western Kentucky University)
  • Taylor Kuramoto (Mathematics, Augsburg College)
  • John Marken (Mathematics, College of William & Mary)
  • Marina Massaro (Mathematics, State University of New York at Geneseo)
  • Margaret McDaniel (Mathematics and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, University of Tennessee-Knoxville)
  • Kelly Moran (Mathematics (Biology Concentration), Clemson University)
  • Taylor Nelson (Environmental Science, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)
  • Nicole Rooks (Mathematics, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga)
  • John Shamshoian (Mathematics, California Polytechnic State University)
  • Brian Whyte (Ecology, State University of New York at Plattsburgh)
  • Benjamin Roberson (Computer Science, University of Tennessee-Knoxville)

Teachers (with their subject area and school)

  • Megan Comer (Chemistry, Campbell County High School)
  • Rebecca McDowell (Mathematics, West High School)
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NIMBioS Director Tapped to Lead National STEM Education Effort

Louis Gross NIMBioS Director

Louis Gross
NIMBioS Director

Congratulations to NIMBioS Director Louis Gross who will lead the Biology Ideas Lab for the National Science Foundation, March 30-April 4, in Leesburg, Va.

Three five-day NSF Ideas Labs —one for biology, one for engineering and one for geosciences—are being held this month through April 4 in the Washington, D.C., area. Each lab involves participants from various disciplines and backgrounds, as well as prospective employers and representatives of scientific and professional societies. The goals of the labs are to incubate innovative approaches to improve undergraduate STEM education and produce research agendas that address workforce development needs.

“A well-prepared and innovative STEM workforce is critical to our nation’s health and economy,” said Gross, also a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and mathematics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “NSF’s priorities of educating students to become leaders and innovators in STEM fields and of encouraging the public to be scientifically literate depend on the quality of undergraduate education.”

The biology lab aims to improve quantitative and computational skill sets of the future biological science workforce. The engineering lab will look at ways to develop a more diverse workforce. The geosciences lab seeks to improve access to related education.

“These labs will be intensive, engaging and free-thinking so that the participants are able to fully immerse themselves in the dialogue in order to come up with novel and bold approaches,” said Gross, whose role as director will be to help define topics and aid discussions at the event.



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Posted in awards, Leadership, STEM | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Postdoc Puppeteers: NIMBioS Supports Darwin Day 2014

Greetings from Knoxville! NIMBioS postdocs Clemente Aguilar (left) and Jiang Jiang (right) assume Wallace and Darwin disguises.

Greetings from Knoxville! NIMBioS postdocs Clemente Aguilar (left) and Jiang Jiang (right) cleverly disguised as Wallace and Darwin.

NIMBioS postdocs Clemente Aguilar and Jiang Jiang (pictured incognito, left to right) donned Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace costumes and braved the frigid temperatures on Market Square in Knoxville on Friday to celebrate Darwin Day.

The life-sized puppets were just one of the many activities that NIMBioS helped support as a part of the annual “Darwin Day” celebrations at UTK, which began Jan. 24 and run until Darwin’s birthday on Feb. 12. An international celebration, Darwin Day is used as an opportunity for education and outreach activities in evolutionary biology. Established in 1997, UTK boasts one of the oldest student-run Darwin Day organizations in the world. The theme of this year’s Darwin Day centers on Wallace, Darwin’s colleague known as the “father of biogeography” who independently conceived the theory of evolution through natural selection but who was overshadowed by the more well-known Darwin.

Teachers learn evolution lessons from Biology in a Box at the Darwin Day Teacher Workshop.

Teachers learn evolution lessons from Biology in a Box at the Darwin Day Teacher Workshop.

NIMBioS also co-hosted the Darwin Day Teacher Workshop on Saturday, Feb. 8 at NIMBioS, which provided local teachers with new tips and techniques for teaching evolution. Middle and high school teachers as well as teaching staff from local university and community colleges participated. Co-sponsored by UT’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department, the workshop included Biology in a Box activities, teacher discussion, resource sharing, as well as lunch and door prizes.

Postdoc Nick Matzke meets William Jennings Bryan.

Postdoc Nick Matzke meets William Jennings Bryan during the Darwin Day visit to Dayton, TN.

Other NIMBioS postdocs have lent their expertise to Darwin Day activities. Jeremy Beaulieu will lead a Q&A on evolution tomorrow, which will be televised campus-wide from 5 – 6 p.m. on the Freethought Forum (Comcast channel 12, Charter channel 6, live streaming at: ).

On Saturday, Jan. 25, postdoc Nick Matzke, a former communications director for the National Center for Science Education, led a tour of the historic Dayton, TN courthouse that was the site of the infamous Scopes trail. Matzke also presented a talk at the Teacher Workshop about defending teaching of evolution in schools.

For more information, including a complete schedule of events, visit the event’s website.

[Updated 2/10/14 @14:48 p.m. -- Beaulieu's Q&A has been canceled.]

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Biology in a Box Aligned to Mathematics Common Core

In the "Of Skulls and Teeth" unit, there are many activities involving the counting, classifying and measuring of different aspects of animal skulls, including teeth, in order to better understand the adaptations of organisms.

In the “Of Skulls and Teeth” unit, there are many activities involving the counting, classifying and measuring of different aspects of animal skulls, including teeth, in order to better understand the adaptations of organisms.

Teachers of K-12 looking for hands-on, memorable enrichment activities for teaching the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics need look no further — the alignment for Biology in a Box is now complete and published online.

Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories have adopted the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM). The effort to draft new K-12 curriculum standards in both mathematics and language arts was led through the cooperation of many state government agencies, including the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. As the CCSSM emphasizes mathematical practice skills of problem solving, critical thinking and modeling, many of the quantitative, inquiry-based activities in Biology in a Box give students opportunities to apply their mathematical thinking skills to scientific questions. Activities involving probability and statistics are also found in the boxes, with applications to genetics in the “It’s in Your Genes” unit and to visualizing and quantifying variation found in nature in the “Everything Varies” unit.

In this example of possible student work from the "Of Skulls and Teeth" unit, the objective is to use graphing skills and calculating proportions to visualize the distribution of teeth types in different organisms.

In this example of possible student work from the “Of Skulls and Teeth” unit, the objective is to use graphing skills and calculating proportions to visualize the distribution of teeth types in different organisms.

The effort to incorporate quantitative activities into Biology in a Box began when NIMBioS began collaborating with the long-running University of Tennessee outreach program in 2009. Since then, all 10 units on themes ranging from “Fossils” to “Behavior” have been revised to incorporate quantitative thinking, aligned to the then-current Tennessee math standards. During the 2013-2014 school year, Tennessee is finishing a full transition to the CCSSM. VolsTeach undergraduate intern Kelsey Bratton recently completed the project to update the Biology in a Box standards alignment to the Common Core. We are excited that this means the activities can more easily be integrated into math classrooms throughout the country.

All Biology in a Box activity books are freely available online. Currently the boxes with materials are in over 90 school systems in the state of Tennessee as well as several surrounding states.

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Posted in Education/Outreach, Elementary School, high school, Middle School, STEM | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments