NIMBioS, UT researchers publish in top journal

journal_cover201407_v1A study on marine viruses and their implication for marine biogeochemical cycles by a group of NIMBioS- and UT-associated researchers has been published in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.

The researchers used a biophysical scaling model of intact virus particles to quantify differences in the elemental stoichiometry of marine viruses compared with their microbial hosts. They proposed that, under certain circumstances, marine virus populations could make a previously unrecognized and important contribution to the reservoir and cycling of oceanic phosphorus.

The analyses enable quantitative predictions about the elemental content of virus particles of different sizes and could be useful in evaluating the quantitative role that marine viruses play in the storage and recycling of dissolved organic carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. According to the study, viruses are predicted to be enriched in phosphorus to such a degree that the total phosphorus content in a burst of released viruses may approach that of the phosphorus content in an uninfected host.

The particle-scale estimates can be extrapolated to ecosystem scales using marine virus survey data. In addition, the researchers hypothesize that the findings could be applied to marine viruses in general, not just virus particles.

The team included scientists from the NIMBioS Working Group on Ocean Viral Dynamics, including Working Group Co-organizer Joshua Weitz, an associate professor biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, as well as NIMBioS Visiting Graduate Student Fellow Luis Jover, NIMBioS Associate Director for Graduate Education Alison Buchan, UT Professor of Microbiology Steven Wilhelm and T. Chad Effler, a UT undergraduate student in electrical engineering and computer science.

Citation: Jover LF, Effler TC, Buchan A, Wilhelm SW, Weitz JS. 2014. The elemental composition of virus particles: Implications for marine biogeochemical cycles. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 12: 519-528.

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Earl Talks Math Ecology to Fisk REU

Earl (white sweater, center) poses with FIsk REU students and mentors

NIMBioS postdoc Julia Earl (white sweater, center) poses with Fisk University REU students and mentors

NIMBioS postdoctoral fellow Julia Earl traveled to Nashville recently to present her work on movement ecology to undergraduates participating in Fisk University’s summer Research Experience for Undergraduates program. A rewarding experience, Earl said her talk, “Animals as ecosystem connectors: Does their movement path matter?” particularly grabbed one student, who later emailed Earl for the published paper on the model presented. “You have given me a glimmer of inspiration,” wrote the student who said that she had been looking for a research area to pursue. Earl’s visit was arranged through NIMBioS and Fisk University’s joint agreement to foster collaboration in areas of research, science and education. The partnerships’ primary goal is to cultivate a more diverse group of researchers capable of conducting research at the math/biology interface. NIMBioS has partnerships with five minority-serving institutions throughout the US.

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Fireflies, Modeling, Programming & More: NIMBioS SRE is Underway!

2014 NIMBioS SRE undergraduates and friends pose in the Smokies during a trip to see the synchronous fireflies.

2014 NIMBioS SRE undergraduates and friends pose in the Smokies during a trip to see the synchronous fireflies.

NIMBioS Summer Research Experiences (SRE) for Undergraduates and Teachers is in full swing with abundant opportunities for learning and play. During the first week participants were oriented to NIMBioS, learned about university library services, math modeling, collaborating, and programming. Students also met with their mentors to get rolling on their summer projects. There were also plenty of opportunities for fun, with games (the SET card game was a big hit), barbecues, pool parties, and what has now become an annual pilgrimage to see the famous synchronous fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The program continues this week with more programming instruction, an intro to 3D-printing, information on national scholarship opportunities, and a picnic and hike in the Smokies this weekend! For full details including a list of participants and their projects, visit


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Posted in Computing, ecology, Education/Outreach, hikes, research, REU/REV, SRE, Teachers, undergraduates | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Bender Receives Outstanding Undergraduate Poster Award

Nicole Bender

Nicole Bender

Congratulations to 2013 NIMBioS REU student Nicole Bender for receiving a 2014 Mathematical Association of America Outstanding Poster Award. Nicole, a senior at Marist College, presented her NIMBioS work “Automatic Detection of Rare Bird Species Using Neural Networks” at the Joint Mathematics Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland in January. Her poster was judged as outstanding based on both mathematical content and presentation. Over 300 undergraduate posters were presented during the session. The work used for the poster was completed for a project during the 2013 REU program. Arik Kershenbaum, NIMBioS postdoctoral fellow, advised the project.

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NIMBioS Helps Ignite Kids’ Interest in STEM at National Festival

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

What does math have to do with mushrooms? Hundreds of kids and their families found out by visiting the interactive NIMBioS and University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s “Fungus Among Us” booth at last month’s USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. Game playing, mushrooms studying, and computer modeling were on the agenda in addition to talking to scientists, students and educators. The main goal was to get people thinking about the importance of math and science in investigating how ecosystems function, all the while showing that science and math are fun. Over 300,000 people of all ages attended the public STEM outreach festival, which featured interactive booths, performances, book signings and more.

The NIMBioS-UT booth was designed and developed through collaboration between NIMBioS and the Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB) department at UT. Leading up to the event, EEB Ecosystem Ecology Lab Manager Courtney Patterson, NIMBioS Education & Outreach Coordinator Kelly Sturner, and EEB graduating seniors Nora Dunkirk and Brandy Pieper worked as a team to design and develop the booth and its message. The team at the festival even included an old friend of NIMBioS as well: former NIMBioS postdoc Sharon Bewick, now a postdoc at the University of Maryland, helped staff the booth.

“The event was a great experience for the students — and all of us — to think about the importance of science outreach and how to effectively communicate our message to a public audience,” said Sturner.

The team also shared its work with Tennessee legislators. The team visited the Capitol Hill office of Senator Bob Corker and spoke with legislative aide Mark White about science education and outreach. Daniel Hale, Legislative Correspondent for Agricultural, Energy & Environmental Policy for Senator Lamar Alexander, visited the festival booth to learn more about NIMBioS and the University of Tennessee’s outreach effort.

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Lenhart Earns Chancellor’s Honors

Suzanne Lenhart

Suzanne Lenhart

Congratulations to Dr. Suzanne Lenhart!

Lenhart has received the Excellence in Academic Outreach Chancellor Award for her accomplishments through the past academic year. Lenhart is NIMBioS Associate Director for Education and Outreach, as well as a mathematics professor and Chancellor’s Professor at UT.

Lenhart’s outreach efforts at NIMBioS have included a series of workshops for teachers and girls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; a summer camp focusing on STEM for middle school girls; Biology in a Box workshops for more than 80 Tennessee school systems; and variety of other programs, workshops and conferences for undergraduates and graduates.

Lenhart has also volunteered at middle and high schools in Knox County. As a MATHCOUNTS coach, she led her middle school math competition team to win Knoxville’s competition and place second in the state tournament.

In her nomination letter, NIMBioS Director Louis Gross wrote that Lenhart’s “persistent devotion” to giving more opportunities to students interested in STEM careers has “directly benefitted thousands of participants since NIMBioS has operated, and been a major contributor to the ongoing success of this institute.”

Full details about the award and the announcement from UT can be found here.

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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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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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