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 http://nimbios.org/sre/sre2014.

 

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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

postdoccollage

(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 http://www.nimbios.org/videos/livestream.

For more information, including the complete agenda and participant list, visit http://www.nimbios.org/education/WS_opportunities

 

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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 www.USAScienceFestival.org or watch the video at www.usasciencefestival.org/festival-highlight-video.

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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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