Congratulations to Dr. Brothers!

NIMBioS Associate Director for Diversity Enhancement Ernest Brothers has been elected president of the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools.


Dr. Ernest Brothers

Brothers is the associate dean of UT’s Graduate School, director of the Office of Graduate Training and Mentorship, and adjunct assistant professor in political science.

As president-elect, Brothers will advise the CSGS president and executive committee on matters pertaining to the next annual meeting, when he will assume the presidency.

CSGS is composed of public and private institutions in the southern region of the United States that grant master’s degrees and doctorates. The organization promotes the exchange of ideas and best practices in graduate education and research and maintains a close liaison with the Council of Graduate Schools, the premier national organization supporting the advancement of graduate education.

NIMBioS’ chief goal is to enhance the cadre of researchers capable of interdisciplinary efforts across mathematics and biology. In so doing, NIMBioS is committed to promoting diversity in all its activities. Diversity is considered in all its aspects, social and scientific, including gender, ethnicity, scientific field, career stage, geography and type of home institution. Read more about our STEM diversity enhancement activities at

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Teachers Explore Local Fossils with Paleontologists

Tennessee teachers inspect and categorize fossils at the Darwin Day Teacher Workshop

Tennessee teachers inspect and categorize fossils at the Darwin Day Teacher Workshop

Fossils and paleontology were the special topics this year for an exciting teacher workshop hosted at NIMBioS, the final event for Darwin Day Tennessee festivities. Lesson plans for K-12 on local fossils, developed by paleontologist Alycia Stigall of Ohio State University, were featured at the event. Thirteen Tennessee teachers attended, including a group that road tripped from three hours away. The workshop was planned and organized by UT paleontology graduate students Jen Bauer and Sarah Sheffield, and many volunteers helped on the day by demonstrating lesson plans and interacting with participants. Teachers took home many goodies: lesson plans, HHMI and NCSE materials on teaching evolutionary topics, and free fossil kits of donated local fossils that were assembled by the organizers.

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You’re Invited to Celebrate Darwin!

DarwinBirthday3Today marks the kick-off of the annual Darwin Day festivities at UT, a month-long celebration all things Darwin (and Wallace). Festivities kick off this evening with the giant Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace puppets. Look for them on Market Square and other spots in downtown Knoxville.

UT’s Darwin Day, established in 1997, is one of the oldest student-run Darwin Day organizations in the world. An international celebration, Darwin Day is used to promote the understanding of evolution and its importance as a unifying concept in biology.

Once again, NIMBioS is co-sponsoring the activities, which include lectures, a cake contest, a daily information booth on UT’s Pedestrian Walkway, and a birthday party for Darwin on Feb. 12 at McClung Museum. He will be 207 years old.

To mark this year’s theme of paleontology, Neil Shubin, best-selling author of Your Inner Fish, will give the keynote address at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 11, in Cox Memorial Auditorium. The world-renowned paleontologist will discuss our 3.5-billion-year journey of evolution on earth and how humans came to be. Shubin will sign books after the discussion.

Specific NIMBioS-related activities include a lecture, “Breathing Life into Fossils: Living Fishes and Salamanders Provide Clues to the Evolutionary Invasion of Land,” given at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 10 by NIMBioS postdoctoral fellow Sandy Kawano, as well as a teacher workshop on Saturday, Feb. 13 at NIMBioS to provide local teachers with new tips and techniques for teaching evolution.

For a complete schedule of events, visit the Darwin Day website.



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Simon Levin Wins National Medal of Science

National Medal of Science recipient Simon Levin delivers a lecture to NIMBioS postdocs.

National Medal of Science recipient Simon Levin delivers a lecture to NIMBioS postdocs.

Congratulations to Simon Levin who has been awarded the National Medal of Science for his work unraveling ecological complexity using observational data and mathematical modeling.

Levin is Princeton University’s George M. Moffett Professor of Biology and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Levin visited NIMBioS in 2012 to meet with postdocs and gave a seminar as a Postdoctoral Fellows Invited Distinguished Visitor. His topic was “Evolutionary perspectives on discounting, public goods and collective behavior.” 

Levin’s research focuses on complexity, particularly how large-scale patterns — such as at the ecosystem level — are maintained by small-scale behavioral and evolutionary factors at the level of individual organisms. With research topics primarily related to ecology, other topics Levin has analyzed include conservation, financial and economic systems, and the dynamics of infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance.

“Simon has made so many outstanding scientific contributions. It is great to see him receiving recognition that he so richly deserves,” said Paul Armsworth, NIMBioS associate director for postdoctoral activities. “As well as his numerous important research contributions, Simon has been a tremendous champion for, and supporter of, mathematical biology at large, and of the NIMBioS community in particular.”

Levin will be honored at a White House ceremony along with eight fellow Medal of Science recipients and eight recipients of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

The National Medal of Science was created by statute in 1959 and is administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation. Awarded annually, the Medal recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering. According to the award announcement, the President receives nominations from a committee of Presidential appointees based on their extraordinary knowledge in and contributions to chemistry, engineering, computing, mathematics, and the biological, behavioral/social, and physical sciences.

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NIMBioS Collaboration Targets HIV Infection

HIV-virus-WEBResearch arising from a recent collaboration with a short-term visitor to NIMBioS and one of our senior personnel members has resulted in a publication in PLOS Computational Biology that investigates immune response to HIV infection.

“Broad CTL Response in Early HIV Infection Drives Multiple Concurrent CTL Escapes” was the result of research by Sivan Leviyang (Mathematics and Statistics, Georgetown Univ) and Vitaly Ganusov (Microbiology, Univ. of Tennessee).

Through an analysis of patient datasets and a novel statistical method, the study aids understanding of the role of cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) in HIV infection. During HIV infection, CTLs identify and target HIV-infected cells by recognizing parts of viral proteins called epitopes. Yet, due to HIV’s rapid replication, the virus may also accumulate mutations, which reduce CTLs’ effectiveness in recognizing infected cells. Such mutations, referred to as CTL escape, are a major problem in the development of an effective vaccine.

Studies in the last decade have shown that CTL responses concurrently target multiple HIV epitopes, yet the effect on HIV dynamics and evolution is not well understood. The new study revisits these questions, and with a re-analysis of the escape data, finds that a vaccine that induces a broad CTL response targeting multiple viral epitopes should limit viral escape and provide control of HIV infection.

The paper can be found at

Citation: Leviyang S, Ganusov VV (2015) Broad CTL Response in Early HIV Infection Drives Multiple Concurrent CTL Escapes. PLoS Comput Biol 11(10):e1004492. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004492


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2015 NIMBioS Undergraduate Conference Attendance Tops 100

The graduate school and career advice panelists speaking to a packed room.

The graduate school and career advice panelists spoke to a packed room at the 7th Annual NIMBioS Undergraduate Research Conference at the Interface of Mathematics and Biology.

With topics ranging from modeling an Ebola outbreak to studies of pathogenic genetic mutations, the seventh annual Undergraduate Research Conference at the Interface of Mathematics and Biology was a success with more than 130 undergraduates and faculty participating. More than 50 presentations — talks and posters — were given by student researchers from all over the country, and many of the projects were presented by interdisciplinary student teams.

While new participants come every year, there are also those that love to return again and again. Richard Schugart, an associate professor of mathematics from Western Kentucky University and currently on sabbatical at NIMBioS, observed that he has attended and brought students to the conference every year since it began in 2009.

Maria Siopsis, an associate professor of mathematics at Maryville College, explained that one reason she returns is because it gives her many ideas for examples she use with her students.

University of Tennessee Associate Professor of Ecology and NIMBioS Associate Director for Postdoctoral Activities Paul Armsworth finds the conference a great venue for recruiting top graduate students. Several successful students currently in his department were conference participants at one time.

The program included keynote and featured talks, a graduate school showcase, and a career and graduate school panel. Keynote speaker Robert Smith? from the University of Ottawa spoke about “Neglected Tropical Diseases and the Next Disease to be Eradicated.” A humorous talk on the second day by Smith? engaged students in how to model a zombie outbreak using the same mathematics one might use for other kinds of epidemics.

Later, featured speaker Rachel Lenhart, a medical student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spoke about her use of computational approaches to help surgeons better understand and refine their treatment of children with motor disabilities.

The photos say it all! Check out our Flickr photo album from the conference. Also, a steady stream of tweets from the conference provide some great highlights.

Make sure to save the date for next year’s conference: Oct. 8-9, 2016!

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SRE Students Win Award for ComFlo

(From L to R) College students Ashish Gauli, Nathan Wikle and Ryan Yan have developed a website tool to help in the fight against invasive species.

(From L to R) College students Ashish Gauli, Nathan Wikle and Ryan Yan have developed a website tool to help in the fight against invasive species.

Congratulations to Ashish Gauli, Nathan Wikle and Ryan Yan — the three undergraduate students who developed mapping tool ComFlo as a part of their 2015 Summer Research Experience at NIMBioS. The team has been invited to attend the NatureServe EcoInformatics Workshop in Washington, DC, in December.

An interactive website that can be used to visualize the domestic transport of most common commodities in the United States, ComFlo’s chief purpose is to help users track the potential spread of invasive species via shipping routes.

The team entered the tool, integrated with an invasion simulation model, in the student competition to attend the workshop, “Promoting Synergy in the Innovative Use of Environmental Data,” which is co-sponsored by NatureServe and the US Geological Survey with funding from the National Science Foundation. According to the workshop website, the workshop aims “to identify areas of collaboration within the Federal Government and among relevant private sector organizations in advanced uses of environmental data applied to forecasting and decision-making for the sustainability of biodiversity and ecosystem services.”

Each of the students wins a $1,000 travel award as a part of the competition.

ComFlo was as a product of the students’ research on the SRE project, “Ships, Ports, Invasions and Math: Invasive Species Movements through Global Shipping Routes,” with faculty mentors Louis Gross and Dan Simberloff.

As the students began working on their summer project, they discovered there wasn’t a good tool to help visualize the network, so they set out to create it themselves.

“We were really motivated by the fact that we hadn’t found a tool that visualized the data,” said co-developer Gauli, a computer science major at Fisk University. “We really wanted something that was a web-based interactive system where users can change what they want to visualize and drill down big data to the individual level shipping information.”

Wikle attends Truman State University and Yan attends the College of William and Mary.

The eight-week SRE program last summer included 15 undergraduates and two high school teachers who worked in teams with faculty mentors on five different modeling projects. For full details on NIMBioS’ summer research program, visit

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Lenhart Receives Lorayne Lester Award


Suzanne Lenhart, Associate Director for Education and Outreach

Congratulations to NIMBioS Associate Director for Education and Outreach Suzanne Lenhart who has received the Lorayne W. Lester Award for 2015 from UTK’s College of Arts and Sciences. The purpose of the annual award is to recognize a faculty member who has demonstrated outstanding service to UTK, the College of Arts and Sciences, and its constituencies locally, statewide and nationally. A mathematics professor at UTK, Lenhart will receive a $1,000 award and plaque. A reception and dinner will be held in Lenhart’s honor on Dec. 1 at the Holiday Inn on the World’s Fair Park.


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Bishop Joins NIMBioS Leadership Team

Dr. Pamela Bishop Associate Director for STEM Education

Dr. Pamela Bishop
Associate Director for STEM Education

NIMBioS is pleased to announce the promotion of Dr. Pamela Bishop to Associate Director for STEM Evaluation.

A new offering at NIMBioS this year, NIMBioS Evaluation Services is geared toward providing external evaluation services to the STEM research and education sector, particularly interdisciplinary programs. Offering independent, rigorous and transparent formative and summative evaluation services specifically targeted toward the program goals, the NIMBioS evaluation team is led by Bishop and includes graduate research assistant Lakmal Walpitage and database specialist Ana Richters. A postdoctoral fellowship in evaluation services has also been created.

NIMBioS uses a Context, Input, Process, Product (CIPP) systems-based model for evaluation. The CIPP approach considers the organization as a whole, assessing the quality and significance of outcomes while still examining the inputs and processes that lead to these outcomes. The approach incorporates new research methods, such as bibliometrics, network analysis, and mapping of scientific output.

The team has already undertaken several projects, including landing a $299,990 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a new tool to assess student learning in mathematics.

“Rigorous evaluation of new approaches in the training of the current and the next-generation of academic students is critical for advancement of student learning in science, technology, and mathematics, and for guiding how to promote interdisciplinarity across these fields. We are fortunate to do this under the considerable expertise and guidance of Pam Bishop,” said NIMBioS Director Colleen Jonsson.

Formerly NIMBioS Evaluation Manager, Bishop has been leading NIMBioS’ evaluation efforts since the institute was established in 2008. In addition to joining the NIMBioS leadership team, Bishop has been appointed adjunct professor in Evaluation, Statistics, and Measurement Program in UTK’s Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling.

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NIMBioS Workshop Inspires New Theme Issue

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 9.48.29 AM

new theme issue published this week in Philosophical Transactions B was inspired in part by the recent NIMBioS Workshop on Evolution and Warfare.

“Solving the puzzle of collective action through inter-individual differences: evidence from primates and humans” is compiled and edited by Luke Glowacki, Sergey Gavrilets and Chris von Ruedenheon. Glowacki and Gavrilets co-organized the workshop.

The papers contributed to the theme issue evaluate how individual differences affect the propensity to cooperate and how differences can catalyze others’ likelihood of cooperation, the editors write in the introduction.

“All together, the papers in this theme issue provide a more complete picture of collective action, by embracing the reality of inter-individual variation and its multiple roles in the success or failure of collective action,” the editors explain.

Included are papers emphasizing the relationship between individual decisions and socio-ecological context, particularly the effect of group size.

A number of papers are related to the topics of the NIMBioS workshop held in September.

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