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:




Did you like this? Share it:
Posted in SRE, undergraduates | Tagged , | Comments Off

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.

Did you like this? Share it:
Posted in Education/Outreach, Middle School, STEM | Tagged , | Comments Off

Middle School Girls Have STEM Adventures!

Amy Elliott (center, red shirt) shows the girls a 3D printer that's large enough to print a human-sized chair.

Amy Elliott (center) shows the girls a 3D printer that’s large enough to print a human-sized chair.

In elementary school, 74 percent of girls say they are interested in math and science classes, but women make up only 26 percent of the STEM workforce. Finding ways to retain girls’ interest in STEM to close this gap is the reason why NIMBioS and CURENT collaborated to bring 25 middle school girls from around the region to last week’s Adventures in STEM day camp.

Now in its third year, the camp is a collaborative effort by two NSF-supported research centers at the University of Tennessee interested in promoting diversity in the STEM workforce. In one activity organized by NIMBioS, the girls learned about the biomedical applications of 3D printing, then designed their own 3D models of organisms using Tinkercad that were printed by a Makerbot Replicator 2 for the girls to take home. In another, the girls explored world health data using the dramatic data visualization software Gapminder, and an SIR disease model where the girls simulated an outbreak of fictional “handshake disease.” CURENT, an engineering research center at UT, led activities to help the girls build solar panels and a model neighborhood power grid.

Rising 7th grader Carly Slough plays a spinner game to learn about probability and transitivity.

Rising 7th grader Carly Slough plays a spinner game to learn about probability and transitivity.

A highlight of the week was field trip day, when the girls visited Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) to see the world’s largest 3D printer as well as many other 3D printers that print metals and more. The tours were all led by inspiring female engineers, including Amy Elliott, graduate researcher at MDF and star of Discovery Channel’s 2013 “Big Brain Theory.” Elliott told the girls that when she received second place on the show, she got a sympathetic hug from astronaut Buzz Aldrin who related to her plight as a runner-up. Her current research at ORNL aims to improve 3D printing methods.

Elizabeth Hobson is interviewed by girls about her life and career.

The girls interview Elizabeth Hobson (far left) about her life and science career.

The camp owes its success to numerous volunteers donating their time, including several from NIMBioS. New NIMBioS Graduate Research Assistant Ben Levy, a doctoral student studying mathematical ecology at UT, helped with the camp. In addition, the girls interviewed NIMBioS Postdoctoral Fellow Elizabeth Hobson and Senior Analyst/Webmaster Jane Comiskey about their STEM careers.

More information on initiatives to get girls into STEM from TIME magazine

Did you like this? Share it:
Posted in Diversity, Education/Outreach, gender diversity, GRAs, Middle School, postdocs, STEM | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

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.

Did you like this? Share it:
Posted in publication, research, viruses, visitors, Working Groups | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

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.

Did you like this? Share it:
Posted in ecology, Education/Outreach, MSIs, postdocs, REU/REV, undergraduates, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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


Did you like this? Share it:
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.

Did you like this? Share it:
Posted in awards, competitions, conference, ecology, Education/Outreach, postdocs, research, REU/REV, undergraduates, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

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.

Did you like this? Share it:
Posted in ecology, Education/Outreach, postdocs, STEM, undergraduates | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

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.

Did you like this? Share it:
Posted in awards, Leadership | Tagged , | Comments Off

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.

Did you like this? Share it:
Posted in postdocs | Tagged | Comments Off