New Roster of Summer Undergrads Announced

Five interesting projects ready for researchers in this summer’s SRE program

NIMBioS is pleased to announce the 17 participants selected for its highly competitive 2017 Summer Research Experience (SRE) program. The participants, which this year include one middle school math teacher, were selected from a pool of more than 100 applicants. The program runs for eight weeks, from June 5-July 28. Participants will come to NIMBioS on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus to work in teams with NIMBioS postdocs and UT faculty on research at the interface of mathematics and biology.

2017 SRE participants and their assigned team projects are as follows:

Sharee Brewer (Biology and Math, Fisk Univ.); Kimberly Dautel (Applied Mathematics, Marist College); Brian Lerch (Biology, Case Western Reserve Univ.) and Alan Liang (Math and Computer Science, Cornell Univ.) will team up on a project to build a model to investigate mating patterns in birds’ evolution.

Axel Hranov (Computer Science, Univ. of Tennessee); Audrey Hommes (Mathematics, Vanderbilt Univ.); and Saroj Duwal (Computer Science, Univ. of New Orleans) will work on a project to develop computer games for teaching biology.

Alison Adams (Genetics and Applied Mathematics, Univ. of Georgia, Athens); Quiyana Murphy (Math and Psychology, Univ. of Kentucky); and Owen Dougherty (Biology with Microbiology, Univ. of Tennessee) will work on a project to model the immune system in host-virus conflict.

Brian Hardison (7th and 8th grade math, Pi Beta Phi Elementary School, Gatlinburg, TN); Patrick Wise (Biology and History, Univ. of Delaware); Maitraya Ghatak (Mathematics, Univ. of Tennessee); and Javier Urcuyo (Applied Math and Biology, Arizona State Univ.) will team up on a project to model the spread of La Crosse encephalitis virus in East Tennessee.

Tanay Wakhare (Math and Computer Science, Univ. of Maryland, College Park); David Nguyen (Biology, Eastern Washington Univ.); and Lara Weaver (Mathematics, Univ. of Tennessee) will work on a project to examine disease-independent seasonal patterns and pathogen dynamics in multi-host systems.


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New Ideas Incubating at NIMBioS

Incubator Roundtable participants at NIMBioS

NIMBioS hosted its first ever Synthesis Incubator on the theme of “Emerging Risks, Measured Responses” last week, which brought together researchers and various local, state and federal stakeholders to discuss topics and generate ideas for collaboration.

Through roundtable discussions and an evening of networking, participants addressed a diverse set of problems representing “emerging risks” with goals to forge new collaborative networks and new paths to “measured responses. ”

Roundtable discussions covered topics related to preparing students to use math in analyzing emerging risks, building adaptive capacity into conservation and natural resource management, identifying issues that can be addressed with spatially explicit datasets, and addressing current problems in host-pathogen interactions.

The day concluded with networking over hors d’oeuvres and music, dinner and a keynote address from James LeDuc, director of the Galveston National Laboratory, University of Texas Medical Branch. The evening social activities were held at the Foundry in Knoxville.

Check out our photo album on Flickr below.

For the full program including list of participants, visit

Incubator 2017


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Blackwell-Tapia Conference Makes the Grade

Conference attendees and award recipient Mariel Vazquez (center)

The final report of the ninth annual Blackwell-Tapia Conference and Award Ceremony, held Oct. 28-29, is out and feedback from the participant feedback shows that by all measures the conference was a success.

NIMBioS was the lead organizing institute, along with the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI) as co-organizing institute. The NSF Mathematical Sciences Institutes Diversity Committee hosted the event, which was held at NIMBioS and at the University of Tennessee Conference Center.

The conference was sponsored in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. According to the final evaluation report, the grant’s goal to support the conference in providing early-career minority mathematicians with enhanced understanding of their field, networking with peers, and interactions with senior researchers was achieved.

More than 100 participants attended the conference. Most participants represented a variety of researchers across different career stages with the majority of participants at early career stages.

According to the evaluation report, 100% of survey respondents found the overall quality of the conference, banquet, award presentation, and networking opportunities to be good or better.

“It was such a positive environment,” said one postdoc participant. “I saw many minorities who [are] role models. That gave me more hope in the sense that it made me realize
that probably I would be able to continue my growth as a mathematician.”

The bi-annual conference was established in 2000, honoring David Blackwell and Richard Tapia for their inspiration of AfricanAmerican, Native American, and Latino/Latina students to pursue careers in mathematics. This year’s prize was awarded to Dr. Mariel Vazquez, a mathematics professor at the University of California, Davis.

The final evaluation report, which summarizes the conference’s success in relation to associated metrics provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, includes participant survey results, participant demographic information, a report assessing long-term effects of the conference, and much more.

Links to videos of the conference presentations, blog posts about the conference, and other conference details can be found on the conference web page.

The conference photo album can be found on the NIMBioS Flickr page.

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Science Pub for Postdoc Martin

Former postdoc Ryan Martin

Research on adaptation and climate change by Ryan Martin while a postdoc at NIMBioS appears this month in Science.

“Precipitation drives global variation in natural selection” quantifies how climate variation influences selection. With plant and animal data from multiple terrestrial biomes, temperature explained little variation, but precipitation and water evaporation, along with the North Atlantic Oscillation pressure system, predicted variation across the plant and animal populations. The results provide evidence that local and global climate cycles are likely important drivers of natural selection in the wild.

The research originated from a working group at the former National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in which Martin participated as a NIMBioS postdoc.

Martin was a NIMBioS postdoc from September 2012 – December 2013. Upon completing his NIMBioS fellowship, Martin accepted a faculty position in the Department of Biology at Case Western Reserve University where he continues today.

Citation: Siepielski AM et al. 2017. Precipitation drives global variation in natural selection. Science 355:959-62. 

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Discover Birds En Español

NIMBioS Deputy Director Chris Welsh at a Discover Birds visit to Sevierville Primary second graders in 2013. Photo Credit:

The popular Discover Birds Activity Book for kids in which NIMBioS contributed some math content has now been translated into Spanish and has even reached Cuban shores.

In the book, Campeones de Aves, “Bird Champions,” is a simple math puzzle where kids solve arithmetic to break a code to learn about the fastest, smallest, largest, and tallest North American birds as well as the migrant with the greatest annual mileage in the world. In Cambiando Poblaciones, “Changing Populations,” children use real bird breeding data to explore how populations of Eastern Bluebird, Northern Bobwhite, and Wild Turkey have changed in Tennessee over time. NIMBioS’ contributions to the book, including answer keys, are available for download in both Spanish and English on our website at

The book was a true NIMBioS team effort. Deputy Director Chris Welsh and Education & Outreach Coordinator Kelly Sturner designed and wrote the activities. Business Manager Toby Koosman helped edit and revise the Spanish language translation for the science-related content throughout the book.

Sponsored by the Tennessee Ornithological Society and written and illustrated by Vickie Henderson, the thirty-six page book, expanded and updated in 2013, includes lively illustrations and focuses on fun facts about birds, from what makes a bird a bird to how ornithologists study bird populations. The book is targeted at the third grade level and is appropriate for first to sixth graders.

The printing of the Spanish translation was made possible through a donation from the tour outfit Naturalist Journeys. Henderson took the Spanish translation of the activity books to share with school children in Cuba earlier this year. The English version of the book was first taken to Cuba in 2014. Naturalist Journeys will be taking the books to other Spanish speaking countries throughout 2017.

The book has been used widely in East Tennessee classrooms through the Discover Birds Program with the Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. A free copy of the book is available for download at the Discover Birds Program web page.

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Congrats to Professor Lenhart!

Suzanne Lenhart
Associate Director for Education and Outreach

Congratulations to Suzanne Lenhart, NIMBioS Associate Director for Education and Outreach and UT professor of mathematics, who has been nominated for the Southeastern Conference Professor of the Year award. The prestigious, university-level award recognizes those with outstanding records in both teaching and scholarship who serve as role models for junior faculty and students.

The award was established in 2010 by the Southeastern Conference Presidents and Chancellors.  There is one winner/nominee per campus and one overall winner for the Conference. All receive an honorarium and memento from the SEC. The top recipient, the SEC Professor of the Year, is honored during the annual SEC Awards Dinner in Destin, Florida, and recognized in conjunction with the SEC Symposium in Atlanta, Georgia.

To qualify for the award, an individual’s scholarly contribution or discoveries must be such that the faculty member has been acknowledged by colleagues within the discipline nationally or internationally.

The SEC Provosts comprise the selection committee charged with choosing the SEC Professor of the Year from among the SEC Faculty Achievement Award winners selected by each university.

The SEC Faculty Achievement Awards are one program included in the SECU academic initiative. SECU is the specific way the Southeastern Conference actively sponsors, supports and promotes collaborative higher education programs and activities involving administrators, faculty and students at its fourteen member universities. The goals of the SECU initiative include highlighting the endeavors and achievements of SEC faculty and universities; advancing the merit and reputation of SEC universities outside of the traditional SEC region; identifying and preparing future leaders for high-level service in academia; increasing the amount and type of education abroad opportunities available to SEC students; and providing opportunities for collaboration among SEC university personnel.

More information about the award is available at

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NIMBioS Parades for Science!

Darwin Day parade participants pose afterward for a group photo.

In celebration of Darwin Day, NIMBioS joined UT’s Darwin Day Tennessee organization to parade for science! Chanting “Science for the people!” and “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!” a group of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and postdocs from across campus came together last week to form a jubilant parade celebrating science. The parade began in front of Ayers Hall, circled around the Hill, and ended in front of the student union. Special guest and birthday honoree, Charles Darwin, in the form of a giant puppet, joined the parade. The parade was the first of a week-long series of events including lectures, tabling, and a teacher workshop on the theme of evolution.

NIMBioS’ Lauren Smith-Ramesh (L) and Suzanne Lenhart (middle) carry the NIMBioS banner. UT graduate student Sarah Sheffield represents geology (right).

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Optimal Control Paper Highly Sought

The final meeting of the Working Group in January 2014 (L to R): Paula Federico, Suzanne Lenhart, Rene Salinas, Scott Christley, Matt Oremland, Andrew Kanarek (via Skype), Rachel Miller Neilan, Reinhard Laubenbacher, Jie Xiong, Ben Fitzpatrick, David Gurarie. Not pictured: Gary An.

The NIMBioS Working Group Optimal Control for Agent-based Models has been busy blazing a trail: its perspective paper  on agent-based models in biology published last fall in the Bulletin of Mathematical Biology has been downloaded 500 times.

“Optimization and Control of Agent-Based Models in Biology: A Perspective” proposes a new approach to optimization and control and outlines steps and specific techniques.

The Working Group, which met four times from 2011 to 2014, was co-organized by Gary An, University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine; Reinhard Laubenbacher, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute; and Suzanne Lenhart and Jie Xiong, both from the Department of Mathematics, University of Tennessee. The group submitted a proposal to form a Working Group following  a workshop at NIMBioS in December 2009.

NIMBioS Working Groups are chosen to focus on major scientific questions at the interface between biology and mathematics. The groups comprise up to 10 participants, focus on a well-defined topic, and have well-defined goals and metrics of success. Working Groups typically meet up to three times over a two-year period.

The next deadline to request support for a Working Group is March 1. For more information about Working Groups and how to apply for support, visit

Citation: An G et al. 2016. Optimization and control of agent-based models in biology: A perspective. Bulletin of Mathematical Biology. doi:10.1007/s11538-016-0225-6

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Now Showing: Program Evaluation 101

As a part of the NIMBioS-NISER partnership, we are pleased to present Program Evaluation 101, a previously recorded webinar on the basic concepts of multi-scale program evaluation for STEM education.

The goal of the webinar is to introduce the key concepts and vocabulary of program evaluation methods and is particularly directed toward researchers and educators working on pilot projects for NSF INCLUDES awarded projects.

Your presenters (from left) Sondra LoRe and Pam Bishop 

Presented by NISER Director Pam Bishop and NISER Evaluation Associate Sondra LoRe and moderated by Louis Gross, a professor of mathematics and ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and founding director of NIMBioS.

Originally broadcast on Feb. 9, 2017, the webinar is the first activity in the NIMBioS-NISER series of STEM evaluation events for the NSF INCLUDES projects. Additional events include a tutorial on Feb. 22 and a conference on Feb. 23-24. Event information is available at

Information about NISER can be found at


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Gross Joins National Committee to Take On Data Science

Louis Gross NIMBioS Director Emeritus Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics

Louis Gross
NIMBioS Director Emeritus
Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics

NIMBioS Director Emeritus Louis Gross has been invited to join a select group of scientists and engineers from around the country to serve on a National Academies of Sciences committee to set a vision for the emerging discipline of data science in undergraduate education in the United States.

“Envisioning the Data Science Discipline: The Undergraduate Perspective” was created by the National Research Council for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The committee set to take on this study is charged with developing a vision for the core principles, intellectual content, and pedagogical issues for data science. While the primary focus will be the undergraduate level, related issues at the middle and high school and community college levels will also be considered.

The committee will also consider ways to engage underrepresented student populations and to maintain student interest in STEM via data science.

The committee comprises a select group of thought leaders in data science, computer science, and statistics from academia as well as industry. Also included are educators who teach students as well as those who hire and employ those students.

Ultimately, the study is intended to inform new undergraduate data science programs at colleges and universities, to help foster the development of such programs, and to build data science expertise in the workforce.

The study begins next month with a workshop and roundtable in Washington, DC. A second workshop will be held at a later time. Video from both workshops will be captured to make discussions at the workshop widely available beyond workshop participants and attendees. A final report will be prepared and disseminated widely.

Gross is Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics at UT, and Director of the Institute for Environmental Modeling. Gross founded NIMBioS in 2008. He has served on several National Research Council Committees, including chairing the National Research Council Committee on Education in Biocomplexity Research. He also served on the National Academy of Sciences Board on Life Sciences for six years..

The National Science Foundation Award Abstract describing the study can be found at


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