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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Vazquez Receives Nation’s Top Math Prize at Blackwell-Tapia

2016 Blackwell-Tapia Conference Attendees

2016 Blackwell-Tapia Conference Attendees

Over 100 researchers, faculty, graduate students and others gathered last week to witness Mariel Vazquez, a professor of mathematics and microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of California, Davis, receive the nation’s highest research award for minority mathematicians, the 2016 Blackwell-Tapia Prize, in Knoxville at the conclusion of the biennial Blackwell-Tapia Conference.

Before presenting the prize, Richard Tapia, professor of mathematics at Rice University, gave a stirring speech where he called upon all mathematicians from under-represented groups to achieve excellence both in research and service to the nation in training and inspiring the next generation of mathematicians.

Mariel Vazquez and Richard Tapia

Mariel Vazquez and Richard Tapia

In a moving acceptance speech, Vazquez spoke of how she felt the honor profoundly as an immigrant from Mexico with children born in the United States, together representing the changing face of America. She related how she came to the United States “with stars in her eyes” and urged the audience to recognize and reach out to all of the starry-eyed students to help them also follow their dreams.

The ceremony was the capstone of two days of talks by an inspiring line-up of mathematicians and statisticians on topics from using math to move robots quickly to conducting statistical research in industrial, government and academic settings. The event included a poster session, many opportunities for networking, and a pre-conference event for undergraduates where Vazquez and Jose Perea, an assistant professor of mathematics from Michigan State University, shared the stories of their career paths and applications of their research. Abdul-Aziz Yakubu, a professor of mathematics at Howard University, gave the conference’s annual Joaquin Bustoz, Jr. distinguished lecture.

The NSF Mathematical Sciences Institutes Diversity Committee hosted the 2016 Blackwell-Tapia Conference and Awards Ceremony, with NIMBioS as the lead institute and the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI) as co-organizer. This was the ninth biennial conference held since 2000, with the location rotating among NSF Mathematics Institutes.

The event was supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Additional support for Canadian participation was provided by the Fields Institute.

The conference and prize honors David Blackwell, the first African-American member of the National Academy of Science, and Tapia, winner of the National Medal of Science in 2010, two seminal figures who inspired a generation of African-American, Native American and Latino/Latina students to pursue careers in mathematics.

Conference photos can be viewed on the NIMBioS Flickr site.

The next Blackwell-Tapia conference will be lead by ICERM in Providence, RI in 2018.

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NIMBioS Celebrates the Nation’s ‘Active Learning Day’ with 3-D Printing

Adventures in STEM campers 3D print flower models

Adventures in STEM campers print flower models in 3D at this year’s camp.

As a part of the US President’s Office of Science Technology and Policy’s Active Learning Day, which is celebrated today, Oct. 25, NIMBioS is pleased to announce the release of a new 3-D printing educational module aimed for middle school learners.

Access to 3-D printing has been a growing trend in K-12 schools. NIMBioS’ hands-on module features active learning using 3-D printing technology to teach middle school students about physical scientific models and cell organelles. The activity has already proven a success over the years at NIMBioS’ “Adventures in STEM Camp” for middle school girls, and now the instructions for this activity are available for teachers.

In this curriculum module, aligned with Next Generation Science Standards, students learn about physical models and how they are used in science, then design and print their own representations of different cell organelles or flowers. The activity follows the 5E instructional model. Full details about the module, including information on required materials and a pdf handout for teachers, are available at

Active learning is the process of putting students at the center of their educational experience, where teachers assume a supportive and guiding role. Active learning has been shown to increase student engagement and achievement. OSTP declared October 25, 2016 “Active Learning Day” to inspire educators to incorporate more active learning in their classroom. According to OSTP’s blog, “On this day, STEM educators at all grade levels, from K-12 through college and university, are encouraged to spend at least 10 minutes using an active learning technique in their classrooms. Implementing active learning can be as simple as using small group discussions for problem-solving, asking students to write down a question they have following a lesson, or allowing time for self-assessment and reflection by the students; it also can be as expansive as hands-on technology activities or engaging students in authentic scientific research or engineering design.”

NIMBioS’ 3-D printing activity joins a suite of other educational modules that promote active learning at the interface of math and biology collected on the NIMBioS Education Module Page. All of these activities were developed at NIMBioS in support of various outreach activities.

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“Life at the Interface” Shared with Undergraduate Researchers at NIMBioS Conference

Dr. Judy Day delivering her featured presentation on "Working @ the Interface: The Challenges and Opportunities of Mathematical Biology"

Judy Day delivering her featured presentation on “Working @ the Interface: The Challenges and Opportunities of Mathematical Biology”

Plenary speakers shared the challenges and rewards of their careers at the interface of mathematics and biology at this year’s eighth annual Undergraduate Research Conference at the Interface of Biology and Mathematics.

Keynote speaker Jorge X. Velasco Hernández (Mathematics and Biology, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) kicked off the conference by highlighting how the process of abstracting a biological concept into its essential elements is mathematics, not just when the numbers get involved. He went on to demonstrate his process using disease modeling.

Featured speaker Judy Day (Mathematics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, Univ. of Tennessee) told students about her work modeling low-dose anthrax exposure and gave advice about what it takes to succeed in collaborative, interdisciplinary work.

Leslie Fuentes from Hawaii Pacific University shares her literature review on Using Daphnia to Monitor Water Toxicity.

Leslie Fuentes from Hawaii Pacific University shares her literature review on Using Daphnia to Monitor Water Toxicity.

The keynote and featured talk were just two highlights of the conference, which attracted 120 participants. The two-day conference also included 31 student poster presentations, 35 student talks, a showcase of graduate school opportunities, a career panel, and lots of networking. Students presented on work ranging from a mathematical model of skeletal muscle regeneration to optimal vaccination strategies for cholera. Students also enjoyed the annual tradition of networking using the game SET. Tweets from the conference used the hashtag #nimbiosURC. A complete set of photos from the event is available on the NIMBioS’ flickr site.

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