Working Group Publishes New Habitat Management Guide

The NIMBioS Working Group on Habitat for Migratory Species enjoys a visit to the mountains during its last meeting at NIMBioS in May. (From left) Chris Welsh, Julia Earl, Christine Sample, Sam Nicol, xx , Gary McCracken, Wayne Thogmartin, Richard Erickson, xx. Seated, from left, Ruscena Wiederholt, Paula Federico, xx, Laura Lopez-Hoffman, Darius Semmens.

The NIMBioS Working Group on Habitat for Migratory Species enjoys a visit to the mountains during its last meeting at NIMBioS in May. (From left) NIMBioS Deputy Director and tour guide Chris Welsh, Julia Earl, Christine Sample, Sam Nicol, Brady Mattsson, Gary McCracken, Wayne Thogmartin, Richard Erickson, Tyler Flockhart. (Seated from left) Ruscena Wiederholt, Paula Federico, Jay Diffendorfer, Laura Lopez-Hoffman, Darius Semmens.

A new management guide for selecting habitat- and patch-specific metrics in spatially-structured populations was published yesterday in Ecological Indicators. The paper is a result of efforts by the NIMBioS Working Group on Habitat for Migratory Species.

The paper reviews the many ways to measure the contribution of a habitat to a population. Some populations, like migratory birds, use many different areas during their lifetimes, making managing such populations a challenge. Which areas should be managed? Not all areas are necessarily equal.

The Group asked the question: What is the best way to measure the value of a habitat to a population, given a particular management objective?

The paper reviews techniques to measure contributions from an applied, management point of view and argues that the best metric for a situation depends on the management goal.

The Working Group began meeting in 2014 and has met four times at NIMBioS, concluding its final meeting in May 2016. Co-organizers are Wayne Thogmartin, Jay Diffendorfer, Ruscena Wiederholt, and Brady Mattsson.

The paper can be viewed at this link for up to 50 days:,3LxxlYWs

Nicol S et. al. A management-oriented framework for selecting metrics used to assess habitat- and path-specific quality in spatially structured populations. Ecological Indicators 69: 792-802. DOI:10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.05.027


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NIMBioS Welcomes New Postdocs

(From left) Sarah Flanagan, Sergei Tarasov, Nourridine Siewe

(From left) Sarah Flanagan, Sergei Tarasov, Nourridine Siewe

Several new postdoctoral fellows will begin their research soon at NIMBioS.

Joining in the summer are Sarah Flanagan, Nourridine Siewe, and Sergei Tarasov. Flanagan (Biology, Texas A&M Univ.) will develop new predictive approaches for next-generation sequencing population genomics studies. Siewe (Mathematics, Howard Univ.) will develop mathematical models of visceral leishmaniasis and malaria co-infection to improve the diagnosis and treatment process. Tarasov (Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Univ. of Oslo) will model and explore the evolution of anatomy ontologies using innovative stochastic processes and two focal groups of insects: dung beetles and wasps.

Lauren Smith, currently a Gaylord Donnelley Postdoctoral Environmental Fellow at Yale Univ., joins NIMBioS as a postdoc in October. Smith proposes research that examines invasive plants in food-webs and the indirect effects on native communities and ecosystems.

Joining in early 2017 are Andrew Rominger and Oyita Udiani. Rominger (Environmental Science, Policy & Management, Univ. of California, Berkeley) will use bio-collections data and hierarchical models to examine large-scale questions in ecology and evolution. Udiani (Applied Mathematics, Arizona State Univ.) will develop a novel game-theoretical approach to learning in models of animal behavior.

NIMBioS postdoc Robin Taylor (Educational Psychology, Educational Research Methods and Analysis, Auburn University, 2012) began her fellowship last month. As a NIMBioS Postdoctoral Fellow in Science Education Research and Evaluation for NIMBioS Evaluation Services, she is helping to development and validate a Quantitative Biology Concept Inventory, which is designed to assess the efficacy of using real-world biology examples to enhance student understanding of quantitative concepts in college-level calculus courses.

For more information about the NIMBioS Postdoctoral Fellowship, visit

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NIMBioS, UT Welcome New Faculty

Dr. Tian Hong

Dr. Tian Hong

Dr. Monica "Mona" Papes

Dr. Monica “Mona” Papes

NIMBioS welcomes two new NIMBioS-affiliated assistant professors to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, beginning in January 2017.

Tian Hong will join the Department of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology as assistant professor of computational biology. Hong’s research focuses on mathematical modeling of cellular heterogeneity and plasticity and its application in understanding immune response, development and cancer progression. Hong is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Mathematics at the University of California, Irvine.

Monica Papes will join the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as an assistant professor in spatial biology. Papes’ research focuses on theoretical and applied investigations centered on species’ distributions. She uses ecological niche modeling techniques with GIS and remote sensing tools to study the factors that shape species’ geographic distributions. Papes is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at Oklahoma State University.

As both Hong’s and Papes’ research intersects the focus of NIMBioS, both will be affiliated with NIMBioS. Faculty members on the NIMBioS leadership team served on the hiring committees.

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NIMBioS Hosts Field Trip for Rural Middle School Students


Greenback School sixth graders release their “organisms” back into the “habitat” during the capture-recapture simulation.

Nearly 50 sixth graders and their teachers from Greenback School visited NIMBioS last week for an exciting day of STEM and getting a taste of the college experience. The rural school located about 30 miles southeast of NIMBioS.

Beginning with a mock “university class,” students did a fun hands-on activity created by NIMBioS postdoc Elizabeth Hobson. Students simulated the capture-recapture method of sampling organisms in the wild by using tupperware bins, beans and pine bedding. The activity showed the usefulness of math for doing ecological research.

Next, students headed across the street to Hodges Library for a tour and an introduction to the University of Tennessee’s six-story university library and all of its resources. The students returned to NIMBioS for a pizza lunch, since pizza is an important part of the college experience. Lastly, students walked across campus, past the new Student Union, Neyland Stadium, and UT’s Hill to the Min Kao Computer Science and Engineering building, where students toured energy and robotics engineering labs associated with CURENT, the Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks, an NSF Engineering Research Center at UT.

More photos from this fun day are posted on our Flickr photo album.

Hobson (left) with Greenback School Students

Hobson (left) with Greenback School students


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Vazquez to Receive 2016 Blackwell-Tapia Prize

Dr. Mariel Vazquez 2016 Blackwell-Tapia Prize Recipient

Dr. Mariel Vazquez
2016 Blackwell-Tapia Prize Recipient

KNOXVILLE — The National Blackwell-Tapia Committee is pleased to announce that the 2016 Blackwell-Tapia Prize will be awarded to Mariel Vazquez, a professor in the departments of mathematics and of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of California, Davis.

The prize is awarded every other year in honor of the legacy of David H. Blackwell and Richard A. Tapia, two distinguished mathematical scientists who have been inspirations to more than a generation of African American, Latino/Latina, and Native American students and professionals in the mathematical sciences. The prize recognizes a mathematician who has contributed significantly to research in his or her field of expertise, and who has served as a role model for mathematical scientists and students from under-represented minority groups or has contributed in other significant ways to addressing the problem of the under-representation of minorities in math.

Vazquez is a pioneer in an emerging field called DNA topology, which applies pure math to untangle the biological mysteries of DNA. Application areas of her research include cancer treatment, drug design, understanding genome rearrangements after radiation damage or in cancer, and gaining insight into how genomes package in viruses and within cells and into how viral DNA (e.g., retroviruses, such as HIV) integrates into the host genome. Vazquez was an academic visitor in the biochemistry department at the University of Oxford, England, in 2006 and 2007 and was a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley in 2008. Vazquez was an academic visitor at the Cancer Research Center in Salamanca, Spain, and an academic visitor at the molecular biology department in the Center for Research and Development in Barcelona, Spain. Vazquez’s research has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and by the National Science Foundation (NSF). In 2012, she was one of only 96 scientists to receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from U.S. President Barack Obama. She was also the recipient of a NSF CAREER award in 2011 for her efforts conducting innovative research and finding creative ways to integrate research and education.

Vazquez has worked passionately to increase diversity in the mathematical sciences at all levels. As a professor at UC Davis since 2014, Vazquez mentors graduate students, has developed an interdisciplinary course in “Analyzing DNA Structure with Mathematical and Computational Methods,” and has served as co-PI on a grant from the National Security Agency to increase the mathematics and statistics components of the 2015-2016 annual conferences of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. She has also volunteered for other public outreach, including lecturing for the UC Davis Math Circle for middle and high school students. Before joining UC Davis, Vazquez was on the faculty at San Francisco State University where she mentored undergraduates and graduate students and co-founded the elementary school level component of the San Francisco Math Circles.

The prize will be presented at the Ninth Blackwell-Tapia Conference and Awards Ceremony on Oct. 28-29, 2016, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The conference is co-hosted by the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) and the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI). The conference includes scientific talks, poster presentations, panel discussions and ample opportunities for discussion and interaction. Participants will come from all career stages and will represent institutions of all sizes across the country, including Puerto Rico.

The idea for a conference honoring Blackwell and Tapia came from Carlos Castillo-Chavez, who was a member of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute’s (MSRI) Human Resources Advisory Committee and a professor of mathematics at Cornell University at the time. Chavez, now a professor at Arizona State University, secured funding from Cornell for the first Blackwell-Tapia Conference in 2000. The award was established two years later under the leadership of Castillo-Chavez and MSRI Director David Eisenbud. Since 2002, the NSF Mathematical Sciences Institutes have served as conference sponsors and hosts. For the 2016 conference, NIMBioS received a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to help support the event. Subsequent conferences were held at MSRI (2002), the Institute for Pure & Applied Mathematics (2004 and 2014), the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (2006), SAMSI (2008), the Mathematical Biosciences Institute (2010), and the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (2012).

The Blackwell-Tapia Prize was offered for the first time in 2002. Recipients exemplify the high standards of research and service to under-represented minority communities recognized by this award. Past prize recipients include Arlie Petters, Benjamin Powell Professor of Mathematics, Physics, and Business Administration at Duke University (2002); Rodrigo Bañuelos, Professor of Mathematics at Purdue University (2004); William Massey, Edwin S. Wiley Professor of Operations Research and Financial Engineering at Princeton University (2006); Juan Meza, Dean of the School of Natural Sciences at the University of California at Merced (2008); Trachette Jackson, Professor of Mathematics and head of the Jackson Cancer Modeling Group at the University of Michigan (2010); Ricardo Cortez, Pendergraft William Larkin Duren Professor of Mathematics at Tulane University (2012) and Jacqueline Hughes-Oliver, Professor of Statistics, North Carolina State University (2014).

The National Blackwell-Tapia Committee selected the prize recipient. Committee co-chairs are the 2012 and 2014 prize recipients Cortez and Hughes-Oliver. The other committee members are Castillo-Chavez and Eisenbud, as well as Lloyd Douglas, University of North Carolina; Deanna Haunsperger, Carleton College; Suzanne Lenhart, NIMBioS and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Bob Megginson, University of Michigan; Kelly Sturner, NIMBioS; and Sherry Woodley, Arizona State University.

As recipient of the 2016 prize, Vazquez now joins the selection committee for the next Blackwell-Tapia prize.


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Lenhart Receives Cox Professorship

Suzanne Lenhart Associate Director for Education and Outreach

Suzanne Lenhart
Associate Director for Education and Outreach

Congratulations to NIMBioS Associate Director for Education and Outreach Suzanne Lenhart who has been named a James R. Cox Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

A professor of mathematics, Lenhart has been affiliated with NIMBioS since its founding in 2008.

The three-year Cox award will provide Lenhart with a stipend of $25,500 to support her research. Lenhart is an applied mathematician with research publications spanning several areas of biology including HIV, TB, bioreactors, bioeconomics, cardiac function, population dynamics, disease modeling, and resource management. Cox recipients are chosen by a committee for their excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service.

Lenhart follows in the footsteps of other NIMBioS leaders who have earned the honor, NIMBioS Director Emeritus Louis Gross and NIMBioS Associate Director for Postdoctoral Activities Paul Armsworth.

Visit for the UT press release.

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Announcing the New Roster of Participants for the 2016 Summer Research Experience at NIMBioS


Two students work on developing mathematical models for their project during last year’s SRE at NIMBioS. (Photo Credit: News Sentinel)

NIMBioS is pleased to announce the 16 undergraduates selected for its highly competitive 2016 Summer Research Experience (SRE) program. Participants were selected from a pool of more than 100 applicants. The program runs for eight weeks, from June 6-July 29. 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.

2016 SRE participants and their assigned team projects are as follows:

Joshua Darville (Fisk Univ.); Elman Gonzales (East Tennessee State Univ.); and Jan Siess (Rutgers Univ.) will team up on a project to investigate a molecular process called allostery, integral in many biological functions, such as oxygen binding, enzyme regulation, and immune response.

Alana Cooper (Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville); Emily Horton (Lynchburg College); and Kelly Reagan (Elon Univ.) will work on a project using dynamic modeling to better understand how human emotions unfold over time.

Samuel Iselin (Valparaiso Univ.); Howsikan Kugathasan (Fisk Univ.); and Jacob Miller (Univ. of Kentucky) will work on a project to develop computer games for teaching biology.

Jeff DeSalu (The Ohio State Univ.); Morganne Igoe (Univ. of the Minnesota-Twin Cities); Joey Moran (Unity College); and Theresa Sheets (Univ. of Maryland-Baltimore County) will team up on a project to investigate the effects of different landscapes and resources on hantavirus spread in mice populations.

Alanna Gary (Univ. of Chicago); Vera Liu (Rice Univ.); and Penny Wu (Houghton College) will work on a project using statistical filters to follow fast organelle movements in plant cells


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Welcome New Evaluation Associate

Sondra LoRe NIMBioS Evaluation Associate

Sondra LoRe
NIMBioS Evaluation Associate

NIMBioS welcomes new staff member Sondra LoRe who will serve as Evaluation Associate in NIMBioS Evaluation Services. LoRe brings nearly 20 years experience in education, instruction, educational leadership, and evaluation with pre-K-20 programs and STEM schools. She has also served as a Tennessee state teacher evaluator for 16 years. LoRe has a B.A. in Economics from the University of Massachusetts, a M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and an Ed.S. in Educational Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Evaluation, Statistics, and Measurement Program in the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

NIMBioS offers external evaluation services to the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) research and education sector, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary programs. NIMBioS Associate Director for Evaluation Services Pamela Bishop heads the program.

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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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