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Are Trees Talking Underground? For Scientists, It’s in Dispute.

Posted on: November 7th, 2022 by cnstewa1 No Comments

From Ted Lasso to TED Talks, the theory of the “wood-wide web” is everywhere, and some scientists argue that it is overblown and unproven.

  • Nov. 7, 2022Updated 8:18 a.m. ET

Justine Karst, a mycologist at the University of Alberta, feared things had gone too far when her son got home from eighth grade and told her he had learned that trees could talk to each other through underground networks.

Her colleague, Jason Hoeksema of the University of Mississippi, had a similar feeling when watching an episode of “Ted Lasso” in which one soccer coach told another that trees in a forest cooperated rather than competed for resources.

Few recent scientific discoveries have captured the public’s imagination quite like the wood-wide web — a wispy network of fungal filaments hypothesized to shuttle nutrients and information through the soil and to help forests thrive. The idea sprouted in the late 1990s from studies showing that sugars and nutrients can flow underground between trees. In a few forests, researchers have traced fungi from the roots of one tree to those of others, suggesting that mycelial threads could be providing conduits between trees.

These findings have challenged the conventional view of forests as a mere population of trees: Trees and fungi are, in fact, coequal players on the ecological stage, scientists say. Without both, forests as we know them wouldn’t exist.

Scientists and nonscientists alike have drawn grand and sweeping conclusions from this research. They have posited that shared fungal networks are ubiquitous in forests around the world, that they help trees talk to each other and, as “Ted Lasso’s” Coach Beard articulated, that they make forests fundamentally cooperative places, with trees and fungi united in common purpose — a dramatic departure from the usual Darwinian picture of interspecies competition. The concept has been featured in numerous media reportsTV shows and best-selling books, including a Pulitzer Prize winner. It even shows up in “Avatar,” the highest-grossing movie of all time.

And the theory could be starting to influence what happens in real forests. Some scientists, for example, have suggested managing forests explicitly to protect fungal networks.

Justine Karst, a mycologist at the University of Alberta, during a visit to Bunchberry Meadows near Edmonton. She was worried when her son came from 8th grade and told her trees talk underground.Credit…Todd Korol for The New York Times

But as the wood-wide web has gained fame, it has also inspired a backlash among scientists. In a recent review of published research, Dr. Karst, Dr. Hoeksema and Melanie Jones, a biologist at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, found little evidence that shared fungal networks help trees to communicate, swap resources or thrive. Indeed, the trio said, scientists have yet to show that these webs are widespread or ecologically significant in forests.

For some of their peers, such a reality check is long overdue. “I think this is a very timely talk,” said Kabir Peay, a mycologist at Stanford University, about a presentation Dr. Karst recently gave. He hoped it could “reorient the field.”

Others, however, maintain that the wood-wide web is on firm ground and are confident that further research will confirm many of the hypotheses proffered about fungi in forests. Colin Averill, a mycologist at ETH Zurich, said that the evidence Dr. Karst marshaled is impressive. But, he added, “the way I interpret the totality of that evidence is completely different.”

Most plant roots are colonized by mycorrhizal fungi, forming one of Earth’s most widespread symbioses. The fungi gather water and nutrients from the soil; they then swap some of these treasures with plants in exchange for sugars and other carbon-containing molecules.

David Read, a botanist then at the University of Sheffield, showed in a 1984 paper that compounds labeled with a radioactive form of carbon could flow via fungi between lab-grown plants. Years later, Suzanne Simard, then an ecologist with the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, demonstrated two-way carbon transfer in a forest between young Douglas fir and paper birch trees. When Dr. Simard and her colleagues shaded Douglas firs to reduce how much they photosynthesized, the trees’ absorption of radioactive carbon spiked, suggesting that underground carbon flow could boost young trees’ growth in the shady understory.

Dr. Simard and colleagues published their results in 1997 in the journal Nature, which splashed it on the cover and christened the discovery the “wood-wide web.” Soon after, a group of senior researchers criticized the study, saying it had methodological flaws that confounded the results. Dr. Simard responded to the critiques, and she and her colleagues designed additional studies to address them.

Over time, the criticisms faded, and the wood-wide web gained adherents. Dr. Simard’s 1997 paper has garnered almost 1,000 citations and her 2016 TED Talk, “How trees talk to each other,” has been viewed more than 5 million times.

In his book “The Hidden Life of Trees,” which has sold more than 2 million copies, Peter Wohlleben, a German forester, cited Dr. Simard when describing forests as social networks and mycorrhizal fungi as “fiber-optic internet cables” that help trees inform each other about dangers such as insects and drought.

Scenes from Rowan Oak in Oxford, Miss. Advocates of the wood-wide web theory believe evidence will mount in its favor. “If you ask me if in the future, we will be showing that trees actually can communicate,” one said.Credit…Robert Wayne Lewis for The New York Times

Subterranean forest research has continued to grow, too. In 2016, Tamir Klein, a plant ecophysiologist then at the University of Basel and now at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, extended Dr. Simard’s research into a mature Swiss forest of spruce, pine, larch and beech trees. His team tracked carbon isotopes from one tree to the roots of other nearby trees, including different species, in an experimental forest plot. The researchers attributed most of the carbon movement to mycorrhizal fungi but acknowledged they had not proven it.

Dr. Simard, who has been at the University of British Columbia since 2002, has led further studies showing that large, old “mother” trees are hubs of forest networks and can send carbon underground to younger seedlings. She has argued in favor of the view that trees communicate via mycorrhizal networks and against a long-held idea that competition between trees is the dominant force shaping forests. In her TED Talk, she called trees “super-cooperators.”

But as the wood-wide web’s popularity has soared both inside and outside scientific circles, a skeptical reaction has evolved. Last year, Kathryn Flinn, an ecologist at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio, argued in Scientific American that Dr. Simard and others had exaggerated the degree of cooperation among trees in forests. Most experts, Dr. Flinn wrote, believe that groups of organisms whose members sacrifice their own interests on behalf of the community rarely evolve, a result of the powerful force of natural selection among competing individuals.

Instead, she suspects, fungi most likely distribute carbon according to their own interests, not those of trees. “That, to me, seems like the simplest explanation,” she said in an interview.

Dr. Jones was a co-author of a paper in 1997 by Suzanne Simard that started the idea of the wood-wide web. Credit…Jennilee Marigomen for The New York Times

Even some who once promoted the idea of shared fungal networks are rethinking the hypothesis. Dr. Jones, one of Dr. Simard’s co-authors in 1997, says she regrets that she and her colleagues wrote in the paper that they had evidence for fungal connections between trees. In fact, Dr. Jones says, they did not examine whether fungi mediated the carbon flows.

For their recent literature review, Dr. Karst, Dr. Hoeksema and Dr. Jones rounded up all the studies they could find that made claims about either the structure or the function of such underground fungal networks. The researchers focused on field studies in forests, not lab or greenhouse experiments.

In an August presentation based on the review at the International Mycorrhiza Society conference in Beijing, Dr. Karst argued that much of the evidence used to support the wood-wide web hypothesis could have other explanations. For example, in many papers, scientists assumed that if they found a particular fungus on multiple tree roots or that resources moved between trees the trees must be directly linked. But few studies ruled out alternate possibilities, for instance that resources could travel part of the way through the soil.

Some experimenters, including Dr. Karst and her colleagues, have installed fine meshes and have sometimes added trenches or air gaps between seedlings to disrupt hypothesized fungal networks and then tested whether those changes altered growth. But those tactics also reduce how much soil a seedling can directly gather nutrients or water from, or they alter the mix of fungi growing inside the meshes, making it difficult to isolate the effect of a fungal network, Dr. Karst said.

The researchers also found a growing number of unsupported statements in the scientific literature about fungal networks connecting and helping trees. Frequently, papers such as Dr. Klein’s are cited by others as providing proof of networks in forests, Dr. Karst and colleagues found, with caveats that appeared in the original work left out of the newer studies.

“Scientists,” Dr. Karst concluded in her presentation, “have become vectors for unsubstantiated claims.” Several recent papers, she notes, have called for changes in how forests are managed, based on the wood-wide web concept.

Jason Hoeksema of the University of Mississippi said a reference to the wood-wide web on “Ted Lasso” motivated him to join a challenge to the idea. He says studies don’t prove trees benefit from fungal networks.Credit…Robert Wayne Lewis for The New York Times

Dr. Karst said, “it’s highly likely” that shared fungal networks do exist in forests. In a 2012 study, Dr. Simard’s team found identical fungal DNA on the roots of nearby Douglas fir trees. The researchers then sampled soil between the trees in thin slices and found the same repeating DNA segments known as “microsatellites” in each slice, confirming that the fungus bridged the gap between the roots. But that study did not examine what resources, if any, were flowing through the network, and few other scientists have mapped fungal networks with such rigor.

Even if intertree fungal networks exist, however, Dr. Karst and her colleagues say common claims about those networks don’t hold up. For example, in many studies, the putative networks appeared to either hinder tree growth or to have no effect. No one has demonstrated that fungi distribute meaningful amounts of resources among trees in ways that increase the fitness of the receiving trees, Dr. Hoeksema said. Yet nearly all discussions of the wood-wide web, scientific or popular, have described it as benefiting trees.

Others, however, remain convinced that time will vindicate the wood-wide web.

While how ubiquitous shared fungal networks are and how important they are to tree growth remain open questions, Dr. Averill of ETH Zurich said the title of Dr. Karst’s presentation — “The decay of the wood-wide web?” — incorrectly suggests that the very concept is faulty. Instead, he hopes scientists will build on the tantalizing clues gathered so far by looking for networks in more forests. Indeed, members of Dr. Karst’s team have generated what Dr. Averill considers some of the most compelling evidence for the wood-wide web.

“It’s very clear that in some forests in some places, different trees are absolutely connected by fungi,” he said.

Dr. Klein of the Weizmann Institute said his team has placed its speculation about a network on firmer ground by using DNA sequences to map fungi in a 2020 follow-up study of the same Swiss forest and a 2022 lab study using forest soil. (Dr. Karst and her colleagues said that in their view, even those studies did not truly map fungal networks in a forest.)

And while Dr. Klein agrees that scientists still need to improve their understanding of why trees and fungi are moving all that carbon around, he is more optimistic than the Karst team that some of the bolder claims will be born out.

“If you ask me if in the future, we will be showing that trees actually can communicate, I would not be surprised,” he said.

Dr. Simard, the University of British Columbia scientist who has studied the wood-wide web, says that mapping fungal networks in forests is challenging, but other methods convinced her they are common.Credit…Jennilee Marigomen for The New York Times

Dr. Simard agreed that few real-world fungal networks have been mapped using DNA microsatellites because of the difficulty in doing such studies. Kevin Beiler, the graduate student who led the field work for the 2012 study with Dr. Simard, “spent five years of his life mapping out these networks,” Dr. Simard said. “It’s very time consuming.”

“The field of mycorrhizal networks has been sort of plagued by having to keep going back and redoing these experiments,” Dr. Simard said. “At some point you have to move to the next step.”

Comprehensive field studies of the type Dr. Hoeksema seeks would be a heavy lift for most university scientists working on typical grant timelines, Dr. Simard said. “None of these studies can do everything all at once, especially when you’re working with graduate students,” she said. “You have to piece it together.”

And while Dr. Simard has for years called for forest managers to consider her findings, she said she was not aware of any forest being managed solely on behalf of fungal networks. Neither was Mr. Wohlleben.

The new critique is the latest flare-up in a decades-old debate about the role of fungi in forest ecosystems, said Merlin Sheldrake, an independent mycologist whose book “Entangled Life” was referenced in the “Ted Lasso” episode that alarmed Dr. Hoeksema. Scientists have long struggled to interpret intriguing but fragmentary shreds of evidence from the invisible underground realm.

Since Dr. Karst gave her talk, she, Dr. Hoeksema and Dr. Jones have submitted a paper to a peer-reviewed journal. And lest you worry that a less webby woods could feel a tad drab, the researchers maintain that there’s plenty of intrigue even if it turns out that trees aren’t whispering secrets to each other via subterranean fungal channels.

“The true story is very interesting without this narrative put on it,” Dr. Karst said. The forest “is still a very mysterious and wonderful place.”

New Biology Chair Aims to Lift Program to New Heights

Posted on: October 25th, 2022 by cnstewa1 No Comments

Sixue Chen brings focus on plant efficiency and desire to increase student opportunities

OXFORD, Miss. – Sixue Chen, an accomplished biological researcher and new chair of the Department of Biology at the University of Mississippi, plans to use agricultural research and outreach to elevate the program nationally.

Chen, who specializes in systems biology of plant stress response, came to UM from the University of Florida, where he conducted research into understanding the mechanisms of more efficient plants in an effort to improve domestic agricultural practices.

His research is motivated by his childhood experience of growing up on a farm, but paradoxically, having little to eat. Chen believes that studying subjects such as the function of microscopic pores on plant leaf surfaces can reveal ways to improve agricultural practices and water conservation.

Sixue Chen, new chair of the Department of Biology, studies the mechanisms of more efficient plants in an effort to improve agricultural practices. Photo by Julia Dent

This approach could help to combat both world hunger and the imminent freshwater crisis as the climate becomes more arid and less conducive to current agricultural methods.

“One way to help stop food insecurity is to make plants more stress resilient,” he said. “After we domesticated the agriculture crops, farmers give these plants tons of water, which takes up 70% of our fresh water resources.

“They don’t consider making plants more drought-tolerant because they assume there will always be plenty of water, but that is not the case anymore. Around the world, countries are experiencing drought conditions, so my lab wants to make plants use water more efficiently, like cacti.”

Another concern related to modern agricultural practices is the effects of hazardous chemicals used for farming, Chen said. Some of these products increase the likelihood of cancer, as carcinogens, in humans who consume the produce or otherwise encounter the pesticides or herbicides.

This is a major concern as cancer is the nation’s No. 2 killer, behind heart disease.

Although he only recently joined the Ole Miss faculty, Chen already has a passion for helping the community and state – chiefly focusing on the future generation of scholars.

“We are a flagship university, so how do we help our citizens out of poverty?” he said. “If we encourage childhood education – make the kids excited to learn science and pursue education – I think that is one way to get out of poverty.

“I was a really poor kid growing up; at that time the only way to get out of poverty was education.”

Chen hopes to propagate a community of diverse, science-loving scholars at the university.

“Connections are important; social and academic events to bring people together provide more and more opportunities – not just for the people, but potentially for the whole world,” he said.

“The connections you make in college can become job opportunities or other collaborative opportunities to advance your career or science, as we know it, later down the line – all because a student had the chance to talk to someone with similar interests in their university.”

Chen’s work promises to improve education and research across the College of Liberal Arts and the entire university, said Donald Dyer, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs and distinguished professor of modern languages.

“His disciplinary know-how will translate into valued leadership and his experience will serve the department well in terms of mentorship and future departmental success. A successful researcher and grant recipient, he will oversee one of the larger faculties in the college and one of the largest undergraduate majors, among other things.”

STEM Facility Construction Nears Halfway Point

Posted on: October 13th, 2022 by cnstewa1 No Comments

Largest academic building in university history to feature innovative lab spaces, TEAL classrooms

The Jim and Thomas Duff Center for Science and Technology Innovation, in the university’s Science District, is on track to open in fall 2024. Construction began a year ago and is approaching the halfway point.

OXFORD, Miss. – Imagine standing in the atrium of the largest academic building in the history of the University of Mississippi‘s main campus. Looking up, four floors of laboratories and lecture halls are all dedicated to increasing STEM student success and teaching.

This vision is quickly becoming a reality as the Jim and Thomas Duff Center for Science and Technology Innovation is approaching 50% complete, and on track to open in fall 2024.

“This space will be a fantastic space,” said Chad Hunter, associate university architect. “It’s an incredible building because of its function, but also simply because of its size.”

The 202,000 square-foot facility will support science, technology, engineering and math-related endeavors at the university. It will include classrooms with low student-instructor ratios, as well as state-of-the-art undergraduate lab spaces. The building is anticipated to be one of the nation’s top facilities for STEM education.

Kurt Shettles, president and CEO of McCarty Architects, is the project’s architect of record. He said the center stands out among other buildings at Ole Miss because of its interdisciplinary nature and the broad audience that it will serve.

It is unique in many ways, one of which is the teaching style that it supports.

The Duff Center will include more than 50 TEAL classrooms, traditional labs and classrooms to accommodate some 2,000 students at a time. The building will be equipped with technology to support a range of teaching methods and support interactive learning.

“We’ve used the term ‘Swiss watch’ when referencing the science labs in the building,” Shettles said. “They are extremely intricate and designed for flexible teaching pedagogy.

“We have ‘TEAL’ classrooms, which are technology-enabled active learning classrooms. They support a different method of instruction with less lecture and more demonstration and participation. The students learn through the technology and the process of interacting and collaborating with each other, while the professor is more of a participant in that process, as opposed to just standing in front of the classroom lecturing.”

The Center for Science and Technology Innovation will include more than 50 TEAL classrooms, traditional labs and classrooms to accommodate some 2,000 students at any given hour throughout the day, Hunter said. It will also have a dedicated center for success and supplemental instruction, study rooms, a food service venue, more than 60 faculty offices and a 3D visualization lab, which is like a small IMAX theater.

The building is in the heart of the UM Science District. Construction is presently focused on the exterior – tasks such as installing windows, weatherproofing, waterproofing and laying brick. Once the exterior walls and roof are completed in the next couple of months, construction will begin on interior walls and finishes.

Cristiane Surbeck, chair and professor of civil engineering, can see the construction from her office window. She is eagerly anticipating the opening, which will have a major impact on her department.

“I’ve been taking a photo of it almost every day,” Surbeck said. “It’s going to provide a big upgrade to the teaching spaces that we have now. There’s going to be a specific room for civil engineering students to work on their senior design projects. It’s laid out for them to be able to work together in a space that is dedicated just for them.

“We are also going to have a water resources engineering and environmental engineering teaching lab that our students are really going to be able to take advantage of. It can even be shared among different departments if they have students who are doing experiments with water and environmental pollutants.”

The center will be an asset to the university community – especially its students, Surbeck said.

Among the many features of the Duff Center is an environmental engineering teaching lab that will provide a major resource for civil engineering students and anyone conducting experiments with water and environmental pollutants.

“I’m proud that we will have such a modern building that we are going to use to educate our engineering students,” she said. “I believe our engineering students are going to feel the same way. They are going to feel confident to go out and practice as engineers, having been educated in a such a high-quality facility.”

A new animated walk-through of the building’s interior gives viewers a better sense of the layout.

“You can see all four floors from the atrium; you can orient yourself by standing in it,” Hunter said. “The laboratories also have large windows, so you can observe what’s going on inside.

“It was designed this way on purpose to promote collaborative and interdisciplinary teaching and learning.”

Shettles said he hopes that once the center opens, students will find a home there.

“As designers, the best compliment we could receive would be to see students using this building even if they don’t have a class there,” he said. “We would love it to be a hangout destination for students simply because of the quality of the interior and exterior spaces, and because it promotes engagement and collaboration.”

Brothers Jim and Thomas Duff, of Hattiesburg, have committed $26 million to the construction of the building. The total project cost is $175 million, with $135 million in construction expenses.

Hunter has been part of the project since it was first imagined some 10 years ago.

“It’s a major honor to be part of this project,” he said. “To work so long on something and then seeing it actually being built is amazing.”

Undergraduate Student Publishes Sleep Research Paper

Posted on: October 3rd, 2022 by cnstewa1 No Comments

UM senior studies correlation between brain anatomy and sleep duration

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UM biology major Nicole Jones (left) and communication sciences professor Tossi Ikuta go over brain scans at the South Oxford Center. Under Ikuta’s supervision, Jones has been using the scans to explore how brain structure affects sleep. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi senior has published a scientific paper on one of the most essential human needs: sleep.

Nicole Jones, a biology major in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, is investigating whether the size of the caudate nucleus, a structural component of the brain, can be linked to how long people sleep.

“Research based on sleep has been very interesting to me,” Jones said. “I think it’s really cool that there isn’t much out there on it and it’s a hard concept to study.

“Based on what was available, I was able to narrow my project down to look at size-related data of different areas of the brain and sleep duration data.”

The paper, “Sleep Duration is Associated with Caudate Volume and Executive Function,” was published in Brain Imaging and Behavior’s online edition, with a print edition forthcoming. The bimonthly, peer-reviewed publication features research that uses neuroimaging to study higher brain function.

Tossi Ikuta, associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, has advised Jones on her honors thesis and is co-author on the paper. Undergraduate student research is rarely published before a student graduates, he said.

“People with doctorate degrees strive to publish in this journal,” Ikuta said. “Nikki has accomplished her publication even before her bachelor’s degree.

“I have seen undergraduate students listed as one of the authors in a peer-reviewed journal. However, it is as unusual as an elementary school student doing linear algebra.”

Nicole Jones works alongside communication sciences professor Tossi Ikuta in his digital neuroscience lab at the South Oxford Center. She authored a paper recently published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, a remarkable achievement for an undergraduate researcher. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The caudate nucleus is a pair of structures within the medial part of the brain, the basal ganglia. The caudate is associated with high-level functioning such as memory, learning, reward and motivation. This level of functioning can be linked to sleep, Jones said.

“That’s why we started there,” Jones said. “We found that the size and volume of the caudate nucleus was correlated with sleep duration, which means the larger the size of the caudate was in the subject’s brain, the longer they would sleep.”

This was initially found across all age ranges in the study, which included more than 400 people ages 10-85. Upon closer investigation, Jones and Ikuta discovered that the association came primarily from the younger population.

The results bring scientists one step closer to understanding the role of the caudate in sleep, Ikuta said.

“The caudate nucleus is known to be involved in insomnia, but its role in sleep is not very clear,” he said. “We were able to show that the size of the caudate nucleus matters.”

Jones, a native of Nolensville, Tennessee, enrolled at Ole Miss based on its welcoming atmosphere. She had yet to realize the opportunities for firsthand research experience at the university.

“After touring the university in high school, I knew I wanted to come here,” she said. “It’s an intimate campus, but also big enough that I thought there would be lots of opportunities.

“I never realized that I would be publishing a paper – it was a huge surprise to me.”

After graduation, Jones hopes to continue on a path related to research and science in general. She said that her experience working with Ikuta grew her confidence in this area.

“Writing a journal and co-authoring with someone who is well-known in their field was really nerve-racking in the beginning, but Dr. Ikuta grew my confidence and put my ideas out there,” she said. “I would encourage other students to try research, even if it’s just dabbling in it on a volunteer basis.”

Ole Miss Asks ‘Where Are You Going?’ in Latest TV Commercial

Posted on: September 19th, 2022 by erabadie No Comments

New national spot debuts during halftime of Georgia Tech game

Students prepare to show off their steps during filming for the university's new national commercial, which debuts Sept. 17 during the Ole Miss-Georgia Tech football game. The spot features several Ole Miss students, faculty and alumni, who share their perspectives on how the university has inspired them to build their legacies. Submitted photo

Students prepare to show off their steps during filming for the university’s new national commercial, which debuts Sept. 17 during the Ole Miss-Georgia Tech football game. The spot features several Ole Miss students, faculty and alumni, who share their perspectives on how the university has inspired them to build their legacies. Submitted photo


The University of Mississippi debuts its new television commercial Saturday (Sept. 17) during the football game between Ole Miss and Georgia Tech on ABC.

The 30-second commercial, titled “Where are You Going,” features Ole Miss students describing their personal aspirations paired with popular spots on campus and in Oxford, showing viewers where leaders are made and legacies are born.

“There is an energy and a vibrancy that you can feel at Ole Miss,” Chancellor Glenn Boyce said. “The university is experiencing some extraordinary achievements and triumphs right now, from our largest freshman class ever to record-high retention and graduation rates to celebrating 60 years of integration.

“Ole Miss is a place where you can pave your own path and define the legacy you want to leave.”

Shot on campus and around the historic Oxford Square, the commercial features some of the university’s best and brightest students, faculty and alumni, including:

  • Andy Flores, “I’m going to be the first in my family to graduate.”: The first in his family to attend college, the senior from Ocean Springs was awarded a Truman Scholarship, which supports students who demonstrate outstanding leadership potential, a commitment to a career in public service and academic excellence. Flores graduates in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in public policy leadership and philosophy, and plans to use his Truman Scholarship to attend law school.
  • Cellas Hayes, “I’m going to make a difference.”: A native of Ludlow, Hayes (BS biological sciences 19) has already built an impressive legacy. He is pursuing his second degree from UM as a doctoral student in pharmacology in the Department of BioMolecular Sciences, He became interested in neuroscience, motivated by his grandmother’s battle with Alzheimer’s and his family’s long history with cardiovascular disease. His research earned him the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health, one of the highest honors a doctoral student can receive. Hayes is the first Black UM student and the third UM student ever to receive this type of fellowship.
  • Jylah Knight, “Just like my granddad.”: A native of Jackson, Knight is a granddaughter of James Meredith, the civil rights leader who integrated the university in 1962. Knight is working toward a bachelor’s degree in communications. This month, the university honors Meredith in ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the university’s integration.
  • Vinh Hoang, “I’m going to make the bestsellers list.”: The Houston, Texas, native is working toward his Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and expects to graduate in spring 2024.
  • Aimee Nezhukumatathil, “And I’m going to help him get there.”: Nezhukumatathil is an acclaimed author and poet who has published six books. Her illustrated collection of nature essays, “World of Wonder: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, & Other Astonishments,” was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize in nonfiction and was named the 2020 Barnes & Noble Book of the Year. She is a Guggenheim Fellow, and her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, ESPN Magazine and twice in Best American Poetry. She is professor of English and creative writing in the university’s MFA program.
  • Hunter Elliott, pitcher, Ole Miss national champion baseball team, “I’m going to win a national championship.”: This past season, the baseball team won the College World Series championship for the first time in program history. The Rebels rebounded from a 7-14 record at the start of conference play by closing the season with a 20-4 stretch of games to be the last team standing in the NCAA Championship. Elliott, a native of Tupelo, was the starting pitcher in the decisive game that clinched the title.
  • Ole Miss national champion women’s golf team, “Again!”: The Ole Miss women’s golf team claimed the university’s first national championship since football’s 1962 title. The Rebels also became the first Ole Miss women’s team to claim an NCAA national championship. Featured in the spot are Ellen Hume, Ellen Hutchinson-Kay, Andrea Lignell and Chiara Tamburlini. Besides their success on the course, the team won All-Scholar Team honors in the 2021-22 season with a cumulative GPA of 3.89, third-highest in the nation.
  • The Divine Nine, “I’m going to take the next step.”: The university hosts all nine NPHC fraternities and sororities, also known as the Divine Nine. Representatives in the commercial include Robert Allen, Taylor Carson, Armaud Jackson, Zachary Newson, Quentin Perkins, Jakayla Phillips and Rodre Tenner.
  • Additional students featured include:
    • Faith Gardner, junior, St. Augustine, Florida, “We’re going to lock the Vaught. Hotty Toddy!”
    • Jane Hopson, sophomore, Vicksburg, “We’re going to lock the Vaught. Hotty Toddy!
    • Sofia King, sophomore, Solana Beach, California, “We’re going to lock the Vaught. Hotty Toddy!
    • Benton Donahue, freshman, Madison, “I’m going to bring them to their feet.”
    • Maggie Roberson, freshman, Vicksburg, “I’m going to Ole Miss.”
  • Wright Thompson, voiceover: An Oxford-based writer and co-host of the SEC Network show “True South” with John T. Edge, Thompson contributed the opening and closing of the spot with a distinctive voice made famous on essays delivered for ESPN.

“In fall 2020, we launched the university’s brand platform, ‘Build Your Legacy,’ as a call to action to current and prospective students about the lifetime of possibilities available to them by enrolling at our university,” said Jim Zook, chief marketing and communications officer. “‘Where Are You Going’ expands on that initiative by offering a glimpse into just a few of the ways that Ole Miss inspires our future leaders to build their own legacies.”

An extended version of the commercial expands upon the culture and opportunities presented at Ole Miss, as well as introducing additional students, including Dallas Kiner, Emison Geiger, Harrison Stewart, Henry Hubbell, Holly Davidson, Kathryn Matthews, Lila Osman, Madeline Crowe, Madison Scott, Matt Alley and Taylor Rae.

You can watch the new commercial at

Biologist, Students Promote Research on Sustainable Ecotourism

Posted on: September 19th, 2022 by erabadie No Comments

Team leads workshop for international scientists, industry experts

Ecotourists explore a rainforest in Costa Rica. UM biologist Richard Buchholz is organizing an international research network focused on examining the effects of ecotourism on the environment. Submitted photo

Ecotourists explore a rainforest in Costa Rica. UM biologist Richard Buchholz is organizing an international research network focused on examining the effects of ecotourism on the environment. Submitted photo


Ecotourism is a billion-dollar industry that gives travel enthusiasts an intimate look at the world’s most breathtaking natural environments. While ecotourism is often thought to be synonymous with sustainable travel, its recent growth in popularity could have a negative impact on local wildlife and ecosystems.

“Many of us hope to one day experience the thrill of seeing elephants strolling the African savannah, or the colorful fishes and anemones that adorn a tropical coral reef, or some other fascinating creature in its natural habitat,” said Richard Buchholz, a University of Mississippi biology professor. “Unfortunately, as the human population grows and international travel becomes more accessible, these natural places won’t survive the onslaught of tourists without careful management.

“If we want future generations to be able to see the planet’s wonders firsthand, rather than just read in books about ‘what used to be,’ we have to learn how to live sustainably.”

Buchholz, director of the UM Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Research, is working to organize an international research network focused on investigating the behavioral effects of ecotourism and developing more sustainable recommendations.

When the pandemic brought worldwide travel to a halt, one positive outcome came to light. The absence of human disturbance in natural areas allowed wildlife to emerge and become more visible, Buchholz said.

“Clearly, the mere presence of humans was having a negative effect on animal behavior,” he said. “We realized that we would need an international approach to understand the ways that different human cultures might have an impact on wild species ranging from butterflies to whales.”

Buchholz and several of his doctoral students traveled to Costa Rica in July to help run a workshop at the Animal Behavior Society’s annual meeting. The workshop, “Intersections Among Animal Behavior, Conservation and Ecotourism,” served as a jumping off point for scientists, students, economists and industry representatives to begin discussion around sustainable ecotourism.

Jessica Stamn was one of those students. The willingness of the group to address conservation problems impressed her, she said.

“Everyone involved in the workshop had the common goal of understanding the impacts ecotourism might be having on wildlife species, and that passion was felt throughout the entire workshop,” Stamn said. “I felt particularly inspired when I met the attendees who were not involved in academia, but were still committed to promoting conservation through animal behavior research.

“Not only did I get to meet some really interesting people who worked on really cool projects, but I was also exposed to a ton of conservation-related jobs that I had not been aware of before.”

Stamn and her UM classmates will work with national and international collaborators to compile information from the workshop and highlight the top questions surrounding ecotourism and animal behavior. These questions addressed how ecotourism influences species reproduction, communication patterns and ecological soundscapes, among other things.

Buchholz plans to use the connections he made at the meeting to continue building a research network.

“We’ll investigate sources of funding that could allow the network to compare and contrast the answers to those research questions in different study systems – that is, different types of animal-tourist interactions – around the world,” he said. “Ultimately we will tie these into the United Nations goals for a sustainable future.”

The UM Office of Global Engagement awarded Buchholz an International Collaboration Grant to fund the project. The Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, Department of Biology and Graduate School also contributed travel support.

For more information about the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Research, visit

‘Leaders for Tomorrow’ Recipients Aim High at UM

Posted on: August 16th, 2022 by erabadie No Comments

Incoming freshmen awarded Annexstad Family Foundation scholarships


Three students in the University of Mississippi‘s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College have been awarded scholarships from the Annexstad Family Foundation.

The foundation awards three Leaders for Tomorrow National Scholarships each year to Ole Miss students who have exhibited leadership in their schools or communities, said John Samonds, associate dean of the Honors College.

“Our 2022 recipients have demonstrated that they have the drive to accomplish anything they set their minds to,” Samonds said. “We hope that this scholarship will enable them to do just that.”

Oxford native and Annexstad scholar Brady Bass plans to major in biology. Submitted photo

Oxford native and Annexstad scholar Brady Bass plans to major in biology. Submitted photo

Incoming freshmen Brady Bass, Destiny Kirksey and Manjot Nagra are setting big goals for their time at the university.

Originally from Oxford, Bass learned about hard work from his family’s business, Bassco Foam in Tupelo. COVID-19 had an incredible effect on the polyfoam fabrication company when a stay-at-home order was issued in March 2020.

“While many of the workers could go home, we still had orders coming in that needed to be taken care of to keep the business afloat,” Bass said. “We were let out of school, so I began working.”

Bass, along with other family members, worked every weekday from March to August, barring one week that summer. He primarily operated a polyfoam cutting saw and a table saw that cut fiber for furniture.

“At the end of the summer when it was time for me to go back to school, people had begun to learn more about COVID and most of our workers came back through mandating the wearing of masks,” he said. “I was able to return to school with the proud feeling that I had helped keep my family’s business from potentially collapsing.”

Bass, who will major in biology, said he learned to never waver when solving a problem.

“I have an ideology that bad things are going to happen, and you just have to persevere and work through them,” he said. “I am definitely relying on my work ethic to help me excel in college.”

Bass is grateful for the scholarship, which will ease his financial burden as he plans to attend medical school.

Kirksey, who hails from Philadelphia, Mississippi, hopes to ultimately use her studies at the university to help families through genetic counseling. This mission is near and dear to her heart.

“I have a cousin who was diagnosed with autism when he was 12,” she said. “My brother also exhibits symptoms, though he was never diagnosed.

“By becoming a geneticist, I could assist by telling the parents about any genetic risk that could happen to their future child.”

The biology major said she hopes to specifically study genetic variations and those that could be hereditary.

Destiny Kirksey, of Philadelphia, is using her Annexstad scholarship to study biology in hopes of someday helping families through genetic counseling. Submitted photo

Destiny Kirksey, of Philadelphia, is using her Annexstad scholarship to study biology in hopes of someday helping families through genetic counseling. Submitted photo

Helping others is vital to Kirksey. During the pandemic, her mother was infected with the Delta variant of COVID-19 while working as a licensed counselor at Weems Community Mental Health Center. The community stepped in to help take care of her family.

“People would drop off food, disinfectant, medicine and anything else we might have needed,” Kirksey said. “The community even made sure my brother and I attended school.

“Without their help, I would have struggled to be where I am today. They helped me continue on the path towards higher education.”

Kirksey is also grateful for the opportunities that this scholarship will provide – namely saving for medical school.

“Years from now, I would like to say I accomplished my goals, helped many families and helped my community,” she said.

The eldest daughter of Indian immigrants, Nagra is a first-generation college student. She became interested in health care during high school and has selected biomedical engineering as her major.

“The medical field has always caught my eye, but when I started shadowing physicians from the Tupelo area, it really made me feel like this is the job I was meant for,” Nagra said.

“I am very passionate about science, and as the oldest sibling and first grandchild in my family, caregiving comes naturally to me. I hope to use these qualities to become a pediatric surgeon one day.”

Nagra often helped her parents by caring for her younger brother and sister. Even with these obligations at home, the Tupelo native excelled at school and has kick-started her education by becoming a certified nursing assistant during the summer.

“I have been waiting for the day I could complete the CNA program ever since my second semester of junior year in high school,” she said. “I thought it would help make me a better future physician.

“I learned so much – the biggest realization was that nurses are truly the backbone of the health care field. Overall, I now have a huge amount of respect for CNAs.”

Nagra said that the scholarship will allow her time to study and conduct research while going to classes. She also plans to pursue research programs and internships during the summer before applying for medical school.

Cathy and Al Annexstad, with their family, created the foundation in 2000 to focus on helping young people earn college degrees. They’ve been awarding scholarships at Ole Miss since 2015. The foundation, based in Minnesota, has provided more than 1,000 scholarships to deserving students across the nation.

For more information about the Annexstad Family Foundation Leaders for Tomorrow scholarships, visit To make a gift to Honors College programs or scholarships, visit or for more information, contact Brady Bramlett at or 662-915- 3081.

Exploring Biology Beyond the Classroom

Posted on: August 3rd, 2022 by erabadie No Comments

Off-campus courses give students hands-on opportunities in biodiversity locations

Abby Morgan (left), a senior biology major from Tullahoma, Tennessee, and Bridget Sprandel, a junior biology major from Crystal Lake, Illinois, show off a live conch they discovered while exploring an estuary on the Bahamian island of Half Moon Cay. The Ole Miss students participated in an Island Biogeography course in the Caribbean during the 2022 Wintersession. Submitted photo

Abby Morgan (left), a senior biology major from Tullahoma, Tennessee, and Bridget Sprandel, a junior biology major from Crystal Lake, Illinois, show off a live conch they discovered while exploring an estuary on the Bahamian island of Half Moon Cay. The UM students participated in an Island Biogeography course in the Caribbean during the 2022 Wintersession. Submitted photo


Biological science students at the University of Mississippi are broadening their horizons by taking classes in the Caribbean, Hawaii and Arizona, taught by professors Brice Noonan, Erik Hom and Jason Hoeksema.

“The Department of Biology is fortunate to have a number of off-campus opportunities that allow students to explore such varied topics as the biodiversity of the desert southwest in Arizona and the interaction of biology and society in Hawaii,” said Noonan, acting chair and associate professor of biology.

Hoeksema’s BISC 380 and 491: Ecology and Evolution of Sky Island Biodiversity course in Arizona is offered over the summer, and Noonan’s BISC 448: Island Biogeography in the Caribbean and Hom’s BISC 380: Life at the Interface; Microbes, Volcanoes and Culture in Hawaii are Wintersession courses.

“To me, the best thing about this class is that southeastern Arizona is a major biodiversity hotspot with a beautiful landscape, making it the ideal outdoor laboratory for learning about species in their natural environments,” Hoeksema said.

“Students are immersed in nature, learning to recognize species and how they fit into their characteristic habitats while hiking and exploring in an outdoor wonderland of mountains and canyons.”

Students in professor Jason Hoeksema’s Ecology and Evolution of Sky Island Biodiversity course catch their breath and take in the view during a hike in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. Photo by Jason Hoeksema/UM Department of Biology

Students in professor Jason Hoeksema’s Ecology and Evolution of Sky Island Biodiversity course catch their breath and take in the view during a hike in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. Photo by Jason Hoeksema/UM Department of Biology

Meredith Goza, a biology major from Oxford, participated in the Arizona class.

“Every day, we explored the habitat we were studying, documenting the interesting plants or animals we found,” Goza said. “We conducted small research projects; mine was investigating the concentration of different species of bats throughout the region.

“All aspects of this course offered enjoyable and direct approaches to exploring science.”

Through travel and study both inside and outside the U.S., students gain a more holistic view of the field of biology beyond campus classrooms.

“I believe training young scientists and researchers is much more a journeyman experience than most people realize, one that is poorly captured by traditional lecture-lab courses,” Hom said.

“The type of field courses I have led to California and Hawaii for StudyUSA emphasize ‘experiential learning’ – on-the-spot critical thinking combined with hands-on practice – and has excited students without fail that they are ‘doing science.’ Having students ‘do science’ is precisely the goal of my field courses.

“Teaching students in a beautiful but unfamiliar environment helps a lot with meta-cognition, helping them to see science in a different and more culturally far-reaching context.”

Recent biology graduate Jaylen Powell, from Lambert, is working in Hom’s laboratory as a technician to gain more skills before graduate school. He enrolled in the Hawaii course because of a talk with Hom.

Jaylen Powell, a recent UM biology graduate from Lambert, stands on lava rock overlooking the Pacific Ocean while in Hawaii for a 2020 Study USA course on Life at the Interface; Microbes, Volcanoes and Culture. Submitted photo

Jaylen Powell, a recent UM biology graduate from Lambert, stands on lava rock overlooking the Pacific Ocean while in Hawaii for a 2020 Study USA course on Life at the Interface; Microbes, Volcanoes and Culture. Submitted photo

“It was my junior year and I did not know what I wanted to do with my life,” Powell said. “Dr. Hom explained that I should step out of my comfort zone and gain a new perspective. After much deliberation and reassurance that airplanes are safe, I decided he was right.

“The Hawaii experience was everything Dr. Hom had said it would be and more. It was an engaging class, from listening to professors to harvesting tea leaves. My top memorable moments: visiting a honey farm and learning about bees, and when the class went snorkeling, I was pushed out of my comfort zone and it made me want to learn how to swim.”

For Noonan’s Island Biogeography class, 13 students explored jungles in Jamaica, forests on St. Thomas and coastal communities of the Bahamas, observing biological communities and learning about how their geography affected them.

Tiffany Nguyen, from Indianola, called the class her “favorite memory at Ole Miss.” She enrolled in the class to study abroad and to fulfill a biology elective for her biochemistry major, which she completed by earning her bachelor’s degree in May.

“During winter intersession, it was nice to have a small break and focus on one class,” Nguyen said. “We would have a two-hour class on ship days, and on island days we would have our ‘lab’ where we hiked around the islands to find species and study the islands. I tried to live in the moment and appreciate all of it.

“Dr. Noonan was really, really passionate about the class, so it made it 10 times more enjoyable. It’s such a small class, you get to know one another because you spend most of your time on the ship with your classmates. I made some of my best friends on this trip.”

Former Student wins Society for Freshwater Science 2022 Career Award

Posted on: March 24th, 2022 by erabadie No Comments

MARCH 24, 2022

Dr. Zanethia Barnett, who earned her Ph.D. from the Department of Biology is the recipient of the 2022 Hynes Award for New Investigators, one of the Career Awards from The Society for Freshwater Science.

Zanethia Barnett

Dr. Zanethia Barnett earned her PhD from the University of Mississippi Department of Biology.

“Our Career Awards recognize outstanding contributions in advancing freshwater science through research, translating this science into policy or social action, and service to SFS,” said Ashley Moerke, president of the Society. “These  scholars and leaders have all exhibited excellence in their varied contributions to our field around the world.”

The Hynes Award for New Investigators is awarded to a freshwater scientist who was senior author of an outstanding primary publication that appeared in print in the last three years. The recipient must have received a terminal post-graduate degree within the last five years and cannot currently be enrolled in a degree program.

Barnett is a Research Fisheries Biologist at the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station whose publication, “Crayfish populations genetically fragmented in streams impounded for 36-104 years” (Freshwater Biology 2020) was the first paper to assess the effects of relatively large dams on crayfish population genetic structure. Barnett’s research focuses on understanding the structure of aquatic communities and quantifying the effects of human induced disturbances on aquatic systems. She eloquently pairs her research with strong service to both SFS and the US Forest Service, including her dedication and passion to advance equity, inclusion, and diversity in freshwater science.

Currently, Barnett represents the Southern Research Station on both the interagency Upper Mississippi River Aquatic Invasive Species Panel and the Forest Service Dive Control Board. In addition to her involvement in the award-winning Get Black Outside day that exposed youth and their families to freshwater snorkeling and the importance of healthy streams, Barnett is a member of the Society’s justice, equity, diversity and inclusion task force and serves as a co-lead for council of underrepresented voices.

Immersed in Summer Research

Posted on: November 11th, 2021 by erabadie No Comments

Undergraduate program opens doors to new creative scholarship

September 15, 2021 By Shea Stewart

A photo of Jared Barnes (right), a senior biology major from Grenada, talks about his biodegradable drug delivery system research during a poster presentation for the UM Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program. Photo by Shea Stewart/UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

Jared Barnes (right), a senior biology major from Grenada, talks about his biodegradable drug delivery system research during a poster presentation for the UM Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program. Photo by Shea Stewart/UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

Sydni Davis found herself in rewarding new territory this summer.

The University of Mississippi sophomore from Tupelo spent the summer conducting interviews with Black women, gaining valuable experience in ethnographic methods as part of a summer research project.

“I am proud of myself for collecting my data and conducting interviews,” said Davis, an African American studies major. “This experience has given me the confidence to pursue more research. Diving into this headfirst, I was not sure how I would fare, but I proved to myself how capable I am.”

Davis was among 15 UM undergraduate students who investigated new research areas or creative scholarship, or furthered their existing knowledge, as part of the university’s Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program, which is funded by the Office of the Provost and administered by the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

The 8-10-week fellowship program allows students to conduct individual research and creative scholarship projects through the summer with a faculty member as a mentor.

The program also prepares faculty collaborators to submit competitive external funding proposals for undergraduate research activities by designing and conducting a pilot summer program in a thematic area of interest to the faculty team.

Jared Barnes, a senior biology major from Grenada, was a member of the Ole Miss Nanoengineering Summer REU Program, which is designed for undergraduates to enhance their research activity within the School of Engineering and assist collaborations between early career and established faculty. Hosted by the Department of Biomedical Engineering, students were able to choose from research projects in one of three emphases: nanobiotechnology, computational nanoengineering and sustainable nanoengineering.

Barnes’ research topic was investigating a biodegradable drug delivery system for the sequential release of psychoactive drugs.

“I wanted to pursue this topic because I have always had a strong interest in the psychology field,” he said. “On top of that, I have the intention of becoming a physician one day and want to help tackle many of the health disparities present today.

“This topic deals with that issue by providing a cheaper, more convenient option for patients who require the repeated drug administration treatment.”

His project involved working with different drug delivery films, including applying parafilm and wax coating to polymeric films, to further examine durable film coatings and how they can be managed to better release drug doses.

“This was my first research experience of actually taking data on my own and feeling as if I played a vital role within the research throughout the entire summer,” said Barnes, who plans to attend the UM Medical Center after earning his bachelor’s degree. “With that being said, I have truly grown a passion and love for research with now an open mind to the possibility of doing more in the future.”

A photo of Sydni Davis, a sophomore African American studies student, presented her oral history project, ‘Soul Food and Soul Searching,’ during a poster presentation for the UM Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program. Submitted photo

Sydni Davis, a sophomore African American studies student, presented her oral history project, ‘Soul Food and Soul Searching,’ during a poster presentation for the UM Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program. Submitted photo

Davis’ oral history project was conducted under the guidance of researchers in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

She was one of three students involved in the summer research experience that used interdisciplinary approaches to the study of race, power and place-identity.

The program benefited students by honing their methodological skills and better preparing them for writing and presenting their findings.

The students, who also were exposed to the differences, debates and key overlaps in methodologies, were encouraged to and received instruction on how to prepare reports for submission to the peer-reviewed journal Study the South or Mississippi Stories.

Davis’s summer research project resulted in “Soul Food and Soul Searching,” an exploration of how the relationship between food in Black culture and racialized beauty standards can lead to disordered eating symptoms in Black women.

“I chose this project because I have seen the effects of eating disorder symptoms and Eurocentric beauty standards in my own body and life,” she said. “Black women are often the ‘other,’ meaning that we are easily ostracized especially in the arenas of beauty and health.

“I have felt the effects of beauty standards I will never quite live up to because they were not meant for me in the first place. My hope for this project is to give Black women a voice, so we can speak for ourselves.”

Davis plans to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in museum studies in hopes of becoming a museum director and inspiring young Black women and bringing more inclusivity to the museum world.

For Santana Amaker’s summer research project, the senior computer science and international studies major from Biloxi studied denial-of-service attacks using a device capable of transmitting or receiving radio signals that is designed to test and develop modern and next-generation radio technologies.

She was one of five students collaborating with mentors in the Department of Computer and Information Science on projects involving cybersecurity research methods that exposed the students to various security risks and mitigation strategies.

A photo of Santana Amaker (left), a senior computer science and international studies major, discusses her summer research project about denial-of-service attacks during a poster presentation for the UM Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program. Photo by Shea Stewart/UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

Santana Amaker (left), a senior computer science and international studies major, discusses her summer research project about denial-of-service attacks during a poster presentation for the UM Summer Undergraduate Research Group Grant program. Photo by Shea Stewart/UM Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

Through the summer research experience, Amaker created a program that allows for denial-of-service attacks.

“I believe that the experience helped me become a better researcher by allowing me to become more independent in my learning,” said Amaker, whose interests include studying vulnerabilities in wireless devices.

“With this program, there was a lot of responsibility placed on me to independently research and turn to my professor for help when I faced a difficult problem, rather than at every step. I think this is much closer to what I will experience working in the tech industry, which is why I see this program as an invaluable opportunity.”

Four students were involved in the Department of Chemical Engineering‘s “Snazzy Surfaces for Students” program, which offered talented undergraduate students an opportunity to join the multidisciplinary surfaces and interfaces team to learn key research skills.

The students learned about surfaces, interfaces and material development, and used the university’s Quartz Crystal Microbalance with Dissipation, a highly sensitive balance that can detect changes in mass at the molecular level using a quartz crystal, which registers minuscule deviations in frequencies and loss of energy.

The program taught students research know-how, creativity and innovative skills, which are fully transferable to future industry or research careers in STEM.

One of those students in the program was Jack Flanders, a junior psychology and biochemistry major from Munford, Tennessee, whose research topic explored protein adsorption on ionic liquid-capped nanoparticles.

“These nanoparticles have shown a wide variety of potential medical applications; however, in order to be effectively used, we need a better idea of exactly how the nanoparticles interact with proteins in the body,” said Flanders, who plans on attending medical school, specializing in psychiatry. “I was able to start my own research project, which will set the groundwork towards my thesis.

“This program taught me a lot about how rewarding research can be. Long hours and extra work are all worth it when you have good data to show for it.”

More than 50 undergraduate students have participated in the program, which began in 2018 and offers participants valuable knowledge and skills while expanding and enhancing the university’s undergraduate research and creative achievement efforts.

The students’ output results in or contributes to a finished product that is significant, such as a presentation of the creative work or a publishable paper.