Science and Controversy

This summer, I taught a high school science course for the PEOPLE Program at UW-Madison. This course was my first opportunity to completely design and implement my own curriculum, and I absolutely loved the freedom and the challenge to do so! I decided to focus the course on improving science literacy through the lens of pseudoscience. In the course, I developed two main learning goals:

  1. Students will be better able to distinguish science from pseudoscience.
  2. Students will be able to explain and apply the process of science.

Based on science education literature, I hypothesized that curriculum that focuses on the process of science (i.e., forming hypothesis, designing experiments, collecting and analyzing data, peer-review), would help students be able to better distinguish everyday examples of science from pseudoscience. With this in mind, I developed student-centered curriculum that involved several problem- and team-based learning exercises, case studies (autism + vaccines, global warming, and genetically modified organisms), and hands-on experiments (testing ear candles). I set up the course to address my teaching-as-research hypothesis with pre and post assessments for both learning goals and received IRB (institutional review board) approval for my study. I am currently working through the data to see whether this course approach is effective.

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This experience was invaluable to me as an instructor! Teaching this course challenged me to work hard to motivate 16 high school students to learn who understandably were more interested in enjoying their summer vacation then having to take yet another three weeks of classes! I also developed better classroom management skills, strategies for building community in the classroom, and teaching approaches that embrace diversity. In all, I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful teaching opportunity, and I hope to be able to teach another PEOPLE Program course next summer!

The link between disease, tree genetics, and environmental context

Today, my first Lindroth lab manuscript is published online! In this study, we investigated how various factors influence the prevalence of powdery mildew (a fungal disease found on plants). In particular, we explored how tree genetics and environmental context shape powdery mildew incidence on aspen (Populus tremuloides).

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International Conference of Quantitative Genetics (ICQG5)

This week I presented my thesis work (thus far!) at ICQG5 in Madison, WI. The conference highlighted terrific talks and posters on dealing with big data in genomics research, the genetics of complex traits, genetic x environment interaction effects, population genetics, and evolutionary biology. For my poster, I presented topics in community genomics, i.e., the concept that particular genes in one organism (e.g., trees) can have effects that shape communities of interacting organisms (e.g., insects).

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24 Hour Sunlight

13239100_10154169249204935_2987875006488517718_nFor two weeks I have an opportunity of a lifetime! I am visiting my genetics collaborators, Pår Ingvarsson and Carolina Bernhardsson (and colleagues) at Umeå University in Sweden!  During my visit, I am learning about the genetic pipelines that my collaborators have put together to (1) extract DNA from each clone at our WisAsp Common Garden, (2) sequence these data with RapidGenomics, (3) align the raw sequence reads, (4) call SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms), (5) filter these SNPs, and (6) then process these data using GWA (genome-wide association) analyses to identify the particular genes that underlie key aspen traits and insect communities. Through all of this, Carolina has given me a crash course in genomic data analyses and UNIX, and Jing Wang has answered all of my GWA questions! 

I have also had some time to explore the city of Umeå and some of the Swedish culture! The city itself has great access to nature with rivers, lakes, and forests in walking distance, and the culture is fantastic! I have enjoyed the university, fikas, and the strong coffee!

Also, I would like to thank the Graduate School at UW-Madison for funding this adventure!

Entomology 2015 in Minneapolis, MN

This week, I presented a talk at Entomology 2015. The conference was a great opportunity to catch up with some of my favorite entomologists from around the country, while also learning about some of the cutting-edge research in the field! For instance, I saw a talk about moth migration research that investigated which genes are up or down regulated in flight (Jones et al., Rothamsted Research). I also saw talks on the Colorado potato beetle genome (Schoville et al., UW-Madison), and models that predict ladybird populations across a habitat that varies in time (Gratton et al., UW-Madison).

For my talk, I presented an update on the WisAsp project, detailing the relationship of various aspen traits (bud phenology, tree size, leaf area) and associated insect communities. This information informs community genetics since it identifies some of the key plant traits that structure insect communities while also highlighting how the trait changes insect species composition within the community. The next step is to identify the plant genes involved in these particular traits and insect community composition.

Secrets of Food Outreach Event!

Today, Sophia Lawrence, Liz Zhengzhen, and I led an outreach booth on edible insects at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID). The booth explored the nutritional, environmental, and cultural aspects of eating insects. We displayed nutritional labels for insects along with chicken and beef for comparison. For instance, if you had 100g of beef and 100g of mealworms, which do you think would contain more protein? ….Mealworms!  We also had some insect snacks, including BBQ flavored crickets and salt and vinegar flavored mealworms! And, perhaps one of our biggest hits was our cockroach terrarium that was full of live Dubia roaches!

This outreach event was largely put together by Sophia. For her research this semester, she has blended two interests: nutritional sciences and entomology into an exploration of eating insects! For this semester, she has designed this outreach event along with my guidance; creating informational posters and trivia cards and bringing together insect snacks and resources. She is also working on a magazine style story that we hope to publish in an online journal/blog!