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Biology Seminar: Postdoc Symposium

Sebastian Kruppert, Alexa Clemmons, Emily Scott, Tanvi Deora
University of Washington, Department of Biology
Seminar date:
Monday, March 4, 2019 - 12:00
HCK 132
Name: Sebastian Kruppert
Lab: Adam Summers
Title: Poachers of the salish sea. Biomechanics of a fish's heavy body armor.
Fishes of the family Agonidae, commonly named Poachers, possess a heavy body armor made of bone-reinforced scales. These fishes all show a benthic lifestyle, meaning that they live on the bottom of the sea searching for small crustaceans (e.g. shrimps) to feed on. Therefore, most of the known Agonidae species live deep down in the sea usually starting at 600 feet and below. Naturally, our knowledge about these fishes, especially their ecology, is limited. Here in the salish sea however, three species occur that can be found in comparatively shallow water: The Rockhead Poacher (Bothragonus swani), the Gray Starsnout (Bathyagonus alascanus) and the Northern Spearnose Poacher (Agonopsis vulsa). All three species display the impressive body armor of this family. In my postdoc project I aim to describe their armor`s protectiveness and shed some light on the trade-off between protection on one side and maneuverability and swimming capabilities on the other.
I graduated at the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, where I studied the carapace of the small fresh water crustacean Daphnia, commonly known as the `water flea`. Shortly after getting my PhD I was lucky enough to raise funding for a short postdoc at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In August 2018 I joint the lab of Adam summers with whom I`m sharing interest in the biomechanics of biological defense structures. 


Name: Alexa Clemmons
Lab: Alison Crowe
Title: What skills do biology majors need for success in modern careers? Using a collaborative approach to define the essential set
Census data show that biology graduates pursue diverse careers in and out of STEM. To be successful, they will need transferrable skills, and yet skills training is often an underdeveloped facet of the undergraduate curriculum as compared to content knowledge. To address this discrepancy, my research aims to integrate national recommendations with actual educator experiences to build resources for teaching skills to undergraduate biology majors. Specifically, I have developed and nationally validated a set of measurable learning outcomes for skills. I used a combination of surveys, workshops, and interviews to gather and apply feedback from over 400 college biology educators with experience teaching a range of biology subdisciplines, course levels, and student populations. In this seminar, I will give an overview of the iterative and collaborative approach used to develop this tool, and share some interesting trends in faculty opinions on competencies. I will close with a preview of how the products of this research have already begun to serve as a resource for faculty here in UW Biology.
Alexa Clemmons earned her PhD in Steven Wasserman’s lab at the University of California, San Diego. Her dissertation research used molecular and genetic approaches to answer questions about gene regulation and innate immunity. She is now engaged in discipline-based education research, with the goal of making a broad impact in undergraduate education while applying the research skills that she acquired during her PhD. Her talk today will tell us about her postdoctoral work with Alison Crowe in the biology education research group.


Name: Emily Scott
Lab: Jennifer Doherty & Mary Pat Wenderoth
Title: An emerging learning progression characterizing how students use mass balance reasoning to understand physiology
Reasoning with fundamental scientific concepts about the natural world is foundational to scientific thinking but challenging for students to do. Instead, many students often use disjointed factual knowledge or colloquial ideas to reason about biological processes. Learning progressions provide a theoretical framework for understanding how students develop sophisticated, scientific reasoning strategies. In this talk, I will present my emerging learning progression framework that describes how students reason using the principle of matter conservation across plant and animal physiological phenomena. I developed and administered online assessment questions that asked biology undergraduate students to explain how material fluxes into, and out of, a compartment determined the amount of material in that compartment (i.e., mass balance scenarios). I used these data to develop a learning progression framework that describes four progressively more sophisticated reasoning levels students exhibit as they work towards mastery of mass balance ideas.
Emily Scott received a PhD from Michigan State University studying dissolved organic nitrogen and carbon biogeochemistry in norther hardwood forests under Dr. David Rothstein. She then conducted postdoctoral work with Dr. Andy Anderson and Dr. Vashti Sawtelle at MSU examining how students reason about natural phenomena. She joined the Doherty-Wenderoth in the summer of 2017 to investigate how students reason about plant and animal physiology. 


Name: Tanvi Deora
Lab: Bing Brunton & Tom Daniel 
Title: Role of tactile sensing in insect-plant pollination interaction 
The coevolution of flowering plants and insect pollinators has led to rapid diversification in both groups. Insects use plants’ species-specific visual and olfactory cues to navigate to flowers. As they approach flowers, moths and butterflies unfurl their straw-like mouthpart, proboscis, to find the tiny nectary hole in the flower. This is a challenging task, especially for nocturnal moths that hover over flowers in low light and windy conditions. Despite the ecological importance of this behavior, few studies have focused on the role of rapid tactile feedback in this interaction. To address this, we developed an assay to track hawkmoths, Manduca sexta, as they feed from micro-sensed, 3D-printed, artificial flowers. We find that moths became increasingly efficient at locating the nectary over repeated visits and use their proboscis to actively explore the flower surface, similar to rat whisking. These results suggest that moths may use active exploration in learning flower shapes.
Tanvi Deora received her PhD degree from the National Center of Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India in 2016 where she worked in the lab of Dr. Sanjay Sane studying biomechanics of insect thorax. She is currently working in the labs of Tom Daniel and Bing Brunton as a Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) postdoc to study how insects use touch to feed from and pollinate flowers. 
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