15th October 2018 – Cassie Freund, Wake Forest University

Cassie FreundI am a PhD student at Wake Forest University. I study community ecology in tropical forests and my current research focuses on the role of a large natural disturbance, landslides, in shaping Andean montane forests. My research site is in and around Manu National Park, Peru, and I am part of the Andes Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group (www.andesconservation.org). I am particularly interested in how these forests regenerate after landslides, what this means for carbon storage of montane forests, and how landslides and climate change may interact in the future. My work integrates fieldwork, drone technology, and LiDAR (in collaboration with Dr. Greg Asner) to understand the role of landslides in Andean landscapes.

Prior to starting my PhD I worked in Indonesian Borneo for about five years, first doing research on tropical peat swamp forests and later as the program director of the Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program. I’ve written or contributed to articles about topics ranging from microtopographic variation in peat swamp forests, to the orangutan trade, to ecosystem services! I will touch on many of these things during my week hosting Biotweeps. Finally, I also write popular science articles for Massive Science, and my articles can be found here: https://massivesci.com/people/cassie-freund/. My personal website is: https://cathrynfreund.wordpress.com/ and I usually tweet over at @CassieFreund.

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8th October 2018 – Ramesh Laungani, Doane University

Ramesh LaunganiRamesh Laungani is an Associate Professor of Biology at Doane University in Nebraska. His scientific research focuses on the impacts of both climate change and climate change mitigation strategies on grasslands. Specifically, he and his students examine how biochar additions to grassland soil can store carbon for the long-term and how biochar affects grassland plant communities and nutrient cycling. He connects his college students to K-12 classrooms across the globe by having his students explain scientific research papers to K-12 students (at the appropriate level) so that his students can develop their own #SciComm skills, while also expanding the types of science that the K-12 students see.  Additionally, he has spearheaded a science communication project called the 1000 STEM Women Project, which curates a library of 90-second scientist introduction videos for use in K-12 classrooms. The overall goal of the project is to diversify the view that students have of scientists and STEM careers. He has also helped organize a number of science communication events in his community over the last few years.

1st October 2018 – Vanessa Pirotta, Macquarie University

Vanessa PirottaVanessa Pirotta is a conservation biologist and science communicator who has recently completed her PhD at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Her research focused on identifying conservation gaps for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). Vanessa investigated the types of anthropogenic and natural threats faced by cetaceans and other marine megafauna (e.g. large fish such as sharks and manta rays, marine turtles, pinnipeds, sirenians and large seabirds). Her work also highlights the use of citizen science for marine mammal monitoring.

Vanessa’s most well-known research involves the use of emerging technologies such as drones for marine megafauna conservation. She collaborated with industry experts to develop custom-built, waterproof drones to collect whale snot (visible plume of spray) from large whales. This device uses a remotely operated flip-lid petri dish to minimise sample contamination from air and sea water. Lung microbiota collected from this research was used to provide a non-invasive assessment of whale health.

Vanessa completed her Master of Research (MRes) in 2014 where she investigated the effects of underwater construction and whale alarms upon migrating humpback whales off Sydney, Australia. Vanessa has a Bachelor of Science from the Australian National University where she majored in Zoology and Evolution and Ecology. Before entering into academia, Vanessa worked in marine turtle rehabilitation and as a zookeeper.

Vanessa has a wealth of experience in marine fieldwork and is a qualified coxswain (vessel operator), naturalist and marine mammal observer. She has worked in a variety of challenging remote locations around Australia and the South Pacific. Last year, Vanessa spent 51 days on a research voyage down to the Sabrina coast off East Antarctica. During this time, she saw her very first aurora.

Vanessa is extremely excited to host Biotweeps and will feature a diverse range of interesting work from biologists around the world.

24th September 2018 – Aileen Baird, University of Birmingham, Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (funded by NERC through DREAM CDT)

Aileen BairdHi Biotweeps! I’m Aileen, and I’m just entering the 2nd year of my PhD at the University of Birmingham funded under the NERC DREAM CDT. Prior to my PhD, I studied for an MSci in Human Biology, also at the University of Birmingham. During my degree, I realised that microbiology was my real passion, and actually, I was more interested in environmental microbes than microbes in humans! My interest is primarily in fungi: notoriously under-loved and under-studied. So prepare yourselves for a week of me waxing lyrical about the wonderful world of fungi…

My research is on temperate forest fungi and how these fungi are affected by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the air. Due to climate change, we can expect that carbon dioxide concentrations in the air will continue to rise for a number of years, and it is really important to understand how forests will response to this changing planet.

I work at the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) Free Air Carbon Enrichment (FACE) experiment. At our Mill Haft site in Staffordshire we have a unique set up, with 30m high towers forming rings around areas of the forest. These towers spray out extra carbon dioxide into areas of the forest, mimicking what carbon dioxide concentrations we will have in the air in about 2070.

This is an amazing experiment which offers a large number of researchers (including me!) an incredible resource to study how forest ecosystems are affected by climate change. Fungi are really important in forest ecosystems in particular, playing roles in: decomposition, as pathogens (diseases) on plants and in humans, and even on plant roots delivering extra nutrients to plants. Fungi can have a significant impact on the forest ecosystem, so in order to understand how the forest as a whole responds to carbon dioxide, we need to understand how the fungi respond.

Outside of my mushroom-bothering day job, I love to cycle and explore the wonderful countryside we have in the West Midlands! I also work part-time for the Brilliant Club, an organisation which places doctoral researchers and post-docs in schools to deliver university-style tutorials to students from ages 8-18. The aim is to not give the students an experience of studying in university style, on a subject outside of the curriculum- with the end goal of increasing entry of students from under-represented backgrounds into top universities.

I look forward to chatting to you on Twitter this week!

Aileen

Twitter: @alienbaird

17th September 2018 – Ed Emmott, Northeastern University

Ed EmmottI’m Ed Emmott (twitter: @edemmott, web: edemmott.co.uk), a postdoc at Northeastern University in Boston MA. I moved to the US just under a year ago after a previous postdoc in the UK at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London. My background is in studying viruses, how your body defends against them, and in particular how this changes the proteins your cells make in response to infection.

I’ve mostly worked on animal viruses. In some cases these are important in themselves, for example the economic impact of chicken viruses on the poultry industry. The virus I worked on during my PhD – Avian coronavirus, also known as infectious bronchitis virus is an example of this. In other cases, when there isn’t a good way to grow a human virus, a similar animal virus can be the best way we have to study this. In my last postdoc I worked on mouse norovirus which is not a major problem for any mice which get infected, but is similar to human norovirus which causes winter vomiting disease. Norovirus is best known for outbreaks on cruise ships and sporting events.

I’m also interested in how cells make proteins and how cells respond to infection. I’m working on this in my current postdoc, where I am studying how ribosomes are altered as part of the immune response. I do lots of the above with a method called mass spectrometry, which allows me to study thousands of proteins at once. You’ll be hearing a little bit on all this and on some of the places I’ve worked during my week!

Aside from the research, I’m a strong supporter of preprints, and reproducibility in science and try to contribute to these as an ASAPbio and eLife Ambassador. Away from the science I enjoy cooking, music, good restaurants, IPA, and am fueled by ~5 coffees/day.

10th September 2018 – Phil Bouchet, University of Western Australia/Bangor University

Phil BouchetI am a jack of several trades – marine mammalogist by training, converted into shark/fish ecologist as a doctoral student. Born and raised in the French Alps, I spent the last decade Down Under and have only just moved back to the UK to start a new postdoctoral position at Bangor University. In this role, I will be quantifying and mapping risks to marine mammals and seabirds resulting from a number of anthropogenic threats such as fishing bycatch, vessel strikes and exposure to human-made underwater noise.

I have a keen interest in spatial ecology and statistical modelling as they relate to wildlife conservation problems, and always get a kick out of crunching numbers. My PhD research focused on hotspots of marine vertebrates, and how these aligned with prominent physical features of the ocean floor such as seamounts, submarine canyons, or offshore shoals and banks. Part of this work involved the development of a new generation of midwater baited underwater video cameras that can be used to film endangered species in deep-water environments. More recently, I have also been building abundance models for a number of cetacean species (humpback whales, bottlenose and snubfin dolphins) and distribution models for large pelagic fishes (tunas and mackerels).

Fun facts: My parents’ dog and I share the same name; my marine biologist wife @sarahmarley86 and I once conducted an observational study on seals (with big binoculars!) on what we later discovered was a nudist beach; I speak with a chiefly north American accent (the product of years of binge watching soap operas to learn English), which confuses the heck out of everybody. Sometimes even me!

This week, I want to chat about the oceans, as well as about all aspects of academic life, including uprooting one’s family in pursuit of postdocs, the challenges of the two-body problem, gender equality in STEM, and more.

Post-doctoral Marine Top Predator Ecologist
Bangor University – School of Ocean Sciences

Twitter: @pjbouchet
Website: https://pjbouchet.github.io/

3rd September 2018 -Morgan Halane, POSTECH

Morgan HalaneWe all get sick 😦 While our immune system does a good job of fending off viruses, bacteria, and fungi, these tiny invaders sometimes thwart even the best defenses. Human diseases seem to get the most attention, but I am focused on the immune systems of plants. Although you have a lot in common with quinoa, there are some key differences between the immune systems of you and your favorite crop.

A little about me: I’m a D&D Wizard (formerly Druid), a first-generation #BlackAndSTEM PhD, currently conducting postdoctoral research in Dr. Kee Hoon Sohn’s lab (http://sohnlab.kr/) at POSTECH, South Korea. Originally from rural Missouri, I had no idea a decade ago that I would be doing the work that I’m doing, but every day is a new adventure and I’m loving living at the edge of the unknown, both as a scientist and as a foreigner living in Asia.

My PhD research was focused on proteins secreted from bacterial pathogens (effector proteins). My most recent paper identifies a previously uncharacterized functional domain of a well-studied effector protein (http://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1006984).

My goal for this week in Biotweeps is to have a conversation- answer questions about plants and plant immunity, engage in the debate surrounding genetically modified crops, and to learn something new! I also want to discuss things outside of my research topic, such as relocating from the US to Korea for research and switching majors from undergrad to grad (I was a Lit major in Undergrad, where I was working in a science lab while writing essays on sci-fi adaptations).