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Student Spotlights, Fall 2021

KatieWhitakerKatherine Whitaker graduated magna cum laude in May 2021 as a biology major, concentrating in ecology and evolutionary biology. Katie excelled in both her course work at UK and as a successful undergraduate researcher. 

During her second year at UT, Katie joined the Budke Lab <> and carried out an independent research project studying the impact of parental structures on water movement in mosses, which directly impacts offspring survival and fitness. Katie presented her research virtually at the 2020 Botanical Society of America Conference and her presentation was awarded an honorable mention for the best student talk in bryology and lichenology. Katie’s research will also be shared with the scientific community as a peer-reviewed publication in the journal Evansia in summer 2021. 

By engaging in this undergraduate research experience Katie gained skills in experimental design, statistical analyses, and science communication that she will carry with her into her career beyond UT. 

KayciMesserlyKayci Messerly graduated from EEB in May 2021 with a minor in statistics. She completed a research study in the Derryberry lab on heat stress effects on the behavior of zebra finches in collaboration with graduate student Casey Coomes. Her hundreds of hours scoring behavioral videos paid off with presentations at two national conferences, The Animal Behavior Society and the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. 

Kayci has also become involved in a number of other research projects in the Derryberry lab, including work on heat stress effects on tree swallows (Kayci is pictured here holding a tree swallow). Luckily for EEB, Kayci is staying on another year as a lab manager, supporting a number of projects in the Derryberry and Blum labs.  

Undergraduates from multiple departments kicked off a study in spring 2020, under the direction of Ben Keck, aiming to answer questions about the abundance and composition of microplastics in fishes from the upper Tennessee River system. Microplastics were observed at levels greater than other pollutants in the Tennessee River in a 2017 study, but there is no information on how many and what type of microplastics are ingested by fishes in the system. Undergraduate researchers Anna Ward (EEB and psychology), Anna Brown (BCMB), Sydney Craig (animal science), Melissa Demmitt (environmental and soil science) and Caroline Hecht (kinesiology) are extracting microplastics from preserved fishes in the DAE Ichthyological Collection to identify correlations of microplastics with trophic levels, land use in the watershed upstream of the sampling localities, and from the same streams through time. 

The DAE Ichthyological Collection enables preliminary work on each of these questions using specimens sampled for other UT studies or deposited by TVA and other governmental agencies. Many specimens were sampled from the same streams at fairly regular intervals over the past 50 years and now serve as time capsules of the conditions that existed at the time of sampling.

These researchers are undertaking original research to answer key questions of importance to Tennessee, gaining valuable research experience in the process.