Former Student Aims High

One of our undergrads is competing to go into space!  He’ll be on campus for Engineering Open House this weekend.  Go check him out and show your support!

Hi everybody,

So AXE, the deodorant company and not the chemistry fraternity, teamed up with Space Expedition Corporation, a private aerospace company developing a miniature space shuttle, to send a few people from around the world to outer space.  The United States gets two seats.  One of them was assigned with a sweepstakes during the Superbowl.  The other one will be determined at a later date.  The competition I’m in would allow me to get a chance to get that other seat.  I am basically in a popularity contest:  the top two spots with the most amount of votes move on to attend Space Camp.  The two winners will join eight others chosen from other sweepstakes to go to Space Camp.  The last seat for space travel will be chosen from people attending.  Space Camp itself should be fairly exciting:  it covers a ride in a fighter jet, a microgravity flight, and simulator space flight.  I am currently in 24th place in that popularity contest.  I’ve been dressing up as an astronaut everyday at George Mason University (just doing everyday things like doing hw, eating, going to class, etc…) and I’ll do the same at U of I when I visit March 8-10.  That’s during my spring break so I’ll also have time to hand out flyers/pamphlets. The school newspaper there is going to run a story on me fairly soon.

For my graduate studies, I am pursing a Master’s degree in chemistry.  My advisor is Paul Cooper and he specializes in the chemistry of planetary ices.  The research I am conducting involves elucidating the mechanism behind methanol formation in irradiated ice.  Water ice is the most dominant ice in the solar system and that ice is constantly bombarded by high-speed electrons, protons, and ions.  This can lead to the creation of new and more complex chemical species if the ice contains other primordial chemical species like methane or carbon dioxide.  My experiments involve shooting high speed electrons at water ice laced with methane.  We identify various products using IR spectroscopy and mass spectroscopy.  The exact mechanism or mechanisms of formation will be identified by using deuterium that will replace the hydrogen atoms in either the methane or water so that we can trace the movement of the hydrogen atoms.


Congratulations to Ryan Kelly, 2012 winner of the Deevey award from the Ecological Society of America.

Ryan Kelly, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Illinois, is the winner of the 2012 Deevey award for his presentation: “Pushing the limits of the boreal-forest fire regime: recent changes in a 10,000 year context.” His presentation was coauthored by Melissa Chipman, Philip E. Higuera, Linda B. Brubaker, and Feng Sheng Hu.

His research reconstructed 10,000 years of boreal-forest fire history from analysis of macroscopic charcoal accumulation in sediment cores from Alaska. He presented evidence that the boreal fire regime has been changing through fuel depletion. Mr. Kelly completed a Bachelor of Science in Integrative Biology from the University of Illinois in 2005.

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IGERT Students in Panama

Hello everyone,

We are first-year Ph. D. students at the University of Illinois in the School of Integrative Biology. Our interests range from pollen and plants to bees and birds. We are spending our spring 2013 semester in Panama thanks to NSF-IGERT VInTG fellowships (National Science Foundation, Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship: Vertically Integrated Training with Genomics). This fellowship gives us a chance to spend time outside of a laboratory and learn more about how organisms interact in the field. According to the IGERT website, “Our goal is to produce a new generation of biologists with novel training that provides a modern blend of genome-enabled biology and taxon-centered expertise, with specific emphasis on how the genome and the environment interact to give rise to diversity.”

The program in Panama is in two parts. For the first month, we are taking a tropical biology course that involves a series of seminars and field trips to various Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) research stations. After the course, we will all be conducting our own individual research projects  at STRI, and you can follow our progress at our blog webpage!

Written by Kelsey Witt, edited by Cassie Wesseln (IGERT VinTG Fellows)

Danny Roche’s Presitgious Publications

An SIB undergrad’s independent research project is published in a high impact scientific journal

Danny Roche began working in Dr. Alison Bell’s lab in 2010. Dr. Bell’s lab investigates how genes and the environment combine to affect behavior using a small freshwater fish, the threespined stickleback. Under the direction of Dr. Katie McGhee (a postdoctoral researcher in the lab), Danny started with humble beginnings coding hundreds of videos of fish behavior. His dedication and motivation paid off however, and very soon he was promoted from watching “video” fish to working with live fish. He worked alongside Dr. McGhee and another postdoc in the lab, Dr. Lauren Pintor (now at The Ohio State University), to examine how maternal exposure to predators affects offspring antipredator behavior. This gave him first hand experience in how to design and execute an experiment and inspired him to do his own independent research project.

Danny was particularly interested in studying learning and wanted to know whether maternal exposure to predators has consequences for offspring learning later in life. Based on the literature, he decided to use a learning assay where a food reward was paired with a particularly colored chamber. To get the food reward repeatedly, the fish has to learn that the “blue” chamber always has the food reward but the “yellow” chamber never does. He found that offspring from mothers that had been exposed to a predator while producing eggs learned the food-color association more slowly than offspring from mothers that had not been exposed to a predator. His study suggests that maternal stress from seeing a predator can have life-long consequences for offspring learning. As part of his IB 490 project, he wrote a scientific paper that was judged by faculty and gave a 15 min presentation at the SIB Undergraduate Research Symposium.  Not only did Danny receive “High Distinction” upon graduation for an outstanding independent student research project, but his manuscript was recently published in a high impact peer-reviewed scientific journal, Biology Letters. Moreover, his study is attracting widespread attention and was highlighted in Nature this week.

As an undergraduate, Danny experienced the entire scientific process, from initial brainstorming about ideas for a project, to reading the literature, to collecting and analyzing data, to submitting a manuscript and addressing reviewers’ comments. In addition to successfully carrying out his own project, Danny brought his own perspective to the lab and was an important contributor to other projects in the lab. Although the Bell lab was sad to see him go, Danny is getting valuable first hand research experience at a field station and is presently working in Panama at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Station under the supervision of Dr. Jim Dalling (Plant Biology, University of Illinois).

Nature link:

Biology Letters link:

Matt Grobis Earns a Fulbright Grant!

This is a testimonial from Matt Grobis, one of our outstanding IB Honors students who just earned a Fulbright Grant to study in Germany next year.  Take a look to learn about what he is going to be doing and how you can follow his lead!

Matt Grobis Fulbright picTo those who haven’t heard of the Fulbright grant, a Fulbright is funding to do research or teach English for one year in a foreign country. Because everything is paid for, you can imagine it’s fairly competitive. (For more info, go to

I was lucky enough to be selected for one. Next year, I’ll be carrying out a Fulbright research grant at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, in Germany, studying the intersection of great tit personality and social behavior. One of the projects I’m looking forward to working on is examining how birds of different degrees of boldness rely on conspecifics to find food. One application of this is ensuring beneficial human-animal interactions; understanding how knowledge about foraging sites travels through groups can help us predict native bird populations’ responses to anthropogenic habitat change, for example. I will be working with Dr. Niels Dingemanse, a researcher at the MPIO and also a professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University, in Munich. The Institute is located a forty-minute train ride south of Munich and I’m very excited to explore the city and learn about German culture. Hopefully a year of German at U of I is enough to let me get by, though I’ll be keeping a dictionary close by!

I first learned of the Fulbright a year ago, when I was looking at graduate schools. I found a girl doing really cool research on tiger-human conflict in India and e-mailed her, asking if she had any advice for how she got to where she was. In her very helpful response, she mentioned her Fulbright year in India and how it’d helped her decide what to do for a PhD. Shortly afterwards, I met with the head of my research lab, Alison Bell, and asked for her help finding someone with whom I could do research abroad. Dr. Dingemanse’s research interested me the most, and after an e-mail that took me a few tries to write, I received a good response! We e-mailed back and forth over project ideas and came up with a tentative project. Meanwhile, I was working on my Fulbright application with the help of the National and International Scholarships Office at U of I ( I’m very thankful to Laura Hastings and David Schug, who helped me through every step of my application. I would recommend to anyone even considering pursuing the Fulbright to fill out an application; the process of organizing your life up to this point and deciding what direction you want to go with it now was immensely helpful.

I was on the waitlist for ten weeks, so I feel very, very fortunate to be in this position. My advice to anyone considering applying for a Fulbright comes in four parts. First, start early! It’s crazy to think I started working on my Fulbright application over a year before I heard the final result. First drafts of essays are always terrible and it takes everyone a while to find an angle to their application. Keep pushing. Have friends, family, and professors give you feedback, and you’ll end with something you’re happy with. Second, find very good reasons why your Fulbright has to be in the country you chose. If you want to teach English in Ecuador, why not Colombia, Peru, Chile, Panama, or Spain? How is a neuroscience lab in Switzerland better than MIT or Cambridge? Outside of research, what can you offer Madagascar that you couldn’t to South Africa or Ghana? Third, be as specific as possible whenever possible. Anyone can write “I plan to volunteer while I’m in Vietnam” and get away with it. It looks much, much better to write “I have contacted this non-profit in the nearby town, which is ten minutes away by bike, and the head of the program, Mrs. such and such, has agreed that I can help on these projects.” Fourth, throughout the whole process, be humble and thankful. Your application needs to make you look awesome, true, but your success highly depends on the help of a lot of people. Say thanks to your letter of recommendation writers. Understand that the person you contact to do research with is taking a chance by responding to an e-mail from someone he or she has never met.

If you apply and you’re lucky, you will get to spend a year in another country learning from others and about yourself. But even if you don’t receive a grant, you will still learn from the experience and be better-prepared for selling yourself to graduate schools or potential employers. I wish you the best of luck! Send your applications to the National and International Scholarships Office before the July 1 priority deadline (if you can!), and please e-mail me if you’d like advice or another pair of eyes on your essays.

Outstanding Volunteer Service Award

Grant HansenGrant Hansen, graduate student in the new Plant Biology Professional Science Master’s program, has been awarded a 2012 Outstanding Volunteer Service Award, through the Office of Volunteer Programs, University of Illinois. Grant was recognized for his dedication to market research and business consulting partnerships with small businesses, which he conducts through ECI-SCORE, a CU student volunteer business organization. He was nominated for this honor by his SCORE mentor, Dr. Mel DeGeeter, who also attended the awards ceremony (inset).

Congratulations Grant!

SIB Junior wins Research Fellowship

Congratulations to Stephanie Klein, a junior majoring in Integrative Biology, who has been awarded a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) by the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB). Stephanie is one of fifteen students selected in the highly competitive national competition in 2012. She will receive a stipend and research funds to study “Auxin control of Medicago truncatula root development under elevated CO2” over the summer with Dr. Andrew Leakey, as well as support to travel to Providence, RI to present her findings at the annual meeting of ASPB next year.

Jeff Miguel Visits the Galapagos

Jeff Miguel on the Galapagos Islands

Many of our Integrative Biology students choose to study abroad and conduct research in the field. Jeff Miguel, pictured to the right, spent the fall of 2010 in Ecuador and the Galapagos islands studying Marine Ecology by enrolling in the Galapagos program (GAIAS) at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.

Jeff spent the first month in Quito and the coast of Ecuador and the last three months on the actual Galapagos Islands. During his time there, he stayed with host families and got to know the locals quite well. This picture was taken on a regular day during his walk to class.

Yes, there was even coursework! Jeff completed five courses with a Marine Ecology focus in three week modules.

If you’re interested in taking your studies beyond the classroom, talk with an Integrative Biology Academic Advisor today!

Outstanding Student – Muhammed Fazeel

Muhammed FazeelSIB major, Muhammed Fazeel, is one of five finalists five finalists for the Lemelson-MIT $30,000 Illinois Student Prize for innovation.

Muhammed is working on an innovation called “In Case of Emergency” or I.C.E. This is a device that can call emergency services in case of major cardiac events that is affordable and non-invasive. He is also working on another project called Tabule, an instructor-student communication tool that is simple, efficient and ready to use on any smartphone or laptop. Tabule is currently in its beta-testing phase.

The winner of the prize will be announced and awarded the prize at a ceremony scheduled for 6:00 p.m. on March 7, 2012 in the auditorium of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA; 1205 W. Clark, Urbana), on the University of Illinois campus. The awards ceremony is open to the public, and will be immediately followed by a reception for all attendees. We’re rooting for you, Muhammed!