There’s been a lot to celebrate lately! A UT alumna was named a 2020 Rhodes Scholar—UT’s ninth; another student won UT’s very first Mitchell Scholarship; four faculty members received NSF Early Career awards; two faculty were named AAAS fellows; a UT professor is among the most highly cited researchers; the Haslam College of Business MBA program ranked 50th in the nation; two English professors received recognition for their work; and a former Earth and Planetary Sciences professor was posthumously honored with a special journal issue.
Nature Prefers Asymmetrical Pollen Grains, Study Finds
It’s no secret that pollen plays a vital role in plant reproduction worldwide, including the production of food. But for decades, scientists have been puzzled about the variety of patterns on the surface of these pollen grains—specifically, how they are formed and if they have a function.
A study published in Cell sheds some light on the subject, showing that plants favor the production of uneven, asymmetrical patterns on the surface of pollen grains over more symmetrical patterns.
“The pollen wall itself—the surface of a pollen grain—serves the important function of protecting the pollen grain genetic material from the environment as the pollen travels during the process of pollination. However, the function of the precise pattern on this surface is not well understood,” said Maxim Lavrentovich, assistant professor of theoretical biophysics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UT, and coauthor of the study.
Continue reading about Lavrentovich’s study at news.utk.edu.
NSF Picks UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Biodiversity Project
The National Science Foundation recently announced support for a variety of studies aimed at understanding Earth’s biodiversity, including a project led by UT’s Frank Loeffler.
Loeffler, the joint UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Microbiology and Civil and Environmental Engineering, is researching the role of microbes in controlling emissions of nitrous oxide—also known as laughing gas—from the ground.
“As nitrous oxide destroys the ozone layer and is a greenhouse gas, gaining a better understanding of how it is released naturally and its overall effect on the environment would be a step toward better controlling it,” said Loeffler, who holds UT appointments in the Department of Microbiology in the College of Arts and Sciences and in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the Tickle College of Engineering, as well as an adjunct appointment in UT’s Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science and an appointment in ORNL’s Biosciences Division.
Graduate Student Spotlight: Shelby Scott
In 2016, Louis Gross, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, presented to his Math Ecology students an article about the lack of gun violence research conducted in the United States.
He assigned his class to use mathematical modeling, a method of using equations to describe and predict phenomena in biology, to assess gun violence. When the project was over, one of his graduate students, Shelby Scott, decided to continue researching gun violence. She hasn’t stopped since.
“It was like there was a voice in my head telling me to pursue the topic,” said Scott. “Except the voice in my head was the media, my friends, and the government. It was the new stories of mass shootings every day—the stories of interpersonal violence and fatalities.”
Graduate Student Spotlight: Maegen Rochner
Maegen Rochner, a graduate student specializing in dendrochronology in the Department of Geography, is recreating a millennia of climate history one tree at a time. Armed with a chainsaw, a face shield, and hiking boots, she climbs the landslides and avalanches of the Beartooth Mountains in Montana and Wyoming searching for her next potential sample.
Tree-ring science, or dendrochronology, is a fundamental tool in understanding climatological and ecological histories of a location.
At the most basic level, tree rings show the amount of precipitation a region experiences in a year. When moisture is plentiful in the spring, a tree’s cells expand quickly, forming a light band. As the year progresses and the ground becomes more dry, the cells shrink, forming a thinner, darker band. One light and one dark band together constitute a year, with the variation in ring widths marking the different amount of moisture absorbed year to year.
Tree rings are also very dependent on temperature. The earlywood (light band) reflects the early growing season (spring and summer), and the latewood (dark band) reflects the later growing season (late summer and early fall) into dormancy (late fall, winter).
Wildfires, insect outbreaks, floods, droughts, and avalanches can alter the pattern, creating a unique “fingerprint” of that period that is present within all the trees of that location. Matching up the overlapping patterns from a sample with a known age to an older log of unknown age allows us to date that older sample. Continuing the process with older and older samples allows us to go back tens of thousands of years while giving us a more complete climatic picture of the area.