Science Education and Outreach

Missouri EPSCoR Researchers Gathered for the Fourth Annual Meeting

Monday, November 26, 2018

Missouri Transect researchers gathered on October 4-5, 2018 for the Missouri Transect Annual Meeting at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) campus. The event brought together over 100 Missouri Transect participants, including faculty, staff, post-docs, graduate students, and undergrads and featured 42 research poster presentations.

On the evening of October 4, Jake Jacobson, Director of Public Relations for Children’s Mercy Kansas City, led a workshop for the Missouri Transect Student and Post-doc Association on effective communication to the public using social media engagement and building relationships with journalists.  He presented videos, social media posts, and anecdotes of communicating with print journalists to help students brainstorm how to get their own research out to the public in organic and creative ways.

The annual meeting with all Missouri Transect participants took place all day on October 5.  Among those in attendance were several key UMKC faculty and administrators. Attendees from all across Missouri received a warm address of welcome from UMKC Chancellor, Dr. C. Mauli Agrawal.  Dr. Agrawal was introduced by the UMKC Host and Climate Team member, Dr. Jimmy Adegoke.  He shared UMKC research areas of strength and highlighted successful interdisciplinary projects on campus.

Pictured L-R: UMKC Chancellor Dr. C. Mauli Agrawal, Missouri Project Director Dr. John Walker, Dr. Anthony Caruso, and Dr. Jimmy Adegoke

Dr. Anthony Caruso, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at UMKC, gave the Keynote Address.  Dr. Caruso is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physics and Electrical Engineering at UMKC.  Based on his own research at UMKC, Dr. Caruso discussed how each of the teams (Plant, Climate, Community, Cyberinfrastructure, and Education) could contribute expertise to urban agriculture, One Heath Intelligence (OHI), and counter UAV defense research. He spoke on multi-institutional large grant opportunities for Missouri Transect researchers, particularly related to OHI.  OHI revolves around mapping the environmental, dietary, psychological, and physiological factors that affect a single person and predicting the health and longevity of an individual based on these factors.  Funding to study OHI ranges from federal to private sources based on the type of individual being studied, such as adults, children, elderly, the disadvantaged, active service members, or veterans.

After a short networking break, UMKC faculty, Dr. ZhiQiang Chen, Associate Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering and Plant Team Seed Grant Recipient, and Dr. Lawrence Dreyfus, Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development led a panel of presentations of innovative technologies being developed and implemented by Missouri Transect researchers.  The session was called “Frontiers of Science: AVs, Autonomous Systems and Big Data Technologies and their Applications.”  The five presenters are Co-Investigators on the Plant and Climate Teams: Dr. Mikhail Berezin, Associate Professor, Department of Radiology, Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL); Ali Shafiekhani, PhD student with Gui DeSouza, (Associate Professor) Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Missouri-Columbia (MU); Dr. Zhaozhang Yin, Associate Proffesor, Department of Computer Science, Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T); Dr. Tim Eichler, Research Scientist at MU and University of Arkansas, and Dr. Neil Fox, Professor, Atmospheric Science, MU.

Graduate student, Ali Shafiekhani, presents on Vinobot and Vinocular technology out of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MU

As a representative of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Dr. Timothy VanReken spoke in the afternoon about the NSF INFEWS program and other “Cross-Cutting NSF Activities.”  Dr. VanReken is a Program Officer for NSF INFEWS and a Program Director for NSF EPSCoR. He has been with NSF EPSCoR since 2014 and came to Missouri for the Missouri EPSCoR Site Visit in 2017.  In his presentation, Dr. VanReken gave an overview of the Food-Energy-Water Nexus and the evolution of the INFEWS program at NSF (Program Synopsis: https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=505241).  Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS) is just one aspect of the NSF’s Ten Big Ideas (https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/big_ideas/) and he encouraged EPSCoR researchers to look closely at the proposals and Dear Colleague Letters (DCLs) coming out of these initiatives.  One DCL that he highlighted was the Growing Convergence Research (NSF 18-058) (https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2018/nsf18058/nsf18058.jsp) that aims to fund “research driven by a specific, compelling challenge inspired by deep scientific questions or pressing societal needs.”  The proposed research should be interdisciplinary and innovative.  He also highlighted Rules of Life (RoL) funding opportunities because they fit well with Missouri EPSCoR research (https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/big_ideas/life.jsp).  RoL: Epigenetics (NSF 18-600, https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2018/nsf18600/nsf18600.htm), RoL: Forecasting and Emergence in Living Systems (NSF 18-031, https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2018/nsf18031/nsf18031.jsp), RoL: Building a Synthetic Cell (NSF 18-599, https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2018/nsf18599/nsf18599.htm) are all new initiatives. 

In the afternoon, four research and outreach highlights were given by students, Co-Investigators, and research scientists on the Missouri Transect Plant, Climate, Community and Education Teams. Lisa Groshong (Ph.D. Candidate, Community Team, MU) presented on “The community impact of climate change: Perceptions of state park visitors.” Abigail Aderonmu (Ph.D. Candidate, Climate Team, UMKC) gave her talk on “Missouri farmers’ perceptions of climate change and its impact on risk management practices.”  Dr. Nadia Shakoor (Senior Research Scientist and Tech Transfer Seed Grant Recipient, Plant Team, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center) talked about her research on “Natural diversity in maize drought stress response: Genome-wide association mapping of compositional traits and growth phenotypes.”  Dr. Sandra Arango-Caro (Education Programs Facilitator, Education Team, DDPSC) gave a presentation about her outreach education work, “MO DIRT: Promoting soil science in the state of Missouri.”

Graduate student, Abigail Aderonmu, presents her study of climate change and survey results of farmers' adaptation to climate change

After another networking break, students came to the front of the meeting room to give short “Poster Pop-Ups,” elevator pitches on their research to entice the audience to visit their research posters.  A poster session then took place and closed the annual meeting day of events.  At the end of the poster session, Dr. John Walker, Missouri EPSCoR Project Director, presented awards for the best posters and presentations, which were decided by a panel of judges.  The winning poster presenters where:

First Place: Carrie Merritt, UMKC, Undergrad (PI: Fengpeng Sun, Climate Team) “Midwestern Climate Modelling and Analysis: An Examination of Climate Patterns, Trends, and Sensitivities” (Poster 14)

Second Place: Shimin Tang, UMKC, PhD student (PI: ZhiQiang Chen, Plant Team) “Disaster-Scene Mechanics Understanding using Deep Learning” (Poster 21)

Third Place: Samuel Holden, MU, Undergrad (PI: Ruthie Angelovici, Plant Team) “Investigating the Genetic Architecture of the Seed Amino Acid Composition in Maize Using a Genome-wide Association Study (Poster 23)

Students give "pop-up" presentations of their posters before the poster session Samuel Holden describes his reserach to EAB member, Dr. Bonnie Bartel Carrie Merritt stands in front of her poster during the poster session

The Missouri Transect: Climate, Plants and Community is a statewide, collaborative research effort to understand how climate variability impacts plants and communities in Missouri. Researchers are collaborating with each other across disciplines and 10 institutions as part of this five-year project.  It is funded through the National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) program.

Missouri Transect Second Annual Meeting Bring Together Over 100 Attendees at Missouri S&T

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dr. Cheryl B. Schrader gives opening remarks at the Missouri Transect Annual Meeting

The Missouri Transect Annual Meeting took place on September 14-15, 2016, at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla. The event brought together over 100 Missouri Transect participants and featured 48 research poster presentations.

Among those in attendance were several key Missouri S&T faculty and administrators. Attendees from all across Missouri received a warm address of welcome from Missouri S&T Chancellor Cheryl B. Schrader. Other Missouri S&T leaders also on hand to meet and interact with attendees included Dr. Robert Marley, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs; Dr. Bruce McMillian, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering and Computing, and Dr. Stephen Roberts, Vice Provost and Dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Business.

Dr. Kruse presenting on GRFP opportunities. To access her presentation, visit https://missouriepscor.org/news/nsf-powerpoints-missouri-transect-annual-meeting

Dr. Rebecca Kruse, Program Director for the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings, gave a presentation about NSF funding opportunities. She focused specifically on grants available to early career investigators, including the Faculty Early-Career Development Program (CAREER) and Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Dr. Rich Ferrieri with Brookhaven National Laboratory gave the meeting’s keynote address. He described use of a technique his lab developed to administer and track radiotracers and their metabolites in whole plants using positron emission tomography (PET). To show the power of this technique for precision phenotyping, he highlighted results from two projects aimed at identifying the physiological, metabolic, and genetic changes in plants in response to root herbivory. Ferrieri previously served on the External Advisory Board for the Plant Imaging Consortium, a joint project of the Missouri and Arkansas EPSCoR programs, and has an adjunct faculty appointment with MU’s Department of Chemistry and Research Reactor. His talk highlighted the growing emphasis and innovations in precision phenotyping in plant science research.

Attendees were also brought up to speed on the progress of the Missouri Transect goals and projects. Each of the five Missouri Transect teams (i.e., Plant, Climate, Community, Science Education and Outreach, and Cyberinfrastructure) highlighted its accomplishments over the past year as well as next steps for the years ahead. A poster presentation session also gave students and postdoctoral fellows an opportunity to share results from projects as well as for all participants to learn about the wide range of research and educational projects currently underway.

Among the poster presenters were Lisa Groshong from the University of Missouri, who shared results from a project using photo narratives as a means to document visitors and park managers’ perceptions of the effects of climate change to Missouri State Parks. New advanced phenotyping technologies also were the focus of several posters, including Tyler Bradford with Missouri State University whose poster showcased a drone fitted with a hyperspectral camera being used to monitor and assess vegetative stress of fields of plants exposed to different drought conditions. Among the educational projects highlighted were Mutant Millets, an inquiry-based learning and advanced science research in modern agriculture project for high schoolers launched by the Danforth Center, and a community resilience education and training project for kids 6-9 years of age designed by Lincoln University.

Lisa Groshong, graduate student on the Community Team, speaks with Dr. Sandra Arango-Caro about community surveys and citizen science projects. Tyler Bradford, graduate student working on the Missouri State University seed grant, speaks with Rahul Sukharia about his research at Missouri State Lincoln University undergradates and graduate students speak with their faculty mentor, Dr. David Heise, during a networking break

Dr. Joel Burken, Chair of the Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering Department at Missouri S&T and co-Lead of the Missouri Transect Plant Team generously hosted the annual meeting.  The event was organized by Missouri S&T Distance and Continuing Education Department.  The Missouri Transect would like to thank Sue Turner, Director of Distance and Continuing Education and Dr. Burken for their efforts in making this event such a success.

The Missouri Transect: Climate, Plants and Community is a statewide, collaborative research effort to understand how climate variability impacts plants and communities in Missouri. Researchers are collaborating with each other across disciplines and 10 institutions as part of this five-year project.  It is funded through the National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) program.

Digging dirt pays off for one St. Louis high school student

Monday, March 14, 2016

Monica speaking to judges one-on-one about her research Presenting to the panel of judges
Many of us run for the sink when we get our hands dirty, but not Monica Malone who loves plunging her hands into a pile of rich soil.
 
“I find the layers, or horizons, in the soil and the differences in texture very interesting,” admits Malone.
 
Her passion hit pay dirt recently when the senior at Horton Watkins Ladue High School took home first place at the Academy of Science St. Louis Science Fair this past February for her experiment on soil microbes. The award came with a $3,000 college scholarship and an all-expense-paid trip to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, AZ, this May.
 
For her research, Malone studied differences in the diversity of microbial communities in tilled versus non-tilled soils. Tilling, which involves mechanically preparing an agricultural field by breaking the ground, is thought to disrupt the microorganisms in the soil and adversely affect soil health. No-till, in contrast, is thought to provide a more favorable environment for soil microbes and thus contribute to the health of the soil.
 
To test if the microbial communities were affected by tilling or not, Malone collected soil samples from various sites and then analyzed the samples for nutrient content, pH, active carbon, and other characteristics. She also extracted DNA from individual microbe colonies found in the soil samples.
 
“Through sequencing, I found a greater diversity of soil microbes in the no-till soil,” said Malone. 
 
She then evaluated the difference in microbial diversity using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE), a method that isolates total microbial genome DNA to compare DNA banding patterns between till and no-till soil cores. Results showed that the microbial communities in tilled soil were less diverse than in non-tilled soil.
 
The finding adds to a growing body of evidence against tilling as a beneficial agricultural practice. Tilling already has been shown to contribute to soil erosion and release of CO2 into the environment, contributing to global warming.
 
“My research helps prove that tilling soil also disrupts the natural microbiome in the soil. It is possible that many beneficial microbes may be lost when tilling occurs,” she said.
 
Malone conducted her research at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, where she has been doing research for nearly three years with her mentor Dr. Terry Woodford-Thomas. As Leader of the Science Education & Outreach Team for the Missouri Transect Project, Woodford-Thomas initiated Missourians Doing Impact Research Together (MO DIRT), a citizen science project focused on soil health.
 
“I became interested in soil science after Dr. Woodford-Thomas pulled a bunch of soil cores and brought them into the lab,” recalls Malone. “Her excitement about soil science inspired me to learn more about soil science in general.”
 
Malone entered her research project into the Honors Division, which consisted of two rounds of competition – a one-on-one interview with judges and a 10-minute presentation to a group of judges followed by a 5-minute Q&A. Malone admits she was at first nervous.
 
“But as soon as I started to present, I felt much more confident. I was able to clearly convey my message and answer all of the judges’ questions,” she said.
 
Malone will be recognized at the Academy of Science 2016 Outstanding Scientist Awards Dinner at the Chase Park Plaza on April 7, 2016. 

For more information about the Academy of Science St. Louis Science Fair, visit:
 
The Academy of Science – St. Louis
St. Louis, MO 63110
(314) 591-0310

Soil Health Survey Training in Columbia - March 3, 2016

Friday, February 19, 2016

MO DIRT and Missouri EPSCoR want to invite you to participate in a training in Columbia to conduct soil health surveys. You can choose to attend the morning session or the afternoon session.
 
When: Thursday, March 3rd. Morning session 9:00 am to 12:00 pm. Afternoon session 1:00 to 4:00 pm.
Where: Room 322 Tucker Hall Building. GPS address: University of Missouri, Division of Biological Sciences, Tucker Hall, Columbia, MO 65211

Parking: See the map. There are two options for parking:

  1. Visitor parking lot west of the Tucker Hall building. It has parking meters that cost $1 per hour up to 8 hours. It is close to the Tucker Hall building but there is no guarantee that you will find a spot.
  2. Virginia avenue parking garage south of the Tucker Hall building, which is a 5 minute walk from the building. You will be mailed a day pass to park anywhere in the garage. Send me your mailing address if you need the day pass.

Who: Adults and teenagers (educational leaders, teachers, students, landowners, etc.) interested in soil science.
What to bring: Paper, pen, positive energy, and a camera (optional). We will be outside for a short period of time to show you the setup of a survey site, so be prepared for the cold weather.
What you will get: Training on how to set up and conduct soil health surveys, and if you decide to join the project, you will receive a backpack with a soil kit, and a manual.
Cost: Free
 
Contact Sandra Arango-Caro at the Danforth Center (SArango-Caro [at] danforthcenter [dot] org?subject=MO%20DIRT%3A%20Soil%20Health%20Survey%20Training" rel="noreferrer">SArango-Caro [at] danforthcenter [dot] org) if you are interested in participating.  If you cannot attend this training, we will be offering training across the state in the future. Please also share this information with others.
We hope you can join us, as well as your students and colleagues!
 
Read below for an introduction to MO DIRT, Missouri Transect, and soil health surveys:

MO DIRT - Missourians Doing Impact Research Together, has two main goals: (1) to further educate citizens on the societal importance of healthy soils and (2) to recruit as many individuals as possible to examine the current properties of our state soils and how these are being influenced by land use and management, as well as microclimate and climate change (see attached brochure). This project is funded by the National Science Foundation under the federal EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) initiative. Called “The Missouri Transect,” this working group of scientists, educators and community advocates will be generating data and models to better understand how climate influences agricultural and native plant systems, and how Missouri communities are affected and respond to this phenomenon over the course of five years. The leading institution for The Missouri Transect is the University of Missouri-Columbia, which is collaborating with eight other academic institutions including the Donald Danforth Plant Center, the Saint Louis Science Center, Saint Louis University, Lincoln University, Washington University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, and the University of Missouri at Kansas City and St. Louis.
 
Within MO DIRT we have a program on soil health surveys. This surveys are conducted by teenagers and adults, working as individuals or in small teams, in study sites of their choosing representative of natural systems (prairie, forest, woodland) or agricultural system (grassland, crop fields, animal fields). Urban or suburban gardens are not included. The sites are monitored monthly from February to November over the course of several years. You can join the soil surveys at any time. The data generated from the soil surveys include measurements of physical, chemical, and biological indicators of soil health. These data will provide baseline information to be shared through an open access on-line website. This electronic tool will allow participants to learn about data being deposited by others across the state, and how the data will be validated for use by scientists, as well as teachers for classroom learning, all for the endpoint of better tracking of how soil health is being affected across the state for long term prospects.
 
During the training, volunteer citizens (teachers, high school students, land owners, youth groups, etc.) will learn about soil science and how to monitor soil health by measuring soil physical, chemical, and biological indicators. Participants will also learn about data collection and data management. If you are a teacher, take into consideration that your high school students can attend the training to, even if you cannot attend.

The training last 3 hours and is free. If you decide to join the soil surveys project you will receive a manual and a soil kit.

Summer Research Institute

Event date(s): Wednesday, May 31, 2017 to Saturday, June 3, 2017
Location: Hot Springs, AR


The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts is hosting a Summer Research Institute from May 31-June 3, 2017.  For more information on joining the summer institute, contact: ArkansasEPSCoR [at] gmail [dot] com.

 

Soil Health Survey Training in Columbia

Event date(s): Thursday, March 3, 2016
Location: Room 322, Tucker Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211


You are invited to participate in the next MO DIRT* training to conduct soil health surveys in Columbia. You can choose to attend the morning session or the afternoon session.
 
When: Thursday, March 3rd. Morning session 9:00 am to 12:00 pm. Afternoon session 1-4 pm.
Where: Room 322 Tucker Hall Building. GPS address: University of Missouri, Division of Biological Sciences, 105 Tucker Hall, Columbia, MO 65211

Parking: There are two options for parking:

  1. Visitor parking lot west of the Tucker Hall building. It has parking meters that cost $1 per hour up to 8 hours. It is close to the Tucker Hall building but there is no guarantee that you will find a spot.
  2. Virginia avenue parking garage south of the Tucker Hall building, which is a 5 minute walk from the building. You will be mailed a day pass to park anywhere in the garage. Send me your mailing address if you need the day pass.

Who: Adults and teenagers (educational leaders, teachers, students, landowners, etc.) interested in soil science.
What to bring: Paper, pen, positive energy, and a camera (optional). We will be outside for a short period of time to show you the setup of a survey site, so be prepared for the cold weather.
What you will get: Training on how to set up and conduct soil health surveys, and if you decide to join the project, you will receive a backpack with a soil kit, and a manual.
Cost: Free
 
Contact Sandra Arango-Caro at the Danforth Center (SArango-Caro [at] danforthcenter [dot] org" rel="noreferrer">SArango-Caro [at] danforthcenter [dot] org) if you are interested in participating.  If you cannot attend this training, we will be offering training across the state in the future. Please also share this information with others.
We hope you can join us, as well as your students and colleagues!

*MO DIRT - Missourians Doing Impact Research Together, has two main goals: (1) to further educate citizens on the societal importance of healthy soils and (2) to recruit as many individuals as possible to examine the current properties of our state soils and how these are being influenced by land use and management, as well as microclimate and climate change (see attached brochure). This project is funded by the National Science Foundation under the federal EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) initiative. Called “The Missouri Transect,” this working group of scientists, educators and community advocates will be generating data and models to better understand how climate influences agricultural and native plant systems, and how Missouri communities are affected and respond to this phenomenon over the course of five years. The leading institution for The Missouri Transect is the University of Missouri-Columbia, which is collaborating with eight other academic institutions including the Donald Danforth Plant Center, the Saint Louis Science Center, Saint Louis University, Lincoln University, Washington University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, and the University of Missouri at Kansas City and St. Louis.
 
Within MO DIRT we have a program on soil health surveys. This surveys are conducted by teenagers and adults, working as individuals or in small teams, in study sites of their choosing representative of natural systems (prairie, forest, woodland) or agricultural system (grassland, crop fields, animal fields). Urban or suburban gardens are not included. The sites are monitored monthly from February to November over the course of several years. You can join the soil surveys at any time. The data generated from the soil surveys include measurements of physical, chemical, and biological indicators of soil health. These data will provide baseline information to be shared through an open access on-line website. This electronic tool will allow participants to learn about data being deposited by others across the state, and how the data will be validated for use by scientists, as well as teachers for classroom learning, all for the endpoint of better tracking of how soil health is being affected across the state for long term prospects.

Strategic Planning Meeting Held on August 20

Event date(s): Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Location: Bradford Research Center


As an awardee of the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), Missouri is required by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct Strategic Planning meeting within 90 days of the award date (August 1, 2014). Investigators, team leads, project administration and NSF Program Officers came together for a strategic planning meeting on August 20, 2014.

The strategic planning meeting was held at the Bradford Research Center and facilitated by an independent external facilitator, Dr. Carl Batt, a Liberty Hyde Professor in the Department of Food at Cornell University. There were approximately 50 participants. Researchers traveled from Kansas City, St. Louis, Jefferson City, Rolla and around Columbia to attend the meeting. External participants came in from California, New York, and Washington, D.C.

 
                                 
Researchers traveled from around the state to collaborate on the Missouri Transect strategic plan at the Bradford Research Center in Columbia
                                Education Team creating timelines and accomplishments with collaboration through Skype

The morning opened with an introduction and welcome from Dr. John Walker, the Project Director and Principal Investigator of Missouri EPSCoR. Dr. Kelvin Chu, Program Officer at NSF EPSCoR, outlined the expectations from NSF for the strategic plan. Each team lead gave short 5 to 10-minute presentations about their team’s research question, goals, and investigators.

After a short break, participants split off into their research teams. They drafted the expected accomplishments by the end of the five-year program, determined timelines for their activities in research and outreach and created a poster for further discussion.

Everyone reconvened and Dr. Chris Elsik, the Cyberinfrastructure (CI) team lead, led a discussion about integrating CI capabilities with each team’s research and database needs.

After the discussion, researchers split up to visit each poster and discuss timelines and accomplishments with other teams. They noted on other teams’ accomplishments posters possible individual or team collaborations to achieve each accomplishment

Participants visited other teams’ posters to discuss how the timelines and accomplishments fit into the Missouri Transect project

The full group reconvened for a presentation from the external evaluator about the EPSCoR evaluation process. Then the Statewide Committee Chair, Dr. Keith Gary spoke to the group about the role of the Statewide Committee and the Academic and CI subcommittees, the Missouri Science & Technology plan, and how to build commercialization partners and increasing communication with the State government. The meeting closed with comments from Dr. Walker.

Digging dirt pays off for one St. Louis high school student

                
Monica speaking to judges one-on-one about her research           Presenting to the panel of judges
 
Many of us run for the sink when we get our hands dirty, but not Monica Malone who loves plunging her hands into a pile of rich soil.
 
“I find the layers, or horizons, in the soil and the differences in texture very interesting,” admits Malone.
 
Her passion hit pay dirt recently when the senior at Horton Watkins Ladue High School took home first place at the Academy of Science St. Louis Science Fair this past February for her experiment on soil microbes. The award came with a $3,000 college scholarship and an all-expense-paid trip to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, AZ, this May.
 
For her research, Malone studied differences in the diversity of microbial communities in tilled versus non-tilled soils. Tilling, which involves mechanically preparing an agricultural field by breaking the ground, is thought to disrupt the microorganisms in the soil and adversely affect soil health. No-till, in contrast, is thought to provide a more favorable environment for soil microbes and thus contribute to the health of the soil.
 
To test if the microbial communities were affected by tilling or not, Malone collected soil samples from various sites and then analyzed the samples for nutrient content, pH, active carbon, and other characteristics. She also extracted DNA from individual microbe colonies found in the soil samples.
 
“Through sequencing, I found a greater diversity of soil microbes in the no-till soil,” said Malone. 
 
She then evaluated the difference in microbial diversity using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE), a method that isolates total microbial genome DNA to compare DNA banding patterns between till and no-till soil cores. Results showed that the microbial communities in tilled soil were less diverse than in non-tilled soil.
 
The finding adds to a growing body of evidence against tilling as a beneficial agricultural practice. Tilling already has been shown to contribute to soil erosion and release of CO2 into the environment, contributing to global warming.
 
“My research helps prove that tilling soil also disrupts the natural microbiome in the soil. It is possible that many beneficial microbes may be lost when tilling occurs,” she said.
 
Malone conducted her research at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, where she has been doing research for nearly three years with her mentor Dr. Terry Woodford-Thomas. As Leader of the Science Education & Outreach Team for the Missouri Transect Project, Woodford-Thomas initiated Missourians Doing Impact Research Together (MO DIRT), a citizen science project focused on soil health.
 
“I became interested in soil science after Dr. Woodford-Thomas pulled a bunch of soil cores and brought them into the lab,” recalls Malone. “Her excitement about soil science inspired me to learn more about soil science in general.”
 
Malone entered her research project into the Honors Division, which consisted of two rounds of competition – a one-on-one interview with judges and a 10-minute presentation to a group of judges followed by a 5-minute Q&A. Malone admits she was at first nervous.
 
“But as soon as I started to present, I felt much more confident. I was able to clearly convey my message and answer all of the judges’ questions,” she said.
 
Malone will be recognized at the Academy of Science 2016 Outstanding Scientist Awards Dinner at the Chase Park Plaza on April 7, 2016. 

For more information about the Academy of Science St. Louis Science Fair, visit:

 
The Academy of Science – St. Louis
St. Louis, MO 63110
(314) 591-0310

 

Tags: high school, K-12, science fair, first place, Monica Malone, St. Louis, Academy of Science, mo dirt, soil science, science education and outreach team, Science Education and Outreach, announcement, feature story, highlight