From Microscopic to Telescopic Views, Here are LSU Scientists' New Year's Resolutions

LSU scientists have mad science goals for 2018, from simulating and modeling stars and other celestial interactions, to spending more time in the field, to becoming more effective science communicators. To celebrate a new year of science and science communication resolutions, we asked several researchers in the LSU College of Science to tell us what their goals are for 2018!


 LSU biologist Morgan Kelly conducts research at an oyster hatchery in Grand Isle, LA. Photo Credit: Cody Willhite, LSU.

LSU biologist Morgan Kelly conducts research at an oyster hatchery in Grand Isle, LA. Photo Credit: Cody Willhite, LSU.

Morgan Kelly is an assistant professor in the LSU Department of Biological Sciences, and she is an expert on the ecology, evolution and conservation of marine invertebrates. In 2017, the Kelly lab performed a three-year laboratory selection experiment to artificially evolve increased heat tolerance in populations of a tiny crustacean called a copepod. 

  Tigriopus californicus , a copepod female. Credit: Morgan Kelly.

Tigriopus californicus, a copepod female. Credit: Morgan Kelly.

“My student Joanna Griffiths and I have now re-sequenced the entire genomes of our laboratory copepod populations,” Morgan says. “With the help LSU Biology assistant professor Maheshi Dassanayake and her student Guannan Wang, we will now scan their genomes to try to identify genetic changes that led to increased heat tolerance. This is an example of science that could not happen without collaboration. We have animals from a long-term experiment, and the Dassanayake Lab has the genomics expertise to interpret the genetic data.”

Morgan Kelly’s 2018 Goals:

  1. Think more about the bigger picture.
  2. Spend more time in the field.
  3. Help my students develop their collaboration skills.
 
 In search of plants. Credit: Laura Lagomarsino.

In search of plants. Credit: Laura Lagomarsino.

 A Lagomarsino lab plant collections outing. Credit: Laura Lagomarsino.

A Lagomarsino lab plant collections outing. Credit: Laura Lagomarsino.

Laura Lagomarsino is a new assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, and Director of the LSU Herbarium. In 2018, she’s focused on growing her research lab – but her team will be shrinking before it grows! “My postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Lauren Eserman, accepted her dream job running the molecular lab at the Atlanta Botanical Garden!” Laura says. “Lauren has played a major role in getting my lab up and running, and soon will be generating our first data on the evolution of toxin production by morning glories. It's bittersweet to see her go so soon, but I'm proud to see her move on to a position that suits her and excited that my lab is ready to accept new members!”

Laura’s 2018 Goals:

  1. Grow my newly established lab. I'm looking forward to welcoming my first graduate students in Fall 2018, and hope to practice the best mentorship possible with my current and future lab members. In particular, I want to ensure that my trainees conduct well-justified, exciting science and feel supported and comfortable as they develop skills that will be useful to them in their next educational or career stage.
  2. Increase my knowledge of Louisiana plants. As director of the Shirley C. Tucker Herbarium at LSU, I am literally in charge of the largest scientific collection of plants in the state — yet I have very little experience with the irises, pine trees, and carnivorous plants that are part of the native flora here! I'm looking forward to getting out to longleaf pine savannas, coastal prairie, and bald cypress swamps with other LSU plant biologists this year and further acquainting myself with one of the most botanically diverse regions in the US.
 Native LA pitcher plants. Credit: Laura Lagomarsino. Follow her on Twitter,  @Lagomarsino_L .

Native LA pitcher plants. Credit: Laura Lagomarsino. Follow her on Twitter, @Lagomarsino_L.

 
 Jorge Pullin at the LIGO Nobel Banquet. Photo via Jorge Pullin.

Jorge Pullin at the LIGO Nobel Banquet. Photo via Jorge Pullin.

Jorge Pullin is the Horace Hearne Chair in Theoretical Physics at LSU. One of his most meaningful 2017 moments, he says, was attending the 2017 Nobel Prize celebrations to celebrate the discovery of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration.

Jorge’s 2018 Goals:

 A  Chandra X-Ray Observatory  image of  Cygnus X-1 , which was the first strong black hole candidate discovered. Credit: NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA/CXC.

A Chandra X-Ray Observatory image of Cygnus X-1, which was the first strong black hole candidate discovered. Credit: NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA/CXC.

  1. Continue to develop the loop quantum gravity portal. [Jorge has applied loop quantum gravity theory to black holes, suggesting that the “other end” of a black hole might take one to another location in the universe, or even to another universe.]
  2. Explore new lines of research.
  3. Try to 3D print a collision of neutron stars, with the help of Dimitris Nikitopoulos, chair of Mechanical Engineering in the
    LSU College of Engineering, whose department has a color 3D printer!
 

Kaitlynn Fenley is an LSU College of Science Alum, a microbiologist, and co-founder of Cultured Guru, a microbe-powered fermented foods business. In 2017, Kaitlynn wrote for our blog about how we can use microbes to create health foods. In 2018, Kaitlynn hopes to conduct a rigorous and publishable research study on the microbes found in Cultured Guru’s fermented foods, as other researchers have done for a range of fermented vegetables.

 Kaitlynn Fenley, chasing microbes in the desert. Credit: K. Fenley.

Kaitlynn Fenley, chasing microbes in the desert. Credit: K. Fenley.

Kaitlynn’s 2018 Goals:

  1. Write more science-focused blog posts for Cultured Guru. We have A LOT of recipes, but I want to share more microbiology-focused travel, nature, and health blog posts.
  2. Build a new amazing science lab bench in the new commercial kitchen we are renovating. I plan to have upgraded lab equipment too!
  3. Save money for an automated cell counter, so I can stop counting (microbes) via manual methods... which is very, very time consuming.
 
 Jeremy Brown pulls samples out of the LSU Museum of Natural Science's large frozen tissue sample collection used for genetic analysis. Credit: Paige Jarreau.

Jeremy Brown pulls samples out of the LSU Museum of Natural Science's large frozen tissue sample collection used for genetic analysis. Credit: Paige Jarreau.

Jeremy Brown is an associate professor is the LSU Department of Biological Sciences, and an expert on amphibians and “big” biological data. In 2017, Jeremy’s lab conducted research focused on how best to use genome-wide sequencing data (data about the entirety of an organism’s DNA) to understand evolutionary history of various species, including local frogs.

“The prevailing wisdom in our field has been that using large sequencing datasets will nearly always result in better answers, because the quirks of individual genes will average out and be unlikely to have much influence on our overall answers,” Jeremy says. “But we have recently discovered that individual genes can still have a HUGE influence in these large datasets. We are now thinking about refocusing our research to better understand when this happens and why. What is it about these genes that causes this to happen? Has evolution acted on them in some peculiar and fascinating way? How common are they?”

 A network of trees of life. Credit: Jeremy Brown.

A network of trees of life. Credit: Jeremy Brown.

Jeremy’s 2018 Goals:

  1. Take a step back. My lab has been very focused on several specific projects over the last few years, but I would like to use this year to take a step back, look at the big picture, and refocus on the most interesting questions.
  2. Become a more effective science communicator. As a biologist who does a lot of computing and statistics, it can be more challenging to convey the raw excitement of science than it is for those who work on charismatic organisms or travel to remote parts of the world. But it IS exciting! Developing new statistical approaches requires exceptional creativity, allows you to see things in ways no one else has before, and lays the groundwork for whole new fields of discovery.
  3. Learn new math. My research relies on computational and mathematical techniques, so I'd like to add some new skills to help me better answer the questions I'm interested in.

What are your science goals for 2018? Let us know!