SOAR Student Profiles
- SOAR Position: Member; Alumni
- Major: Biology and Psychology
- Faculty Mentor(s): Dr. Bailey
Current Focus: Analyzing the Ability of Astragalus tennesseensis to Accumulate Selenium
Additional Interests: Forest ecology, animal behavior, and medicinal plants
Project DescriptionThe Astragalus genus has well-known selenium hyperaccumulators, such as Astragalus bisulcatus. This plant can accumulate extremely high amounts of selenium, an essential micronutrient that can have devastating effects when consumed in high amounts. A. bisulcatus grows in the western U.S. where there are relatively high amounts of selenium in the soil, while A. tennesseensis grows in middle Tennessee with lower amounts of selenium. For my Honors Thesis project, I will grow these two plants side by side with three levels of selenium exposure to test whether A. tennesseensis has the same selenium accumulating abilities as its relatives.
Why does this topic interest you?My first research experience was helping Dr. Herlihy and Dr. Walck on observing pollinator behaviors on Astragalus bibullatus, a species endemic to Rutherford county's Cedar Glades. During this fieldwork, I became familiar with A. tennesseensis as well. I had a growing interest in the Astragalus genus when Dr. Bailey showed me papers on A. bisulcatus hyperaccumulating selenium, and I wanted to see whether the other two species could do it as well. I didn't find any papers so it seems that nobody has tested this yet. I decided it would be an interesting project for my Honors Thesis. Since A. bibullatus is federally endangered I decided to do the project on A. tennesseensis.
What are your professional aspirations?I'm planning to pursue a Master's and Ph.D. in biology. I would then like to conduct scientific research and fieldwork, possibly as a professor. I think my research will focus on ecological interactions in forest ecosystems. I'm interested in plants, animals, and fungi, so I think I will do general forest ecology research.
Do you have any advice for future researchers?Don't be afraid to approach professors with thoughts or questions. That's how you get the initial connections that can lead to research projects. I know professors can seem intimidating, especially as a freshman, but if you show genuine interest and unique thinking, you'll stand out and they'll remember you.