Meet DEB: Matthew Herron


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Heidi helping her human, Matthew Herron.

Name: Matthew Herron

Education: BA and MS University of Central Florida, PhD University of Arizona

Home Institution: Georgia Institute of Technology

Tell us about your research: I study the so-called “major evolutionary transitions” using a combination of experimental, comparative, theoretical, and philosophical approaches. My main focus is on the evolution of multicellularity in the volvocine green algae (Volvox and its relatives). The ancestors of this group made the transition to multicellular life relatively recently, and living species span a wide range of sizes and degrees of complexity, from single-celled Chlamydomonas to multicellular organisms with tens of thousands of differentiated cells in the genus Volvox. This diversity makes them a great system for comparative studies, especially since many of the traits related to multicellular complexity appear to have evolved more than once within the group.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? I have enjoyed serving on review panels, and each time I have been impressed by the thoroughness and fairness of the NSF review process. I also love learning about research outside of my field. Proposals reflect the absolute leading edge within their disciplines, and in biology, that edge is expanding so quickly that work being proposed today often would have been impossible only a few years ago. During review panels and during my interview, it seemed that everyone I met was sincerely happy to be here, and that impression hasn’t changed since I arrived.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? I look forward to meeting and interacting with biologists across a wide range of subdisciplines and learning about their research. I’m excited to join a team of people dedicated to advancing the science of evolutionary biology and having some input on the direction it takes. It also happens that Alexandria is much closer to my family than anywhere I’ve lived before, so I look forward to spending more time with them.

 

Meet DEB: Ford Ballantyne and Diana Pilson


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Ford Ballantyne

What’s your name and role here at DEB? My Name is Ford Ballantyne, and I am a rotating Program Officer with the Ecosystem Sciences Cluster.

Where did you go to school? I earned a BS in Zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my MS in Statistics at the University of New Mexico, and my PhD in Biology at the University of New Mexico.

Where is your home institution? University of Georgia.

Tell us about your research. I use a combination of theoretical and empirical approaches to understand how smaller scale processes generate whole ecosystem phenomena. I am particularly interested in linking microbial metabolism to biogeochemical cycles. Past and ongoing projects include studying the influence of environmental conditions on the decomposition of organic matter in terrestrial and aquatic environments, linking whole community patterns of gene expression to changes in the composition of dissolved organic carbon, and quantifying the response of whole stream metabolism to variation in environmental conditions across latitude.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? I was drawn to the Program Officer position because I wanted to be part of the collaborative atmosphere at NSF and to serve the broader scientific community. I like helping others succeed, and I like to contribute to collective endeavors. NSF is a great place to do both.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? I look forward to learning about all the research that is supported by the Ecosystems Cluster and DEB as a whole, and to contributing to discussions about new funding initiatives and future directions for ecological science. I love to read science and talk about ideas, and I am eager to read the many proposals that the Ecosystems Cluster will review and to be a part of the intellectually stimulating discussion of proposed research during panels.

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Diana Pilson

What’s your name and role here at DEB? My name is Diana Pilson, and I am a rotating Program Officer in the Population and Community Ecology Cluster.

Where did you go to school? I earned a B.S. in Biology from Tufts University and my Ph.D. in Zoology from Duke University.

Where is your home institution? My home institution is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where I am in the School of Biological Sciences.

Tell us about your research. I am a plant evolutionary ecologist, and I am broadly interested in how environmental variation and species interactions affect (and are in turn affected by) the outcomes of natural selection. Over my career I have worked on the population biology and evolution of plant-insect interactions (from both the plant and insect perspective), potential fitness effects and ecological consequences of the escape of transgenic insect and virus resistance into wild populations, and effects of seed production and disturbance on local colonization and extinction dynamics. I recently completed a several-year stint as an Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. I am now excited to be doing science again, and I just initiated a study of flower color and demography in Calochortus eurycarpus (Liliaceae).

Why do you want to serve with NSF? In the Dean’s Office I enjoyed both the collaborative nature of the work and the bigger-scale view I had of the University. Here at NSF I am expecting a similar experience. The collaborative work will be fun: over the last 20+ years I have served on many NSF panels, and every time I learned a lot, met interesting and smart people, and been impressed with the care and thought that everyone put into proposal evaluation. And, I am looking forward to getting a bigger scale look at (and contributing to) current and future directions in ecology and evolution.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? I expect that contributing to the future of our science from inside NSF will be challenging, enlightening, and gratifying. Plus, living in Alexandria, far from the heartland, for a while will be an exciting change of pace.

 

Meet DEB: Chris Balakrishnan


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We didn’t hire the bird, we hired the person holding the bird. Photo Credit: Rhett Butler (different Rhett Butler)

What’s your name and role here at DEB?

My name is Chris Balakrishnan and I am a rotating Program Officer with the Evolutionary Processes Cluster.

Where did you go to school?

I received my undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Pennsylvania and my Ph.D. in biology from Boston University.

Where is your home institution?

East Carolina University.

Tell us about your research.

I’ll admit to being a bit of a dabbler. The main themes in my research are birds & their DNA (and RNA). Beyond that I’m interested in fundamental aspects of how genomes evolve and how species form, but also more mechanistic questions about how the brain and immune system function in ecological and evolutionary contexts. I primarily study birds as they offer wonderful opportunities to study the evolution of complex social behaviors. I’m particularly interested in those species that display unusual (wacky) behaviors. These avian oddities provide an opportunity to understand evolutionary changes in behavior. As an example, some of my work focuses on brood parasitic birds. Unlike most birds, brood parasitic birds don’t provide any parental care to their young. Instead, they lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species. Brood parasitism has evolved seven times independently in birds and I’m interested in how and why this happened. The hope is that these studies will inform our understanding of the causes of variation in parental care behavior and the processes that lead to major behavioral innovations.

Why do you want to serve with NSF?

Prior to interviewing for my position here, I hadn’t really thought much about serving as a Program Officer. What had struck me though was that colleagues that had spent time here were uniform in that they truly loved the experience. Upon interviewing I really began to see why they enjoyed NSF so much and my interview convinced me that this was going to be a wonderful experience. I expect that being part of the proposal review process will be highly rewarding, and I really look forward to interacting with a large group of colleagues.  I’m excited to work with the dynamic and diverse group of people here and to gain this new experience. Selfishly, I know that exposure to all of the exciting work being done at NSF will help my research career as well. I’m also looking to complete a lifetime sweep of living in all of the major northeastern cities. In addition to New York, Philadelphia & Boston, I’m happy to add DC to the list (technically, I live in Alexandria though so maybe it doesn’t count). Baltimore, you are next!

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF?

First and foremost, I’m really looking forward to the stimulating discussions that surround the proposal review process. Additionally, however, it seems like I’m entering NSF in the midst of a lot of interesting changes aimed at enhancing integration among subdisciplines in biology. I’m truly looking forward to seeing how these and other new programs develop.

 

Meet DEB: Amanda Ingram


 

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Amanda Ingram

What’s your name and role here at DEB?

My name is Amanda Ingram and I’m a rotating Program Officer in the Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster.

Where did you go to school?

I earned a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Science from The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA and my Ph.D. in Plant Biology from Cornell University

Where is your home institution?

Wabash College, a small liberal arts college in Indiana.

Tell us about your research.

My main line of research involves understanding the evolutionary relationships among species of Eragrostis, commonly known as the lovegrasses. This is a fascinating and diverse group of C4 grasses—many species are polyploids, morphological and anatomical diversity abounds, and they grow in (and therefore must be collected in!) all sorts of interesting places. The genus also contains a cereal crop, tef, which is incredibly important in Ethiopian agriculture and is the grain of choice for making injera. I also dabble in educational and science communication research and mentor undergraduate research projects investigating mycorrhizal associations in orchids native to Indiana.

Why do you want to serve with NSF?

NSF has supported me at every key stage of my career, so I’m excited to give back to the Foundation and to help support our research community. I’ve also loved the time I’ve spent serving on panels over the years. Finally, I’m thrilled to be fully immersed in systematics research again—at my home institution, I spend a lot of time thinking and teaching broadly about a wide range of biological topics, so I’m looking forward to the time to focus on my true scientific passions while working closely with my colleagues in SBS.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF?

I’m looking forward to getting an insider’s perspective on how science policy is shaped, learning more about how funding decisions are made, and experiencing first-hand the wonderful NSF culture I’ve heard so much about. Plus, I’m excited to have a break from small-town life to enjoy lovely Alexandria.

 

Meet DEB: Matt Olson


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Merry with her human, Matt Olson.

What’s your name and role here at DEB?

My name is Matt Olson and I am a rotating Program Officer with the Evolutionary Processes Cluster.

Where did you go to school?

I earned a B.S. University of Texas, Austin, M.S. Louisiana State University, and my Ph.D. at Duke University.

Where is your home institution?       

Texas Tech University.

Tell us about your research.

I am an evolutionary ecologist, which means that I study how genetic and ecological factors influence how a species will change over time. My current scientific interests aim to understand how sex chromosomes (like the male Y chromosome) evolve in plants. Sex chromosomes are found in less than 5% of all plants, and in most cases, they have evolved very recently. Because they are young, we can study the formative stages of sex chromosome evolution including how they move around the genome and how ecological factors may influence their development. My work leverages a mix of ecology, genomics, bioinformatics, and molecular biology, so it is always very exciting and integrative. I often must collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines. One of my current collaborations is with colleagues in Chengdu and Nanjing, China, which has provided some great opportunities for both scientific and cultural exchange.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? 

Since I served on my first grant review panel, I have been impressed with the efficient, transparent, and ethical character of the NSF. I am keen to learn more about how the foundation functions, so that I can apply these ideals more broadly to other aspects of my work and personal life. I also have been fortunate to have several of my proposals funded by the NSF, and I would like to give back to the organization by serving in a more administrative role. Finally, I hope to draw on my experience as a scientist and teacher to help steer the foundation as we move into the future.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? 

I love working and exchanging ideas with other scientists. The National Science Foundation not only helps scientists to realize their goals via funding, but also serves as a nexus for interaction during panel reviews, site visits, and outreach. I am looking forward to meeting the large number of scientists that will be coming to the NSF during my rotation here and talking with them about their research and our common scientific interests. Who knows? Maybe we will come up with a new collaborative research idea that will solve some of the worlds’ great challenges!

Meet DEB: Megan Lewis and Michelle Bonilla


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Megan at the circular terraces at Moray in Peru

 

 

What is your name and role here at DEB?

I’m Megan Lewis and I’m a Program Analyst, which means I provide data analytics for the division as well as provide in-panel support.

How did you find out about NSF?

I’ve been working at NSF for over 3 years at this point, but prior to that I didn’t know much about it. I was looking for an internship with the federal government that focused on environmental biology and solving environmental issues through science rather than policy. NSF allowed me to learn what PIs were doing to understand these issues and how to solve them.

Tell us a little about what you studied in school.

I studied Biology at my undergraduate university with a minor in Environmental Studies. My focus was on ecology and biodiversity conservation. After which, I obtained my master’s in Environmental Resource Policy as well as a graduate certificate in Geographic Information Systems. My capstone project was an in-depth review of global shark conservation policies for a global non-profit.

Cats or dogs?

Doggos. I have a slightly neurotic mutt named Marshall whom I adopted almost 3 years ago.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

My first job at NSF was working for DEB as a Winter Student in the Arlington, VA building. Due to the limited appointment type, I transferred over to MCB (Molecular and Cellular Biosciences) as a Program Assistant and finally a Program Specialist. I’m excited to come back to DEB after some time away.

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Michelle visiting her family in Honduras.

What is your name and role here at DEB?

I’m Michelle Bonilla and I am a Program Assistant (PA) and I am learning all about the process of setting up panels, handling travel, logistics, and all the other tasks PAs are responsible for.

How did you find out about NSF?

I found out about the NSF through USAJobs.gov and I thought that this would be a great opportunity to learn and grow, professionally. Thank you, NSF, for this opportunity!

Tell us a little about what you’re studying in school.

I am currently working towards finishing my undergrad in Psychology with a minor in Forensic Psychology at Marymount University.

Cats or dogs?

Both! They both have different traits that make them unique and special.

Which member of the Scooby-Doo gang do you most identify with?

Daphne! I love fashion and anything that involves solving a crime or case. Who says you can’t be fashion forward and solve mysteries at the same time?

 

Meet DEB: Paco Moore


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Behind Paco is the town of Longyearbyen (administered by Norway).

Name: Paco Moore

Education: Michigan State University. Ph.D. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, B.S. Zoology, B.S. Interdepartmental Biology.

Home Institution: The University of Akron

Tell us about your research,

I am a systems biologist interested in the forces structuring scale dependent patterns and emergent properties. I am particularly interested in evolution of complex traits in structured environments. I do not have a particular research system but enjoy working across systems. I have worked with fish, tetrapods, crustaceans, vascular and non-vascular plants, eubacteria, fungi, and protists. My work is primarily lab based but also has small field, theory and bioinformatic components. My studies usually fall in what I would call evolutionary genetics, but at times my questions have led me into systematics, community and ecosystem ecology, animal behavior, development, anatomy, physiology and biomaterials research. The greatest privilege of my life has been to receive the support of my home department in a career that has sacrificed total productivity in search of the broadest possible view. If I were to look for a single lesson from my research it is that the question is not if, but how much, the dynamics of a system are altered by interactions we have not been exploring.

What made you want to serve NSF?

I enjoy the idea that I can help the environmental biology research community by giving back some of the mentorship I have been shown over the last 30 years. DEB tends to have a unique blend of researchers that often receive some of their funding from outside DEB. I relish the opportunity to nurture the development of the community’s core interests and progress in DEB science while also supporting the community in its exploration of those interdisciplinary links that help forge new directions in environmental biology. In a vibrant, dynamic field like ours, investigators at all career stages benefit from communication with their colleagues, be it through mentorship, discussion, or even debate and NSF supports and listens to that communication. Service at NSF will therefore also allow me to better understand the driving questions and ambitions of what I find to be the most engaging field of study, ecology and evolutionary biology.

What are you most looking forward to during your tenure at NSF?

First and foremost, I look forward to interacting with our community. I see a major portion of my job is to provide information on the logistics, limitations and priorities of various funding opportunities. The flip side of discussing opportunity is the discussion of failed proposals, and it might seem to be a less than rewarding part of the job. However, when informed by a program officer’s knowledge of the decision process, a discussion of declined proposals is perhaps the best door for an investigator into understanding how to succeed. For this reason, I look forward to discussions with the community at all stages of the funding process.

My second most anticipated activity during my time at NSF is to help promote research that elucidates the dynamics that lead to scale dependent pattern and emergent properties. New funding opportunities both within and across divisions (e.g. Rules of Life, Bridging Ecology and Evolution) provide an incentive to the community to explore the space between disciplines that will alter pattern and dynamics across scales. I am excited to be back at NSF at a time when I can help nurture the DEB community as it determines the directions that these new programs will take.