Hanes is one ratty crow. Some might even say he’s downright ugly.
But don’t be too quick to judge. After all, he’s made out of a sock.
“We named him after the sock brand,” said Kurtis Stechyn, a senior in biology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “We just took old Halloween decorations and created a movable crow.”
Why? To make some beetles twist and shout.
If that all sounds weird, it was all for science. Hanes is part of an animal physiology research project by Stechyn and Madison Roberts, a senior double majoring in biology and environmental science at UTC.
The idea was to see if the beetles would cry out in stress, so to speak, when Hanes picked them up in his beak, tapped them, shoved them around or even just got close to them. From there, the two students wanted to record whether the beetles’ sound-making would affect their metabolic rate.
“We were stressing them out pretty hardcore,” Stechyn said.
The results of his and Roberts’ research was one of 16 projects printed on posters and displayed in the University Center Tennessee Room on Dec. 4 as part of a collaboration between the animal physiology course taught by Professor Loren Hayes, the meiofaunal biodiversity course taught by Assistant Professor Francesca Leasi and the ant ecology course taught by UC Foundation Associate Professor DeAnna Beasley. The trio began the collaboration, called the Integrative Biology Research Symposium, in fall semester 2022.
The goal is not only to get students to expand their own academic horizons but to learn about projects that students were doing in the other classes.
“The main thing is encouraging the students, at least for me, to think about how they communicate their science,” Beasley said, “because far too often the students are thinking in terms of, ‘I’m just going to throw this poster up and be done with it.’”
She said that students in scientific majors need to be able to explain their research to those familiar with the subject and those who are not.
“So having practice and taking what can feel like overwhelming information and explaining it—not in a patronizing or demeaning manner but in an accessible manner—and trying to make science accessible to as many people as possible,” she added.
At the poster exhibition, plenty of explanations were needed for those unfamiliar with animal physiology, ant ecology or meiofaunal biodiversity. “Meiofaunal,” for instance, refers to tiny animals living in soil and aquatic sediment.
In their study on the effects of water flow on the diversity of meiofauna, Thad Colvard and Michaela Dodson, both seniors in environmental science, and Shayla Phillips, a senior in biology, checked out three different ponds—one with water flowing in, one with water flowing out and one that was self-contained.
“We do not have enough information on how environmental changes such as water flow affect meiofauna biodiversity, so it’s important for us considering that drought and flooding are two of the main consequences of climate change,” Phillips said.
Their research found that the self-contained pond had the highest diversity of meiofauna, which seems logical because water does not flow in or out, washing the tiny animals away. But it’s deeper than that, the students said.
Less water flow means more nutrients and food sources sink to the sediment at the bottom of the pond, “which then allows biodiversity to increase because they have more things to feed off of, which is a privilege that’s not usually allowed for meiofauna in areas where the water flow is higher,” explained Colvard.
The projects, Hayes said, not only gave students the chance to expand their scientific knowledge but also opened new avenues of creativity.
“When you give students the freedom to be creative and the questions they ask, they come up with things that you would never imagine,” he said. “I find that when you let them ask the question, you let them explore what they’re interested in. They learn more.”
For their ant ecology project, Hannah Collins and Katie Hemauer, both majoring in environmental science, examined how temperature affects the abundance and activity of ants. As would be expected, colder temperatures slowed things down for most ants, but the pair were surprised and excited to discover a species of ant—the winter ant—they hadn’t seen before.
“During the summer, they kind of lock themselves into their nests underground and then, during winter, they emerge and forage,” Collins explained.
While most ants are out and about in the warmer months, winter ants like colder temperatures because it reduces the amount of competition from other insects, she said.
Leasi said she hoped unexpected learning moments are one of the students’ takeaways from their projects.
“In my career, I have learned that enthusiasm and passion is what drives me, so I prefer to let them just be themselves,” Leasi said. “I prefer to give students more freedom and less micromanaging so they will take more ownership of their job with the hope that they will become more enthusiastic and passionate.”