News and Events

Check back often to discover exciting and new things happening in the College of Natural Science and Mathematics at the University of Central Arkansas.

Dr. David Dussourd, Professor of Biology, publishes a children’s book about nature.

 The book encourages exploration of the outdoors and curiosity about life. It teaches self-acceptance, acceptance of others who are different, numbers, colors, and antonyms – all while emphasizing the beauty and magic of the extraordinary creatures found all around us. The book is illustrated with pictures of children from four continents interacting with nature and with over 140 photographs of animals and plants that ask “Can anyone love me” despite their unusual features or habits. For parents, the book includes a 22 page appendix on identifying and avoiding common insects and arachnids that are potentially harmful for children, together with tips on how to keep small animals collected in the wild.

Dr. Dussourd wrote the book out of concern that children nowadays are often brought up indoors with little connection to nature. Other motivations include the perception of increasing intolerance in our culture for others who are different, plus skyrocketing mental health issues in young people, some associated with excessive use of social media and gaming causing loss of self-confidence, depression, and anxiety. Nature has the potential to benefit children (and adults) in many ways. Studies have documented that time spent outdoors in green spaces improves physical, mental, and social health and development. Of course, nature also presents risks, such as the prospect of tick-borne diseases. But with care and understanding, we can all venture into the great outdoors and enjoy the allure of creatures large and small. The natural world is just as incredible as the imaginary worlds of dragons, fairies, and mermaids in children’s books, but it actually exists and thus learning about nature and spending time outdoors can help children throughout their lives.

We are excited to welcome Dr. Adedoja (Bayo) as a new faculty member in Biology! His research (see below) and teaching skills are a great fit for students in Environmental Science. Please welcome him to UCA!

Dr Opeyemi Adedoja (Bayo) is a community ecologist with a broad interest in understanding how drivers of global change shape plant-pollinator interactions. Bayo completed his Ph.D. in Entomology at Stellenbosch University, South Africa in 2019 where he conducted his research on differential effects of landscape transformation on plant-pollinator interactions in the Cape Floristic Region Biodiversity Hotspot. He conducted his postdoctoral research at the pollinator ecology lab, Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of Florida, where he evaluated how landscape and local factors influence the conservation outcomes of pollinator gardens for managed and wild pollinators across a gradient of urban development. He recently joined the Department of Biology, University of Central Arkansas as an Assistant Professor where he will continue his community ecology research and teach Bio 1441 starting fall semester. In his free time, Bayo enjoys hiking, spending quality time with family and learning about new technology.

Dr. Carl Frederickson elected Program Chair

Carl Frederickson was elected to be the Program Chair of the Engineering Physics and Physics Division of the American Society for Engineering Education. Dr. Frederickson was elected during the 2022 Annual Conference in Minneapolis, MN. He will serve in this position for the next 3 years and then move into the Division Chair position. His main responsibility will come in the organization of technical sessions for the 2023 Annual Conference to be held in Baltimore, MD.

Mary Galloway discusses summer internship: “The Stressed Life of Cells”

Mary Elizabeth Galloway conducted undergraduate molecular biology research in the Hancock lab within the Molecular Biology Department at the University of Kansas.  The program was a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded REU experience and was highly competitive to get into.  The theme of the REU was “The Stressed Life of Cells.”  Galloway researched genetic regulation in the opportunistic pathogen Enterococcus faecalis and gained skills involving bioinformatic analyses, creating gene mutants, and DNA and RNA extraction.  Galloway has also been researching within the Mukherjee lab at UCA since Fall 2021.  She claims her experience of working in a research environment at UCA extensively prepared her for her internship experience at KU, as she was equipped with skills involving preparing stock solutions, maintaining sterility, and chemical/bacterial handling, among others.  Galloway also credits her coursework at UCA for providing her with the background knowledge necessary to conduct molecular biology research and interpret scientific literature.

It’s All Connected: UCA Professor Explores the Impact of Elements in Freshwater Life

Graduate Research Assistant Anthony Pignatelli and Assistant Professor Hal Halvorson collect samples from Tucker Creek in Conway. Graduate Research Assistant Anthony Pignatelli and Assistant Professor Hal Halvorson collect samples from Tucker Creek in Conway.

Perhaps you’ve heard this one. Algae A floats over to Algae B and says, “Hey, how are things?” Algae B happily responds, “Good, thanks! Business is BLOOMING.”

When we stop to explore connections – among plants, animals, humans and ecosystems – we benefit from that resulting knowledge, and interconnectedness lies at the core of the work of Hal Halvorson and his team in the University of Central Arkansas Department of Biology. Through his work in aquatic ecology, Halvorson explores the connections that exist within aquatic environments like lakes, rivers and streams.

He specifically focuses on availability of elements and its effects on living organisms in freshwater environments: Is there enough oxygen? How are the nutrients distributed? How is the growth of plant life, like algae, affecting animal life? Such questions speak to the delicate balance of these ecosystems and to the focus of Halvorson’s work.

Recently, he was awarded a $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a four-year, multi-site project. Through this project, Halvorson and his student researchers will examine the availability of elements – such as nitrogen and phosphorus – in freshwater environments. For as the availability changes, so too do the organisms.

In discussing these changes in freshwater organisms, Halvorson said, “Most of the changes we’re seeing go back to a shift in the elements available.”

The state of Arkansas, he said, has an excess of nitrogen and phosphorus, present both in land and freshwater. Because of the interconnectedness of life, this excess can negatively affect the ecosystem. For instance, an overabundance of nitrogen and phosphorus stimulates the overgrowth of algae, which by decreasing oxygen availability can cause the death of animals and other plants. These deaths then affect human lives.

Felicia Osburn, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology, records data as Hal Halvorson and Anthony Pignatelli take measurements for their research.
Felicia Osburn, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology, records data as Hal Halvorson and Anthony Pignatelli take measurements for their research.

“So much of our society is linked to freshwater,” Halvorson explained. “And because elements are the same everywhere, it makes this research applicable within the state and outside of Arkansas as well.”

The NSF grant is a collaborative effort that extends both west and east. Halvorson’s UCA team is working with professors and students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Wyoming, and Middlebury College in Vermont.

“We’re bringing together datasets,” Halvorson added.

The goal is to build a database, the Stoichiometric Traits of Organisms in their Chemical Habitats (STOICH) Database, that hosts information on the elemental make-up of freshwater organisms and their environments. Combining the expanding datasets from the four institutions, the STOICH project is a unified, national effort that draws parallels across states.

“The database will give us a sense of how different systems compare,” Halvorson shared. “I can place the lake I study relative to other lakes around the country. Now, imagine that investigators ask about one lake. Yes, mine and theirs are two different lakes. But in what ways can we connect these together to better understand the different water quality?”

However, the data gathered means little if no one has access to it. This project is therefore extending a line to the public through access and outreach. The database will be publicly accessible, allowing anyone to benefit by better understanding how elemental shifts in freshwater ecosystems affect them.

Additionally, Halvorson is involving both undergraduate and graduate students in the research.

“We have primarily undergrad students. What we’re doing is developing curricula around the grant that we’ll implement here at UCA. We think they will learn a lot,” he said.

The grant also allows greater outreach by partnering with the Society for Freshwater Science’s Instars and Emerge programs, which focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. Through professional development workshops, networking and mentoring, these two programs aim to increase the presence and persistence of historically underrepresented populations in the field of freshwater science. Thus, the findings and active experiences of the STOICH project are put in conversation with these groups in an effort to continually diversify the field now and into the future.

“This grant was a great opportunity,” Halvorson shared.

In addition to keeping UCA up to speed with the data revolution, the grant helps to involve more people in the research developments. Because the ecosystem is connected, each part has an affect on another. Understanding how it all fits together supports the survival of the all the planet’s inhabitants.

Graduate Research Assistant Anthony Pignatelli and Assistant Professor Hal Halvorson collect samples from Tucker Creek in Conway.

Thesis Announcement for Benjamin O’Connell – July 15

Thesis Defense Announcement for Kira Gibbs – July 14

Computer science students publishes their works internationally

Computer science students Makenzie Spurling and Aaron Moody co-authored and published their works internationally. Here are full citations.

Spurling, M., Hu, C., Zhan, H., Sheng, V.S. (2022). Anomaly Detection in Crowdsourced Work with Interval-Valued Labels. In: , et al. Information Processing and Management of Uncertainty in Knowledge-Based Systems. IPMU 2022. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 1601. Springer, Cham.

Moody, A., Hu, C., Zhan, H., Spurling, M., Sheng, V.S. (2022). Towards Explainable Summary of Crowdsourced Reviews Through Text Mining. In: , et al. Information Processing and Management of Uncertainty in Knowledge-Based Systems. IPMU 2022. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 1601. Springer, Cham.
following worksgraduate student Aaron Moody Makenzie Spurling and

Workshop Presented at ASEE Annual Conference

Dr. Carl Frederickson along with Dr. Bala Maheswaran from Northeastern University presented a workshop titled “Projects Based Arduino/Raspberry Pis Experiential Activities” the the 2022 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference & Exposition in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The workshop was presented Sunday morning June 26th from 9am – 112pm. There were 27 attendees from all over the country.

Griffin Planetarium Show: River of Bears

Join us April 8 and 9, 2022 for River of Bears

“River of Bears is about the legendary McNeil River Alaska State Game Sanctuary. During the summertime it hosts the largest congregation of brown bears in the world. Bears come from hundreds of miles to the sanctuary to mate, raise cubs, and dine on the abundant sedge grass and salmon. On a typical day in July over fifty bears can be seen at the McNeil River falls, feasting on salmon desperately swimming upstream to spawn. The show tells the remarkable story of these bears as they prepare for the coming harsh Alaska winter, and the visitors and scientists who come every summer to see them.”