Abstract: The University of Vermont College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences and the Barrett Foundation have established a scholarship program for undergraduate students. The Barrett Scholarship program, aware of the importance of developing research quantitative and writing skills for undergraduate students, provides scholarships to outstanding undergraduate students for environmental engineering research projects. The intent is to help retain student interest early in their undergraduate engineering careers when few of their first or second year classes have little engineering or real-world application. We focus on one Barrett research project, derived from a NSF Biodiversity and Infectious Disease grant, because of the multiple disciplines (engineering, ecology, biology) and education levels (spanning secondary to graduate) involved. In this research, students across three departments at two universities (University of Vermont, Montana State University) and one independent high school (Vermont Commons School) formed a cohesive collaboration with faculty members to identify different worm taxa of T. Tubifex. Whirling disease has had a severe impact on the native population of salmonids in the upper Madison River MT, USA, resulting in the death of most fish that contract the parasite. T. Tubifex is the intermediate host for Myxobolus cerebralis, the parasite that causes whirling disease in salmonids. Samples collected from eight locations along the Madison River varied in the prevalence of whirling disease. The site-specific worm community structure has been measured and identified using molecular genetic probes and a taxonomic key to link worm communities to geochemical features (e.g. site elevation, slope, pH, conductivity, temperature, dissolved oxygen and percent of organic soil matter). Using a unique clustering algorithm, we group geochemical features to discriminate over a range of water quality gradients (i.e., ``clean'' to ``dirty''). The link between water quality and the presence of these taxa is important in determining stream health. In addition, system dynamics software (STELLA) is used to model the non-linear relationships and feedback between worm prevalence and disease dynamics. These types of collaborations between engineers, biologists, field ecologists and geneticists from secondary, post-secondary and higher institutions proved useful in linking complex geochemical data, worm community structure and molecular genetics to develop the next-generation scientists and better understand disease dynamics.
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Bongard's work focuses on understanding the general nature of cognition, regardless of whether it is found in humans, animals or robots. This unique approach focuses on the role that morphology and evolution plays in cognition. Addressing these questions has taken him into the fields of biology, psychology, engineering and computer science.
Danforth is an applied mathematician interested in modeling a variety of physical, biological, and social phenomenon. He has applied principles of chaos theory to improve weather forecasts as a member of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network, and developed a real-time remote sensor of global happiness using messages from Twitter: the Hedonometer. Danforth co-runs the Computational Story Lab with Peter Dodds, and helps run UVM's reading group on complexity.
Laurent studies the interaction of structure and dynamics. His research involves network theory, statistical physics and nonlinear dynamics along with their applications in epidemiology, ecology, biology, and sociology. Recent projects include comparing complex networks of different nature, the coevolution of human behavior and infectious diseases, understanding the role of forest shape in determining stability of tropical forests, as well as the impact of echo chambers in political discussions.
Hines' work broadly focuses on finding ways to make electric energy more reliable, more affordable, with less environmental impact. Particular topics of interest include understanding the mechanisms by which small problems in the power grid become large blackouts, identifying and mitigating the stresses caused by large amounts of electric vehicle charging, and quantifying the impact of high penetrations of wind/solar on electricity systems.
Bagrow's interests include: Complex Networks (community detection, social modeling and human dynamics, statistical phenomena, graph similarity and isomorphism), Statistical Physics (non-equilibrium methods, phase transitions, percolation, interacting particle systems, spin glasses), and Optimization(glassy techniques such as simulated/quantum annealing, (non-gradient) minimization of noisy objective functions).