Ten hundred words of biograd winners

Last week's grad student happy hour at the Burke Museum included a competition to summarize your research using only the most common thousand words of the English language, a concept recently popularized by the webcomic XKCD and carried on by Ten Hundred Words of Science. Three out of the four prizes were brought home by the biograds who entered, and I'm told there were only three bio entries total! See sponsoring organization FOSEP's post for more information on the challenge and the other great science entries. The biology winners are reproduced below.
Yasmeen Hussain (Grand Prize Winner)

I study the link between sperm chemotaxis and fertilization success. Eggs in animals such as sea urchins release chemicals that act as sperm attractants. Sperm use chemotaxis - that is, orientation towards the source of a chemical gradient - to find the eggs. However, it is unknown whether sperm chemotaxis directly contributes to reproductive success.

I study tiny things that are man and woman parts of an animal. The woman part talks and the man part listens. The tiny things have a conversation so that they can find each other and make babies. Some man things are better at listening than others. I want to know if the man things that are better at listening are also better at making babies.

Jonathan Calede (Style Prize)

The goal of my work is to investigate the taxonomic affinities of the Cabbage Patch fauna (Montana) with adjacent biogeographic regions and ecomorphological disparity across paleocommunities at the dawn of modern mammalian communities. To this end, I am building a community-wide dataset of taxonomic, taphonomic, and ecomorphological characteristics for the coeval Arikaree Group (Great Plains) and John Day Formation (Oregon). The drastic changes in global climate and the heterogeneous spread of grasslands in North America associated with the transition from archaic Eocene to modern Miocene faunas make this turnover particularly relevant to understanding the evolutionary interplay between habitat and mammalian communities and the assembly of modern mammalian communities. I undertake field work in Cabbage Patch to collect additional fossils and geological data to validate the biological analyses.

I study what’s left of groups of hair-having animals that lived a really long time ago near where we live now. I study these groups of hair-having animals because they are more like the hair-having animals we have today than the hair-having animals that lived even longer ago. They are also interesting because they lived at a time when stuff was happening and it was getting warmer, then cooler, then warmer. Today, it’s getting warmer and warmer. If we understand what happened to these really old hair-having animals when stuff happened, we might be able to know stuff about the hair-having animals we have today.

How can we learn about stuff from these old hair-having animals? I find what’s left of the hair-having animals in rocks, give them a name, and put them in groups. I do that for different places that are kind of close to one another. I end up with many names and different groups for each place. Then I look at how different the groups and names are from one place to another. I want to know if some of these places shared animals with the same name or same groups.

I hope that by understanding how different hair-having animals are across the land and how that was coupled with stuff happening we can tell how those groups of animals were put together and worked as a team (in which your friends eat you and you die and end up in rock).

Brandon Peecook (Presentation Prize)

I study the recovery patterns of terrestrial tetrapod assemblages in the wake of the end-Permian extinction, 252 million years ago in southern Pangaea. My research focuses on the timing of the extinction recovery and its taxonomic make-up. I also study life history traits, such as growth rate, in some of the post-extinction taxa (Dinosauriformes).

I know what you’re thinking. A man who studies dead animals looks at boring bodies all afternoon. Wrong! I use dead animals, and I mean really dead, like dead for a long, long time, to ask fun questions about life’s past. I look at how times of big death change the number and kind of animals known from a place. How long after the time of big death until groups of animals are back to normal? Are they still the same type of animals? I also study the relationships between the animals. Some of the really dead animals I study are the favorite really dead animals of many people. That means I get to have fun talking about my work with them!

Anyone else want to give it a try?

-- Kylee Peterson


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