Chalis Bird '13 and Kevin Krupczak '13 often look around their biology class and wonder if they are the only biology majors with no interest in a career in medicine. A life as a doctor, nurse, or physician's assistant doesn't sound nearly as fascinating to them as observing plant life, collecting and analyzing data, and trying to answer the thousands of questions regarding the beautifully complex micro universe that the rest of us tend to ignore as we walk on by.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Fri Sep 28, 2012

Chalis Bird '13 and Kevin Krupczak '13 often look around their biology class and wonder if they are the only biology majors with no interest in a career in medicine. A life as a doctor, nurse, or physician's assistant doesn't sound nearly as fascinating to them as observing plant life, collecting and analyzing data, and trying to answer the thousands of questions regarding the beautifully complex micro universe that the rest of us tend to ignore as we walk on by.

After expressing an interest in field research to Biology Professor Nina Theis, Ph.D., Dr. Theis offered them the opportunity to collect data this summer for a grant proposal she is working on. Dr. Theis, whose research on how enhanced fragrance in flowers can attract detrimental insects was recently published in Ecology, continued her research on plant fragrance at the Agronomy and Vegetable Farm in South Deerfield. Being at the research farm by five a.m. each morning and sweltering in the unshaded summer sun did not deter Chalis and Kevin from jumping at the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and begin their first foray into field research.

At regular time intervals from dawn until noon, Chalis and Kevin recorded what insects landed on the flowers, how much nectar was produced, how much pollen was removed and how much fragrance was emitted from the Texas Wild Gourd flowers throughout the day. During the fall semester, Kevin will be graphing the data and looking at the daily rhythm of the signals and rewards of the plant, and whether the insect enemies and pollinating mutualists respond. 

"So you might say 'this cucumber beetle came at three and the fragrance was super high at three,'" Kevin explained, who will be presenting the research in the spring at the Eastern New England Biology Conference. "It's incredible to think about our little gourd plants; how do they attract such a tiny little cucumber beetle for miles. This little beetle must have walked forever to get to our flower."

Kevin has always been the outdoors type: hiking on the weekends, picking up wild animals, and taking pictures of interesting plants to show to Dr. Theis in between class. His dream job would be working in the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Chalis has her eyes set on a doctoral program when she graduates and is strongly considering a career in veterinary microbiology. She also likes the idea of becoming a college professor and conducting scientific research. In whichever direction life takes Chalis and Kevin, they will be sure to always take time to appreciate the natural world.

"The beauty of it is that it's something so simple that people just walk by and take for granted. But when you actually look and observe and experience what's going on, there's so much more. The anatomy of a flower, or anything really in nature, is unbelievable. It's amazing how it works and how it's created and structured ... the way everything works together in unison ... is just perfect," Chalis said.