Lacey wins national ecology award


Caroline Fassett, Assistant News Editor

The Botany Conference is an annual gathering of plant scientists–including working scientists, professors, and graduate students–from all over the world, held in Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada. This past summer, eight University students attended the conference, one being Mae Lacey ’18, an Animal Behavior major who was awarded with Best Undergraduate Presentation in Ecology for her research poster.

Lacey and these other students went to the event as a lab group, receiving support from the Botanical Society of America’s Undergraduate Research Award (given to her and four of the eight other University students) as well as through the David Burpee Endowment Fund. The availability of such resources has managed to help 20 University students experience the event in the past three years.

“My project was essentially trying to figure out how the species of spiny Austrian solanums (which are basically wild Austrian eggplants) that we study in our lab are dispersed [when the fruits of the plants are consumed]. We did multiple different tests that all pointed us in the direction of thinking that seed dispersal is likely, however we have not nailed it down yet as a definitive method of dispersal being that we have not yet gotten to carry out fruit consumption tests with our ideal study organisms,” Lacey said.

Chris Martine, Associate Professor of Biology and a faculty member of the David Burpee Professorship in Plant Genetics & Research, co-advised Lacey’s project with Associate Professor of Biology & Animal Behavior Elizabeth Capaldi. Martine said that Lacey’s project is part of a set of ideas he had wanted to test since traveling to Australia in 2004.

“Dr. Capaldi and I handed over much of the responsibility for the project to Mae starting last spring. We have worked closely with her on the research and we provided lots of feedback on the poster that she brought to the Botany conference, but she deserves the sole credit for designing an excellent poster and, especially, for presenting in such a way that a team of expert reviewers rated it so highly,” Martine said.

Martine met Lacey last fall semester, when she was a part of the Discovery Residential College; she was a student in the Foundation Seminar he had taught. Martine said that, while his class was “full of really good students,” Lacey’s writing skills made her stand out.

“What I saw was a first-year student who was not only already pretty adept at expressing and synthesizing ideas, but also willing to make an effort to get even better,” Martine said.

Lacey said that Martine was a great help in introducing her and her lab partners to other scientists specializing in the fields they were each individually researching. While Lacey said she was nervous to present, she viewed the conference as a fantastic learning opportunity.

“I expected to go to lectures and meet scientists and really get a feel for the field of botanical research outside of the realm of just Bucknell, but I feel like I did so much more than just that. Not only did I experience botany on a much grander scale, but I also met students and professionals alike that really opened my eyes to whole new ideas, career paths, and much more,” Lacey said.

Winning a presentation award at an international conference is a significant accomplishment for anyone, but “especially unusual for someone with only one year of college experience,” Martine said.

“That just doesn’t happen much–if at all. Mae should be proud. We all should,” Martine said.

Lacey wanted to extend her thanks to Capaldi and Martine for their guidance and involvement in her project, as well as to her entire lab group. Without her lab partners, Lacey said she “most certainly would not have received the award.” And while Lacey said she was extremely surprised to win, calling herself “a rookie in the realm of poster presentations,” she too was excited and proud.

“I felt happy with how I presented my work and felt reassured that my passion for my work and clarity of how I conveyed the information really came through,” Lacey said.


*The photo accompanying this article was taken by Brett Simpson.

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