This post is part of a migration of posts from our previous website.
Originally posted on March 4, 2020
Happy Spring Semester! The Sparks lab has had a busy and productive start to 2020! If you wonder what we’ve been up to, here is a preview…
First, for some personnel changes. At the end of January we were sad to say farewell to lab technician Noah Ouslander. Noah was the first undergraduate in the Sparks lab and stayed on for ~2 years as a technician. He was instrumental in getting the lab running and we are sad to see him go. BUT Noah is now pursuing his passions in cannabis cultivation and we wish him the best in the next stage of his career!
Some major milestones were accomplished by the lab members in the past few months. MS student Stephen Smith received a College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Unique Strengths Fellowship to transition into the PhD program this coming Fall! Stephen has really hit the ground running with his projects and we are excited he will stay for a PhD. MS student Sarah Blizard wrote a review on Maize Nodal Roots that was accepted at Annual Plant Reviews Online! The review is being copy edited now and should be available in May.
Postdoc Dr. Adam Stager and Dr. Sparks made a second visit to CIRAD in Montpellier France as part of the lab’s Thomas Jefferson Fund project. They spent the first week at the iCropM conference, followed by a side event organized by Dr. Sparks and Dr. Christophe Pradal on Phenotyping and modeling of plant anchorage and physiology. This 2-day workshop highlighted the challenges in the field and featured excellent talks from a wide variety of scientific disciplines. The second week was spent updating and refining a plant mechanical model that will be used to identify brace root ideotypes for anchorage. In the last phase of this project, Dr. Pradal and Dr. Christian Fournier will visit the University of Delaware in July!
For the third year in a row, Dr. Sparks and PhD student Lindsay Erndwein volunteered at the Sussex County STEM Alliance Engineering Your Tomorrow Event. This event is aimed at 6th-8th grade girls and to spark their interest in careers in STEM. This year Dr. Sparks designed an activity of “Exploding Pollen”! She had recently seen a talk from WashU graduate student Kari Miller in Dr. Liz Haswell’s lab at WashU. Kari’s work on the MSL8 mechanosensitive ion channel showed that Arabidopsis pollen mutant for mls8 will take on too much water and explode! Kari and Dr. Haswell were amazing to provide seeds that allowed this activity to happen. We are also grateful to Echo Microscopes for bringing their Revolve for the girls to view the pollen.
Looking ahead, Dr. Sparks will head off to the Maize Genetics Conferences in Kona, HI next week. This is hands-down the best conference for idea generation, discussion, and gaining new resources. We are so grateful that the Maize community has embraced our research and is so open with their resources and expertise! Immediately upon return, the lab will be moving across campus to a new building! We are very excited to be moving closer to the rest of the agriculture research on campus, and into this new space. Pictures to come! We also promise to provide project updates soon! 🙂