Another year has come and gone and somehow it's been almost that amount of time since we've posted an update!!
It has been a busy year for the Sparks Lab! We continue to expand - welcoming a new researcher (Dave Griffin), a new postdoc (Jingjing Tong) and a new PhD student (Eva Birtell) to the lab over the last year. Looking ahead we have two new PhD students starting in the Fall (Joe Cristiano and Bali Singh) and another new researcher (Emily Kennebeck) starting in August! We are forever grateful to the funding agencies who believe in our work and the collaborators who push the bounds of our research that allow us to reach even great interdisciplinary heights!
With the hellos, we also have our farewells! Olivia Hazelwood, who has been with the lab since early 2020 pandemic days, graduate with a BS in Plant Science. She received the departmental faculty award for outstanding undergraduate in plant science and we couldn't be more proud of all she has accomplished! Her first publication was also accepted just a few short weeks ago (Publications)! We can't wait to follow along and see all of the awesome things that Olivia will accomplish in her career!
In other news, our summer intern numbers have also expanded dramatically! We have NINE interns joining us this summer. Four from the engineering side: Nicky Reigel, Het Patel, Sebastian Torres and Brandon Maravilla Garcia; five from the biology side: Emilia Pierce, Safiyya Haider, Austin Jensen, Taran Kermani and Mariela Alfaro Garcia. Major shout out to the Sparks Lab members who are spending their time mentoring these interns. We 💚 our interns!!!!
Stay tuned for summer fun pictures coming soon!
Sparks Lab: Surely we have updated our website in the past few months...
Narrator: They have not.
We opened the lab website to find a draft post from last April starting with the above... that we never completed and shared. DOH. So now we've been years since updating! Where has the time gone?!?!?!
We wanted to take a moment and reflect on the past year. 2021 was a year of professional and personal challenges for many in the lab, but we made it through! And looking back there were some major milestones that we want to recognize:
- Dr. Lindsay Erndwein - the first Sparks Lab PhD student successfully defended her thesis last April! 🥳 Lindsay is now working as a USDA ORISE postdoctoral researcher in New Jersey!
- We got not one, not two, but three new grant awards in 2021! For full details, you can check out our Research Grant Funding page. After years of grant rejections, we are delighted to receive this new funding and forever grateful to the reviewers and funding agencies that believe in our work.
- Along with this new funding, we've just recently had a slew of papers accepted! Former postdoc Adam Stager had a Methods in Molecular Biology paper accepted, Current postdoc Ashley Hostetler had a Plant, Cell & Environment paper accepted, and Ashley & Lindsay were co-first author on a manuscript that was conditionally accepted at Annals of Botany! Check out our Publications page for full details. So much to celebrate!!!
- We also have an amazing team of undergraduate and high school students that joined us for internships this past summer and have continued to do research in our lab this school year! We're grateful for their hard work and enthusiasm for science!
As we look forward to 2022, we are optimistic for the future of the Sparks lab. We have new people joining us - stay tuned for intro & bios later this semester, have new funding to be announced, and a few more papers in the pipeline!
We wish all of our friends, collaborators, and colleagues a joyful 2022 and hope to see you all in person one day soon.
Our latest review on Field-based mechanical phenotyping to assess lodging resistance (Erndwein et al., 2020) is now available!
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! 🙂
This post is part of a migration of posts from our previous website.
Originally posted on June 10, 2019
Wow – where has the time gone??? June 1st marked UD’s graduation and the 2nd birthday of the Sparks lab. This past year has flown by. After a year without any teaching responsibilities, Dr. Sparks spent her second year in course development land! Last Fall it was a split undergraduate/graduate course on Plant Development and this Spring was an undergraduate course on Controlled Environment Agriculture. While incredibly different, both courses offered Dr. Sparks the chance to become a better instructor and opportunities to get to know the amazing graduate and undergraduate students here at UD. Now that teaching has wound down for the year, we can take a short breather and plow right into field season!
We had some really exciting results from last field season that suggest the brace root contribution to plant anchorage varies with genotype. This summer we aim to repeat these experiments and get some of our field-based phenotyping robots deployed. Science is chugging right along. We submitted two pre-prints this past year (Erndwein et al., https://doi.org/10.1101/547794 and Stager et al., arxiv.org/abs/1903.10608) and are hoping to get some more of our data out there ASAP! Dr. Sparks should be working on the figures now, but is likely procrastinating…perhaps by writing a blog post… 😉
We absolutely cannot wait for the summer ahead. Dr. Amanda Rasmussen from the University of Nottingham will be visiting for a few months (July-Sept) to show us the beauty of root physiology. We’re so excited to combine our mechanical results with her physiology approaches. In addition, PhD student Lindsay Erndwein and Dr. Sparks will be headed to Montpellier, France for an exciting collaboration with Dr. Christophe Pradal, and we hope to welcome a new Postdoc into the lab this summer. However, all of this excitement means we will not be traveling to many of our favorite meetings this year. We are sorry to miss you, but will catch you again next year!
We wish you all a bountiful beautiful summer and may the maize be ever in your favor. 😉
P.S. Dr. Sparks spent an amazing 2-weeks visiting Agriculture Victoria this past May, so here is a Koala for your viewing pleasure.