New National Science Foundation grant will integrate research and science outreach

MSU Entomology’s Henry Chung and Amanda Lorenz plan an innovative approach to use basic research to fuel new science outreach at the MSU Bug House.

Henry Chung and Amanda Lorenz
Henry Chung and Amanda Lorenz. Photo by MSU Photography.

Two faculty from the Department of Entomology, Henry Chung, an assistant professor of entomology, and Amanda Lorenz, an academic specialist in teaching and entomology undergraduate advisor, have been awarded a three-year $786,491 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant combines research and outreach opportunities for historically excluded students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields. It also will bring new training and outreach programming to the MSU Bug House.

Chung is an insect physiologist studying desert Drosophila flies to determine how they have adapted to living in dry environments. Most insects have a layer of wax called cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) on their surfaces that keep the insect from drying out. Chung’s lab hopes to identify the genes linked to keeping insects hydrated, determine how these genes can evolve in response to environmental or climate changes and understand how these genes could impact mating success.

Chung will build a diverse and inclusive laboratory team of a postdoctoral fellow along with graduate and undergraduate students who will be trained in aspects of molecular biology, genetics, insect physiology and chemical ecology. The students will also have opportunity to participate in science communication and outreach through working with Lorenz in the MSU Bug House. Chung, a core faculty member of the Ecology, Evolution and Behavior (EEB) program, hopes to recruit diverse students from the upcoming Envision EEB Graduate Preview Weekend at MSU to join his program.

“As climate change is happening, it is important to understand how the changing environment is affecting natural populations, and insects are a very important part of our ecosystems,” Chung said. “This NSF grant enables us to investigate the molecular and evolutionary mechanisms that enable insect species to withstand water loss and maintain water balance as our planet gets warmer and more arid in the next few decades. The grant also provides funding for graduate and undergraduate students, which we hope to recruit from historically excluded communities, to increase diversity and foster inclusiveness in the next generation of entomologists.”

A girl holding a tarantula.
Entomology graduate student Allison Zahorec handling a tarantula in the MSU Bug House. Photo by Be Noble Photography.

Lorenz oversees the MSU Bug House and will use the new funding to expand its outreach programming. The students from Chung’s lab along with those from other Entomology labs interact with the Bug House’s insects and help to teach the visiting public about them. Through the new grant, students will participate in Lorenz’s plans to produce high quality videos on entomological topics relevant to the public. In addition, the Bug House will host an annual workshop for K-5 teachers interested in integrating insects and entomological themes into their curricula.

“The goal of the MSU Bug House is to increase public awareness of the positive roles insects and other arthropods play in the environment and their importance to human life,” Lorenz said. “My hope is the videos will help folks gain a greater appreciation and understanding of insects, recognizing they are more than just a nuisance.

“The project workshops will train and empower teachers to include insects in their curricula, to help engage as many students as possible in learning about these fascinating and important creatures. Learning more about arthropods is an excellent way to reduce fear of them and stimulate an interest in their continued existence on this planet.”

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