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Smith Lab News

May 17, 2019: Smith lab folks get degrees!



Today, Angel and Leah received undergraduate degrees in biology and Helen received her Masters degree in Biotechnology. We'll be sad to see them go, but wish them the best of luck on their next journey (even though they won't need it!).




May 17, 2019: Angel is nominated for the Earl Camp Award



Angel was nominated for the Earl Camp Award in Biological Sciences. The Earl Camp Award is the highest honor given to TTU Biology students. While he did not come away with the top prize, the award nomination in itself is quite the achievement.




May 9, 2019: Nick and Ricky visit a potato farm





Nick and Ricky visited a potato farm in Springlake, TX as part of a new collaboration with the potato research group at Texas A&M Agrilife. The Smith Lab, specifically visiting researcher Dinah Borus, will be using the site to examine physiological processes in different cultivars planted in Springlake. Similar cultivars will be used as part of a greenhouse study at the TTU campus.




May 2, 2019: Risa wins a research grant!



Risa won a selective TTUAB Grants in Aid grant to support her research on cover crops this summer. The grant will go towards building a portable abedometer system. Congrats Risa!!




April 26, 2019: Smith lab folks present their research at the 10th annual Texas Tech Association of Biological Scientists Symposium (TTABS)




Evan, Risa, and Leah all presented their research at the Spring's TTABS Symposium. Evan presented his proposed summer work in Ithaca, New York and won 2nd place in the proposal category. Risa presented her preliminary work on cover crop albedo. Leah presented results from her study on the impact of Mesquite in West Texas rangelands. Great work by all!




April 23, 2019: Lizz announces she'll be joining the faculty at Northeastern State University




This Fall, Lizz will be heading for greener (literally) pastures. She will be joining the Department of Natural Sciences as an Assistant Professor of Biology at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

We are all very excited for her, but will be sad to see her go. She has been an integral part of the lab as well as the greater Texas Tech community. Her dedication to training younger students (and older faculty!) will ensure that her legacy lives on well after she leaves.

Good luck Lizz! Please come back and visit!




April 16, 2019: Ricky Kong joins the lab for the summer



Ricky Kong arrived this week from the University of Western Ontario. Ricky is a student of Hugh Henry's at UWO. At TUU Ricky will be examining leaf physiological responses to drought, including drought memory. Stay tuned!




April 10, 2019: Aimée Classen visits the lab



This week the lab hosted Aimée Classen for the weekly Department of Biological Sciences Seminar. It's amazing how having a great scientist in your midst can stimulate new ideas and even make you question some of your older ones. Thanks Aimée for a fun visit!




April 8, 2019: Evan receives a NSF GRFP Honorable Mention!



Evan received an honorable mention for his NSF GRFP proposal to examine the role of microbial symbionts in influencing biosphere-atmosphere feedbacks in a future world. While not a full fellowship, an honorable mention is a great achievement. The award recognizes all the hard work Evan has done developing a strong proposal for his graduate studies and his potential as a scientist to make a difference in the world.




March 19, 2019: Helen passes her Masters defense!



Helen successfully defended her Masters thesis on modeling C4 acclimation. In her thesis, she was able develop and test a theoretical model for C4 photosynthetic acclimation, including acclimation of stomatal and biochemical processes. This was quite an accomplishment for such a short-term project. Look forward to the forthcoming publication and for all the cool new science Helen will be doing at her next stop!




February 17, 2019: Helen Presents a poster at the AAAS Meeting in D.C.!



Helen attended the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Washignton D.C. this week. She presented a poster over her thesis work in the Environment and Ecology session.




February 13, 2019: Lizz and Risa Return from CTSM and Fort Hays State University!

After a 1200 mile (1930 km) round trip,Lizz and Risa are back from their week at NCAR! Much was learned about the CTSM and FATES models. Progress was made on current project, ideas were formed for new projects. And there was lots of snow!

One of the Flatiron Mountains covered in snow in February 2019


Group photo of instructors and students at the NCAR CTSM tutorial


After the tutorial, Lizz traveled to Fort Hays State University in Hays, KS to give a seminar on Carbon assimilation and Nitrogen Fertilization Accross Scales. It was great for Lizz to be back where she did her masters and meet the newest generation of Fort Hays Tigers.

Exterior of Albertson Hall, home of the biology department at Fort Hays State Unvierstiy


After her seminar, Lizz gave a lecture on how to be successful when starting college to Keri Maricle's AP Biology class at Thomas More Prep High School. Keri and Lizz are old lab mates and it was great talking with the students.



Lizz and Keri Maricle pose for selfies after teaching Ms. Maricle's AP bio class


February 4, 2019: Lizz and Risa learn CTSM!



Lizz and Risa have begun a week-long tutorial to learn how to simulate global terrestrial ecosystem processes using the Community Terrestrial Systems Model (CTSM). The tutorial will take place at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO. There is an amazing list of speakers. The rest of the lab is excited to hear what they learn!

Lizz is hoping to use the CTSM to explore the impact of nitrogen on plant physiological processes across large spatial and temporal scales. She plans to use her experimental work to provide model improvements.

Risa is interested in simulating the impact of different cover crop species on biosphere-atmosphere feedbacks. She is interested in how these feedbacks change with species as well as moisture availability.

More information on the tutorial can be found here: http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/events/2019/ctsm/.

As an aside, the Smith Lab is actively working on porting the CTSM to our local HPCC, so that lab members and folks across the TTU campus can run global experiments. Stay tuned!



January 16, 2019: The Spring 2019 semester begins



Today is the first day of the Spring semester. This semester Nick will be teaching Physiological Plant Ecology, an upper-level course for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. The course will cover a mix of foundational research in the field as well as some more recent trends. If you are interested in learning more, please don't hesitate to contact Nick or check out the course GitHub repo where all the course material will be posted.





January 4, 2019: NEW LAB PUBLICATION!



Nick led a study to examine the drivers of leaf-level photosynthesis, specifically the maximum rate of Rubisco carboxylation, commonly termed Vcmax. This rate is important for determining how much carbon plants take up via photosynthesis. However, Vcmax is known to be quite plastic over space and time, making it difficult to predict at large spatial and temporal scales.

The authors further developed a theory for predicting optimal rates Vcmax, with optimization meaning maintenance of maximum carbon uptake at the lowest cost. The theory was driven by climate and light availability alone.

When tested against a global observational dataset of Vcmax, the theory did quite well, explaining >60% of the variation in the observations. The results suggest that light available and biophysical constraints due to climate determine large scale patterns of Vcmax. The results also suggested that soil fertility was not a major driver of Vcmax at these scales, an effect that contrasts with theory implemented in Earth System Models (ESMs).

The theory is a much simpler representation of acclimation than that is currently used in ESMs, thus providing a way to simplify these complex models, improving the reliability of their future predictions.

The study was published online in Ecology Letters.

Full citation:

Smith, NG, TF Keenan, IC Prentice, H Wang, IJ Wright, Ü Niinemets, et al. (2019). Global photosynthetic capacity is optimized to the environment. Ecology Letters. doi: 10.1111/ele.13210.



Comparison of Vcmax as predicted by optimization and observed in a global dataset. Data are colored by the Koppen climate class of the site where the data were taken.


January 1, 2019: It was big year for the lab!



Field sites were established, experiments were done, and papers were published. The lab added many new members and saw others move on to bigger and better things. Check out all the previous year's new in the 2018 Archive. On to a fun, productive, science-filled 2019!



Youngest lab member, Marlo Smith, stares down a Guadalupe Mountain sunrise.