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March 17, 2011 Volume 32, No. 24

Biological sciences major to present research on Capitol Hill


Pflug will meet with lawmakers, officials

For the fifth-straight year, the University of Missouri will send a representative to the Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR) Posters on the Hill in Washington, D.C.

James Pflug, a senior majoring in biological sciences, has been selected to attend the event, which is scheduled for April 13. Student present their research, displayed on posters, to members of Congress, congressional staff members, federal government officials and others.

A native of Seneca, Mo., Pfllug has been conducting a genetic analysis of Naucoridae, including newly described genera and species. Naucoridae is an insect family known as creeping water bugs. The results of Pflug’s studies indicate several intriguing aspects of naucorid geographic distribution, evolutionary relationships, and genetics.

 “I am really glad to see groups like CUR take interest in both my research and the work of other undergraduates,” Pflug said. “Being a part of the event and representing Missouri means a lot to me.”                                      

 Nancy Hensel, executive officer of CUR, said the council received 700 applications from students to present their research at the 15th annual event. Pflug’s abstract is one of only 60 that were selected.

“His research is an excellent example of original and high quality research by an undergraduate student,” Hensel said.

 Research must be conducted under the guidance of a MU faculty member. Pflug’s mentors are Robert Sites, a professor of entomology in the Division of Plant Sciences, and J. Chris Pires, an assistant professor in the Division of Biological Sciences.

 Sites will join Pflug on the trip. While in Washington, Pflug and Sites will visit program officers from the National Science Foundation. They will also examine and compare insect specimens in the Smithsonian Institution research collection, which is only available to scientists by appointment.  

Sites and Pflug will use their time at the Smithsonian to examine identified creeping water bug specimens, which will help them to assign identities to their many specimens.                                                      

“My mentor has been a constant source of guidance throughout my research,” Pflug said. “He has introduced me to the field of entomology.”

 Pflug was one of 19 MU undergraduate research students who traveled to Jefferson City on March 3 for the Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol. The researchers from Mizzou were joined by colleagues from the other three schools within the UM System and displayed their poster projects in the Capitol Rotunda.

 The idea behind the Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol and Posters on the Hill is to help lawmakers understand the importance of undergraduate research by providing them with the opportunity to talk directly with the students affected by programs funded through federal agencies. The events underscore higher education’s role in developing educated citizens and preparing a workforce with the necessary skills to further economic growth.

 “I think it is extremely important to communicate with policymakers,” Pflug said. “Not just so legislators can make informed decisions, but also to build enthusiasm for the sciences in government.”

Last year, Mizzou students Christine O’Brien and Kyle Ervin presented their research at Posters on the Hill.

— Joshua Murray