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Jessica Ware (center) explains gel electrophoresis to Samantha Hittson (left) and Melissa Reed. They are in a lab room with bottles on the shelves in the background.
Jessica Ware (center) explains gel electrophoresis to Samantha Hittson (left) and Melissa Reed. (Photo by Lauren Osborn)

Bugs in the Big Apple

Monday, January 9, 2023

Media Contact: Kaitlyn Weldon | Digital Communications Specialist | 405-744-7063 |

The museum is quiet on Mondays. In the absence of the usual commotion from children on class field trips and visitors’ audio-guided tours, one can be fully immersed in the displays.

Lauren Osborn, an English doctoral student, said the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History seemed to come to life in the still moments of a Monday afternoon.

“It almost feels like you’re a ghost — haunting the halls and quietly observing,” Osborn said.

Osborn was one of four Oklahoma State University students invited to travel more than 1,400 miles from Stillwater, Oklahoma, this summer to visit the AMNH in New York City.

Jessica Ware, an associate curator at AMNH, connected with Wyatt Hoback, a professor in the OSU Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, at an Entomological Society of America meeting earlier this year.

Ware knew of the department’s reputation and was intrigued by the diverse backgrounds of the department’s students. She invited Hoback to bring students to AMNH in hopes they would share their experiences and encourage theirpeers to apply for the museum’s summer research and internship programs.

“I wanted the students to see the things in the museum that fit their interests and career goals,” Ware said. “Some of the students are pursuing careers in science and research while the others are working toward more art and humanities-focused professions within entomology.”

Samantha Hittson, an entomology master’s student, said her favorite part of the visit was the hands-on research in which the group participated.

The students were introduced to the use of gel electrophoresis in DNA analysis as a part of Ware’s ongoing genetic research of dragonflies belonging to genus Orthetrum.

“We took the legs off of the dragonflies and put them in a mixture of chemicals,” Hittson said. “Once only the DNA was left in the bottom of the container, we spun it down, mixed it with more chemicals and put the samples in a polymerase chain reaction machine to replicate the DNA. “From there, we performed gel electrophoresis — a process that uses electrical current to separate different parts of the DNA for further examination,” Hittson said.

Of the eight specimens the students extracted DNA from, six generated usable results for the larger study.

While DNA analysis is not what Osborn envisions for her career, she still valued the experience.

“You have a greater appreciation for science when you see it in person and all the ways it can go wrong before you find the answer,” Osborn said. “It’s a delicate operation you don’t often see.”

Osborn may not be a traditional entomology student, but she has always had an affinity for arthropods.

“They were an interest for me growing up,” Osborn said. “I was interested in insect behavior when I was studying behavioral psychology in undergrad. When I came to OSU, my adviser introduced me to Dr. Hoback. Having him on my doctoral committee was an instant fit.”

Osborn integrates her passion for entomology into her writing and storytelling.

“My ultimate goal is to use literary fiction as a way to grow the public’s interest in entomology,” Osborn said.

During the visit, Osborn and the other students attended a live reading by Daisy Hernández, author of “The Kissing Bug.” They also toured artist Peter Kuper’s exhibit, “INterSECTS: Where Arthropods and Homo Sapiens Meet,”at the New York Public Library.

“It was surreal to see firsthand that writers and creatives can succeed in such an impactful way,” Osborn said.

In addition to having the OSU students conduct genetic research and visit with entomology-focused authors, Ware guided the group on a tour of the museum’s seemingly endless archives, exhibits, studios and more.

“Collaboration is an integral part of science,” Ware said. “Everyone can and should participate in it.

“People have a broad interest in working with insects, whether as entomologists, museum curators, art historians or writers,” she said.

Melissa Reed, an entomology doctoral student, said she enjoyed the time spent outside the lab just as much as she enjoyed the time in it.

“I never realized just how many opportunities there are to work in museums,” Reed said. “There’s so much thatgoes on behind the scenes — everything from artists sculpting dioramas to the people responsible for maintaining specimen collections.”

Yasmine Abusaleh, an entomology junior, said she had a limited understanding of the various career paths available in entomology prior to visiting AMNH.

“I thought my main options would be research or field work,” Abusaleh said. “Now, it feels like a whole new world has opened up on what I can do with my degree in entomology.

“Seeing how passionate everyone was about their work makes me want to work harder and prioritize getting an internship and conducting research while I’m an undergraduate student,” Abusaleh added.

Hoback looks forward to continuing the partnership cultivated with AMNH this summer.

“This was an amazing opportunity for our students to not only get some hands-on experiences but also to see where they can fit in the field of entomology despite their varied personal interests and goals,” Hoback said.

Ware said watching the OSU students connect with AMNH’s doctoral students and with visitors from a local high school was rewarding for her.

“It’s always encouraging to see young people from across the country and across the globe who are passionate about entomology coming together to learn from each other,” Ware said. “The best part for me was learning from the students’ diverse perspectives and lived experiences.”

Hoback is grateful for the relationships his students developed with Ware and how she provided them with new opportunities in and out of the museum. Osborn is beyond thankful for her time with Ware.

“Dr. Ware is so intelligent and was so generous with her time,” Osborn said. “She made sure we saw everything wewanted to see, and she answered every question we had in a way you could tell she was invested in our learning.

“She even made us tea and took us to her favorite ice cream shop,” Osborn continued. “Dr. Ware is just one of those people who feels like a long-time friend, even if you’ve just met.”

While roaming the empty hallways of the museum, Osborn couldn’t help but be in awe of how expansive the field of entomology is, especially within museums.

“Pretty much anything you’re interested in or have talent in, you can find a job there,” Osborn said.

Story By: Hunter Gibson | Cowboy Journal

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