St. Olaf Student Receives Charles H. Turner Award and Presents at International Conference – St. Olaf College


St. Olaf Student Receives Charles H. Turner Award and Presented at International Conference

Iya Abdulkarim ’22 received the Charles H. Turner Prize and presented his research at an international conference. She plans to pursue a career in medicine and is particularly interested in examining innovation in healthcare.

Iya Abdulkarim ’22, a student at St. Olaf College, received the Charles H. Turner Award from the Animal Behavior Society and presented her research on the cricket singing preferences of an acoustic parasitoid fly at the 58th virtual annual conference of the company.

Founded in 2002, the award aims to increase diversity in science and is named after Dr. Charles Turner, who was an African-American pioneer unjustly overlooked in animal cognition research. The Turner Award provides funding for undergraduates to present their research at the Animal Behavior Society’s annual international conference and attend workshops, networking events, and hear about ongoing research in the field.

“It really opened my eyes to all the possibilities for scientific exploration as well as collaboration on a broader level,” Abdulkarim said. “It was a pleasure to see researchers from all corners of the world sharing their enthusiasm and support around a common interest. “

It really opened my eyes to all the possibilities for scientific exploration as well as collaboration on a broader level. It was a pleasure to see researchers from all corners of the world sharing their enthusiasm and support around a common interest.Iya Abdulkarim ’22

Students selected for the award had the opportunity to both hear about other people’s research in many areas of animal behavior and to present their own work. Abdulkarim’s research as a lab member of St. Olaf’s Assistant Professor of Biology Norman Lee (Lee’s Neural Systems and Behavioral Laboratory) focused on the behavior of an acoustic parasitoid fly, Ormia ochracée, compared to the song of its host, the field cricket (see this Saint-Olaf Magazine story featuring this research). The fly is attracted to the cricket based on its song, tending to prefer cricket song pulse rates of around 50 pulses per second. The song’s pulse changes at different temperatures, but there had been no previous research to find out whether the pulse preferences of flies also varied with temperature, which was central to Abdulkarim’s work at the Lee Lab. .

“Our results suggest that the preference function of O. ochracea changes with temperature, and that flies show a greater overall preference for higher heart rates at higher temperatures, ”says Abdulkarim. “At the highest temperature tested, the pulse rate selectivity of call songs decreased (ie the flies were less picky). “

Ochracite Ormia inspired the design of miniature directional microphones and directional hearing aids, which Abdulkarim says prompted her to join the lab. Understanding the directional hearing abilities of O. ochracea could help scientists apply similar principles to human hearing aids and work to improve function in areas such as sense of direction and relevant sounds in environments with background noise.

For Abdulkarim, being able to participate in research as an undergraduate student was important in helping her shape her future. The St. Olaf Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program gave him for the first time the opportunity to collect data on his own research questions.

Engaging with the research community as an undergraduate has instilled in me a great appreciation for the spirit of scientific research, and I plan to take it with me moving forward.Iya Abdulkarim ’22

She was also involved in the sciences at St. Olaf in various other ways, helping to lead the St. Olaf Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students, working on the IMPULSE review team at St. Olaf, reviewing manuscripts for the IMPULSE Undergraduate Neuroscience Journal, and participating in the Innovative Minds Partnering to Advance Curative Therapies (IMPACT) Symposium as a member of the St. Olaf student teams in 2019 and 2020. She has also worked to share her love of science with youngest students in the region.

“I enjoyed teaching science classes in Northfield public elementary schools through Science Alliance. This organization allowed me to witness the same excitement that drew me to science and pass it on to those who nurtured my own interest, ”she says.

In addition to his involvement in the sciences, Abdulkarim helps run the calligraphy club on campus and is a member of the Muslim Student Association and the Blue Key Honor Society.

After moving to St. Olaf, she hopes to continue working in medicine and is particularly interested in health innovation research.

“Engaging with the research community as an undergraduate has instilled in me a great appreciation for the spirit of scientific research, and I plan to take it with me moving forward,” she says.

About Dr. Charles Turner
Dr. Charles H. Turner was the first African American to receive a graduate degree from the University of Cincinnati and possibly the first to receive a doctorate. from the University of Chicago in 1907. Before obtaining his doctorate, he published over 30 research papers and was the first African American to publish in Science, the prestigious journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Despite this productivity, Turner faced racism and was unable to maintain a professorship at a research institute. He was eventually appointed a teacher at Sumner High School in St. Louis. Even in this position, which lacked the laboratory facilities and other resources he would have had access to at a research institute, Turner continued to make groundbreaking discoveries that went against mainstream ideas of the time. His work has shown that animals are capable of complex cognition and not just learning by trial and error. He showed that bees were able to use visual and olfactory cues to find and know sources of nectar. He was also the first to discover the ability of certain insects to discriminate sound frequencies (pitch).

By naming an award in his honor, the Animal Behavior Society’s Diversity Committee underscores its goal of increasing the diversity of its members by encouraging researchers of all ages, levels and ethnicities to participate in its annual meetings.


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