Riva Bruenn


  • Time Zone

  • Organization
    University of California at Berkeley

  • Role
    Scientist Mentor: I will mentor teams of students online

  • Research Interests (300 words)
    I am interested in the genes involved in floral symmetry and how they work together in a network to change how flowers are formed. The flowers I study are tropical gingers, which all have one line of symmetry because the top and the bottom of each flower don’t match. In different species of gingers, the single line of symmetry is created by different parts of the flower in different ways. For example in banana flowers one petal stays separate but the rest of the petals and petal-like sepals are fused together into a tube. In culinary ginger flowers though, the stamens (the part that makes pollen) are mostly flat and pollenless and look like petals except for one stamen that still makes pollen. I am interested in finding changes in the symmetry network that might contribute to these different floral forms.

  • Profile Question 1
    What lessons have you learned in your career about how science works?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 1 here (300 words):
    I have learned that Science is full of surprises. I often think I’ve figured out every possible explanation for something I see. Then I design an experiment that will allow me to tell which of the explanations is true. My results often don’t match any of the explanations I’ve come up with! Then I have to think of new explanations and test those ones. I try my best not to be discouraged and instead to focus on my curiosity and excitement about learning what’s really going on. I’ve had to learn to be flexible and to change my mind and my plan to match new information I get. My research has never been straightforward or simple but it’s always been interesting!

  • Profile Question 2
    What was the first science experiment you ever designed? How did it turn out?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 2 here (300 words):
    My first experiment was a blind taste test of water. Friends and family (including me) all had favorite bottled waters. I wanted to test whether they could tell the difference between their favorite and other bottled waters or tap water. I had I think 9 different bottled waters and tap water in unmarked cups and tasters had to rank the waters from best to worst. They didn’t get to see what other people had decided. I found out that most people like tap water the best, and not a single person (including me) picked their favorite water as the best tasting one.

  • Profile Question 3
    What is tough about being a scientist?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 3 here (300 words):
    It’s been tough for me to feel like I belong in Science. I have never been the smartest person in any class I’ve been in, and I’m clumsy and make a lot of mistakes. I used to think that Scientists had to be good at everything and that they’re all geniuses who never mess up. Even though as a Scientist I have met tons of people who are a lot like me and I know now that none of them are perfect, I still have a sneaking suspicion in the back of my mind that I’m not good enough to do what I do. I have had to learn to ignore that voice and get back to Science! It’s not always easy to do that, but I have made lots of Scientist friends who help me feel like I belong here. It makes it easier when we talk about it, because they all have voices like that too but I KNOW that my friends belong in Science.

  • Availability
    I am NOT available, please temporarily remove me from the available mentor list

  • In addition to English, I am comfortable communicating with students in the following languages:
    None of the Above

  • Capacity: How many teams at a time are you comfortable working with?

Recent Posts

Lil' Sprouts Riva Bruenn

Hi Team!

Scientists get results that don't match our hypotheses a lot of the time, there is nothing wrong with that! A lot of times it means something even more interesting than we thought is going on, and it can lead us in awesome new…

Lil' Sprouts Riva Bruenn


Thank you so much for sharing your whole process with me. I had so much fun. I wish I could be at your presentation too! Good luck!

I hope you all do many more experiments in the future whether at home or at school. 


PHSWC Alba Team 2 Riva Bruenn

Hello team!

Thank you for sharing your end results with me. It's amazing that the floppy plant kept growing this whole time! It is interesting that at the end the silt plants grew a little bit more. Figuring out why that happened might…


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