Megan Van Etten


  • Time Zone

  • Organization
    Penn State

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

  • Research Interests (300 words)
    I am a plant evolutionary biologists interested in how plants react to the environmental changes caused by humans. This includes the causes and effects of pollinator declines and the creation of super weeds.

  • Profile Question 1
    What was the first science experiment you ever designed? How did it turn out?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 1 here (300 words):
    My first science experiment (that I remember well) was testing how different crop species might be used in bioremediation (using plants to clean up the environment) and it was a DISASTER. It was a part of a summer science program I participated in during high school, but none of the science mentors worked with plants (or even had a decent knowledge about them). This lack of mentors probably played a large part in how horribly the project went! To start with, I sterilized soil not knowing that this changes the available nutrients in the soil, so the plants were nutrient starved. I also couldn't get seeds to germinate from some of the crops because I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't have any growing space, so I grew them in my dorm room window, which wasn't enough light for the plants. I also didn't have a good way of measuring nutrients before and after the experiment since we didn't have any plant related equipment. Not surprisingly, the experiment didn't work. Also not surprising in hindsight, I was not alone! Many of the students' projects did not work out as we were expecting and some didn't even get started due to technical issues. As a scientist I have come to learn that this is a common issue and why we do preliminary experiments to test out techniques before investing lots of time and money into an experiment.

  • Profile Question 2
    What is best about being a scientist?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 2 here (300 words):
    The best thing about being a scientist is that I get to learn new things. I have always loved learning. As a kid I was constantly reading and observing the world around me. I really like the moment when I learn something that changes how I view the world - at first there is a disconcerting feeling where things don't make sense and then this intense shift to incorporate this new knowledge and finally a sense of happiness/relief/contentedness because now the world makes more sense. Although these moments don't happen often in life, being a scientist is the best way to continually push myself to understand the world.

  • Profile Question 3
    What is your favorite plant? Why?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 3 here (300 words):
    My favorite plant is the Welwitschia plant. I like it for a couple of reasons. First, it is a perfect example of the amazingness of plants - it grows with almost no water, can grow to be very large (up to 26 ft diameter), and it does this with only 2 leaves! Second, I have a personal connection to them - one of my mentors was the first to get seeds to germinate in the greenhouse AND I went to graduate school in the place that houses his original seeds.

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

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