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Elizabeth Scott


  • Time Zone

  • Organization
    Portland State University

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

  • Research Interests (300 words)
    I am interested in how plants interact with their biotic (living things, such as pollinators) and abiotic (non-living things, such as landscapes) surroundings. Currently, I’m interested in how wind patterns might affect how the pollen and seeds of different plants move from place to place. To measure if plants move, I isolate DNA from different populations and compare genetic similarities.

  • Profile Question 1
    What is the coolest thing you have discovered or learned about plants?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 1 here (300 words):
    One of coolest hypotheses in science is about two of my favorite things: plant dispersal and avocados. In biology, the part of a plant that contains seeds is called a fruit, which includes avocados. Fruits often have mechanisms to help them move around: wind-dispersed fruits usually have a fluffy structure that helps them fly through the air (like dandelions), water-dispersed fruits usually have air pockets that help them float on water (like coconuts), and animal-dispersed fruits are often nutritious and tasty to entice animals into eating and defecating them (like watermelons, peppers, or avocados).

    Avocados have been around for much longer than humans have been farming and eating them. However, the avocado seed (the pit) is much too large for humans to eat, even though avocados are nutritious and tasty like other animal-dispersed fruits. Scientists currently hypothesize that avocados evolved to be dispersed by massive, prehistoric animals known as megafauna. In particular, avocados were thought to be dispersed by giant ground sloths, which have since gone extinct, that would eat the fruit whole, move a distance away, and deposit the avocado pit in a new location for it to grow!

  • Profile Question 2
    Do you have advice for students about preparing for a science career?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 2 here (300 words):
    Everyone has a different path to science, but here are three pieces of advice that worked for me!

    First, being a scientist involves a lot of reading and writing. Track down scientific journal articles that sound interesting to you, even if they feel way over your head. Read the main points in the introduction, walk the methods section step by step, and look at the figures (it takes me a couple hours to read a scientific paper thoroughly!). As you read an article, try to take mental notes on the scientific writing style. Even though scientific articles are sometimes considered “boring”, they often are telling a story about a particular plant or ecosystem that can be pretty exciting!

    My second piece of advice is to familiarize yourself with programming. Learning how to program has been one of my best decisions as a scientist because it helps me collect and analyze my data in a whole new, efficient way. Python is a great language to learn for science careers, and there are lots of free tutorials and resources online!

    And finally, my last suggestion is to ask questions about the world around you, and then see if you can find the answers, whether through reading the literature or your own experiment! As Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer—an ecologist at SUNY—said, “I chose botany because I wanted to learn about why [purple] asters and goldenrod looked so beautiful together”. There’s no limit to questions you can ask!

  • 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 Castilleja miniata, commonly known as giant red paintbrush or meadow paintbrush! This plant is native to my home in Oregon and most of the western United States. Meadow paintbrush is my favorite plant for two reasons:
    1) It's a beautiful neon red color (fun fact: the "flowers" of meadow paintbrush are actually modified leaves that pretend to be flowers called bracts!)
    2) It's parasitic; meadow paintbrush roots attach to the roots of other plants and steals nutrients. (It's basically a plant vampire!)

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

Recent Posts

The Best Team 2 Elizabeth Scott

Hi Best Team! 

These are some great observations! It sounds like you're setting up a very interesting experiment. How are you planning on testing photosynthesis rates in these two different plants? What things do you think make the mung…

The Best Team 2 Elizabeth Scott

Hi everyone! 

The role plants play in nutrient cycling is very cool! They're such an important part of an ecosystem!

It sounds like you have a great start to a hypothesis about photosynthesis! What makes you think photosynthesis is…

The Best Team 2 Elizabeth Scott

Hi everyone, 

It sounds like your experiments are going really well! It's great that you tested for the presence of photosynthesis and cellular respiration products (oxygen and carbon dioxide) in two different ways and your results agree…


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NSF_Logo.jpg This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant #2010556 and #1502892. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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