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How One Entomologist Puts His Creative Side to Work

Edwin R. Burgess, Ph.D.

Manduca sexta is a model organism in insect physiology. For a recent experiment, Edwin “Ted” R. Burgess, Ph.D. prepared a batch of M. sexta larvae in a standard diet laced with potential immunosuppressant compounds. How these compounds affect immunological processes, including hemocyte function and behavioral fever, are of interest to Burgess. Through this research, he says he hopes to improve biological control methods, including use of parasitoids, and entomopathogenic organisms. (Photo credit: Edwin R. Burgess, Ph.D.)

By Kyndall Dye-Braumuller

Editor’s Note: This post is the second in the “Standout ECPs” series contributed by the Entomological Society of America’s Early Career Professionals (ECP) Committee, highlighting outstanding ECPs that are doing great work in the profession. (An ECP is defined as anyone within the first five years of obtaining their terminal degree in their field.) Learn more about the work ECPs are doing within ESA, and read past posts in the Standout ECPs series.

Edwin "Ted" R. Burgess, Ph.D.

Edwin “Ted” R. Burgess, Ph.D.

Edwin “Ted” R. Burgess, Ph.D., is a research associate and undergraduate program advisor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Illinois University. Below, we ask Ted a few short questions about his research, and we hope you’ll enjoy learning about him and some of the interesting work he is doing.

Dye-Braumuller: What is your favorite aspect (or coolest thing) about your research area?

Burgess: The majority of my research falls in the medical and veterinary entomology realm. Specifically, I am interested in finding environmentally responsible control solutions for pest arthropods of animal production and public health importance. This includes discovering new chemistries that pass EPA/OMRI [Organic Materials Review Institute] standards and optimizing biological control strategies so that they work in conjunction with chemical control. I am also a statistical consultant to the pest control industry.

My favorite aspect of my research is that it encourages creativity to solve difficult control problems. I’ve always been creatively inclined, having gotten a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts (BFA) before my science degrees. Had I known how much science stimulates my creative side, I might not have done the BFA!

I am currently having a gas with trying to figure out how to incorporate insect immunology techniques in some of my current research questions! I’m starting out with Manduca sexta, but I plan to move it back into my Musca domestica system and maybe expand into mosquitoes later.

What is a challenge that you solved during your most recent project?

My most recent project felt like strapping a saddle to an angry rhinoceros. We received a small grant to look at how imidacloprid (a common pesticide found in granular filth fly baits) disseminates through dairy cattle manure. Going into it, I knew that this question was very important to some of the central themes to my research and was also very much outside my area of expertise. I had never worked on an environmental chemistry project before, let alone led one. Thankfully, we had two wonderful analytical chemistry labs to help us, and I learned a lot of useful chemistry techniques from two great Ph.D. students. (Hi Sydney and Jennifer!)

It was not without a terrible amount of challenges though. My mornings started with shoveling wet dairy cattle manure into wading pools (sometimes in pouring rain) with two devoted undergraduate research assistants. We’d leave the farm and I would take the samples from that day into the chemistry lab where we would spend around six hours processing them (while still smelling like the farm). It was such a classic case of “trial and error” science, from the chemical extraction to the experimental design to coordinating all the labs that helped us, but I learned so much from it. I also turned dairy cattle poo into a fashion statement that semester. It. Was. Everywhere!

hotdog roller

Edwin “Ted” R. Burgess, Ph.D., says there’s plenty of room for creativity in entomology. Case in point: this mechanical set up for preparing treatment vials. “Fancy science equipment: Who needs it? A cheap hot dog warmer is a creative way to evenly coat treatment vials with pesticide residues. No heat necessary,” Burgess says. (Photo credit: Edwin R. Burgess, Ph.D.)

Why did you become an entomologist, and what drew you to this field?

I became an entomologist because my 4-year-old self couldn’t leave the shaded rock garden next to the garage alone. Since I was very little, I’ve loved insects. My road to becoming a scientist was not as simple. As I mentioned previously, I went to art school. I then did a BS in Biological Sciences, and then a brief stint in an M.D. program before switching gears and doing my Ph.D. I switched gears to entomology because I love the intimate relationship humans have with insects (many times unwanted). I was drawn to the possibility of creating solutions to problems affecting millions of people. Combine that with the incentive to be creative, and there was no turning back for me.

Harkening back to my art days, I love producing something you can see and touch at the end. To me, there is a lot of fulfillment in designing an experiment, collecting data, and then crafting an intriguing story in the form of a publication or presentation.

If we could somehow make any insect or arthropod approximately as large as a Volkswagen Beetle (disregarding all scientific body-size and oxygen needs), which one would you choose?

A stonefly nymph. I am an avid fly fisherman, and Plecoptera is my favorite fly fishing-related Order. I just love their biology. Plus, it’s a two-for-one deal! When it emerges, you get to see an enormous flying insect!

Kyndall Dye-Braumuller is a vector surveillance supervisor at the Harris County Public Health Mosquito and Vector Control Division in Houston and a member of the ESA Early Career Professionals Committee. Email: kynny302@gmail.com

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