In Plain English: Diana Nemergut

In 1995 Diana Nemergut was one of the first Americorps volunteers, and helped to build community gardens in New Orleans.  It changed her life, and she went on study ecology.  Now she investigates the microbes living in soil, and their community structures. 

Community structure?  How can a microbial community have structure? 

No, the microbes aren’t living in teeny high-rise condos.  Structure refers to diversity:  What species are present, and in what proportions?  How are they related evolutionarily?  How, and how quickly, does the community change over time and space?  And most of all, what factors promote change?  This diversity exists even though most of the microbes probably serve the same function of decomposition; different species specialize in breaking down different types of carbon molecules.  Diana especially enjoys the analysis of the data, to the point that she has engaged a math tutor to improve her mastery of its higher functions.

If she doesn’t quite see a world in a grain of sand, in a pinch of soil Diana can find enough intellectual material to investigate how organisms, ecosystems, evolution, and chance interact with one another.