What do you do when your research project takes on a life of its own? Just ask 2016 Falvey Scholar Tara Malanga from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Life–microscopic life–is the focus of Malanga’s project, titled “Does Nitrogen Addition Irreversibly Alter Soil Microbial Community Composition and Function?” and developed under the mentorship of J. Adam Langley, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Biology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In a research tale as old as time, Malanga started her journey with a hypothesis in mind, but her results had a different story to tell.
First, Malanga’s story: hailing from Chatham, New Jersey, a town just above New York City, Malanga graduated from Chatham High School, where she ran cross country and track. Even in high school she loved biology and it seemed only fitting that she choose it as her undergraduate major. At Villanova, she has been a member of Villanova Voices, the all-women’s choir, for all four years of her college career. It is where she met some of her best friends since day one on campus.
As for the topic of her research, it was a direction discovered by chance. Malanga enjoyed her microbiology course with Dr. Langley and so reached out to see if he would take her on as a senior thesis student. While she originally came into biology “thinking pre-med,” she wanted to work with Dr. Langley and so took on the domain of microbial ecology. Learning a new field is a challenge but one Malanga conquered with vigor. “I’ve learned a lot about something that I had absolutely no introduction to until this year,” she says, and credits Falvey Memorial Library for the help: “Falvey’s access to a great number of the most influential scientific journals enabled me to conduct with ease the research necessary to orient myself in the field of microbial ecology… Having access to journals such as Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Global Change Biology, PNAS, and Frontiers in Microbiology I was able to conduct a rather extensive analysis of the literature.” Not only does she consider Falvey’s resources “absolutely indispensable,” but she has also made good use of Zotero, a research tool introduced to her and her biology cohort by librarian Robin Bowles in their thesis seminar class.
As for her thesis itself, Malanga learned a great research lesson applicable to life itself: “The results that we found weren’t what we had originally been looking for,” she admits. “I kept looking for the community changes I had expected based on what I had read, and Dr. Langley [said] ‘well, just look at the data you have there. That’s interesting in itself. Don’t try to make it fit what you wanted to see’–and we ended up finding almost cooler things.”
The Digital Library and Falvey are pleased to announce that all Falvey Scholar Award recipients’ theses will be digitized and made available to the Villanova Community at http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:180038.
Article by Michelle Callaghan, graduate assistant on the Communication and Service Promotion team. She is currently pursuing her MA in English at Villanova University.
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