Making Science “Cool”
The sound of croaking frogs might conjure up memories of
summer evenings. But for Robert Miranda, a doctoral student in the Department of Biological Sciences,
this summer song is key to his research in behavioral and environmental
endocrinology at Northern Arizona University, and to understanding more about
social behavior in both humans and animals.
"Frog calling is crucial to male frog mating
rituals, and if that system is altered—as we believe it may be due to chemical
pollutants—it could potentially impact a frog's reproductive capacity," he
says. "In doing this research, you want to use an organism that can serve
as something feasible for lab work and a species that has implications for
other organisms, and the frogs provide that."
Miranda's lifelong interest in biology and conservation
brought him into the lab at Northern Arizona University, where he studies how
chemicals in the environment interact with frog brain chemistry and hormones.
Miranda wants to understand how those chemicals might impact human
reproduction, mental health, and associated disorders, including autism.
“My research, including work in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, found that specific common pollutants affect frog brain
signaling, mating behavior, and their ability to reproduce. These results
suggest that animals in contaminated areas could be at risk due to chemical
exposure,” he explains.
Science is cool
Miranda also works to impart his research enthusiasm to
college students, and to teach youngsters just how "cool" science can
"I wish I had this exposure to science and research
when I was younger," Miranda said. "It is important to bring young
scientists onto campus because sometimes science in the classroom may not be
In an effort to show young students just how great
science can be, Miranda participates in the university's Integrative Graduate
Education, Research, and Traineeship (IGERT) program, which does community
outreach with area schools. Through this work, Miranda can see that he is
making a difference.
"I helped a science teacher develop lab activities,
and I organized a field trip to NAU," he says. "These children
visited our teaching greenhouse, the vertebrate museum in biology, and the Rio
De Flag water treatment facility. They started their semester seeing science at
a cellular level by looking at organisms, and they finished their semester
talking about the environment. This was fun. The students saw that science is
interesting, and that science is cool."
Miranda notes that he is equally happy to work with university
students. He says there are great opportunities for undergraduate students to conduct
research—which can be a huge asset in encouraging would-be scientists to follow
"The undergraduate students at NAU are a great
asset, and it's definitely a good experience for them to be involved with
research, acquire research skills, and to simply understand how science is
conducted," he says. "What is also nice about our programs is that
faculty, who may not be directly involved in our project, but may have
something to offer due to their area of expertise, will step in. There is
always great teamwork here."