WORTHINGTON - A Worthington native made a brief pit stop back home recently after graduating from the University of Minnesota Duluth and spending a month under a microscope at the nation’s premier museum and research center.
Blake Fauskee leaves next week for Washington, where he will spend his second summer in the National Museum of Natural History’s U.S. Herbarium, a sector of the Smithsonian Institution. For the month of June, the 22-year-old will train the next crop of interns to examine and document the modes of reproduction across a large number of ferns, just as he did during a 10-week internship last summer.
“It’s very understudied,” said Fauskee, speaking of the purpose for the ongoing fern study in the U.S. Herbarium, where millions of plants from around the world are collected and stored. “We have an estimate representing all ferns that are asexual - and we’re all pretty sure it’s an under-estimate, since nobody has ever looked. So we’re going to be the group that looks.”
The 2015 Worthington High School graduate will continue his research on ferns this fall at Duke University in Durham, N.C..
As part of his doctor of philosophy program in biology, Fauskee was awarded a graduate research fellowship program grant from the National Science Foundation to expand on his fern research. The highly competitive fellowship is awarded to individuals “anticipated to become knowledgeable experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching and innovations in science and engineering,” the NSF website states.
Fauskee got the idea for his research project from previous experiences with ferns. He’ll devote countless hours to examining ferns with the hope of determining why what he called “DNA typos” occur.
He compared the example of what’s occurring in ferns to a recipe being transcribed and shared from the original source.
“Instead of four sticks of butter, it says ultimately you need five,” he explained. “Where is that information coming from? The DNA is not the full story. What else is it affecting?”
The NSF will finance three years of Fauskee’s graduate education, which is anticipated to take between five to seven years to complete. Duke University finances the first.
While devoting the time and effort to his project, Fauskee has the end goal of becoming a college professor in mind.
“Having your own lab and answering whatever research questions you want is super appealing to me,” Fauskee said of his career plan.
His fern research thus far has not only taken him to Washington, but Chicago, Ill., France and Costa Rica.
In southern France, he presented a poster at the Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology that brings together four of the world’s largest academic societies in the field of evolutionary biology, its website states.
He also visited the highlands of Costa Rica last January. During the two-and-a-half week field course, Fauskee attended lectures and hikes.
“It (was) intense and exhaustive but super rewarding,” he said about the experience.
Fauskee attributes the discovery and development of his love for science to his time at WHS. The 2015 WHS Senior Student of Excellence in Science said he took the minimum required credits in any other subject but science so he could front-load on what he loved.
Former WHS science teacher Craig Kroger and current science teacher Paul Olsen also had a positive influence on Fauskee.
“Mr. Kroger and Mr. Olson turned me into a scientist,” Fauskee said. “It wasn’t until my first year of college that I wanted to work with plants.”
The son of Dan and Lori Fauskee called leaving his home state a bittersweet moment.
“The full commit to North Carolina is going to be a bit of getting used to,” he said. “I haven’t been outside of Minnesota for more than one summer at a time, but I’m ready to switch it up.”