Pollen research in eastern red cedar helps student track allergy trends

Pollen research helps student track allergy trends

The University of Tulsa’s Michaela Flonard plans to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience in the future, but first she is gaining valuable laboratory experience in pollen research through TU’s biology undergraduate program. A junior from Colorado Springs, Colorado, Flonard has worked directly with faculty on research projects since the fall of her freshman year.

“I’ve always thought biology was so fascinating, because you can learn so much about how the world works and how we as people work,” she said. “I’m interested in neuroscience and developmental disorders, but I love what I do here in the lab.”

pollen researchUnder the mentorship of Estelle Levetin, chairperson for the Department of Biological Science, Flonard’s research specializes in eastern red cedar, an aeroallergen common in the Tulsa area. She is analyzing 30 years of data on eastern red cedar, examining how it has changed and is affected by meteorological variables.

“This allergen is spreading and taking over a lot of the prairies,” Flonard said. “It’s really unique to have 30 years of data to study.”

Flonard was the only undergraduate student listed on a paper recently submitted to the International Journal of Biometeorology. She also presented her latest pollen research at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Annual Meeting in Atlanta in March.

“There were a lot of industry professionals there. Allergy and pollen experts came up and talked to me,” Flonard said. “It was really interesting to go to a specific conference that wasn’t focused on undergraduates.”

She has taken advantage of many opportunities to jump into a research lab and work alongside graduate students and faculty, which Flonard said is a benefit of TU’s small class sizes. The techniques she’s learning and statistical analysis she performs will help launch her advanced education in neuroscience.

“It’s been interesting to see how eastern red cedar has increased over the years while understanding why and forecasting future levels,” she said. “There are a lot of computational elements I wouldn’t necessarily learn in class that have been a really cool part of the research.”