A question & answer session to get to know the 2021 GG Scholar Sophia Copeman, 1st year graduate student in the Entomology Program. She has joined the Frank Lab.

What aspect of genetics and/or genomics most interests you?

I am most interested in understanding the variation in and the spread of invasive species through a population genetics lens.

What (or Who) influenced you to go into your field of study?

To be completely honest, I was inspired to study entomology in high school by a video game called Animal Crossing: New Leaf. In the game, you can collect all kinds of insects and donate them to a museum. I was fascinated and inspired by the diversity of insects, so much so that I wanted to study them in college. 

In my undergraduate career at NCSU, I volunteered in the NCSU Insect Museum, at the NC Museum of Natural Science’s Living Conservatory, and at their yearly BugFest event. I also worked in a couple entomology labs at NCSU as an undergraduate research assistant. After COVID gave me lots of time to think about the research I’d like to do, I decided to join Dr. Steve Frank’s lab and work with an invasive species called the European pepper moth (EPM).

Who or what do you hope benefits from your research?

I hope to create an effective pest management plan to control EPM that will not only protect the aesthetic and economic value of ornamental plants, but also reduce insecticide risks to human and environmental health.

How can your research be used to inform decision makers (e.g. policy makers, resource managers, health practitioners, K12 educators, etc etc)?

I hope my research and interests can be used to inform  decisions that growers make about how to treat infestations of EPM in a way that is effective and does not require the use of harmful pesticides. I also hope it can help us better understand the spread of invasive species in greenhouses and nurseries.

What do you think is the most pressing issue or problem in your field of study?

Because of EPM’s relatively recent emergence, there is no clear management strategy. Growers may treat their plants with short term solutions such as broad-use insecticides, which may be ineffective or cause harm to beneficial insects or the environment. For example, neonicotinoid pesticide treatments can have detrimental effects on pollinators that were not the intended target.

How do you expect the GG Scholars program to impact your work?

The GG Scholars program has provided me with a very supportive and friendly cohort that I would not have had otherwise. The cohort has a very diverse range of research topics and backgrounds, which allow us to get a variety of perspectives on our own questions or ideas. The program also provides professional development advice, which I believe will help me improve my science communication.

How would you describe your research interests to a 3rd grader?

I study a type of insect called the European pepper moth. This bug is from another part of the world, but has made its way to America. Unfortunately, this bug loves to eat many plants that we grow for food or to put in our gardens or houses. My goal is to find out a safe and effective way to stop this insect from spreading and damaging our plants.

What’s your dream job?

My dream job would be working in a museum or garden that has a large insect collection or exhibit. I would absolutely love to get into exhibit or landscape design for some sort of insect or butterfly garden. I love being able to talk to people about how fascinating insects are and how important it is to manage them in a way that doesn’t harm beneficial insects or the environment.