Elle Barnes

August 23, 2022

Elle Barnes grew up in Long Island, New York. She studied environmental biology at New York University and started as a postdoctoral researcher at the Joint Genome Institute at the Lab in July 2020. Barnes conducts research in the Microbial Systems Group. Many of the projects she works on have to do with growing crops used as alternative energy sources – such as ethanol – on marginal land. She traces her love of nature to her childhood when her father took her camping and built birdhouses which they would observe for species.

How did you first become interested in science?

My grandfather was an engineer at Grumman, an aircraft manufacturer on Long Island in New York. He worked for the government designing planes. Before that, he and my father were really avid birders. My father spent his spare time building bird feeders. We would spend time trying to identify all the birds that would migrate. All those things made me become a mini naturalist and that was really my first interest in science.

What were the internships you had while at university?

I interned at the New York City Audubon Society, Wildlife Conservation Society, and spent some time in Germany where I worked for a green space architect. I had a lot of interaction with the general public. It made me realize how much the general public is science-phobic or just doesn’t have a good background in science education. They either don’t like math or science or think its all about memorizing certain things. Science is just about asking questions. In every project, I make sure to have some sort of research that is accessible to the public. That’s the most important thing we can do to influence taxpayers is to illustrate that the funds that go to science are well spent.

What topic will you present at the upcoming Research SLAM?

One of the most exciting projects coming out of our work is the interesting relationship between plants and microorganisms in soils; there are interactions between microorganisms in soils. We apply social network theory, which is the same thing Facebook uses to determine who to friend. You can apply that to microbes instead of persons. One of the things the project asks is how does environmental stress such as drought affect microbial communities that affiliate with biofuel crops. Microbes under the normal amount of water don’t associate. Under drought, they have associations. Microbes might be helping plants grow under stressful environments.