Insects do not always have a very good reputation. Some people dislike them, others are terrified of them. This is not the case with Dr. T. Heath Ogden, assistant professor in the Biology department.
Ogden began teaching at UVU in July 2009. He currently teaches courses on evolution, bioinformatics and entomology, the study of insects. Ogden recalls his first interest in bugs as a kid. He remembers catching bugs and putting them in an ice cream bucket to watch them fight; however, he did not think he would make a career out of it.
Through high school and his undergraduate studies Ogden thought he would go to medical school. It was not until he was working on his master’s degree that his mentor opened his mind to entomology. Ogden ended up continuing his research on the subject through his Ph.D. program, focusing on mayflies and dragonflies.
Ogden continues with his research today. He is currently working on three different projects with the help of several students. For one of these projects, Ogden and these students are collecting a sample of insects from around the Capitol Reef Field Station and compiling their findings into an insect guide for the area.
To help ensure they are getting a good sample of the area, Ogden and the students do two types of collecting: day collecting and night collecting. When collecting at night, they use a very powerful lamp to light up the valley and draw in a wider variety of different insects. Ogden is planning another collecting trip down to the field station near the end of summer block. They plan to submit the book next fall.
Ogden’s second project is a continuation of his work on mayflies. Ogden has gone all over the world collecting different species of these insects and put the specimen into ethanol to preserve their DNA. Because of this, the school boasts the largest frozen tissue collection of mayflies in the world. Students use these insects to extract DNA and determine its sequence. They then compare the sequences of different families to determine evolutionary relationships.
Through this information, Ogden hopes to gain a greater understanding of the mechanisms that led to insect flight, which is thought to first have evolved in the mayfly and dragonfly groups.
With all of these projects, Ogden allows the students to do much of the research and information gathering.
“I think here at UVU, my role is to facilitate students doing research, not necessarily to make me the star researcher,” Ogden said. “There is value in letting the students struggle through and learn how to do things.”
For students this provides the opportunity to take their education to the next level.
“It’s a real world application,” said James Barber, a senior who has worked with Ogden on several projects.
Derek Johnson, also a senior, said he enjoys working uncovering information that no one else has reported on yet.
The students working with Ogden will have the opportunity to present their research later this year at the Utah Conference of Undergraduate Research.
For students interested in getting involved with Ogden’s research, he advises them to first read some of his articles. They can be found on his professional page on the school website or outside his office door at LA 111h.
Ogden then asks students to volunteer for a semester to make sure it is something they really want to do and are willing to work hard toward. If that works out, students have the option of getting credit for research, working towards their senior thesis and, in some instances, getting paid.