Reuben Keller

Associate Professor
Home state: Illinois
Research Institution: School of Environmental Sustainability, Loyola University Chicago
Primary Research Topic(s): I am broadly interested in invasive species in the Great Lakes region; how they get here, how they spread, the impacts they have, and especially how we can prevent more from arriving. My research includes fieldwork, lab work, and modeling
What got you interested in science and how did you end up as a Great Lakes scientist?

I was always interested in science and water, and when I was seven I went on a guided ranger walk around some rock-pools during a camping trip. That evening I declared to my parents that I was going to become a marine biologist. During my undergraduate degree I became more and more interested in freshwater ecosystems and was able to join a research project looking at the effect of stream flow on aquatic macroinvertebrates. I followed this with a full year research project looking at the spread and impacts of the oriental weatherloach fish in Australia. In 2001 I moved to the US to start my PhD at University of Notre Dame, and ever since I have been working on invasive species issues in the Great Lakes. I love working in the Great Lakes and I still find the sheer volume of water astounding, particularly because I grew up in such a dry continent.

Describe your research related to the Great Lakes.

I am broadly interested in invasive species in the Great Lakes region; how they get here, how they spread, the impacts they have, and especially how we can prevent more from arriving. My research includes fieldwork, lab work, and modeling. Currently I have two main projects. The first of these is looking at the spread, control and impacts of invasive crayfish species in the Chicago region. My lab has sampled many habitats in the area – from SCUBA diving offshore to netting in small golf course ponds – to determine the distribution and diversity of crayfish. We are also actively working to reduce populations of a newly arrived invader – the red swamp crayfish – in a section of the Chicago River. Second, my lab is looking at the potential to prevent invasive species spread between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes ecosystems. We have developed lab-scale electric and carbon dioxide barriers to determine how effective these technologies are for preventing the spread of invasive invertebrates.

Describe an experience you have had working with educators or the community. What was something that surprised you or that you especially enjoyed about the experience?

During one of my research positions I was lucky to work with a high school science teacher through a National Science Foundation program. I hadn’t worked on a research project with a teacher before and I don’t think that either of us really knew what to expect. During our collaboration we created a joint ecological-economic model for looking at the spread of invasive crayfish and we were co-authors of a paper in a high profile academic journal. Along the way I worked with the teacher to develop lesson plans so that she could pass her experiences and knowledge to students. I really enjoyed this experience because my collaborator came at the work with a different perspective and background but quickly became expert in the field and our modeling approach. On top of that she was able to see how the work could be applied to her role of educating students. I learned a lot, and still apply her knowledge to my work with educators.

Why do you think it is important for scientists to share their research with educators?

I find working with educators to be fun and challenging! The questions that I receive from teachers are different to those that I get from scientists and this forces me to think about my work from other angles. As a researcher it is always important to be challenged like this. It is also very important to me that my work – which is mostly funded by taxpayers – reach the broadest possible audience in the community. Delivering my work to other scientists is important, but the best way for me to reach younger people is through educators.

What do you think are the most critical skills for students interested in a career in science?

Students who do the best with research in my lab and classes are those who are able to think deeply and critically about a scientific question, gather information to inform their thinking, and then work hard to find answers. Knowing facts is obviously important, but if students are interested in research I recommend that they get some experience diving deep into challenging topics. Students interested in scientific careers should take as many opportunities as possible to become good at writing and public speaking. These are the ways that scientists communicate and we are all much more effective when we can get our message across clearly.

Contact Reuben Keller: [email protected]