January 12, 2016  

Purdue Profiles: Punya Nachappa

Punya Nachappa

Punya Nachappa, assistant professor of biology at IPFW, mentors a student in her research lab on the molecular analysis of a new soybean virus. (Photo provided)
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Punya Nachappa, assistant professor of biology at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, always had an agriculture background growing up in India; however, it wasn't until she came to Indiana that she realized the significance of soybeans in the United States.

Nachappa earned her PhD in entomology and focuses her research on understanding the outcomes and mechanisms underlying how plants, pathogens and insects interact in a soybean plant.

What are your roles as assistant professor of biology at IPFW?

My major responsibility is teaching and training undergraduate and graduate students. I co-teach Principles of Structure and Function, a course for biology majors. I coordinate the biology capstone seminar, where undergraduates complete a research project and communicate their findings. I also coordinate the Introduction to Agriculture and Purdue course and the Careers in Veterinary Medicine course; in both, we invite advisors from the Purdue-West Lafayette campus to IPFW to talk about the different agriculture and veterinary programs. Not only do I teach, but also I have an active research program involving undergraduate and graduate students in hands-on research focused on soybean pests.

What led to your interest in soybean pests?

I come from an agriculture background in India, so I've always been interested in understanding how insect pests and disease impact plant growth and yield. When I began this position in August 2012 it was a no-brainer that I should focus on corn or soybeans for my research program. I chose soybeans because it is one of the most economically important crops in the United States. Given the significance of soybeans to Indiana and American agriculture, I decided to focus on insect pests and diseases of soybeans that could potentially reduce production and impact the economy.

Have you always had an interest in entomology?

Ever since my agriculture background began, I've been interested in insects. I was excited to make my first insect collection as an undergraduate student in India. In fact, I loved it so much that I collected and pinned all the insects for several of my friends' collections. I am especially interested in studying insect vectors, an insect that transmits a pathogen or infectious microbe to an animal or plant. I focus on insect vectors, such as soybean aphids and thrips that transmit viruses to soybean plants.  

What do you enjoy most about your position?

I love the freedom I have to study and teach science of my interest. I love getting to interact with curious young minds and being able to shape their thinking and future. One of my first students at IPFW is currently pursuing her PhD in the same area and another recent graduate will be teaching biology and passing on the knowledge to the next generation of students.

What do you hope to pass on to your students as an educator?

My goal as an educator is to help students develop an understanding of the scientific method by asking interesting questions, developing testable hypotheses, rigorously testing these hypotheses and conveying science to the audience through oral and written communication. I want students to work independently while I provide guidance on trouble-shooting and viewing the bigger picture. In my classroom, I incorporate active learning where students are challenged to learn by interacting with one another via activities, such as think-pair-share, group discussions and games such as Pictionary. I believe that my students learn not only scientific facts and principles but also critical thinking and creativity, which prepare them for careers in industry or academia.

Writer: Aspen Deno, denoa@purdue.edu 

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