Tyson prairie restoration

Prairie restoration research at Tyson

Going below the surface at Tyson Research Center

Graduate student Rachel Becknell's research explores the important roles soil microbes play in prairie restoration. This summer, Tyson Science Communications fellow Josh Valeri worked remotely with Becknell to create a video detailing her work.


Throughout a typical summer, Tyson Research Center is abuzz with activity. Undergraduate and high school fellows conduct research alongside professors and graduate students, measuring seedlings, identifying ticks, and washing roots. This summer was much quieter, though, as COVID-19 forced many of these researchers out of the field. Fellows worked remotely, leaving Tyson scientists to conduct their field work alone.

As a member of the Science Communication team led by Suzanne Loui, lecturer in environmental studies, I was interested in finding a way to communicate the research taking place at Tyson within the confines of stay-at-home orders. More specifically, I wanted to create a science communication video despite not being able to record any of the in-person footage that such a video typically relies upon. 

The researcher I collaborated with for this project, Rachel Becknell, is investigating the effects of soil microbes and evolutionary relationships on the growth of rare plant species in prairie restorations. After recording a Zoom interview in which Becknell explained this research, I integrated this footage with imagery that Becknell herself captured in her research gardens. 

As Becknell notes in the video, a key finding of her research on prairie restorations so far is that “hard-to-establish plants grow much, much bigger whenever they’re in those plant communities that are more distantly related to them.” Becknell also emphasizes that a primary goal of her research is for it “to be useful to people who are actually doing applied research.” Similarly, a primary goal for my project was to find a practical way to create a science communication video in spite of the limitations of working remotely.

Video by Josh Valeri
Illustrations by Isabelle Celentano