Miranda Roland

Lucas Bartel, Staff Writer

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Most Highland students have probably spent hours watching cute animal videos. For Miranda Roland, however, watching these videos serves another purpose. Research.

Roland is a senior at Highland and this year’s Sterling Scholar for science. Already as a high school student she has started research in biomechanics. At the end of her junior year Roland started working with PhD candidate Lidsey Reader to help with research for Reader’s dissertation. Their main claim was that woodpeckers, contrary to many textbooks, climb with their legs and not their tail.

“What we did is we did surgery on all the woodpeckers and put wires through the muscles in their legs that came up into a little backpack and it was really adorable. Then we watched them climb a plate and saw which muscles were firing while they were moving,” Roland said.

After the experiments are done Roland did a lot processing of the data, both watching videos and dealing with visual presentation.

“We have over 100 trials, and I’ve gone through and watched all of the videos to find when the woodpecker touches the plate and syncs it with the computer,” Roland said. “So far we’ve shown that woodpeckers don’t climb with their tail. We could even trim their tail feathers of and they were still able to climb.”

Talking to Roland one can tell that she is really excited about these experiments, and even more she really cares about the woodpeckers and that they are okay. Roland and Reader met during an APES camping trip during which Reader noticed Roland’s love for science.

“During the trip I noticed Miranda’s interest in animals,” Reader said. “She was very quick to spot invertebrates and made some great watercolors of scenes from the trip. Given this I saw that she would be helpful for video analysis as well as some other ideas I had kicking around.”

Now Roland and Reader are working on putting together all the data as well as working on another hypothesis that woodpeckers use their feather patterns as camouflage.

“Miranda’s artistic eye for detail has really made the project bigger and more complete than it would have been in my hands alone,” Reader said.

In the future Roland is looking to go into neurobiology, epidemiology or even becoming a congressional scientist after going to college and grad school. She has applied to some very good universities, however she is thinking of going to a women’s college because of common biases against women going into STEM fields.

“I’ve even talked to people that do admissions for UC Berkeley and even they don’t recommend women going into science at the UC schools, because people oftentimes try to push them towards humanities.”

Roland is not at all discouraged from science by this. If anything she is more motivated to go into science because of this prejudice. Part of the reason she applied for science in the Sterling Scholar program was even because she wanted to represent women.

“I just have this big love of science and I wanted to represent that for Highland, and especially because there aren’t that many women in science I think it’s cool to be able to represent them.”

Roland hopes to continue representing women in science throughout her life and right now she’s off to a good start.

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