Peru State College
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News Release

Peru State science professor awarded National Science Foundation grant


Michael Barger
Dr. Michael Barger

(Peru, Neb.) Peru State College (PSC) Professor of Biology Dr. Michael Barger has been awarded a $267,000 grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct a biodiversity survey and inventory of parasites in fish in the Big Thicket National Preserve (BTNP) in Texas.

Barger’s grant, which runs through 2016, brings the total amount of National Science Foundation grants awarded to Peru State faculty to well over $1 million in the past 17 years.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Todd Drew said, “It's gratifying to see our science department's work and national reputation in parasitology rewarded with another NSF grant. These grants are not just an opportunity to advance our understanding of the natural world; they are opportunities for uniquely engaging educational experiences for our science students who often plan to go on to graduate school.”

The NSF grant will fund at least two stipends for undergraduate research each year. Students will participate in collecting field trips, laboratory work to process and identify parasites, describe species new to science, publish results in peer-reviewed journals, and present findings in platform presentations at regional and national scientific conferences.

Barger said there are two primary goals to the grant's research. First, the work is part of an All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory in the BTNP, which is an effort to document and catalogue all of the species of organisms (microbiological, animal, plant, fungi) that occur in the historical Big Thicket area. The NSF grant will allow Barger to greatly expand and accelerate the pace of the work that he began in 2007, including the discovery of species previously unknown to science.

Second, Barger will test hypotheses related to the utility of the BTNP as a conservation unit. He will use parasites of fish as indicators of overall biodiversity and key ecological interactions in the BTNP to determine if areas protected by the preserve successfully maintain more diverse and healthier communities of animals than do similar areas not protected by the preserve. The tests may be of practical utility in the design of future conservation preserves and in setting priorities for acquisition of land for the BTNP itself. Barger hopes to be able to shed a bit of light not only on what is there, but also on how it can be effectively managed for future generations.

Barger said, “NSF grant panels are highly competitive, so getting funded for this work is a great thrill and I look forward to doing the work to make it successful. The Peru State Department of Natural Sciences has an excellent and growing reputation for high-quality education and training in the sciences. Our faculty are dedicated to maintaining the highest standards of rigor in the education of our students, and we work together to provide opportunities for professional growth that allow our students to transform the hard work we demand of them into successful futures in their chosen fields. Funding like this allows us to expand and intensify those efforts and more fully immerse our students in genuine scientific exploration and discovery.

“We are in the business of turning students of science into scientists, and mentored undergraduate research is the best way to do so. When the grant term is over, there will be papers published, presentations given, hypotheses tested, databases filled in, and the like; but, the most lasting and important outcome will be those students who are now pursuing their own careers as scientists.”

Since his arrival at Peru State in 2001, Barger has published a number of scholarly works in peer-reviewed publications and has been a presenter at several regional, national and international meetings. He has also served as a reviewer for nine academic journals, the NSF, and in leadership roles in a variety of scientific societies. He is a member of the American Society of Parasitologists, the Ecological Society of America, the Helminthological Society of Washington and the Southwestern Association of Parasitologists.  

Barger has developed eight new courses at PSC and has secured five other research grants during his tenure at the institution. Under his guidance and leadership, several of Barger’s students have won awards for their research presentations and have pursued graduate study in the scientific field.  He also led the design and implementation of the college’s Honors Program.

Barger is past chair of the PSC Faculty Senate and the General Education Committee. In 2009, Barger was named PSC’s Teacher Excellence Award winner.  

An Arlington, Neb., native, Barger earned a Bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and a Master’s degree in parasitology from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. He earned a Ph.D. in ecology and parasitology from Wake Forest University. 

For more information, contact Barger at 402-872-2326 or