Note: Each year, we partner with Dr. Amy Sheck’s students at the North Carolina School of Science and Math to profile some unsung heroes of the Duke research community. This is the of fourth eight posts.
In the intricate world of biology, where the mysteries of animal behavior unfold, Dr. Jesse Granger emerges as a passionate and curious scientist with a Ph.D. in biology and a penchant for unraveling the secrets of how animals navigate their surroundings.
Her journey began in high school when she posed a question to her biology teacher about the effect of eye color on night vision. Unable to find an answer, they embarked together on a series of experiments, igniting a passion that would shape Granger’s future in science.
Granger’s educational journey was marked by an honors thesis at the College of William & Mary that delved into the potential of diatoms, single-cell algae known for their efficiency in capturing light, to enhance solar panel efficiency. This early exploration of light structures paved the way for a deeper curiosity about electricity and magnetism, leading to her current research on how animals perceive and use the electromagnetic spectrum.
Currently, Granger is involved in projects that explore the dynamics of animal group navigation. She is investigating how animals travel in groups to find food, with collective movement and decision-making.
Among her countless research endeavors, one project holds a special place in Granger’s heart. Her study involved creating a computational model to explore the dynamics of group travel among animals. She found that agents, a computational entity mimicking the behavior of an animal, are way better at getting where they are going as part of a group than agents who are traveling alone.
Granger’s daily routine in the Sönke Johnson Lab revolves around computational work. While it may not seem like a riveting adventure to an outsider, to her, the glow of computer screens harbors the key to unlocking the secrets of animal behavior. Coding becomes her toolkit, enabling her to analyze data, develop models, and embark on simulations that mimic the complexities of the natural world.
Granger’s expertise in coding extends to using R for data wrangling and NetLogo, an agent-based modeling program, for simulations. She describes the simulation process as akin to creating a miniature world where coded animals follow specific rules, giving rise to emergent properties and valuable insights into their behavior. This skill set seamlessly intertwined with her favorite project, where the exploration of group dynamics and navigation unfolded within the intricate landscapes of her simulated miniature world.
In the tapestry of scientific exploration, Jesse Granger emerges as a weaver of knowledge, blending biology, physics, and computation to unravel the mysteries of animal navigation. Her journey, marked by curiosity and innovation, not only enriches our understanding of the natural world but also inspires the next generation of scientists to embark on their unique scientific odysseys.
Guest Post by Mansi Malhotra, North Carolina School of Science and Math, Class of 2025.