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NDSU student researcher discovers two new insect species

NDSU sophomore Mariom Carvajal is making a name for herself among researchers who explore the insect world.

Carvajal led a team of NDSU entomology researchers that recently identified and described two new species of jewel shield bugs – Tolono pallidus and Tolono confusus. Her research paper on the subject was published in Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington, a prestigious scientific journal.

"It's like a shot of adrenaline, like a roller coaster ride. It's really, really exciting," Carvajal said of her moment of discovery. "It's all my dreams come true."

She grew up in Chile, about two hours from the nation's capitol of Santiago. Ever since childhood, Carvajal wanted to be a biologist; she became particularly fascinated with insects during high school. An established researcher at an early age, Carvajal won numerous science fairs in Chile and published her first article when she was 15.

Carvajal became interested in earning a degree in the United States because fellow Chilean and colleague Eduardo Faundez is an NDSU doctoral student. Faundez works in the entomology systematics lab of David Rider, professor in the  School of Natural Resources.

"I was just out of high school, but Dr. Rider gave me the opportunity and hired me to work with his collection," Carvajal explained. "I'm really thankful to him, because it isn't usual that a professor trusts a high school student."

Before taking her first class at NDSU, she traveled to Washington, D.C., and analyzed insect collections at the Smithsonian Institution in August 2013. She then enrolled at NDSU to major in microbiology. Her initial work at the Smithsonian led to the discovery of the new species.

Through the mentorship of Faundez and Rider, Carvajal is participating in leading-edge research. Only in her second year at NDSU, Carvajal has received an award for a presentation before the fifth quadrennial meeting of the International Heteropterists Society. In addition, she already is listed as an author or co-author on 22 published papers.

"Some people don't believe me that I have publications – they think that is only for graduate students," she said. "Dr. Rider has given me a wonderful hands-on opportunity to do research. I am so thankful."

Rider describes Carvajal as a humble person and a remarkable researcher. In addition, she recently was selected as Female Student Leader of the Year by the NDSU Congress of Student Organizations.

"It is amazing how much Mariom has accomplished at such an early stage in her career. Her interest and passion for her research is infectious, stirring the rest of us in my laboratory to work harder," Rider said. "Even though she is only a sophomore, she is clearly conducting research as any graduate student would be.”

Carvajal's future plans are to attend graduate school and eventually teach and conduct research in a university setting.


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