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Biology student spends summer doing research on tropical island

Editor's Note: This article has been reprinted with permission from the Leader-Telegram.

Brady Olson - Galopogos

When leaving for his summer internship on a tropical island off the Pacific coast of Ecuador, UW-Eau Claire senior Brady Olson wasn’t even sure what his job was going to be.

He did know he would be doing research at the Charles Darwin Research Center in the Galápagos Islands, and that was enough for him.

Olson, a biology major, has spent his summer living in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz of the Galápagos Islands studying the behavioral characteristics of the Philornis downsi fly — an invasive species that feeds on the blood of local birds, causing anemia and eventual death. In order to resolve the issue, Olson and the rest of his team are first working to understand the problem.

“Once we have a firm understanding of the Philornis life cycle, reproduction and molecular hallmarks, we can take careful and appropriate steps to eradicate this pernicious problem,” Olson said.

Olson applied for the internship after a suggestion from a professor, Deb Freund, who began taking UW-Eau Claire students to the islands in 2008. In recent years, through connections made from previous trips, students were then able to start to be chosen for internships at the CDRC.

Biology professor Derek Gingerich at UW-Eau Claire wrote a letter of recommendation for Olson after having him as a student in two courses.

“Brady is a very, very strong student. He was very enthusiastic about the material and always asked really good questions,” Gingerich said. “It was clear that he was very interested ... and had the ability to think deeper on the subject.”

Gingerich said an opportunity to do research as an undergraduate is critical for success and to do that research at the CDRC will stand out on Olson’s resume.

After graduation, Olson plans on attending medical school to practice pediatrics with an emphasis in childhood obesity. Even though his career plan is different from what he has learned with the CDRC, Olson said his experiences with the internship have been immensely beneficial.

Olson credited the biology department at UW-Eau Claire for the preparation to undertake the responsibilities he was entrusted with. The internship has expanded beyond science to cultural and exploration experiences.

“The skills I have developed and practiced here have taught me how to be a better scientist and a better person,” Olson said. “A solid understanding of science and an inclination towards people are integral parts of being a successful physician, and my time in the Galápagos has given me an improved notion of both.”

But his time in the islands is not spent doing only work. Olson said the weather is beautiful and he is able to spend his weekends making short getaways to many of the 18 large and three smaller surrounding islands.

“Each island has an unparalleled set of characteristics that distinguishes it from the next, so I am trying to get to as many of them as possible,” Olson said.

Olson is set to return home on Aug. 20, after leaving the U.S. on May 21.

Aside from the beautiful surroundings and amazing cultural experience, Olson said making real contributions to the science community is a humbling thought. A community based on fellow scientists’ findings and prior knowledge will now be using information he assisted in collecting when moving forward on understanding the issue of the Philornis downsi invasive fly.

“Making significant contributions to the scientific community, a community of perpetual knowledge, while living and working in the philosophical cradle of modern evolutionary biology is something I will always cherish,” Olson said.

Landry can be reached at 715-833-9203, 800-236-7707 or