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Jakob Nalley: Science Educator and Algal Biologist

By Ann Durbin & Jakob Nalley

After finishing his dual Ph.D. in Integrative Biology and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior at Michigan State University, Jakob Nalley was off to Northwestern University to further pursue his passion for research and science education. Jakob’s new job focuses on enhancing community engagement and improving science education through Northwestern University’s Science in Society, a research center dedicated to science education and public engagement.Portrait of Jacob Nalley.

“This new position is an excellent opportunity for me to pull together my love for science and telling others about it,” Jakob explained. “I am working at the forefront of informal science education. At Science in Society, I am surrounded by classically trained scientists and experts in science education, all working together to further the effectiveness of the way we teach science and the way students approach science.”

As Program Coordinator for the Science Club initiative, Jakob oversees mentor-based, after-school science education programs for middle school students at the Pedersen McCormick Boys and Girls Club. Participating students work in small groups with scientists to do weekly inquiry-based science projects including Next Generation Science Standards practices. Science Club operates through partnerships with four community youth centers in the Chicago area. Alongside managing the Pedersen-McCormick Boys and Girls Club site, Jakob has also overseen the opening of a new site at MetaMedia in the McGaw YMCA in spring 2017.

“The most important part of my time at Michigan State University was the support from Elena Litchman to pursue my passions," Jakob said. “She encouraged me to do things that I loved, which allowed me to be innovative in my research or take time away from my research directly to focus on professional development opportunities, like my work with W.K. Kellogg Biological Station’s GK-12 Program and Spartan Innovations Fellowship. These experiences were extremely rewarding and all helped me get to where I am currently.”

Jakob Nalley holding a flask of algae. Photo Credit: Bethany Bohlen, W.K. Kellogg Biological Station Communications and Marketing Coordinator.Jakob’s dissertation research in the Litchman Lab focused on increasing the yield and stability of outdoor algal biofuel cultivation. He investigated how light and temperature influenced the production of biofuel when algal species were grown individually or together as a polyculture.

Jakob also produced notable research that coupled algal biofuel cultivation with brewery wastewater remediation, which ultimately resulted in the production of a cheap water and fertilizer source for the algal cultivation which would simultaneously clean up the wastewater at little to no costs. He received significant publicity for these findings.

In the final years of graduate study, Jakob was elected to the Algae Foundation Board of Directors, where he took on the role of spearheading the Algae Academy K-12 STEM Initiative. The initiative involved a K-12 curriculum kit geared to teaching and exciting students about the “power of algae.” This experience added to his passion for education and outreach.

“Fueled” by his algal biofuel research and desire to help educate others about science, Jakob is enthusiastic to educate future generations of scientists and citizens while growing as a scientist and educator.