Lab Members


Ellie Aronson

Ellie Aronson is a Biology major from Greensboro, NC. She is interested in pursuing a graduate degree in either evolutionary biology or paleontology. Ellie enjoys research as well as listening to podcasts and playing dnd.


Brian is a Biomathematics major from Schwenksville, PA. He hopes to pursue a graduate degree in either biostatistics or plant pathology. While not participating in research, Brian enjoys cooking, performing in his jazz combo, and playing cricket.


Ali is a Math major who has research interests more on the Biology/Biomath side of the spectrum. She plans to use her major to get a PhD in applied mathematics, either for epidemiology modeling or plant-based biomathematics modeling. Ali loves research, from field work to computational modeling.



William Weaver

William graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2017 with a double major in environmental studies, and ecology and evolutionary biology. As an undergraduate, he helped collect bees on diploid and polyploid L. tridentata. Will also worked on testing hypotheses related to community invasibility using phylogenetic approaches, which resulted in a co-authored paper in Diversity and Distributions. He is now developing LeafMachine, an autonomous machine learning approach to phenotypic trait extraction from digitized herbarium specimens (an early version of which is available on GitHub). Will is an experienced conference goer, having presented his research at Botany meetings (2016, 2019) and Ecology meetings (2017, 2018). He is now a graduate student in Stephen Smith's lab at the University of Michigan and will continue collaborating on LeafMachine.


Abby joined the Laport lab as a senior where shestudied stomatal size differences among 2x, 4x and 6x Larrea tridentata. From Huntsville, AL, Abby graduated from Rhodes in 2019 with a Biology major. She is now serving as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Malaysia and plans to pursue a graduate degree in public health after returning to the United States.

Michelle Gaynor

Michelle investigated the importance of polyploidy in structuring Brassicaceae and Rosaceae communities across the United States as part of a NSF-REU in 2016. By combining species occurrence information from the National Ecological Observatory Network, DNA sequence data, and cytogenetic data from primary literature, she found that polyploid species tend to be more distantly related to co-occurring species than diploid. She presented these results at the Botany meetings in 2016 and 2017, where she won best poster and oral presentation awards, and co-authored a paper in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. Shelly earned a degree in Biology at the University of Central Florida in 2018 (featured on the UCF College of Science pages!), and is continuing to pursue her interests in polyploidy and evolutionary biology as a graduate student with Pam and Doug Soltis at the University of Florida.

Vivianna Sanchez

Vivianna investigated how drought-adaptation traits shape Fagaceae and Ericaceae communities as part of a NSF-REU in 2016 using a combination of species occurrences from the National Ecological Observatory Network, DNA sequence data, trait measurements, and climate information from online databases. She presented her findings as a BSA PLANTS Fellow at the Botany meetings in 2016. In 2015, she conducted REU research in the California Channel Islands on bioluminescent bacteria. Vivianna earned a degree in Biology at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles in 2017 and is continuing to pursue her interests in microbiology as a graduate student at Cornell University.

Khoa Nguyen

Khoa conducted research into the relationships between L. tridentata and its South American sister species, L. divaricata, using chloroplast DNA sequences obtained from herbarium vouchers with the aim of identifying source populations for intercontinental long-distance dispersals. As a University of Colorado Biological Sciences Initiative Fellow in 2016 and 2017, Khoa presented his research to peers and the science community at University of Colorado research symposia. He is now conducting independent cancer biology research at the University of Colorado Medical Center.

Jessica Persinger

Jessica participated in research on the phylogenetic community structure of plant species at sites surveyed by the National Ecological Observatory Network to investigate Darwin's Naturalization Conundrum pertaining to species invasions (are invasive species distantly or closely related to resident species?). In 2016 she was awarded a NSF-REU fellowship to work with Mitch Cruzan at Portland State University, where she is now a graduate student studying hybridization and species delimitation in Ranunculus species. 

Hannah Ghasemi

Hannah participated in research on the phylogenetic community structure of National Ecological Observatory Network sites as a Biological Sciences Initiative Fellow in 2017-2018 before spending a summer study abroad in Spain. She is now wrapping up her undergraduate studies in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Nathaniel Pinson

Nathaniel participated in research on the phylogenetic community structure of National Ecological Observatory sites as a Biological Sciences Initiative Fellow in 2016-2017.

Kaixin Cui

Kaixin participated in research to help resolve the phylogenetic and biogeographic relationships among species in the genus Cestrum (Solanaceae) as a high school student. A major part of her research effort was to assist with amplifying the single-copy nuclear gene WAXY, which involved designing new primers and troubleshooting PCR protocols. She is now an undergraduate in Engineering at CU-Boulder.

Purity Muhia, Carter Kennell, Haydar Hasan

Purity (left), Carter (right), and Haydar (not pictured) conducted independent research into whether diploid, tetraploid, and hexaploid L. tridentata had different water use relationships. They conducted their research in the greenhouse on small plants collected from the field, gaining first hand experience designing and undertaking an experiment, while also managing live plants. They also co-authored a manuscript describing their results.

Maddie Deveney

Maddie participated in research helping to collect bees on diploid and polyploid L. tridentata in natural areas of co-occurrence, and also helped to investigate leaf guard cell size differences among the different cytotypes.

photos by R. Laport, J. Ng, S. Smith, & W. Weaver


Justin Ramsey 

Black Hills State University

Robert Minckley 

University of Rochester

Julienne Ng 

University of Colorado-Boulder

Diana Pilson 

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Stacey Smith 

University of Colorado-Boulder

Tim O'Connor 

University of California-Berkeley



Rhodes College
Department of Biology
2000 North Parkway
Memphis, TN  38112