Student Claims Bevy Of Awards For Research Work

By  //  June 15, 2012

Exciting Results

BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – A Florida Tech biological sciences student has had an amazing two months, winning three important research awards and obtaining two competitive grants for her work.

Florida Tech student Kim Rigano has won three research awards and obtained two grants for her work documenting yellow rat snakes in Brevard County. (Image courtesy Florida Tech)

Kim Rigano, a junior from York, Maine, won the John C. Johnson Award for Excellence in Student Research and first place from the Beta Beta Beta (Tri Beta), for which she received her award at the national biological honor society’s annual convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Her research work is on the visual system of the yellow rat snake, which preys upon the threatened Florida scrub-jay.

Rigano has studied the reptile with Florida Tech graduate student Angela Munoz and College of Science Associate Dean Professor Michael Grace.

Munoz and Rigano spent a year observing yellow rat snakes deep in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and on Kennedy Space Center land, an important site for scrub- jay reproduction.


They also studied yellow rat snakes in Grace’s Florida Tech behavioral neuroscience lab, first analyzing the roles of vision and smell in predatory targeting, then investigating the biochemistry and cellular organization of the yellow rat nake retina.

They determined that yellow rat snakes can see in both day and night, but their nocturnal vision is relatively poor.

Based upon the distribution of light-sensing photoreceptor cells in the snake’s retina, they were able to calculate “theoretical visual acuity” and the minimum distances at which snakes can visually detect scrub-jays in the day and in the night.

In April, Rigano claimed first place for her research presentation at the southeast regional convention of Tri Beta, held in Athens, Ga.

She also won the Northrop Grumman Science Champion award, which is the best-in-show award for the College of Science at Florida Tech’s 2012 Northrop Grumman Student Design Showcase.

“Kim is a very talented young scientist,” said Florida Tech College of Science Associate Dean Professor Michael Grace.

Grants received

Rigano won competitive research grants from Tri Beta and Sigma Xi, the scientific research society, to support her work.

“Yellow rat snakes are native to Florida and they are important predators of the Florida scrub-jay, but the work these students have done has even broader implications,” said Grace. “Their research forms a foundation for understanding the impacts of invasive exotic snakes such as the Burmese python. Snakes are amazingly efficient predators, and can do tremendous ecological damage.”

He credits Rigano and Munoz with taking a very broad approach, using field biology, behavior in the lab, and biochemistry.

“They have generated exciting results on an important Florida ecological issue, so it’s no surprise that they have been so successful. Kim is a very talented young scientist,” Grace said.

Rigano is a 2009 graduate of York High School in Maine.