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biological sciences

Scientists Are Storing Energy in Uneaten Fruit

Scientists in Australia, experimenting with jackfruit and durian to transform it into an ultra-capacitor, experience success storing energy.

This blog is a project of  the NOVA Fellowship at TU.  


The NOVA Fellowship at The University of Tulsa (TU) has a mission to build and support the culture of innovation on campus and in our communities. We do this by providing small grants to help innovative student projects, faculty involved in innovative programs, and curating content related to current trends and recent developments in technology and innovation. This content includes topics relevant to the entire campus, including health sciences, economics, arts management, biology, computer science, finance, artificial intelligence (AI), communication, engineering, and global issues. Because NOVA students are studying in a variety of TU majors, our interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving is one of our great strengths.

NOVA also helps provide training to students and faculty in creativity, problem-solving, innovation, and entrepreneurship. We offer training on the TU campus in meetings and workshops, and through an exciting partnership with Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Every year since 2015, NOVA has sent several TU students and faculty to Stanford for 4-5 days of training with experts and interaction with fellow scholars from around the world. The student program is University Innovation Fellows ( and the program for faculty is the Teaching and Learning Studio Faculty Workshop (

In these ways, NOVA exposes TU faculty, staff, and students to many processes and tools used in modern companies related to creativity, problem-solving, innovation, and entrepreneurship. One of these is “design thinking.” It is one of the most well-known problem-solving approaches used around the world today, used to develop concepts for new products, education, buildings, machines, toys, healthcare services, social enterprises, and more. According to the people who developed this tool, Dave Kelley and Tim Brown of the design firm, IDEO:

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success…. Thinking like a designer can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy. This approach, which IDEO calls design thinking, brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.” (

As the innovation field develops, new perspectives are emerging. One promising approach we are beginning to bring into NOVA meetings and workshops is called “systems thinking,” which builds upon the emergent field of complexity research. Systems thinking recognizes the inherent interactivity of the dynamic processes in our world and focuses on problem-solving with that complexity in mind. This approach isn’t completely new, but recent work has made systems thinking more accessible to people interested in solving problems of most any type. For example, Derek Cabrera, Ph.D. (Cornell University) has proposed a useful taxonomy designed to improve systems thinking called DSRP (Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives). He defines it as: “The recursive distinguishing of things and their interrelationships and part-whole organization from various perspectives” ( Elsewhere, DSRP has been described as a particular way to think about problems, and that the use of these four patterns notably improves people’s problem-solving abilities – demonstrated in sessions with Kindergartners all the way to CEOs. The complex, adaptive mental models that are formed during systems thinking attempt to identify the most approachable and simplest explanations for phenomena. In his book with Laura Cabrera, Systems Thinking Made Simple, examples of the simplicity that drives complexity include: the interaction of CMYK colors in our world, the amazing biodiversity derived from combinations of DNA’s core nucleotides ATCG, the fundamentals of martial arts which practitioners use together to improvise during sparring matches, the almost infinite variety of models that can be built with modular Lego blocks, and the billions of possible moves in a chess match with just 6 unique pieces.

We invite you to join us and collaborate as we learn more about effective ways to solve problems that you and others care about in the community, in corporations, and on campus! Please visit or email Dr. Charles M. Wood, Professor of Marketing at TU:


Biology abroad: ISL student realizes her full potential with TU dual degree

Biological sciences and German senior Alyssa Williams is on track to become the first student to officially complete The University of Tulsa’s new International Science and Language program. Few students take on the challenge of earning two complex degrees in just five years, but Williams is expected to graduate next spring after studying both majors.

Biology + German

The Broken Arrow native took German language courses in high school, and when the program eventually was eliminated, she focused on her other interests in science. “I had a lot of cool biology teachers in high school, so I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.

international scienceShe enrolled at TU to pursue biology, but during her freshman year, she met a friend who was studying German. Williams often did homework with her and by the second year of college, she was adding German classes to her schedule. A year later, David Tingey and Victor Udwin, associate professors of German and comparative literature, told Williams about a new program launching at TU. The International Engineering and Language or International Science and Language program enables students to study an engineering or science discipline while learning a foreign language. After completing the required coursework and studying and interning abroad for one year, participants graduate with bachelor’s of science and bachelor’s of art degrees. IEL and ISL participants are empowered with the tools, knowledge and experience to establish a career in engineering or science while communicating and working effectively in a second language and culture.

“I had never considered going abroad,” Williams said. “It always sounded really cool, but I didn’t think it was something I would do.”

A year in Freiburg, Germany

The application process was simple, requiring only a language competency exam to determine her level of German-speaking skills. Williams explained Tingey and Professor of Biological Sciences Estelle Levetin were instrumental in arranging classes and an internship abroad. With additional help from the global exchange organization Cultural Vistas, she received an internship offer within a month of applying and was matched with a lab ideal for her interests and location. In just a few weeks, she joined the program and prepared to embark on the adventure of a lifetime in the city of Freiburg, Germany. Her first semester, she took five classes at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg. The second half of the year, she worked in a plant lab at the same institution.

international science“I had a lot of biology credits, so I spent more time studying German,” Williams said. “The second semester was more focused on science and working with a species of plant called Arabidopsis thaliana. I learned new lab techniques and basics I can use in the future, and I helped my mentor with a project that involved growing and tracking 70 plant varieties in Petri dishes.”

Every few weeks, she was responsible for tracking the root systems and applying varying concentrations of salt and drying agents to record lateral root growth. The year abroad also offered Williams the chance to experience different living environments. The first six months, she shared a flat with other college students from China, Mexico and Germany. She met other Americans too and traveled frequently with student groups to other countries such as Prague, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and France.

“In Europe, everything is so much closer together,” Williams explained. “You can take these really cheap buses and just go see everything.”

Stepping out of her comfort zone

Exploring new countries and cities, experiencing the different cultures and practicing her German gave Williams the confidence to become more independent during the second semester abroad; she went to the government office in Freiburg and registered to apply for a Student Visa. She set up her living arrangements and lived by herself. English was not commonly used in many of the European cities she visited, so by the time she returned to America in July 2019, her proficiency in German had drastically improved. Williams said she also learned a lot about how other countries function differently in society.

“There’s definitely a cultural aspect to it. Germans are much more straight-forward. In the lab, they would use sticky notes to give instructions. To us, it would be considered passive-aggressive, but to them, they think, ‘there’s an issue, so we’re going to address it.’ Also in Freiburg, everyone dresses up, no one leaves the house just wearing sweatpants,” she said with a smile.

With graduation on the horizon, Williams plans to take the GRE and maybe apply to grad school but beginning her career in the research world also is an option. Either way, she said the ISL experience helped her grow as a person and realize her potential. “Before, I was a biology major and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Now, I’m a biology and German major who is more independent. I don’t necessarily know exactly what I want to do, but I can see the roads ahead of me.”