An Evolutionary Launch Into Research

June 23, 2016
CBS undergraduate Mike Blazanin pursues interest in evolution and microbes while receiving prestigious Astronaut Scholarship. 
Mike Blazanin


Mike Blazanin dates his interest in evolutionary processes back to high school. The simplistic yet also convoluted nature of species changing over time peaked his curiosity in ways other subjects hadn’t in the past.  

“I think evolution is one of the most fascinating forces on Earth,” says Blazanin. “The most remarkable thing to me is the vast amount of complexity it creates, and the incredibly complex mechanisms that arise, from the simplicity of variable heritable fitness among individuals.”

For Blazanin, this often meant looking at evolution over a long period of time, evaluating changes in plants and animals over thousands of years. But a research opportunity after his freshman year in CBS changed that.

Blazanin, now a senior studying Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, started researching with Michael Travisano (EEB) to get his feet wet in the lab. Travisano studies evolution using microbes, looking at simplistic forms of life to observe evolutionary changes to better understand the organismal change before moving to larger species. Joining this microbial research, Blazanin could observe evolutionary changes at an incredibly rapid rate. He was hooked.

“I found it incredibly exciting to be able to observe and experiment with evolution in real-time, rather than the more common ways of studying evolution by collecting samples and observing nature and then extrapolating evolutionary time,” says Blazanin.

Through this research, Blazanin found a passion and a future career calling. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. and eventually teach and study microbes for human benefit at a research university.

“I think we are just beginning to realize the impacts of microbes in our lives and in our world, and as our technological capability to examine and pull apart the microscopic world grows, it is only going to become more and more important how the vast microbial world around us operates and changes over time and space,” says Blazanin.

While aspiring to study microbes further, he also recently received the Astronaut Scholarship for 2016. This national award honors students who show creativity and excellence in a STEM field, as well as a desire to pursue research after completing their undergraduate degree. Blazanin is one of only two students the University to receive the award in 2016.

“I don’t think it’s really even sunk in now,” says Blazanin. “Receiving this award frees me from spending time looking for and engaging in paid work, research or not, and allows me to devote all of my time to the research I am most passionate about.”  — Lance Janssen