Throughout the tropical forests of the world, there's a parasitic fungus that turns unwitting ants into "zombies." Just how the fungus is able to control the brains of its insect slaves is unknown, but Charissa de Bekker, a post-doctoral researcher at Penn State University, is determined to find out. We caught up with de Bekker to learn more about her fascinating work.
The Birth of a Scientist
If you asked Charissa de Bekker if she wanted to be a research scientist 20 years ago, she'd tell you "no." But that's not to say she had an aversion towards science as a child — in fact, it was quite the opposite. "I've always been interested in the natural sciences," she told io9. "But I never saw myself as becoming a researcher."
De Bekker, a child of two non-scientists, grew up in the Netherlands. When it came time to start thinking about her future and what colleges she wanted to attend, she decided to stay in the Netherlands and become a veterinarian. However, things didn't go exactly according to plan.
"There's only one university in the Netherlands that you can study this at," de Bekker explained. And unfortunately for her, there were many other people who had the same life plan as she did. "You have to kind of be in a lottery to get in [to the program], and I didn't make the cut."
The setback forced de Bekker to think hard on what she really wanted to do with her life. Did she want to spend a year working until she could apply to the University of Utrecht's faculty of Veterinary Medicine again? Or would it be better to just study something else in college? If she went to work, she'd run the risk of never returning to school; if she studied something else, it may also take her away from her original goal. In the end, she figured the latter option was better, so she attended the University of Utrecht to study biology — the subject she thought was the most interesting.
Written By: Joseph Bennington-Castro
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