Dr. Rhesa Ledbetter

Assistant Professor of Biology

MR 135

I first remember garnering an interest for science in high school chemistry, when I found myself in a classroom full of girls, except the teacher. Mr. Best’s enthusiasm was inspiring and helped me realize that science is not just for “nerdy” boys (as my very flawed logic thought), it is for anyone. Since then, I have actively sought ways to build my scientific career through teaching, science communication outreach, and research.

My educational experiences have led me to discover a love for teaching. Seeing that spark in a student’s eye when a scientific concept “clicks” brings me so much joy. And that moment when someone who thought they were going to hate microbiology class finds that it actually relates to them inspires me. In my classes, each person is encouraged to share their unique insights and experiences. Because of this, we not only learn the course content, but also other lessons that give new perspectives on the world around us.

My interest in science communication led me to volunteer at Utah Public Radio as a science reporter during graduate school. I also engaged in several science communication projects in my previous faculty position at Idaho State University. I had the pleasure of working with science students to produce a radio series called “Mind Tap” on mental health in Idaho. Furthermore, I cofounded and cohosted a podcast called “The Science Line.” To me, communicating science to diverse audiences is essential and part of my responsibility as a scientist (it’s fun too!).

As an environmental microbiologist, I have conducted some memorable research, some of which has taken me to natural hot springs around the world! I am fascinated by thermal systems, because they are teeming with microorganisms. Some of my work has focused on identifying bacteria that live in hot springs and better understanding how they thrive in these systems. And, those bright, vivid colors we often see are actually microbe made…how could I not love that?!

I have also worked on projects with NASA and the Department of Energy on microorganisms that transform nitrogen. One particularly fascinating project was figuring out how to make fertilizer on Mars, as humans will need it to grow food. Our approach was to harness the power of microbes that make “fertilizer” naturally here on Earth!

I look forward to using my training to help students gain a greater appreciation for science and achieve their educational goals. I’ve realized that my passion for teaching and communication just might stem from growing up doing musical theater, which I love. I also enjoy experiencing other cultures through traveling. And… hot-potting is always on my list of things to do too (and yes, it’s partly to see the colorful microbial mats)!

Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Utah State University
M.S. in Microbiology, Idaho State University
B.S. in Microbiology, Idaho State University