Ya Yang

Welcome back! This week’s featured scientist is Ya Yang, a botanist and evolutionary biologist. Her research interests include studying gene sequences and comparing specimens. This allows her to ask and answer questions such as how do plant species relate to each other? Or how did they evolve the ability to survive deserts and/or mountain tops? 

Ya’s passion for science started when she was in middle school and got to go to summer camps where she learned how to identify plants and animals. Currently, Ya runs her own lab at the University of Minnesota and is a member of the Plant and Microbial Biology Department.


How did you get into the work that you do?

When I was in middle school I went to summer camps led by university professors to learn how to identify plants and animals. Ever since then I have been hooked. Currently, my work involves reading, writing, computational work, lab work, fieldwork, and teaching. However, taking a (very slow) walk and looking at plants is still something I enjoy.

What questions do people always ask when they learn about what you do? What is your typical response?

When people hear that I teach, they usually ask what I teach about. 

In response, I just tell them that I teach general botany.

What is one of your favorite aspects of your work? What is the most challenging?

My favorite aspect of my work is the freedom to ask exciting questions and the opportunity to work with amazing people. On the flip side asking the right question is not always straightforward and working on grant proposals to get support can sometimes be frustrating.

If you could study any one topic or idea, and money/time/equipment/ were not an issue, what would you study?

I would time travel back in time to find out what living things looked like millions of years ago.

Outside of your scientific studies, what other subjects or interests do you enjoy?

Outside of researching and teaching, I enjoy climbing, running, and biking. I also love to travel and explore new places.

If you would like to learn more about Ya and her research, please head to her website.

Header Photo by Clay Banks