UNL professor to deliver lecture on spider research, impact of science

Eileen Hebets won’t just talk about her arachnid research in her lecture for the Chancellor's Distinguished Lecture Series — the audience will be able to participate in hands-on activities and win spider kits. Hebets hopes children and adults alike will learn how science can have an impact on the world.

Hebets will give the lecture, “Using Arachnids to Inspire D.R.E.A.M.S.,” in the Nebraska Union auditorium on Nov. 7, at 3:30 p.m.

Hebets has been studying arachnids since she was an undergraduate honors student at Albion College in Michigan. She worked with Gail Stratton, who is currently a professor at the University of Mississippi, studying wolf spiders.

“Dr. Stratton was a phenomenal mentor and role model,” Hebets said in an email, “and I am incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with her.”

She said she has many different facets to her job as a college professor, including educating, conducting research and giving seminars nationally and internationally.

“First and foremost, I am an educator,” Hebets said. “This role permeates through all that I do.”

The Research Council at UNL has sponsored the Nebraska Lectures since 2003 as a public outreach opportunity for university researchers, and Hebets said the lecture will give an overview of her research.

Ashley Washburn, director for research communications, said Hebets has been at the forefront of major scientific discoveries, like deciphering the mating rituals of dark fishing spiders, the reason why amblypygids, an order of arachnids also known as whip spiders, have a keen sense of smell and why amblypygids are able to breathe underwater.

“She’s been able to make these discoveries because she’s innately curious, a hard worker and is willing to pursue a subject that others fear,” Washburn said in an email.

She said Hebets has worked with youth to help them get excited about science. Washburn said Hebets has developed numerous programs that have boosted science education throughout Nebraska.

Hebets is one of the university’s best examples of how to engage in informal science education with both children and adults, according to Washburn. She believes Hebets will inspire adult learners to be more curious about nature.

Hebets said she will be sharing stories about her research on amblypygids, wolf spiders and local fishing spiders. She said she will focus on the opportunities for discovery in arachnids while providing insights into some of the unanticipated challenges of studying arachnids.

Hebets said the lecture will be broadly accessible and should be of interest to anyone curious about animals or biology.

Hebets said arachnids are fantastic to work with because there are more than 46,000 described species.

“I am very fortunate to have a job that I love,” Hebets said. “Studying arachnids has been, and continues to be, tremendously rewarding for me, both personally and professionally.”