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Murray Scholars examine culture of Virginia's Eastern Shore

Ring in the ring

Ring in the ring:  Murray Scholars (from left) Becca Starr, Olivia Walch, Fiona Balestrieri, Katie Mitchell, Nick Schmedding, Colton O’Connor and Jenn MacLure stand inside a fungal “fairy ring.” (Photo by Dan Cristol)

Each year, Murray Scholars make a trip to the farm of program benefactors James and Bruce Murray and other points on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. They made a side trip to the Barrier Island Center and the Historic Almshouse Farm near Michipongo to investigate Eastern Shore culture where they encountered a “fairy ring.” Murray Scholars Program Director Dan Cristol, a biologist, says that this was the first example of this phenomenon seen by many of the students.

“Different fungi have this way of expanding into larger and larger circles by sending out their mycelium—or ‘fungal roots’—from a central point,” Cristol explained. “The largest fairy ring known is 700 years old and over a half-mile in diameter. This one is relatively small but was the first one many of the scholars had seen and thus caused some excitement.”

The Murray Scholars Program, now in its seventh year, seeks out the best high school students in the Commonwealth, admitting four each year with a full scholarship. The program provides a number of opportunities for research and scholarship for the participants, including a capstone research project and the opportunity to design a cross-disciplinary academic major. i