Talking ‘Chonk’ with Crystal Rogers

Crystal Rogers photographed next to wall
This month’s guest on ‘Face to Face With Chancellor May’ is Crystal Rogers, an assistant professor of anatomy, physiology and cell biology in the School of Veterinary Medicine. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Before Chancellor Gary S. May could get to more serious topics with this month’s guest on Face to Face With Chancellor May, he had an important question:

Purple graphic with text "Face to Face with Chancellor May"

“Who or what is Chonk?” May asked Crystal Rogers, an assistant professor of anatomy, physiology and cell biology in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Rogers, who researches how complex animals develop from single cells, explained that Chonk is an axolotl in her lab who earned that name early in life, as a “giant” tadpole who eventually ate one of her siblings. Chonk has since become a popular fixture on Rogers’ Twitter account.

On Face to Face, Rogers went on to discuss other aspects of her work, including the way faces develop.

“The coolest thing is studying how different face shapes form,” she said, noting a recent National Science Foundation award she received to study how closely related animals develop faces that look different: “Why are chicken faces different than quail faces, different than peacock faces, basically?”

Rogers invites undergraduates from underrepresented groups to travel to UC Davis and participate in her research for that project; the first two students traveled to campus this summer from California State University, Northridge, and Austin College, Sherman, Texas.

When Rogers shared the name of that project — Functional Analysis of Crest EffectorS in Craniofacial Development, or FACES — May explained he led an NSF-funded project from 1998-2011 with the same acronym: Facilitating Academic Careers in Engineering and Science.

“You're kidding!” Rogers said with a laugh. “Great minds think alike.”

Rogers and May covered a wide variety of other topics, including the jobs they each would have if they weren’t in academia, Rogers’ personalized license plate and her musical preference that she called “embarrassing.”

The two bonded over a shared love of Star Trek and May’s use of “To Boldly Go” as the title for his strategic plan.

Their full conversation is available above as a video, and — new starting with this month’s episode — as an audio-only podcast on feeds like Spotify, Apple Podcasts and more.

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Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.

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