Next Science Workshop: Professor Andrea Grottoli

Andrea Grottoli

Coral Reefs and Climate Change: How Will Reefs Survive?

Please join us at our next Science Workshop as we welcome Professor Andrea Grottoli of the School for Earth Sciences at The Ohio State University. You can access a pdf of a relevant publication here.

Science Workshop is 1:00, Friday October 7 in Dickinson 232.

Refreshments will be served.

Preparing for Genome Jumpstart…

Biology faculty member Amie McClellan and rising senior Logan Traynor have just returned from a 5-day workshop hosted by the Genomics Education partnership at Washington University in St. Louis ( Dr. Sarah Elgin, the director of the GEP program, kept them on a busy schedule of learning, primarily through hands-on training, how to use bioinformatic tools to annotate and improve regions of genome sequence.


One ultimate goal of the GEP is to demystify the apparent expression of numerous genes on the Drosophila F element, which exists in a highly condensed chromatic state.  Amie and Logan learned how to search for genes, locate introns and exons, do comparative sequence analysis amongst related species of Drosophila, and learned of the computational challenges to performing all of these tasks that thus require human eyes and intelligence.  Importantly, these experiences will feed into a new course being taught this Fall (Genome Jumpstart) in which students will actively participate in computational GEP research projects, providing an opportunity for original research and inclusion as co-authors on future collaborative publications with the GEP.

They also got the chance to tour The McDonnell Genome Institute


and enjoy some time out of their computer chairs clambering around at the City Museum (yes, they climbed all the way up into that airplane!).


When asked his thoughts on the workshop, Logan said it was “incredibly rigorous, but intensely satisfying”. Amie and Logan are both excited to implement what they’ve learned this coming Fall term in the Genome Jumpstart course!


That is right, it is maybe the most exciting time of the semester. This Friday, we will have Sciencepalooza where research from across the sciences (and math) will be on display. Put it on your calendars, and invite your friends and faculty members to the party. There will be food and lots of interesting big-time science. It is also your chance to ask poster creators questions so that you can be in the know about all the research on the walls of Dickinson next term.

When: May 29, 2014. Food: 12:00 pm, Posters: 12:30 – 2:00 pm
Where: Dickinson Hall

FWT Work by Carlos Mendez (’15) Published

All students at Bennington participate in internships or get similar other positions during Field Work Term (FWT) – it’s one of the distinguishing features of a Bennington education. In science, this often means that students perform experimental work at research universities, gaining skills and experiences that compliment those developed through their coursework on campus.

BCR&TDuring FWT 2014, current graduating senior Carlos Mendez had the opportunity to do breast cancer research at The Department of Cancer Biology in the Beckman Research Institute at the City of Hope. Results from his research were just published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. He contributed to an investigation that examined the efficacy of a novel combination of drugs on so-called triple-negative breast cancers. Results indicated that this particular drug combination could offer new targeted therapies for such breast cancers, making a strong case that clinical studies in patients should be pursued.

Read the abstract here. Congratulations, Carlos



Science Workshop: Advanced work by Genelle Rankin and Robin Hrynyszyn

This week we will begin a series of Advanced Work presentations by our wonderful (and soon to be graduating) Science, Math ad Computing students. This Friday, Genelle Rankin and Robin Hrynyszyn will speak about their work in Science Workshop. As a reminder, the presentations will be in Dickinson 232 fro 1-2pm.


Genelle will give a talk on her research  titled “The Cockroach Escape Response: Investigating the Effects of Alarm Pheromones on the Sensory, Motor, and Central Nervous System of the Periplaneta americana.” You may have seen a preview of this research at the science poster session last year – come hear what happened with the rest of the project!



Robin will present a talk on his work titled “Vermont Fish Diaries: A Citizen Science App for Collecting Recreational Fishing Data in Vermont.” This is the culmination of a project combining computer science and fisheries biology. Come see what Robin has accomplished over the past year!


Science Workshop: Magmatism vs. Tectonism: The key to understanding slow spreading mid-ocean ridges


Dr. John getting ready to dive to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the Alvin Submersible

On Friday April 24, Dr. Barbara John from the University of Wyoming will present several aspects of her work at Science Workshop. Dr. John has done groundbreaking work in understanding extensional plate boundaries across the globe, and has most recently focused on investigating dynamics of slow-spreading mid-ocean ridges. Come and learn about how to conduct geologic research beneath several thousand meters of seawater, and what we are learning about Earth’s last frontier.

Science Workshop: Exotoxicology through the lens of ecology and evolution: Insights from aquatic ecosystems

Dr. Rick Relyea, Professor of Biological Sciences at RPI, will present at science workshop this week, Friday, March 27 from 1:00-2:00 pm in Dickinson 232. Dr. Relyea will discuss the impact of herbicides and insecticides on aquatic communities.  How have animals in these communities responded to these stressors? Here are links to Dr. Relyea’s lab website and a paper about the evolution of pesticide resistance in amphibians.

relyea tads

Science Workshop: Species Invasions, Niche Relationships, and Species’ Responses to Climate Change

Dov Sax

Dov Sax

Science/Math workshop this week features Dr. Dov Sax of Brown University’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  He will speak at 1:00 pm, Friday 20 March, in Dickinson 232.


Eucalyptus species, native to Australia, have become highly invasive in several other parts of the world — here in the hyperdiverse native shrublands of Cape Province, South Africa (photo, Kerry Woods)

Dr. Sax’s research explores the dynamics of biodiversity at very large scales in time and space.   You can find information about his research, along with links to a long list of heavily cited publications, at his website.  While his publications address topics from the spread of disease to evolution on islands to the implications of climate change for conservation policy, his talk this Friday will focus on the core of his research program — a set of interlocking questions about species invasion and the interactions between species’ ranges and changing environments.

If you’d like to prepare some insightful questions for his seminar, I’d suggest reading some of his recent papers.  Good examples would be Early and Sax (2014) and Fridley and Sax (2014) (with Bennington alum, Jason Fridley).




FWT – Claire Ricks in Germany

Spell check seems to think Geomicrobiology isn’t a real thing. But let me tell you, after spending six weeks totally immersed in helping research little microbes interacting with different minerals, it’s a real thing. This FWT, I was in Germany interning with the Geomicrobiology department at the University of Tuebingen, each week working with a different postdoc or PhD candidate. I also attended weekly seminars in the geosciences and took a few classes studying iron oxides (all in English).


Collecting lake sediment samples for lab experiments – cold work in the German winter.

Although I wasn’t conducting my own primary research in Geomicrobiology, I learned a ton working with real-life scientists. Depending on the day and project, I regularly made chemical solutions for different media, worked in a nitrogen glovebox to prepare and conduct anoxic experiments, and used many different electrodes to test redox potential of different samples. I learned how to use some really neat instruments, like the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) along with X-ray Diffraction (XRD) and Energy Dispersive X-ray (EDX) imaging, Mössbauer Spectroscopy, and microscopes that detect fluorescence. The SEM uses electron diffraction to get ridiculously cool images on a very small scale—sometimes 1 nm!; the XRD and EDX probes on the SEM test for crystal structures and the chemical composition of specific spots on samples.  I was fortunate enough to be able to conduct basic tests and imaging on my own using these devices—with supervision, of course.

            I not only picked up some new hardware skills, but also learned so much about cutting-edge research on topics that really interest me.  For example, one week I was shadowing a PhD candidate studying biochar, charcoal used as a soil additive in compost, as a means to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by holding it in the wooden structures of the biochar pieces.  In particular, he was studying the nitrogen cycle and how microcosms living in the biochar ­— made from sewage slush and beach wood in different kilns—might reduce methane and nitrous oxide coming from the atmosphere, compost, and other agricultural processes. Another week, I worked with a new postdoc on microbially meditated reactions in the biogeochemical iron cycle.  We took a field trip to collect soil core samples and water from a lake in southern Germany to use as media to test the growth of iron oxidizing bacteria.  All of her work was anoxic to control for the chemical oxidization of ferrous iron. I also spent one week with a geology PhD student who is researching the effects that microbes had on Banded Iron Formations of the Precambrian Era and the “Great Oxidation Event”, which oxidized much of the ferrous iron in the environment.

            Overall, I’d say this was the most informative and educational experience I’ve had in science yet. I now can question certain scientific research and how it was conducted, as well as read science papers and visualize what the author is saying. I even became more certain of my studies in geology and it gave me ideas for my senior work in the future!


Enjoying a German treat after a hard day of science



The Dinaric Alps, looking south from Slovenia into Croatia


Ljubljana street scene

What did I manage to accomplish in the seven months since spring term 2014 — my just-completed sabbatical?  Maybe talking about it will help me sort it out…  Some field work and new analyses, approaches, and results from long-term studies in Michigan old-growth forests (we’re still trying to figure out what’s going on in these systems).  Networking with forest ecologists in Europe during a Fulbright project in Slovenia and through a new consortium based in Belgium.  Plans and proposals for new projects.  There’ll be some new research results and data-graphics.  There’ll also be a little bit of travelogue; Slovenia is a tiny country with some of the most distinctive landscapes and forests in Europe (and one of its most under-rated cities).  Maybe some stories about cuisine — Slovenian (przut, pork fat, bear sausage, strange wines), Belgian (beer, chocolate, mussels), Michigander (pasties).  Students in the field in Michigan, enjoying mosquitoes.