FWT — Naima and Roi in Sri Lanka

(from Naima Starkloff and Roi Ankori-Karlinsky)

Naima measuring tree diameter

We spent FWT in the hills of Sri Lanka investigating the conservation potential of Home Gardens. This agroforestry method, used in Sri Lanka for several thousand years (yep, several thousand) mimics the structure and composition of natural forest but combines it with crops, fruit trees, etc. It’s managed by human beings, from the species selected to desired growth rates. Naima’s research (for her senior thesis, with Kerry Woods) looked at bird diversity within these forests in comparison with eucalyptus plantations (another human-managed habitat) and a preserved natural habitat. Roi did a more focused study on one bird species, the endemic and endangered Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon.

We got up with the sun and counted birds for an hour each morning. We spent the afternoons measuring trees, assessing canopy structure, and fending off cobwebs. We both had to memorize and recognize 82 different bird calls.  We ate lots of curry, hiked through some of the most beautiful tropical forests Roi had ever seen (ok, he’s never been to the tropics before), and did a lot of data entry in the mosquito-heavy evenings.

Naima’s project explores the potential for using bird diversity as an assay to measure conservation potential in human forests such as home gardens and Eucalyptus-Pine plantations, as well as in native-mixed deciduous forests. More specifically, she is testing the hypothesis that habitat/canopy complexity is a driver of avian diversity across these habitats.  Spring semester will involve analyzing these data for her senior thesis; look for it in the library, as well as in a Science Workshop presentation in May!

Roi on a hot tea break in a foggy Eucalyptus-pine forest

Under the tutelage of Nireka Weeratunge, Roi played “catch the pigeon” in the afternoons. Normally a forest bird, the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon also enjoys anthropogenic goods. It loves the home-garden’s buffet of tea trees, cinnamon leaves, fresh pepper, and the canopy cover provided by the mango trees.  Roi confirmed two nesting pairs and suspected a third, and found a nest with an egg on top of a mango tree.  Though rare and fragile, the Wood Pigeon seems to like the home-garden atmosphere, suggesting  a potential role for home-gardens in protecting this Sri Lankan endemic species. Look out for a presentation by Roi on his FWT in the first couple weeks of term!

 

Genetics students publish paper in Journal of Student Research

jur figure

The protein-protein interaction network generated from data collected by students in Amie McClellan’s Genetics course. The figure is from the student co-authored paper just published in The Journal of Student Research.

Science courses at Bennington College are known for providing meaningful laboratory experiences involving original student research. Amie McClellan’s Fall 2013 Genetics students got to take this one step further – their term-long research project was just published in the Journal of Student Research. The students performed a genome-wide genetic screen to determine what genes, if any, were required for yeast to grow in the presence of sodium dodecyl sulfate, an anionic detergent commonly used both in science laboratories and commercial cleaning and cleansing products, such as shampoo and toothpaste. Over the course of the term, the students identified candidate deletion strains, conducted thorough re-testing for sensitivity, performed bioinformatic analyses of their data, and designed experiments to test their findings.The resulting manuscript, which is freely available through open access, can be found here: McClellan et al JSR 2015,  or via this  link.

Congratulations to all of the student co-authors: Laura M. Ammons, Logan R. Bingham, Sarah Callery, Elizabeth Corley, Katherine A. Crowe, Jennifer K. Lipton, Carlos A. Mendez, Tessalyn Morrison, and Claudia Rallis.

Cell Bio students and faculty attend 20th Annual Midwest Stress Response and Molecular Chaperone Meeting

group_poster

Seniors Carlos Mendez and Chernoh Jalloh traveled with faculty member Amie McClellan to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where they presented a research poster on ongoing efforts in the McClellan lab to characterize a novel Hsp90 co-chaperone.  Both Carlos and Chernoh are working on aspects of the project as part of their advanced work in biology.  They had an exciting time with their  “tag team” style poster presentation and, overall, a stimulating day of science and socializing. Amie served as the session chair for the last block of talks of the day, which focused on the organismal consequences of cellular stress. In trying to sum up the experience, Carlos said “The Midwest Meeting was great fun! I had the pleasure to learn about current research in the field to help move forward our work in the lab, as well as network with professors and graduate students in order to prepare for my upcoming graduate school interviews.” Chernoh added, “The conference was a great way for me to connect what we learned in the protein biology class last term to ongoing research in the field. Virtually every project presented at the conference had a root from the topics we covered in class, so it was refreshing to see the different angles that researchers are taking to investigate concepts that we had already discussed with Amie.”  Learn more about the meeting here:  http://groups.molbiosci.northwestern.edu/morimoto/MWSM/

(posted for Amie McClellan)

O Chemis-Tree! O Chemis-Tree!

Technician Abbey Killam brightened everyone’s Holidays with her Chemis-Tree. It is currently residing near the Dickinson Reading Room, so stop by and admire it if you haven’t seen it yet!

o chemistree

photo by Molly Forgaard

 

 

 

 

Happy Holidays from the faculty and staff in Dickinson!

Chemistry Sets as Cultural Artifacts

Something light but substantive for the final week of classes.

For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Philip Ball is a prolific science writer. Author of twenty science books that examine science and its contributions to, and role in, society, he also regularly writes columns for Nature, where he served as an editor for twenty years, Chemical World, and other publications. His latest book, Serving the Reich, was nominated for the 2014 Winton Prize by the Royal Society (a short video of him reading an excerpt is available here). I never need much of an excuse to use his books in my courses: Stories of the Invisible, The Bright Earth, and Life’s Matrix are just a few examples.

chemcraft

He just posted a fascinating piece on his blog, homunculus, about a collection of chemistry sets at the Chemical Heritage Foundation that will be the focus of an upcoming exhibition. He’s particularly interested in how these kits have changed over the years and what those changes say about society at large.

Well worth a look.

 

Special Science Workshop: Fall Poster Session!

This Friday will be the annual fall science poster session. There will be student work from many different science, math and computing classes. It is a great opportunity to find out what your classmates have been doing! This is also your chance to to be in the know on all the new posters that will decorate the Dickinson walls for the coming semester.

And as always, we will have some great food to kick off the event. All are welcome to attend. Come see what our students have been working on, ask good questions, enjoy good food, have a great time. It’s a terrific way to bring the semester to a close.

When: Dec. 5, 2014 @ 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
Where: Hallways of Dickinson
What: Annual Fall Poster Session – be there!

Science Workshop: Microtubule-based Motor Proteins

Have you ever wondered how cellular cargo gets transported from place to place along cytoskeletal networks? How vesicles travel down looooooooooooooong nerve axons to reach their destinations? How force is generated on spindle microtubules to permit chromosome movement during mitosis and meiosis? Would you be surprised to learn that “two-headed monsters” are involved???

Well, two-headed molecular motor proteins, at the least! Come hear Dr. Susan Gilbert, Professor and Head of the Department of Biological Sciences at RPI, talk at science workshop about her ongoing research on the Kinesin family of microtubule-based motor proteins.

kinesin

 

Science Workshop: Using Crystal Age and Compositions to Understand How Volcanoes Come Back to Life

Science Workshop:  November 7, 2014.  1 PM.  Dickinson 232.

This Friday’s Science Workshop speaker is Erik Klemetti, Assistant Professor of Geosciences at Denison University, and author of the popular Eruptions blog at Wired.

ChaosCragsHis talk, “Using Crystal Age and Compositions to Understand How Volcanoes Come Back to Life” is described as follows:

Volcanoes spend most of their existence not erupting. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t a multitude of magmatic processes going on underneath. These might include intrusions of new magma, crystallization of existing magma, magma mixing and movement of crystals through the “crystal mush” that sits under the volcano. These processes all leave their compositional and temporal signature on the crystals that form and are subsequently incorporated into the magma that does erupt. I will discuss how examination of zircon crystals in magma can help us unravel the timing and nature of events that occur between volcanic eruptions with a focus on the evolution of the Lassen Volcanic Center in California. Overall, current trace element and U-Th disequilibria age data derived from zircon suggests that an otherwise moribund magmatic system can be brought back to life (rejuvenated) by new intrusions of magmatic that are geologically ephemeral, lasting years to millennia. This conclusion means that the events that lead to the 1915 eruption at Lassen Peak unfolded rapidly before the explosive eruption, the only to occur in California in the last century.

Public Physics Experiment – Trebuchet vs. Potato Cannon

Wednesday Oct. 29 at 2:30 PM, on the Dickinson patio, the Physics I class will attempt to resolve a long-standing scientific debate: Which device can impart more kinetic energy to a vegetable projectile?

A medieval trebuchet launching a pumpkin,

OR

A modern hairspray-powered PVC potato cannon

The trebuchet is powered by dropping a 110 kg concrete block, while the potato cannon is powered by a little bit of flammable vapor.  Which will you bet on?

Come and help us to resolve this important scientific quandary.