Alum Jason Fridley’s Big Year

Jason coring trees as a research assistant in faculty member Kerry Woods’ research on Michigan old-growth forests

It’s been a good year for Jason Fridley (Bennington ’97, Ph.D. Univ. North Carolina ’02), a faculty member in Biology at Syracuse University.  He was awarded tenure earlier this year, and also received the Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists from the New York Academy of Sciences.  Among seven papers published this year (so far), he was first author for papers in BOTH Science and Nature (just one of these is worth noting).  And his good fortune seems to rub off; two of the graduate students in his lab received prestigious NSF graduate fellowships in 2012.

Downloading data from microclimate sensors at Great Smoky Mt. National Park (research recently published)


Jason’s research addresses, among multiple threads,  ecology of invasive species (the Nature paper) and the relationship between diversity and ecosystem function (the Science paper — and the subject of his undergrad thesis at Bennington).  Bennington connections remain strong; Jason will be returning for a talk next spring, and one of the grad students in his lab is Bennington alum Catherine Ravenscroft.

No newts is bad newts!

In March 2012, Biologist Betsy Sherman and alumna Katie Van Munster (’08) published a paper entitled, Pond pH, acid tolerance and water preference in newts of Vermont, in the journal Northeastern Naturalist. The red-spotted newt is found in both acidic ponds (pH values of ~4) from the Green Mountains and more alkaline ponds of the Taconic Mountains (pH values of ~8). Newts from the high and low pH ponds exhibited different behavioral and physiological reponses to water of different pH. The research revealed that newts have adapted to acidic conditions that are due, in part, to human activity.  Sherman and her students continue to study whether these adaptations are due to divergent evolution among the different populations of newts.  A short description of this work was also published in the popular conservation magazine, Northern Woodlands. Click on the image below to see the article.

Science Workshop: Rebecca Nakaba & Emily Mikucki

From Ames to tanZania

The next science workshop (Friday, October 5) will feature talks from two Bennington seniors. Rebecca Nakaba’s talk, “Refinement of Rock Stress Experiments Previously Conducted at NASA ARC in August 2011,” will describe her work at the NASA Ames Research Center that involved the measurement of electric current induced in rock samples under pressure (hence the hydraulic press, at right). Curiously, the instruments employed in the measurement continued to indicate current even after the rock samples were removed. She investigated the source of the anomalous readings and will discuss the implications of her work on the interpretation of such pressure/current data collected on mineral samples.

Emily Mikucki’s talk, “Wildlife Conservation and Management in Tanzania“, will focus on work she performed this past summer in Africa in conjunction with The School for Field Studies. Our resident lepidoptera enthusiast (see  here) changed her focus for one month and performed behavioral studies of baboons, giraffes, and elephants in Serengeti National Park and other locations. She also observed habitat preferences of lions, zebras and warthogs.

Please join us in Dickinson 225, Friday at 1:00. As always, delicious and whimsical finger foods will be served.

Research by Tambu Kudze (2010) Published in Science

A research paper co-authored by Bennington graduate Tambu Kudze (2010) was published in the August 24, 2012 issue of Science. The article, “Neurexin and Neuroligin Mediate Retrograde Synaptic Inhibition in C. elegans,” describes research aimed at understanding mutations linked to disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. By examining how the proteins neurexin and neuroligin, which are critical in synaptic processes, function in the nematode C. elegans the researchers hope to shed light on the mechanism by which mutations influence neural development.

The work was performed in the laboratory of Dr. Joshua Kaplan (group website) of the Department of Molecular Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, where Tambu has worked since 2010. While at Bennington Tambu did research in the lab of Amie McClellan, which culminated in her thesis, “YJR088C Encodes a Functional HSP90 Co-Chaperone.” After graduation, Tambu was selected as a graduate representative on the Bennington College Board of Trustees. Tambu discussed some of her work, including her Field Work Terms, in this interview.

Tambu Kudze, photographed in June 2012, on a return visit to campus for a meeting of the Board of Trustees.

In the Classroom: Electrochemical Biosensors

Undergraduate Carly Flynn (concentrating in Science and Dance) and Post-Bac Katie Giarra (shown at right, Princeton, 2009) gave the first student presentation of the term in Chemistry 3 this week. The two explained the theory behind the operation of electrochemical glucose meters. These devices, used by millions of diabetics all over the world, employ enzymes bound to the anode of a small disposable electrochemical cell whose current output is directly proportional to blood glucose levels. They explained the background theory and led a discussion that included questions concerning sources of error in the measurements and strategies to minimize them, as well as recent developments in the field.

Andrew Blum’s TED Talk about TUBES

Thank you to everybody who came out for this past Friday’s Science Workshop talk!

As I mentioned during the Q&A in response to Todd Pykosz’s great question about Internet infrastructure, there is a very good book by Andrew Blum called “Tubes:  A Journey to the Center of the Internet” (review), and a corresponding TED Global talk he gave that discusses the physicality and monumentalism (or lack thereof) of Internet infrastructure.

Both the talk and the book are fascinating, and he will be speaking via Skype to my Computing Ecology class on 10/15 (which will be followed by a walking tour of Bennington’s Internet infrastructure, led by Ted Martin and…. Todd Pykosz(!) of Bennington’s IT department).  Participants from the class will be welcome to photographically and textually document the tour and infrastructure, some of which may end up being shared on this blog…

Anyway, enjoy the talk and the book. “Tubes” is on reserve at Crossett Library and available through the Bennington College Bookstore.


Cloud Control: An Open Source IPMI Library for Embedded Microcontrollers

Andrew Cencini here…  I’ll be giving this Friday’s Science Workshop talk in Dickinson 225 at 1pm on some work I did this summer as part of a secret project for Nebula, a cloud-computing startup in Palo Alto, CA.

During the workshop, I will introduce you to the problem space I have been working in with this project – data centers and cloud computing.  The work is part of what is expected to be a ‘disruptive’ technology in the space.  It was a very cool and inordinately challenging project, but one that I learned and gained a lot from.

This should be a cool talk, as it covers work that truly bridges the physical and virtual realms of computer science, and will have a real impact on what’s going on out there right now. I hope you can attend.

Update (JB): Great turnout today for Andrew’s talk – it was a fascinating firsthand account of the development of what promises to be a widely used tool in cloud computing and the management of data centers. Be sure to thank Andrew for the talk the next time you see him.

Old-growth forests in Portland

Over thirty Bennington students have worked with faculty member Kerry Woods in his ongoing, long-term research in old-growth forests in Michigan.  The most recent results from that project were presented in August, 2012 at the 97th  national meetings of the Ecological Society of America in Portland, OR. You can find a copy of the poster presentation here.

The photo shows two members of the 2009 field crew at work at the Michigan field-site.

Protein Folding in Vermont

Recent graduate Christos Kougentakis ’12 and biology faculty member Amie McClellan attended the FASEB  (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) Protein Folding in the Cell Meeting held in Saxtons River, Vermont from July 29th to August 3rd, 2012 (the meeting program can be found here:

Christos presented a poster (click the the image at right for a large view or read the abstract), which contained data he generated as part of his advanced work in biology. Christos has recently accepted a research technician position in a biochemistry laboratory at MIT.

Free yeast samples to the first one who correctly identifies Christos and Amie in the picture below. To be sporting, you can click on the image to embiggen it.

If you still need help, here is a photo of Christos and Amie with Amherst College Chemistry professor Sheila Jaswal and her student Tim Poterba.

From left to right, Amherst College student Tim Poterba, Amherst College chemistry professor Sheila Jaswal, Bennington biology professor Amie McClellan, and recent Bennington graduate Christos Kougentakis ’12.