What drives speciation in chimpanzees?

Dr. Katy GonderKaty_with_Nanga_200x267 of the University at Albany, will present her research on primate biogeography, behavior, and ecology with particular attention to

PNAS_coverour closest living relative, the chimpanzee.  Dr. Gonder’s work has taken her to Cameroon and Nigeria and she has recently initiated The Tropical Rainforest Education Experiment.  Join us for Dr. Gonder’s science workshop presentation on Friday, Sept. 27 from 1:00-2:00 pm in Dickinson 225.

Bennington’s New Sea Lab: Construction Now Underway!

Guest blogger: Jeffrey Matthews ’14

I bet that when you think of octopuses (yes, that’s the plural of ‘octopus,’ though ‘octopi’ is also technically correct), you think, ‘neuroscience’. No? Well, I doubt that the future cephalopod residents of Dickinson’s new Sea Lab will be making this connection either. Fortunately, someone sees the potential of the neuroscience-cephalopod link: David Edelman, Bennington’s new professor of neuroscience. A man on a mission of discovery, David can’t wait to get cracking on research that could offer insights into fundamental questions regarding brain evolution, learning, memory, and visual perception. It’s also worth noting that the new Sea Lab will be one of just a handful of laboratories in the world exploring the neurobiology


of the octopus. But, wait! Don’t go rushing off to the Dickinson Science building expecting to see octopuses just yet. The animals haven’t arrived, and even if they had, the system that will handle a gargantuan 1,650 plus gallons of artificial seawater in the Sea Lab hasn’t been completely plumbed yet. But, never fear science enthusiasts; David and his diligent crew have been hard at work installing eight, 250 pound, 6‘x2‘x2’ acrylic aquariums, a network of pipes and valves, monitors, bioreactors, UV filters, and the other components necessary for life support in a marine environment. This isn’t to say that progress hasn’t been made. Seven of the eight giant acrylic tanks are now in place atop stands fabricated from industrial agricultural bins (each normally used to hold 1000lbs. of tomato slurry) and thick Ikea kitchen countertops. As humble as the tank stands sound, the amount of weight they’ll need to support is14,000 lbs. of seawater, acrylic tanks weighing 250 lbs. each, and 100 lbs. of rock and gravel in each tank. The tables have been tasked with a formidable challenge indeed–especially considering that they are going to support the equivalent of three-and-a-half 2014 Ford Explorer SUVs!

Come visit the lab and look closely; you will see that the acrylic tanks are shining and blemish-free. This is especially impressive, given their previous year in service and a 2,915-mile journey from San Diego California that left them heavily scratched and dirty. Just a note about scratches, dings, and blemishes: it takes many hours of sanding, buffing, and polishing to restore worn acrylic to the kind of pristine mirror finish on display in the laboratory. Scratches and other defects may seem like trivial details, but when it comes to building an effective and functional marine laboratory, details do matter.

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Recent grad Pratham Joshi works on image processing for the Hubble Space Telescope

Recent Bennington graduate Pratham Joshi did a Research Experience for Undergraduates this past summer at the Space Telescope Institute, working on processing images for the Hubble Space Telescope. Pratham concentrated his Bennington studies on Computing, Astronomy, and Mathematics. Here is what he did in his own words:

Pratham Joshi

Pratham Joshi presents his work at the Space Telescope Science Institute

For my REU at the Space Telescope Science Institute this summer, I worked on an Image Processing Pipeline for the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). The Hubble Space Telescope is primarily known for its images of far out galaxies (especially the Hubble Deep Field) and the institute has a robust image processing pipeline for this. The problem is that a small subset of Hubble images are solar system images and this pipeline might not be the most well optimized tool for it. I thus worked with my mentor Alex Viana on an image processing pipeline specifically for moving target solar system body images.

The moving target pipeline (which is open source and can be obtained/forked from github here) consists of four major steps: Cosmic Ray rejection, Single Image drizzling, slicing and Image creation. It was written primarily in Python and uses MySQL for database. Different in-house and third-party tools were optimized and automated to connect these into our pipeline. I also did automated testing of the system and used it to generate processed images for various solar system objects. The images obtained from our pipeline will be used for the CosmoQuest Citizen Science Project (the results of which will in turn be used to further optimize our system) as well as be stored in the Hubble archive for use by scientists and researchers. There are also plans to use/extend the pipeline for use with the Hubble cameras as well as the James Webb Space Telescope.

The Mathematics of Cooperation

Numbered honey bees on a comb - by Tom Seeley

Photograph by Tom Seeley

For those of you whom I have not yet met, I am a new faculty member in the realm of math and science. I teach math courses and my research focuses on using mathematics to better understand (and hopefully solve) biological, ecological, sociological, … problems. In my research I have used diverse mathematical approaches to understand self-organization in honey bee colonies, the evolution of counter-intuitive behaviors in a parasitoid wasp, and cooperation in groups of organisms. Some of you might already know about some of my work from the talk I gave last December on the evolution of restraint in the parasitoid wasp Hyposoter horticola.

Photograph by Katie Montovan

This Friday at the science workshop I will present my research on the mathematics of cooperation. I will talk somewhat generally about the ways that mathematicians approach behavioral questions and how these approached have added to our understanding of cooperation. I will also discuss my own work to understand how repeated interactions and frequent mistakes can facilitate the evolution of greater levels of cooperation in groups.

I think that we will even find a way to provide a cooperation themed snack!

An example of a cooperative dilemma

An example of a cooperative dilemma – to be discussed more on Friday


Work by Carlos Mendez (’15) Published in JBC

jbc coverCarlos Mendez (’15), an undergraduate who has been working in the lab of Professor Amie McClellan, is co-author on a just-published paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The paper, A Biochemical Analysis Linking APOBEC3A to Disparate HIV-1 Restriction and Skin Cancer, describes work examining the pH-dependence and regulation of human deoxycytidine deaminase (Apo3A) and, as described in the abstract, provides insight into “an alternative molecular basis for the initiation events in skin cancer”

This research was performed in the laboratory of Professor Myron Goodman of the University of Southern California Department of Chemistry. Carlos contributed to the work during his first Field Work Term position and last summer. He will also be giving a Science Workshop presentation on September 20th. Don’t miss it.

A Look Ahead to the New Year …

(… and a brief look back at the last one.)

Welcome and Welcome Back to new and returning students. We hope that all of you had enjoyable and productive summers and are ready to engage in all of the upcoming challenges that will be our pleasure to devise for you, as well as those you devise for yourselves. We wanted to help you start the year off by sharing some news, information, and announcements you may find useful.

montovan1First and foremost – we are delighted that Katie Montovan has arrived and will start teaching this term. Katie just completed her Ph. D. at Cornell (title: The adaptive causes and consequences of individual restraint for host-parasitoid spatial dynamics) and will be teaching Introduction to Applied Mathematics and Nonlinear Dynamical Systems this term. For the time being her office is 226 Dickinson so stop by and introduce yourself if you are not in one of her classes. Katie will also be giving a Science Workshop on her work on September 13. More on that a bit later in this post.


tim castle

Somewhere in Bavaria; the site of Herr Schroeder’s most recent campaign.

If you’re looking for Tim Schroeder and can’t find him in his office, don’t bother waiting around too long – he won’t show up. Tim is on a year-long sabbatical in Germany where, according to some accounts, he’s storming castles when not examining rocks in the lab.



We are pleased to announce that in October we will be hosting Amir Aczel, author of more than a dozen books on mathematics and science, including the best-selling Fermat’s Last Theorem and the recent book on the Large Hadron Collider and the discovery of the Higgs boson, Present at the Creation. A research fellow at the Boston University Center for Philosophy and History of Science, he will be giving a series of talks in early October, one of which will be at the October 11 Science Workshop. His visit is being made possible by support from the Onassis Foundation.


As we’ve done for many years now, we’ll be having weekly Science Workshops every Friday at 1:00 in Dickinson 225. These are opportunities to discuss each other’s work, hear from outside speakers, and to talk about issues in the substance and practice of doing science. Our first workshop will be on September 6th and be an informal Meet-n-Greet at which new students can meet old students, old faculty can meet new students, new students can meet new faculty, etc., etc., etc. We have a number of interesting talks already lined up, including the aforementioned presentations from Katie Montovan and Amir Aczel. On September 27 we will welcome Professor Katy Gonder, a biologist at SUNY Albany, who will speak to us about her current research. Students Carlos Mendez, Chernoh Jalloh (both speaking on September 20), Genelle Rankin and Joe Kendrick (October 4) have all agreed to describe work they did in labs over the summer. Please join us on these and every Friday for stimulating discussions, good company and the best snacks on campus.

Finally, the last Science Workshop of each term is a Poster Session for student work. This term will be no different, so be on the lookout for the exact date in early December for this great opportunity to see what everyone will have accomplished by then. Until then, enjoy the following few scenes from this past Spring’s Poster Session (photos by Betsy Sherman and Ferrilyn Sourdiffe) and good luck in the coming term. It’s great to have you back!

spring poster session