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.