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 — 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! You can read more about Naima’s work now on her tumblr.

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!


Old-growth Fieldwork


Part of the study area at the Dukes Natural Area in the Hiawatha National Forest

Two 2014 grads — Joe Kendrick and Ellen Hanson — and two current students — Charlotte Uden and Roi Karlinsky — are spending four weeks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula working with faculty member Kerry Woods in his on-going research on old-growth forests.  They join about 40 other student researchers who have worked on this project since 1989.


It’s good to find a log for lunch; the mosquitoes are worse near the ground. (Roi Karlinsky, Joseph Kendrick, Ellen Hanson, Charlotte Uden)

The project revolves around monitoring of permanent study plots established as early as 1935 — one of the longest-term records for any old-growth forest.  The work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, The Huron Mt. Wildlife Foundation, and Bennington College faculty grants. A series of resulting publications can be downloaded from this site.

The 2014 season features a late season — trees are still leafing out along the Lake Superior shoreline, where ice-floes were still present three weeks ago — and unusually numerous and hungry mosquitoes.  A large supply of deet (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is proving essential.

This is our lab: carbon budgets in campus forests

The “Forests” class — a field-oriented class introducting concepts of ecology and evolution (taught by faculty member Kerry Woods) — recently remeasured two study plots established in 2004 in campus forests.

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Class members posing with their trees. Left to right: Emily Sanders, Dane Whitman, Nick Atherton, Kevser Kedici, Syvlia Madaras, Kily Dalrymple. Photo by Reily Gordon.

Remeasurements will allow estimation of biomass accumulation and turn-over — in other words, whether these forests are overall carbon sinks or sources. (the stand pictured here is a plantation of native red pine planted in the 1960s by former faculty member Bob Woodworth and his students).

It’s generally thought that New England’s forests are ‘carbon sinks’ because they are relatively young, post-agricultural ecosystems and so still growing — but we do not know how generally or how long that can be expected to be true, so we will keep monitoring the roughly 200 acres of forest on the Bennington College campus.

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.

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.

Scenes from the Fall Poster Session

The hallways of Dickinson were abuzz with science students and faculty, along with friends and supporters from across the College, on Friday December 7 for the Fall Term Poster Session. The building was a hive of activity as students discussed their work, asked questions, and generally enjoyed the challenge of substantively engaging with each other and the broader community about their projects.

Faculty member David Edelman talks to students Katie Giarra and Marilee Goad about the Animal Physiology poster “The Effects of Serotonin on Aggression in Subordinate Crayfish” (photo: Julia Evanczuk)

Roughly thirty posters were presented by students from Physics I, Comparative Animal Physiology, and Foundations of Physical Science. These courses range from introductory to advanced levels and the nature of the work reflected this diversity, featuring experiments of students’ own design, literature reviews, laboratory measurements of physical phenomena, and investigations of alternative energy possibilities for the campus and beyond. Selections of posters from each class will be posted on this site in the near future.

Top: Emily Mikucki (’13) discusses her poster “Fitness Consequences Associated with Variation in Developmental Temperature in Cabbage Butterflies” with dance and environmental studies student, Kaya Lovestrand (’14). (photo: Betsy Sherman)
Middle: (left) Chemistry faculty member Janet Foley asks Evan Braun (’13) about his animal physiology research; (right) Evan’s poster “Survey of Worker Ant Plasticity as Mediated by Classical Conditioning” is displayed along with his subject ants in the foreground (both photos: Julia Evanczuk)
Middle: Caroline Barnhart (postbac ’13) describes her work on the impact resistance and force transmission of different helmet designs (photo: Julia Evanczuk)










Several students gave demonstrations to help explain or place their work in context. For example, Carl Johanson (below) arranged for a  live performance from Lance, a five-year old American Cream horse, a nearly extinct breed of draft horse, for his demonstration of “Horsepower, the Other Way of Getting Energy from Biomass.”

Foundations of Physical Science student Carl Johanson (’14) introduces Lance, an American Cream draft horse, to onlookers as part of his presentation on animal power. (photo: Mike Goldin)


Biology faculty member Amie McClellan discusses recent work from her lab with Computing faculty member Andrew Cencini and others. (photo: Betsy Sherman)

Honorary student (and actual faculty member) Amie McClellan, enjoying the last full week of her sabbatical, also presented a poster as a sort of trial run for her upcoming presentation “EMC2 Encodes a Putative Novel Hsp90 Co-chaperone in Saccharomyces cerevisiae“, co-authored with Tambu Kudze (’10), at the 2012 Annual Meeting of The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) in San Francisco, CA.

photo: Mike Goldin



Finally, good food made the event even more enjoyable. Faculty and staff brought in homemade breads and dishes such as Vegetable Lo Mein and Beef Vindaloo, as well as delicious desserts for all to enjoy.


The view from the second floor. (photo: Mike Goldin)

Science Workshop: Evolution of a research question

Dr. Betsy Sherman will discuss her ongoing research on phenotypic variation among red-spotted newts. Newts are significant predators in freshwater communities and their presence affects the assemblage of organisms that also live in these communities. Newts are not yet regarded as threatened, but Sherman’s work has revealed that temperature, pH, and disease affect newt physiology, behavior, and development and may well have larger implications for amphibian conservation and diversity. Sherman will also discuss how physiological ecologists develop their research questions. Science workshop is on Friday, Nov. 2, from 1:00-2:00 pm in Dickinson 225.  All are welcome.

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.