From the Field: Butterfly Farming in Ecuador

Dircenna adina stenheili — a clearwing buttefly

Rothschildia lebeau — a giant saturniid moth

Senior Emily Mikucki  reports that she’s been working with an eco-tourism lodge in the cloud forests near Nanegal, Ecuador (check it out) to help develop a butterfly farm.

Emily has been obsessed with lepidopterans (moths and butteflies) for years, and hopes to turn that obsession into a career as  as a conservation biologist. At Bennington, she studies biology and Spanish (the latter to give her a head start doing conservation and field work in Latin America)  Meanwhile, she takes photos of them — these two are from Ecuador.

This isn’t the first time Emily has spent FWT in the tropics. In past years, she has worked with researchers in the Amazon basin of Peru and with butterfly conservationists in Costa Rica.

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)

Arbor Dianae

Transferring Electrons for Work or Pleasure

In addition to his well-known books on neurology such as An Anthropologist on Mars, Oliver Sacks wrote an engaging memoir of his childhood and his love of chemistry in his formative years. Not only does it describe part of his own own intellectual development, but Uncle Tungsten, Memories of a Chemical Childhood offers one of the most accessible histories of chemistry ever written, providing fascinating insights into the intellectual developments of an entire field of study. Students in John Bullock’s Foundations of Physical Science used one particular chapter out of this book as an entry to the study of magnetism, electricity, and batteries. In it Sacks describes his own experiences in reproducing the metallic “trees” discovered by alchemists. For example, placing copper wire in a solution of silver nitrate, would result in “shining, almost fractal, arborescent growth” of metallic silver on the wire (see above).

These changes result from a simple oxidation-reduction (redox) reaction in which electrons are transferred from dissolved silver ions to metallic copper. Such redox reactions are the source of the electric current provided by all batteries and fuel cells (and the electron transport chain). As part of the investigation of these topics, students used readily available materials such as aluminum cans and copper wire to construct simple electrochemical cells. Pictured below, students hook two such cells together to form a battery with a potential of about 3 volts; here they are using it to power a dc motor.

Footnote: In Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks explains his peculiar use of footnotes as a sort homage to Dmitri Mendeleev, the nineteenth-century Russian chemist who, being unable to resist the temptation to include seemingly endless examples of tangential materials in his texts, used them promiscuously. Sacks characteristically included the following note to provide some explanation for the names of the metallic trees he was so fond of:

“These names for metallic trees came from the alchemical notion of the correspondence between the sun, the moon, and the five (known) planets with the seven metals of antiquity. Thus gold stood for the sun, silver for the moon (and the moon goddess, Diana), mercury for Mercury, copper for Venus, iron for Mars, tin for Jupiter (Jove), and lead for Saturn.”

Autumnal Delights

October in Vermont. When the mountains are ablaze with vibrant colors, there’s a chill in the air, and leaves crunch underfoot.

In Dickinson Hall, there’s another seasonal pleasure. Every year at this time, students in Betsy Sherman‘s Comparative Animal Physiology class dissect cats to explore firsthand the connection between form and function of physiological systems. This week students focused on the circulatory system, considering how the function of the heart and blood vessels can be inferred by close inspection of their structure. Prior to this, students examined the digestive and musculoskeletal systems, and will soon turn their attention to the nervous system.

As the term progresses students will design and execute their own research projects. In previous years students pursued topics such as the relationship between hatching asynchrony, development and temperature in moths, does mass affect exertion and time to exhaust in salamanders, the effect of temperature on hemolymph coagulation in crayfish, and the effect of nicotine on regeneration in planaria. This year students will present their results at a poster session on December 7 in Science Workshop.


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.