The big reveal…

Congratulations to Jessie Griffith and Sarah Speroff for having the closest answers! 

The authors of the Valentine’s day cards are:

#1. Kerkhoff

#2. K. Gillen

#3 Petersen

#4 C. Gillen

#5 Schultz

#6 Smith

#7 Schultz

Bonus: McMahon


Avoid the flu. Catch the feels.

It’s that time of year again. Some (many) of us are sick, some of us are lovesick, some of us are watching Lovesick, and some of us are sick of love. Happy Valentine’s Day!

I asked members of the Biology Department for Valentine card submissions related to their biological interests/areas of study. It’s up to you to figure out who wrote them!

Send an email to with your guesses. Get them all right and you could win candy!

Check out our instagram (@kenyonbiology) for hints throughout the day of the 14th. Answers come out February 14th at 10 PM, so get your guesses in before then!






#3. photo by Amit Mogha








Bonus – Can you guess which professor took a lichen to this cartoon?

KSTEM’s Course Registration Tips

It’s that time of year again where clicking, typing, and being a human at 11:15AM has never seemed more stressful. That’s right: it’s course registration. I asked KSTEM president Rachel Arens to gather the best registration tips around.

Note: The following is a guest post from KSTEM, a club on campus with a mission to develop a strong and supportive scientific community. Email for more information!

  1. Register in the science quad with as few people as possible! Registration works smoothly if there aren’t many people per router.
  2. Make sure you have at least two classes that you are genuinely excited about.
  3. If there’s one class that you really need/want and is difficult to get into just put that class in first and hit submit; you don’t have to waste time filling up the slots before you hit submit the first time!
  4. Make an excel sheet or Google Sheet so you can copy and paste!
  5. Minimize your windows so they’re side by side and you don’t have to click between
  6. Tell Duo NOT to remember you for 10 hours so it’s easier to log in and log out.
  7. If there’s a popular class you really want, email the professor ahead of time asking to be in the class/put on the waitlist!
  8. IT’S ALL GOING TO WORK OUT! Don’t panic! Everything will be ok.

Know Before You Go – Metagenomics Edition

Today (yes, October 12th!) at 4 PM, Dr. Heidi Andersen from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center will be presenting her bioinformatics research. Computational genomics is a rapidly advancing field that uses and develops software to detect patterns in biomolecules like DNA, RNA, and proteins. Our guts host many different bacterial species, and Dr. Andersen pieces together their DNA sequences to determine which are present. She is especially interested in tracking the microbes that are multi-drug resistant (those that survive many of the antibiotics we throw at them) across pediatric patients in the hospital. 

A quick brush up on some computational biology vocab before the presentation never hurts:

Metagenomics – the study of the many genomes present in a given environmental sample

Microbiome – the community of microbes in a given environment

Shotgun sequencing – a method of determining the order of nucleotides (A, C, T, G) in a given DNA sequence by breaking it into short fragments, sequencing these, then piecing them back together computationally

Contiguous sequence (“Contig”) – After sequencing the separate DNA fragments in shotgun sequencing, we need to assemble them back together for a longer, more complete sequence (a contig)

16S rRNA gene (“16S”) – a ribosomal RNA gene that is used to identify bacteria and archaea at the genus level

Extra credit – Understanding PCA
If you want to know all the gory details of Principal Component Analysis, a method you will see often in computational biology, check out this post here


The Very Hungry Hornworms

This week, intro bio lab students geared up for their Manduca sexta dissection. These tobacco hornworms had grown significantly since students placed them in their plastic “bachelor pad” cages last week. While all hornworms at least doubled in size, the largest of the group were almost 100 times their weight from last week. Thank goodness that’s pretty impossible for humans to do or Kenyon would need to invest in a better health plan now that Marco’s Pizza accepts K-Cards.

Hornworm fact #1: Time to expand your insult dictionary – the genus Manduca literally means glutton. Try that one at Thanksgiving.

Hornworm fact #2: After a good chomp on a tobacco leaf, Manduca have “toxic halitosis” aka poisonous bad breath from the nicotine which deters spiders from eating them.

Hornworm fact #3: Adult Manduca hawkmoths can eavesdrop on the sonar clicks of bats and drop out of the air to avoid being bat food.

If you know the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, the life of a Manduca is quite similar. Rather than eating sausages and ice cream turning into a beautiful butterfly, though, Manduca hornworms eat the leaves of tobacco, tomatoes and other members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), then metamorphose into a hawkmoth that can hover like a hummingbird. Reared in the lab, however, the Manduca is a beloved model organism with ease of care, rapid growth rate, and accessible anatomy.

This year, the bio lab sections are testing the effect of diet nutrition on overall growth of the organism. Some Manduca will have less nutrition per bite in their food for 48 hours, perhaps affecting how much they eat, absorb nutrients, or grow in a 48 hour period. After this diet change, students hit the microscopes to investigate.

Whether they named their Manduca after their TA (shoutout to Jeremy Moore ’19), took beautiful anatomical pictures under the microscope (see above), or made a video in their hornworm’s honor like Patrick Olmstead ’21 (below), students found a way to connect with their lab-reared pe(s)ts.

Intro biology lab students share snapshots from their independent research projects

As the culmination of the year-long introductory biology lab course, all students undertake a large independent research project to apply the skills they’ve learned through a wide array of lab exercises, and begin to specialize in their own interests within the broad field of biology. Whereas in the past students worked with their laboratory section instructors on their projects, this year, the course allowed students to select faculty mentors outside of their lab section so they could receive more specialized help in their particular field of interest.

“We aren’t all Renaissance people,” said Dr. Jennifer McMahon, lead instructor and director of introductory labs. In past years, faculty had a difficult time assisting students on projects that fell outside their areas of expertise, so allowing students to pick their own mentors alleviates some of the pressure on the faculty, and lets students find subjects they are truly passionate about. Additionally, the close partnership between students and faculty mentors who share their interests can turn short, 6 week projects into multi-year research endeavors.

“The recruitment component of this new approach is very important,” notes department chair, Dr. Drew Kerkhoff. “We want to help students identify potential faculty mentors as early as possible. Hopefully, the changes will break down the barrier for students who otherwise might hesitate to approach one of their professors about research opportunities. It also helps faculty identify talented young students who share their research interests.”

Student research proposals must be approved by both their lab instructor and their faculty member. At the end of the semester, after designing and conducting their research, the students write scientific papers on their project and present their work to their lab mates and instructors, joining a long line of young researchers stretching back 25 years. You can even read papers from past years via Digital Kenyon. And each year, the latest papers are added to the collection, giving students their first taste of scientific publication.

Check out a sample of our students’ diverse and exciting projects!

Congratulations to the 2017 Honors Students!!

On Monday, May 8th, Honors students in Biology, Molecular Biology, and Neuroscience successfully defended their honors theses, bringing to a triumphant close what was, for many of them, years of work.


The 2017 Honors Students in Biology, Molecular Biology, and Neuroscience. Back row, L-R: Kenny Viel, Jiayu Chen, Lauren Michael, Adam Berndt; Front row, L-R: Taylor Jamil, Sarah Mohr, Sarah Naguib

The students had presented their research to peers, faculty, parents, and friends last week, but on Monday, they hosted their outside examiners, established academic researchers in their field who had generously agreed to read and critique their theses, and to come to campus for the day. Researchers came from the University of Dayton, University of Cincinnati, and the Ohio State University, among others.

Each student gave a short presentation to their examiner, then the two of them sat down for an hour to discuss their thesis in detail, as well as the broader area of science to which their work contributes. The examiners asked questions and probed for the limits of the student’s knowledge, but they also shared stories and provided valuable points of reference. The research mentors and other departmental faculty attended the exams, but the conversation is purely between the student and their examiner. One of the students captured the spirit of the event, calling it “intense, but really fun!”

Once the exams were complete, the students, examiners, mentors, and other faculty and staff gathered at Weaver Cottage to celebrate the students’ achievements and to enjoy a wonderful, relaxing lunch.


2017 Honors Students with their mentors. Back row, L-R: Kenny Viel, Jiayu Chen, Prof. Siobhan Fennessy (Biology, mentor to L. Michael), Lauren Michael, Prof. Andrew Engell (Neuroscience, mentor to S. Mohr), Adam Berndt, Prof. Joan Slonczewski (Biology, mentor to A. Berndt); Front row, L-R: Prof. Chris Gillen (Biology/Molecular Biology, mentor to K. Viel, J. Chen, and T. Jamil), Taylor Jamil, Sarah Mohr, Sarah Naguib, Prof. Hewlet McFarland (Neuroscience, mentor to Sarah Naguib).

Science in Writing: Animal Physiology


In Kenyon biology, students learn not only how to perform scientific inquiry but how to communicate their science clearly and effectively. Dr. Christopher Gillen has a passion for understanding how animals work, and his research specializes in salt and water balance physiology, most recently examining salt absorption and secretion in the Aedes aegypti mosquito. His course Biology 243: Animal Physiology is one of the most popular in the department, and students compare complex physiological processes across different organisms under Dr. Gillen’s enthusiastic instruction. In addition to his passion for understanding how animals work, Dr. Gillen is passionate about making scientific research understandable and enaging for all audiences and he is the faculty director of the Kenyon Institute in Biomedical and Scientific Writing. This semester, he launched Kenyon’s first science writing seminar course with Professor Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky of the English department, where students read and discuss a wide variety of literature with a scientific focus, write voraciously on their own scientific fascinations, and experiment with the many techniques and nuances of the science writing genre.

Dr. Gillen stresses the importance of communicating science in all of his classes, particularly how to write about science for a variety of audiences:

“Pitching complicated research to a general audience is hard. Students must understand the science deeply and frame it with compelling writing and storytelling. And the skills they learn writing for a general audience transform them into better scientific writers.”

In Animal Physiology, students were asked to complete a News and Views assignment where they write two essays on the same scientific research article: one essay that makes an argument about the research to an audience of scientists and another essay that explains the research to a broader audience of non-scientists. Here is one such article for a general audience, written by junior neuroscience major John Wilhelm:

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Perspectives in Research: Rachel Schafer joins researchers at the 2017 Society of Toxicology National Conference

Note from Sarah: This is a guest post written by Rachel Schafer ’18. Schafer’s work in the Powell lab focuses on the effects of environmental toxins on the thyroid pathway in African clawed frog development.


Me and Dr. Wade Powell in front of my poster.

This spring break, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2017 Society of Toxicology National Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.  I went with my professor, Dr. Wade Powell, to present a poster on the interaction of an environmental toxin, TCDD, and the thyroid hormone pathway in Xenopus laevis metamorphic development.  Our findings demonstrated a discrepancy between gene expression in our X. laevis cell line and in the exposed tadpoles.  I was also privileged enough to win the Pfizer SOT Undergraduate Travel Award, which generously funded my costs at the conference. Continue reading

Mishaps in the Lab: Biology faculty tell tales of experimental failure

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of experimental biology is its unpredictability. No matter how meticulously you design your procedure, check and quadruple-check every measurement and work with the utmost professionalism, things still manage to go awry. 

This time of year, Higley Hall bustles with exciting research: 50 different independent projects by introductory lab students in Biology 110, lab research on everything from plant and animal physiology to gene manipulation, the ongoing work of faculty and their student research groups, and seniors working tirelessly to finish their honors theses.

Today and every day, Higley Headlines and the biology faculty celebrate the wacky world of experimental biology and remind everyone that failure, no matter how embarrassing and frustrating, is a critical, not to mention hilarious part of the scientific process. It may not have been amusing when it ruined your entire data set and set back your research by six months, but as you’ll see, everything is funny in retrospect.

Poor Timing

“I once thought I’d be a good lab citizen and adjust the lab clock for Daylight Savings Time. I hadn’t realized it was held up with only a thumbtack! When I replaced it on the wall, it came crashing down – right onto the safety shower lever below and causing a flood of water from the shower above. I’m glad that the safety shower was in good working order, but I didn’t really need to be drenched just for adjusting the clock! I’ll never hang anything over the safety shower lever again (especially with thumbtacks).”

Dr. Sarah Petersen, Ashby Denoon Assistant Professor of Neuroscience

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