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!
We (Sarah Dendy ’19 and Emma Garschagen ’19) ran water samples from the Kokosing through these filters and then cultured the bacteria on them to assess bacteria levels in the Kokosing itself. Variation in bacterial density between filters represents variation between sampling sites. Our targets, coliform bacteria, show up with a metallic green-gold shine.
Pine plantation site at BFEC where Cameron Peters and Jennie VanMeter are measuring soil respiration.
Professor Karen Bagne and Alexander Law looking for Salamanders in the BFEC near the Kokosing river.
Sarah Dendy prepares to sample near the bank of the Kokosing River at an access point on Riley Chapel Road just upriver of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District.
Kristin Toms and Kelly Pan collect photosynthetic and stomata rates from their tomato plants.
Akasha Walker and Sarah McPeek dive into fieldwork with their research looking at aggression and immune function tradeoffs in eastern bluebirds and tree swallows at the BFEC. Akasha prepares to take a blood sample from one swallow while Sarah records measurements from another.
Morgan Engmann is growing Arabadopsis mutants under blue, white and red light.
Grant Hall pipettes broth to the tubes for his Pseudomonas bacteria culture.
Grace Gavazzi and her partner are observing fish habitat use and how that relates to foraging. Fish are on the left side of the tank trying to find the food they put out.
Sarah McPeek proudly surveys a male eastern bluebird captured in her mist net.
Emma Garschagen wades into the water of the Kokosing to test its dissolved oxygen level. She and Sarah Dendy used a number of field observations, like dissolved oxygen, paired with water sampling and bacterial culturing of the samples to holistically assess water quality.
Kristen Toms and Kelly Pan are proud plant parents, testing the affects of salinity on the growth of tomato plants.
Coliform colonies on M-Endo agar. Sarah Dendy and Emma Garschagen test bacterial growth on their water samples from the Kokosing to study river health.
Ted Boggess, Fiona Ellsworth, Alex Law–along with Professor Bagne, set up the wood in the 3 locations for their project on salamander habitat use. It was, if the picture is not clear, quite rainy.
Yoditt Hermann holds a salamander collected from one of her sampling sites at the BFEC. Her project is looking at the pH and soil moisture levels favorable for salamander habitat.
Emma Garschagen wades into the Kokosing River at an access point near Millwood, Ohio. She and her partner Sarah Dendy are taking water samples to test for coliform bacteria and examine river health.
Cameron Peters and Jennie VanMeter put “the baby” (soil CO2 fluxmeter) in the stroller for a walk down to their forest research sites at the BFEC.
Carter Brzezinski excitedly loading overnights for his and Sarah Manz’s research on the affects of methyl jasmonate on E. coli growth.
Susanna Bator gets up close and personal with her tetrahymena colonies under the microscope.
Cameron Peters and Jennie VanMeter using a Fluxmeter to measure CO2 respiration at sycamore grove site at the BFEC for their BIO 110 Independent Project.
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.
“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