Celebrating Darwin’s 208th Birthday!

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A beautiful birthday cake, courtesy of The 8 Sister’s Bakery

Every few weeks the biology department gathers in Fischman 103 for Biojournal club, an informal gathering of faculty and students. Student leaders mine recent journal publications for exciting research papers, and we carefully select an intriguing study to discuss as a department. We gather at 12 for pizza and beverages to accompany delving into deep scientific literature. At the small discussion tables, students and faculty alike delve into the texts of the papers, deciphering statistics, interpreting graphs, and raising questions about methods and conclusions. Every meeting yields a new discussion with topics ranging from plant physiology in seed dispersal mechanisms to rapid-scale bacterial evolution to editting the human genome.

In joint celebration of Charles Darwin’s 208th birthday and Valentines Day, our paper focused on sexual selection and the sex-driven ornamentation driving speciation of finches. Discussion was lively, and all involved felt the love for evolution, Darwin, and biology. The discussion ended with Dr. Slonczewski showing pictures from her trip to the Natural History Museum in London, England, which is proclaimed as a temple of sorts to Darwin and his revolutionary theories of evolution.

The paper discussion ended early so attendees could sing ‘happy birthday’ to our dear friend, Chucky D, and enjoy his delicious chocolate-vanilla layered birthday cake. We may have temporarily lowered our fitness by consuming all of this sugary cake, but rest assured that the long-term benefits of celebrating Darwin as a department outweighed any costs.

Ecology Students Model the Effects of Climate Change on Local Wildlife

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Professor Kerkhoff and his students mill around before the poster session begins in the Fischman 2nd floor poster gallery on Friday, November 18th.

Associate Professor of biology Andrew Kerkhoff’s ecology lab course is attempting to put a local face on a global problem with a new project modeling the potential responses of different Ohio wildlife to climate change.

As they gather for the culmination of their project: a public poster session for faculty and students, Professor Kerkhoff reminds his class of the importance of their work: “So often, climate change is viewed as this unmitigated disaster, and it just gets depressing and oftentimes paralyzing because it feels too big to really do something about it. But by making predictions about how climate change can affect specific organisms, it not only raises awareness, but it presents specific targets for conservation efforts.”

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Time Traveling in Ohio: Paleobiology in the Field

At 6 AM on a chilly November Saturday, Professor Eric Holdener’s Paleobiology class gathers in Peirce Dining Hall to grab a quick breakfast before hitting the road for our fossil collecting field trip. The entire class fits comfortably in one Kenyon van: me in the front, Sean Deryck ’18 and Jessie Griffith ’19 in the middle and Sarah Dendy ’19 and Nontokozo Mdluli 18′ in the back. Once we get about 5 miles out of campus, everyone in the back is dozing, and Professor Holdener and I listen to NPR and discuss the geology of the landscapes we pass. We stop once along the way to pick up some fossil fuel for the van, laughing as we acknowledge the irony.

It’s safe to say that Professor Holdener’s Biology 253: Paleobiology, fills a specific niche in the biology department. For some of us proud paleobiology students, we’ve been searching for trilobites and Australopithecine remains in our backyards for years, and for others it’s a convenient way to fill their environmental distribution requirement within the molecular biology major. But the field of paleobiology is truly a mosaic of the natural sciences, combining chemistry and geology with physiology, ecology, and evolution; there’s something for everyone’s curiosity. The course is advertised as a lecture, but Professor Holdener wants us to apply our knowledge to concrete examples and a lot of our class time is spent in the geology lab, analyzing and identifying specimens from his extensive personal collections. We are interested not only in what organisms are in the rock but how they were preserved and how they lived, using the scant fossil evidence and paleobiology publications as our guides, particularly the official Ohio fossils manual.

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Professor Holdener searches for fossils at Oakes Quarry, once a Silurian reef bed.

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Meet a Biology Professor: Elizabeth Schultz Reichard

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Visiting Assistant Professor Elizabeth Schultz Reichard is the newest edition to the Kenyon biology department this fall. She joins the faculty after a year of teaching at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio.

For her first semester at Kenyon, the department threw Professor Schultz right into the deep end teaching both the introductory Biology 115 lecture and Biology 109-110, the year-long introductory laboratory. She taught a similar introductory lecture course at her previous job at Ohio Wesleyan University but the range of topics for 115 is a little different; for example, Kenyon biology’s in-depth coverage of photosynthesis and cellular respiration. She says it’s been challenging preparing lectures on topics she hasn’t covered since her own college days and fielding her students’ technical questions: “It’s difficult trying to be the master of everything in biology when there’s so much to know, but the students have been wonderful and inquisitive and very eager to learn, which makes my job easier.”

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