It’s a cold day in Buffalo, typical for this industrial city, which is dusted with a fine coat of snow. Traversing the numerous buildings and animal habitats at the Buffalo Zoo, but sporting warm and cheerful smiles, are Ashley Hager and Megan Hilsdorf, junior biochemistry majors at Keuka College.
Both put in 8-hour-a-day, 6-day work weeks for three weeks in January to conduct 140-hour, Field Period internships at the zoo. While Hager spent most of her time in the Reptile House, working in the Hellbendar (salamander) acquatics lab, Hilsdorf worked with primates, birds and other animals in the M&T Rainforest Falls exhibit. Both were exposed to sections of the zoo the public never sees, such as where specialized meals are prepared for each exhibit, animals receive any needed veterinary care, and babies are are kept until they are old enough to venture out into the display habitats.
Thanks to a relative of Hilsdorf’s who offered use of his Buffalo apartment for three weeks when he wasn’t going to be there, both girls were able to stay in the city and commute to the zoo each day for the internship, which is an annual part of every Keuka student’s graduation requirements.
“They’re so short-staffed, and they told (tell ok) us we’ve been a big help,” said Hager.
Start with a science lab. Add one chemistry professor with self-described “wacky interests.” Introduce a visual and verbal art major once obsessed with rocks, especially the minerals that glow under ultraviolet light. Mix up a variety of chemistry experiments under special lights and have the student capture them on camera. What do you get?
The Art of Chemistry, a year-long discovery in pictures of the beauty and form caused –and sometimes concocted – with a variety of chemical compounds. The art exhibit runs through Sept. 28 in Lightner Gallery inside Lightner Library at Keuka College, where an artist reception will be held from 4:30 – 6 p.m. Thursday, September 20. The gallery is open daily; hours can be found on the main page at: http://lightner.keuka.edu
Student photographer Kat Andonucci, a junior from Chestertown, near the Lake George region, did a year-long independent study under the guidance of Andy Robak, associate professor of chemistry. With Robak casting the vision and directing her in each experiment, Andonucci crafted the composition, often using a tripod, a remote shutter and a long exposure to create the images. For example, one image of Robak pouring a luminol solution into a narrow-mouth beaker required the shutter remain open for 15 seconds or more to showcase the intense blues and greens of the liquid.
“Everything we did had to be something visually appealing,” explained Andonucci, describing how the independent study served as her chemistry class for the year.
“I’ve owned my camera since ninth grade, and as a side hobby, I did landscapes and outdoor pictures,” Andonucci said, explaining how she entered college as a biology major, thinking she would pursue a career in forensic pathology. But a film photography course in her first semester got her thinking her high school hobby might turn out to be more than just something to do on the side. So she switched her major to visual and verbal art.
Enter Robak, who contacted Melissa Newcomb, assistant professor of art, last year in search of a student who could help illustrate experiments that would show “the fun side of chemistry.”
“I’ve always been interested in chemistry as art or science as art. You can see from the pictures that a lot of stuff I work with is really cool,” said Robak, who holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. He rattled off a variety of compounds, from mercury, with its shiny metallic texture that is “really fun to play with,” to flourescein, which turns neon-green when in contact with water, to glycerol, which refracts light in a way that seems to make objects submersed in it disappear. Images of each of those chemicals appear in the exhibit.
“We wanted to treat as a course, the chemistry of things that are neat to look at, to have a clue what they were,” Robak said, pointing out how many science textbooks use photography to illustrate experiments. The two received a $500 grant from Keuka’s Division of Academic Affairs to help cover costs of printing and framing the images.
For her part, Andonucci said she was “excited and nervous” because shooting under such unusual conditions was outside of her comfort zone with natural, outdoor lighting. Indeed, lighting was the biggest challenge as she would sometimes use a window, a lamp, black lights, or would incorporate the light generated from a chemical itself in different images.
A secondary challenge was the blink-and-miss-it nature of some of the experiments, such as a shot of flames from methane gas bubbles leaping upward from the hand of Erik Holmes, a senior visual and verbal art major.
Andonucci had to be sure to take several shots of each experiment, capturing several on camera by conducting experiments several times in a row. For another image, Robak directed her to bring glycerol, a liquid, into contact with purple potassium permanganate, a solid, which bursts into purple flames and smoke without any introduction of heat, he said.
“Kat worked on that one for a long time. She tried about 20 times and probably took 150 photographs of the same thing in order to get it right,” Robak said. It’s a good thing she shot in digital, because she kept filling up the camera’s memory card every time, he added.
“More than anything, I think she had a really good eye for these sorts of things. She takes a great picture, but out of many, many pictures that she got, she was great at picking out the right ones,” Robak said.
After a year of translating her chemistry class into images, Andonucci said she would be willing to work with Robak again on similar projects. She is considering posting her images online to see if she could market them to companies for commercial use.
“There’s so much you can do with forensic photography,” she said, adding that she’s “pretty open to anything [with photography], as long as it’s not taking pictures of people.”
Robak managed to convince Holmes to paint a graffiti mural on a concrete wall last year. The mural illustrated the chemical structure of concrete itself, and Robak said he has ideas for other special projects involving science and other types of art, whether sculpture, painting or more.
“I’ve got too many ideas and not enough artists,” Robak said. “I’m totally looking for more people to rope into these kinds of things.”
Summing up her year-long experiment and the exhibit, Andonucci said “it’s awesome, it’s pretty and it’s cool. I had fun and learned a ton.”
Where can a Keuka degree take you? This is the ninth in a series of snapshot profiles on members of Keuka’s Class of 2012.
Ean Titus of Geneva just completed his master’s degree in literacy (grades 5-12) at Keuka, after graduating in 2011 with a degree in adolescent education with concentrations in biology and special education.
A Field Period internship in the Geneva City School District, with a former teacher, led to landing a job teaching special education and algebra to 9th graders in the newly formed freshman academy in that district. Titus’s former teacher is now a co-worker and Titus is about to start his second year on the job.
“My freshman-year Field Period I was in a biology classroom teaching lessons and labs … seeing if teaching was a career that I wanted to pursue. After that experience, I knew it was the right path for me,” Titus said. “Completing my Field Periods gave me a lot of real-world experience that I plan to continue implementing for the rest of my career.”
Titus plans to begin work on a school administration degree this fall through Niagara University, and said his ultimate goal would be to become a principal or superintendent of schools.
To explore what might be in your future with a Keuka degree, request more information.
Where can a Keuka degree take you? This is the first in a series of snapshot profiles on members of Keuka’s Class of 2012.
Janelle Davidson ’12 graduated summa cum laude with a degree in biology and has been accepted to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., where she will study veterinary medicine this fall. Davidson just received word that a research paper she contributed to with Dr. Bill Brown, assistant professor of biology and environmental science, was accepted for publication in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. Their study analyzed data from two “no-kill” animal shelters, in New York’s Tompkins and Yates counties, as to whether age, sex, size, breed and coat color of a dog influenced how long it stays at the shelter before adoption.
In her senior year, Davidson won a Judith Oliver Brown scholarship for a Field Period internship in Australia, where she explored exotic wildlife at Tarongo Zoo and visited the University of Melbourne’s veterinary school. She also vaulted over her Keuka classmates in field ornithology, winning top prize – a Swiss Army knife – for correctly identifying the highest number (121) of bird species by sight and song during weekly field labs.
According to Davidson, Keuka’s proximity to her hometown of Cortland, N.Y. and the small size of the campus were very appealing, and she was able to take leadership roles in some campus clubs. However, she said that “the personal attention and encouragement is what I value most about my Keuka education. I was able to benefit from professors actually knowing who I was and what my goals were. When I spoke with professors, they always encouraged me to do my best and pointed out opportunities that would help me along the way.”
Like most expectant parents or relatives, the wait for “D-day,” the day of delivery, is a torturous enterprise. But once the little one is safely arrived and nestled down for naps and feedings, the crowing begins.
So it is for the students in Keuka’s ornithology class and Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science, Bill Brown, who have been keeping close watch on several nestboxes Brown placed along the outer perimeter of the campus, near the treeline beyond Davis Hall and the Red Barn Theatre. The nestboxes, which look like simple birdhouses to the untrained eye, are large enough for birds that prefer to live in cavities such as tree trunks to build a nest inside.
It has been a long wait, marred when eight of nine “active” nests of Eastern bluebirds and Black-capped chickadees were destroyed by house wrens and house sparrows, whose habit is to kick out any eggs already laid in a nest in order to take it over and lay eggs of their own. But one chickadee nest escaped the ravages of the migratory menaces, and that nestbox is the ultimate destination for Brown’s class on this, the final day of the outdoor lab for ENV/BIO 331.
Before paying a visit to the home of the new nestlings, the scientific term for baby birds recently hatched, the class stops at one additional box, where a house wren has begun to lay new eggs – three so far – after returning to the area in the last week or so.
Carefully unscrewing one side of the box, Brown reveals the wren’s nest, made primarily of twigs, with soft grasses, bluejay feathers and hair lining the inside. Fishing around with his hand, he pulls out three tiny pink-toned eggs.
Bundled warm in hoodies against the morning chill at Keuka Lake State Park, the students are standing still, listening intently. From the branches of trees nearby come chirps, calls and sing-song melodies, rising over the sound of the waves lapping the shore.
“What do you hear?” asks Bill Brown, assistant professor of biology and environmental science, who holds a Ph.D. and specializes in ornithology, the study of birds. Binoculars hang suspended from the students’ necks, but Brown wants them to listen first.
Pencils poised over palm-size waterproof notepads, the handful of students lower their heads and jot down four-letter codes for different species as they respond with the names: Mourning dove. American robin. Cardinal. Canada goose. Carolina wren. Downy woodpecker. [Eastern] Pheobe. House finch.
This is ENV/BIO 331, Keuka’s ornithology class, where one of Brown’s primary objectives is teaching students to master identification of some 104 different species of birds by sight. Thirty-nine of those species must also be identified by sound. And those are just the birds found here in New York state.
According to Brown, almost 90 percent of “birding” is done by ear; the rest comes from knowing what to expect in a given setting, whether that may be a small cluster of trees near a building, along a road, or deep in a forest fragment. (more…)
An interest in teaching smaller classes in order to foster greater student interaction is part of what brought Ithaca resident Laurel Hester to a new post at Keuka College this fall.
The small-college feel got in the assistant professor of biology’s veins during her own undergraduate studies at Swarthmore College, where she double-majored in biology and history. As a graduate student, Hester discovered she had a love of teaching, especially teaching biology, and as she worked toward her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, she began putting that passion into play. She went on to teach at the University of South Carolina, and later Cornell, where she taught as many as 400 students at a time in large lecture halls.
“The chance to teach smaller classes where I can really get to know the students and teach a wider variety of classes in a more interactive way is really what drew me here,” Hester said.
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of profiles on new, full-time faculty members.
Bill Brown is eager for spring semester and the opportunity to get his biology and ecology students outdoors, to look for salamanders under rocks, go bird-watching, and collect scores of data on “critters” in the wild.
“We’ll get outside every day possible,” said Brown, who specializes in ornithology (birds), but also has training in entomology (insects), general ecology (the environment), bio-statistics and applied statistics. A visiting professor last year, the Penn Yan resident joined the Keuka faculty full-time this year, taking over several environmental courses formerly taught by Tim Sellers, who became an associate vice-president for academic programs last year.
As an undergraduate at Cornell University, Brown worked at the Finger Lakes National Forest identifying birds. Later, he worked as a field tech studying birds literally across the country, before completing master’s and doctoral work on the wood thrush, a migratory forest songbird, at the University of Delaware.
“We put bands on them, tracked who they mated with, what tree species they nested in, how high, etc. It piqued my interest in statistics,” he said.
As such, Brown is eager to offer an ornithology course, which he will teach this coming spring. While students are snowbound indoors, he’ll get them up to speed on taxonomy, the relationships of bird groups, their biology and ecology, and by the time the snow melts, students can get outside to put that knowledge to work.
For Katie Barnhart, the third time was the charm when it came to Field Period, the 140-hour real-world internship every Keuka College student conducts each year.
After working at a hospital for her freshman year Field Period, Barnhart, a member of Keuka’s Class of 2012, discovered she did not want to become a doctor. Between the high pressure environment and cautions from many hospital staffers that doctor’s hours would conflict with any desire to raise a family, “it wasn’t appealing to me,” she said.
For her second Field Period, she went to a forest region of Kenya, Africa, participating in field research on the Colobus monkeys, seeking to learn how deforestation was impacting the animals’ behaviors.
“I realized that field research was great and fun, but I really love the lab setting more,” she said.
So she spent her third Field Period in the research labs of the University of Rochester (U of R) Medical School, working with mitochondrial cells and yeast over the summer between her sophomore and junior years.
“I loved it,” Barnhart said, adding that proper research simply requires extended periods of time, making a summer Field Period, where there is ample time to log those extra hours, a better option than the five weeks of winter break.
This summer, she wanted to repeat the magic with another research lab and was delighted to find an ally in Dr. Carolyn Klinge ’79, professor of biochemistry at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky. (more…)
Keuka College has received a $25,000 grant from the Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation to fund a cell culture laboratory.
According to Professor of Biology Joan Magnusen, the funds will provide equipment to grow and maintain living cells and conduct research on those cells within a carefully controlled lab environment that keeps cells alive. This scientific process is known as “culturing” cells.
The laboratory will benefit all biology majors and provide opportunities for independent research, according to Magnusen.
“In our Microbiology course, students have learned how to culture and study living bacteria cells,” explained Magnusen. “Now, they will also learn how to culture and study cells from humans. Working with living human cells is a key feature of modern biology.”
Previously, several students have completed Field Periods in research laboratories at other institutions and practiced these techniques, but now “all of our biology majors will be able to work with living human cells at Keuka,” explained Magnusen.
“Let’s say we want to know how cancer skin cells are different from normal skin cells,” added Magnusen. “We can buy cultures of both types of cells and grow them under the same conditions and determine how they are alike and different. We can treat cancer cells with different concentrations of a chemical we think will change their rate of growth and determine how they are alike and different. The key is that a cell culture lab will allow us to keep the cells alive and keep other things from growing in the culture medium.”
Magnusen said the new laboratory will help students develop “a more realistic sense of cell biology and learn new techniques and ways of thinking.
“These opportunities are also resume builders,” added Magnusen. “When applying for a job or graduate or professional school in the sciences, applicants should list the laboratory experiences, proficiencies, and research projects they have completed. Being familiar with cell culture can help a student get a placement in a competitive undergraduate research program, get a job as a technician, and be taken more seriously by a graduate program. Professional schools—medicine, veterinary, dental, and pharmacy—are more impressed by a student with research experience than one without.”
The grant from the Dreyfus Foundation will allow the College to purchase:
The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation (Washington, D.C.) has been a longtime benefactor of Keuka College, most recently via grants for the Field Period program ($45,000) and The Campaign to Save Ball Hall ($20,000).
“We are grateful to the Dreyfus Foundation for its continuing support,” said COO/Executive Vice President Carolanne Marquis. “The foundation’s generosity has, and will continue to, enhance the education we provide our students.”