Intensives descriptions

Fall 2020

BIOL 393 Special Topics:Restoration and Management on the Ecological Preserve.    (0.5 unit, ungraded) Working in collaboration with Keri Van Camp, Field Station and Ecological Preserve Manager, we work as a team to implement one or more of the projects outlined in the Conservation Action Plan for the Vassar Ecological Preserve.  Possible projects include management of invasive species to protect vulnerable areas, developing outreach materials on restoration and management opportunities for local landowners, working with Grounds to develop new practices to further support conservation efforts on campus, working to support pollinator networks in the Hudson Valley, and planting native species for restoration and to improve visitor experience, among others. The specific project(s) is chosen by the participants in the Intensive. Meg Ronsheim.

BIOL 393 Special Topics: Environmental Change: More than Climate. (0.5 unit for first six weeks, 1.0 unit for entire fall semester, ungraded) This intensive course will explore other contributors to environmental change, including landuse, water quality, forest health and wildlife species changes. Field trips to local organizations studying these changes will be part of the first 6 weeks of the semester (0.5 credits). The second 6 weeks of the semester will be the development of specific projects associated with the field trips. Lynn Christenson

BIOL 393:  Special Topics in Biology:  Plant Biodiversity – Digitization of the Vassar College Herbarium. (0.5 or 1 unit, ungraded)  Herbaria, collections of pressed and dried plants, are important for documenting plant biodiversity and for understanding how plant biogeography has changed over time.  Advances in digital imaging, data capture, and georeferencing of herbarium specimens have made herbaria especially valuable for studies of the effects of climate change on plant distributions, flowering times, etc., and for pinpointing introductions and tracing the spread of invasive plant species.  Because of this, scientists are making a concerted effort to make the information housed in herbaria available online. The Vassar College Herbarium houses over 15,000 specimens, with some dating to the mid 1800’s and many collected by Vassar faculty and students. In this intensive you will learn how to prepare and care for herbarium specimens, make digital images of them, geo-reference them, and digitize label data.  You will also learn how to apply the international rules for assuring that each plant species has only one accepted scientific name, the science behind plant classification, and why the correct name and classification for a species can change. Yu will conduct a curation project on a specific set of specimens within our herbarium, researching the person(s) who collected those collections and why those collections were made.  Relevant prior course work, e.g. BIOL 208, BIOL 241, ENST 124 is desirable but not required. Special permission. Mark Schlessman.    

Students interested in working with faculty on research projects do so through Biol 298, 395, and/or 303. Faculty accepting students for these intensives are listed below along with descriptions of the kinds of research in faculty labs. Students should discuss with the faculty member which intensive to pursue. Additional descriptions of faculty research are available on faculty websites.

BIOL 298 Intensive: Independent Work (0.5 or 1 unit, ungraded):Execution and analysis of a field, laboratory, or library study. The project, arranged with an individual instructor, is expected to have a substantial paper as its final product. The department. See individual faculty information for descriptions of their research programs.

BIOL 303 Intensive: Senior Research (1 unit, graded). Critical analysis, usually through observation or experimentation, of a specific research problem in biology. A student electing this course must first gain, by submission of a written research proposal, the support of a member of the biology faculty with whom to work out details of a research protocol. The formal research proposal, a final paper, and presentation of results are required parts of the course. A second faculty member participates both in the planning of the research and in final evaluation.The department. See individual faculty information for descriptions of their research programs.

BIOL 395 Faculty Mentored Research (0.5 or 1 unit, ungraded). Faculty Mentored Research experiences enable a small group of students to work with faculty on research projects. Students may be engaged in individual research projects or work in teams under the guidance and direction of the faculty member. These may involve fieldwork, lab work, literature reviews, data collection, data analysis, research design, etc. and will vary depending on the discipline and area of research. The department. See individual faculty information for descriptions of their research programs.

The following faculty can take students for Biol 298, 395, or 303:

Aitken (3-4 students, but occasionally more) My lab is focused on understanding the molecular mechanics of translation initiation, the process of assembling the ribosome on a messenger RNA molecule coding for a protein needed by the cell. Depending on their specific project, students learn and employ molecular cloning approaches, in vitro biochemical techniques, next-generation sequencing workflows, and bioinformatic tools.  Also can take on BIOC 377 or 399 students.

Ayeni (3 students) Research projects on changes in gut microbiota contents in response to some dietary changes in human and whole genomic analysis of some beneficial bacterial strains.

Cooper (2 students). My research focuses on the epidemiology of cardiovascular disease. Students have the opportunity to work with large clinical datasets as well as data acquired from publicly-available sources. Ongoing work focuses on vascular hemodynamics, target organ damage, and cognitive dysfunction. In addition to ongoing projects, students are encouraged to formulate and pursue their own projects.

Czesak (2 students) Laboratory research projects study the influence of microbiota presence or absence on locomotory and mating behaviors in a beetle species.. Research is co-mentored by Dr. David Esteban.

Duncan (2-3 students max) Research will focus on the underlying mechanisms regulating steroid induced Neuroprotection following TBI in an avian model. All research students will be required to undergo animal use training 

Esteban (2-4 students) Laboratory and bioinformatics projects on the structure and function of the gut microbiome in disease with a focus on ME/CFS. Additional student projects on the effects of the gut microbiome on host behavior are available in collaboration with Dr. Czeask or Dr. Bergstrom.  Also can take on BIOC 377 or 399 students.

Gall ( 3-4 students in the fall, possibly more in spring) There will be opportunities to work on one of two main research areas in my lab: (1) investigating hearing in Northern saw-whet owls using neurophysiology and bioacoustic techniques and (2) a field-based project investigating the effect of anthropogenic disturbance on communication in black-capped chickadees. Students with an interest in neuroscience, animal behavior, or sensory ecology may be particularly interested in our research projects. Students interested in a 303 will typically complete a semester of 395 prior to their 303.

Pater Research in my lab focuses on photosynthesis, including natural variations within species and stress responses. Current projects in my lab are investigating salt and drought stress responses in varieties of wild or domesticated tomatoes. 

Proudfoot (8-10 students) Avian Ecology: Field Studies. The course is part of a continuing study designed to assess patterns of migration and ecology of Northern saw-whet owls.  Field components include introduction to mist netting, bird banding, estimating-quantifying avian morphological characteristics, creating slide smears for microscopy, tissue sampling for DNA analysis, and data entry.  Laboratory components may include preliminary identification of avian malaria parasites and other haemosporidia.  Studies are conducted at night.  Each student is required to commit one night (~ 8 hrs) per week to field studies. Prerequisites: Completion of Vassar College’s IACUC Animal Care Seminar & certification of zoonoses training  offered online through the University of Minnesota’s Center for Public Education and Outreach.

Ronsheim (max. 2 students) My research focuses on the ecology and management of invasive vines on the Ecological Preserve, including a collaborative project with Dr. Hughey on the role of soil pathogens in plant population dynamics.

Straus Laboratory research projects (3 – 4 students) include visualization of early phagocytosis and proteolysis by fluorescence and confocal microscopy, proteomics and bioinformatic analysis of proteolytic enzymes.  Literature based research project on “alternative” medications (up to 5 students). (303 prerequisite of 298 or 395 in my lab, or similar experience).  Also can take on BIOC 377 or 399 students.

Touchon (3-4 students, but occasionally more) Research in my lab generally focuses on the development of amphibian eggs and larvae when under the threat of predators or pathogens. In 2020-2021 I will be consider students to conduct research 1) with my lab colony of tropical treefrogs and their tadpoles and 2) on the VFEP examining an aquatic pathogen that infects the eggs of wood frogs during the spring.


Spring 2021 

BIOL 298 Intensive: Independent Work (0.5 or 1 unit, ungraded)

*NOTE: Many spots for BIOL 303, 395 or 298 in the spring will be filled by students continuing from the fall. Expect fewer new openings for these intensives in the spring.

BIOL 303 Intensive: Senior Research (1 unit, graded)

*NOTE: Many spots for BIOL 303, 395 or 298 in the spring will be filled by students continuing from the fall. Expect fewer new openings for these intensives in the spring.

BIOL 395 Faculty Mentored Research (0.5 or 1 unit, ungraded)

*NOTE: Many spots for BIOL 303, 395 or 298 in the spring will be filled by students continuing from the fall. Expect fewer new openings for these intensives in the spring.

Biol 298/395/303: Schwarz (Spring only, up to 6 students) Research will focus on cellular and genomic level impacts of environmental change in key species that serve as the foundation for marine ecosystems. Students may elect to focus on questions related to the underlying physiology and cell biology of coral symbiosis, reproductive biology of cnidarians, or physiological responses of diatoms to environmental change. 

BIOL/STS 393: Biology in the Community: Public Health. Students partner with staff at the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral & Community Health (or another local public health organization) to identify a current public health issue, design and execute an intervention, and assess its effectiveness. Supplemental readings are required in order to provide a framework to successfully engage with the community and complete the work. In addition, weekly group meetings encourage students to formulate and refine goals and to actively monitor the proposed initiative to help the Department or organization realize its vision. Leroy Cooper

BIOL 393 Special Topics: Design & Creation of 3D Biological Models (1.0 unit, ungraded) In this intensive, students will work independently or in small groups to conceptualize, design, and execute a three dimensional model of biological significance. Projects may include representations of data, molecules or other biological phenomena, and final projects may involve creation of visual models, 3D printed models or other representations. Limit of 8 students. Nancy Pokrywka.

BIOL 393/BIOC 377. Special Topics in Biology: The Microbiology and Biochemistry of Beer-Making. (0.5 or 1 unit, ungraded). This intensive will explore the process of making beer from a microbiological and biochemical perspective. In addition, we will partner with a local brewery—Plan Bee Brewery—to characterize the microbial diversity of and biochemical pathways in their brewing process. At the end of the course, students will have an opportunity to visit the brewery and present their results to the owners. A large portion of the course will focus on introducing you to contemporary microbiological, molecular, bioinformatic, and biochemical approaches used to study microorganisms. Special permission. Myra Hughey and Jennifer Kennell.

BIOL 393 Special Topics: Advanced Biostatistics. The goal of this course is to teach students how to analyze common types of data collected in the life sciences. Students learn the statistical programming language R and gain skills in 1) basic coding, 2) understanding various data structures, 3) data manipulation and 4) plotting data. Students learn specific statistical techniques including linear models (ANOVA, regression, etc.), generalized linear models, and mixed-effects models. Justin Touchon.

BIOL/FFS 294b: Le labo: The Culture and Language of the French and Francophone Labs (0.5 units). This half-unit intensive will meet several times over the course of the semester to prepare students wishing to enroll in a course in the sciences while on a Francophone program abroad.  Students will learn to navigate Francophone laboratory setting and cultures while reading scientific articles in the French language and work on building technical vocabulary in a field of their choice.  Texts studied will depend on student interest, but may include readings from any of the disciplines in the natural sciences and mathematics. Students will also learn to write scientific material in the target language.  Independent work between course meetings will be emphasized. Offered in conjunction with the department of Biology. Tom Parker (FFS) Colin Echeverría Aiken (Biology).Prerequisite: French 210 or equivalent recommended; can be taken simultaneously with 210.