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BIOLOGY_DEPARTMENT

Cyperaceae Workshop

The Cyperaceae plant family includes sedges (Carex spp.), bulrushes (Schoenoplectus spp.), cottongrassses (Eriophorum spp.), spikerushes (Eleocharis spp.), and in Iowa, over 160 species of grass-like, tufted plants with reduced flowers, found primarily in wetlands, but also in prairies, savannas, and woodlands.  While identification of these species can  be difficult, knowledge of diversity within the Cyperaceae family is critical for assessing habitat floristic quality, collecting seeds for restoration projects, and documenting distributions of common and rare plants. Join amateur and professional botanists in learning how to use dichotomous keys in the lab and identify the Cyperaceae in the field! The two-day format of the workshop will provide ample time for interaction with instructors and exposure to many species in a variety of habitats in Central Iowa.

Joining us from near and far, four talented and experienced botanist-educators will be co-leading the Cyperaceae Workshop:

  • Scott Zager, plant ecologist at Wildlands Ecological Services,
  • Tom Rosburg, professor of biology at Drake University,
  • William (Bill) Norris, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Western New Mexico University,
  • Russ Kleinman, associate botanist at Dale A. Zimmerman Herbarium

The Cyperaceae Workshop will take place at the 365-acre  Grinnell College Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA), near Kellogg, in Jasper County. Morning sessions will take place in the Environmental Education Center and focus on (1) learning and identifying characteristics on sample specimens and (2) using dichotomous keys. Afternoon sessions will involve field identification practice on two field trips: one to a privately owned sedge meadow in Mahaska County, and another to Engeldinger Marsh or Hartley Heritage Fen in Jasper County. Participants will be taught how to mount plant specimens to be preserved in the Grinnell College Herbarium and given time time to photograph collections and specimens.

See the Cyperaceae Workshop 2015 brochure (pdf) for more information and registration information.

Sponsored by:

Broadening the Mind

Off-campus study (OCS) is a major part of the Grinnell experience, in part because so many students — nearly 60 percent — spend at least one semester away from campus. That was one of the reasons Florian Perret ’15 chose Grinnell. “I have this wanderlust,” he says. “I wanted to get out of the U.S. to expand my horizons and get out there.”

Exploring the World

“I wanted to go to Japan since I was a kid,” says Perret. He participated in an intensive Japanese language program at Nanzan University in Nagoya where he also took courses in culture and art, Japanese religion, calligraphy, and traditional woodblock printing. "That last one was my favorite class when I was there,” he says. “You get a block of wood and carve out the image; doing those for a semester was cathartic.”

He spent his time outside of class exploring the city and the surrounding area, playing Frisbee, and once climbing Mount Fuji and watching the dawn break from the summit. “My study abroad experience was life-changing,” he says. That’s one of the reasons he’s going back through the Japan Exchange & Teaching Program. He also wants to engage more with the culture. “I’m doing an independent study on the perception and understanding of nature in Japan,” he says. “I want to go back to both see the implications of and further the research I’ve done here.”

Changing Her Perceptions

Emily Stuchiner ’15’s perception of off-campus study changed drastically between her first year and when she participated in the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) program in South Africa. “When I thought of off-campus study, I thought of getting drunk in Europe. I didn’t anticipate how rigorous it would be.” Stuchiner wouldn’t trade her OCS experience for anything. “It was so intense,” she says, “and incredibly rewarding. This is one of the most hardcore ecology programs out there and gave me the opportunity to do so much field research.” The program took her all over South Africa, including the famed Kruger National Park, one of the largest game reserves in Africa. “You’re essentially surrounded by the iconic African megafauna there,” she says.

Finding Her Passion

Before her semester abroad, Stuchiner considered pursuing medical school. But after a summer internship doing cancer research made her “a horrible hypochondriac,” she was thrilled to immerse herself, that fall, in the world of biological field research. Her education extended far beyond mere academics. “That semester [in South Africa] taught me a lot about patience and going with it,” she says. “Because there are times that you’re in the field and it’s hot and things aren’t going right and you just want to stick your head in a termite mound.”

The same lesson applied to the living situation during her semester abroad. “It’s communal living,” she says. “You’re always going to be around the same people and you have to work out your issues.” She says her study abroad experience enhanced her ability to communicate effectively, cohabitate civilly, and not fly off the handle. She ended up as a member of a well-bonded crew that shared a unique OCS experience.

After graduation, Stuchiner will be a naturalist intern at the Walking Mountain Science Center in Vail, Colo. Long-term, she will be applying to graduate school to study plant ecology.

Without their off-campus study experiences, Perret and Stuchiner might not have realized the depths of their passions or attempted to pursue them. “If I had known five years ago where I would be headed this summer,” says Perret, “I’d be ecstatic.”

Florian Perret ’15 is an anthropology major from Katonah, N.Y. and Emily Stuchiner ’15 is a biology major with a concentration in environmental studies from New York, N.Y.

Research Is Integral

When you take science classes at Grinnell, research is part of the learning experience from your very first course.

Biology 150, an introductory course, “gives students an authentic, accurate experience in what it’s like to do research,” says Clark Lindgren, professor of biology and Patricia A. Johnson Professor of Neuroscience.

Students aren’t simply learning the specific steps for conducting research, Lindgren says. They identify the questions they want to address and try to find answers to them the way scientists do. “They design experiments, do experiments, and write it up,” he says.

One sign of student success, Lindgren says, “is when the research project becomes their own. They get committed to finding the answer.” He says that most students get to that point, whether they end up majoring in science or not.

Think Like a Scientist

Mike Fitzpatrick ’16 appreciated the laboratory component of Bio 150. “Doing experiments, finding more information. I liked the questions I could ask and the answers I could get,” he says.

As the bio chem major delves deeper into his science courses, he’s enjoying the lab work. “It’s not so clear cut,” Fitzpatrick says. “There are more subtleties to sink my teeth into.”

In addition to his courses, Fitzpatrick is working on a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) that involves extensive laboratory research. “There are so many thing to think about with experiments,” Fitzpatrick says. “It’s fun to learn from them and move on. I’ve learned from each failed experiment.”

With Lindgren’s guidance, Fitzpatrick is studying lizards’ neuromuscular junctions, specifically glial cells, in order to see how they function. Humans have glial cells too, which is one reason lizards make good model organisms. “Ideally, I want to study glial cells in the human brain,” Fitzpatrick says.

Although he came to Grinnell with the idea of becoming a doctor, conducting research has confirmed for Fitzpatrick that he wants a career in research. He intends to pursue an MD/PhD program. 

“I help students who want to go into science get there,” Lindgren says. He’s studied chemical synapses for several years and won a National Institutes of Health grant in 2014 to continue his work.

“Some students who do independent research projects are still exploring,” Lindgren says. “Some discover that yes, they like research, and some learn that no, they really don’t. I think both are excellent outcomes. The earlier you can discover what your interests and aptitudes are, the better off you are.”

Blend Science with Art

Erica Kwiatkowski ’15 uses images from her research to inspire dance choreographyErica Kwiatkowski ’15 has said yes to research over and over. She plans to pursue an MD/PhD program in the fall. Currently in her last semester at Grinnell, Kwiatkowski is working with Lindgren and Celeste Miller, assistant professor of theatre and dance, on a MAP that’s exploring how science and medicine can inform and inspire dance.

Like Fitzpatrick’s, Kwiatkowski’s research with Lindgren is about neuromuscular junctions — but in mice rather than lizards. Kwiatkowski is researching how their endocannabinoid receptors signal hunger and satiation. She likes this practical question.

“The endocannabinoid system still has places that need explained,” she says. “I’d love to be part of finding an answer.”

At Grinnell, she says, she’s able to be self-directed. “What keeps me interested is that I can ask questions and find answers with my hands, using incredible tools to see and figure out things.”

She’s using images from the neuroscience part of her MAP in the dance part of it. She shows the “visually beautiful” images to a group of fellow Grinnell College dance students. They use the images to generate movement ideas that Erica will then use to create the  choreography.

“With dancing and merging it with science, it’s given me a much better appreciation of how the arts and sciences can come together and create something really important,” Kwiatkowski says.

Mike Fitzpatrick ’16 is a biological chemistry major from Lakewood, Ill. Erica Kwiatkowski ’15, also a biological chemistry major, is from Weston, Mass.

Biology Facilities

The Department of Biology is located in the Robert N. Noyce '49 Science Center. Phase One of a major renovation and new construction for the biology, chemistry and physics departments was completed in 1997. Phase Two, a substantial renovation and partial construction, was completed in 2007. This phase renovated the Science Library, greenhouse facilities and created additional research laboratories, in addition to meeting other biology requests.