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Learning about Learning

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Change often happens without notice. One day, I’m just a student, taking classes, thinking about ideas — and suddenly the school year is nearly over, and it hits me just how much I’ve learned, grown, and changed in the last nine months. One of the courses that influenced me the most was Education 101. It challenged my ideas about what knowledge is and how it’s acquired, and revitalized my desire to work in public education.

One of my favorite lessons from EDU 101 was learning how to think about my own learning process. Our professor asked us to observe our own learning in one of our other classes for several weeks (recording everything in a journal, of course). We were also asked to interview the professor of that class, and write a few short essays about our findings in the meantime. I chose my introductory English class, Literary Analysis.

As a prospective English major, I was enthusiastic about certain aspects of literary analysis and hypocritically frustrated by other elements, skilled at writing but not-so-skilled at critical reading, and alternately irritated and inspired by my professor’s ideas and teaching style — I made a good case study for myself.

At first, I simply took notes on what the professor did and what happened in class. Thinking about my own learning, in the moment, was more difficult than it sounded. What was I supposed to notice, anyway? If the teacher was talking, I was probably learning something, right? Eventually, I learned to notice not only what was going on in class, but also my immediate responses to class events. I also learned to evaluate the situation as a whole.

Suddenly, my education took on a whole new level of personal meaning. Whether I was comparing stories to hurricanes in English, figuring out how vectors work in physics, or relating McDonaldization to my own life in sociology, I knew how to think not just about the subject at hand, but also how to think about how I was thinking about it.

This is exciting — why? Is it the material itself, or the way it’s being presented? Usually, I am most excited by ideas that are directly relevant to my experiences; does this fall into that category? How can I make sure I stay excited about this subject? Or, I just don’t get this. Am I thinking about it the wrong way? Maybe a more visual approach would work better? Or something more mathematical? How do I usually understand math? Would that approach work here, too?

One of the ideals I hold dear is that education should be personal. EDU 101 changed my worldview of learning forever by providing me with a clear sense of self-perception and agency in my education.

Sara Woolery '11 is an English major getting an Education certification from Malvern, Iowa.

How to Fall in Love in 30 Days

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


All it took was 30 days for me to be swept off my feet. Grinnell took my breath away from day one, and as I walked dazedly around campus, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. From the beaming smiles of everyone I passed, to the crisp and refreshingly unpolluted Iowa air, to my awesome Nepali roommate, everything finally seemed comfortable.

However, it wasn’t until mid-September that I realized just how at home I felt at Grinnell, and just how much I loved this place. I felt completely refreshed by being around these amazing Grinnellians, engaging in their random bouts of fun, just because. Here is a brief look at nine signs I was falling in love with Grinnell College:

  1. One rainy night, my friend Sarah ran into our room and commanded us to put on our dirtiest clothes, most of which need to be laundered, that instant. We agreed, needing a study break, and proceeded downstairs and outside, where it was pouring. As we walked down the loggia, we passed more people and invited them to join us. The result? A magnificent mud fight with 15 girls in the freezing cold rain, followed by loud and off-key rain-related songs — I’m amazed we didn’t get pneumonia, but I’m not going to forget that night anytime soon.
  2. I learned how to climb a tree at 10 o’clock at night. A few friends and I were passing a giant tree, and I mentioned how I’d never actually climbed a tree. It took me 15 and I clung to it for another half an hour. Finally, I moved up a branch or two, still very freaked out. The next day I tried climbing a smaller tree on my own. Satisfied with the height I had reached and with the bright sunshine, I took my books and sat in a tree and studied there for an hour and a half.
  3. I made my very first s’more over a bonfire. That night, I also learned also how to burn eight marshmallows in a row.
  4. I went stargazing from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m., lying on Mac Field talking about politics, Eastern philosophy, and the merits and demerits of dining hall food. We fell asleep in a random lounge that night, too tired to walk up three floors to our room.
  5. One night when the observatory was open, I saw Saturn. Also that night, my friends and I rolled down a grassy hill in the dark. Got bruised. Did it again the night Barack Obama got elected.
  6. I organized a midweek Mulan sing-along study break on a Wednesday afternoon, inviting everyone I saw that day — my efforts resulted in plenty of loud singing to “Be A Man.”
  7. My favorite floor-bonding study break: finger-painting. Lots of paint, chips and dip, rolls of white paper, and a wide variety of artistic abilities. A wide variety.
  8. Staying up until 4:30 a.m. the night before my sociology midsem, highly caffeinated and eating cup noodles, pondering the meaning of life with my roommate.
  9. One evening, I came out of a rehearsal of my a capella group, only to stumble upon DAG practice. DAG, the medieval foam sword– fighting club, is a well-recognized campus organization and pretty hard to miss. Until then, I’d always been a little too intimidated to try out the whole jabbing-people-with-swords thing, but that night, stumbling upon this practice outside Bucksbaum, my friends and I ignored the teeming piles of homework that awaited us and played DAG for an hour in the dark.

Grinnell is where everything makes sense, where your strangest dreams come to fruition, and where you discover that others share your secret love for mixing hummus with chocolate sauce. My fellow Grinnellians led me to fall in love with this haven of liberal arts splendor. This kind of unconditional love is one for the record books.

Sunanda Vaidheesh '12 is undeclared and from Mumbai, India.

J.B. Grinnell

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

J.B. Grinnell is a towering figure in the history of Grinnell, Iowa. Josiah Bushnell Grinnell -- better known as J.B. -- was born in Vermont in 1821. He grew up a farm boy, working in the fields in the spring and summer and attending school only in the winter. He learned quickly and began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse by the age of 16. After spending a few years teaching, he left Vermont to attend Oneida Institute in New York, a radical institution that opposed slavery. It was there that Grinnell became a staunch abolitionist. He would remain vocally opposed to slavery for his whole life -- even founding the town of Grinnell based on this tenet. He once hosted abolitionist John Brown in Grinnell as Brown was bringing several freed slaves along the Underground Railroad to Canada. After leaving Oneida, Grinnell cycled through many jobs. He studied with a physician and considered a medical career, but then decided to head into the Wisconsin Territory to discover and survey new tracts of land. He went west with the American Tract Society, a religious organization, and while working with this group, he decided to go into the ministry. Returning east, Grinnell settled in Washington, D.C., after being ordained in New York. He started the First Congregationalist Church there and gave the first anti-slavery sermon the city had ever heard. Most people in Washington were strong supporters of slavery at the time, and Grinnell was forced to leave the city because of his opinions. Although the story may be apocryphal, it is said that Grinnell heeded the famous advice to "Go west young man," delivered to him by politician and friend Horace Greeley. At any rate, Grinnell did set out again for uncharted territory. He enlisted the help of Homer Hamlin, a minister; Henry Hamilton, a surveyor; and Dr. Thomas Holyoke to find a location for a new settlement. They looked at different locations in the Midwest, including Minnesota and Missouri, but decided on the divide between the Iowa and Skunk rivers, where the east/west and north/south Rock Island railways were set to cross. On this site, the city of Grinnell was founded. J.B. Grinnell and his three companions commenced building the settlement in 1854 with three temporary log cabins. They began to sell land for $1.62 an acre, and the town quickly grew. The one stipulation on all the deeds sold was that alcohol could never be sold or consumed on any of the properties, as Grinnell strongly opposed the use of alcohol. This rule was upheld for many years, until a court overruled it. With the founding of the town, Grinnell also founded "Grinnell University," although it was a university only in name. He created a board of trustees and listed all the members of town as professors. No buildings were ever built, nor classes held, but after J.B. Grinnell persuaded Iowa College to move to Grinnell from Davenport, Iowa, all of Grinnell University was signed over to the Trustees of Iowa College. Grinnell went on to serve in Congress, where his abolitionist stance often put his life in danger. After winning re-election twice, he lost a third bid and moved back to Grinnell. He remained there until his death in 1891 from bronchitis and asthma after a trip through Texas into Mexico.

Nitric Oxide Mediates the Effect of DF2 on EPSP Amplitude

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


View this article as PDF: Morley, Shriver, and Zhang


This experiment looked at the role of nitric oxide in the mechanism by which the peptide DF2 increases neurotransmitter release at the crayfish neuromuscular junction. We hypothesized that if DF2 increases neurotransmitter release through a pathway involving nitric oxide as a retrograde signal, then when L-NAME, an inhibitor of nitric oxide synthesis, was applied, DF2 will not increase neurotransmitter release. To test this we exposed crayfish superficial dorsal extensor muscles to DF2, which was amplified with IBMX. We then submerged the preparation into saline solution that contained DF2, IBMX, and L-NAME. Neurotransmitter release was measured by the amplitude of EPSP traces recorded from the postsynaptic muscle cells via intracellular recording. Our data shows an increase in neurotransmitter release after exposure to DF2 and IBMX, as well as a decrease in neurotransmitter release after the addition of L-NAME, a trend that supports our hypothesis. Further testing is needed to draw conclusions about our hypothesis.


DRNFLRFamide, AspArgAsnPheLeuArgPhe-NH2, (DF2), is a peptide that enhances synaptic transmission at neuromuscular junctions. However, the mechanism by which DF2 accomplishes this is still unclear (Friedrich et al. 1998; Badhwar et al 2006). Badhwar et al (2006) suggest that protein kinase A (PKA) and protein kinase G (PKG) are involved in the pathway by which DF2 increases EPSP amplitude. Friedrich et al. (1998) claim that protein kinase C (PKC) is needed in this process. Calcium-calmodulin dependent protein kinases, such as CaMKII, also have apparent roles in mediating the effects of DF2 in the presynaptic terminal (Noronha and Mercier 1995). According to Badhwar et al. (2006), it is plausible that nitric oxide is required in the DF2 signaling pathway as a retrograde signal because of its small molecular size, high membrane permeability, and the presence of membrane-bound guanylyl cyclase in crustaceans. Badhwar et al. (2006) hypothesized that nitric oxide increases cGMP levels, which is involved in the DF2 pathway, via soluble guanylyl cyclase. Our study explores the role of nitric oxide as a possible retrograde messenger in the mechanism by which DF2 increases neurotransmitter release.

The antagonist L-NAME was utilized in this study because of its ability to block nitric oxide production. L-NAME blocks nitric oxide production because the structure is similar to that of the amino acid L-Arginine. This similarity in structure allows L-NAME to act like L-Arginine and bind with nitric oxide synthase, the nitric oxide production enzyme, to stop nitric oxide production. We hypothesized that if DF2 increases neurotransmitter release through a pathway involving nitric oxide as a retrograde signal, then when L-NAME is applied to inhibit nitric oxide synthesis, there will be a decrease in neurotransmitter release.

To test this hypothesis we exposed crayfish superficial dorsal extensor muscles to L-NAME to block nitric oxide production. We expected DF2 to increase the neurotransmitter release, and that L-NAME would cause a decrease in neurotransmitter release. Our results show that DF2, when enhanced with IBMX, causes an increase in neurotransmitter release. Our results also suggest that exposure to L-NAME prevents this increase in neurotransmitter release.


Crayfish Specimen

We used crayfish (Procambarus clarkii), which were stored at 20 °C, and put on ice before the experiment. We cut the tail off a crayfish and then cut along the sides of the tail, cutting as close to the ventral part of the tail as possible. The cephalothorax and surrounding tissues and muscle cells were removed so that only the exoskeleton of the dorsal surface and the superficial extensor muscles along the dorsal surface remained. The tail was placed into the dissection dish, pinned, and covered with 25mL of crayfish saline solution.

Saline Solutions

Ringer solutions were prepared with three different chemicals by dilution with a low calcium crayfish ringer solution (Table 1). This control solution had a pH of 7.4 and consisted of 5.4mM KCl, 200.7mM NaCl, 12.3mM MgCl2 • 6H2O, 5mM Sodium Hepes Buffer and 5mM CaCl2 • 2H2O. We used a lower calcium solution to inhibit cells from triggering action potentials.

Table 1. Composition of Saline Solutions

Saline DF2 (mM) IBMX (mM) L-NAME (mM)
Control  0  0  0
 A  2.0  -  -
 B  2.0  .01  -
 C  2.0  .01  0.


The first preparation was exposed to the control saline followed by saline A. The second preparation was exposed to the control, then saline B, followed by saline C. Each preparation was submerged into 25mL of saline solution, which was replaced with new solution every 15-30 minutes. Tests involving DF2 were completed without changing the saline solution until a new chemical was added because we had such a small amount of DF2 to work with. These tests were completed as quickly as possible to protect against fatigue and cell death.


We used two kinds of electrodes, suction electrodes for nerve stimulation and microelectrodes for recording. Both electrodes were fitted to manipulators and their respective reference electrodes were submerged in the saline solution. The suction electrode was put into an electrode holder that allowed saline to be drawn through the holder by a syringe. Recording electrodes were pulled from glass capillary tubes with 1.2mm diameter, filled with 3M KCl, and inserted into an electrode holder, which was also filled with 3M KCl. Recording electrodes had resistances ranging from 4MΩ to more than 10MΩ.

Nerve Stimulation and Recording

The suction electrode was attached to a stimulator, which stimulated the pre-synaptic nerve that was sucked into the electrode. The nerve was stimulated with single pulses at a frequency of 0.5Hz, and at the lowest voltage possible to measure an EPSP.

Using a microscope and micromanipulator, we inserted the microelectrode into a muscle cell in the same segment and on the same side as the nerve that was being stimulated. The recording microelectrode recorded the signals in the post-synaptic muscle cells. The signals passed through an amplifier and the membrane potentials and EPSP traces were viewed using the Scope program.


We tested the involvement of nitric oxide in the DF2 signaling pathway, through which DF2 increases EPSP amplitude. First, we exposed one preparation to DF2 to see if DF2 affects EPSP amplitude. We then applied DF2 and IBMX, followed by L-NAME to another preparation to see if blocking nitric oxide production alters the effect of DF2 on EPSP amplitude.

We compared the EPSP amplitudes recorded before and after we applied DF2. Our data shows that DF2 does not increase EPSP amplitude when applied alone. DF2 decreased the EPSP amplitude by 28.4% (Figure 1).

Figure 1, bar graph

Figure 1. Average EPSP Amplitude Before and After Exposure to DF2

The average control amplitude was 8.4 mV (n=4) and the average DF2amplitude was 6.4mV (n=3). After exposure to DF2, the amplitude dropped 24% (p>.05, student t-Test). Error bars indiciate standard error of 2.72 for the contrl and 0.66 for DF2.

We compared the change in EPSP amplitude before and after we applied both DF2 and IBMX on another crayfish preparation. The average EPSP amplitude for the control was 5.61 mV, and the average EPSP amplitude for DF2 and IBMX was 6.58 mV. The average EPSP amplitude increased 17.3%, which demonstrates the effect of DF2 and IBMX on EPSP amplitude. We then compared the EPSP amplitudes before and after L-NAME was added. Our results showed that the average EPSP amplitude after the sample was exposed to L-NAME was 3.22 mV, 51% lower than the average amplitude for DF2 and IBMX (Figure 2). The average amplitude for L-NAME was also 42.5% lower than the average for the control (Figure 2).

Figure 2, bar graph

Figure 2. Average EPSP Amplitudes.

The average EPSP amplitude for DF2 and IBMX trials (n=5) is higher than the control average (n=4, p>.05), and the L-NAME trials (n=5) have a lower average than both DF2 and control trials (p>.05 for both comparisons). Error bars show standard errors, control: 3.06, DF2 and IBMX: 2.21, and L-NAME: 1.51.


In our experiment, we observed that DF2 did not increase neurotransmitter release when applied alone. Although we do not have much data to support this result, these results are contrary to the results presented by Badhwar et al. (2006). This data could suggest a flaw in our assumptions that DF2 should increase EPSP amplitude per Badhwar et al (2006), but more data is needed for such a conclusion to be drawn from these results.

As suggested by Badhwar et al (2006), when a significant increase in EPSP amplitude was not observed after adding DF2, we added IBMX, which should have enhanced the effects of DF2. When DF2 and IBMX were both added to the preparation the EPSP amplitude increased, which indicates an increase in neurotransmitter release. Although we do not have a significant amount of data to draw conclusions, this result is consistent with the findings of Badhwar et al (2006).

Our data shows that the EPSP decreases when L-NAME is added to a preparation that contains DF2. This preliminary data suggests that nitric oxide is involved in the pathway by which DF2 increases neurotransmitter release. Further study is needed to support or refute this trend. This data would support our hypothesis that nitric oxide is involved in the mechanism by which DF2 increases EPSP, as the necessary nitric oxide should be unavailable because L-NAME blocks the synthesis (Newman et al, 2007).

The average EPSP amplitude for L-NAME was also lower than the average control amplitude. This could be due to a few reasons. One possibility is that inhibiting nitric oxide production with L-NAME may affected mechanisms other than the DF2 mechanism. Our design did not allow for targeted application of chemicals, so it is possible that the application of L-NAME affected more than just the effect of DF2 and IBMX. The other very plausible option is that the amplitudes were generally lower because the cells were fatigued and beginning to die. Although saline solutions were replaced at relatively regular intervals, it is possible after about one and a half hours, the crayfish muscle cells were beginning to die.

Future research on this topic would include more trials using L-NAME and DF2 to see if more data supports our hypothesis the way our preliminary data suggests. If our hypothesis is supported, the next step would be to test the role of nitric oxide as a retrograde signal using carboxy-PTIO. This would also support the suggestion that nitric oxide is involved in a retrograde signaling pathway that Badwar et al. (2006) present in their paper. More tests should be done to measure nitric oxide levels, and to test if the DF2 receptors are located on the post-synaptic membrane using fluorescent markers.


We thank Clark Lindgren, our professor, Sue Kolbe and Abby Griffith, our lab assistants, and Adhiti Kannan, our mentor, for their assistance with this project. We would also like to thank our willing crayfish friends, Joe, Bob, Sally, and Snuffleupagus.


Badhwar, A., Weston, A., Murray, J., & Mercier, A. J. (2006). A role for cyclic nucleotide monophosphates in synaptic modulation by a crayfish neuropeptide. Peptides, 27, 1281-90.

Friedrich, R., Molnar, G. F., Schiebe, M., & Mercier, A. J. (1998). Protein Kinase C Is Required for Long-Lasting Synaptic Enhancement by the Neuropeptide DRNFLRFamide in Crayfish. The Journal of Neurophysiology, 79(2), 1127-1131.

Newman, Z., Malik, P., Wu, T., Ochoa, C., Watsa, N., & Lindgren, C. (2007). Endocannabinoids mediate muscarine-induced synaptic depression at the vertebrate neuromuscular junction. European Journal of Neuroscience, 25, 1619-30.

Noronha, K.F. and Mercier, A.J. (1995). A role for calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase in mediating synaptic modulation by a neuropeptide. Brain Research, 673 (1), 70.

Skerrett, M., Peaire, A., Quigley, P., Mercier, A.J. (1994). Physiological Effects of Two FMRFamide-Related Peptides from the CrayfishProcambarus Clarkii. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 198, 109–116.

Mary's Ghost

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


It’s around 2 a.m. The library has already closed, and you have four more pages to go on a paper about sentimentality in the fiction of Mary Wollstonecraft. So you set up your laptop and a veritable tower of books in

the living room of Mears Cottage on the south side of campus. The Victorian-style, English and history house has a comfortable feeling, with glowing incandescent lights and couches for when four o’clock rolls around and sleep becomes nothing short of inevitable.

“I really should have started this essay sooner,” you think to yourself, right before the elevator doors in the hallway open of their own accord.

And there’s no one inside.

Of course there’s no one inside. There’s no one in the building. Only the emergency lights had been on when you pulled open the door, slouched down the hall, and plopped your backpack down in the living room. Of course there’s no one in the building. Some wires must have tripped.

You go back to your paper.

A noise makes you stop.

Even a building this old shouldn’t creak that loud in the wind.

Named after Mary Grinnell Mears, Grinnell class of 1881 and daughter of J.B. Grinnell, Mears Cottage housed the College’s female students back when it was originally built in 1888. Within these walls, the women lived and learned and walked — yes, those are definitely footsteps above you. Quiet creaks, but definitely footsteps. The glass doors to the academic support office begin rattling and then the elevator door opens again.


“If I were Mary Mears,” you decide, staring determinedly at your computer screen and trying hard not to look into the bright compact-fluorescent emptiness glaring from that spot in the hallway as the doors ding closed, “and if an elevator were installed in my cottage years after I died, I’d probably let my ghost play with it, too.” At least, late at night after all the professors went home.

Somehow that thought doesn’t help you focus on your paper. You flip idly through the Mary Wollstonecraft biography on the top of your book pile, but that’s not the Mary you’re thinking about. J.B. Grinnell is buried in the town’s cemetery, but what about his daughter? You don’t know anything about how his daughter died.

Is that the sound of fabric swishing? Like, petticoat fabric?

Maybe you should go upstairs, just walk around, you know, to check it out. As a study break. Stretch your legs. See if anyone’s studying in that classroom above you. Maybe they turned the lights off to take a quick nap.

The creaking and the swishing falls into an oppressive silence as you climb the stairs, clicking your pen nervously to create some sort of sound. Click (silence) click-click (silence) click (silence). As you pass the elevator shaft on the second floor landing, it dings open once again. You could have touched the ceiling, you jumped so high. It takes you a while to retrieve your pen from where it flew behind the chair outside of Professor Lobban-Viravong’s office.

The door to the classroom is locked, and when you knock, no one answers. Even when you pound on the door and yell something about this not being funny. But let’s admit, it kind of is. As you descend the steps once more, your hands are shaking, probably from the frappachinos you drank around 11 p.m. Definitely not from anything else.

When you return to the living room, all of your books have been spread out around your chair, the covers systematically opened to the title page. Someone’s underlined the same word on each of the white pages: Mary … Mary … Mary …

Your computer’s crashed — the blue screen of death.

Molly Rideout '10 is an English major and Gender and Women's Studies concentrator from Madison, Wisconsin.

Nyden Publications

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)




Spinoza's Radical Cartesian Mind (Continuum, 2007) 

This book examines a political movement in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic called "Radical Cartesianism." This movement applies ideas from the New Philosophy (particular those of Hobbes and Descartes) to the political and theological debates of the time. On the basis of self-interest and a Cartesian understanding of the passions, Radical Cartesianism argues for religious, intellectual, and economic freedom, toleration and democracy. 
Spinoza was closely associated with members of the Radical Cartesian movement and his political philosophy presents the first philosophical systematization of its central ideas. This book reconstructs the development of Spinoza's thinking about the human mind, error, truth, and falsity and explains how this development allowed Spinoza to provide the philosophical foundations for Radical Cartesian political theory. I argue that Spinoza's rejection of Cartesian epistemology involves much more than the metaphysical problem of dualism--it involves, ironically, Spinoza's attempt to make coherent a political theory bearing Descartes' name. 

"Radical Cartesianin Politics: Van Velthuysen, De la Court, and Spinoza,"Studia Spinozana, Volume 15, 2006 (journal dated 1999).

"Sankara, Spinoza, and Santaraksita," Studies on Santaraksita, eds. Marie Friquegnon and Philippe Turenne, Global Scholarly Publications, forthcoming.

Bibliographies on Pierre Bayle, Giordano Bruno, Chuang-tzu, Hsun-tzu, Mencius, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, and Isaac Newton, World Philosophy, rev. ed., Salem Press, 2000.

"Salvation in a Naturalized World: The Role of the Will and Intellect in the Philosophies of Nietzsche and Spinoza," NASS Monograph # 7, ed. Steven Barbone, North American Spinoza Society, 1999.

Germination rate, length, and weight differences in native and non-native Ratibida pinnata and Sorghastrum nutans seeds

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


Germination rate, length, and weight differences in native and non-native Ratibida pinnata and Sorghastrum nutans seeds
D. Achio, E. Evans, and N. Repreza
Biology Department, Grinnell College, Grinnell IA 50112, USA
An important aspect of tallgrass prairie reconstructions is the origin of the seeds being planted. Our experiment questions whether or not there is a difference in the lengths, weights, and rates of germination in native and non-native Ratibida pinnata (Gray-headed Coneflower) and Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass) seeds. We collected samples from the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA) near Kellogg, Iowa, which we then measured, weighed, and incubated to test their rates of germination. The results showed that the total weight and length of the non-native S. nutans was significantly greater, and the total weight of the non-native R. pinnata was significantly higher, but the mean length and germination rates of the latter were not significant. The significant variations in seed length and total seed weight support conservationists’ claims that only local seeds should be used in tallgrass prairie reconstruction.
Restoration of tallgrass prairies has existed for almost a hundred years since remnant prairies became more fragmented due to agricultural conversion. Not until the 1970’s has prairie reconstruction become an important environmental concern (Mutel 2007). In recent years, biologists have begun to plant non-local seeds in attempts to increase diversity and plant performance within reconstructed prairies. Wimp et al. (2005) argue that a greater genetic diversity of a dominant plant is beneficial for the entire ecosystem. However, Gustafson (2004) states that genetic differences and ecological performance among local and non-local seeds are more of a concern than diversity. In many prairie remnants, there can already be a great amount of genetic diversity (Gustafson, et al 2004). Therefore, the aim of prairie reconstructions should be the success of the populations, not the genetic diversity of the prairie as a whole (Mutel 2007).
Seed origin not only affects the genetic composition of the population; it also affects the success of the population as a whole. Sanders and McGraw (2005) found that plant populations consisting of seeds from only one source are, on average, more successful, growing larger rhizomes and having a greater leaf area. This result illustrates how prairie reconstructions that use seeds from multiple sources, including non-local sources, could be hindering plants’ net primary production (NPP).
We chose to study two plants species that are present in both prairies: Ratibida pinnata (Gray-headed Coneflower), a forb plant, which is commonly found in dry prairies, and Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass) which also commonly grows in dry prairies, open savan-nahs, pastures and fields. R. pinnata and S. nutans’ growing seasons allowed us to collect their seeds because they extend into fall (Ladd and Oberle 2005). Also, S. nutans is a C4 grass commonly found in tallgrass prairies, making our study more relevant to tallgrass prairie reconstructions (Damhoureyeh and Hartnett 2002). R. pinnata has a short germination period which allowed for the completion of our study (Smith 1980).
The S. nutans seed and R. pinnata seedhead samples were collected from the reconstructed Lab Prairie (formerly agricultural land) and the Remnant Prairie at the Conard Environmental Research Center (CERA) located outside of Kellogg, Iowa. The seeds and seedheads from these two prairie sites experienced the same environmental disturbances such as spring fires that occur every three years. The reconstructed prairie used non-local seeds because there were no cultivars nearby in Iowa at the time of the reconstruction in 1987. The grass seeds, for example, were imported from Nebraska (Brown 2009).
In our study, we tried to determine whether the origins of a S. nutans seed or a R. pinnata seedhead has an effect on the seeds’ weight, length, or rate of germination and if these variables indicate significant differences between local and non-local seeds and seedheads. Variances in seeds’ weight, length, or rate of germination would indicate that seeds from one origin are genetically stronger than the other (Wulff 1986, Stanton 1984). We hypothesize that there will be differences in the lengths, total weight, and the percentage rates of germination of native and non-native seeds and seedheads, because tallgrass prairie seeds’ genotypes have evolved over time to specifically suit different environments (Kurtz 2001).
On the 8th and 10th of October, 2009 we took random samples of R. pinnata seedheads and S. nutans seeds from the reconstructed and the remnant prairies in CERA. Then, we measured and weighed the seeds and seedheads of all samples. Finally, we measured the samples’ rates of germination.
On each prairie we created five systematically assigned transects and randomly selected sampling points along these transects. Seeds and seedheads were collected from the plant closest to the sampling point. Twenty-six R. pinnata seedhead samples from the remnant prairie were collected using the haphazard sampling method due to the scarcity of the plant while twenty-six R. pinnata seedhead samples from the recon-structed prairie were collected using random sampling. S. nutans seeds were collected from twenty sample plants using random sampling on both remnant and reconstructed prairies.
From the twenty collected S. nutans samples, we took 10 seeds at random, digitally photographed them, and measured the seeds’ lengths in millimeters using the program ImageJ. All of the seeds and seedheads were weighed separately by mother plant using an electronic balance. We also recorded the plant from which each seed originated in order to understand the effects of its genotype.
Finally, ten seeds were randomly selected from each R. pinnata and S. nutans sample and placed in a Petri dish lined with filter paper. Next, 1.5 ml of distilled water was added to each Petri dish. The Petri dishes were then sealed with Parafilm, and placed in a drawer to be incubated at approximately 23.5˚C. The samples were observed each day in order to record their percen-tage rate of germination per mother plant.
Before germinating, many seeds require cold stratification, the process of simulating natural conditions that a seed must endure prior to germination (Nelson n.d.). Cold stratification is not required for the seeds of the R. pinnata to grow; however, S. nutans seeds do require cold stratification (Smith and Smith 1980).
T-tests were used to determine whether the differences between seeds of different origins were significant. We calculated the difference between mean seed lengths of native and non-native seeds and seedheads, as well as the difference between mean seed weight of native and non-native seeds. We also calculated the difference between the percentages of R. pinnata seeds germinated per Petri dish. However, we did not perform a T-test on S. nutans germination percentages because none of the seeds germinated.
Non-native S. nutans seeds have 11.53% larger mean lengths than native seeds (Figure 1, T = 11.76, P [image:47837|||height=400]
Figure 1. Mean length of S. nutans seeds. (+/-1 S.E., n= 40). *** P[image:47838|||height=400]
Figure 2. Mean total weight of S. nutans seeds. (+/-1 S.E., n= 40). *** PThe difference of the mean lengths of R. pinnata seedheads is not significant (Figure 3, T = -1.42, P = .159). The mean weight of non-native seedheads was greater (71.03%) than that of native seedheads (Figure 4, T = -6.94, P [image:47839|||height=400]
Figure 3. Mean length of R. pinnata seedheads. (+/-1 S.E., n= 52). (t = 1.42, p= 0.159).
Figure 4. Mean weight of R. pinnata seedheads. (+/-1 S.E., n= 52). *** PFor the first two days of incubation, none of the R. pinnata seeds had germinated. The total germination percentage for non-native R. pinnata (8.46% germinated) seeds was double the germi¬nation percentage for native seeds (4.23% ger¬minated). Although the percentage of germinated non-native seeds per Petri dish was 33.5% greater than the percentage of native germinated seeds per Petri dish, this difference was not significant (T = 1.37, P = 0.195). No data is available on the germination rates of S. nutans seeds, because none of the seeds germinated within the 10 day period of our study.
Figure 5. Percentage of R. pinnata seeds germinated per plant. (+/-1 S.E., n= 52). (t = 1.37, p= 0.195).
Table 1. Percentage of the total R. pinnata seeds germinated.




We hypothesized that there would be differences in the lengths, total weights, and rates of germination between the native and non-native seeds of R. pinnata and S. nutans. The mean weights of both non-native R. pinnata seedheads and S. nutans seeds were significantly greater than that of native ones (Fig. 2, Fig. 4). Only the difference in the lengths of S. nutans seeds proved to be significant, while the lengths of R. pinnata seedheads did not (Fig. 1, Fig. 3). This evidence points to a variation in the physical characteristics of both species of seeds. However, our data regarding the germination rates of native and non-native seeds was not statistically significant.
Non-native R. pinnata and S. nutans seed-heads and seeds have greater mean weights than native seeds and seedheads. This data implies that the R. pinnata and S. nutans' seeds either weigh more individually or that the plants themselves produce more seeds. Previous research shows that heavier seeds have less concentrated energy than lighter seeds, yet they have equal amounts of nitrogen (Gross and Kromer 1986). Therefore, both lighter and heavier seeds have equal potential for germination. Our results show that seed weights have little effect on germination because both native and non-native seeds germinated. There may have been some variability in our results, because seedheads from each
R. pinnata plant were weighed together to find the total weight of each plant’s seeds. Thus, some samples had the potential for having more seedheads than other samples.
Our data on non-native S. nutans seeds showed greater mean lengths, reflecting a difference between native and non-native seeds. Such difference may be due to the origin of non-native seeds, some genetic variation between the native and non-native seeds, or a healthier mother plant (Gross and Kromer 1986). Tallgrass prairie seeds of the same species can differ genetically within prairie fragments and between distant locations (Gustafson, et al 2004). Research has shown that seed size is positively correlated with the performance of seedlings (Baker, et. al 1994). Our data shows that the non-native seeds of S. nutans were significantly longer, which could give them an advantage over the native seeds in the long term as they grow, but not necessarily in germination.
The total percentage of germinated non-native seeds doubles that of the germinated native seeds. However, the results of our seed germination experiment were not significant which may have been caused by an abundance of seeds placed in each experimental Petri dish. The overcrowding of seeds may have hindered germination by limiting the water resources necessary for each seed. When the germination results are compared per experimental units (Petri dishes) our results are still statistically inconclusive. Had our results been significant, they could have been the outcome of a genetic difference of non-native seeds or a healthier mother plant (Gross and Kromer 1986). The trend seen in our results regarding native and non-native R. pinnata seeds’ germination led us to believe that these two types of seeds have adapted to two different environments. A previous study demonstrated local adaptation in prairie plants, especially to soil conditions (Schultz, et al. 2001).
Our results in terms of seed dimension and weight, in the case of S. nutans, support the claims of certain ecological conservationists that native and non-native seeds differ significantly. Thus, only one type of seed should be used in the reconstruction of tallgrass prairies if the goal is to preserve a specific species variety and have a healthy population. If instead the goal is to preserve an entire ecosystem then the seeds can have multiple origins and benefit other populations (Sanders and McGraw 2005). Some non-native seeds may compete with native seeds and become the dominant genotype because of their increased performance (Baker, et. al 1994). Future studies regarding the use of native versus non-native seeds for prairie reconstruction or restoration may look at how competition between local and non-local plants affects each species in prairies. Also, the growth rate of these species when planted in on one another’s environment could be measured, along with their biomass, height etc. Since we germinated our seeds under identical conditions, future studies could account for the effects of soil nutrients, weather conditions, and local predators on plants’ growth.
We would like to thank Professor Brown, Sue Kolbe, Matthew Nielsen, and David Montgomery for helping us successfully carry out our study. We would also like to thank Larissa and Erik Mottl for their advice and guidance in the field and in the greenhouse. J. Scheibel, I. Luby, and J. Kreznar provided helpful feedback on an earlier draft.
Literature Cited
Baker, K., A.J. Richards, and M. Tremayne. 1994. Fitness constraints on flower number, seed number and seed size in the dimorphic species Primula farinosa L. and Armeria maritima (miller) willd. New phytologist 128: 563-570.
Brown, Jonathan, PhD. Professor of Biology. Personal Communication. September 16th, 2009.
Damhoureyeh, S.A. and D.C. Hartnett. 2002. Variation in grazing tolerance among three tallgrass prairie plant species. American journal of botany 89: 1634-1643.
Gross, K.L. and M.L. Kromer. 1986. Seed weight effects on growth and reproduction in oenothera biennis L. Bulletin of the torrey botanical club 113: 252-258.
Gustafson, D.J., D.J. Gibson, and D.L. Nickrent. 2004. Conservation genetics of two co-dominant grass species in an endangered grassland ecosystem. Journal of applied ecology 41: 389-397.
Kurtz, C. Nature Conservancy of Iowa. 2001. A practical guide to prairie reconstruction. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA.
Ladd, D.M., Oberle, F., and Nature Conservancy. 1995. Tallgrass prairie wildflowers: A falcon field guide. Falcon Press, Helena, Mont.
Mutel, Cornelia F. 2007. The emerald horizon: the history of nature in Iowa. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, Iowa.
Nelson, S. n.d. Seed stratification. http://gardenline.usask.ca/misc/seed_str.html. December 4, 2009.
Sanders, S. and J.B. McGraw. 2005. Population differentiation of a threatened plant: Variation in response to local environment and implications for restoration. Journal of the torrey botanical society 132: 561-572.
Schultz, P.A., R.M. Miller, J.D. Jastrow, C.V. Rivetta, and J.D. Bever. 2001. Evidence of a mycorrhizal mechanism for the adaptation of andropogon gerardii (Poaceae) to high- and low-nutrient prairies. American journal of botany 88: 1650-1656.
Smith, J.R. Smith, B.S. 1980. The prairie garden: 70 native plants you can grow in town or country. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wis.
Wimp, G.M., G.D. Martinsen, K.D. Floate, R.K. Bangert, and T.G. Whitham. 2005. Plant genetic determinants of arthropod community structure and diversity. Evolution 59: 61-69.


Ali Brown 4

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Here we have another late report. Apparently Africa is still in my blood and I am still doing things slowly. I am back in the States. So is my luggage. So is Lauren. The latter two almost didn't make it. Just as my luggage was lost when I arrived in Lesotho last January, it was also lost when I left Lesotho this December. Just as Lauren realized her money belt was missing when we arrived at the Joburg airport last January, she realized her ticket was missing at the Joburg airport the day we were leaving this December. But in the end we and our luggage arrived back in the States. Now I am sitting here in a coffee shop with wireless internet trying to think about Africa while strong Wisconsin accents echo in my ears. Because the accents are so thick I have trouble understanding what the people are saying - it's almost like I'm still in Africa.

People keep asking me, "SO, how was Africa?" I haven't figured out how to answer that question in a clever and witty two to three sentences yet. I usually wait a moment or two, tilt my head upward toward the ceiling, put on my most profound-looking face and say, "It was good." At this point the other party decides that I have lost my command of the English language (which is not entirely untrue) and leaves me looking like an idiot studying the ceiling. At least they save me from saying, "Will you borrow me your pen for a moment?"

I've never lived in a place I had to leave knowing that I may never see it and its people again. Sure we all graduate from Grinnell and are sad to leave, but we know that we will be dragged back at some point. We know Grinnellians will continue to infiltrate our lives. But, I don't know about St. Rodrigue. Unless I can trick someone else into paying for the plane ticket, the chances are pretty slim that I will see Lesotho again in the near future.

Of all the things that I had to leave, I think it was hardest to leave the students - these students I have gotten to know, in whom I have invested my time, who have amazed me, made me want to cry, made me laugh - they are going to go on with their lives next year and I won't be there to see their struggles and successes. I don't know how teachers do it year after year, coming to know and care about a group of students only to say good-bye to them a year later. And there are routines and skills that took me a year to build, to develop and now I won't be there to sustain them. There are students who I know have a chance at making it to university and I want to be there to continue to encourage them. There are students who I know will never make it to university, but who I have watched gain confidence in themselves, become proud of things they have accomplished. I want to be there to continue to emphasize the value of their successes no matter how seemingly small. I suppose this is what it means to be a teacher.

Another question I have been asked, "So, was it worth it?" Another long pause and a contemplative look and I answer quite brilliantly, "Yes." Little scenes flash before my eyes. One example is the way that the students would sometimes alter their standard greeting when I walked into the classroom. Their usual greeting goes like this:

Class: Good morning 'M'e Aliiiii. (said with a drawn out raised intonation at the end of Ali)
Me: Good morning B2's.
Class: How are you, 'M'e Aliiiii?
Me: I am just fine. How are you?
Class: We are very well, thank you, 'M'e Aliiii.
Me: Good.
Class: (say little prayer)
Me: And you may be seated.
Class: Thank you 'M'e Aliiiii.

Now if on that day, let's say the students have found out that I have a visitor from "America" and I have not brought this visitor to meet them then the greeting will go as follows:

Class: Good morning 'M'e Aliiiii.
Me: Good morning B2's.
Class: How are you, 'M'e Aliiiii?
Me: I am just fine. How are you?
Class: We are NOT WELL!
Me: Good-What?!
Class: (say little prayer)
Me: And you may be seated.
Class: Thank you, 'M'e Aliiiii.
Me: Now what is the problem?

The class erupts into chaos as 45 students try to tell me how I have wronged them.

Now one particular day, let's say on Wednesday November 3, 2004, I went into class with my heart heavy (like most democrats, I would assume), and when they asked, "How are you, 'M'e Aliiiii?" I was the one to say, "I am NOT WELL!" It amused me to no end to see their startled little faces. Following my little outburst, we talked about the politics in the United States briefly and then they began to tell me about the politics of Lesotho. Virtually everyone had an opinion on the matter- a very strong opinion. I put an end to the discussion before any physical violence occurred. After school a few of them came up to me and told me some more about their political system. I loved to see them demonstrate knowledge about a topic in which they felt invested.

During my year at St. Rodrigue there were times I questioned whether the students were improving at all, whether my presence was helping or hindering them. A friend who has just finished her first semester teaching was telling me that she can't see any improvement in her students yet. I told her that I thought half a year was too soon to judge. So future Lesotho fellows take note, I know I saw small changes in the students by the end of the first term, but I couldn't have said that I thought their English was better, that they understood me better. But they were learning. By November I was coming home every couple days impressed with something my students had done that I know they couldn't have done a year before. My students put together a newspaper (full of errors but still readable). My maths class demonstrated through a competition that they knew how to communicate with each other, to work in a group. I found myself spending 3-4 minutes on directions as opposed to my 15-20 in the beginning of the year. I consider all of this progress when I remember that I started my year unable to communicate what I meant by, "What is your name? What should I call you?"

I find myself just wanting to write about various students' accomplishments. Some of these accomplishments might seem small, but the small accomplishments need to be celebrated. At some point while in Lesotho I realized that I had to adjust my expectations, expectations of my students as well as myself. No matter how much I would like to believe that all of these girls could go to University if they wanted to, the truth is that most of them won't. But that does not mean that they can't feel successful, or that they are failures. These students that I got to know are amazing. Some of them have gone through so much to be at school. Some of them are living with no parents. But every single one of them is able to take care of herself in a way that most American girls do not. The girls living at the hostel live on their own, cooking and cleaning for themselves every day. It is not just school that defines them. They demonstrate their abilities in many ways.

I am so glad to have had this opportunity to teach in Lesotho. While not always perfect, it was a wonderful experience. I think it is an exciting time at St. Rodrigue right now. In the last few years the students results on their tests have improved, the volleyball team won the national championship, and they now have a computer at the convent! Sister Armelina, the principal, is always looking for ways to improve the school. She is progressive and always open to new ideas. I found her to be an excellent resource, comfort, and partner in the effort to educate our students to the best of our abilities. People are often asking how they can help the school so I just wanted to mention some of the things that Sister Armelina is trying to work on for the school. She is trying to get funding for stoves for the girls' hostel, a school vehicle, teachers' housing, and a computer for the school. One of the things that she wants to try to change is the way the library works. She is looking for help on how to reorganize it and how to use it to run extra-help sessions during the day, almost as classes. I also think that the school would benefit tremendously from a school newspaper or newsletter and Sister Armelina is enthusiastic about the idea. If I was able to stay longer that is one thing I would want to continue to work on.

To those of you who have read my reports during the year, who have sent me mail and packages, who have answered my phone calls, and sent me good thoughts across the Atlantic, thank you. To those of you who are applying or going to St. Rodrigue, good luck and enjoy it!

Day in the Life

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

If I haven't been awakened by the roosters already, my alarm gets me up about 6:30. I used to get up closer to 6:00 and go jogging with Ali twice a week, but I've gotten lazy and its getting to cold for me to jog. If it was sunny the day before, there's the chance of warm water for a bath. Sometimes when it hasn't gotten too cold the night before, we both get a bath. Otherwise, we've fallen into a more or less alternating day schedule on hygiene.

Then I get to making breakfast. Usually I grate a couple of potatoes and make myself hashbrowns topped with an egg, overeasy, and pour a cup of tea or coffee. Once in a while I'll break out oatmeal or make porridge with maize-meal.

After breakfast I rifle through the stack of clothes that seems to perpetually reside on the second bed in my room and find something I've only worn a couple of times. (When laundry has to be done by hand, it gets done less often.) I slip on the $3.00 watch I bought on the street in Maseru into my pocket. (I quickly discovered why it cost me $3.00-the band fell off the second day I had it and it gains about 5 minutes every week or two.)

At about 7:30 or 7:45 I make the three minute trek to school and get my desk in the staff room in order before assembly at 8:00. Assembly is the daily gathering of all the students and teachers in the main hall for the recitation of the rosary, the national anthem (in three part harmony) a Bible reading, a Sesotho hymn, and the pledge to the cross which bears a striking resemblance to the pledge of allegiance. Following assembly we all file out, the students head to their respective classrooms and we go back to the staff room until 8:25 when the first period begins. (I'll include my time table at the end). We break for tea at 10:25 and lunch at noon. The students either bring a lunch or make their own at the hostel. We teachers all go home for lunch.

At the beginning of any given class that I teach, the students all rise as soon as I enter the room. I greet the class, they greet me in unison. Then they launch into a brief prayer at the end of which I say they may be seated and class begins. Also, throughout class, whenever a student speaks, she stands at her desk.

Classes end at 3:00 pm except on Fridays, and from 3-3:30 the students have free time. At 3:30 the students go to an hour long study hall (except on Wednesdays and Fridays-Wednesdays alternate between clubs and sports during that time and Fridays everyone is done at 2:20 so people can catch the bus at 3:00 to Maseru.)

On Mondays, many of the Form B's come over to our house after study hall for silent reading. Ali and I have started a reading club where students can earn stickers, candy, and prizes for reading books from the library. Tuesday after study hall is the Form A's turn. On sports Wednesdays I spend from 3:30 to 5 coaching our own rag-tag, but very enthusiastic, soccer team. Not only am I on the esteemed sports committee, I'm the head soccer coach. It remains to be seen whether we will play a real game this year. On Thursdays from 4-5 I tutor the son of one of the nurses in physics. His name is Liteboho, pronounced dee-tay-bo-hoe, who completed high school last year but would like to try for a higher score on the Cambridge exam in November. And on Fridays Ali and I make a ritual hike to Mpontane, a village about a 25 minute walk away to buy two large, cold Castle lagers and a couple liters of Coke.

Typically we spend our evenings working on assignments cooking dinner, and reading or playing cribbage. Periodically we'll visit another teacher or have some of them over for dinner and on Mondays as soon as the generator comes on, Violet the daughter of our neighbor and colleague Me Libe (dee-bay) comes over for our weekly Sesotho lesson. Violet is a student in Form D, but she's 23 with a little girl of 4 years, named Zanele (zah-nell). She finished school, or dropped out, 6 years ago and got married. Now she's back to try to improve her Cambridge marks so she can go to college. Like her mother, she's a lot of fun and her daughter, who often visits, is quite the cute little girl.

On the weekends that we stay home, we often play kickball or basketball with the other teachers and students. The teachers really like kickball. Or we tend our small garden plot where we are attempting to grow pumpkin, beans, peas, cabbage, garlic, radishes, and carrots. The soil's not so good and we don't weed enough, but we've had successes here and there. Before all the peaches disappeared with the onset of autumn, we would spend a lot of time peeling peaches so we could can and dry them. We're now the proud owners of 6 jars of canned peaches and innumerable dried peach slices.

The generator usually kicks off about 9:30 and we are left in darkness save the little light we get from our candles and paraffin lamp, so I'm often in bed before 10:00. And if I'm lucky, the cows and dogs and ducks and chickens that roam all over will choose to make their nightly racket somewhere besides right outside my window and I'll get an unheard of in my college days 9 hours of sleep.

So I'm constantly staying busy, but enjoying the simplicity of things here. Its nice to look at the night sky when there are no lights for 50 miles and its nice to buy milk from a neighbor when its still warm from the cow.

Well this has turned more into a week in the life of Ian Besse, so I'll stop here. Hope this gives you a better idea of when life is like for me these days. Much love from Lesotho.

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
7:45         E Physics
8:25 B3 English E Physics B3 Lit A1 English B3 Lit
9:05 B3 Lit B3 English B2 English   B2 English
9:45 B2 Lit B3 English A1 English B3 English  
10:40 A1 English     B2 Lit  
11:20 A1 English A1 English      
1:00     B3 English E Physics A1 English
1:40   B2 English B3 English E Physics B2 Lit
2:20 B2 English B2 English   B2 English Early Out