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October 2004

Bioterrorism: The New Threat of Infectious Diseases

One Woman at a Time

Tracking the Development of the Brain

Understanding the Psychology of Place in Community Health

Venturing Far Afield for Summer Research

S&T Briefs

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Al Dorof, Editor
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info@brynmawr.edu

© 2004

 
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Bryn Mawr College
A newsletter on research, teaching, management, policy making and leadership in Science and Technology

S&T BRIEFS

Building on Our Strengths

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute awarded Bryn Mawr College a four-year, $1.2 million grant to launch an extensive initiative to invigorate science instruction on campus and beyond. New programs supported by the HHMI grant will build on Bryn Mawr's extraordinary record of success in preparing women for graduate education and careers in science.

Peter Brodfuehrer
Peter Brodfuehrer

The HHMI grant will enable the College to create new summer internships for science undergraduates, train a postdoctoral fellow in teaching and research, support faculty development in advanced computational techniques, develop new biology courses, establish a new minor in computational methods, and expand the highly successful Summer Institutes outreach program for local precollege teachers. Professor of Biology Peter Brodfuehrer will serve as HHMI program director and will oversee all program activities. Paul Grobstein, professor of biology, director of the Center for Science in Society, and past HHMI program director, will continue to organize the Summer Institutes.

The general goals of the projects funded by the grant are to recruit and retain science majors, to expose science students to broadly applicable computational methods and increase their understanding of the connections within and among traditional disciplines, and to encourage undergraduates to pursue a wide range of careers requiring sophistication in science. For example, the College will offer a new Science in Society Undergraduate Fellowship program that will encourage interest in science through the development of novel interdisciplinary majors that may pair natural sciences with disciplines in the social sciences or humanities.

Paul Grobstein
Paul Grobstein

The HHMI grant will also support two important curricular initiatives at Bryn Mawr. A new minor in computational methods in the sciences will involve the development of five new courses: Bioinformatics, Ecological Modeling, Emergent Systems, Visualization: Art and Science and Geographic Information Systems and Science. A revision of the undergraduate biology curriculum is designed to reflect the connections among subdisciplines of biology and levels of biological organization. Three new yearlong courses will give biology majors the time and flexibility needed to integrate concepts and underlying principles across subdisciplines and to allow lecture, discussion and laboratory components to be more effectively united. These initiatives will include renovation of facilities and equipment.

The grant will support and expand Bryn Mawr's Summer Institutes, a 14-year-old program that introduces new ideas and approaches to local teachers. The College will continue to offer two two-week institutes annually, but participation will no longer be limited to Philadelphia public school teachers; teachers from all around the region will be invited to participate. The College will also introduce two new outreach programs. “Scientists on Demand” will offer a Web site and a directory of science faculty and students who will assist science teachers in their classrooms throughout the academic year. “Fridays in the Lab” will bring high-school science classes to the Bryn Mawr campus on four Fridays during the academic year for interactive laboratory demonstrations and short experiments.

Infrastructure of Leaders

Elizabeth McCormack  
Elizabeth McCormack
 
Associate Professor of Physics Elizabeth McCormack is one of four principal investigators for a three-year, $1.3 million national effort to develop an infrastructure of leaders to support long-lasting improvements in science education. The project, which is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, is part of Phase Four of Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL), a nationwide network devoted to reforming college-level education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The new project, titled “Project Kaleidoscope: Investing in Faculty Leaders,” aims to build on PKAL’s past successes and to broaden its influence, asking educators who are active in reform in their own academic departments to become advocates for reform across their campuses, within their disciplinary communities and in regional and national networks. Phase Four will also focus on making change sustainable by nurturing leaders who will take responsibility for maintaining PKAL’s gains and adapting science education to changing learning environments.

New Capabilities for Interdisciplinary Teaching

Bryn Mawr has received a $484,438 grant from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation to purchase equipment that will enhance undergraduate-curriculum development and advance research opportunities in the interdisciplinary fields of environmental studies, neural and behavioral sciences, and materials and surface analysis.

The new instrumentation will be shared among the biology, chemistry, geology, physics and psychology departments and used to investigate scientific problems from multiple disciplinary perspectives. It will also extend Bryn Mawr’s capacity to introduce students to sophisticated research techniques, methodologies and processes of inquiry that address broadly relevant questions grounded in real-world problems and at the forefront of research.

To strengthen the concentration in environmental studies, the biology, chemistry and geology departments will add laboratory and field components on water and soil quality, animal and plant ecology, mapping and topographic studies, and weather and climate monitoring to existing courses.

The biology and psychology departments will develop and team-teach a new upper-level laboratory course affiliated with the concentration in neural and behavioral sciences. From Channels to Behavior will introduce students to the principles, research approaches and methodologies of cellular and behavioral neuroscience.

In the area of surface and materials analysis, the chemistry, geology and physics departments will incorporate scanning-probe microscopy, a powerful technique used to study the surfaces of materials, into existing laboratory courses. In doing so, undergraduates will gain exposure to research-grade instrumentation and a state-of-the-art analytical tool integral to the rapidly growing field of nanotechnology research.

Get a Cue

Margaret Hollyday
Margaret Hollyday

Professor of Biology Margaret Hollyday received a $207,040 Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) from the National Institutes of Health for her research on neurogenesis in the chick embryo spinal cord. Hollyday's project aims to determine why cells in the ventral, or bottom, side of the central neural tube of a chick embryo develop into motor neurons before cells in the alar, or top, half of the tube develop into interneurons, which relay messages from sensory cells to motor neurons.

During embryonic development, Hollyday explains, cells proliferate before they differentiate into specialized cells that perform different functions. In the neural tube of a chick embryo (what will eventually become a spinal cord), ventral cells stop proliferating and begin to differentiate while cells in the alar half continue to proliferate.

“How do they know that this is what they are supposed to do? What’s the cue?” Hollyday asks. Researchers have identified two areas within the spinal cord that signal cells to stop proliferating and begin differentiation. Hollyday and her research team are investigating the possibility that cells in structures outside the neural tube also send chemical signals that either promote or inhibit proliferation of the neural cells.

Enriching the Context

Professor of Chemistry Michelle Francl was awarded a $57,415 grant from the National Science Foundation to support her curriculum-development project “P-Chem with a Purpose: Developing Context-Rich Materials for Physical Chemistry Lectures.”

Michelle Francl  
Michelle Francl
 

“P-Chem is the course students love to hate,” Francl explains. “It involves a lot of mathematics, and it seems very arcane. Part of the problem with teaching P-Chem is that the problems and examples in textbooks are so outmoded. I recently looked at my father’s P-Chem textbooks and found a lot of the same problems and approaches that are used today.”

Francl’s project will seek to develop materials for a new curricular approach that teaches important concepts by introducing students to recent research in physical chemistry and the scientists who do it. She is developing a series of study modules that present recently published research papers along with problem sets and critical reading exercises related to the research. The teaching materials will also present biographical sketches of important figures in the field.

“There’s a fair amount of evidence that this approach helps students who are traditionally underrepresented in sciences to stick it out,” says Francl.

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