Northern Biologist Newsletter 2011

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NIU Department of Biological Sciences Annual Newsletter Fall 2011

Text of Northern Biologist Newsletter 2011

  • NIU Department of Biological Sciences

    Letter from the Chair | Professor Barrie Bode


    The Northern Biologist15th Annual Newsletter Department of Biological Sciences Northern Illinios University Fall 2011

    Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. -John F. Kennedy

    Greetings. It is hard to believe that I am beginning my third year in the depart-ment, as it seems that only a few months ago I arrived at NIU. Change is indeed the only constant, and over the last two years we have seen several colleagues retire. The economy, state budget woes, political saber

    rattling over state pension reform and faculty who are retirement-eligi-ble have converged to catalyze the accelerated rate of departure. Upon completion of 2011, five more faculty members will have retired: Neil Polans, Peter Meserve, Michael Hudspeth, Rick Hahin and David Lotshaw. Our greenhouse gardener Chuck Faivre is also retiring after 30 years at NIU. We are grateful to our colleagues for their years of service to Biological Sciences and contribution to our programs. We now must look to the future and recruit new colleagues who will succeed those who served before them.

    I am happy to report, however, that in addition to departures we have had some new arrivals for academic year 2011-2012. Most notably, we were able to recruit Dr. Sherine Elsawa from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN as our new immunobiologist. There is a brief article on Sherine and her research interests in this newsletter, which can succinct-ly be described as tumor immunology and the role of inflammatory cytokines in lymphoma. We also have a new ecologist in the depart-ment: Dr. Nick Barber joined us from the University of Massachusetts. He is a trophic ecologist who studies the complex dynamics between plants, herbivorous insects, predators and climate change, as well as subterranean mycorrhizal-root symbiosis. Sherine and Nick are the first in a new wave of faculty in Biological Sciences that will contribute to the growth of our programs over the next several years. This year we also welcome Dr. Sheela Vemu as an instructor in our general educa-tion and introductory biology courses. Sheela has substantial teaching experience and comes to us from the Chicago suburbs after a success-ful career as a bench scientist. We are also pleased to welcome Katie Heffernan, who joins us as a permanent human anatomical sciences laboratory instructor. Katie is a recent graduate of our MS program in anatomical science, and provides vital support to Moira Jenkins, Dan Olson and Chris Hubbard who run the gross anatomy-based courses in the department. Finally, we have been authorized to search for three new faculty members this year in the areas of bioinformatics, microbial ecology and conservation biology. We look forward to working with all of our new colleagues for many years.

    Adapting to change and looking toward the future has also involved curricular restructuring and building a technological infrastructure for our students the 21st century. In curriculum, the challenge has been to maintain our service-teaching mission while looking for ways to expand offerings for our majors in the face of declining faculty numbers over the past decade. To address this challenge, we have integrated the long-

    standing three-semester introductory biology course sequence at NIU into a two-semester experience (in line with national norms) starting in 2012, giving students the opportunity to take additional upper divi-sion courses in their area of interest. Also, we are currently developing a 300-level molecular biology course with a laboratory, as the current course is 400-level with no laboratory. Given the central role of molecu-lar biology in 21st century biological science we felt it was important to provide our students with a strong experiential foundation in this area. We are also planning to resurrect a cell biology laboratory for the existing course (BIOS 300); upon implementation, strong laboratory-based foundational courses in cell biology, genetics, molecular biology microbiology and ecology will serve as the cornerstone of our programs in biomedical science, molecular biotechnology, microbiology and conservation/ecology.

    In building a technological infrastructure for our students, this year we implemented a digital signage system comprised of flat-screen monitors strategically placed around Montgomery Hall and run from a central server maintained by our web and IT staff Barbara Ball and Donna Prain. This system is designed to convey important information to students regarding courses, research opportunities, events, depart-mental programs and other content vital to their life at NIU like the Huskie Bus Schedule. Designed to replace the tired bulletin boards around the department, the digital signage initiative was made possible by a grant I received from the college when I came here two years ago for aesthetic improvements to Montgomery Hall. Not only have the monitors aesthetically improved our buildings (1967), but serve a vital functional role and send the message that we are indeed adapting to the 21st century. Other technological achievement this year led by Richard Becker and Donna Prain was the completion of the wireless internet access project in Montgomery Hall, allowing students, faculty and staff to access the web via Wi-Fi.

    This year, President Peters announced his Vision 2020 initiative to make NIU the most student-centered public research university in the Midwest. At the core of that mission is a redirected focus on engaged learning. Biology has been at the forefront of engaged learning for years through student research experience and laboratories, so this is good news for us. While we are indeed changing, improving and adapt-ing to the 21st century, our faculty and staff continue to contribute to our mission in teaching, research and service, and along the way have garnered remarkable achievements, which are highlighted in some of the articles in the newsletter. Space and word limits (thanks, Barb!) preclude me from naming them here, so I will simply allow you to page through and see for yourself.

    I will close by thanking all of our generous alumni for their support. You are true partners with us in our educational and research-training missions, and many of the improvements and achievements I mention here would be greatly diminished without your support. Please visit our website ( for updates on events, re-search and news items in Biological Sciences. Thank you for reading.

  • NIU Department of Biological Sciences

    from Northern Today, April 5, 2011

    At times, Richard Kings research methods can be painstaking and outright painful.Known as the godfather of the Lake Erie Water Snake, King has captured and studied thousands of the bad-tempered, foul-smelling serpents. As a measure of their gratitude, the very creatures that King has championed frequently sink

    their tiny sharp teeth into him.A 21-year veteran professor in NIUsDepartment of Biologi-cal Sciences, King is an expert on reptiles and amphibians, and more broadly on evolution, ecology and conservation biology. The Lake Erie Water Snake, found only in a cluster of islands in western Lake Erie, is among his greatest triumphs.King first identified snake-population declines in the 1980s, and his work eventually led to the snake being listed as a threatened species. He and his students then helped develop and implement a recovery plan.The effort was so successful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser-vicehonored King and his Ph.D. student, Kristin Stanford, with the 2010 Recovery Champion Award. The agency is now proposing to remove the snakes threatened-species status a remarkable achievement considering that of 1,900 protected species, just 22 have been delisted following population recovery.The story of the watersnakes comeback has attracted widespread media coverage from the likes of NPR and Discovery Channels Dirty Jobs, but it only begins to describe the breadth of Kings research.Along with students and colleagues, he has published studies on the ecology and conservation of spotted salamanders, woodfrogs, spring peepers and rattlesnake. King also has shed light on popu-lation ecology, the microevolution of color patterns in reptiles, new approaches to assess the effects of invasive species and new ways to reintroduce locally extinct species.Marcio Martins, a biologist at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, calls King an international reference in the areas of ecology, microevolution and conservation of amphibians and reptiles.Adds Steven Beaupre, professor of biological sciences at the University of Arkansas, In Dr. King, you have an outstanding citizen and teacher who developed a world-class research opera-tion. At a time when destruction of wetlands and invasive species has forced local extinctions and listing of many amphibians and reptiles, Dr. Kings research is extremely vital and timely.King has an impressive and highly cited publication record. He is

    a frequent invited speaker at scientific meetings and has served as a reviewer for 38 scientific journals and several funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation.His work also has attracted more than $1.25 million in funding from NSF, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies.It is a tribute not only to his energy and resourcefulness, but also to the high esteem with which he is held in his field that he has been so successful in this endeavor, says NIU Distinguished Research Professor Peter Meserve.Interwoven throughout Kings work is a strong commitment to students. He helped develop new courses for the graduate program in biological sciences and also contributed to curriculum development for NIUs new environmental studies pr