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CBS News - April 2009

From the Dean | College news | People | Events | FYI

From the dean

Rites of Spring

The academic year has its markers as surely as nature has its seasons. Spring means celebrating the achievements of our students and faculty. It is a time to recognize talent and hard work through commencement as well as special honors and awards.

This year, Anh Tran (Neuroscience) was awarded a Fulbright and Mitch Biermann (BMBB) received the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship. Scott Lanyon (EEB) is this year’s recipient of the John S. Anderson Award and the Stanley Dagley-Samuel Kirkwood Award goes to Sehoya Cotner (Biology Program). Don Alstad (EEB) received the Morse Alumni Award. All of these individuals deserve our congratulations.

There’s another group that deserves recognition for a different sort of achievement. A record number of CBS students have been nominated for the Phi Beta Kappa honor society—20, up from eight just last year. What makes this so exciting and really remarkable is the difficulty for science majors to meet the requirements. Not only does nomination to the oldest honor society in the country require an exceptional GPA, but also proficiency in a foreign language and a strong background in the liberal arts. It’s an indication of the diverse interests and abilities of students that the college attracts.

It also speaks to the need to prepare future biologists to participate in science on a global scale, a topic explored at length in a feature story in the most recent issue of BIO. A solid grounding in language and culture can only prove an asset. Studying biology in another country is one way to do that. Spending time abroad on scientific pursuits is a lesson in the culture of science and what it means to be a scientist in a global sense.

One way to make that happen is to encourage undergraduates to not only learning abroad, but to get involved in research abroad. A number of CBS faculty conduct research in spots around the world—from Papua New Guinea to Panama. Many more collaborate with scientists outside the United States on lab-based research. Every one of those connections represents an opportunity to expand the horizons of our undergraduates.

Bob Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences

College news

Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species

Evolutionary biologist Sean Carroll will give a lecture based on his latest book. A book signing and reception will follow the program. Carroll will also receive an honorary doctorate as part of the program. Admission is free and reservations are not required. First come, first served.

DETAILS: Bell Museum of Natural History | East Bank campus | May 15 | 7:30 p.m.

Bond, Gantt and Sadowsky awarded IREE seed grants

The U’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment recently announced more than $745,000 in seed grants to 12 projects. The grants are meant to promote early-stage research in renewable energy and the environment. The following CBS faculty received grants:

  • Professor Michael Sadowsky (BTI) received funds to evaluate the scientific basis for enhanced biogas production, as well as improved gas composition produced by an anaerobic digester using the Hogen process.
  • Assistant Professor Daniel Bond (Microbiology/BTI) was awarded a grant in support of his efforts to identify novel bacteria and obtain new models for the study of organisms able to link electricity to biological carbon capture and biocatalysis.
  • Associate Professor Steve Gantt (PBIO) received support for a project designed to boost understanding of how lignin is broken down—a process that is vital to converting complex feedstocks to biofuel.

U requires colleges and other units to phase out logos

The University has implemented a new graphic identity policy in order to strengthen its brand. Here are some highlights:

  • All units are expected to adhere to the Driven to Discover brand.
  • Maroon and gold and/or branded elements are required and need to appear prominently.
  • All websites are to use official headers and footers.
  • Individual logos for colleges, departments and other units are to be phased out or repurposed as graphic elements.
  • Individual taglines for colleges, departments, and other units are to be eliminated or moved to headlines or themes.

All print materials and websites are expected to meet the policy’s standards by the end of 2010. For more information details about the new brand policy guidelines, check the U Policy Library.

Bio-art icon Eduardo Kac dedicates sculpture on St. Paul campus

Eduardo Kac was on hand April 17 to dedicate his sculpture “Singularis,” which was installed in front of the Cargill Microbial and Plant Genomics building last fall. The sculpture, which is part of a new exhibition of Kac’s work at the Weisman Art Museum, represents a transgenic protein created by fusing DNA from the artist and a petunia. Kac worked with CBS Professor Neil Olszewski (PBIO) to develop the transgenic plant. See photos of the event.

CBS now on Twitter

Did you hear about bio artist Eduardo Kac’s collaboration with CBS Professor Neil Olszewski? Did you know renowned evolutionary biologist and CBS commencement speaker Sean Carroll is this year’s commencement speaker? How about the two CBS students who won top honors at this year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium? Keep up with the interesting people, research and happenings at the college on Twitter.


Faculty members in the Biology Program received 2009 Improving Teacher Quality Grants for two courses. Mark Decker, Sehoya Cotner and Randy Moore were awarded $42,866 to develop “Evolution, Controversy & Standards for High School Teachers.” Sue Wick, Jane Phillips and Sandra Mackey (Biology Program) along with Emily Hoover and Sandy Tanck from the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, received $56,532 for “Investigative Plant Biology for Elementary Teachers.”

Professor Stephen Polasky (EEB) is one of two U of M faculty named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies. Since its founding, the academy has elected as members the finest minds and most influential leaders from each generation. The current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners. Polasky, who has a joint appointment in the Department of Applied Economics, has conducted groundbreaking research on ecological economics as well as biodiversity conservation and endangered species policy.

Teaching Associate Professor Sehoya Cotner (Biology Program) is the winner of this year’s Stanley Dagley-Samuel Kirkwood Undergraduate Education Award. The award acknowledges exceptional faculty contributions to undergraduate education. Cotner teaches courses in the Biology Program and the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, and is well known for her innovative teaching methods and her enthusiasm for undergraduate biology education.

The 2009 John S. Anderson Academic Leadership Award has been awarded to Professor Scott Lanyon (EEB) in recognition of his exceptional contributions to the college through administrative and academic leadership. Lanyon was chosen to head the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior in 2008. He came to the University of Minnesota in 1995 as director of the Bell Museum of Natural History and held that position until last year.

Jane Phillips, associate director of the Biology Program, was named Tony Diggs Outstanding Undergraduate Student Group Advisor. The award recognizes one exceptional advisor of an undergraduate student group who has gone above and beyond to help their group accomplish its mission and goals. Phillips was selected based on her advisory role with Biology Without Borders, a student group that provides healthcare-related volunteer opportunities abroad.

CBS undergraduate Mitch Biermann was recently awarded a 2009 Goldwater Scholarship. The Goldwater is widely considered the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship in the United Stated for students studying the sciences. Biermann works with Associate Professor Hiroshi Matsuo on the structural biology of HIV and with Associate Dean Robin Wright studying cold-resistant fungi. Read a Q&A with Biermann, one of only four students at the U to receive the award.

Anh Tran, a CBS senior graduating this spring, was named a 2009 Fulbright Scholar to the United Kingdom. Tran will conduct research on diabetes in South Asian and Chinese immigrant populations living in Newcastle at the Institute of Health and Society at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

CBS alumna Kim Vanderwaal, (B.S. EEB ’07) has been awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. She is currently studying animal behavior at the University of California, Davis. The fellowship provides $120,000 in financial support over a three-year period. Vanderwaal plans to study foraging behavior and predation in African ungulates. She will conduct fieldwork in the Laikipia district of Kenya.

Watch an audio slideshow about Ph.D. student Annika Moe’s research in Papua New Guinea. Moe, who studies the relationship between pollinator wasps and ficus plants, is advised by Associate Professor George Weiblen (PBIO). Moe describes the challenges and the appeal of field work in this far-flung island nation.

Post-doc Julaine Roffers-Agarwal (GCD) and graduate student Katie Vermillion (BMBB) were each awarded National Research Service Awards (NSRA) from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Graduate student Corinne Fairchild (GCD) was awarded an NRSA from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. All three are associated with Assistant Professor Laura Gammill’s (GCD) lab.

Anna Testen and Christa Robey, both CBS undergraduates, received top honors at this year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, a university-wide event that spotlights student research. Learn more about their research projects and future plans.

Undergraduate Meredith Knaak won a Critical Language Scholarship to study Korean in South Korea this summer. Sponsored by the United States Department of State, the program offers intensive summer language institutes overseas in eleven critical-need foreign languages.


Bollum Symposium: Biochemistry of Biofuels

This year’s symposium features four international leaders in the field of biochemistry pertaining to biofuels: Tim Donohue (University of Wisconsin, Madison); Jay Keasling (University of California, Berkeley); James Liao (University of California, Los Angles); and Steve Ragsdale (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor).

DETAILS: Mayo Auditorium | East Bank campus | May 6 | 1–5 p.m.

UM-BBD Predictive Biodegradation Workshop 5

A panel composed of participants from the United States, Europe and Japan, and representing academia and government agencies, will discuss the University of Minnesota Pathway Prediction System (UM-PPS) and predictions for the environmental fate of emerging biofuel compounds.

DETAILS: Cargill Building | St. Paul campus | May 8–9

Eduardo Kac: Natural History of the Enigma

The product of a three-year collaboration between bio-art luminary Eduardo Kac and Professor Neil Olszewski (PBIO), “Natural History of the Enigma” features a transgenic petunia with the artist’s DNA in its red veined petals.

DETAILS: Weisman Art Museum | East Bank campus | Through June 21

Conference on Genome Engineering 2009

Attend sessions on targeted mutagenesis, insertional mutagenesis using transposons, and gene therapy. A half-day workshop on zinc finger protein engineering will be held June 27. Keith Joung and Morgan Maeder from Harvard Medical School will explain the nuances of their protocol for making zinc finger nucleases using the OPEN platform.

DETAILS: Depot Renaissance Hotel | Minneapolis | June 25–27


Do you know an outstanding teaching assistant?

Nominate a teaching assistant for the CBS Outstanding Performance Award. All teaching assistants in CBS courses (undergraduate and graduate) who have demonstrated excellence in teaching or other instructional activities that enhance the educational experience at the U of M are eligible for the annual award. CBS students, graduate students, faculty and staff associated with a CBS course can nominate an outstanding TA. The deadline for submission of nominations for the current (2009) award period is January 29, 2010, for CBS courses taught spring through fall 2009. Submit nominations to Bruce Fall ( / 3-104 MCB).

Itasca summer courses

Register now for courses in ecology, animal behavior, aquatic entymology, field ornithology, biological photography and more at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories. Be part of the “class of the century” as the station celebrates 100 years as a hub for biology education and research. For more information contact Erin Fider (612-624-6743 /