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CBS News - September 2007

From the Dean | News | Research | Trendwatch | People | Events | FYI


A call to action

Each fall, the energy, enthusiasm and sense of purpose are palpable. A crop of fresh faces pops up around the college. Students return to classrooms and labs. Faculty continue to generate groundbreaking research.

This year, that exuberance is tempered by tragic events close to home and unfolding around the globe. In August, the Twin Cities experienced a collective wave of grief with the sudden deadly collapse of the 35W bridge. Last month also saw massive flooding in southern Minnesota. The rising water destroyed homes and livelihoods throughout the region. Both events touched many faculty, staff and students, in some cases with devastating directness.

Farther afield, the effects of one of the hottest summers on record on the environment and human health were being felt. West Nile reemerged and continued to pose a risk. The Arctic Ice sheet receded at a record pace. The effects of climate change—large and small—were apparent this summer in a way that’s difficult to ignore both for those concerned with the implications for ecosystems and for infectious disease.

The basic research conducted by CBS faculty across every department and discipline from biochemistry to ecology plays a vital role in gaining insights into the complex dynamics underlying climate change and its many pernicious side effects. Understanding the mechanisms involved is critical to countering the large-scale problems we face.

As we have observed close to home, tragedy and adversity call for collective action. That call to action resonates for many of us here at the University. Scientific research—particularly in the biological sciences—offers the promise, literally, of a brighter and better future. Our work can provide a hopeful counterpoint to the dark and dismal future that has taken shape in the popular imagination and, increasingly, in the world before us.

Robert Elde, Dean
College of Biological Sciences


A new approach to teaching bio basics

An inaugural class of 48 students helped launch “Foundations of Biology for Biology Majors,” the first of two introductory courses for biology majors. The Foundations sequence represents the culmination of five years of planning involving 22 faculty and steering committees of 47 faculty and staff.

In this year-long course sequence, students consider the relationships among biological disciplines, chemistry and other physical sciences, and apply what they learn through activities and labs where they use scientific approaches to solve real-world problems. In the laboratory, they will be moving beyond inquiry labs into authentic scientific investigations with the potential to produce publishable work.

Matching the innovation in course design, the class meets in a newly remodeled “Active Learning Classroom,” designed to foster teamwork and sharpen problem-solving skills. In this classroom, groups of nine students sit at large round tables, each equipped with three laptop computers and a large plasma screen display. The technology and organization promote interaction at many levels, including student to student, student to faculty, and student to technology.

The new hi-tech classroom is one of only two at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus. An open house for faculty, staff and students interested in learning more about the foundations course or experiencing the Active Learning classroom is scheduled for October 18 from 3:30–5:30pm in 64 Biological Sciences on the St. Paul campus.

Cedar Creek enters a new phase

Cedar Creek Natural History Area is now Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. The new name reflects Cedar Creek’s critical role as a home to high-impact ecosystem science research at the University of Minnesota. The Lindeman Research and Discovery Center, a new building housing dry labs, faculty and staff offices, and meeting space, has been named in honor of ecology pioneer Ray Lindeman. The new center will give a boost to Cedar Creek’s research, education and public outreach efforts.

Best of both worlds

Cedar Creek researchers are joining forces with the U.S. Geological Survey to determine if restored prairie areas can function simultaneously as water filtration systems below ground and biofuel production systems above ground. The research, funded by a $1 million grant, will also look at how to expand wildlife corridors and absorb greenhouse gases. Led by Clarence Lehman (EEB) the project includes University researchers David Tilman, John Nieber, Jared Trost and Troy Mielke.

Graduate funding boost

The Provost recently awarded the College of Biological Sciences $1 million in recurring funds in addition to existing funding for graduate programs across the college. The funds will help CBS increase the quality of graduate programs and, by extension, boost the productivity of faculty research labs dependent on highly qualified students.

Nature of Life on the small screen

In August, WCCO aired a feature about CBS’ special field biology program for incoming freshmen. Anchor Don Shelby visited Itasca Biological Station to see the class in action. Shelby spoke with students, faculty and Itasca Biological Station Director David Biesboer.

Science and engineering institute takes shape

The Provost’s Advisory Committee for the Institute for the Advancement of Science and Engineering (IASE), chaired by Claudia Neuhauser (EEB), has published its recommendations for creating a system-wide institute (PDF) to lead efforts to establish the U as a leader in interdisciplinary research at the intersection of biological, chemical, physical, engineering and computational sciences. Among the committee’s recommendations: concentrate research on a small number of themes selected through a community process; engage faculty and outside researchers; and offer training opportunities to students and postdoctoral researchers in a collaborative environment across disciplines.

Preparing for a new financial system

The University’s transition to the Enterprise Financial System, set to launch next summer, will impact the work of thousands of employees and every unit on all University of Minnesota campuses including the College of Biological Sciences. Employees who currently use CUFS and Financial Forms Nirvana will have new and improved tools to do their jobs. Within CBS, a committee has been set up to address the organizational impacts the new system will have on the college. The committee includes Elizabeth Wroblewski, Jeff Thomas, Ann Caton, Terri Ritz and Lori Bubolt. Contact committee members with questions or suggestions.

The class of 2011

The average incoming College of Biological Sciences freshman was in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class, according to University Admissions. CBS freshman earned an average SAT score of 1302 and an average ACT score of 28.6.


Rainforest insects species diverse and widespread

(Nature | 8.9.07) An international team of scientists that included George Weiblen, associate professor in the Department of Plant Biology, has learned that the same insect species are broadly distributed across a vast lowland rainforest on the island of New Guinea. The researchers’ findings challenge the dogma that tropical insect diversity changes dramatically from place to place. The group studied 500 insect species across 75,000 square kilometers of rainforest in Papua New Guinea. Although species diversity was extremely high, as expected in the tropics, communities of insect species did not change much from place to place, even over hundreds of kilometers and complex geological terrain.


Few rewards attached to efforts to improve math, science teaching

A recent study cites few incentives for science professors to contribute to efforts to boost the quality of math and science teaching in elementary and secondary schools. The study describes the lack of professional rewards for joining projects financed by the federal government’s Math and Science Partnerships program as a “major roadblock” to its success. According to the findings, while some universities have received millions from the National Science Foundation to lead the projects, few have adjusted the tenure and promotion process to encourage faculty to participate.

NSF funding harder to get

Researchers are increasingly facing an uphill struggle to attract funding from the National Science Foundation, according to a recent NSF report. While the number of grants awarded and the quality of applications received by the NSF have remained constant, the number of scientists vying for a limited pool of funds has increased in recent years.

The declining success rate spotlights both a budget shortfall and an increase in applicants. The NSF’s budget increased by 44 percent over six years; not enough to keep pace with a 50 percent rise in applications. The report notes that growth in applications varied across the NSF’s six major research directorates with the biggest leap in computer and information sciences. In all, the NSF budget would have to increase by $2 billion to finance all the proposals highly rated by the NSF’s peer-review process.


Shelby Williams, Ken Dodd and Wade Schulz (pictured) were among the CBS undergraduates who treated victims and provided support to emergency workers following the 35W bridge collapse. Other CBS first responders included Sean Polster, Bryan Eberle and Lindsey Taylor. All are members of the U’s Emergency Medical Services.

Foraging Theory, authored by David Stephens (EEB) and John Krebs, was ranked the ninth most cited book on evolution and ecology in a list compiled by Sam Ellsworthy for the Bulletin of the British Ecology Society. The list includes works by Ronald Fisher, Charles Darwin, Ernst Mayr, T.G. Dobzhansky and other luminaries. A new volume of Foraging: Behavior and Ecology, edited by Stephens, Ron Ydenberg and Joel Brown, has been published by the University of Chicago Press.

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $550,000 Biocomplexity grant to University of Minnesota researchers Lawrence Baker (Water Resource Center), Jennifer King (EEB and SWC), Joe McFadden (EEB), Kristen Nelson (Forest Resources), and Sarah Hobbie (EEB). The group, headed by Baker, will use the three-year grant to study ways of integrating human choice into models of biogeochemical cycling in urban ecosystems.

Mark Sanders (Imaging Center) was appointed 2007-08 chair of the University’s Senate Subcommittee on Information Technology.

Jeannine Cavender-Bares (EEB) is the principle investigator of a new national collaborative working group funded by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. The group will look at the extent to which the evolutionary history of organisms influences community organization and drives ecosystem processes.

John Soechting has been appointed acting director of undergraduate studies in the Neuroscience Department for the 2007-08 academic year. Director Martha Flanders is serving a one-year appointment as a director of the Neural Systems Cluster at in the Biological Science Division of the National Science Foundation.

David McLaughlin (PBIO) received the Distinguished Mycologist Award from the Mycological Society of America in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the field. The award—MSA’s highest honor—recognizes individuals who have established an outstanding career in mycological research and in service to the Society.

Incoming College of Biological Sciences student Ryan Wynn presented the class of 2011 to President Bruininks at the U’s Convocation ceremony on Sept. 4.


Biofuels: Breaking the Barriers for Biomass Conversion

WHEN: September 19 | noon-3:30 p.m.
WHERE: NorthStar Ballroom | St. Paul Student Center

How can we unlock the potential that is bound up in biomass? Can we do it economically at an appropriate scale? Guest experts, Charlie Wyman (UC-Riverside) and Simon Harvey (Chalmers University, Sweden), will share their perspectives on technical challenges and potential opportunities, then answer questions in a panel discussion with U of M Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering professors Simo Sarkanen and Roger Ruan.

Bioethanol in Brazil

WHEN: September 21 | noon
WHERE: 119 Classroom Office Bldg | St. Paul campus

Mauricio Da Silva, a visiting professor from Brazil in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, will give an overview of bioethanol production in Brazil and discuss the history, economics and social challenges of using sugar cane as a main resource for bioethanol.

U of M Symposium in Developmental Biology: “Cells Doing Development”

WHEN: September 25-26
WHERE: Coffman Union | East Bank campus

The symposium will focus on key cell biological processes that underlie developmental events. Session topics will include: Cell migration; signal reception, processing and trafficking; cellular mechanisms for generating asymmetry; and cytoskeletal functions in development.

Honeywell Nobel Laureate Lecture: Roderick MacKinnon

WHEN: October 1 | 4 p.m.
WHERE: McNamara Alumni Center | East Bank campus

Roderick MacKinnon, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, will deliver a lecture on “Electricity in Biology.” MacKinnon will describe, from a historical perspective, how studies of “animal electricity” actually advanced the understanding of electricity in physics.

Foundations of Biology Open House

WHEN: October 18 | 3:30-5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Biological Sciences Bldg, Rm 64 | St. Paul campus

After five years of planning involving nearly 70 faculty and staff in CBS, the new introductory courses for biological sciences majors is being offered for the first time in a new cutting-edge classroom. Come learn more about the courses and watch demonstrations of the capabilities of the classroom.

Chemical Biology Workshop

WHEN: October 18 | 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
WHERE: Coffman Memorial Union Great Hall | East Bank campus

“From Bioprobes to Biomaterials” is the theme of this year’s Chemical Biology Workshop, featuring presentations by Neal Zondlo (University of Delaware), Mark DiStefano (University of Minnesota), Steve Kron (University of Chicago) and others.

E3 2007 Conference

WHEN: November 27 | 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
WHERE: Coffman Memorial Union | East Bank campus

The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment’s annual conference will focus on the intersection between innovative technologies, visionary policies, environmental benefits and emerging market opportunities as they relate to developments in the renewable energy sector. In addition to University faculty members, the E3 2007 conference will feature speakers from business and industry, government and the non-profit sector.


New at the Imaging Center

  • A state-of-the-art laser scanning confocal microscope. The new Nikon C1Si can image a wide variety of fluorochromes and has a spectral detector.
  • An in-house Invitrogen Supply Center. The Supply Center carries commonly used products from Invitrogen, Molecular Probes, and GIBCO.
  • An automated tissue processor. With the Leica EMTP up to 150 samples can be processed in one run. Tissues can be processed using a variety of reagents and resins for subsequent electron and light microscopy analysis.
  • An automated microwave tissue processor from Ted Pella, Inc. The new BioWave Pro will accept multi-step programming and provides consistent temperature and microwave control to expedite many processing protocols including fixations for EM & LM, antibody labeling, in vivo labeling, in situ hybridizations and decalcification.