Frontiers - Summer 1999

From the dean

This year, the University celebrates the 90th anniversary of its Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station. Founded in 1909 as a forestry station, Itasca is now managed by the College of Biological Sciences (CBS) and has become the University's premier outdoor biology lab and class-room. Thousands of students who otherwise spent their college careers in the urban setting of the Twin Cities campus have enjoyed a rich outdoor experience on the shores of Lake Itasca. For many, the experience of working at the station is remembered as the best University experience of all.

The Itasca station sits at the headwaters of the Mississippi, creating an interesting connection: CBS students and faculty studying living things in their natural habitats at Itasca are wading in the same river that, more than 200 miles to the south, flows past many of the labs where CBS researchers are looking at life under the microscope.

The station's location is serendipitous for other reasons, as well. It is surrounded by the 50 square miles of Itasca State Park, which offers a variety of unpolluted and undisturbed habitats--not to mention beautiful scenery. And it sits at the confluence of three great plant biomes--the coniferous forest, the eastern deciduous forest, and the western prairie--making it the perfect location for studying different ecosystems.

Yet it is not just Itasca's usefulness as an outdoor classroom that makes it special. Itasca is also a remote, peaceful setting (equipped with modern labs) that lets graduate students become deeply involved in their studies during intensive, six-week, dawn-to-dusk courses in neuroscience and molecular biology.

What is most special about Itasca, though, is the camaraderie that develops there. Students and faculty get to know each other in small-group settings like the neuroscience boot camp, the high school field biology session, and the summer field biology courses discussed in this issue. We intend to eventually extend this kind of small-group experience to every CBS freshman by bringing them all to Itasca; we will start with an intensive, end-of-spring-semester course in 2000 for 60 to 100 freshmen.

To comfortably and safely accommodate the approximately 1,500 people who stay at the station each year for days, weeks, or even months, we need to replace some ailing buildings. Funding for this project is likely to be part of the University's 2000 capital request to the state legislature. The largest part of this project is a new student center that will include an auditorium, a library with Internet access, and a computer room. (Though Itasca is a remote and rustic setting, students, researchers, and faculty need to stay connected to the outside world!)

With design of the student center underway, with new Itasca course offerings expanding beyond CBS, and with our plans to offer an Itasca experience for all CBS freshmen, the station is entering its tenth decade with new promise. And, with undisturbed wild places and natural habitats shrinking and disappearing worldwide, the station is becoming ever more valuable to us as both an outdoor laboratory and a retreat.

I invite you to read this issue to find out more about the kinds of learning, research, outreach, and fun that go on at Itasca; the station's history and future; and the fond memories of those who spent time there. I believe you will agree that the station is a unique gem--one that we can be proud of; one that we must preserve.

Robert Elde
Dean, College of Biological Sciences

Minnesota's wildest classroom

From the lake to the lab, Itasca has offered studies of life at every level--along with fun and adventure--to generations of students.

By Geoff Gorvin

For 90 years, the University of Minnesota has been sending students and faculty members to the thick forests, pristine waters, and rolling prairies of Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota.

The park, home to the University's Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station, is the ultimate laboratory. Students can wander for days, studying aquatic life in the lakes and nearby streams, examining sprawling forest stands and rare plants, and chasing critters of all shapes and sizes.

Students and faculty there have generated some fascinating research over the years, and the Itasca experience has given many students solid direction in their career choices. But 90 years of small-group college studies in the wild are also bound to produce some interesting stories---of successes, failures, near tragedies, and, of course, shenanigans.

Although the Itasca station opened in 1909, the first field biology station in the country--and possibly the world--can be traced back to 1893, when a group of University of Minnesota faculty converted an old logging camp on Long Lake in Cass County (in the Brainerd lakes area) for biological research.

According to accounts, that station was fairly successful. It was mentioned in scientific periodicals from as far away as Europe, and the faculty documented plans to make the station permanent.

But the project lost its momentum after the first year and would never return to that site. A second attempt, the Seaside Station, took place near Vancouver Island on the west coast at the turn of the century, but that, too, closed down after a few years.

Finally, in 1906, the Board of Regents established a forestry station at Itasca, and work on the station began immediately. The first summer session was taught three years later.

A 1910 bulletin described the station: "The Summer School of Forestry is the ideal vacation school. The most serious student, much in need of rest, will find here a delightful and most profitable vacation place. There is abundant opportunity to escape civilization for a time and to broil your venison on a sharpened stick and to serve it on a sheet of bark, which always makes one feel there is red blood in the veins and that it is good to be out of doors."

Whether it had anything to do with broiling venison on a sharp stick, the station attracted students from throughout the United States, a trend that would continue to this day. In 1908, 18 forestry students visited the station to cut firebreaks. They were from Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado, and Hawaii.

Students in those early years found facilities just short of primitive. A large, log student dorm was built in 1912, along with a log mess hall and four log cabins for faculty. Lab work was conducted in an old horse barn under the watchful eyes of bats and mice.

The station was used primarily by forestry students until 1936, when they started sharing the station with biology students. The station's name was changed to reflect a relationship that would last 34 years: Lake Itasca Forest Biology Laboratory.

In 1970, the College of Biological Sciences took over management of the station, and, instead of forestry students sharing the station with the biology students, the opposite became true. Since then, biology students have used the station during the summer and forestry students during early fall.

Over the years, the classrooms and labs would be improved and the park would increase in public popularity. But the one thing that remained constant was the quality of education being offered there.

"It's a wonderful place to get hands-on experience in different aspects of field biology," says John Tester, a retired professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior who first studied at the station as an undergraduate in 1949 and has taught and conducted research there since 1957. "Where else can you get your hands dirty and get your fingers bit, like you can up there?"

Tester has dozens of stories about the station's early days. For example, the lack of modern conveniences like washers and dryers offered some creative opportunities. To wash her bed sheets, one faculty member's wife would tie them to a row boat and row around the lake until they were clean.

The station also lacked firefighting equipment, which resulted in a student cabin burning down in 1961. "The fire started because the cabins were heated with a big barrel stove," Tester says. "The students had clothes hanging over the stove drying, when some of the clothes caught fire. We formed a bucket brigade to fight the fire, but the cabin burned to the ground anyway."

No one was hurt in that incident, which is the most important thing on everyone's mind at the station, Tester says. Emergency medical care is far away--a good 30 miles to Bemidji or Park Rapids--and it's easy for someone to get lost in the woods or trapped on the lake when storms blow in.

One of Tester's classes found out the hard way how important orienteering is when you're studying in the forest. The class was doing ruffed grouse census work, and the students had to follow a line through the forests using a compass. When the students returned, one was missing. Tester took the rest of the class along the student's line, but couldn't find him.

Tester called in park and forestry personnel to conduct a full-blown search, but just as they were about to go back into the forest, a car pulled up with the missing student. Apparently, he got lost and started walking toward a noise, which happened to be a highway. "It was a very frightening experience for him," Tester says.

Those stories are a rarity, Tester says. In fact, the station's success stories are much more common. And a lot of those successes occurred in the station's heyday back in the 1950s and '60s, when students had to apply to get in at the station because of high demand. Ecology was a buzzword then, and the environment had quickly become a hot-button issue in the United States.

That was true until the 1970s, when enrollment at the station dropped off and then stabilized, a phenomenon experienced at field biology stations nationwide, Tester says. A lot of it, he speculates, had to do with student attitudes, and the growing number of students who had to work in the summer.

A sagging enrollment never seemed to hamper the University's efforts to recruit faculty to teach at Itasca, though. The station has always attracted top faculty from universities throughout the country. That's a benefit to the students studying at the station, but it also affects the studies coming out of the station.

New plant and aquatic species are continually being discovered because of the intense efforts of faculty. Those efforts have even influenced the way the park is managed. A few faculty, for example, were studying the origins of white and red pine forests and discovered that pine forest origins can be traced back to major fires. So, in an effort to restore pine forests, the park's management now burns the areas where they want forests to generate.

The last decade has seen a lot of changes at the station, most significantly the addition of technology to the labs and classrooms. In the late 1980s, the first computers were set up, says Don Siniff, the station's director from about 1987 to 1997.

Early in his tenure, Siniff addressed the fact that enrollment was down to about 30 students per session (capacity is 120) by starting to diversify the station's users. His goal, he says, was to make the station an all-University facility and not just a biology and forestry station.

"We were fairly successful," he says. "We had an anthropology class there and a geology course that studied glacial geology, for example. We had to go out and recruit those programs, though, and let them know that these facilities were available."

The neuroscience program also started using the station, and still does. It has a "boot camp" for new graduate students, who learn lab techniques there.

Overall, the station probably hasn't changed much physically during its 90-year existence. But, as Siniff says, it has changed a lot of students. "Every year was different, but the one main thing is that you influenced students' lives. It's the first chance they get to do something with real biology.' You feel good that you offered them an opportunity that influenced their careers."

Ripe for change

When they talk about their vision for the Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station, director Dave Biesboer and associate director Jon Ross start inching forward on their chairs. Their delivery quickens and they start finishing each other's sentences.

The most important thing about the station, they both agree, is that it's showing its age. The buildings need repairs and updating. The station is connected to the outside world by only two phone lines (and cell phones don't work there). Enrollment needs to increase, and some of the senior faculty members who have been mainstays at the station, teaching and conducting a wide array of research, are starting to retire.

But Biesboer, a plant biology professor in the College of Biological Sciences (CBS), doesn't see the station as an aging, stagnant facility. He sees it as ripe for change--change that will allow the station to reclaim its place as one of the top field biology stations in the country. He'd like to see it eventually return to what it was in the '60s and '70s, when students were on waiting lists for a chance to study there.

To do that, though, the facilities need to be improved, he says. Many of the buildings were built in the 1940s and '50s. Foundations are cracking, roofs and siding are in need of replacement, and telecommunication improvements are sorely needed.

Biesboer is working on installing a high-speed T1 line for Internet access. Another initiative is the new Lake Itasca Student Center, which would replace the main assembly hall and combine an auditorium, the library, a conference room, social areas for students, and offices.

Attracting students is Biesboer's main objective, which can be accomplished with the CBS freshman initiative. Next year, CBS is hoping to have 60 freshman biology students bused up to the station for an intense, 10-day, retreat-like biology orientation course. They'll get a taste of field biology and the station, which should bolster Itasca recruiting efforts. "Once they come up here we think they'll come back," Biesboer says.

Students are being recruited through advertising, as well. The station has its own website and brochures, and it's being talked up at seminars and conferences. It's tough, Biesboer says, trying to compete with genetics, biotech, neuroscience, and cloning. "Students are attracted to those programs because they're getting so much publicity," he says. "So we're trying to get their attention."

He's not stopping at just attracting biology students, though. Biesboer wants to open the doors to all University students and faculty, to make it an all-University facility. "We have to keep it busy," he says. "If we have a new, attractive education center, I think we can get a lot more departments up here."

And, as many of the University faculty who have been teaching at the station for decades are retiring, "We need to attract new, young faculty members to pass that knowledge on to," Biesboer says.

"Field stations like this one are really very important," he adds. "Where else can you go from studying molecular biology to studying an entire forest? The only place to do that is right here at the station. We don't want that to slip away."

by Geoff Gorvin

Burning questions

U researchers crack nature's riddles in the outdoor lab of Itasca.

By Jennifer Amie

In 1998 helicopters hovered over the treetops of Itasca State Park, poised to drop an incendiary cargo on the land below. Ping-pong-sized balls of combustible chemicals rained on the forest, igniting Minnesota's largest controlled burn and sparking a fire that had been a long time smoldering. Since the late 1950s, ecology professor John Tester has known that forests and prairies are reborn in the crucible of fire. But it's taken four decades for that idea to become accepted forest-management practice.

Tester's roots in the Itasca region date to 1949 and 1950, when he worked at the University's Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station as an undergraduate. His doctoral thesis, completed in 1960, examined prairies west of the park, where he studied the effects of burning, grazing, and mowing as management tools.

At the time, his research on the beneficial effects of fire was considered radical. "In the late '50s and '60s, it was seen as pretty extreme," says Tester. "Using fire was not accepted as a management practice, but from a research standpoint we knew that fire was important. We felt that it should be implemented, but there was so much fear of fire that it couldn't be pulled off."

In forests, says Tester, fire is particularly important for the growth of pine trees. "Stands of white and red pine, which are the hallmark of Itasca State Park, all originated from fires in the past," he says. "The fires remove the litter on the ground and open up the canopy. If the pine seeds fall on a litter layer, they may germinate--but the litter layer is so thick that by the time the seed has sent its root down, the energy in the seed is exhausted. The root still hasn't hit the soil, so it can't get moisture and it can't get nutrients. By burning off the litter, you create bare soil--now the seed can get its roots into the soil and grow."

When pine seedlings do sprout, they face another danger--hungry deer. "Deer just love white pine seedlings," says Tester. At Itasca, where deer hunting was long prohibited, the lack of fire and abundance of deer conspired to suppress new pine growth for many years.

In the mid-1990s Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials asked Tester to draft a management plan for the natural resources of Itasca State Park. Tester's concise, workable plan advocated controlled burns and a controlled deer population, freeing the way for the forest to return to its pre-settlement state. "I was really pleased to prepare this plan, because I love Itasca," says Tester. "I spent many summers there as part of the biological station and there was just no question in my mind what it needed."

Park managers began large controlled burns in 1996, culminating last year with Minnesota's largest burn. Tester's fire research has, at last, come full circle.

BUT ANOTHER OF HIS MAJOR projects has left a puzzling question unanswered. As an offshoot of his fire research on prairies in the 1950s, Tester began to examine the behavior of prairie toads west of Itasca. Working with former Bell Museum of Natural History director Walter Breckenridge, Tester set out to discover what happened to toads during the winter. "We had no idea where they spent the winter," he says. "We'd follow them during the summer, then we lost track of them." In hot pursuit, Breckenridge and Tester marked large numbers of toads with radioactive tags, about the size of a pencil lead, inserted under the skin. They used an instrument similar to a Geiger counter to track the toads after the frost set in.

"We started searching in the pond because we thought that's where the amphibians would spend the winter," says Tester, "but we never found any. So we started searching on the land. We'd walk around with this Geiger counter, and the needle would start to bounce and it would start clicking in our ears. But we couldn't see anything. We'd pull the grass away, and we still couldn't find anything. Finally, we concluded that they must be living underground. The toads must have dug into the ground, but there were no holes--no holes at all."

Eventually, Tester and Breckenridge discovered that the toads do not dig underground--they twist. "They sit with the head up in the air and the hind feet on the ground," says Tester. "They have calluses on their hind feet that act like little shovels and they literally twist themselves right down into the ground. It's just like they pull the hole in after them. You see the surface of the ground wiggle a little bit when the toad is out of sight and all of a sudden there's nothing."

The toads spend the winter above the water table but below the frost line, breathing oxygen through their moist skin. Their preferred abodes are prairie earth mounds, known as Mima mounds, which were once thought to be of Native American origin. Tester discovered that, in fact, the 30-foot mounds are created by burrowing animals and could house up to 3,000 toads during the winter.

Springtime brought another mystery--how the toads dig out of their dens. The question remains unanswered, says Tester, because no one has ever seen them emerge. "We've seen them go down. We've never seen them come up," he says. "We've tried. We've put soil between two panes of glass and forced the toads to dig down in it, but we never were there when they came up. We don't have any idea how they do it."

In the years since his toad research, Tester has moved on to other problems, including working with a team of University scientists to develop radio collar technology for tracking animals. Among his other well-known achievements is the book Minnesota's Natural Heritage: An Ecological Perspective, published in 1995. Tester officially retired from the University this past December, but is teaching a vertebrate ecology class at the Itasca station this summer, as he has done for 30 years.

The Itasca program, he says, lets students conduct significant research in a close-knit community. "The value of Itasca is the personal contact that the students have with the faculty and with each other. You get that magic camaraderie that comes from seeing somebody every day. You don't have to knock on their door, you don't have to make appointments. You drink coffee together, you eat meals together. I've seen so many students come away from Itasca with the confidence to become leaders on campus."

Boot camp for 'brainiacs'

Itasca offers total immersion for neuroscience grad students.

By Deane Morrison

Except for living in fear of poison ivy, Lisa Johanek thoroughly enjoyed her first six weeks at the University of Minnesota. Except for dropping a canoe on her foot--on her birthday, no less--Therissa Libby enjoyed it too. Such experiences are par for the course at the Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station, where new neuroscience graduate students get large doses of lab experience, wilderness, and camaraderie, all crammed into six intensive summer weeks.

Now 13 years old, the Itasca graduate course in neuroscience is modeled after its more famous summer-institute cousins in Woods Hole (Mass.) and Cold Spring Harbor (Long Island). While it lacks an ocean, the program offers the wilds of Itasca State Park and the clear waters of Lake Itasca, the source of a pretty big river. It also offers something the 14 students in every new class seem to value above all else: the chance to get to know each other, as well as University neuroscience faculty and guest faculty from around the country. Drawing on faculty from such fields as psychology, chemistry, and engineering as well as biological sciences, the course is truly interdisciplinary, says physiology professor Richard Poppele, who is entering his ninth year as course director.

By starting out all neuroscience grad students at Itasca, the course gets students from diverse backgrounds "on the same page with respect to the experimental approach" and establishes a strong esprit de corps in each year's class, says Poppele.

But why hold a neuroscience "boot camp" at Itasca, instead of on the Twin Cities campus?

"Students get 100 percent attention of the faculty," explains Poppele. "In the Twin Cities, there are too many distractions, and I'm not sure we could find the space to do it in the same way."

Neuroscience department head Tim Ebner, who directed the course for its first five years, puts it a different way: "Our goal was to give students an intense introduction to laboratory science in a charming place. Faculty can immerse themselves with students--that's its beauty and its power. The students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, so the course is a leveler."

"I think it's helped us get through the first year," says Libby. "We got used to supporting each other." At Itasca, the neuroscience students eat together in the dining hall and sleep in shared cabins. They get hands-on experience with classic experiments in the field of neuroscience, using state-of-the-art equipment. The course runs five days a week, from 8 a.m. to nearly 6 p.m., when the dinner bell rings. Students and faculty return to continue experiments after dinner, sometimes working into the wee hours of the morning.

Each of the six weeks covers a separate subject area and is taught by its own team of faculty. The first three days of the week are devoted to learning new techniques; the last two days, students work in pairs, applying the techniques to their own projects. A weekly lecture series brings in top researchers. Last summer, neurosurgery assistant professor Janet Vargo was among them.

"She works on hemispheric neglect," says Johanek, who worked in Vargo's lab spring quarter. "That's where a lesion prevents the brain from processing information from senses on the contralateral [opposite] side of the body. For example, a stroke on one side could keep the brain from processing information from the opposite hand. Dr. Vargo is studying how to prevent or cure neglect.

"I think being at Itasca helped me develop a great interest in electrophysiology. The course made you focus in several areas, so you had to learn things that maybe you would've avoided."

For Libby, much of the thrill came from performing classic experiments and watching things happen just as they did in the textbooks. "One thing I did that I had read about was to make a microelectrode and stick it in a nerve cell body," says Libby. The cell was the T cell of a leech, a cell that responds to external stimuli.

"After inserting the microelectrode, we stroked the skin and watched the action potentials (waves of nerve electrical activity) march across the oscilloscope screen."

Then there was the hop toad experiment. Poppele recalls a week devoted to study of the interface where messages are passed from nerves to muscles--the neuromuscular junction. The instructor was University neurologist Christopher Gomez, an expert on toxins that affect the junction. Knowing that some frogs and toads secrete powerful nerve poisons, the class wiped off a hop toad's back and tested whatever substances had been collected. Sure enough, says Poppele, they found that something from the toad acted to specifically block transmission of signals across the nerve-muscle junction.

The course takes place in a simple one-story building; through the windows on one side, one can catch glimpses of Lake Itasca. Ebner jokes that neuroscientists at the station are considered the weird ones because they stay inside all the time. But the students find time to hike, bike, boat, and otherwise enjoy the lake and its forested surroundings. Many a night is spent lying on the dock, watching the northern lights. Johanek spent one afternoon walking the 17-mile path around the wishbone-shaped lake with a fellow student.

For his part, Ebner would like to see the neuroscience program have more space and new equipment, especially in the area of molecular neuroscience, which requires relatively sophisticated technology. And the student "barracks" could also use a face lift, he says. The course sometimes has "guest" graduate students: An exchange program with the Karolinska Institute has brought several Swedish students to Itasca, and graduate programs from other American and Canadian universities have also sent students. But no matter where they come from, Poppele says all seem to have a good time.

"I've never heard a complaint about the academic value in terms of getting a real orientation to neuroscience," he says.

Inspired by Itasca

Tracking raccoons, finding fungi, wading around marshes--it doesn't sound like a glamorous vacation. But for the group of teenagers who attended last summer's Itasca Field Biology Enrichment Program, the experience was, in the words of participant Elizabeth Sutton, "awesome."

Sutton, a recent graduate of Minneapolis South High School, was one of 11 high school students who spent two weeks at the University's Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station, living with and learning from University professors. Each morning the students attended a lecture on a different topic--animal behavior, ornithology, stream ecology, etc.--and each afternoon they headed out to the field with the same professor, collecting samples, tracking animals, or doing whatever else that professor's research required.

The enrichment program, run by the College of Biological Sciences (CBS) each summer, provides kids with a broad overview of field biology.

"I learned so much about different (ecosystems)," says Cassandra Clark, a senior at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School. "And I really liked doing my own fish."

Clark "did her own fish"--collected yellow perch to determine the population in Lake Itasca--as her individual research project, the final part of the high school program. Each student develops and plans an experiment, and explains how he or she would go about collecting the data. Clark even did some seining, though she didn't have enough time to complete her study.

Overall, says Clark, the program "just gave me a greater feel for biology and the various aspects of it." She particularly enjoyed a "totally different way of learning than in the classroom--we were asking the questions and then shown the answers to our questions." The hands-on aspect of the experience, says Clark, is something she never got enough of in high school.

Despite the steady pace, it wasn't all work and no play for the dozen teenagers at Itasca. Every evening and weekend the students were free to swim, canoe, cycle, hike, and otherwise enjoy Itasca State Park.

The teens also enjoyed mixing with the undergraduates working at the station. Together they played volleyball and cards, watched movies, and "even had a dance!" says Clark. "It was like a camp, complete with dining hall and cabins," adds Sutton. "If you like being outdoors, then being here is just the best thing."

"The only things students complain about," says CBS outreach and alumni relations coordinator Paul Germscheid, "are the mosquitoes and getting up at 7 o'clock in the morning."

Inspired by their Itasca experience, both Clark and Sutton spent the rest of last summer pursuing biological sciences. Clark took part in a University of Minnesota high school research program, in which students are paid to work with a professor, and Sutton--who heads off to Maine's Colby College this fall with hopes of a future career involving "something outdoors"--worked for a tree-care company.

by Lynette Lamb

Summer at the lake

Fishing and canoeing in Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota were early, influential experiences for Josh Leonard while growing up in suburban Medicine Lake near Minneapolis.

"The wilderness experience really hit me," recalls Leonard, a senior majoring in ecology, evolution, and behavior. "I noticed the plants, the trees, the animal markings. I didn't know the names but I was interested."

In high school, that interest led him to enroll in a science enrichment course run by CBS at its Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station. "That experience convinced me that I wanted to be in the ecology program at the U," he says.

Leonard returned to Lake Itasca last summer to study field biology photography and conduct research on algae. His visit was partially funded by the Itasca Director's Scholarship, a merit-based award that encourages students to go to Itasca during summer sessions when they might otherwise be tempted to remain in the Twin Cities to earn money. (Few jobs are available for college students in the Itasca area.) Leonard was one of four 1998 Itasca Scholarship recipients.

The Itasca experience was "a great opportunity to directly experience research as an undergraduate," Leonard says. "You're always around (research). You're living it every day."

In addition, the photography course helped him to develop his photo skills. "Visual images are such great teaching tools," says Leonard, who expects to teach at the university level, so will pursue master's and Ph.D. degrees.

Beyond his Itasca experiences, Leonard has maintained an active schedule of academic-related activities, part-time jobs, and involvement in the University Students' Cooperative, near the Armory on the East Bank of the Minneapolis campus, where he rooms with his twin brother, Aaron.

A partial activities list includes serving as a research assistant for CBS faculty members researching lions' manes, working for the University's Bell Museum of Natural History, leading student groups as part of the Biology Colloquium, volunteering for the University's Jane Goodall Institute and the Raptor Center, participating in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, studying in Spain, working on Ecology Club activities, and serving as his housing cooperative's food coordinator where he did the grocery shopping for 28 people.

This summer, Leonard left for a year of study at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania through the International Reciprocal Scholarship Exchange Program.

by Angelo Gentile

If you'd like to contribute to the Itasca Directors Scholarship Fund, mail a check payable to the University of Minnesota Foundation to College of Biological Sciences, 123 Snyder Hall, 1475 Gortner Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108. Note on the memo line that it's for the Itasca Scholarship. For more information, call the College of Biological Sciences dean's office at 612-624-2244.

CBS News


Bridgette Barry, professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, and biophysics (BMBB), received the National Honorary Member award from Iota Sigma Pi. Given every three years, the award recognizes "exceptional and significant achievement in chemistry." It is the highest honor that Iota Sigma Pi, the national honor society for women chemists, bestows.

BMBB professor David Bernlohr received the CBS Stanley Dagley Distinguished Teacher Award at commencement June 12. The award--named for the late Dagley, a Regents Professor of Biochemistry who was known for his excellence as a teacher--honors outstanding contributions to undergraduate education.

Elmer Birney, professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior (EEB), received the Hartley H.T. Jackson Award from the American Society of Mammalogists in recognition of his long and outstanding service to the society.

Anne Caton, Plant Biology administrative director, received a 1999 President's Award for Outstanding Service. The award recognizes faculty and staff throughout the University whose service goes well beyond their regular duties and who demonstrate unusual commitment to the University community.

The University of Minnesota is one of two universities in the nation to receive the first Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation Technology Development Grant, which will provide up to $2.5 million over the next five years for the development of "Sleeping Beauty," a novel system for transferring genes into vertebrate cells. The university was selected from more than 90 applicant institutions, each of which was permitted to submit only one project proposal. Assistant professor Stephen Ekker is the principal investigator; professor Perry Hackett, assistant professor David Largespaeda, and professor Scott McIvor are co-investigators. All are in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development.

An honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Minnesota was conferred upon Eville Gorham, Regents Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Botany, by University President Mark Yudof and Regent David Metzen at the CBS commencement June 12.


Bridgette Barry has been promoted to professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, and biophysics.

Jane Phillips, Instructional Labs coordinator, has been promoted to education specialist.

Robert Sterner has been promoted to professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior.

The following faculty and staff retired during the 1998-99 academic year: Eville Gorham, EEB professor; Robert McKinnell, Genetics and Cell Biology professor; Frank McKinney, EEB professor; Richard Phillips, EEB professor; Irwin Rubenstein, Plant Biology professor; Sandy Stai, BMBB executive secretary; John Tester, EEB professor; and Larry Theis, BMBB lead stores clerk.

LaVell Henderson, professor emeritus of biochemistry, died Saturday, May 29, of a heart attack at his home in Sandy, Utah. He was 81. A national leader in nutritional science, he had served as president of the American Institute of Nutrition, chair of the Nutrition Study Section of the National Institutes of Health, and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Nutrition.

Henderson joined the University in 1963 as professor and head of the biochemistry department; he was department head for 11 years. He became associate dean of CBS in 1978, a position he held until his retirement in 1984. He received an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1974 and the Centennial Recognition Award in 1988 from his alma mater, Utah State University.

He is survived by his wife, Maurine Criddle Henderson; daughters Janet Landerman, Jeanne Dickey, and Linda Buchman; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. The family suggests that memorials be sent to CBS' L.M. Henderson Scholarship Fund.


The Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Programs, coordinated through CBS, are hosting 85 students this year--55 women and 30 men. Eighty of the participants went to the Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station June 11­14 for an orientation retreat. Participants come from about 61 colleges and universities across the United States and Puerto Rico and include 12 African American, 11 Asian American, 5 Chicano/Latino/Hispanic, 1 Native Pacific Islander, and 2 Puerto Rican students.


Schematic plans for the new Molecular and Cellular Biology Building in Minneapolis were presented at the June regents meeting. Demolition of the Owre-Millard-Lyon complex started August 2; groundbreaking for the new building is slated for early fall 1999.

The first-ever Biology Week, sponsored by CBS, was held April 12­16 and included a biology fair featuring student biology clubs, panel discussions, the annual CBS Career and Internship Fair, a freshman information fair, and International Day.


Sixteen CBS students and three CLA biology majors presented their research at the 13th Annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research, held April 8­10 at the University of Rochester in New York.

Commencement 1999

Commencement was held Saturday, June 12, in Northrop Auditorium. it featured EEB Regents Professor Emeritus Eville Gorham receiving an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University; BMBB professor David Bernlohr receiving the Stanley Dagley Distinguished Teacher Award; a commencement address by GCB professor Michael Simmons; commencement presentations by EEB major Amy Mertl, neuroscience major Katherine Himes, and GCB major Jennifer Johnson; the awarding of the Dean E.M. Freeman Certificate to Mertl; and more than 170 graduating seniors processing across the stage to the applause of an enthusiastic audience.


As outgoing president of the Biological Sciences Alumni Society (BSAS), this is my final letter to you. Lisa Weik (B.S. '96), a regulatory affairs associate at Guidant Corp., will take over as BSAS president with the start of the new school year.

I am pleased to be stepping down as president on a positive note. BSAS has accomplished much in the past year, thanks to our dedicated group of volunteers.

Mary Jo Lockbaum, past BSAS president, led the effort to reestablish our alumni mentor program. It worked: eight mentor pairs were represented at the final wrap-up meeting in May. Several mentors commented that it was helpful to reflect on their career paths and the things that brought them to where they are now. Some said they learned more about their own careers through showing their student partners around and introducing them to colleagues. Students said they felt their mentors were accommodating and found the exposure to the workplace and discussion about career paths helpful. The only difficulty for most pairs was trying to schedule time in their busy schedules to get together--many ended up meeting by phone and email. Next year's mentor program will begin in September or October, which should give the pairs more time to get together.

I am also happy to report that BSAS has established a new committee that will plan events to involve alumni with CBS and the U in interesting and exciting ways. Stay tuned for information on upcoming events.

One final piece of good news: alumni and friends of CBS now have our own area of the new CBS website. Be sure to tell us about yourself using the new class notes page!

Thanks to everyone who has made this past year a success, and to all who will volunteer their time next year to keep alumni involved with the college.

Tom Skalbeck
President, Biological Sciences Alumni Society

CBS alumna to receive Outstanding Achievement Award
Shirley Tucker (B.A. 1949, M.S. 1951) will receive an Outstanding Achievement Award (OAA) Tuesday, September 28, at a symposium in her honor on the St. Paul campus. The OAA, the highest award the University of Minnesota grants to its alumni, recognizes exceptional achievement in a professional field. Tucker is Boyd Professor Emerita of Louisiana State University; an adjunct professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara; and a research scientist at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden. Both her University of Minnesota degrees are in botany; she received her Ph.D. in botany from the University of California, Davis, in 1956. She is a Fellow of the Linnean Society and has served as president of the Botanical Society of America and the American Society of Plant Taxonomists.

New alumni relations officer
Paul Germscheid, former CBS outreach coordinator, is the new CBS alumni relations coordinator. Paul can be reached at 612-624-9717.

A site for your eyes
Be sure to visit the new CBS Alumni & Friends Web pages. Part of a new, college-wide website, the pages include alumni news and events, class notes, volunteer opportunities, information on the Biological Sciences Alumni Society and the University of Minnesota Alumni Association, Career Center information, and giving opportunities.

BSAS Itasca Weekend 1999
The BSAS Itasca Weekend will be held October 1­3 in conjunction with the Itasca 90th anniversary celebration. All the family fun you've come to expect--field biology mini-courses; children entertained and supervised by staff of the Bell Museum of Natural History; bonfires and s'mores--will be part of the weekend. This year will also include special slide presentations and a lunch with President Yudof to celebrate the people and things that have made the station special. For more information, go to or call Doris Rubenstein at 612-624-3279.

You've waited 90 years for this "Itasca at 90: Field Stations at the Crossroads," a symposium in honor of the founding of the University's Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station, will be held Thursday, September 30. Speakers will include Thomas M. Frost of the National Science Foundation; G. David Tilman of the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior; and Ronald Calabrese of Emory University and the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass. The event is sponsored by CBS; the College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences; and the Medical School. For more information, call Doris Rubenstein, 612-624-3279.

BSAS Board of Directors--Officers
President: Tom Skalbeck
President-elect: Lisa Weik
Acting Secretary/Treasurer: Deanna Croes
Past President: Mary Jo Lockbaum
National Board Representative: Carol Pletcher

A marriage of minds

For these two alums, Itasca has a special significance.

By Angelo Gentile

An excited group of students at the University's Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station were crowding together near the flagpole for a closer look at something.

Darby Nelson, a graduate student conducting research at Itasca, wandered over to see what the fuss was about.

"Someone had found a leech with numerous young attached to it and was showing it off," Nelson recalls of that summer day in 1966.

That type of shared excitement about biology and environmental elements continues to be a significant ingredient of the Itasca experience, says Nelson. "Once there, everybody is nuts about biology. At Itasca, you could get excited about these things and give evidence of your excitement and not feel out of place. It's a total immersion atmosphere where everything that is being studied or researched is neat to everyone who is there from black fly larvae to limnological sampling."

That day in the summer of 1966 was particularly special to Nelson. As he remembers, the leech with numerous young attached to it "was a neat sight, and so was the girl across from me in the circle of people that had gathered. She was a new student for second session and I connived to walk her to the dining hall for a Dr. Pepper when the gathering broke up." Two years later, they married.

Geri Nelson, Darby's wife, remembers that meeting in just about the same way, and she also recalls the total immersion atmosphere of Itasca. She remembers "sitting in the dining hall and having everyone so excited about each other's research. Everyone would talk about what they were doing, and people would offer ideas to each other."

To help ensure that this excitement about science, biology, and the environment continues, the Nelsons recently made a bequest to support the field station. "We met at Itasca so it has a special meaning in our lives," they commented in a recent University publication. "The work of students and faculty at the field station has made a tremendous impact on environmental research."

The Nelsons continue to make their own impact as teachers. Darby, who received two bachelor's degrees, a master's degree, and a Ph.D., all from the University, has been on the biology department faculty at Anoka-Ramsey Community College since 1966. Geri, who received a bachelor's degree in 1968 as one of the first graduates of the then-newly organized College of Biological Sciences, teaches physical and research science at Champlin Park High School.

Darby has received an impressive number of teaching awards, including Golden and Silver Chalk Awards, honors voted on by Anoka-Ramsey students.

"He's been a leader in our science area," says Sandy Hitch, an administrator at Anoka-Ramsey. "He's been teaching all of these years and yet the students, in voting him these awards, most often comment on his enthusiasm and passion for his subject."

Darby also served three terms in Minnesota's House of Representatives (1983-1988), using his problem-solving skills as a scientist to pass legislation on a number of environment-related issues.

Geri has been active with a variety of organizations including the Minnesota Academy of Science, which promotes science education throughout Minnesota. She served for the past three years with that group as director of the academy's state science fair.

The Nelsons also spend time canoeing in places such as Alaska, enjoying the environmental elements that they teach their students about.

Appropriately, the first time they paddled together was also at Itasca. As Darby remembers, "After supper, we'd study. Then we'd take a canoe out and when the moon was shining on the lake, we'd paddle the moon path."

A history in memories

We collected Itasca memories from students, faculty, researchers, and others who spent time at the station to create the book, Itasca at 90: A History in Memories. Here are some excerpts.

Although [the Botany instructor] could identify and name many plants, he was no good in the bush. He was always getting lost. We solved this problem by designating one guy in our group to be our return man. He would not pay any attention to what our Botany friend was telling us, he would just keep track of where we were and how to get back to camp. After we got back, we would pool our notes and make sure that our return man got the whole story.
--Sedgwick Rogers, 1938

Introduction to Entomology required that we each have a bug collection: catch, mount, and identify as many specimens as possible. The prize catch was the nocturnal cecropia and luna moths. A car full of guys would drive the park roads after dark, two riding on the front fenders ready to jump off, swinging nets wildly in the headlights, hoping to add one of those rare beauties to their collection.
--John F. Perry, 1948

More than eight weeks were devoted to the "stalking" of the wily plasmodial slime molds (Myxomycetes)--especially collecting the beautiful fruiting bodies. During this period I made over 1,000 collections--enough to last for teaching and research for the last 40 years. More importantly, I got a chance to see the Itasca region from morning to dusk as I learned to negotiate my way over fallen logs and through streams and wetlands. I became one with a nature so different from my South Minneapolis haunts.
--Edward Haskins, 1959

One time my field biology partners and I were sleeping under the stars somewhere out in the south end of the park. I was awakened suddenly by the loudest snorting sound ever RIGHT above my face! Terrified, I jumped up, scaring away the deer that had snorted in fear just seconds before!
--Cynthia Hagley, 1960s

One night a couple of people in the [parasite] class happened upon a fresh porcupine road kill. They brought it into the lab and opened it up. When the class arrived in the morning, there was a battery jar of saline solution full of living, moving, flat noodles. That porky was full of tape worms and we all got a chance to have a scolex and various stages of proglottids to mount for our permanent collections. My students have seen the resulting slides for many years!
--Elizabeth Thornton, 1970s

After a morning of clambering over treefalls for my Ph.D. project, I rested alone on the shores of Whipple Lake, nodding off on the pine needles in a patch of sun. The sun burnt off my cloud of mosquitoes, and the deerflies moved on as I sat quietly and rested. Suddenly, I heard a loon cry as an osprey dove for a fish not 10 feet from my perch. Only at Itasca!
--Sara Webb, 1983

The best memories are walking into Building 40 at 10 p.m. and finding students busily working on an experiment, engrossed in the lab and enjoying themselves. The pie fight in the mess hall wasn't too bad either.
--Tim Ebner, 1990s

The bait site we set up to lure in the raccoons and observe their behavior is [an] experience I'll never forget. For bait we used dog food, fish remains, sunflower seeds, and shelled peanuts. The fish remains came from the Itasca State Park fish cleaning house. We received a lot of strange looks collecting that bait and discovered just how interesting and smelly research can be. After all that work to get the fish, the raccoons preferred the peanuts!
--Rachel Rauschendorfer, 1997

"By the last night of my summer at Itasca, most of the students had already left. I had tucked myself into the photo lab for many hours, frantically working to complete a project by morning, when a classmate called me outside. I looked up and saw the aurora borealis for the first time in my life. Mysterious green patches danced across the sky. I stood and marveled, losing myself in the vastness of the wilderness that surrounded me. Time seemed to slow while I gazed, and finally the blackness very slowly and gently overwhelmed the sky as the lights faded away."
--Heather York, 1998

Class Notes

Irwin Goldstein (Ph.D. '56) will receive a Medical School Alumni Distinguished Service Award from the University of Michigan October 2. The award recognizes his scientific accomplishments and his service as associate dean for research and graduate studies and professor of biological chemistry during his 35 years at the University of Michigan.

Richard McGee (B.S. '71) received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Iowa in 1975 and is now the associate dean for student affairs at the Mayo Graduate School in Rochester, Minn.

Kris Bettin (B.S. '73), former president of the Biological Sciences Alumni Society, is the student services coordinator in the University of Minnesota's neuroscience department. She started the job--her first non-research position--in April.

James M. Haynes (Ph.D. '78) will receive the 1999 New York State Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching. A professor and coordinator of the Center for Applied Aquatic Science and Aquaculture of the State University of New York at Brockport, he was nominated for this honor by two other faculty members and a group of 30 undergraduate and graduate students.

Jeffrey Tate (B.S. '80, Ph.D. '85), former associate director of CBS' Biological Process Technology Institute, is now director of manufacturing and regulatory affairs for Natural Biologics, LLC, of Albert Lea, Minn.

Beau (B.S. '92) and Judy (B.S. '92) Liddell had a baby girl, Jamie Lee, June 26.

Michael Martinez (Ph.D. '95) spent three years as a postdoctoral research fellow in the endocrine research unit at the Mayo Clinic and Foundation in Rochester, Minn. Now he is back at the University as a research associate in the lab of Gary Nelsestuen, with whom he worked as a grad student and earlier as a participant in the first Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Programs (LSSURP). He gave a talk to this year's LSSURP participants in July.

Mazen Abbas (B.S. '96) has been accepted at the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. He and his wife, Corrie, had a baby boy, Jad, March 26.

Heidi Thorson (B.S. '98) will attend the University of South Dakota School of Medicine beginning fall 1999.