Alumni Advisory Board Members
Dr. John Atkinson
St. Louis, Missouri
Dr. Charlotte Bell
Dr. James Bredfeldt
Dr. Michael Breed
Dr. David Brown
Dr. Richard Colonno
F. Nicholas Franano
Kansas City, Missouri
Dr. Joe Fix – Chair
Dr. Peter Gilligan
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Dr. Ben Hall
Dr. Chris Haller
Dr. Curtis Harris
Garrett Park, Maryland
Dr. John Howieson
Kansas City, Kansas
Dr. Cindi Johnson
Dr. Irving Johnson
Sanibel Island, Florida
Dr. Brad Keller
Dr. Simon Kuo
Overland Park, Kansas
Dr. Linda Loney
Newton Centre, Massachusetts
Montclair, New Jersey
Dr. Ray Meyn
Dr. Richard Morgan
Dr. Ken Nelson
Dr. Gard Otis
Dr. Paul Payne
Wilmington, North Carolina
Dr. Scott Porter
Dr. Randy Scott
Los Altos Hills, California
Dr. Lynn Smiley
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Dr. James Trombold,
Mercer Island, Washington
Dr. Terry Wall, JD
Shawnee Mission, Kansas
Letter from the Chair
As we go to press the leaves have started to change in and around campus and the nighttime temperatures have finally dropped below fifty. In the twenty plus years that I have lived in Lawrence, each fall seems a bit hotter than the previous year; or perhaps I have become much less tolerant of ninety degrees in early October. My colleagues and I are quick to casually blame global warming without any real evidence to support these small-scale day-to-day changes in temperature. However, the important point is that we are talking about climatic change and the dialogue is accelerating, hopefully in time to intervene and reverse the changes.
Most scientists agree that the increased greenhouse gases are insidiously contributing to a warming of the planet. The polar ice sheets are melting and the oceans are lapping away at our coastlines. Without complex and costly efforts to protect our commercial nd cultural centers, many predict that we may see parts of Bangkok or New York slip underwater in our lifetime. It is timely that our feature article this year is “KU scientists at forefront of climate, CO2 change investigation”.
On pages 2 - 9, the Director of the Department of Undergraduate Biology Program and the chairs of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Molecular Biosciences, describe recent achievements of their faculty and students. We are all very grateful for the continued support of the alumni that provide support for students, their research and travel to scientific meetings.
In this issue, we feature two of our outstanding faculty members, Joy Ward, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary biology, and Joseph Steinmetz, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of Psychology and Molecular Biosciences. Joy Ward uses plant physiological ecology and genomics to understand the role of CO2 change in our environment. Joe Steinmetz is a University Distinguished Professor and cognitive neuroscientist who uses a classical eye blink model to understand learning and memory. We are very proud to have both of these outstanding scientists in the Division of Biological Sciences.
Finally, I would like to express my sincere thanks to KU alumni, Alan and Barbara Armstrong for their adage of “learn, earn, and return.” Their story is told on page 19 and exemplifies how important our graduates are to the future of the biological sciences. Although space limitations prevent acknowledgment of all of our outstanding alumni, gratitude accompanies each of the following pages.
Dr. Kathy A. Suprenant
Chair, Molecular Biosciences & Outreach
KU Undergraduate Biology
“Helping KU Graduates Meet a Changing World”
Dr. Chris Haufler,
Director of Undergraduate Biology
The world today is a very different place than it was just a few years ago and our undergraduates deserve the tools to meet the challenges of an ever more global society. Likewise, the KU Undergraduate Biology (KUUB) program is not static. The degrees we offer today have some of the same components that they had in the past, but they also contain innovations that prepare our students to succeed. Although our introductory lectures continue to focus on developing a foundation of basic knowledge that will prepare students for the deeper understanding they obtain in our core courses, these lectures also introduce new knowledge and revised perspectives. In addition, we continually work to bring our introductory laboratories into better coordination with the lectures and include inquiry sections that encourage students to pose and then test their own hypotheses. Our core courses change progressively to reflect current research and advances in the fields they represent. The requirements of our degree options are updated regularly to match the changes in disciplines.
Changes also occur more globally across all the degrees. All of our majors now have a “capstone” experience in their final year. The goal of these “senior seminars” is to help students discover how to apply the knowledge they have obtained in classes to exploring real, contemporary topics in biological research. Students read primary research articles, develop synthetic perspective on them, and deliver oral reports. Often in these seminars, students are challenged to work in teams toward a common presentation.
Ultimately, we want our students to think like scientists and they should be actually “doing” science to learn it best. The laboratories associated with our courses take a step in the right direction, but an even better way to accomplish this goal is to help our students engage in independent research projects that require them to solve real problems and actually make scientific advances. All studies on student learning conclude that students learn best through hands-on engagement. Although we have always provided opportunities for undergraduates to conduct independent research working with a faculty mentor, we are now developing ways to encourage more students to pursue “honors” in biology, a program that includes a research experience, and requires students to
develop written and oral presentations of their research.
If specific examples can help to demonstrate our success, consider the following profiles of the research conducted by three seniors who graduated in 2007. Adam Shaner worked in the laboratory of Dr. Steven Benedict where his research focused on the remarkable complexity of the animal immune system. Most have seen references in the popular literature to such topics as “T cells,” “antigens,” and “autoimmune diseases,” and as I talked with Adam about his research I became excited by how much we know about the immune system. T cells provide a defense against a wide range of pathogens, cancers, and even foreign tissue from organ transplants. Each T cell is capable of responding to one specific antigen inside the human body. In each of us, there are different kinds of T cells. One special type of T cell known as a T regulatory cell is responsible for preventing
activation of the immune system. This is very important in the context of autoimmune diseases. Without T regulatory cells, we see an increase in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. One of the hot areas in trying to regulate our immune responses is in detailing how T cells become activated. For his research project, Adam examined the changes that occur in T cells through gene activation of a number of proteins. When he stimulated these cells with one surface molecule, he saw an increase in a growth factor. When he stimulated them through another surface molecule he saw a much smaller amount of the growth factor. These kinds of
experiments are important because if it is possible to define the various stages and contributors to the immune response, it may become possible to direct the immune system to respond to any potential condition.
Andrew Olive, a senior who worked with his mentor Dr. William Picking, studied a nasty bacterium that can cause diarrheal distress, dehydration, and often death, especially in children in developing nations. Many bacteria have special secretion systems that enable them to inject materials into cells that they are invading. The parasite Shigella flexneri is one of these, and it has a remarkably effective mechanism for infecting cells of the human intestine. By understanding how these bacteria invade cells, it may be possible to develop mechanisms for preventing such invasion. Andrew studied the Invasion Plasmid Antigen molecules that provide an interface between the bacterium and its victim. He was able to demonstrate that two different proteins worked together to facilitate successful invasion. Andrew also showed that the appearance of these proteins is facilitated by the bile salts that are part of the digestion process in our small intestines. Based on his results, Andrew developed a hypothesis for the stages in maturation of the bacterial cells. Research such as this will yield a much-improved understanding of how this pathogen works, and could then lead to development of preventative mechanisms to keep this pathogen from devastating populations in developing countries.
From the interior of the human gut, we turn to the woodlands of Eastern Kansas and consider populations of a grass-like plant that occurs along watercourses. Erica Fishel worked with Drs. Helen Alexander and Deborah Smith to characterize the genetic composition of plants on the borders of the Kansas and Marais des Cygnes rivers. Scientists study natural populations so that they can develop predictions about the movement of species into new habitats and across geographic regions. Erica applied DNA techniques to determine how variation is organized across geo-graphic space and past natural barriers. Her work demonstrated that in these plant populations, most of the genetic variation could be found within each population, and that this variation did not cor-relate with location along the river or between river systems. This kind of information can be very helpful in determining conservation strategies for different species. By knowing more precisely the pat-tern of genetic variation in populations, it is possible to develop improved hypotheses about their potential for evolutionary change.
These three examples are only a small sample of the broad range of research activities that have been undertaken by our under-graduates. They serve to demonstrate that our graduates are already having an impact on the world of biological research and indicate that our students are primed to change the future.
Through the continuing support of our Alumni, undergraduate research in the future looks bright. This year we welcomed two first year BioScholars to KUUB. Lauren Schimming graduated from Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School, Wichita, Kansas. Lauren participated in a Summer Science Program at Newman University and plans to pursue genetics at KU. Clarissa Wedemeier graduated from Blue Valley West High School, Overland Park, Kansas. Clarissa plans to pursue a research career in neuroscience and/or genetics.
At the 2007 Recognition of Honors, Awards, and Graduating Seniors, the audience of more than 700 included graduating seniors, their families, and many KU biology faculty members. The Ceremony was followed by an outdoor reception giving graduates and families time to visit with our faculty. Graduating with Honors in Biology were: Morgan N. Butrick, Nicholas R. Degner, Erica A. Fishel, Stefani Fontana, Kyle E. Kemege, Wing Yan Leung, Yujie Li, Kyle S. McCommis, Andrew J. Olive, Adam C. Shaner, and Nathan D. Smith. As usual, we presented awards to those who contributed to the success of the seniors. Receiving graduate teaching awards were Kelli Cool and Abby Dotson(Robert H. Ammar Graduate Teaching Award for Teaching in Microbiology),Annalise Nawrocki(Kenneth B. Armitage Award for Excellence in Teaching, Principles of Biology Laboratory), Cathy Collins (Michael S. Gaines Award for Excellence in Teaching, Principles of Biology Laboratory), Rafael Demarco (Richard H. Himes Graduate Teaching Assistant Award), and Ha-Rim Cha(Sally K. Frost Mason and Kenneth A. Mason Award for Excellence in Teaching, Undergraduate Biology Core Laboratory). Also receiving awards were: Zachary J. Viets(Robert Tweed Hersh Memorial Award in Human Biology), Nolan B. Seim(The Erma Reed Peterson Scholarship),Grant K. Ghahramani and Ruth Seeliger (The Lance S. Foster Outstanding Junior in Biology Award), Morgan N. Butrick (The Pauline Kimball Prize for an Outstanding Woman Senior in Biology),Nicholas R. Degner (The Paul A. Kitos Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Biochemical Research),Ann Giessel(The Jenna Robinson Memorial Scholarship), and Grant K. Ghahramani (The Del and Carol Shankel Biomedical Scholarship).
The Class of 2007 “Favorite Professor” was William (Bill) Picking. Comments received in support of his nomination included: “Dr. Picking is a very good professor. He took a class with an almost overwhelming amount of information (Pathogenic Microbiology) and gave organized notes to the class of how to best deal with all of the information. He was alsoavailable to any student who wanted to get advice on the best ways to study the material.” “Not only is he very good at teaching the material, but the way he communicates with students and his passion makes you want to learn more.”
These descriptions of successes and observations of changes in our teaching activities may help you understand how the KUUB program provides for the future of our undergraduate students. Discovering the best ways to help our graduates succeed in a rapidly changing world forms the foundation of
our educational objectives. We are successful only if our students achieve their goals, and we will continue to adapt our program to give them the best advantage in their experiences after leaving KU.
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
EEB CHANGES AND ADOPTS TO A GLOBAL FUTURE
-article written by acting chair, Dr. Chris Haufler
Sometimes change is good; and sometimes it is not. As the faulty members who were interviewed for this BioHawk issue on Global Change noted, global warming is not universally bad for all of nature and there has been a continual cycle of warming and cooling throughout Earth’s history. The life of the planet adapts to environmental fluctuations, and the composition of communities and biomes reflects this change over time.
The same can be said about the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. We adapt to changes in administration; our composition is modified as faculty members and students arrive and depart; we react to external stimuli; and we seek to provide a professional working environment for all those contributing to the departmental enterprise.
There have been numerous changes in EEB during the past year; some positive and welcome, others negative and unfortunate. The most recent (and most unfortunate) change occurred on the evening of September 19, 2007 when Craig Martin suffered a “moderate” stroke that left him mentally fully functional but physically partially paralyzed. In typical “Craig” fashion, he drove himself to the emergency room, and when the receptionist asked if she could be of assistance, he said that he hoped so as he thought he was having a stroke! He was right, and he spent about a month in the hospital, recuperating and rehabilitating. The good news is that he is now home and concentrating on a full and complete recovery through daily outpatient therapy. He is working part time and we all look forward to having Craig back to full speed in the lab and classroom.
I was asked to act in Craig’s place, and thus as part of my Acting Chair role, I compiled this BioHawk review of EEB. Because I haven’t been as involved with departmental activities as Craig, I’ve asked the Directors of the four departmental programs to review the accomplishments of each. Their contributions follow this short introduction.
One event involved the department as a whole. In May, a team of experts from outside the University visited and reviewed EEB. External reviews can be remarkably helpful in providing perspectives that members of the department and administration are unable to see. This external stimulus will result in changes through the current academic year and beyond. To prepare for this review, we developed a “self-study” document that profiled the department and posed critical questions for the external team to help us answer. We have now received their report and over the next several months will begin the process of responding to their suggestions and recommendations. We are fortunate that the report provided a series of points, some looking broadly at the structure of the department and its strategic plans, others focusing more narrowly on aspects of graduate student education and the mentoring of early career faculty. By this time next year, we should be able to discuss how the report has modified and improved EEB and resulted in plans that will position us to react to the changing landscape of ecology and evolutionary biology nationally and internationally.
The following sections summarize the accomplishments and activities of faculty in our programs.
by Deborah Smith
Entomology experienced a growth spurt this year with the addition of two faculty members, Caroline Chaboo and Andrew E. Z. Short. Dr. Chaboo will join KU in January, 2008. Her research interests focus on the systematics and biology of leaf beetles and investiga-tions of tri-trophic interactions spanning chemically defended host plants, the chrysomelid beetle herbivores, and their carabid beetle parasitoids. Dr. Short, joins KU in 2009 and his research program centers on the diversity, biology, and evolutionary history of aquatic beetles, a group with more than 11,000 described species.
Current faculty members have been active around the globe. Michael Engel led a collecting expedition in Andalusia, Spain, accompanied by three of his graduate students, Daniel Bennett, Ismael Hinojosa-Diaz, and Steven Davis. Deborah Smith’s research on biogeography of Asian honey bees and their parasitic Varroa mites led her to China, where she held a short workshop for the Apiculture Science Institute of Jilin Province on mitochondrial DNA and applications to honey bee research. Chip Taylor’s Monarch Watch project continues to figure prominently in national and international news, including NBC, ABC, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, and numerous magazines. Our most senior faculty, emeritus professors George Byers and Charles D. Michener, remain active and continue their research at the Entomology Division’s new quarters on West Campus. Dr. Michener published the second and revised edition of his landmark book, Bees of the World.
Thanks to generous alumni support from the Hungerford and John Deal funds, our graduate students traveled to museums and field sites in the US, Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines in pursuit of their research, and attended the Congress of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects in Washington DC, the Animal Behavior Society meeting in Burlington, Vermont, the Honey Bee Genomics and Biology Workshop at Cold Spring Harbor, NY, and the International Congress of Insect Biotechnology and Industry in Seoul, Korea. Four entomology graduate students received summer fellowships from the John Deal Fund. We also gained four new entomology alumni: M.A. students Derek Kellogg, Stephanie Swenson and Jennifer Thomas and Ph.D. student Natapot Warrit.
We are also fortunate to be able to support undergraduate research in entomology with awards from the George Gould Fund. This year research awards went to Leah Myer, studying genetic variation in Vietnamese honeybees (mentor Deborah Smith), and Natalie Peters for research on orientation and learning in honeybees (mentors Rudolf Jander and graduate student Danny Najera).
We are pleased to announce a new KU Endowment fund established in the memory of the late James S. Ashe, Professor and curator-in-charge of the Entomology collection.
Systematics, Macroevolution, and Biodiversity Program
by Linda Trueb
EEB systematics are working on diverse projects, some relating directly to aspects of global change. Vertebrate paleontologist, Larry Martin, is one of four scientists investigating whether Gamma ray bursts damage biospheres! In addition to his work on gliding dinosaurs, he has been busy investigating diving diseases in marine reptiles from
the Cretaceous to the present.
Herpetologist Rafe Brown, along with ornithologists Rob Moyle and Town Peterson and their students have pursued survey and inventory work in the Philippines, China, and Solomon Islands. Brown also is part of a collaborative research project investigating frog diversification on the island of Sulawesi, and an active participant with Linda Trueb on a NSF “Assembling the Tree of Life” Grant. The research by Brown and his students on frogs and toads is especially important in view of the declining populations and species disappearances of amphibians worldwide. These declines are correlated with chytrid fungal infections that have increased with global warming, and now, preserved collections are being surveyed to document if and when endangered (or extirpated) populations became infected with the fungus.
The state of marine biodiversity is mirrored by the systematic studies of three other EEB systematists—Paulyn Cartwright and Daphne Fautin, who study marine invertebrates, cnidarians and sea anemones, respectively, and Kirsten Jensen, who studies the parasitic tapeworms resident in sharks and rays. Cartwright and Fautin are collaborators on a NSF “Assembling the Tree of Life” Grant, and Jensen has a NSF survey and inventory grant to study the metazoan parasites of sharks of Indonesian Borneo.
EEB systematists have taken the lead to establish distributed database networks that provide scientific and public access to collections data on the Internet. Ed Wiley led the way with FishNET, which includes 27 ichthyological collections. HerpNET hosts 49 collections of amphibians and reptiles under the direction of Linda Trueb, and ORNIS has 43 ornithological data providers under the direction of Town Peterson. Peterson and his students are also addressing questions of biodiversity and global change more explicitly. They are testing the conservatism of ecological features of species during the past 200,000 years, and using the results to anticipate likely effects of current-day global change over the coming 50 years. Taken together, these diverse areas of research offer a broad context for understanding the current global climate change crisis. It is this kind of extraordinary research that supported the successful awarding of a University Distinguished Professorship to Dr. Peterson this year.
Ecology and Population Biology
by Edward Martinko
Faculty in the Ecology and Population Biology (EPB) program distinguished themselves through a wide range of achievements. Helen Alexander, was inducted into the KU Women’s Hall of Fame and was recognized for her excellence in classroom teaching with a Chancellor’s Club Teaching Professorship, one of only twelve such professorships across the University (Craig Martin holds one as well). Norm Slade was honored for excellence in teaching at the Center for Teaching Excellence Celebration of Teaching.
Bryan Foster received a grant from the NSF Ecological Studies program to study grassland community coalescence and diversity in response to nitrogen eutrophication. Val Smith’s work on disease control in humans by manipulations of the diet, published in the Journal of Integrative and Comparative Biology rose to ninth place on the list of “The 50 Most-Frequently Read Articles” in that journal. Jim Thorp’s paper on a new conceptual theory in river ecology (the riverine ecosystem synthesis) was the #1 cited paper in 2006 in River Research and Applications and in the top 10% of all papers cited in journals published by John Wiley & Sons last year. Maria Orive, on sabbatical leave for 2007-2008, received a highly competitive fellowship for study during that time at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.
A number of EPB faculty members (Bryan Foster, Helen Alexander, Jerry deNoyelles, Sharon Billings, Val Smith, Joy Ward, and Ed Martinko) contributed to a successful NSF grant to fund a multi-purpose building completed during the summer, 2007 at the KU Field Station and Ecological Reserves. The new building has two research and teaching laboratories, a large classroom/conference room, a kitchen and shower facilities for resident and visiting scientists, and two sleeping cabins under construction.
Three EPB students completed Ph.D. degrees in the last year (Liza Holeski, Jennifer Moody-Weis, and Elizabeth Slade) and three students earned M.A. degrees (Charlotte Kluza, James Kriz, and Katherine Roach). Continuing graduate students also obtained recognition for their achievements. Cathy Collins received an award for the best student presentation at the 2007 Landscape Ecology meetings in Tucson. Irene Khavin received a National Science Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship. Quinn Long received a grant from the Prairie Fork Trust. Erin Questad received a KU Women’s Club Scholarship for 2007-2008, and a NASA-MSU Professional Enhancement Award for 2007. Lisa Tiemann received a University of Kansas Graduate School First-Year Fellowship for 2008 to study eco-forecasting in the Great Plains. Katie Roach was recently chosen by the KU Office of Research and Graduate Studies as the KU nominee for the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools' Distinguished Master's Thesis Award.
by Thomas N. Taylor
The activities of members of the Plant Biology (PB) program, including faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows continue to demonstrate vitality and exemplary accomplishment. Lena Hileman received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for her research that examines flower development and evolution
(evo-devo). Lena has been invited by the National Academy of Sciences, in partnership with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, to participate in the 2007 Japanese-American Kavli Frontiers of Science symposium later this year. Joy Ward is also funded by the NSF for her research on the physiology of plants under elevated carbon dioxide. Her research, discussed in this issue of the BioHawk, examines the underlying genetic and developmental mechanisms in plant responses to climate change and has important implications for understanding future changes in crop plants.
Providing a high quality education for students at all levels is something that all PB faculty members believe is important and recognition of outstanding classroom teaching is measured in many ways. In addition to being promoted to associate professor with tenure this year, Mark Mort also received one of the universities highest honors—a Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence. This award recognizes not only his outstanding classroom teaching, but also his commitment to students.
Plant Biology is fortunate to have emeritus and adjunct faculty who are actively involved in research, public service, and educa-tion at all levels. Daniel Crawford, Robert Lichtwardt, Andrew Torres, and Craig Freeman are active participants in the program and Department.
Leadership across all sciences was provided during the year by Thomas N. Taylor, who was appointed to a six-year term on the National Science Board (NSB) by President Bush. The NSB provides oversight for, and establishes policies of, the National Science Foundation and serves as an independent body of advisors on science policy to the U.S. government. Chris Haufler served as President of the Botanical Society of America (BSA). The BSA encompasses all areas of plant research and education and is one of the largest plant biology societies in the world. Edith L. Taylor received the highest honor bestowed by the BSA, the BSA Merit Award, for her “many contributions to paleobotany, Antarctic paleoclimatology, and the biology and evolution of fossil plants.” She is also currently serving as coeditor of the international journal PALAIOS, which publishes research on the impact of life on earth history.
Department of Molecular Biosciences
KU Scientist at forefront of Climate, CO2, Change Investigation
The premise states that the action of one force (the miniscule flap of a butterfly’s wings) builds momentum increasing in ferocity and directly impacts the action or reaction of another force (a tidal wave) on the other side of the world. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena.
Translate that global phenomenon from a time element of minutes, hours, or days, into decades, centuries, and eons and one can start to grasp the impact of the increasing temperature and levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) during the past two centuries. That the Earth’s climate and temperatures are changing is generally not debated. The impact and rate of that change is what concerns scientists, policy makers and world leaders.
The international debate
Google the terms “global warming” and one comes up with more than 80 million listings. On most noted Web sites, such as globalwarming.org, detailing the relative statistics shows three notable revelations.
- The global average temperature is about 0.6 degrees Celsius (about 1 degree Fahrenheit) higher than it was just 100 years ago. Go back to the mid-1700s and the temperature has increased approximately 1° C.
- Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have risen by about 30 percent over the past two centuries.
- CO2 is a greenhouse gas which, when emitted, likely will warm the Earth’s atmosphere.
But these are just facts. Dr. Rajenda Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), noted in a presentation to the opening session of the United Nations High Level Event on Climate Change in September that the concentration of carbon dioxide “exceeded the natural range that has existed over 650,000 years.”
“We, the human race,” Pachauri told the delegation, “have substantially altered the Earth’s atmosphere.”
The IPCC predicts that 20 to 30 percent of the plant and animal species are in danger of extinction if average temperatures continue to rise 1.5° to 2.5° celsius. In fact, models show that a best-case scenario would mean an increase of 1.8° C by the end of the 21st Century with an upper-end estimate of 4° C.
A century vs. millennium
What the facts above do not point out is that it took eons prior to the past 200 years for the Earth’s average temperature to rise .6 degrees. Remembering the butterfly, that’s like comparing a butterfly wing flap impacting some-thing a minute later versus impacting it 100 years from now.
“That’s it exactly,” said Sharon Billings, a glob-al change biologist at KU. “It’s the rate of that change that seems to not get mentioned in today’s debate over CO2 increases and global warming. What has happened the past 150 years or so is like a blink of an eye compared to the evolution of our planet”.
So, what has happened? Most scientists point to the dawn of the industrial age, typically stated to have begun around 1750 in Europe, as a key contributor to the increase in CO2. One can point to the development of the world economy, the building of factories, the automobile, and an ever-increasing global population as eventually having a large impact on the Earth’s atmosphere. To determine what may happen over the next 150 to 200 years one must go back 10 times that far to develop some hypothesis. That’s where the leading scientists from the University of Kansas’ Division of Biological Sciences have gone.
Going back to go forward
Joy Ward, assistant professor of plant physiological ecology and plant genomics, was one of the first scientists to use the Rancho La Brea tar pits outside Los Angeles to study the effect on plant life. She also has studied tree rings dating to the last ice age (about 10,000 years ago) as well as restructuring the impact of low CO2 levels and cli-mate change on plants.
The basis of this research is to uncover how certain levels of CO2 affect the growth of plant life – because trees are a natural user of CO2 and emit Oxygen, reducing CO2 levels – and how they impact the global climate overall. As CO2 levels increase, plant activity and growth increases. This cycle of increasing CO2 levels and advancing growth of plant life can be tracked to the eventual change in growing and flowering seasons. When this happens, one needs to investigate then if the pollinators have also sped up their activity to match the plant life cycle.
Plants do, indeed, decrease CO2 levels. The irony is that the higher the CO2, the more active plant life. But currently, the CO2 levels are increasing faster than the invigorated plant life can accommodate. It’s a deli-cate balancing act that has reached a tip-ping point.
“Some ecosystems will be sinks for CO2,” Ward said. “But others will give off more than they will take up”.
Again, as Ward points out, it’s that rate of climate change that scientists are most concerned about. While scientists can con-struct an environment of a certain level of CO2 and study the impacts, it is difficult to replicate such a staggering rate of change.
Think locally, act globally
The very reason Kansas became settled by farmers and is the center of the agriculture economy could very well give one a sign to what may occur in the future. Kansas’ soil has a natural carbon content that allows plant life to thrive. However, when Billings performed her soil-based research she dis-covered that Kansas’ grassland soil produced far more CO2 than soils from other ecosystems when warmed. That suggests grassland soils may generate even more CO2 in a warmer world.
For a vivid example of the sped-up life cycle of plant life due to increasing CO2 levels, one can look to our nation’s capital. Ward noted that the Cherry Blossom Festival – an annual event in Washington, D.C. – is now impacted because the blooms are happening sooner than they were when the trees were introduced in 1912.
Talk of CO2 levels and plant life certainly deserve some headlines, Billings said. “But for humans, the rise in sea levels may impact the most people. The economic and human impact of sea level rise would be huge.”
Billings noted that a rise in CO2 levels directly impacts the pH level of the ocean – which impacts thousands of organisms.
"A Difference of a few degrees feels like the difference between unzipping your jacket, but to the natural world it is a large change."
The future is bright
Billings certainly does not see the ability
to roll back the clock to pre-industrial age
CO2 levels. Instead, the long-term solution may be more likely to cap the levels where we are now and slow the increase so scientists (and maybe more importantly all mankind) can grasp just what the long-term effects will be on future generations.
With the impact not being immediately felt by current generations, it will take some drastic reality checks to cause any action, Billings said. “There’s no real immediate impact to us,” Billings said. “A difference of a few degrees feels like the difference between zipping and unzipping your jacket, but to the natural world it is a large change”.
One can think of it in terms of one’s own retirement nest egg. The vast majority of workers do not save enough for retirement while they are working. There are just too many bills coming in today to be concerned with affording something they can’t even imagine in 35 years. But as people live longer thanks to advances in technology and medicines, that impact of failing to plan now is felt over a longer period of time and certainly impacts their quality of life. And retirement planning does affect one person-ally while climate change will impact one’s children and grandchildren.
There is empirical evidence that change, however slowly, can occur for the positive, Billings said. She points to the environmental firestorm of the 1980s – acid rain. Now, 30 years later, scientists can point to improvement in sulfur dioxide emissions thanks to things like the U.S. Clean Air Act and Helsinki Protocol.
Change is evident in Kansas as well as recently as October 2007, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) denied an air quality permit for a coal-fired power plant near Holcomb, Kans. Secretary of KDHE Roderick L. Bremby cited the eventual CO2 emissions as the primary reason.
“I believe it would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other green-house gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing,” said Bremby.
A statement released by his office indicated the decision constitutes a first step in emerging policy to address existing and future carbon dioxide emissions in Kansas. “KDHE will work to engage various industries and stakeholders to establish goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and strategies to achieve them. This is consistent with initiatives underway in states leading the effort to address climate change” said Bremby.
There may not be that one climactic occurrence, such as the drastic cold spell and winter storms that blanketed the Northern Hemisphere in the movie The Day After, which spurs the Earth’s population to alter behaviors that continue to pour CO2 into the atmosphere. But Billings and Ward see hope in the research they perform and the students in their class-rooms. Which is why they will continue to do their part researching and educating tomorrow’s scientists and the next generation of Earth’s caretakers.
Next Generation of Graduate Studies
Mentor: Dr. Erik Lundquist
My name is Jamie Chapman and I am a third year graduate student in the Department of Molecular Biosciences. I received my Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of Missouri in Kansas City in 2005. In the fall of 2005, I began working towards my doctorate in the Department of Molecular Biosciences with a focus in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. I was then given the opportunity to join the laboratory of Dr. Erik Lundquist, where I have received tremendous support and guidance from my mentor and lab members.
My research focuses on the molecular signaling events that pattern the nervous system. The formation of the nervous system is an extremely complex developmental process that requires numerous neuronal migrations and axon pathfinding events .These events allow for the formation of a very precise array of connections that comprise a properly functioning nervous system.
In order for these wiring events to occur accurately, neurons must receive and correctly interpret molecular signals that instruct them in which direction they should migrate or with which target cells to form synapses. In Dr. Erik Lundquist’s laboratory, we focus on how these molecular signaling events control neuronal migration and axon pathfinding, which ultimately patterns the nervous system.
Due to the relative simplicity of its nervous system, our lab uses the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans in order to study molecules involved in the patterning of the nervous system. My studies focus specifically on the protein MIG-15 (the MIG designation indicates MIGration defective), which has been implicated in neuronal migration and axon pathfinding. I have been studying the role of this protein in directing the migration of two neuroblasts and their descendants that undergo long-range migrations along the anterior-posterior axis of the worm. In addition, I am also exploring the role of the Rac GTPases in directing the migration of these same neurons. This research will help us understand how neurons respond to the signals that specify their migratory pathways. With the knowledge of how neurons determine their path of migration, we will learn more about how the human brain develops.
After graduating from KU, I plan to continue exploring the formation and regulation of the nervous system.
Mentor: Dr. Robert Cohen
Most of the cells that make up our body have life-times much shorter than our own. In fact, billions of cells are shed or digested every day. Without a system of regeneration, our journey from dust to dust would last only weeks. But that is not the case at all. Rapidly aging cells are replaced by young, vigorous cells that maintain efficiency and resilience of our tissues and organs - such as blood and guts - sometimes for more than a century. The cells responsible for this renewal are adult stem cells.
The ability of adult stem cells to divide and produce two distinct daughter cells is key in this regenerative system. For example, epithelial stem cells at the base of our skin divide into two daughter cells. One daughter retains the identity of a stem cell. The other daughter specializes and integrates into the skin to live a short, functional life before being replaced by other stem cell daughters. In skin, this is critical, since it is exposed to an unpredictable environment. In addition to skin, constant turnover can be found in a variety of tissues, including the kidneys, intestines, and brain.
Therefore, understanding the molecular mechanism by which these unique cells divide asymmetrically is fundamental for advances in tissue engineering and cancer therapeutics.
I’ve chosen the fruit fly ovary as a living laboratory. The ovary is a tractable and convenient system that allows me to study stem cells in their normal environment. My experiments have recently shown that a highly conserved protein, called Rab11, which is best known for its role in moving and recycling proteins back to the plasma membrane, is required for stem cell maintenance. In the absence of this protein, the stem cells lose their connection with their neighbors and divide symmetrically. Eventually stem cells are depleted entirely. These results strengthen the theory that junctions between stem cells and their neighbors are essential for stem cell identity. Further, these junctions are dynamic and rab11 is important for keeping them intact and functional. In the future, I hope to determine with genetics and molecular biology, other mechanisms involved in the establishment and maintenance of asymmetry.
Undoubtedly I’ll discover as many questions as I do answers during the few years of training I have left at the University of Kansas. But the support from my department and inspiration from professors like Bob Cohen and Edina Harsay will allow me to enter a competitive field confident in my ability to tackle complex issues and answer fundamental questions. As the stem cells in my body replace old cells with fresh cells, and first-class training replaces naivety with reason, I can truly declare that I will have left KU as a brand new person.
Mentor: Dr. Paulyn Cartwright
I received a Madison and Lila Self Graduate Fellow to support my graduate career and am in my second year of work toward a doctorate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. My mentor is Dr. Paulyn Cartwright. I received my bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and genetics from Northwestern University in 2003.
Like many who enter the field of biology, I was fascinated with nature as a child, and spent every free moment outside observing plants and animals, or inside reading about them. Some of my fondest encounters with nature occurred in the tide-pools at Cannon Beach in Oregon, where I was first exposed to creatures like sea anemones and jellyfishes. Even as a child, I was struck by the remarkable diversity of forms these animals displayed. It is only natural, then, that my work is now devoted to uncovering the mechanisms behind morphological and developmental changes in these animals.
My research involves answering basic questions in early animal evolution and development. Why do even relatively ‘simple’ animals look so different, and what changes at the genetic level over time have led to the physical differences that we see when we observe life? My research approaches these questions in two very different ways. First, I’m examining the evolutionary relation-ships of an early-diverging animal group, the hydrozoans, which belong to the Phylum Cnidaria (a group that includes sea anemones and jellyfishes). This will enable me to understand the patterns of morphological change that have occurred in this group. This project involves sequencing nuclear and mitochondrial DNA markers in a large number of hydrozoans and using the sequences to determine the evolutionary relationships among these animals. Second, I’m conducting comparative gene expression studies in close hydrozoan relatives to determine how changes in the expression of key developmental regulatory genes have led to simple changes in morphology, such as the placement of tentacles and reproductive structures during development. The fusion of evolutionary and developmental approaches to under-standing diversity in nature is part of a relatively new subdiscipline of biology called evolutionary developmental biology, or ‘Evo-Devo.’ EEB has a strong tradition of systematics and organismal biology, and it was this history that brought me to KU. My department also has a number of energetic young faculty members who are interested in applying evo-devo approaches to evolutionary questions. I have the benefit of working in a department with remarkable intellectual resources, support, and opportunities for growth. The diversity of research programs and academic interests in EEB ensures that I have constant opportunities to learn new things, engage in academic discussion, and develop as a young scientist.
Mentor: Dr. Sharon Billings
My name is Lisa Tiemann and I am currently a Ph.D. student with Dr. Sharon Billings in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Originally from Lakewood, CO, I received a Bachelor of Music degree in 1997 from the University of Wyoming and worked on a Master of Music degree at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, MD. After living and working on the east coast for several years, I returned to school in 2003 in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado. In the summer of 2005, I was chosen to participate in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at KU where I worked with Dr. Billings and became acquainted with the University of Kansas. I then began a career as a graduate student at KU in the summer of 2006.
My research focuses on soil ecology and the effects of global climate change on ecosystem level biogeochemical cycles. I am currently looking at the effects of land management practices on soil organic carbon as a source or sink for CO2. Knowing from previous studies that fertilization increases the amount of soil organic carbon, I am trying to determine the ultimate fate of that carbon by making use of experimental grasslands at the KU Field Station and Ecological Reserves. The study site contains experimental plots representing common land management practice in the American Midwest including haying, fertilization and haying, fertilization only and old field succession (no fertilization or haying). Soil measurements of inorganic nitrogen, microbial biomass carbon and nitrogen, denitrification potential, and extracellular enzyme activity will allow me to determine how microbial efficiencies shift under different land management regimes, and ultimately determine if the fertilizer-induced increases in soil organic carbon will lead to increased release of CO2 to the atmosphere via increased soil organic matter processing and microbial respiration.
For my dissertation project, I will be exploring the effects of changing precipitation regimes in the American Midwest on soil organic matter processing and microbial community structure and function. In order to understand how grasslands will contribute to global C and N cycles under future climate scenarios, understanding how the microbial communities that mediate these two biogeochemical cycles respond to shifts in soil moisture is crtitical. To answer this question, I will make use of the precipitation gradient that runs west to east, from the semi-arid shortgrass steppe to the mesic tallgrass prairie, and reciprocally transplanted soil cores from four sites along this gradient. The project will be part of NSF EPSCoR’s Central Plains Ecological Forecasting project, which addresses one of the grand environmental challenges of the 21st century and involves 3 other institutions in Kansas.
I am a senior from Olathe, originally from Afghanistan and majoring in microbiology.
For the past year, I have been doing research in Dr. Matthew Buechner’s lab on tubular development in Caenorhabditis elegans, a 1 mm roundworm that is typically found in the soil. There are many factors that make it ideal for research such as its three and a half day life cycle, fully sequenced genome and transparency under the microscope. The C. elegans excretory canal is studied in order to better understand tubular development. The excretory canal is unicellular and extends along the length of the nematode. Our lab is working with nine genes in the C. elegans genome, known as the Exc genes. These genes play a role in canal formation and when mutated cause malformations of varying severity in the cell shape.
I am working with one of the Exc genes known as exc-3. When mutated, this gene causes shortening of the canal cell and the formation of small fluid-filled cysts. To understand how exc-3 functions on a cellular level, it is important to identify the specific coding region in the C. elegans genome responsible for this phenotype. Previous data show that exc-3 is located somewhere on the X-chromosome. I am currently working to identify the specific location of the exc-3 on the X-chromosome by using a technique known as SNP mapping. Once the DNA sequence encoding exc-3 has been identified, its function and how it might interact with other Exc genes involved in canal formation can be understood.
Exposure to biology and being active in research instilled in me a passion for science. After graduation, I plan to continue my science education through either graduate research or medical school and ultimately want to make a contribution to the community at large.
Howieson Bioscholar Recipient
I am a senior from Cyprus working towards my Bachelor’s degree in Genetics with a minor in Philosophy. After receiving a Fulbright Grant in 2003, I came to KU in 2004 to study essential elements of life.
Genetics with a flavor of philosophy seemed to combine these elements well. The philosophical ingredient of my studies broadened the biological questions I have had. Examining the nature and implications of evolution seemed to overlap the broad borders philosophy had drawn for me. For the last two years, I have been involved in two separate and still on-going evolution-based research projects. In December 2005 I started working at the Natural History Museum in the lab of Dr. Ed Wiley. After getting the basic background on lab techniques, I began generating Rag1 sequences from representative species in the family Scopelomorpha (blackchins and lanternfishes) to test the existing hypothesis that Scopelomorpha form a monophyletic group. So far, Rag1 sequences support the hypothesis that this family is monophyletic, but we are continuing to sample Rag1 sequence from the myctophiforms (lanternfish, where most scopelomorpha have been classified) in order to continue investigating this question. In January 2007 I also started working in the lab of Dr. Lena Hileman where research focuses on developmental evolution of symmetry in flowering plants. Based on research in the model species snapdragon, we are beginning to understand the developmental network of genetic interactions that establishes bilateral flower symmetry. In order to begin understanding the level of conservation of this developmental network among flowering plants, I am utilizing the related model species, the monkey flower as a study system. We have used a combined bioinformatic and phylogenetic approach to recover all putative symmetry genes from the nearly complete monkey flower genome sequence. My lab mates and I have identified a number of putative symmetry genes. Many seem to have evolved by gene duplication along the lineage leading to monkey flower. I am beginning to investigate how these symmetry genes are expressed in monkey flowers using reverse-transcriptase PCR, and hope to make a more detailed assessment of symmetry gene expression patterns in monkey flower using in situ mRNA hybridization.
After graduation, I plan to go into a PhD program representing the current scientific paradigm of molecular biology. I hope that the training I receive as a PhD student will define the work I do in future stages of my life, and that my work will ultimately contribute to this flourishing era of biological research. This is why I plan to keep in touch with the many colors of the spectrum of bio-logical investigation, in order to get into the ‘rhythm’ of the field of inquiry of life and evolve with it.
Joy Ward aptly juggles a variety of duties in her personal, professional life
Take one part scientist. One part researcher. Another part teacher. Throw in some wife, mother, sports
fan and friend. That’s quite a recipe for success. But it seems to be one that Joy Ward, assistant professor of plant physiological ecology and plant genomics, has cooked up quite well.
It seems that Ward has struck an ideal balance between the various roles at work and her multiple roles at home.
“She has a great understanding of what is really important,” said her husband, Rob Ward, also a professor in the Division of Biological Sciences. “She doesn’t obsess about what she can’t control.” And the best part, Rob added, “It seems effortless for Joy.”
Nurtured by nature
Ward grew up in a farm setting in rural Pennsylvania. She spent her share of time outdoors, studying nature even as a child. Maybe the scientist in her was passed down from her mother and doctor father, who passed away during the 2007 fall semester, but it was nurtured by the nature she experienced on a daily basis.
She sees a little of herself in many of the students in her Physiology of Organism classes. Those students, many from rural parts of Kansas and around the Midwest, come to the biosciences already armed with a perspective on plant life and with a natural intrigue impacting that life cycle.
“Each brings their own interesting perspective,” Ward said of her students fresh from the farm. “Kansas is a great place to teach undergraduates because of that variety and mix of urban and rural students.”
From Cameron Crazy to Phog Phanatic
After graduating from Penn State in 1991, Ward moved on to Duke University for work on her masters and doctorate. That’s where she met Rob, also a graduate student at the time. It’s also where she continued to foster her love of athletics.
Although she has a certain fondness for the University of Kansas athletics – she has sat on the Chancellor’s Athletics Advisory Board for three years and greatly admires the hard work put forth by the athletes, coaches and administrators – Joy always saw herself teaching in a setting that combined the best of urban and rural learning opportunities. Rob, who was born in Kansas and still has family here, and Joy found their way to KU where they have continued to grow as scientists and feed their college sports fix with all things KU athletic.
Role as professor varied
As the winner of the inaugural Edward and Thelma Wohlgemuth Faculty Scholar, Ward works the balancing act as researcher and professor. Her research provides a solid part of the curriculum she uses in her classes. Ward is studying the Rancho La Brea tar pits in Southern California to examine the effects of the last ice age
(a time of low atmospheric carbon dioxide) on plant life of that time.
“My laboratory is interested in under-standing how global change factors influence the physiology, population structure, and evolution of plant species,” she said. “We learn the science and then discuss it in class.”
It’s this topic and the discussions that ensue that are vital to the learning in her classes and labs, she said. “The students tend to be real smart in land and land management issues,” she said. “(This topic) is close to their hearts. Dealing with it has been a part of their upbringing.”
But Ward is not defined solely by her teaching and scholarship. “She sees the big picture,” Rob said. “She even does ‘big picture’ kind of science.”
Ward has always had a lot on her plate and has been successful. Rob remembers her taking on “one of the most ambitious graduate projects I’ve ever seen.”
“She started her career off as a grad student doing research at the highest levels.”
Woman in science
Witnessing this drive and success first hand is Edie Taylor, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Taylor and Ward have become close friends over time.
“She was the first woman faculty member to be on my floor with me,” Taylor said. “Joy is a good example of someone who maintains a sense of perspective on what’s important.”
“To be a good scientist you have to see the problem then know how to go about studying it. She’s got what it takes to be a great scientist. She sees one problem but sees five different ways it could go.”
Besides her duties teaching her regular curriculum, she also mentors many women in science, hoping to show tomorrow’s female innovators that they can be professionals in their fields as well as develop a strong home and family life.
Cooking up success
Ward considers herself fortunate to have found her way to KU. She counts getting to know Dorothy Lynch (the donor who established the Edward and Thelma Wohlgemuth Faculty Scholar Award), “as one of the highlights of my time here.”
Ward also has high praise for her colleagues in both the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Molecular Bioscience departments along with the athletics department.
“She likes the personal side of it,” Rob said of his wife’s involvement with athletics. “She cares about the athletes as students. She appreciates the work that goes into succeeding on the athletic field and in the classroom.”
A rising star
Still relatively young as a teacher and researcher, Ward already has numerous publications, presentations, and profession-al accolades to point to with plenty more on the way.
Rob sees first hand the dedication she has in both her personal and professional life. “She’s a star in her field and continues to be a tremendous scientist,” he said.
Taylor, who is excited to be Ward’s faculty mentor, calls Ward a “wonderful colleague and very dedicated, bright and hard working.
“I think she is going places scientifically.”
That may be true. But wherever she goes, she’ll do so with a smile. And with contentment that only those who truly perfect the balancing act can know.
The Man with the Plan
Bottoms up approach at center of CLAS strategic plan
Joseph Steinmetz hit his one-year anniversary as Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS)
at the University of Kansas this past summer as excited for the future as he was on his first day in the post. Maybe that’s because he has a plan – a strategic plan.
Dean Steinmetz, after joining KU from Indiana University where he was Chair of Psychology and Executive Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences, set out as one of his first acts to conduct a strategic planning process for CLAS. This process enabled Steinmetz to “visit with all of the departments and personally get a handle on all of the units,” he said. This personal approach was at the center of what he calls in the strategic plan a “bottoms up approach” to setting the landscape for the future. This approach gave a voice to the teachers in the classroom, researchers in the labs and administrators in the offices.
Two major initiatives came from the planning process with the Division of Biological Sciences, Steinmetz said. First is the need to enhance the role of graduate student training to better support them in their teaching, research, and scholarship. This also includes doing a better job of recruiting the best and brightest to KU’s graduate program. “We’ve seen once we get them on campus, we have a high rate of getting them to stay,” he said.
In addition, Steinmetz sees it as a priority to increase one-on-one research opportunities for undergraduates. These laboratory opportunities enhance the undergraduates’ classroom skills, as well as their experience for research and scholarship in the future, he said.
Steinmetz is personally doing his part in the Division. He holds faculty appointments in both the Departments
of Psychology and Molecular Biosciences and earned an appointment as a University Distinguished Professor.
He currently has six students working in his lab focusing on the neurobiology of learning and memory. In fact, he
also may teach a course in the spring semester on the subject.
But Steinmetz, like most in public institutions of higher learning, realizes expansion, improvements and growth don’t happen without the investment from alumni and other donors into the future of tomorrow’s scientists today.
“We have to work hard to improve and expand our facilities,” he said. “We are about maxed out with space. In order to start a lab, there have to be facilities available. This has to be a high priority. It is critical to the development of the overall student and to the College as a whole”.
Armstrongs Credit KU with Providing the "Good Life"
The mid-1950s to mid 1960s were certainly full of change across America and around the world. Little did a University of Kansas biology major and midwestern girl realize that decade would shape their lives forever.
For Alan Armstrong, arriving on campus in the early 1950s was a glorious time. Maybe too glorious. Armstrong spent four full and lively years on the Hill but did not have a degree to show for it. He did what many men of his age at the time did; he enlisted and went off to fight in Korea. Upon his discharge, instead of returning to Lawrence to finish college, he opted to learn the family business – manning a tung tree orchid farm in Florida. He figured he had the background for it after majoring in botany while at KU.
But that chapter in his life was also cut short. A bad freeze in Florida thwarted his budding business career before it even had a chance to blossom. At that point, “I figured I better go back to school,” Armstrong now recalls.
This time the books were better to him and he was better to them, graduating from KU with a degree in microbiology in 1959. That’s when our Midwestern girl, whose father was a KU engineering graduate, arrived in the picture. Barbara Bechtel’s first introduction to Armstrong was as his lab assistant –washing beakers, test tubes, and more.
The two wed a little more than a year later during the summer of 1961 in Danforth Chapel. Children soon followed – and so did some interesting nights in the lab. Barbara recalled fondly her first born playing in the playpen in the lab while the two worked on Armstrong’s experiments. It all seemed to work out okay as Armstrong earned his masters in 1963 and his doctorate in 1966.
But then what?
“I was 35 years old, no job, two kids,” Armstrong said. “It was time to go to work.”
And work he did – for almost three decades at Abbott Laboratories in the Chicago area focusing on infectious diseases. He worked on such groundbreaking answers to rheumatic fever and strep throat. He was one of the first to perform rapidly diagnostic tests for sexually transmitted diseases. He eventually earned distinction as an Associate Research Fellow.
While Armstrong was off to work, Barbara was a dedicated wife and mother of two. However, once the children were raised, she put her KU degree to work and started at Abbott Laboratories where she spent 15 years working on cancer cell culture research.
Now retired happily with lakefront property in South Carolina, the two are living the adage of “learn, earn, and return.” Having been contacted by a former professor (and one who held almost every leadership title at the University) Del Shankel, the Armstrong’s learned the importance of giving back. While the couple planned on donating to their alma mater after they had passed away, they are now happy they didn’t wait. If not for the University, and some of the challenges of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the two may have never met. KU, and its future, hold a special place in their hearts.
They have endowed the Alan S. and Barbara Bechtel Armstrong Research in Microbiology scholarship. It is used to promote research in microbiology at KU. The fund provides several thousand dollars annually to encourage and promote student research. The fund also benefits from the fact that the Armstrongs are able to take advantage of the matching program at Abbott Labs.
“We want to ensure the future benefits for the next generation,” Barbara said. “KU played such an important part in our good fortune.”
Armstrong sees a direct correlation to his days at KU and his current life in South Carolina. Without KU, he wouldn’t have what he has today and he just wants others to have it too.
“KU certainly has helped give us the good life,” he said. “A lot of smart people didn’t have the opportunities we did. These are going to be the doctors and scientists in the future. These are going to be the people who take care
2007 Molecular Biosciences Graduate Student Awards
William Arnold Award: This award is given to a graduate student doing work in microbiology in the broadest sense.
Sumin Cai, Wang Han, and Qian Sun
Bell Graduate Award: This award is given for outstanding work in physiology and cell biology in the broadest sense.
William King Candlin Memorial Fellowship: This summer fellowship is awarded to one of our best senior graduate students in Molecular Biosciences.
Carr Research Award: This award is given to a graduate student for excellence in research related to biochemistry in the broadest sense.
Cora M. Downs Award: This award is given in recognition of an outstanding female, graduate or undergraduate student, seeking a degree in microbiology.
Arthur Atsunobu Hirata Memorial Scholarship: This summer scholarship is awarded to an outstanding graduate student with an emphasis in immunology and microbiology in the broadest sense.
Qianyi Luo and Jiang Xu
Molecular Biosciences Travel Award: This award is given for travel to a scientific meeting to present original research in the molecular biosciences.
Philip & Marjorie Newmark Award: This award is presented in recognition of special achievement in biochemistry research. It is open to graduate, undergraduate and medical center students.
Paretsky Travel Award: This award is given for travel to a scientific meeting to present original research on any aspect of microbial pathogenesis.
Cassandra Ritter Award: This award is given to a graduate student seeking a degree in microbiology, who has presented a research paper at a professional meeting and has demonstrated excellence in research and service.
Yang Wang and Lingling Zhang
Stanley L. Twomey Memorial Award: This award is given to promising graduate students in the early to middle stages of their graduate education with emphasis in physiology and cell biology in the broadest sense.
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