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Biology Department Newsletter S P R I N G

Biology Department Newsletter

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Back from Baja by Dr. Christopher Beatty

Baja– Dr. Beatty’s experience Dr. Whittall receives tenure and new grant Professor Lucas to join Biology Dept. next fall! Favorite books from your favorite professors

INSIDE THIS ISSUE: Welcome Professor Lucas!


All Books Biology


Hot Topics Lecture Schedule


More books


Spring quarter course offerings


Seventeen students from the department of Biology and the Environmental Studies program participated in the 2012 Baja field course over spring break. The class travelled to sites in the Sierra de la Laguna in the southern Baja Peninsula, and then spent six days circumnavigating Isla Espiritu Santo in the Sea of Cortez in kayaks, visiting a number of sites on the island, and exploring terrestrial and marine habitats. Of the many species observed during the expedition, one of the most exciting artifacts found was the shell of an “Argonaut,” a rare type of octopus (Mollusca: Cephalopoda, Octopoda) found in shallow waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez.

The female extrudes a shell of calcium carbonate similar to that of a chambered nautilus in shape. However, unlike the nautilus, the shell is completely open on the inside, and thus much more fragile. The female uses this structure both as an egg case and a buoyancy control, by capturing air within it (Finn & Norman 2010).

day of the trip the expedition paddled back across the channel between Espiritu Santo and the peninsula. After a night in the city of La Paz (and a very welcome opportunity to shower!) the expedition returned to Santa Clara for the start of the spring quarter!

This ‘paper nautilus’ shell created by the female ranges from 5-50 cm in length, depending on the species. Interestingly, males of this group are extremely small— about 600 times smaller than the female—representing the greatest amount of sexual size dimorphism within the octopods. The kayaking trip travelled a total distance of 45 miles. On the final

Argonaut Female

Citation: Julian K. Finn and Mark D. Norman 2010. The argonaut shell: gas-mediated buoyancy control in a pelagic octopus.

Congratulations, Dr. Whittall! Congratulations to Dr. Justen Whittall on his promotion to the rank of Associate Professor, as well as on his recent grant from the US Department of Interior. Dr. Whittall’s grant will help fund his newest research project entitled, “The Reintroduction of the Metcalf Canyon Jewelflower (Streptanthus albidus ssp. albidus) at Tulare Hill in southern Santa

Clara County." Through determining the optimal growth conditions of this endangered species, Whittall hopes to establish approximately 5,000 reproductively mature jewelflowers capable of producing around 2.3 million seeds over the project’s span of four years. Any undergraduates interested in working with Whittall on his

latest research project, which will begin in fall of next year, are advised to contact him at jwhitMetcalf Canyon, or Jewelflower stop by his office located at Alumni Science, room 259.



Welcome Professor Lucas! The biology department is happy to welcome Professor Jessica Lucas, who will start teaching at SCU from this coming fall. Originally from Springfield, Illinois, Lucas has lived in the Midwest for most of her life, though, she says, she is very excited to be moving away from snowy winters to a place with longer growing seasons.

Professor Jessica Lucas

ern Illinois and her postdoctorate from Indiana University, where she has taught for the past four years. This fall, Lucas is excited to be teaching BIOL 21. She will be teaching an upper division course on the cellular biology of plant development later in the year.

“I am very much a plant person,” says Lucas of herself. “I'm already planning to grow plants that I haven't been able to before... like loofa sponges!”

When asked why she decided to come to Santa Clara, Lucas stressed the importance of getting to know her students personally, especially those who will become a part of her research team.

Lucas received her undergraduate degree in plant biology from University of South-

Lucas’ research is focused on the fundamental question of how plants grow on a molecu-

lar level,, mainly through observing the cellular growth of Arabidopsis thaliana, (like the fruit fly for plant biologists, she says), under a light microscope. To her future students, Lucas advises, “Work hard to get smart and to follow your passions, but make sure not to wear yourself too thin because your happiness is essential to your success...many of my better ideas have come to me when my mind was on something completely different—for instance, I often get ideas about experiments when I am cooking, or brushing my teeth!”

All Books Biology B I O L O G Y D E P A R T ME N T N E W S L E TT E R

A list of your professors’ favorite biology books. The Secret Life of Lobsters Dr. Edgerly-Rooks

by Trevor Corson

“Two small books that incorporate great biology with stories of history, politics, and some really Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mystericool animals.” ous Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier by Jeffery Lockwood

Dr. Eisinger

The Living Plant by Peter Holt

Dr. Hess

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

What is Life by Erwin Schrödinger Dr. Islas Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande


“Dr. Ray was my post-doc mentor at Stanford and is one of the brightest people I have ever met...I came to understand advanced plant water relations (water potential) from this elementary book.” “It covers a wide range of topics on the origins of life and different traits in life.” “I read this book “for fun” and it totally blew me away. Schrödinger, the physicist and creator of the eponymous equation (and cat), describes the physical basis of heredity and discusses the genetic carrier as being a kind of “aperiodic crystal” a decade before Watson and Crick discover the structure of DNA. It’s a great read that challenged me to think of life from a physicist’s point of view.” “A finalist for the National Book Award, this is a collection of essays from arguably the best medical writer today. Gawande writes pieces for the New Yorker and I never miss reading them. Most if not all of these essays come from there and in many he will have you on the edge of your seat. He really gets you hooked into the story. This is a “must read” for anyone who wants to go to medical school or pursue a career in the health sciences.”


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Hot Topics in Biology: Lecture Schedule Fridays from 3:30-4:35pm in Alumni Science Date



4 May

Tracy Ruscetti

The needs of the many—history and politics of vaccines

11 May

Michelle Parker

Cancer: Riding the Wave of Personalized Medicine

18 May

David Hess

Studying a well established paradox: a molecular perspective on the crazy mating system of yeast

25 May

Kat Saxton

Nature vs. nurture: how experiences can create biologic vulnerabilities or resilience

1 June

Justen Whittall

In defense of pollination syndromes

8 June

Chris Beatty

Crossing Wallace’s Line: unraveling biogeographical mysteries in the 21st Century

More books to consider... Gratia Rankin

King Solomon’s Ring Konrad Lorenz

Dr. Sabatier

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

The Double Helix by James Watson Dr. Stephens

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man who would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder

“A fun story about a man following geese around and the geese following him. Serious subject: geese imprinting.” “This book discusses some of the latest research on how memories are formed and accessed in an engaging, witty way. It's a very entertaining read.” “The thing that connects all of these the insight they give into scientists as people - not just what they learned, but who they are, where they live and work, why they are interested in certain questions, and how they go about their science. And Mountains Beyond Mountains is just plain inspiring.”


Fall 2012 Course Listing Course

Course Name



Endangered Ecosystems L&L



Oceans L&L




Dahlhoff, Lucas, McMillan, Sabatier


Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology

Grainger, Ruscetti

BIOL 109

Genes and Society


BIOL 113

Microbiology L&L


BIOL 184

Stem Cell Biology


BIOL 124

Human Physiology L&L


BIOL 131

Agroecology L&L


BIOL 160

Biostatistics L&L


BIOL 173

Evolution L&L


BIOL 175

Molecular L&L


New Course Offering!

Now hiring!

Clas 41– Word Workshop: Scientific Etymology (Monday 7:20-9:05 PM)

Position: Lab technician to conduct molecular analysis of genetic diversity in the rare Ben Lomond wallflower.

This two-credit class is designed to improve students’ English vocabulary by introducing them to basic principles of English word formation and to the Greek and Latin origins or many English prefixes, roots, and suffixes. Not only will students learn new words during this course, the skills they acquire will enable them to learn additional words more easily in the future, and to figure out the meanings of words that they do not already know when they encounter them. Though useful for students of any field, this course will be especially helpful to science majors (freshman through senior), because almost all scientific terms derive from Greek. Special attention will therefore be paid in this course to scientific terminology, particularly biomedical terminology.

Who: Recently graduated SCU Biology major (or related major) Interested? Contact Dr. Whittall for more information (

Biology Spring 2012  

Biology Spring 2012

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