“What Happens at the MBL Doesn’t Stay at the MBL”: Postscript to the UChicago Lab Schools Visit

Junior Owen Lasko at Sippewissett, a salt marsh and research site near the MBL. Credit: Beth Simmons

Junior Owen Lasko at Sippewissett, a salt marsh and research site near the MBL. Credit: Beth Simmons

Inspired by a week spent at the MBL last summer, several high schoolers are pursuing independent marine science projects at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. As recounted in the schools’ magazine, LabLife, two students built a saltwater tank once they got back to Chicago so they could continue studying marine organisms. One student had been intrigued by instrumentation development at MBL, “so we set him loose with some old microscopes, and he’s taken them apart and rewired them,” reports Lab Schools teacher Sharon Housinger, who set up a blog about the MBL visit. And three students set up experiments to study rotifers, the microscopic animals they met via MBL scientist Kristin Gribble, who uses them as a model system to study aging processes.

“We all learned so much and we had a great group dynamic … it just really worked on every level,” said Lab Schools junior Owen Lasko of their MBL trip. Read the article here.


Julie Huber Presents “Planet Microbe” at UChicago 125th Anniversary Event

Leadership and scientists from the University of Chicago and its three affiliated laboratories — MBL, Argonne National Laboratory, and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory – gathered in Chicago last month to celebrate the past, present, and future of these collaborative partnerships, as well as the University’s 125th anniversary year. (Please see University of Chicago news story about the event here.)

Julie Huber speaks at the William Eckhardt Research Center last month at the University of Chicago. Credit: Rob Hart

Julie Huber speaks at the William Eckhardt Research Center last month at the University of Chicago. Credit: Rob Hart

As part of the celebration, Julie Huber, associate scientist and associate director of the MBL’s Josephine Bay Paul Center, gave one of four “Short Talks on Groundbreaking Research” (see video here). Huber and her colleagues are interested in large, cross-disciplinary questions, such as “How does life spread across the planet?” and “How do life and its environment co-evolve?” In that context, her lab is focused on the smallest and most abundant life form on Earth, the microbes.

Huber described the “stunning diversification” of microbial forms, which inhabit almost every niche on the planet. “What we do very well in Woods Hole is study the ocean,” she said, and her lab is exploring the mostly unknown realm of microbes living in deep-sea volcanic systems and beneath the seafloor. In these extreme, high-pressure environments, microbes have evolved novel strategies to survive, such as harvesting energy not from the sun but from the chemical energy of water-rock reactions.

Describing extreme marine microbes “may seem like very strange science, but the implications and applications are wide-ranging,” Huber said, including for research on how life began, the search for extraterrestrial life, and for discovery and development of new natural products ranging from anti-cancer drugs to biofuels.

“We have a lot left of our Planet Microbe to explore,” she said.

UChicago-MBL Undergraduate Scholarship is Awarded to Daniel Morrison

Daniel G. Morrison, a graduate of Falmouth High School, is the first recipient of the UChicago-MBL Scholarship for undergraduate study. Daniel received a full-tuition scholarship to UChicago and enrolled in September as a first-year student.

Daniel is the son of Hilary Morrison, senior research scientist in the Bay Paul Center. Children of year-round MBL employees (minimum 20 hours/week) who are accepted to the University of Chicago are eligible for consideration for this scholarship.

Daniel reports that “UChicago has been great so far; it’s a very challenging experience but also extremely rewarding.” He is considering majoring in either math or computer science. “Outside of class, I’m really enjoying singing in the Rockefeller Chapel Choir,” he says. “We’ll be performing Handel’s Messiah before winter break starts.”

The deadline to apply to the University of Chicago for the 2016-2017 academic year is January 1 (regular decision candidates).

Dan Morrison

Workshop at MBL Explores Past, Present, and Future of Cell Biology


Edmond V. Cowdry, author of General Cytology (1924), when cell biology was an emerging field. Credit: History of the Marine Biological Laboratory

A recent workshop at the MBL exploring the past, present, and future of cell biology attracted nearly 40 leading biologists, historians, philosophers, and graduate students. The workshop, “Updating Cowdry at the MBL,” was organized by Karl Matlin of the University of Chicago and Jane Maienschein of the MBL and Arizona State University through a collaborative grant stemming from the UChicago-MBL affiliation. It was the first event in an ongoing project that will lead to publication of a book on the topic.

The point of departure for the workshop was a gathering of biologists at the MBL more than 90 years ago led by cytologist Edmund V. Cowdry. Cowdry convened this group of scientists, all of whom conducted research at the MBL, with the intention of producing a volume that would examine “the cell fundamental,” recognizing that such a book could no longer be produced by a single individual and instead required contributions from multiple perspectives and fields. In 1924, General Cytology, the product of Cowdry’s efforts, was published by The University of Chicago Press.

As these biologists, including Cowdry, Edmund Beecher Wilson, Frank Lillie, Thomas Hunt Morgan, and the other authors acknowledged, cell biology in 1924 was only in its infancy. Cytologists sought to find ways to describe details inside cells, including sorting out which features are important, and physicochemical and physiological processes remained relatively mysterious. In many ways, despite the growing number of researchers studying cells and a recognized need to understand the most fundamental cellular structures and processes, the cell remained a frontier for exploration.

In the subsequent decades, cell biology has developed far beyond what Cowdry could have imagined. New technologies, such as electron microscopy and cell fractionation, enabled cell biology to become a molecular science, while new disciplines, including molecular genetics and systems biology, have expanded the scope of possibilities. More recently, the ability to examine molecular events in living cells using fluorescent probes, and the capability to model these events using computers make it possible to extend the age-old search for mechanisms in biology into the realm of emergent structures and functions dictated by dynamic properties.

All of these topics were represented at the October 23-24 workshop, with historians framing the past, cell biologists describing the present, and philosophers analyzing the evolution of epistemic strategies accompanying the maturation of cell biology into a 21st-century science.

The next steps in the project include a moderated discussion of ideas emanating from the workshop with the goal of identifying new frontiers and paths of exploration. This will result in a list of topics for deeper exploration at a second workshop to be held at the MBL in October 2015, and leading to the anticipated book.


University of Chicago Graduate Student Research Awardees Discover the MBL

By Laurel Hamers and Diana Kenney

Six University of Chicago graduate students are discovering the MBL this summer or fall as inaugural recipients of University of Chicago Graduate Student Research Awards, an ongoing program arising from the MBL-UChicago affiliation.

The students’ doctoral research topics at UChicago are diverse, ranging from evolutionary development to cell migration to indoor microbial communities. At the MBL, they have the opportunity to enhance their research programs by enrolling in a summer course and/or undertaking research with an MBL mentor.

“I am guessing at least one of you will have a transformative experience at the MBL, and will come back here for the rest of your life,” said Jonathan Gitlin, MBL’s deputy director of Research and Programs, at a breakfast honoring the 2014 MBL Research Awardees, including the UChicago graduate students. [Read more…]

Science Teachers from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools Visit the MBL

By Diana Kenney

Three science teachers and a principal from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools spent Friday, May 16 on the MBL campus, where they explored various ways in which their middle- and high-school students could engage with the MBL.

Photo caption: Teachers from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools visited the MBL last week. From left: Daniel Calleri, Science Department faculty and biology instructor; Bill Reznikoff, MBL Director of Education; Michael Wong, science teacher; Scott Fech, principal, University High School; Sharon Housinger, science teacher, and Joel Smith, MBL Associate Director of Education. Credit: Jonathan Gitlin

Photo caption: Teachers from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools visited the MBL last week. From left: Daniel Calleri, Science Department faculty and biology instructor; MBL Director of Education Bill Reznikoff; Michael Wong, science teacher; Scott Fech, principal, University High School; Sharon Housinger, science teacher; and Joel Smith, MBL Associate Director of Education. Credit: Jonathan Gitlin

“We are meeting with MBL scientists and staff, and I am becoming incredibly jealous of the awesome things happening here! I’ve already had 1,000 ideas from these conversations,” said Daniel Calleri, a biology instructor in the Laboratory Schools’ high school.

The private Laboratory Schools include five schools, ranging from nursery to high school, located on the University of Chicago campus. Children of UChicago faculty and staff comprise about 60 percent of the schools’ 1,850 students, while the rest come from Illinois and beyond. Founded by education reformer and philosopher John Dewey in 1896, the Laboratory Schools’ mission values including “learning experientially, exhibiting kindness, and honoring diversity.”

“We have a learning by doing philosophy,” said Scott Fech, principal of the high school (known as University High School or U-High). “We look for ways to make a tangible connection between what the students learn in class, and what is happening out in the world,” added Michael Wong, a middle-school science teacher.

The teachers saw the marine organisms in the MBL’s Marine Resources Center and the frogs in its National Xenopus Resource, and met with MBL scientists working in a variety of fields, including cell, developmental, and regenerative biology, neuroscience, and environmental science.

“What is going on here? Everything! The sky is the limit,” said high-school science teacher Sharon Housinger.

Among other possible interactions, the group explored ways to engage the students in a research question during a visit to Woods Hole, which they could continue to pursue in Chicago. For example, Wong suggested, the students could set up two shoreline webcams, one on Lake Michigan and one on Cape Cod, and collect the data on the web to compare freshwater and ocean ecology. “This is the way education is going: We are interested in forming partnerships with other schools and institutes, and continuing to share on the web after the initial engagement,” Fech said.

“The MBL doesn’t yet have program for middle- and high-schoolers,” said MBL Associate Director of Education Joel Smith. “We see this opportunity with the Laboratory Schools as an excellent way to start, to begin building a flagship program that excites kids about science for the rest of their lives.”