I regularly teach the following courses. The course sites have most materials, but please contact me if you’d like any materials as pdfs.
Seeing is believing. Or is it? How do we perceive Nature when it is beyond our sight, when we are not present at the right time or place, or when our human vision limits our perception? How can visual depictions of Nature and its phenomena lead to acceptance of their truth? Have we accepted false views of nature through the power of images? What is the role of aesthetics –- even beauty — in this acceptance? This tutorial will consider the ways that Nature and its creatures have been perceived and represented, exploring the history of visualization in biological science and its interdependence with the envisioning powers of the arts.
As a way to explore how biologists ask questions and develop answers to them, this class will focus on the biology of the prairie and the problems of habitat restoration in Iowa. It will be taught in “workshop” format primarily at Grinnell College’s Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA), where we will use the prairie and savanna restorations as our laboratory. You will develop research questions based on your reading of the literature, design experimental or observational studies to test your hypotheses, and report on their findings in written and oral forms.
Why do animals have sex? and in such incredible varieties of ways? This course will consider the ways biologists study the causes and consequences of sex in animals at all levels — from the cellular process of meiosis, to the organismal concept of gender, to mating interactions between individuals and their evolutionary consequences. Students will learn to read and evaluate the primary literature, formulate hypotheses, and carry out independent research projects using a model organism, the bean beetle Callosobruchus maculatus, and will communicate their results in scientific papers, posters, and oral presentations. As sexy beasts ourselves, we will also consider how our human biases and social assumptions influence the questions asked and their accepted answers.
This course focuses on fundamental activities of whole organisms, including resource acquisition and allocation, reproduction, information-transmission, growth, and movement. By placing those activities in their ecological and evolutionary contexts, BIO 252 addresses the question of why organisms possess the features they do in addition to the question of how those features operate. Meanwhile, BIO 252 requires that you understand the cellular and molecular underpinnings of organismal features and activities, as well as the consequences of those features and activities for the movement of material and energy through ecosystems. Thus the course emphasizes the synthesis and integration of concepts across multiple levels of biological organization. One way the course encourages this integration is by taking concepts, organisms, and even data sets from BIO 251 and applying them to larger-scale biological phenomena. The 251-252 sequence showcases the unity and diversity of biology.
Investigations of the causes, functions, and origins of animal behavior. We will use an evolutionary perspective to understand and integrate common behavioral adaptations, e.g., obtaining food, avoiding predators, living in groups, communicating, mating, and caring for offspring. Laboratory projects emphasize design, analysis, and communication of quantitative tests of hypotheses carried out in the field.
Bio 301 — History of Biological Thought
This seminar will consider how fundamental biological theories emerge and change in a complex environment of empirical knowledge and social/political concerns. We will examine conceptual changes in an array of subdisciplines by reading a contemporary history of each, along with excerpts from primary and secondary texts. Areas of study will include reproductive biology, evolution and genetics, ecology, and medicine. Students also develop and present their own original research.
This course examines the mechanisms of evolutionary change at both micro- and macroevolutionary scales. Topics include the origin and maintenance of genetic variation, population structure and speciation, systematic methods, adaptation, molecular evolution, and macroevolution. We will also consider applications of evolutionary theory to conservation biology, medicine, and human diversity.