Research is an integral part of scholarship at Colby for both faculty and students. Our professors incorporate research into the teaching process as a means of providing a new dimension to the learning process. Grants often play a crucial role of supplying the funding necessary for faculty and students to engage in their desired projects. Examples of grant-funded research are showcased below:


Permian Triassic Boundary

Robert Gastaldo, Ph.D.
Whipple-Coddington Professor of Geology

Somali Bantu Build a Community

Catherine Besteman, Ph.D.
Francis F. Bartlett and Ruth K. Bartlett Professor of Anthropology

about-thumb-DSC08253-165x110Reunited with Somali Bantu families after decades, anthropologist Catherine Besteman chronicles their lives.

Besteman began working in southern Somalia in the late eighties before the outbreak of civil war in 1991. Many refugees from the communities where she had worked in Somalia have resettled in Lewiston, Maine. Under her direction, members of the local Bantu community and Colby College students have produced a wiki-type website about the Somali Bantus of Lewiston

Atlas of Maine

Philip Nyhus, Ph.D.
The Atlas of Maine is developed by students in Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing, an interdisciplinary course in the Environmental Studies Program at Colby College, Waterville, Maine, under the direction of Dr. Philip Nyhus. The goal of this project is to develop a series of maps highlighting the unique human and natural resources of Maine.

Tiny Giants: Marine Microbes Revealed on a Grand Scale

TinyGiantsCalled “Tiny Giants: Marine microbes revealed on a grand scale,” the photographic art exhibit illuminates the intricate details of microscopic creatures that are vital to the oxygen we breathe, the food chain essential from fish to whales to humans, and that mitigate the damaging effects of climate change. These photos represent the technological and scientific achievement needed to capture microscopic marine microbes that are invisible to the naked eye. Scientists at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine took the photographs at three different scales, using three different types of microscopes.

Why Do We Sleep? Clues From Our Brain Cells

Andrea Tilden, Ph.D.
J. Warren Merrill Associate Professor of Biology

imagesOur current understanding of sleep is incomplete. We know it is vital for overall health and cognitive function; however, we are only beginning to discover sleep’s role in remodeling the architecture of the brain for processes such as learning and memory. The hormone melatonin is called the “chemical messenger of darkness” and is hypothesized to play an important role in neural function. Tilden’s laboratory studies the role of melatonin in sleep-related activity at the cellular and molecular level. This research is conducted with students in Tilden’s lab at Colby and at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.

Professor Tilden earned her Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Oklahoma. A neuroscientist, she studies the influence of the environment on cellular and molecular neural function in collaboration with numerous students. She founded the neuroscience program at Colby, was the 2009 recipient of the Charles Bassett Teaching Award, and is co-director of the Colby Achievement Program in the Sciences (CAPS) and Colby’s NIH-INBRE programs.

Molecular Design

Jeffrey Katz, Ph.D.

Investigations in the Katz Research Group combine elements of synthetic organic, physical organic, and materials chemistry to create and analyze new molecular architectures. Research is focused on the synthesis and applications of macrocyclic and polymeric aromatic arrays bridged by heteroatoms.

imgresWith an National Science Foundation CAREER Award from the Organic and Macromolecular Chemistry Program, Professor Jeffrey L. Katz of Colby College is developing methods for the synthesis of oxacalix[n]arenes and exploring applications of these compounds as molecular receptors and chemical sensors. A new single-step synthesis of oxacalixarenes by nucleophilic aromatic substitution of meta-diphenols with meta-dihalogenated aromatics allows access to an array of oxacalix[n]arenes bearing diverse functional groups. Naphthyridine-containing oxacalixarenes are found to act as receptors (molecular tweezers) for neutral aromatic compounds bearing hydrogen bond donors, and the optical properties of these receptors makes them potential chemical sensors for neutral organic analytes.

With the support of the CAREER award, Professor Katz will initiate a research-based mentoring program for the recruitment and retention of minority students into chemistry and other scientific disciplines. As an integral part their freshmen year and continuing throughout their undergraduate education, minority students at Colby College will have active roles in the proposed research, participate in research group meetings, attend and present posters at local and national meetings, and interact academically and socially with other student-scientists.

Soapberry Bugs and Wing Polyphenism

David Angelini, Ph.D.

imgresAssistant Professor of Biology, David Angelini, was awarded the prestigious National Science Foundation Early Career Award to expand his research at the intersection of genetics, ecology, and evolution where he and student researchers look at how genes function and control the development of structures in animals.

Bugs In Our Backyard is an educational outreach and collaborative research program, providing project-based learning opportunities for K-12 students– or anyone! The core activity for BioB takes advantage of the bugs in your own backyard, schoolyard or neighborhood. Students can become citizen-scientists by surveying this diversity of insects and plants.

For more information about Angelini’s research, visit the following site:

Integrating new and prior knowledge in semantic memory

Jennifer Coane, Ph.D.

Consider the words castanet and Casablanca. Most speakers of English experience little difficulty when processing these items: Castanets are quickly recognized as musical instruments associated with the Spanish dance, flamenco; and Casablanca might call to mind the classic movie, complete with snippets of dialogue or images of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. The ease and speed with which prior knowledge is accessed is impressive, considering the vast amount of knowledge acquired over the course of a lifetime. Merely considering words, one estimate is that the average adult has about 50,000 lexical entries stored in semantic memory. For each item, in addition to the knowledge about the word itself – spelling, pronunciation, grammatical class – an individual can access rich conceptual knowledge, such as prior experiences with the word’s referent, information related to or associated with the word, and so on. In addition, semantic memory includes a large database of people both famous and intimately known, and the extensive list of factual or fictional knowledge acquired through formal education, media outlets, and personal experience. The semantic system supports, stores, and organizes this information in a powerful knowledge base, which is critical for supporting how individuals navigate their world on a daily basis: Without it, we would have difficulty processing language, understanding pop culture referents, and, more generally, understanding the world we live in.

imagesA key characteristic of the knowledge stored in semantic systems is that these memories are de-contextualized. In other words, the specifics of when and how this knowledge was acquired are not associated with the content of the memory itself. The context-independent nature of semantic memory distinguishes this type of knowledge from episodic memories, which are situated in time and space and often context-dependent. Because, ultimately, one goal of educational systems is to create persistent and accessible knowledge that will support reasoning and problem-solving across contexts and disciplines, my research program examines which types of learning and encoding techniques promote durable knowledge that can be retrieved in a variety of situations with multiple cues. I hope to determine whether learning techniques that have been empirically validated to promote long-term contextually dependent episodic retention (e.g., distributed practice, retrieval practice, meaningful processing) support the integration of recently acquired information into semantic systems.

James S. McDonnellMy research focuses on three inter-related aspects of semantic memory: How knowledge is acquired and integrated into semantic networks, how it is organized in a way that facilitates efficient retrieval and use, and how it can be called upon to support performance in a variety of tasks and situations. An important assumption about semantic knowledge is that this information can be accessed and retrieved automatically. Thus, I propose a program of research aimed at identifying the contributions of controlled and automatic processes and measures of performance that can dissociate the two, such as response times or error rates. To examine these questions, I rely on a variety of behavioral paradigms and incorporate measures of individual differences, such as age and differences in cognitive abilities (e.g., working memory, attention).

Jennifer Coane is a recipient of a 2015 Scholar Award in Understanding Human Cognition from the James S. McDonnell Foundation. The $600,000 award will support her lab’s research on how new information is integrated into existing memory stores and knowledge systems.

Belgrade Lakes Watershed Sustainability Project

Modeling Resilience and Adaptation in the Belgrade Lakes Watershed

Study Participants

imgresColby College:
Whitney King, Miselis Professor of Chemistry
Russell Cole, Oak Professor of Biological Sciences
Philip Nyhus, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
James Fleming, Professor of Science, Technology and Society
Herbert Wilson, Arey Professor of Biological Sciences
Catherine Bevier, Associate Professor of Biology
Alice Elliott, Assistant Director for Community Outreach, Goldfarb Center
Bruce Rueger, Visiting Assistant Professor of Geology
Michael Donihue, Professor of Economics

Conservation Partners:
Peter Kallin, Executive Director, BRCA
Mel Croft, President, BRCA
Kathleen Wall, Executive Director, MLRC
Lynn Matson, President, BLA
Rick Watson, President, North Pond Association
Maggie Shannon, Executive Director, Maine COLA

Introduction of Research Goals:
Faculty from the Colby College Departments of Chemistry, Geology, Economics, Biology; the Environmental Studies Program; and the Science, Technology, and Society Program propose to collaborate with the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, the Maine Congress of Lake Associations, five lake associations within the Belgrade Lakes Watershed and with faculty from the University of Maine system to form interdisciplinary teams with stakeholder participation to understand the impact of landscape and lake-ecosystem changes with the development of central Maine. The Belgrade Lakes region will be used as a model because it provides a unique laboratory to investigate the complex dynamics among environmental, biogeochemical, and socio-economic systems.

As described in our Year I and II proposals, the Belgrade Lakes Watershed comprises an interconnected chain of seven major lakes linked physically, biologically, geochemically, economically, politically, and socially. The Belgrade Lakes Watershed spans 13 municipalities and covers approximately 180 square miles. This watershed provides a Maine-based system to study linked social-ecological structures and develop novel interdisciplinary approaches toward sustainable solutions.

imagesColby faculty and student research in the Belgrade Lakes earned widespread attention in Maine through a National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant that funded much of the work through 2013. The Grant was received in partnership with the University of Maine and other institutions. Miselis Professor of Chemistry Whitney King leads an interdisciplinary team analyzing the environment and the economy of the Belgrade Lakes to help researchers understand the dynamics among environmental, biogeochemical, and socioeconomic systems in a study used as a innovative model for other lake systems in Maine.

Colby professors and student researchers have been featured in MPBN television’s Emmy-nominated science series Sustainable Maine with a show titled “Saving Our Lakes,” Several featured stories of the project also ran on Maine Public Radio.

Museum of Art

We are pleased to share with you the wonderful news of a gift to the Colby College Museum of Art from Peter and Paula Lunder, preeminent collectors of American Art and longtime Colby benefactors.

During a meeting of the Colby Trustees in Boston on February 2, 2017, Colby announced that it has received another gift of more than $100 million from Peter and Paula Lunder. This donation will add nearly 1,150 artworks to the Museum’s collection and will launch the Lunder Institute for American Art, establishing Colby as the only liberal arts college with a world-class art museum and a global research center on American Art. The Lunder Institute will be dedicated to the practice, study, and exhibition of American art, and will transform Colby’s art collection and scholarly activities by bringing together artists, curators, scholars, and students through cross-disciplinary engagement.

This unique group of paintings, sculptures, photography, and works on paper, date from a 1501 engraving by Albrecht Dürer to a 2014 aquatint by Julie Mehretu, and represents more than 150 artists, including: Mary Cassatt, Jasper Johns, Nina Katchadourian, Jacob Lawrence, Maya Lin, Joan Mitchell, Claes Oldenburg, Betye Saar, Vincent Van Gogh, Rembrandt van Rijn, Ai Weiwei, Fred Wilson, and James McNeill Whistler.

These works will have a major impact on the Museum’s acclaimed collection, which previously contained approximately 8,000 works, and will also serve the teaching mission of the Museum and the College by deeply integrating into the curriculum and becoming a vibrant part of college life.

We hope you make plans to visit the Museum and the new Lunder Institute for American Art, and we look forward to working with you as we continue to invest in the arts at Colby and build an exciting destination for artist, scholars, curators, and visitors.

Sharon Corwin
Carolyn Muzzy Director of the Colby College Museum of Art and Chief Curator

Bill Layton
Director of the Office of Grants and Sponsored Programs at Colby College