Advances in technology and computational power have fundamentally changed the ways in which scientists model processes, conduct research, and innovate. Colby’s commitment to fostering excellence in the sciences is longstanding, and recent partnerships and research projects have established Colby as a leading institution for undergraduate research.
RESEARCH AND DISCOVERY
FINDING THE MISSING LINK: NASA PHYSICS AND ASTRONOMY GRANT
Galaxy mergers have long been proposed as a possible mechanism to fuel the growth of super massive black holes, given their effectiveness in dissipating angular momentum and funneling gas to the center of galaxies. During summer research internships, Colby students have worked with Professor Dale Kocevski to find the missing link between galactic merger activity in the early universe and recent black hole growth.
“This is probably the biggest question in astronomy…What quenches the star formation activity of a galaxy?”
— Dale Kocevski, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy
Thanks to two NASA grants, Elizabeth McGrath, the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and her colleague Dale Kocevski, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, are able to study what interests them most about the life of our universe.
McGrath, who alongside Kocevski received a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, studies galaxy formation and evolution. Kocevski, on the other hand, studies black holes and how they regulate galactic life and death. “This is probably the biggest question in astronomy,” said Kocevski. “What quenches the star formation activity of a galaxy?
While a graduate student at the University of Hawaii in 2008, McGrath was one of the first to notice that an accepted theory in astronomy, that the formation of massive galaxies 10 times larger than the Milky Way occurred through the absorption of smaller galaxies over billions of years, was not entirely supported by recent Hubble photographs. The theory asserted that these massive galaxies, which are spherical in shape, underwent structural changes while and after merging with smaller disk-shaped galaxies.
The Hubble images, however, showed that there were massive disk-shaped galaxies that had gone through their life and death cycle; the death cycle for a galaxy occurs once star formation ceases to continue.
Through CANDELS, the Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey, McGrath’s initial observations are being supported and models are being developed to reproduce these never-before-seen phenomena.
At the same time, Kocevski’s research focuses on the massive black holes at the centers of galaxies. These black holes are typically a billion times more massive than stars like the sun. Referred to as “active galactic nuclei,” some of these black holes are so massive that they absorb gases and stars, consequently emitting enormous amounts of energy.
The two NASA grants, totaling $400,000, gave Kocevski access to newly available X-ray imaging from the Chandra Space Telescope and to observation time on the Hubble Space Telescope to capture images of the black holes of colliding galaxies. Kocevski’s Hubble award allowed for 30 orbits. Along with a Colby student researcher, Kocevski and the student studied and classified the image.
McGrath and Kocevski have been incredible additions to Colby’s faculty, respectively arriving in 2012 and 2014 after conducting postdoctoral research at the University of California, Santa Cruz. McGrath and Kocevski have given Colby access to what is typically reserved for large, prestigious research universities.
Receiving her bachelor’s degree at Vassar, McGrath understands the value of a liberal arts education for both the student and the faculty, saying, “Here I feel like what I do matters. The teaching—people appreciate that.”
BELGRADE LAKES WATERSHED ECONOMIC IMPACT STUDY
Michael Donihue, Colby Professor of Economics, and two co-authors published a study that measured expenditures generated by the existence of recreational lakes in the Belgrade Lakes Watershed. “A Case Study of the Economic Impact of Seasonal Visitors to a Lake Watershed”, co-authored by Assistant Professor Sahan T.M. Dissanayake and Colby student Lucy O’Keefe, found that 705 households generated an estimated $6.8 million in spending (including multiplier effects) and supported 68 full- or part-time jobs in the Watershed.
The study was based on in-person interviews and mail surveys of both seasonal and year-round residents in the 13 towns covering the Belgrade watershed. Although the study is not comprehensive, it does indicate, according to Donihue that, “there is great potential to expand seasonal ventures that cater to summer residents.” Two examples of private business opportunities are in the areas of sustainable landscaping and ecotourism.
ENERGY RESEARCH FOR COMMERCIALIZATION
With recent funding from the National Science Foundation, Reuben Hudson and Jeff Katz from Colby’s Department of Chemistry have designed new materials that show promise for hydrogen fuel-cell applications. Over competing materials, theirs have the potential for increased fuel cell durability, performance, and efficiency.
With the hope of one day putting this technology in the hands of commercial partners, Hudson and Katz received further funding from the Maine Technology Institute, an organization dedicated to supporting Maine-based innovations.
In order to explore additional applications for these materials and to increase student involvement in the project, the NSF has provided supplemental funding to support a spring break research trip for Hudson and a student to travel to the lab of their collaborator, Yasuhiro Uozumi, in Japan.
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.
With a 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 make 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 of 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.
Robert Gastaldo, Ph.D.
Whipple-Coddington Professor of Geology
The response of terrestrial ecosystems to the extinction event recorded at the Permian-Triassic Boundary (PTB), identified by Doug Erwin of the Smithsonian as the “Mother” of all mass extinctions, is reported to parallel the biodiversity loss in the marine realm. The research team led by Professor Gastaldo has challenged the currently accepted model of terrestrial ecosystem response in the rock record of the Karoo Basin, South Africa. For more than a decade, the research team has undertaken high resolution sedimentological, stratigraphic, and paleontological studies of all outcrop exposures reported to contain the transitional rocks from the latest Permian into the earliest Triassic. This National Science Foundation grant-funded research is a Colby Grants Choice 2016 in recognition of innovative research having far-reaching implications for the understanding of fundamental questions in a field of study.
SOAPBERRY BUGS AND WING POLYPHENISM
David Angelini, Ph.D.
Assistant 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:
TINY GIANTS: MARINE MICROBES REVEALED ON A GRAND SCALE
Called “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 achievements 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
Our 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.
PARTNERSHIPS AND PROGRAMS
BUCK ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE LAB
The Buck Environment and Climate Change Lab will connect students from many disciplines to organizations in Maine and beyond that are focused on these important issues.
Students will conduct research on Maine’s coast, lakes, and forests, working closely with faculty to understand changes to complex systems and the far-flung effects of those changes.
Their internships in organizations focused on environmental issues will be paid through the Buck Lab, and they will travel to and learn from leaders in the field.
These opportunities are made possible through the generosity of Trustee Sandy Buck ’78 and Sissy Buck, whose commitment to the next generation of environmental leaders inspired them to invest in this way.
CLARE BOOTHE LUCE PROGRAM
Since awarding its first grants in 1989, the Clare Boothe Luce Program (CBL) has become the single most significant source of private support for women in science, mathematics, and engineering.
Clare Boothe Luce (1903-1987), the widow of Henry R. Luce, was a playwright, journalist, U.S. ambassador to Italy, and the first woman elected to Congress from Connecticut. In her bequest establishing this program, she sought “to encourage women to enter, study, graduate, and teach” in science, mathematics, and engineering. Thus far, the program has supported more than 1900 women.
The Clare Boothe Luce Program at The Henry Luce Foundation supports women in science, mathematics, and engineering. Colby College is one of thirteen educational institutions specifically designated in Mrs. Luce’s will to receive grant allocations in perpetuity.
CURRENT CLARE BOOTHE LUCE PROFESSORS
Dr. Tasha Dunn, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Geology
Professor Dunn began her professorship with Colby in 2013. Her areas of expertise include meteorites, asteroids, the solar system, minerals, and rocks.
“My designation as a Clare Boothe Luce (CBL) Professor has been fundamental in providing the monetary support necessary to establish my research program. The CBL program also provides me with the opportunity to involve students in my research to a much greater extent than I otherwise would be able to.”
— Tasha Dunn, PhD
Dr. Alison Barner, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Biology
Dr. Barner’s research is at the interface of community ecology, marine biology, and global change science. She combines experimental and theoretical ecology, leveraging basic research to engage with conservation and policy issues.
Dr. Nora Youngs, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Mathematics
Professor Youngs began her professorship with Colby in 2016. Her areas of expertise include computational algebra and applications of algebra and topology to mathematical neuroscience.
“CBL funding has made it possible for me to travel and work with collaborators across the country, and attend more conferences than I otherwise could. CBL has also permitted me to involve several students in my research program during the summers, and give them an insider’s view of mathematical research.”
— Nora Youngs, PhD
PAST CLARE BOOTHE LUCE PROFESSORS
(* indicates professor is still at Colby)
- Cathy Bevier (biology) *
- Cathy Collins (biology)
- Batya Friedman (mathematics)
- Jean Haley (biology)
- Lynn Hannum (biology) *
- Jan Holly (mathematics) *
- Rebecca Johnston (biology)
- Virginia Long (physics)
- Elizabeth McGrath (physics and astronomy) *
- Julie Millard (chemistry) *
- Shelby Nelson (physics)
- Valerie Reynolds (geology)
- Stephanie Schmidt (aquatic ecology)
- Jen Shosa (geology)
- Katherine St. Clair (mathematics)
- Judy Stone (biology) *
- Stephanie Taylor (computer science) *
- Andrea Tilden (biology) *
- Maureen Whalen (biology)
COLBY AT BIGELOW LABORATORY FOR OCEAN SCIENCES
The Changing Oceans Program at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine, comprises 14 weeks of intense research.
Focused on ocean science within a changing global climate, the program covers topics such as microbial oceanography, marine biogeochemistry, the ocean’s role in the global carbon cycle, molecular approaches to biological oceanography, and pelagic ecology. Implications for public policy are explored within each topic.
CYBER INFRASTRUCTURE GRANT AWARD
Through their cyber-infrastructure program, the National Science Foundation will be investing in a campus pilot project to achieve higher levels of performance, reliability, and predictability for science applications and distributed research projects.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR COLBY AND MAINE?
Colby’s campus will now have a connection to the Maine Research Network, which connects it to high-performance computing facilities at the University of Maine and the research expertise and data resources at the Jackson Lab. The broader impact will be the reduction of barriers to effective collaborations in research and education by connecting multiple institutions with high-speed networks and enhancing the productivity of scientific research in Maine.
Network infrastructure is critical to enabling education and research in fast-moving fields. Teachers and students in classrooms, labs, and offices will be able to work with complex data associated with genomics or computational modeling together, in real time.
This pilot project will impact undergraduate programs in computational biology and genomics as well as research by current and new faculty in biology, chemistry, computer science, and statistics. The project will also directly impact faculty undertaking computational modeling and analysis in chemistry and physics and astronomy, and it includes initiatives to integrate computation into lab projects across the Natural Science division.
In addition, Colby undergrads will be better prepared to enter graduate programs and a workforce that is increasingly making use of computational methods in all facets of research and development. With this award, our students will have access to and a better understanding of how to make use of high-performance computational resources.
The humanities will play an even larger role in Colby’s expanding cross-campus and multi-disciplinary approach to the study of the environment.
A grant award from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has launched an environmental humanities initiative building on current and existing strengths, particularly with the College’s Environmental Studies Program, and establishing an innovative new research and teaching focus at Colby.
This new focus will bring artistic, cultural, ethical, historical, and literary perspectives to environmental topics and will enhance opportunities for faculty collaboration across disciplines and departments, linking courses and scholarship while supporting new curricular connections across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.
UP EAST FOUNDATION ALLEN ISLAND PARTNERSHIP
Colby College is delighted to be working with the Up East Foundation and the Herring Gut Learning Center to explore collaborations that expand research and instructional opportunities for our students and the community on the Saint George peninsula using the facilities of Allen Island, Maine.
Among the first collaborations include:
A course where students will produce documentary short films about the lobster industry in Maine. These films will explore the lives of lobstermen, how they contribute to the economy, and how the industry has changed in recent decades. Allen Island will provide a distinctive visual setting for examining these issues—setting the scene for what it is like to live and work on mid-Coast Maine.
A project to build a long-term climate monitoring station on Allen Island and to use the island infrastructure to support a scientific research buoy to monitor water column properties, current, and sea state in Muscongus Bay. Muscongus Bay is a highly productive fishery located to the west of Allen Island. Rapid warming and ocean acidification is changing the ecosystem of the bay with potentially harmful effects on a major lobster fishery.
JACKSON LABORATORY: COMPUTATIONAL BIOLOGY
Colby researchers are exploring the boundaries of bioinformatics with scientists at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, using biological data to develop algorithms and relations among various biological systems.
Computational methods will be essential for translating a new understanding of how biological systems function.
PARTNERSHIPS IN BIOMEDICINE
A major research grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health, is the third to fund the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE).
The grant funds supported Colby faculty research, summer research fellowships for students, short courses and Jan Plan research, conference expenses, and scientific equipment.
The grant also supported a multifaceted collaboration between Colby and the Mount Desert Island Laboratory (MDIBL) and 13 Maine institutions.