Evolutionary Lessons in Bio500

Students discover Darwin and his journey ’round-the-world

March 24, 2016

Starting off the spring term here at Andover, the Biology-500 students are learning about Darwin and evolution. To demonstrate and speak about Darwin’s journey around the world, Marc Koolen and Christine Marshall-Walker, Biology Instructors, used models of the HMS Beagle and Darwin’s workshop.

Students learned the conditions in which Darwin was selected to sail aboard the HMS Beagle where his scientific explorations eventually led to the publication of his theories on evolution. At the time, Darwin was trained to enter the clergy and did not have a degree in any type of science. Typically, the ‘naturalist’ aboard a British Naval Vessel was the ship’s doctor and also a naval officer – Darwin was neither. The ship’s captain, FitzRoy, eventually chose Darwin for his social standing, rather than his skills as a naturalist and so that there would be someone of equal stature with which to speak. Being a civilian, Darwin could speak freely with the captain without the worry of discipline.

The model above (crafted by Mr. Marc Koolen himself) shows, in detail, Darwin’s workshop aboard the HMS Beagle. The HMS Beagle had been modified to be a survey vessel whose mission was to map coastlines around the globe for British merchant ships to use.  “The ship was basically a jeep with sails…all work, no luxury. Darwin came from an extremely wealthy family and had lived a very pampered life…how he survived 5 years under such primitive conditions is truly amazing.” said Mr. Koolen during his lesson.

The lesson was super interesting! Although our typical lectures are far from boring, it was neat to use different mediums of education to supplement the material. Mr. Koolen’s model was an awesome tool to do this with! It really gave us historical context to support what we already learned about Darwin as well as a visual tool to help us really grasp the lesson. – Janet Conklin ’17

The students then went on to look at some preserved organisms, all of which launched a discussion about evolution and how evolution is evidenced in shared structures between extinct organisms and today’s organisms.

A Murder of Crows

Mr. Cone’s Ornithology Class Observes Crows in Lawrence

Guest post by Peyton McGovern ’16

March 31, 2016

This past Tuesday, my 6th period ornithology class took a field trip to Lawrence, where we observed a large flock of crows. Crows flock in hundreds during the winter, which we got to witness firsthand at an industrial building on Merrimack street. Our class was working to answer the question of why these birds gather in such large numbers? After our field trip we were tasked to analyze a few different hypothesis as to why this could be. One hypothesis is that they gather for protection (strength in numbers), while another concludes that they gather because a certain spot is most suitable to their needs, so they all congregate in that one spot.

IMG_4732

In order to watch the crows interact we fed them cat chow, which according to Mr. Cone, is one of their favorites. The birds were hesitant at first because we were close but eventually decided the food would be worth it. We were surprised by how little competition existed amongst the birds even with the food present. There was seemingly no squabbling amongst them despite the large number of birds. We were quite fascinated by one of the crows, which only had one leg. We observed that this bird had less power for take off but it’s flying abilities were not impacted. Overall it was a great opportunity to observe the crows first hand and to work on a question that many, many scientists have dealt with.

We ended the night with a quick McDonald’s stop to fuel our brains after our scientific field work. Today, we will head outdoors for on campus exploration of the wide variety of birds that exist on our campus.

 

UMass Senior Helps Discover New Galaxies

Astronomy News in The Boston Globe

March 30, 2016

Today, an article in the Boston Globe features a senior who attends the University of Massachusetts Amherst and how he helped discover some of the brightest galaxies in the universe.sky-space-galaxy-milky-way

Kevin Harrington was among the team who’s groundbreaking research was published in a prestigious European astronomy journal this month, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. He made this discovery first by sifting through mountains of publicly available data and drawing his own conclusions and theories about said data. He was the lead author of a paper outlining the findings published in the above publication.

Harrington is 23 years old and discovered his love of astronomy in high school – he will be graduating UMass this spring and heading to start his doctoral work in September.

In response to this article, Clyfe Beckwith, Phillips Academy Physics Instructor gives “a shout-out for public institutions and to someone who is tenacious enough to sift through someone else’s (public) data.”

The article, “UMass senior helps find universe’s brightest galaxies, by Nestor Ramos, was featured on the front page of the Boston Globe on Wednesday, March 30th, 2016.

Spring has Sprung for BIO100!

Phillips Academy Biology-100 Courses Plant Seeds on the Gelb Lawn

March 25th, 2016

Today, as part of Andover’s Biology-100 course, a garden was started outside the Gelb Science Center.

Areas of soil were carved out of the grassy area next to Gelb in preparation for this experiment. The faculty brought each period of Biology-100 students out (in the rain!) to spread seed on their section of the plot. Periods One, Two, and Three planted “Meadow Mix” (a mix of different types of grass) in one plot and Periods Four, Five, Six, and Seven planted a Wildflower Mix in another plot.

Biology Instructor, Raj Mundra, explained to the first and second period classes that they were contributing to a bigger experiment going on throughout the Phillips Academy Campus. They are planting a mix of grasses that may not have to be mowed! A tuft of grass next to this plot will not be mowed as a control to this experiment to see how tall the new grass gets in comparison. The results of this experiment could lead to a new frontier of landscaping!

IMG_3995

After spreading the seeds over their part of the plot, the classes then walked over the seeds to make sure they were secure in the soil. The faculty explained that his drizzly day was the perfect day to plant these seeds because they will get water right away and begin the growth process.

But wait! There were four plots in the photos at the beginning of this post – what about the other two, you ask? These same Biology-100 students will be planting seeds of their choosing in these two plots. Stay tuned to find out what they plant and to keep updated on the progress of our “Gelb Garden”!