Teaching and Research Assistant Positions
For 2003-04, I was a teaching assistant for Duke University's
introductory biology course, Bio 25L (The Science of
Life). In fall 2003 I had a total of 23 students in
2 sections, and in Spring 2004 I had another batch of
23 students. I tried to teach them how biology isn't
just a course to pass, but is part of their life, community,
and identity. I was given material I had to teach, but
there weren't any stipulations on how I had to teach
it, so I tried to tie biology in with other subjects
and life experiences students may have had. By the end
of my first semester, I felt that students gained not
only a great appreciation for biology, but a view of
themselves as part of the great scheme of life that
has evolved on Earth, and to be more conscious of their
everyday actions as forces that will shape the future
evolution of life.
I also worked as a research assistant in Sonke Johnsen's
ecology/biophysics lab. From summer 2003-spring
2004 I did mainly two things: maintain the lab's saltwater
aquarium and take irradiance spectra for an ongoing
project to measure natural skylight. I found that if
the sky brightness was held constant throughout the
day, the average sky color changes from a yellow-green
during the day, through a blue at dawn/dusk, and finally
moves to an orange during the night.
About the Johnsen Lab
I applied to Duke's biology department in 2003-04 but didn't get
in (the 100+ applicants and only 8 spots problem). However,
I did earn an NSF Graduate Fellowship, which should
help me with getting admitted in 2004-05. Competition
seems to be incredibly high here at Duke University.
Sonke Johnsen has a wonderfully small and open visual ecology/biophysics
lab with one graduate student, Alison Sweeney. This
year she studied how butterflies see mating signals
via polarized light, and has now moved on to studying
the relationship between lens crystallin structure and
transparency. Sonke studies anything having to do with
visual ecology, though his primary focus now is transparency
of marine organisms.
For those of you who love the sea or who want to study
some how some really strange creatures see or use light,
this is the lab for you. There is a 55 gallon saltwater
aquarium that houses cold tidepool animals such as anemones
(genus Anthopleura), brittlestars, sea urchins
(Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis and S.
purpuratus), and sea cucumbers (genus Parastichopus).
The aquarium also contains limpets, hundreds of tiny
shrimplike amphipods, and feather worms that build leatherlike
tubes around their slender bodies.
An independent project I worked on from summer 2003 to
spring 2004 involved measuring how the color of skylight
changes over 24 hours. Colors were obtained from irradiance
spectra, irradiance meaning the total light energy of
all visible wavelengths impinging on a detector from
all directions. Through several spreadsheets and hours
at the computer, the irradiance information was converted
to actual colors. The sky might look pitch-black to
us, but nocturnal (night-active) animals such as hawkmoths
are sensitive enough to the incoming starlight that
they can use it to find food. This whole project started
because scientists were interested in knowing what kind
of light nocturnal animals were seeing with.
Oh yes...if you're curious, we found that the color of
starlight on a clear, moonless night is orange.
here to visit our lab's website that I built in
the summer of 2003.