Freshmen Power — Helping to Detect Ebola


It started as an extra-credit assignment in Prof. Rachelle Spell‘s Introduction to Biology course: Learn how doctors currently test for the Ebola virus and come up with a faster, more affordable idea.

Now it’s turned into a crowdfunding campaign to make a prototype for freshmen Rostam Zafari (left in above photo) and Brian Goldstone. They hope to develop REDS, Rapid Ebola Detection Strips, a portable, fast, less expensive, user-friendly approach to detecting the virus in the field.

Read more at Emory News Center

Photo by Emory Photo/Video


Changing the Way Science Is Taught


A new YouTube video highlights Emory’s ORDER program (“On Recent Discoveries by Emory Researchers”), which bridges the gap between graduate and undergraduate education by having graduate students and postdoctoral fellows teach about their research to undergraduate freshmen and seniors.

The semester-long ORDER courses are co-taught by teams of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows called teacher-scholars. Each teacher-scholar teaches a course module that focuses on some aspect of his or her research. They explain the origins of their discoveries and the different elements that build the research process within their respective disciplines. The freshman course is taught during the fall semester, and the senior course is taught during the spring semester.

An important objective of ORDER is to change the way science is taught to undergraduates, moving it away from the traditional lecture-based curriculum to a more research-oriented curriculum that actively involves students in posing questions and seeking solutions.


Out-of-the-classroom Experiences This Spring

In an Emory News Center feature on innovative classes this semester, the work of several College faculty is highlighted, including those below.


Black Odyssey, Black Migration

Instructors: Dwight Andrews, associate professor of music theory and Mark Sanders, professor of African American studies and English and chair of African American Studies

Cool factor: Ties in with Michael C. Carlos Museum exhibit of Romare Bearden’s collages and watercolors based on Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.” Also ties in with the related exhibit, “Southern Connections: Bearden in Atlanta” that features materials from Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL).

Course description: Examines artistic interpretations of African American identity through music, literature, film and the visual arts, notably including the campus exhibit of Romare Bearden’s Odysseus series and the related exhibit about the artist’s regional connections that draw on resources from Emory’s special collections. A meditation on the Western epic tradition and African American mobility, the series invites a broader examination of African American culture and issues of migration, escape, home and belonging.

Department: African American Studies; cross-listed in Music

Coastal Biology with Lab

Instructor: Leslie A. Real, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Biology

Cool factor: Field trip to study preserved areas of the Georgia coast.

Course description: Introduces students to coastal Georgia’s major ecosystems and to plant and animal communities through an intensive field experience on St. Simon’s, Cumberland, Blackbeard, Sapelo and Jekyll islands. Includes excursions in small boats to Blackbeard Island and on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ research trawler, “Anna,” to study organisms in the sound surrounding the islands.

Department: Biology

Freshman Seminar: Vaccines and Society

Instructor: Elena Conis, assistant professor of history

Cool factor: First-year students study vaccines on the campus of a leading research university and in proximity to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Course description: Explores the history of vaccination against infectious diseases such as smallpox, polio and measles as well as the opposition among some groups to vaccines. Uses these case examples to think critically about the state’s interest in protecting public health and about the nature of medical controversies.

Department: History; cross-listed with Human Health Program

Risk & Resilience in Shaping Identity

Instructors: David Lynn, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Chemistry and Biology, and chair of chemistry department and Leslie Taylor, professor of theater studies and director of the Center for Creativity and Arts.

Also, graduate students Julia Haas, philosophy; Brian Dias, behavioral neuroscience and psychiatric disorders; Carolina Campanella, psychology; Constance Harrell, neuroscience; Ashley Coleman, religion; Daniel Pierce and Jillian E. Smith, chemistry.

Cool factor: Interdisciplinary capstone course, combining aspects of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, that helps seniors capture their liberal arts experience in a research university and allows them to present their lessons through novel artistic expressions.

Course description: Helps students ask, “What has made me a stronger, smarter and more resilient student at Emory University and what strengths have allowed me to successfully navigate college?” Provides them with an opportunity to develop a research idea for possible funding while being mentored on grant proposal writing and research design.

Department: Senior Seminar

Read full article

Prof. Cassandra Quave Introduces Students to Medicinal Plants


Cassandra Quave, a medical ethnobotantist with Emory’s Center for the Study of Human Health, hosted a group of Emory students at her field research site in southern Italy this summer to talk about the healing power of plants. Quave is documenting the traditional ways that people use plants in the Vulture-Alto Bradano region of Basilicata province and is collecting specimens of medicinal plants for her drug discovery research projects.

The students were in Italy this June as part of the “Italian and Medical Humanities” course, a collaboration of Emory’s Italian Studies Program, the School of Medicine, the Center for Ethics and the Center for the Study of Human Health.

Read the full story on the eScienceCommons blog.

AWIS Week at Emory Features Plenty of Events

Emory’s first Association for Women in Science (AWIS) Week is being held from March 18-22nd, featuring networking, outreach, and mentorship opportunities.

Please note: RSVP ( for the “Mocktail Networking Night” event — see below — by March 20th.

Monday 6pm: Get your questions about pre-health, research, pre-Ph.D, or any science-related career answered. Pizza provided.

The panel will provide an open environment in which Emory students could come have questions concerning medicine, research, professorship and other science related careers answered and the opportunity to hear about the professional challenges the panelists have encountered and overcome. The panelists will range from professors and P.I.s to accomplished deans and doctors.

Tuesday 12pm: Lunch with a Scientist- Talk with and ask questions with a science professor in a comfortable and informal setting with 4-5 of your peers. Email to reserve a seat.

Wednesday 11:30 — 1:30pm: Wonderful Wednesday and Cake Cutting. There will be cake in honor of AWIS, a “make your own molecule” activity, and other interactive activities.

Thursday 3pm: Druid Hills High School Tutoring (you can specify subjects that you feel comfortable with or prefer to tutor). Email to sign-up.

Friday 6pm: Mocktail Networking Night. The closing event of a week-long series of educational, service oriented and awareness activities for AWIS Week. This mocktail night will allow students, faculty and professionals alike to gather together for an evening of fun and mingling to celebrate the 42 years of AWIS service. The night will be divided into 3 parts:

  1. Brief AWIS presentation — AWIS Emory Chapter will take a few moments to reflect on the past year by showing a short multimedia presentation highlighting our mission, past service trips/events, and goals for the future.
  2. “Speed dating” — Students meet and speak with faculty members/professionals in short 4 minute intervals before rotating to the next guest. This segment will aim to reduce the tension often experienced by students when required to “mingle and network,” in a fun manner.
  3. “Mocktails and mingling” — Guests will freely sample various “mocktail” drinks and light snacks while music is played. Undergraduate and Graduate students will get an opportunity to network with faculty and professionals in a more casual setting and enjoy a festive ambiance.

Clay and Science Brings Together Biology and Visual Arts

“Clay and Science: A Symbiotic Relationship” (Ceramics I) brought together the fields of visual arts and biology to arrive at a better understanding of symbiosis. After exploring this concept in lectures, labs and studio trips, students explored symbiosis through art–shape, size, color, and forms–and created pieces for their final project. Visual Arts lecturer Diane Kempler teamed up with Nicole Gerardo, assistant professor of biology, to offer the class, which was divided into one three-hour studio session and a one-hour evening discussion.

Related Media

Profile of Prof. Kempler in Spring 2011 Quadrangle Magazine

See YouTube videos of Prof. Kempler’s Coan Middle School Garden Art Project

Prof. Gerardo’s tour of the complex world of fungus-growing ants (YouTube)


Visual Awareness May Bridge Science and Religion

Alex Escobar, a senior lecturer in Emory University’s Department of Biology and dean of science education in Emory College, talks about visual awareness in this new YouTube video.

He feels we produce bits of awareness in our brain’s cortex, or “qualia,” much like the points of color in a Seurat painting that create an overall understanding (of the sky, trees, people on the lakeshore, etc.). This understanding holds great implications for science and religion — and the seams between the two.

“You are the scene that you are perceiving,” he says. “Everything that you experience is actually part of who you are.”

For more details on the scientific underpinnings of his theory, see his 2011 article, Escobar, A. “Qualia as the fundamental nature of visual awareness.” Journal of Theoretical Biology 279 (2011): 172-176.

Also check out his 2009 essay, “What Do We Really See?”

Bruce Levin (Biology) Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Emory University biologist Bruce Levin (Samuel C. Dobbs Professor of Biology) has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for his excellence in original scientific research. Membership in the NAS is one of the highest honors given to a scientist or engineer in the United States.

Levin is a leader in using mathematical and computer simulation modeling to study the evolutionary biology of bacteria and their viruses. Some of the health questions his lab addresses include the pharmacodynamics of antibiotics and the within-host population and evolutionary dynamics of bacterial infections and their treatment with antibiotics.

See full article in Emory Report

Arri Eisen on Teaching Science to Monks

Arri Eisen, a professor of pedagogy in biology and a faculty member in the ILA and the Center for Ethics at Emory University, wrote this wonderful piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education (“What Buddhist Monks Taught Me About Teaching Science,” Nov. 13, 2011) about what he’s learned from teaching science to monks after four years.

* * *

To teach my biology class today, I took three planes for a total of 9,000 miles nearly halfway around the world. My students have left their sandals at the door. As I walk in, they sit, maroon-robed and expectant, cross-legged on the floor. My body clock registers 11:30 p.m. the day before. I write on the board: “Are bacteria sentient beings?”

This is my fourth year coming to Dharamsala, India, home of the Tibetan government in exile, in the foothills of the Himalayas, as part of an unusual collaboration—the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative—between the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives and Emory University. About seven years ago, the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetans, invited Emory to develop and teach a contemporary science curriculum for the more than 20,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns in exile.

The Dalai Lama realized that for Tibetan culture to survive, the education system for both laymen and monastics must engage modern science, to give them new tools for understanding the world. Over the past decade or so, he has become particularly fascinated by contemporary neuroscience and how it potentially complements Tibetan Buddhism’s two millennia’s worth of knowledge about the mind. He envisions a partnership with modern science that could provide deeper understanding of how the mind works and thus, perhaps, new insights and therapies.

The first stage of our project is teaching a five-year curriculum in math, physics, biology, and neuroscience to around 100 monks and nuns. They meet for five to six weeks during the summer in Dharamsala. A team of Emory scientists in one discipline comes and teaches the monastics six hours a day for about a week, followed by a team in the next discipline. This past year, six of the monks spent a year at Emory taking science classes; they have returned there this fall for another year.

In the next phase of the program, these monks and others to follow will become science teachers back at their monasteries, using what they have learned as well as texts Emory scientists have written and had translated into Tibetan.

Before we started the project, the monks and nuns knew little science or math, and I knew little of Buddhism and Tibetans.

In my first year, the students’ faces looked nearly identical, but now I see individuals: Kalsang, a natural experimenter even before he knew a bit of Western science (he also leads the monks in prayer every morning); Kunjo, whom I met for coffee every Friday morning back at Emory to discuss science and life (to get from Emory to his village in Nepal takes him three plane rides and three days of walking); Ngawang, nicknamed Jupiter by the monks for his spaced-out questions (but this year his questions have transformed into a wellspring of insights).

Over the years, I’ve come a long way from thinking that teaching science to Tibetan monks and nuns is just a cool thing to do. The monastics, on the whole, are astoundingly open-minded and approach problems with a thoughtful rationality that is, ironically, often missing from my Western colleagues’ approach to science and the world. An ancient Zen koan goes something like: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. That is, destroy preconceptions, question everything—especially if you think you’ve figured it all out. Most of the monastics in my classroom embody that attitude.

They are busy integrating East and West at the cellular level, re-examining everything they thought they knew. For them, the question of whether bacteria are sentient has serious karmic implications. If these single-celled organisms are, indeed, sentient beings, then any other sentient being could be reincarnated as a bacterium. They face this question with calm, engaged clarity, ready to rethink and integrate whatever they may discover.

This is our entry into learning about genes and cells. The monks and nuns grow their own bacteria by taking swabs from doorknobs or their own ears and brushing them onto agar growth plates poured with the help of the cook and some cornstarch we found in his kitchen. The bacteria grow luxuriantly in Dharamsala’s warm climate, and the students design experiments to test the bacteria’s sentience. For example, they add what they postulate are attractants or repellents to the living bacteria to see if the organisms respond under the microscope in a measurable way.

As usual, we have a translator. Tsondue is Tibetan and once studied to be a monk; he earned an undergraduate degree in physics from Emory, is fluent in both Tibetan and English, and easily navigates both cultures. Once he grasps the concept that we Americans are teaching, he can answer the monks’ questions in Tibetan without having to translate everything back for us.

The process of translation has enriched my teaching tremendously. With the monks and nuns, we are translating not only across languages, but also across cultures, philosophies, and traditions. This has forced me not to take any prior knowledge for granted. I have to develop each concept, fact, and theory sequentially, from the most basic to the most complex, from the big picture to the microscopic and back again, constantly adjusting on the fly.

But teaching these monastics feels more like an opportunity than a hindrance. Each pause, as Tsondue translates, seems to enrich the development of the concepts and information we are attempting to teach. What seems important with these students is the process—how science happens, how experimental logic works, how the pieces fit together. This is what science actually is, what excites scientists, and how we should be teaching all our students. So much of traditional science teaching seems to dish out only information, formulas, answers—product rather than process.

These Buddhists are teaching me to slow down, to be more attentive, more deliberate, to learn from them as I teach them, and I think my teaching has improved as a result.

We have rigged up a microscope that projects the monks’ bacteria up on the wall for the whole class to see. The cells bounce and swim, revealing that astonishing microscopic world that humans have known about for only a few centuries. The monks perform their experiments and watch the cells respond.

I watch them, thinking: We have a lot to learn from these folks. When we visited the Dalai Lama earlier in the week to present him with our translated science texts, he stressed very forcefully that the way forward is not religion, not meditation, but education. Perhaps this is what globalization should be—a shared, translated learning experience, rather than one culture swallowing another. I think of what one of the monks, Lobsang, told me when I asked him why he was participating in our project: “I study modern science,” he said, “to help me better understand my Buddhism.”

At the end of the week, we put the issue to a vote: ‘Are bacteria sentient beings?’ Half the class raised their hands yes, half no.

Related Videos

Biologist Jaap de Roode among “Brilliant 10”

Emory College biologist Jaap de Roode is among this year’s “Brilliant 10,” top scientists under 40 recognized by the editors of Popular Science magazine. He will be featured in the October issue of the magazine, along with other promising young researchers from across the nation.

An evolutionary biologist, focused on the ecology of insects and parasites, de Roode runs one of the few labs in the world studying monarch butterflies. His lab recently showed that monarch butterflies use medication to cure themselves and their offspring of disease. His research into how animals self-medicate could shed light on naturally occurring compounds that hold potential for human medicines.

“Our annual ‘Brilliant 10’ is a testament to the importance of scientific research and a salute to the dazzling young minds driving it,” says Mark Jannot, editor-in-chief of Popular Science. “Each year, we solicit nominations form hundreds of eminent scientists and whittle the candidates down to the ones whose work really blows the top of our heads off.”

The National Science Foundation recently awarded de Roode a $500,000 grant to further his research into the behavior of monarchs infected with a protozoan parasite.

Read more at eScienceCommons and see videos