Professor, students do research in the Rockies


Biology professor Dr. Emily Mooney recently returned from Colorado, where she and two of her students participated in a research program at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. 

With a mission to advance a deep, scientific understanding of nature that promotes informed stewardship of the Earth, the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) provides scientists and students access to diverse habitats, as well as research and education infrastructure as they study the ecology of mountain environments.

Mooney is the coordinator of undergraduate research at RMBL. There, in addition to organizational work, she reviews students' work and sets up discussions, special events and workshops to supplement student learning.

At this remote, high-altitude field station, located near Crested Butte, Colo., for 10 weeks students focus on research methods through an intensive program that provides an introduction to field research in ecology and wildlife science.  

"This is a pretty competitive program," Mooney said. "This year, about 180 students applied and only 38 were accepted.  There are a very limited number of slots available, so the program recruits high-achieving students who are interested in ecology and field research."

Each MCLA student was paired with a faculty mentor who guided them through an independent project. Andrew Martin '14 of Glendale, Mass. (pictured above), focused his study on field biology.

Martin was paired with Dr. Alison Brody, an ecologist and professor at University of Vermont. He worked with a native wildflower, leafy jacob's ladder - or Polemonium foliosissimum - to determine why some flowers' characteristics included both pollen and seedmaking, while others were females that lost their "anthers," the part which holds the pollen.

His research centered on discovering why this happens, and if it has any effect on pollinators - flies and bumblebees. 

"This type of authentic research experience will set the students apart from other grad school applicants," Mooney said. "They gain tangible skills with scientific communication, experimental design and time management." 

"I found it inspiring. It gave me a chance to do real science," Martin said. "I didn't know anything about ecology going into RMBL."

However, through the research and experience he realized that ecology "is not quite the field for me." Instead, Martin will maintain his focus on microbiology.

"I hope to study something involving Trypanosoma brucei (African Sleeping Sickness) or Trypanosoma cruzi (Chagas disease). I am really interested in the controlling of the vectors - the bugs that bite you and transmit the disease - to prevent infection," he explained.

"Ideally, I would like to be a professor at a small, public liberal arts college like MCLA, since I felt I got a better education here then I would have at Skidmore, or Drew-both of which were choices, along with MCLA- but cost a lot more money," Martin said.

In addition, "I never would have met such influential professors that really care about what you do."