Saturday, September 25, 2010

Biology grad completing a PhD in environmental toxicology

Erin Allen (Gagan) is researching the effects of pesticides on the nervous system for her doctoral studies at the University of Iowa's College of Pharmacy.  A 2006 graduate with a major in Biology, Erin plans to complete her PhD in 2011 and is currently exploring post-doctoral positions where she can pursue her interest in how pesticides and other environmental toxins interact with the human nervous system to cause diseases like Parkinson's.

Erin has earned a number of honors in graduate school, including multiple outstanding presentation awards at scientific conferences, an American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education Predoctoral Fellowship, and an honorable mention for the Women in Toxicology Student Achievement Award.  Erin also serves as a graduate student representative for the Central States Society of Toxicology and has already published two papers from her dissertation research.

At Ashland University Erin conducted undergraduate research with Biology/Toxicology professor Dr. Doug Dawson on the toxicity of chemical mixtures while also pursuing minors in Chemistry and Music.  Ashland University has one of only a handful of undergraduate Toxicology programs in the country, providing students with a rare opportunity to get experience in this growing and diverse field.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Purdue Univ. Interdisciplinary Life Science Ph.D. open house

If you are a junior or senior thinking about graduate school, this is worth checking out:

The Purdue University Interdisciplinary Life Science Ph.D. Program ( is hosting an open house for undergraduate students interested in graduate school programs on November 5th, 2010 from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM

Activities include an opportunity to meet program faculty, have lunch with current students, and tour the lab facilities.

All students admitted to PULSe receive paid tuition and an assistantship for the entire first year of study to allow them to complete core requirements and participate in laboratory rotations. The level of support in subsequent years will meet or exceed the level of support provided in the student’s first year.

RSVP and any inquiries should be directed to Dr. Colleen Gabauer at or 765-494-9256.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Environmental Science Award presented for work at the Black Fork Wetlands Preserve

The ongoing work of the AU Environmental Science Program at the Black Fork Wetlands Preserve was praised at the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District (RCSWCD) Annual Meeting held September 2, 2010. The award cited “Leadership, Dedication, and Protection” and was based on the program’s work at the Black Fork Wetlands Preserve and the Black Fork Wetlands Environmental Studies Center. The program was cited for including public access to this important natural area and for contributing significantly to watershed conservation and habitat preservation.

Dr. Soren Brauner (photo, center) and Dr. Dick Stoffer (photo, left), both Professors of Biology and members of the AU Environmental Science Program, accepted the award from Charles Winger (photo, right), representing the Board of Supervisors for the RCSWCD. Drs. Brauner and Stoffer spoke to the group about the mission of the Black Fork Wetlands Preserve, and answered questions from the audience. Dr. Brauner was director of the Environmental Science Program from 1999 to 2010, and Dr. Dick Stoffer serves as Preserve Manager for the five AU preserves.

The RCSWCD exists to help residents “protect and improve” the natural resources of the area. They specialize in networking, education, planning, and technical help. Try this stormwater management quiz, or have a look at the Black Fork Watershed in Richland County. Conservation Districts operate in each county in Ohio and most counties across the nation. Ohio districts operate within the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and receive State funding. All districts are linked with the National Association of Conservation Districts.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Biology professor recognized with book award

Dr. Fenster with the Biology Department's
real-time PCR machine
Dr. Steve Fenster, Assistant Professor of Biology, recently heard that a book he contributed a chapter to, Current Protocols Essential Laboratory Techniques, was recognized with a PROSE award for excellence in biology and life sciences writing.  Dr. Fenster's chapter was co-authored with colleagues Dr. Dean Fraga from the College of Wooster and Dr. Tea Meulia from the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and describes a technique called real-time PCR that is used to measure levels of gene expression.

Individual chapters of the book can be separately purchased, and according to Dr. Fenster the publisher told him that his chapter "was one of the most downloaded chapters in the book, so this was a nice surprise."

Dr. Fenster is a neurobiologist who studies the development of cell-to-cell connections in the brain and a form of autism found in young girls.  He is the Director of Ashland University's Choose Ohio First Scholarship Program and co-directs our Biotechnology program.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Science Alum Directs National Center on Neuroanatomy

(This is the first of several posts that will highlight members of our Science Advisory Council, a group of alums and supporters that provides valuable guidance for our science programs. Dr. J. Patrick Card (class of 1972) is Professor of Neuroscience and Co-Director of the Center for Neuroanatomy with Neurotropic Viruses at the University of Pittsburgh.)

I firmly believe that success derives from commitment, curiosity, ethics, and a strong foundation. Ashland provided the solid foundation and ethics that have allowed me to prosper as a scientist and educator. Particularly important in that regard is the well-known philosophy of the institution to place “accent on the individual”. I chose Ashland because of that philosophy and am convinced that the subsequent growth and success of the university is directly related to its unwavering belief in the importance of that educational approach.

I attended Ashland from 1968 through 1972 as a science major. I took essentially every science course that was offered and, through interactions with my professors, discovered a fascination with the scientific process. Convinced that my future lay somewhere in the scientific enterprise I sought further experience through graduate study, successfully pursuing Masters and Doctoral degrees at Wright State and Wayne State Universities, respectively. Subsequently I embarked upon a career in research in both academic and industrial settings.

My first position was as a Research Assistant Professor at SUNY Stony Brook, a position that I held for four years. I followed that with a seven-year period of research in industry in the Central Research & Development Department at DuPont, where I rose to the position of Senior Research Scientist. In 1992 I accepted my current position at the University of Pittsburgh.

My research program is devoted to increasing understanding of the identity, organization, and function of neural systems that control behavioral state (sleep-wake cycles) and autonomic function. I am particularly interested in how neural systems that govern emotion influence the activity of each of those systems and how stress can compromise function in disorders of the nervous system such as posttraumatic stress disorder. Toward that end my laboratory has contributed to the development of technology using viruses to define neural circuit organization. Currently I am Co-Director of an NIH supported national center whose mission is to develop this technology and make it available to other neuroscientists who would like to use it in their research. Viral transneuronal tracing technology is integral to the research conducted in my laboratory.

Teaching is also a valued component of my professional responsibilities. My first experience was as a biology instructor to support myself during graduate studies at Wright State University. I enjoy teaching immensely and have actively sought out teaching experiences throughout my career. During my period in industry I was able to pursue this interest through an Adjunct Appointment as a neuroanatomy instructor in the Veterinary School at the University of Pennsylvania. Although research is my primary responsibility at the University of Pittsburgh, I teach an advanced elective and an honors course each year in the neuroscience curriculum.

Louis Pasteur is attributed with the quote “Chance favors the prepared mind”. I have collected quotes over the years but this is the one that seems to stick with me. I feel very fortunate to have enjoyed an interesting and engaging research career and to have been able to “give back” through teaching. I am particularly blessed by the active learning that is a characteristic feature of my career choice and that enriches my existence each and every day. The “prepared mind” that Ashland helped me to develop during my undergraduate studies has been foundational in allowing me to be successful in these endeavors.

-- Dr. Pat Card