Biologists attend conference on campus

Matt Clark and Matt Clark

Over 150 biology educators from universities and colleges across North America streamed into campus last week not to teach, but to learn.

They spent the week learning and reviewing new laboratory lessons with the hope of finding one they could take back to their institutions. The labs will eventually find their way around the world.

Many of the biologists were reminiscent after a week of classes.

“It’s like being a student again,” said Kathy Winnet-Murray, a biologist representing Hope College in Holland, MI, reacting to a week of laboratory exercises.

The biologists were participating in the 26th annual conference of the Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE) 2004. This was the first time the conference has been held in Ohio.

ABLE’s primary purpose is to facilitate communication among undergraduate laboratory instructors, but they also take on such challenges as addressing animal use issues and implementing safe laboratory practices.

The group also facilitates its goals through the use of its wesite, newsletter, and annual journal of conference information, “Tested Studies for Laboratory Teaching.”

For Charlene Waggoner, the University biologist who hosted the conference, the journal is one of the most unique aspects of ABLE because it is the product of educators reviewing labs as both teachers and students.

“The journal is a good resource for faculty teaching concepts in biology…a very unique peer review process,” Waggoner said.

First, the biologists propose a lab to ABLE, which then selects the best labs from those proposed to be presented at the conference.

Finally, the lab is reviewed at the conference and all information is published in the journal, which is made available all over the world through ABLE’s wesite.

At the conference, the biologists attended 3-hour workshops with numerous topics including genetics, molecular biology, water quality monitoring, photosynthesis, population biology, and many more.

They also attended shorter, mini-workshops with an even wider variety of topics.

An extensive array of equipment was used in the labs, from basic microscopes to a $30,000 photosynthetic system that measures, in real time, exactly how a plant reacts to changes in light and carbon dioxide.

In a previous year, University biologists took an ultraviolet radiation exercise used in the Biology 104 and 205 lab courses to the conference. That exercise is now being used to teach undergraduates at higher education institutions across North America.

A wide range of biologists attended the conference, including one who will be taking labs to Qatar, a Middle Eastern country that is slightly smaller than Connecticut, for Cornell University.

“There are people here who are PhDs with major research institutions, there’s lab coordinators from small colleges, there’s faculty from all levels of undergraduate education. We’ve got people here who are 26 year members, and we’ve got people who have been members for one month,” Carol Budd, president of ABLE, said.

For Budd, the communication that occurs between these biologists is the founding principle of ABLE, the only organization that can claim such a service.

“The fundamental thing is the networking that people do. Now everybody goes away to their college, and if something goes wrong with the lab, they immediately have someone to talk to,” said Budd, who is a general biology specialist at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.

The biologists also took field trips throughout the week. They included visits to the Toledo Museum of Art, a Toledo Mud Hens game, the Lake Erie islands, and Cedar Point.

Next year, the ABLE conference will be held at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.