Science Colloquium

We’re back for the fourth iteration of the Science Colloquium! Students can enroll in the colloquium for 4Cr (Intro/Adv, Lib) natural science study. And, as always, it is a public forum, and ESC faculty and staff, and the local community are invited to attend and participate.

Schedule for Spring 2014:

1. January 28th - Dr. Michelle Hersh (Sarah Lawrence College) – ‘Disease Ecology & Biodiversity: From Fungi to Ticks’

2. February 4th - Dr. Guillaume Rieucau (Institute of Marine Research, Bergen, Norway) ‘Should I school or should I go: Explaining schooling behaviour and the formation of massive aggregations in marine fish with a mechanistic approach’

Marine ecosystems are the theater of spectacular massive fish aggregations where some pelagic fish species can reach shoal sizes up to several millions of individuals. Avoiding predation is generally seen as the prevailing explanation for why animals aggregate. However, it remains questionable whether the existing functional theory is suitable to explain large fish shoals formation. I will present how the commonly proposed ultimate mechanisms explain massive fish shoals. I will emphasize the importance to develop accurate predator-dependent models (i.e. different hunting modes) and the need to consider other factors than predation as well as taking into account the interplay between ultimate benefits (the whys) and proximate perspectives (the hows) to better understand large fish aggregations in nature. I will introduce the mechanistic basis for group formation and collective dynamic properties that account for groups reaching very large sizes. I will present recent results from the field of collective animal behavior that focuses on local, inter-individual interactions to give a firmer explanation for how animals (and humans!) large groups are formed, maintained and move. I will introduce the importance to consider the shift from global properties (group size) to local properties (local density or information transfer). Finally, I will present the results of an experimental study in a controlled environment (sea cage in a Norwegian Fjord) exploring the sensory modalities that mediate collective antipredatory responses of herring (Clupea harengus) when in a large school (60 000 fish!). Schooling fish can learn about predators using cues from different sensory modalities that emanate from predator’s swimming movement or from escape behaviors of companions. By combining cues from different modalities fish can improve the accuracy of antipredatory decisions. I tested the hypothesis that herring collective responses are threat-sensitive. I investigated whether cues about threat obtained visually or from the perception of water displacement, used independently or in an additive way, affected the strength of the collective avoidance reactions. The acquisition of observational data and quantitative measurements of fish behavior underwater are important challenges that researchers may face in their attempts to study aquatic organisms. I will present acoustics and high-resolution sonar as an efficient means to collect important information about large schooling fish dynamics and fine-scaled interactions with their predators in natural conditions.

3. February 25th - Dr. Jordan Wright (Metropolitan Center, SUNY Empire State College) – ‘Using Statistics to Understand Homonegative Microaggressions’

Microaggressions are everyday, often overlooked slights and acts of prejudice that minorities face quite often. For example, someone acting surprised that a Black man is in college (making the assumption that he would not likely be) would be a racial microaggression–while it is not a hate crime or an overt act of prejudice and aggression, it still communicates to that man that he is somehow ‘less than’ others. The bulk of theory and research has centered on racial microaggressions, about which a great deal has been written. When looking at the microaggressions that sexual minorities suffer, much less has been explored. Basing the initial group of possibilities of the microaggressions sexual minorities face on the analogous taxonomy of racial microaggressions, the Homonegative Microaggressions Scale (HMS) was developed to investigate the experience of and impact on LGB individuals dealing with microaggressions. Statistics were used to understand how microaggressions suffered by sexual minorities differ from those suffered by racial minorities.

4. March 11th - Dr. Mark Miyake (Hudson Valley Center, SUNY Empire State College) – ‘The Discourse on Race in the Bluegrass Music Community’

This book examines the discourse on race within the bluegrass music community and the ways in which this discourse shapes and is shaped by the self-identity, projected identity, and internal and external power structures of music production and practices of the community itself and of the broader discourse on American music in which it operates. This book focuses on the ways in which the historical discourses on race within the bluegrass music community represent the genre as a specifically White musical practice and tradition. While this representation is deeply rooted in over a century of patterns in the representations of bluegrass and related forms of music by the music industry, cultural historians, musicians, and others, it is the communal discourse itself that maintains this widespread and deeply held belief. By examining both this discourse and the conditions that have surrounded it since the founding of bluegrass music as a distinct self-identified music genre in the 1940s and 1950s, this book not only looks at the ways in which this history influences the current community, but also explores the ways in which historical discourse within this community often serves to generate and maintain community boundaries and practices.

5. March 18th - Dr. John Rowden (National Audubon Society) – ‘Changing the Face(s) of Conservation in America’

6. April 22nd - Dr. Gina Torino (Staten Island Unit, Metropolitan Center, SUNY Empire State College) – ‘Asian-American Microaggressions’

Does racism still exist? If so, what forms does it take? How might someone unknowingly communicate biases? This colloquium will explore these questions and many others. Specifically, the presentation will focus on research investigating the incidence of Asian-American microaggressions. Microaggressions have been defined as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative…slights and insults.” (Sue, Capodilupo, Torino, Bucceri, Holder, Nadal, & Esquilin, 2007). Implications for future research and clinical practice will be discussed.

The Hudson Street unit of the Metropolitan Center is located at: 325 Hudson Street, New York, NY. All presentations are from 5-6PM, in the Gallery (Room 544).

For those who would like to participate in the colloquium either as a student, attendee, or a speaker, please contact me.

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3rd Empire State College Science Colloquium is on! Students can enroll in the colloquium for 4Cr (Intro/Adv, Lib) natural science study. And, as always, it is a public forum, and ESC faculty and staff, and the local community are invited to attend and participate.

Schedule for Spring 2013:

1. January 29th - Dr. Amanda Sisselman (Empire State College) – ‘A Professor in the Community — Learning about research outside of the laboratory’

Conducting research in community settings is both exciting and challenging. Use of the real world and everyday settings as a “laboratory” provides a unique opportunity to learn about human behaviors and psychological phenomena, a window into communities we often know little about. In this interactive presentation, participants will learn about what it is like to conduct research in community settings, while learning a bit about the populations being studied. The concept of community research will be defined and explained, with examples provided. Two research studies will be discussed: one that documented services and effectiveness of School Based Health Clinics in New York City and one that is documenting the effectiveness of grassroots community based programs in supporting homeless individuals transition into a successful life in the community. Those who attend the presentation will be invited to actively participate in discussion and learning activities.

2. February 12th - Dr. John Rowden (New York City Audubon) – ‘CSI New York: What have our Citizen Science Investigations in Jamaica Bay shown us about this urban estuary?’

Observers are well aware that Jamaica Bay is an important spawning site for horseshoe crabs and stopover site for migrating shorebirds. In 2009 with the support of the National Park Service, New York City Audubon initiated a Citizen Science project to systematically monitor horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds at several sites in Jamaica Bay during the spring spawning and migratory season to 1) identify important sites and 2) track local population trends. To date, our citizen scientists have produced four years of data, which are illuminating how important the estuary is, as well as how it may be changing.

3. February 26th - Dr. Jeanmarie Molina (Long Island University – Brooklyn Campus) – ‘Exhuming the Corpse Flower: What can we Learn from Rafflesia’s Genome’

4. March 12th - Dr. David Lahti (CUNY Queens College) – ‘How a learned behavior evolves: Insights from birds’

How is the human mind shaped? People in different disciplines have long separated the answers to this question into two vague categories, one having to do with evolution in an ancestral environment, and the other having to do with experience in the current environment. Biologists now view the behavior and psychology of all animals, including humans, as the product of the interaction between these two kinds of inputs, between nature and nurture. We still know little, however, about how these influences combine during development. Birds provide an excellent model system for this kind of research, because many birds, like humans, learn much of their behavior including their vocal communication. Two studies illustrate how nature and nurture combine in the development and evolution of a learned behavior in birds. First, African weaverbirds must learn to recognize their own eggs, because they need to reject eggs that are laid in their nests by the brood parasitic cuckoo. They have refined anti-counterfeiting adaptations against the cuckoo, and these traits decay through evolution when the weavers are introduced to islands without cuckoos. The evolution of eggs in this species has affected their ability to learn the appearance of their eggs, causing a change in egg rejection behavior– thus a behavior has evolved genetically despite the fact that it is learned. Second, swamp sparrows, like other songbirds, learn to sing by imitating what they hear. Laboratory experiments, however, have shown that birds do not necessarily learn to sing exactly as they heard the songs, but in some respects (such as the speed of the song) the lab-reared birds sing more like wild birds despite never having heard a wild bird. Thus, in birdsong, the quintessential model of the science of learning, we find that learning is itself influenced by unlearned biases that must have been inherited. Both of these studies show that learned and inherited influences on behavior are intertwined, and because of this fact even learned behaviors can undergo genetic evolution.

5. March 26th - Dr. Guillaume Rieucau (Institute of Marine Research, Bergen, Norway) – ‘Stay in school: The whys and hows of massive aggregations in marine fish’

Marine ecosystems are the theater of spectacular massive fish aggregations where some pelagic fish species can reach shoal sizes up to several millions of individuals. Avoiding predation is generally seen as the prevailing explanation for why animals aggregate. However, it remains questionable whether the existing functional theory is suitable to explain large fish shoals formation. I will present how the commonly proposed ultimate mechanisms explain massive fish shoals. I will emphasize the importance to develop accurate predator-dependent models (i.e. different hunting modes) and the need to consider other factors than predation as well as taking into account the interplay between ultimate benefits (the whys) and proximate perspectives (the hows) to better understand large fish aggregations in nature. I will introduce the mechanistic basis for group formation and collective dynamic properties that account for groups reaching very large sizes. I will present recent results from the field of collective animal behavior that focuses on local, inter-individual interactions to give a firmer explanation for how animals (and humans!) large groups are formed, maintained and move. I will introduce the importance to consider the shift from global properties (group size) to local properties (local density or information transfer). Finally, I will present the results of an experimental study in a controlled environment (sea cage in a Norwegian Fjord) exploring the sensory modalities that mediate collective antipredatory responses of herring (Clupea harengus) when in a large school (60 000 fish!). Schooling fish can learn about predators using cues from different sensory modalities that emanate from predator’s swimming movement or from escape behaviors of companions. By combining cues from different modalities fish can improve the accuracy of antipredatory decisions. I tested the hypothesis that herring collective responses are threat-sensitive. I investigated whether cues about threat obtained visually or from the perception of water displacement, used independently or in an additive way, affected the strength of the collective avoidance reactions. The acquisition of observational data and quantitative measurements of fish behavior underwater are important challenges that researchers may face in their attempts to study aquatic organisms. I will present acoustics and high-resolution sonar as an efficient means to collect important information about large schooling fish dynamics and fine-scaled interactions with their predators in natural conditions.

6. April 16th - Dr. Gina Torino (Empire State College) – ‘The Impact of Microaggressions’

Does racism and sexism still exist? If so, what forms does it take? How might someone unknowingly communicate biases? This colloquium will explore these questions and many others. Specifically, the presentation will focus on research investigating the manifestations of microaggressions, which have received recent attention in the psychological literature. Microaggressions have been defined as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative…slights and insults.” (Sue, Capodilupo, Torino, Bucceri, Holder, Nadal, & Esquilin, 2007). Implications for future research and clinical practice will be discussed.

The Hudson Street unit of the Metropolitan Center is located at: 325 Hudson Street, New York, NY. All presentations are from 5-6PM, in the Gallery (Room 544).

For those who would like to participate in the colloquium either as a student, attendee, or a speaker, please contact me.

******************

2nd Empire State College Science Colloquium is on! Students can enroll in the colloquium for 2Cr (Intro/Adv, Lib) natural science study. And, as always, it is a public forum, and ESC faculty and staff, and the local community are invited to attend and participate.

Schedule for Spring 2012:

1. January 31st - Dr. Susan Elbin (New York City Audubon) – ‘Up to Our Knees in Mud’

The New York Harbor is home to nine species of long-legged wading birds. NYC Audubon has been monitoring their nesting colonies since 1982. During the past four years, we have been focused on the rest of the story: Where in the city are the birds finding food to raise their young? Wading birds are important predators on fish and crustaceans, and their presence serves as a biological indicator of the health of the harbor. Dr. Elbin will present what has been learned to date from observing these magnificent birds.

2. February 14th - Dr. Dustin Rubenstein (Columbia University) – ‘Environmental uncertainty and the evolution of complex sociality: patterns, processes, and mechanisms’

Family-living, or cooperative breeding, not only occurs in a broad range of animals, it also varies widely in form from simple to complex societies. Although the inclusive fitness benefits of helping relatives ultimately set the stage for the evolution of cooperative breeding, environmental factors have long been thought to influence the reproductive costs and benefits of helping relatives, as well as the incidence of this behavior across species and regions. Cooperatively breeding birds typically live in heterogeneous environments where spatial variation in territory quality and resource availability can influence reproductive decisions and behaviors. However, temporal environmental variability may also play an important and under-appreciated role in the evolution and maintenance of family-living. I will discuss the diversity of cooperatively breeding species in birds and then examine how both resource heterogeneity and environmental uncertainty influence the evolution of this complex social behavior. I will demonstrate that environmental variability in time and space not only influences individual behavioral decisions, but also broad-scale patterns of social diversity across species and regions. Finally, I will discuss some of the physiological and genetic mechanisms that animals living in unpredictable environments use to cope with climatic uncertainty.

3. February 28th - Dr. Audrey Chang (New York University) – ‘Sex & Genome Evolution’

Males and females have different interests during reproduction: while males typically want to maximize the number of mating partners, females usually seek to optimize offspring quality. Under certain conditions, sexual conflict can lead to coevolutionary arms-races between the sexes (i.e., males and females are constantly trying to gain an advantage over the other during reproductive interactions). Sexual conflict and sexually antagonistic coevolution is thought to be responsible for diverse traits and behaviors in animals, such as traumatic insemination and toxic ejaculation by males or multiple mating and sperm selection by females. I will discuss the phenomenon and genetics of sexual conflict and how it contributes to the evolution of genes, morphology, and behavior. Additionally, I will present some of the approaches that I have taken using microscopic Caenorhabditis roundworms to investigate how sexual conflict affects genes and genome evolution.

4. March 27th - Dr. Sarit Golub (Hunter College) – ‘Biomedical Approach to HIV Prevention: Review of the Evidence and Implications for Practice’

Can the medications developed to treat HIV-positive individuals be used to prevent the spread of new infections? This talk will review recent studies which provide support for two new biomedical strategies for HIV Prevention: (a) Treatment as prevention; and (b) Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). We will explore the inherent benefits and challenges to these new biomedical approaches, and discuss their implications at the individual, community, and global levels.

5. April 10th - Dr. Ana Carnival (City College) – ‘Understanding diversity patterns in the Brazilian coastal forests: Bayesian computation meets correlative models and evolutionary physiology’

My lab employs the tools of bioinformatics to guide biodiversity research in the South American tropics. In studies of the Brazilian Atlantic forest and its endemic frogs, I have used correlative models of species and habitat distributions under current and paleoclimates to guide Hierarchical Approximate Bayesian Computation models of historical demography. Such combination of tools validated a hypothesis-testing framework to the study of the historical processes responsible for the spatial re-shuffling of genetic diversity in coastal Brazil during the Last Glacial Maximum and the Holocene. As we are now furthering our paleoclimatic studies and gathering phylogeographical data from species restricted to higher elevations, we realize the need to refine available forest models as to fully capture the history of the biome and identify distinct types of shifting forest refugia through time. In this talk, I present and discuss these results. When analyzed jointly, these new environmental analyses and molecular data from amphibians and reptiles point to the central role of species’ physiological constrains in shaping biological responses to Late Quaternary climate change, hence defining current diversity patterns in the tropics.

6. April 24th - Dr. Gina Torino (Empire State College) – ‘Research on Racial and Gender Microaggressions’

Does racism and sexism still exist? If so, what forms does it take? How might someone unknowingly communicate biases? This colloquium will explore these questions and many others. Specifically, the presentation will focus on research investigating the manifestations of microaggressions, which have received recent attention in the psychological literature. Microaggressions have been defined as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative…slights and insults.” (Sue, Capodilupo, Torino, Bucceri, Holder, Nadal, & Esquilin, 2007). Implications for future research and clinical practice will be discussed.

The Hudson Street unit of the Metropolitan Center is located at: 325 Hudson Street, New York, NY. All presentations are from 5-6PM, in the Gallery (Room 544).

For those who would like to participate in the colloquium either as a student, attendee, or a speaker, please contact me.

******************

The Science Colloquium will officially being in the Spring 2011 term on Tuesday, January 18th, 2011. Currently, the colloquium is offered as a 2Cr (Intro/Adv., Lib) Natural Science course, but is also open for members of the general public and Empire State College community to attend. Here, we will invite speakers who are engaged in scientific research or projects, and who will also speak about their area of expertise.

Schedule for Spring 2011:

1. January 18th - Dr. Guillaume Rieucau (Université Paul Sabatier) – ‘From group size effect to social information use: exploring the social behavior of Nutmeg mannikin’

In animal kingdom, a large number of species live and forage in group, a condition that requires behavioural responses that are specific to these social circumstances. When group size increases, animals generally decrease the time devoted to vigilance and increase their foraging rate. The increased foraging rate is thought to follow from increased safety from predators when group size increases. This increased safety then allows higher feeding rates because individuals can reallocate time spent in vigilance to foraging. However, increased foraging rates can also be due to increased competition for resources as the number of companions increases. Consequently the question remains whether the group size effect is a product of competition or anti-predation. The quality of animals behavioral decisions hinges on the accuracy of the information on which it is based. Animals need to sample their surrounding environment to collect information, which can be obtained personally or by tracking the behaviour of others: social information. While social information appears to be generally advantageous, it can also be detrimental and may even conflict with personal information.I will present the results of a series of experiences using the video playback technique exploring the group size effect and social information use in nutmeg mannikins (Lonchura punctulata), small social ground feeding finches. Firstly, we found that the increased feeding rate associated with an increased group size only resulted when the companions were feeding. Video playbacks of non-foraging companions neither decreased an individual’s use of vigilance nor did it release the full increase of feeding rate. We conclude that the group size effect reported in nutmeg mannikins is not a product of safety benefits of group living but may also arise from the costs imposed by competition for resources. Secondly, we tested the effect that the strength of social information, and its persuasiveness, can have on an animal’s decision to use it or not by conducting an experiment using single nutmeg mannikins which were offered a foraging choice following observation of videos of feeding or non feeding conspecifics. Our results show that birds provided with sufficiently persuasive social information will tend to reduce the weight of even highly reliable personal information. This provides the first experimental evidence consistent with the propagation of informational cascades in non-human animals, invoked to explain market crashes in economics or panic rushes in human crowds.

2. February 1st - Dr. Ashika Jain (Maimonides Hospital Medical Center) – Ultrasound: Not Just Another Baby-Finder!

3. February 15th - Dr. Matthew Rockman (NYU) – ‘Heritable variation: the search for its molecular basis and its evolutionary consequences’

Relatives tend to be more similar than unrelated individuals in almost every respect, and part of that excess similarity is due to the sharing of genes. For the past century, genetics has provided us with clear predictions about the patterns of similarity and differences among individuals as a function of their relatedness, and now molecular genetics is beginning to connect these patterns to the physical genes. The path from observable similarities to physical genes can be tortuous, however. I will discuss some of the difficulties encountered by efforts to map genes in humans, and I will present an alternative approach that relies on experimental model organisms to uncover the molecular basis for heredity. I will focus on my laboratory’s efforts to use a species of microscopic worm, Caenorhabditis elegans, as a model for discovering the molecular genetic differences among individuals that affect appearances, health, and behavior. One of the long-term goals of our gene mapping is to learn whether the molecular features of genes influence the ways that they contribute to evolution. Our worm research suggests that there may be some widely applicable rules that relate molecular genes to evolutionary outcomes.

4. March 1st - Dr. Kristy Lindemann-Biolsi (St. Francis College); ‘How Acoustic Signals Can Become Meaningful: Evidence of Emergent Mapping in a California Sea Lion’

Emergent mapping is one mechanism by which acoustic signals can become meaningful. In particular, this ability is evident in human language learning when a child immediately relates a novel spoken word to a novel object, therefore mapping the new label onto the new object. This process has been thought to underlie the vocabulary spurt that occurs at about two years of age in linguistically normal children, and it has been suggested that this ability might be absent in nonhuman animals. The present talk will focus on evidence that in fact a nonlinguistic, nonhuman animal subject, a California sea lion named Rio, can form emergent associations across the auditory and visual sensory modalities. The current evidence supports an argument that this ability is not language dependent, as has been previously suggested, and that emergent learning is a more general learning phenomenon.

5. March 15th - Dr. Aaron Kozbelt (Brooklyn College); ‘Skill and Creativity in Visual Art’

Even in our science-dominated age, visual art retains a mystical aura among both laypersons and researchers. Most adults draw poorly; in contrast, the works of artistic masters like Michelangelo and Matisse rank among the greatest human achievements. How we can possibly understand this level of accomplishment? In this talk, I discuss how an empirical approach to the psychology of art can inform age-old questions about the nature of art and creativity. Specifically, I focus on two questions: 1) What psychological processes enable skilled artists to see the world differently and to draw better than non-artists? 2) How can creativity in art emerge in the absence of an artist generating novel ideas – but, rather, by modifying the creative process itself? In addressing these questions, I attempt to demystify the nature of artistic skill and creativity, presenting a view that emphasizes rationality, control, and sound judgment.

6. March 29th – Ms. Susan Kaplan (Battery Park City Authority) – ‘Growing a Green Community’

NYC is a surprisingly green city in many ways, and Battery Park City has been at the forefront of much of the transformation. Hear about how Battery Park City Authority has accomplished this, what the Mayor is doing to green the rest of NYC, and what we can think about for the future of buildings.

7. April 12th - Dr. Preethi Radhakrishnan (LaGuardia Community College) – ‘Fruit-Fly sperm: Far more complex than you would have imagined’

Post-copulatory sexual selection, which comprises sperm competition and cryptic female choice occurs throughout the animal kingdom and has produced a wealth of adaptations in both males and females. These adaptations are particularly apparent in the evolution of the ejaculate. My talk will focus on how post-copulatory sexual selection influences both the number and quality of sperm, highlighting the complexity of sperm storage and sperm viability in Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruitfly.

The Hudson Street unit of the Metropolitan Center is located at: 325 Hudson Street, New York, NY. All presentations are from 5-6PM, in the Gallery (Room 544).

For those who would like to participate in the colloquium either as a student, attendee, or a speaker, please contact me.

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