Name The Rattlesnake – Vote Now!

Over the past few weeks, we received 57 name suggestions for the resident Timber Rattlesnake.  The members of Dr. Howey’s Lab picked the top 15 names, and now it is your turn to vote for your favorite!  Follow the link below and choose the name that you think should win!  You can only vote once, and all votes are confidential.  Voting will end on December 7th.

As a reminder, the person who submitted the winning name will win a $25 Starbucks Gift Card.

The Timber Rattlesnake that now resides outside of Dr. Howey’s office (LSC 251) is a female, yellow morph Timber Rattlesnake.  In addition to her common name (Timber Rattlesnake), she was also given a scientific name by Carl Linnaeus back in 1758 – Crotalus horridus.  The genus, Crotalus, actually means “rattle”, and all rattlesnakes throughout North America share this same genus name with the exception of pygmy rattlesnakes.  In addition to these names, Timber Rattlesnakes have also been called the Gentleman’s Rattlesnake because they are less aggressive than other rattlesnake species.  The name that we will pick through our competition, will serve as a nickname for our friend that has become part of the Scranton family.


To vote for your favorite name, click here!



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Name the Snake! … and win $25 Starbucks Gift Card!

This past summer, the Biology Department gained a new member – A Snake!

To be exact, the snake is a Timber Rattlesnake, and it is the center of Dr. Chris Howey’s research here in the Biology Department.  Much of Dr. Howey’s research focuses on understanding the ecology of reptiles, how changes in the environment affect these reptiles, and how we can conserve and manage these reptilian populations.  Maintaining healthy populations of Timber Rattlesnakes within our woods actually provides many benefits for other members of those ecosystems, as well as humans that come to visit those ecosystems!  However, many folks are scared of snakes.  Dr. Howey believes that much of this frightfulness stems from a lack of knowledge about snakes.  The more we know about Timber Rattlesnakes, perhaps we will be less scared of these animals.  Therefore, in addition to conducting research on rattlesnakes, Dr. Howey also conducts outreach with rattlesnakes – teaching people more about these animals, more about their ecology, behaviors, their history, how our Nations History intertwines with this animal, and how we can safely interact with these animals on the landscape.

The Timber Rattlesnake’s scientific name is Crotalus horridus and it is one of 3 venomous snakes found within Pennsylvania.  The other venomous snakes are Copperheads and Pygmy Rattlesnakes.  The venom produced by a rattlesnake is primarily used as a digestive enzyme – the more the food item is broken down into smaller pieces, the easier it is to absorb those nutrients.  The diet of the Timber Rattlesnake typically consists of mice, voles, shrews, and chipmunks.  Larger rattlesnakes may eat slightly larger prey like rabbits and squirrels, but that would be a very big rattlesnake.  The Timber Rattlesnake typically exhibit one of two color patterns – a Black Morph or a Yellow Morph.  A Timber Rattlesnake cannot change this trait throughout it’s lifetime – a yellow morph will always be a yellow morph.

The Timber Rattlesnake that now resides outside of Dr. Howey’s office (LSC 251) is a female, yellow morph Timber Rattlesnake.  Some time in the past 5-8 years, she was illegally captured from the wild by someone who was trying to collect many different reptile species for their own personal collection.  When this collection became known to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the illegally captured reptiles were confiscated.  Unfortunately, because we do not know where this individual came from, we cannot release her back into the wild (she would not know how to locate a den to overwinter within and she may not know where to find food within her environment).  Therefore, she will live out her life as a steward of her species; helping to educate the public on Timber Rattlesnakes.  Hopefully, with the aid of this beautiful animal, we can help change the negative outlook that many people have regarding Timber Rattlesnakes.

The Timber Rattlesnake is in the top cage with the light on. She is currently sitting under the rock. The Ballot Box is shown below the cage, and ballots must be inserted into the mouth of the snake!!!!

So now that she has taken up residence among the halls of the Loyola Science Center, it is only fitting to provide her with a name!  Of course, she will always have the name bestowed on her by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 as Crotalus horridus, but we can provide her with a more updated name as well.  So, we need your help in thinking up the perfect name for this beautiful animal!  Swing by Loyola Science Center and introduce yourself to the rattlesnake.  Then, when you have a good name, write it on a ballot slip and place it in the Deposit Box sitting next to her cage.  Everyone is always welcome to come and visit the snake whenever you wish.  And similar to zoos and aquariums, please don’t knock on the glass or try to scare the snake, because that is just rude.  We want to make sure our new friend is comfortable and at ease the entire time she lives here.

On November 21st, we will stop accepting ballots.  Then, over Thanksgiving Break, we will pick a name from among the ballots.  If your entry gets chosen, then you will win a $25 Gift Card to Starbucks and you will get a picture with the snake!  Of course for safety reasons she will remain in her cage 😉





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SynAPSE brings science-in-action to local Elementary

On October 19th, a group of 12 Biology students and two faculty visited a local elementary school (McNichols Plaza) to give a program about the nervous system and their senses to the 4th graders. These fantastic hands-on activities get the elementary students excited about the real-life implications of what they learn in the classroom.

This event is part of the annual activities of SynAPSE (Synergistic Activity Program for Science Education). In the spring, the same students will take a field trip to the University for a more advanced set of activities introducing them to experimental design and data collection. Any University students interested in volunteering to help should contact Dr. Gomez or Dr. Son.

To read more about the programs presented this fall, check out this article.

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American Museum of Natural History Trip

The Biology Department is sponsoring a trip to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on November 10th.  A bus will leave the Loyola Science Center at 8:30 am and will depart the Museum at 5:30 pm.  Transportation and admission into the museum is covered!  So this is an amazing trip that will cost you nothing.

There are only a few seats left on the bus!  So, if you are interested in joining us for an amazing trip, please contact Dr. Cara Krieg as soon as possible.  You can reach her at or just swing by her office (LSC374).


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Understanding when we can dig deeper to discover more information on archaeological bones

When archeologists discover bones lying deep underground, within ruins, or hidden inside a dark cave, these scientists can use methods like radiocarbon dating to age the bones, or methods like stable isotope analysis to discover the diet of the organism to whom the bones belong. In order to use these methods, the scientists extracts collagen from the bone, and it is with that collagen that the scientist can run the aforementioned tests.  Unfortunately, there are many cases when scientists go to extract collagen from a bone and it is not there – over the many years the bones laid dormant within the earth, the collagen escaped the confines of the bone (i.e., decayed).  When scientists do find collagen, the extraction process causes damage to the bone and negates the preservation of the artifact.

Recent work by Dr. Maria Squire and colleagues identifies non-destructive methods that can be used by scientists to first determine if collagen is present within a bone before any destructive techniques come into play.  Dr. Squire used microCT scanning to take high resolution images of the minuscule structures of bone (see Fig. 1 below).  She found that bones with high corticol porosity, that is a large number of holes within the bone, are unlikely to contain enough collagen for analyses like radiocarbon dating and stable isotope analysis (see ET50 in Fig. 1). However, she also found a large amount of variation with the microCT results.  So, Dr. Squire and colleagues used additional tests – one being mercury porosimetry – to further test the porosity of the bones.  These other techniques can detect pores so small, that they do not show up on microCT images.  For example, specimen ET60 (see Fig. 1) appears to lack many pores according to the microCT image, and thus one would expect to find a suitable amount of collagen within the bone for additional analyses; however, this bone does actually contain pores, but these pores are extraordinary small!  These minuscule pores were detected by mercury porosimetry, and thus, this bone would be deemed unacceptable for further analyses as there is a good chance it does not contain collagen.  In fact, ET60 contained no collagen and if someone tried to extract collagen from it, then they would be destroying the artifact for nothing.

Figure 1. Two microCT scans of bones examined the Tripp et al. paper. Specimen ET50 exhibits a much greater amount of porosity compared to specimen ET60; however, additional analyses revealed small pores throughout ET60 as well.

The destruction of this bone can aid in our on-going quest for knowledge about that organism, but this comes at the cost of the damage done to the bone.  The fantastic research by Dr. Squire and her colleagues, however, should limit this destruction as scientists can now use these less invasive techniques to identify suitable bone candidates.

To read more about Dr. Squire’s research, please keep on the lookout for the release of this article “Use of micro-computed tomography imaging and porosity measurements as indicators of collagen preservation in archaeological bone” in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

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Biology Seminar Series

The monthly departmental seminar series is up and running again, with a new speaker coming at the end of each month. Everyone is welcome – including faculty and students from every part of the University. We’re halfway through the speakers for the fall, with two more coming.

Wednesday, October 24th, alumna Maria Gubbioti (currently a PhD candidate doing research at Jefferson Medical College, Jefferson University) will talk about her work from 3:15-4:15 in LSC 233.

Dr. James Sobel (an evolutionary ecologist studying speciation and local adaptation in monkeyflowers at Binghamton University) will give the last seminar of the semester, on Thursday, November 29th, 11:30am-12:30pm. Location TBA; watch for flyers around the LSC in the days before each seminar.

We have an exciting line-up for the spring, with names, dates and titles set for release in early January. Bring a friend!


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Alumni spotlight: Jonathan Nicklas ’18

Recent  grad Jonathan Nicklas (Biology and Philosophy, 2018) is now a Fellow at the National Institute of Health (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Highlights from his responses to our questions are below.

What do you miss about Scranton and/or the U?

J.N. – Although I only graduated a couple months ago, I am certain that I will miss the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program. Aside from my science courses, I greatly appreciated the collection of thinkers and their ideas we discussed in the philosophy courses throughout my four years. I also am grateful for the teachers who made this unique program possible.

If you could give one piece of advice to current students, what would it be?

J.N. – I would suggest that she or he relinquish the concept that college, or life for that matter, has a set formula with rules that must be followed. There is no rule that states which major a student must graduate with… There is no rule that you, as a student, must do what all your peers are doing… choose a major that they are passionate about, explore what they can do in that field, speak with and get in contact with as many people as they can, and most importantly strive to do their best in whatever they choose. There are many avenues to succeed so long as a student has the drive to take them.

What [Biology] class was most helpful to your current path, and how?

J.N. – Microbiology Lab was the most helpful class for my current path for three reasons. First, this class introduced me to the microscopic world of bacteria. Second, this class helped me realize that I enjoyed regularly working in a lab setting. Finally, this lab taught me fundamental lab skills that I still use frequently in my current position.

What research experience was most helpful to your current path, and how?  [Jonathan worked in Dr. Smith’s lab.]

J.N. –  I learned that failing makes you a better researcher. For example, I am certain I incorrectly calibrated the instrument I was using to do readings for my project. Therefore, about one month’s worth of data I collected was erroneous and I had to redo it. Instead of quitting, I spoke with Dr. Smith and became more cognizant of the calibration protocol. I then collected adequate data I could use. This experience taught me that failing is a part of working in a lab. However, this lesson also taught me that being a truly great researcher means coping with your mistakes and transforming them into successes.

What do you want to do in the future?

J.N. – In the future, I hope to have a career in medicine.  I am specifically interested in working with clinical trials someday as it will allow me to have an open dialogue with patients and fellow physicians in the clinic along with researchers in the lab.

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Inaugural Meeting of the Pre-PA Club – Tues, Sept. 25

Next Tuesday, September 25th, the Pre-Physician’s Assistant Club will have their first meeting.
The meeting will be at 7:30pm in LSC 126.
This is a club for anyone who is thinking about going to PA school or anyone who is interested in learning more about PAs in general. Throughout the year, the club plans on informing members on what a PA does, how to apply and get into PA school. It also will hold volunteer and service opportunities, and have guest speakers come in to talk to members of the club.
This is a great opportunity for anyone who is interested in learning more about Physicians Assistants and PA school so feel free to come and bring a friend!
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Faculty Spotlight – Dr. Janice Voltzow

Our first Faculty Spotlight shines bright on Dr. Janice Voltzow.  The first woman to be appointed as a full professor within the Biology Department at the University of Scranton and the first woman to be appointed as Chair of the Department, Dr. Voltzow has been breaking down barriers as she mentors young biologists, enriches the minds of students in the classroom, and continues to conduct research on exciting evolutionary-based concepts.

Dr. Voltzow’s research is focused on understanding the relationship between structure and function in organisms and how that understanding can shed light on the evolution of these various organisms.  This knowledge can then be used to understand how organisms may be affected by current and future changes to the environment.  Currently, Dr. Voltzow’s research focuses on marine invertebrates and how these invertebrates will be affected by changes in temperature and water pH – changes brought on by climate change.  Dr. Voltzow’s research has brought her to various corners of the earth – studying trees in tropical rain forests, tussocks in the Alaskan tundra, and sea urchins in Australia.  One of Dr. Voltzow’s favorite moments during her research career occurred when she was able to explore the internal cavities of abalone with an endoscopic camera, all while working on the floor of the exhibit area within the California Academy of Sciences!  As visitors to the California Academy of Sciences walked throughout the exhibit, they could observe Dr. Voltzow performing her research and they could ask her questions.  This moment in Dr. Voltzow’s career combined aspects of research with teaching.

Dr. Voltzow carefully explores the internal cavities of an abalone with a fragile endoscopic camera.

Here at the University, one of Dr. Voltzow’s favorite classes to teach is Invertebrate Biology.  This is not only because she gets to teach students about the invertebrates which she loves so dearly, but also because they get the opportunity to work with and learn from live animals which are shipped in weekly from Florida (which also happens to be Dr. Voltzow’s home state).  Students taking Dr. Voltzow’s Invertebrate Biology get hands-on experience with these animals – what better way to learn about an organism!

When Dr. Voltzow is not teaching or conducting research, she enjoys exploring the local parks and forests within the Scranton area.  You may find her kayaking within Lackawanna State Park in the summer, or cross-country skiing through the woods in the cold winter.  Along Dr. Voltzow’s travels throughout the world, she’s even gone for a swim in the Arctic Ocean, introduced the amazing sensation of disco dancing to Jamaica, and honeymooned in Nepal.

While conducting research on abalone, Dr. Voltzow became part of the exhibit! Visitors could watch and ask questions at any time.

Keep a lookout for Dr. Voltzow’s lab in the future.  Currently, she and Laura Romanovich are working to extend Laura’s research which she conducted as an honors thesis last spring.  Dr. Voltzow and Laura will be investigating the effects of bleaching in sea anemones to understand the complexities within this system and further our knowledge on the effects of climate change.  With the assistance of several other interested students, they may make even faster progress in the search for answers.  If these topics interest you, or if you are looking to brush up on your disco moves, make sure to pay Dr. Voltzow a visit.

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Teaching fellowship for Masters starting 2019

Are you interested in becoming a high school teacher in science, math, and/or technology? The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship can help! This program gives substantial financial, mentoring, and peer support through the process of getting a degree, followed by a three-year commitment to teach in a high-need urban or rural school.

Check out the link above; application deadlines are in October, November, and January.

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