HHMI PROJECT SUMMARY
Original Project (2002 grant)
The initial grant supported three projects. The first is a multidisciplinary course, Frontiers in Science, for first-year students at Columbia College. The course is required for all entering students (both "science" and "nonscience" students). The lectures cover some of the great ideas of science, such as dark matter, the origins of the universe and of life, evolution, how the brain works, and the biome. Course-associated materials have been made available to other universities informally. The course also features small seminars, led by postdoctoral teaching fellows, in which topics from the physical and life sciences are discussed. The second project is a course for premed students that uses case studies to teach them about designing, analyzing, and interpreting clinical research. The third project is a research program in my laboratory in which students use clawed frogs (Xenopus) to study gene expression in the vocal system.
Project Update (2006 grant)
We will create a Web resource, Frontiers of Science Online, to disseminate course material we have developed and to create an interactive center for educators in undergraduate science education. One aim of the project is to increase students' interest in science by teaching the most interesting, state-of-the science material first rather than requiring students to first go through a series of preparatory courses before gaining access to current research. Another aim is to increase the visibility and cachet of undergraduate teaching by creating a compelling body of material prepared by top researchers and educators. Materials will include videos of faculty lectures, animations and simulations, question and problem sets, study guides, practice examinations and an interactive e-textbook, Scientific Habits of Mind, developed by Columbia University faculty. The site will include seminar materials, developed by postdoctoral teaching fellows (Columbia Science Fellows), that correspond to the units taught in the Frontiers in Science course and approximate the learning experience of undergraduates in the course. The Web site will also foster a supportive peer community among educators by enabling them to share new teaching approaches and materials directly with one another.
My research focuses on the neurobiology of social communication, with the goal of determining how one brain communicates with another. To explore this question, my lab uses the South African clawed frog, Xenopuslaevis, a species with a particularly rich vocal repertoire. Females sing to males, and males sing to females and to other males. Many of these signals are specific to the sex of the signaler, the recipient, and the social context. We seek to determine how these vocal signals are produced by the nervous system and how acoustic information is decoded and acted upon. The molecular genetics of song production and perception are also being examined in a related species, X.tropicalis, with a smaller genome and a much shorter generation time. We are also addressing the evolution of vocal communication by using the tools of molecular phylogenetics. The prominent role of songs in Xenopus and the ease with which certain aspects of song production can be studied should provide fundamental insights into how the brain translates what is heard into what is uttered. Because songs are specific to sex in terms of the signals themselves and the social context in which they are produced, we have also examined how vocal communication becomes sexually differentiated.
Last updated March 2007