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Natural selection headerSlowly over the years, new faculty positions were added, usually to reflect the burgeoning areas of new knowledge in biology: cell biology, genetics, population biology and ecology, developmental biology, eukaryotic gene regulation, microbiology—the current list represents today’s state of the science.

Biology Picture“From the very beginnings of the department,” wrote emeritus professors of biology Frank Gwilliam and Laurens Ruben in their history of biology at Reed, “it was a matter of policy to include students in all aspects of the scientific endeavor that could be offered by the resources of the institution. This soon translated into research participation by students in the research activities of the faculty. . . . The faculty members of the biology department have been, from the beginning, publishing scientists. Summers became a time to emphasize experimental work, and students were often invited to participate in that research.”

None of that has changed, and today faculty research covers an amazing range. Just a few examples: the evolution of animal reproductive behavior, amphibian ecology and evolution, the evolution of flowering plant reproduction, female sex steroids and cell signaling, the regulation of neurohormonal secretion, determination of embryonic polarity, cell death and cancer resistance in amphibia, the maintenance of chromosome ends by telomerase, the molecular genetics of viruses in yeast, the molecular pathogenesis of E. coli, biological nitrogen fixation and oxygen toxicity . . . the list goes on (see “Treetop secret”).

Biology pictureFrom lonely Harry to a burgeoning force, the history of biology at Reed is one of continuous growth. Now, 2001 marks another watershed year for the department, with the completion of an expanded, remodeled, and re-envisioned facility that puts Reed at the forefront of undergraduate biology programs in terms of equipment, design for effective teaching, and faculty–student interaction.

Put another way, Steve Black no longer has to run up and down the stairs from the basement 30 times a day.

Associate professor of biology Steve Black sits beaming in his new office. He couldn’t be more excited about the new biology facility at Reed — more space, better space, wonderful new tools. (“I don’t know that we’re the only undergraduate biology department with our own confocal laser scanning microscope, but I’ll bet we are!”). The only thing he’s a little worried about is the effect on his cardio conditioning, now that his office is next door to his teaching lab: “I kept in pretty good shape climbing stairs all day,” he says.

Black came to Reed in 1989 and is now chair of the department—and before you assume that the title is one of those portrait-on-the-wall, die-in-the-job kind of things, Black explains that “it’s a two-year appointment that’s more administrative than honorific.” He changed his initial plans and chose the undergraduate liberal arts college science environment over the graduate-school-at-a-big-research-university-environment simply because it was Reed. Black quickly discovered that it perfectly suits him.

“I highly value teaching and quality interaction with intelligent undergrads,” he says. “Reed students push themselves, and when we provide the facilities and intellectual stimulation the result is real science and work that is at or near the graduate level. The process brings out the best in all of us.”

Biology professor Maryanne McClellan agrees. “Most undergraduates finish college only knowing they did well in their science courses,” she says, “without a clue as to whether they can be scientists. Here, after working alongside the faculty developing and testing hypotheses, by the end of the senior year they have a very good idea whether or not they can do science.” And many of them continue on: biology is one of Reed’s most popular majors, and an amazing number of Reed’s highly recruited biology graduates go on to earn Ph.D.s and M.D.s. Reed College, in fact, is ranked first in the nation for the percentage of grads who go on to earn doctorates in the life sciences.

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