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Events & News

For current and upcoming events, refer to the Biology Department Calendar link above.

News about Faculty, Current Students and Alumni

Faculty and Students Present at Tennessee Environmental Education Association Conference

envDr. Panvini, Biology Professor, and five students attended the Tennessee Environmental Education Association conference at Montgomery Bell State Park, TN on Saturday, September 26, 2015. Students attending were Environmental Science students Alex Jeffers and Walter Burn and Biology students Lindsay Millward, Lindsey Dennis, and Katlin Stodard. They were joined by Environmental Science alumni Erin Pitts and Sylvia Alsup. Erin Pitts, who graduated in 2013, in now a Park Ranger I in the Tennessee State Parks central office. Dr. Ryan Fox (Mathematics/Education) and Dr. Bonnie Smith Whitehouse (English) also attended the conference.

Dr. Panvini, Katlin Stodard, and Lindsay Millward gave a presentation on “Leaf Litter Decomposition Studies for Middle School, High School, and College Students” that discussed their senior research project.  Professors Panvini, Fox, and Smith Whitehouse gave a presentation on “Compost Happens!” which modeled an interdisciplinary lesson integrating Science, Mathematics, and English Language Arts. 

Biology Department Recognized for Work on Sam Davis Home Arboretum
murphree arboretum

The Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Sam Davis Home Arboretum on September 10, 2015 at the Historic Sam Davis Home and Plantation. Biology Professor Dr. Steve Murphree, who serves on the Home’s Board of Directors, made a few remarks and thanked Dr. Darlene Panvini and the Belmont biology students for their work.

Dr. Darlene Panvini, Professor and Chair of the Biology Department, taught a botany class in Fall 2014 that visited the Historic Sam Davis Home and Plantation in Smyrna multiple times as part of the class's service learning component. The students collected leaf samples from more than 40 trees on the property to apply for arboretum certification with the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council. The pressed tree samples are stored in an herbarium cabinet that the Belmont Biology Department donated to the plantation last August. Panvini's Fall 2012 botany class did similar work to advance the arboretum on Belmont's campus towards reaching certification by the Nashville Tree Foundation. 

The Sam Davis Home Arboretum has 35 tree species marked, and an application has been submitted to the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council for Level I certification. The Sam Davis Home Arboretum is located at the Historic Sam Davis Home and Plantation, a 168-acre site managed by the Sam Davis Memorial Association which educates visitors about the story of Sam Davis, his family and people who labored on this Middle Tennessee farm in the nineteenth century. Many of the trees were on the property when the Davis family lived there in the 1860s, including the white oak to which Sam Davis tied his horse on his last visit home before his capture.

Panvini, Millward Speak at Tennessee Women in Green Meeting

Biology Professor Dr. Darlene Panvini and senior biology and environmental science major Lindsay Millward spoke at the Tennessee Women in Green (TWIG) meeting on September 11, 2015.  Their presentation, “Doing Biology:  A Philosophy for Mentoring Students,” covered ways in which students are involved in research, professional development and civic engagement.

“We Do Biology” describes the philosophy of the Department of Biology at Belmont. Getting undergraduate science students involved in research, community service and professional organizations includes catching earthworms, cleaning streams and presenting posters at conferences. Panvini and Millward shared examples of how actively mentoring science students prepares them for graduate schools, careers and civic engagement. The talk also described Belmont’s sustainability initiatives.

Biology Students Study Animal Behavior with Nashville Zoo

For the students in Belmont Biology Professor Dr. John Niedzwiecki’s Animal Behavior course, spending hours each week at the Nashville Zoo was not a way to avoid studying, but a large part of their coursework. As a semester-long lab project designed to give students the opportunity to observe and research animal behavior in a hands-on way, students were paired in groups of two, assigned an animal to work with and together, came up with a testable hypothesis to study. The project was twofold – students had the opportunity to take their learning beyond the classroom and zoo employees were able to take part in important research that they don’t always have the time to investigate themselves. 

The teams worked with a variety of animals including kangaroos, elephants, red pandas, bongo bongos and night active amphibians, among others. Once students received their assignments, they met with the animal’s keepers to begin the scientific process. Topics of study were varied and included social groupings, dominance, alertness and environmental effects on animal behavior.

Director of Veterinary Medicine at the Nashville Zoo Dr. Heather Robertson said the chance to have the students work with zoo staff was a mutually beneficial experience. “Discovering and understanding the complexities of our natural world is at the core of Nashville Zoo’s mission,” Dr. Robertson said. “Our relationship with the students at Belmont University not only helped them apply the skills they have learned in the classroom, but also provided the Zoo with valuable research that can be used to improve the quality of care for our animal collection.”

Murphree Publishes Article About 13-Year Cicadas

Hidden under eight inches of soil in West Tennessee, Brood XXIII (23) of the Periodical Cicadas will make their presence known in loud choruses in the spring of 2015 in their 13-year cycle of emergence. Dr. Steve Murphree, Entomologist and Professor of Biology at Belmont University, writes about the emergence of millions of cicadas expected in West Tennessee and states bordering the Mississippi River and western Ohio River in the featured article "Look For 13-Year Cicadas 'Out West.'" 

This article appears in the Tennessee Conservationist Magazine, which for more than seven decades has been dedicated to telling the stories of Tennessee's natural, cultural and historical distinctiveness. In a cluttered media marketplace, this magazine continues to stand out by offering authentic Tennessee places, people and experiences through beautiful photography and engaging, informative articles.

Environmental Science students and faculty participate in the Nashville Weed Wrangle


Saturday, February 28, 2015 from 9 a.m. to Noon, was the first-ever WEED WRANGLE NASHVILLE, a one-day, citywide, volunteer effort to help rescue our public parks and green spaces from invasive species through hands-on removal of especially harmful trees, vines and flowering plants. These include bush honeysuckle, Chinese privet, autumn olive, English ivy and winter creeper.Weed Wrangle had over 500 volunteers at the various sites in Nashville.


Belmont University had 22 Belmont students, 1 Belmont alumni, and Dr. Panvini, Biology Professor, representing the weedEnvironmental Science program and the ECO club. The Belmont group pulled the invasive plants at Shelby Bottoms.

Belmont Biology Students Work on Projects with Zookeepers

zooStudents in Dr. John Niedzwiecki's BIO3300 - Animal Behavior Class have begun their Zoo Projects. During this semester, pairs of students will work with a Zookeeper and their animals. The students will conduct a project to understand something about their focal animal's behaviors.  Projects may have to do with dominance, stress, mating displays, or the effectiveness of enrichment activities. Students will present their findings to the Zoo Staff and the General Public in April. In the photo, Zookeepers are showing the Tiger group their study subjects and pointing out issues of behavior that might be interesting. Other groups of students will be working with Elephants, Clouded Leopards, Kangaroos, Bongo Bongos, Lemurs, Fish, Night Active Herptiles and Birds.

BETA-BETA-BETA Biological Honorary Society Inducts New Members

The Beta Beta Beta (Tri-Beta) Biological Honor Society is a society for students that are dedicated to improving the understanding and appreciation of biology.  The Mu Theta Chapter of Tri-Beta at Belmont University was established April 9, 1988.  Since then the membership has promoted the study of biology through various activities such as presentations, fun field trips, trips to scientific meetings and social events for students. Tri-Beta provides leadership opportunities for students, informs them about current developments in biology, and helps them prepare for employment. Click here for more information.tri-beta

The new members inducted Spring 2015 shown in the photo are: 

Front Row
(L to R): Lindsay Millward, Angel Brothers, and Nancy Le
Back row (L to R): Prisha Patel, Ryan Fox, Sydney Gangluff, Alyssa Bednarek, Ashley Bednarek, Sarah Trippett, and Chelsea Lee. 

Brain Awareness Week is the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.

Belmont's College of Sciences & Mathematics will present Brain Awareness Week as a part of the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. Events include speakers from Vanderbilt University and the Belmont Neuroscience program as well as a showing of the film Psycho by the Psychological Science department.

brainIn addition, students will be given the opportunity to dissect sheep brains to help better understand structure-function relationships in the nervous system. Dr. Lori McGrew, Biology Professor, will lead this session.

"Brain Awareness Week is a great opportunity to showcase the talented neuroscientists we have at Belmont along with fascinating speakers from our community. Given the plethora of exciting new techniques and discoveries, it's easy to see why President Obama called his BRAIN initiative the next great American project", Dr. Lori McGrew, associate professor of biology said.

Neuroscience is a growing field, including a wide range of subdisciplines such as cognition, behavior, cellular neuroscience and computational neuroscience. Belmont’s Neuroscience major combines foundational courses in biology, chemistry, psychology and physics with upper level coursework in biology and psychology and culminates in a student-driven research project in neuroscience.  The program prepares students for careers as research assistants and animal behavioralists among others or for entry into medical school or graduate school.

Dr. Panvini's Botany class has been planting on the new green roof:
Click here to read more about the green roof!

Belmont Hosts The Tennessee Herpetological Society (THS) Annual Meeting

TN HerpTN Herp

Belmont University hosted the annual meeting of The Tennessee Herpetological Society (THS) on September 25-27, 2014. Dr. John Niedzwiecki, Biology, served as the Belmont host for this event. The meeting included a keynote speaker, poster presentations, speaker presentations, and an auction that benefited a scholarship fund. The Tennessee Herpetological Society (THS) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting the study and conservation of reptiles and amphibians worldwide, but particularly within Tennessee.   

Biology and Education Faculty and Students attend the Tennessee Environmental Education Association Annual Meeting
TEAAProfessors Darlene Panvini (Biology), Lauren Lunsford (Education), Sally Arwood (Education), and several Belmont students attended the annual meeting of the Tennessee Environmental Education Association at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, September 26-28, 2014. The Belmont University faculty members gave a presentation titled "Reading in the Garden: Integrating Science and ELA CCSS through Informational Texts."  The presentation included information on the professional development institute that they led for middle and high school teachers in summer 2014 at Belmont as part of a grant received from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.  Also attending the conference were Belmont Biology students Katelyn Keast, Chelsea Lee, and Lindsay Millward, Environmental Science student Alex Jeffers, as well as Environmental Science alumni Erin Pitts and Sylvia Alsup.
Belmont hosts the Tennessee Academy of Science Middle Division Collegiate meeting

Belmont University's School of Sciences hosted this year's Tennessee Academy of Science (TAS) Middle Division Collegiate Annual Meeting on April 12th. Dr. Duane Hatch, of the Chemistry Department, coordinated this event. There were 30 undergraduate students that presented their research. They were from Belmont, Tennessee State University, University of the South (Sewanee), Rhodes College, Volunteer State Community College and Austin Peay State University. There were five different sessions: chemistry, zoology, cell biology, math and computer science and environmental science. The following Belmont students won awards:

  • Lee McGill, Chemistry, second place
  • Emily Mason, Zoology, first place
  • Valini Ramcharan, Zoology, second place
  • Morgan Arrants, Cell Biology, second place

Several Belmont School of Science faculty served as judges and moderators, including Darlene Panvini, John Niedzwiecki, Robert Grammer, Lori McGrew, Rachel Rigsby, Justin Stace and Danny Biles.

The Tennessee Academy of Science seeks to promote scientific research and the diffusion of knowledge concerning science; to secure communication between persons engaged in scientific work, especially in Tennessee; to assist by investigation and discussion in developing and making known the material, educationaland other resource and riches of the state; to arrange and prepare for publication such reports of investigations and discussions as they further the aims and objectives of the academy.

Neurobiology Class Visits Primate Lab

neurobiology Dr. Lori McGrew, Associate Professor of Biology, recently had her Neurobiology class visit a non-human primate lab at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Jeff Schall, a neuroscientist who uses macaque monkeys to study brain regions involved in controlling eye movements, provided the class with a tour of the facilities and the opportunity to watch some of the monkeys performing their visual discrimination tasks. The group also discussed important ethical considerations of working with primates as well as the sort of information that can only be obtained by using primates or humans. Michelle Howell-Young, a Belmont alumna, is Schall's lab manager and works extensively with the macaques.

Dr. Murphree named 2013 TSTA Higher Education Science Educator of the Year

murphreeDr. Steve Murphree, professor of biology, was named recipient of the 2013 Tennessee Science Teachers Association Higher Education Science Educator of the Year Award. The Tennessee Science Teachers Association (TSTA) is Tennessee’s largest science teacher organization. The award was presented to Murphree at a reception on Nov. 8 at the TSTA annual conference in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Murphree joined the Belmont faculty in 1991 and has taught a wide range of science courses including Biodiversity, Zoology, Principles of Biology II, Comparative Anatomy, Parasitology and graduate courses for the Teacher Education program.

Murphree has also been a leader of promoting science in the community. Since 1992 he has served as the Director and Instructor of the annual “Beetles, Bugs and Butterflies” summer camp at Belmont University. Over 1,000 students between first and sixth grade have participated in this camp. He also hosts sessions of Home School Science Discoveries labs at Belmont which are offered free to home school participants. In addition, Murphree has given 72 insect/arachnid presentations to children in over 25 Middle Tennessee schools. Since 1993, he has given 13 presentations or led bioblitzes for Metro Nashville parks. Beginning in 1995, he has made 12 presentations or led nature walks in Tennessee State Parks and Natural areas. He has judged numerous science fairs, held workshops and served in leadership roles in important science organizations such as the Tennessee Academy of Sciences, the Tennessee Entomological Society and Nashville’s Adventure Science Center.

His works continues in the broader based community on matters of science as he has written articles and been interviewed by local and national-level media outlets. He has written 20 articles for the Tennessee Conservationist magazine, responded to 20 interviews for newspapers and been interviewed 17 times for television. He has also given many presentations to adult groups including popular talks entitled, ” Insects in Victorian Art” and “Insects & Disease in the War Between the States.”

Murphree actively mentors undergraduate student research. His own research interests include morphology, taxonomy, and ecology of biting flies and other insects of medical and veterinary importance with emphasis on the immature stages; collection of mammalian ectoparasites, particularly ticks from whitetailed deer; field collections of ticks; field investigations of biting midges; field investigations of mosquitoes; enhancement of the Sentricon@ (Dow AgroSciences) termite elimination system; morphology, taxonomy and ecology of the Arachnida.

He is also a Fellow in the Tennessee Academy of Sciences and received the 2004 Tennessee Environmental Education Association Environmental Educator of the Year Award.