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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

Students Present Their Zoo-Based Research
Photo of all students presenting their research at the Nashville Zoo
On April 25th, Dr. Niedzwiecki's Animal Behavior students presented their Zoo-based research projects to the Nashville Zoo staff and even some Zoo patrons. In this project students are paired with a Nashville Zoo zookeeper and an animal species on display. Over the semester they develop and test a research question about the behavior of their animals. This year students studied everything from ostriches to turtles.

Photo of student presenting their research at the Nashville Zoo Photo of student presenting their research at the Nashville Zoo
Photo of student presenting their research at the Nashville Zoo Photo of students presenting their research at the Nashville Zoo

Murphree Introduces Insect Film at The Belcourt Theatre

steve_murphreeDr. Steve Murphree, Professor of Biology and Entomologist, gave an introduction to the film “An Introduction to Microcosmos” as part of the Belcourt Cinema’s Science on Screen series on Saturday, March 18, 2017. Insect specimens were on display in the lobby before and after the screening. The Belcourt’s summary states “French filmmakers Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou bring us this gorgeous, detailed documentation of the day-to-day lives of a variety of insects inhabiting a meadow on a pleasant summer’s day. Reveling in the miniature dramas of its subjects, this triumphant celebration of the limitless wonders of nature uses cutting-edge time-lapse, slow-motion, and macro photography to capture a world we rarely envision.”

During March, the Belcourt features Science on Screen® for the fourth year, a national initiative made possible through a grant by the Coolidge Corner Theatre, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and tied directly to the Belcourt’s ongoing education and engagement programs. The Belcourt is one of a select group of theatres nationwide to receive this grant. Science on Screen® is a series of film screenings accompanied by discussions with leading scientists, engineers, biologists and other experts.


Poster for the D. Borden Lacy, Ph.D. talk on April 17, 2017 Flyer for the CSM Colloquium on 3-28-17
Poster for the 2017 Environmental Science lecture Flyer for a talk about Biomedical Graduate and Medical Programs


bawBrain Awareness Week
March 13 - 17, 2017

Brain Awareness Week 2017 flyer

Biology Student, Professor Filmed by Japan’s Largest Television Broadcaster
(story posted in Belmont Achievers)

grammerBiology professor Dr. Robert Grammer and student Brian Song were recently filmed by The Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) for their research on nematodes’ response to cancer cells. Grammer and Song have been experimenting with the nematode C. elegans as a part of Song’s undergraduate research project for Belmont’s Department of Biology. NHK, Japan’s largest television broadcaster, will show its footage of the two as part of its upcoming program on cancer treatment set to broadcast on October 17.

songSeveral representatives from NHK arrived on Belmont’s campus from New York City on September 27 to film Grammer and Song. The film crew interviewed Grammer in his office on the third floor of the Janet Ayers Academic Center and then shot footage of him and Song recreating their experiment in the lab. A separate interview was conducted with Song.

Research on C. elegans in Belmont’s undergraduate biology program has been conducted previously by 2016 spring graduate Parker Tumlin, who is now attending medical school. Tumlin’s research involved conducting a dose-dependent experiment to test the response of wild-type C. elegans to medium used to sustain HeLa cells, a cervical cancer cell line. Song has been working under Grammer’s supervision to continue Tumlin’s experiments by testing whether there is an attraction between C. elegans and lung cancer cells.

Barton Interviewed for Article on Aging and Anti-Aging Research

bartonDr. Chris Barton, Assistant Professor of Biology, was interviewed and cited in an article on aging and anti-aging research by Per the article, “With a Ph. D. in Biochemistry from Vanderbilt University and specializations in physiology, cell biology, and molecular genetics, Dr. Barton was able to provide insight into one of the many areas of research currently being studied among those in the field of life extension and anti-aging. “Perhaps one of the most popular views behind the aging process is the ‘stem cell theory of aging,’ which states that as we age, our stem cells aren’t able to continue dividing to replenish the cells that are being lost in our tissues and organs,” Dr. Barton explained, believing this to be an area of research holding great promise.”, headquartered in Nashville, TN, was founded in November 2002. RedOrbit is “committed to providing stimulating, original content and presentation, with over 2,000,000 pages covering the vast ideological spectrums of space, science, health, and technology.”

The article can be accessed at the following link:

Murphree Featured in Tennessean Article, Goes 'Bug Wild'

In an article written by the Tennessean's Ms. Cheap, "Go Bug Wild at Insects of the Night," Professor of Biology Dr. Steve Murphree is featured as a resident bug expert. Known around campus as the “bug guy,” Murphree answered ten questions surrounding his love for insects and more.

Murphree’s interview promotes Warner Park Nature Center’s “Insects of the Night,” an annual family festival with “creeply-crawly fun” for the whole family. Complete with insect Olympics, the event exposes children to the joys of science through experiencing a bug’s life.

In his interview Murphree pointed to the eyed elater beetle as his favorite bug (though he said the choice is a hard one) and said his favorite bug to show off to kids is the praying mantis. Murphree also described his personal bug collection. With a 12-15 year old Chilean rose hair tarantula named Rosie and five Madagascan hissing cockroaches, Murphree’s collection is unique.

He went on to answer Ms. Cheap’s questions and describe how his love for bugs came about recalling his childhood on a farm in Bedford County and his involvement in 4-H. “I was one of those kids that liked bugs and never grew up,” he said. After earning his master’s degree in biology and a Ph.D. in entomology, Murphree has been known as Belmont’s bug guy for 25 years.

Murphree concluded his time with Ms. Cheap by heeding a warning to the public and asking for their respect to the bug kingdom saying, “[Kids and their parents] need to know that most bugs are not dangerous and should not be stomped…they play a big part in the world and are an important part of our ecosystem.”

Murphree Hosts Student Events

murphreeDr. Steve Murphree, biology professor and entomologist, recently gave a presentation and led a field trip for the 2016-17 Tennessee Naturalist Program class of approximately 35 students. Murphree’s session was titled, “The World of Invertebrates: Pollinators, Predators, Pests and Parasitoids.”

Shortly after, Murphree participated as a demonstrator at Heritage Days at the Historic Sam Davis Home and Plantation in Smyrna. Murphree had a table to display information related to Insects and Disease in the Civil War/Civil War Medicine. “These popular living history field trips play host to over 1,000 elementary students each day and feature more than 20 historical demonstrations,” Murphree said. “With hands-on activities and captivating reenactors, students learn about 19th century life.”

On Monday, September 26, Murphree will be giving a talk entitled, “Beetles, Bugs and Butterflies – Reflections on 25 years of bug camp” in the Entomology Around the World section at the International Congress of Entomology (ICE) in Orlando, Florida. ICE 2016 is expected to be the largest gathering of scientists and experts in the history of the entomological sciences, with an expected attendance of over 6,000 delegates. Beetles, Bugs and Butterflies is a summer day camp which has been led by Dr. Murphree since 1992. More information about Belmont’s Bug Camp can be found here.

Maymester in Costa Rica

Costa Rica GroupBiology professors John Niedzwiecki and Darlene Panvini, along with fifteen Belmont students, recently returned from an eighteen day study abroad trip to Costa Rica. Dr. Niedzwiecki taught Tropical Biodiversity and Dr. Panvini taught Conservation and Sustainability on the trip.

Costa Rica ForestThe experience began at La Selva Biological station in a lowland tropical rainforest where they saw sloths, an anteater, toucanets, and impressive trees.

From there, they ventured to Arenal National Park to see a volcano and lake where they learned about geothermal and hydroelectric energy production.

During their ten day stay at the University of Georgia-Costa Rica campus in San Luis, they learned about plants and animals of a highland rainforest, went on a night hike, explored Monteverde cloud forest, had a cooking lesson with a local family, learned how to dance the merengue, and visited a chocolate factory. Other highlights included visits to a sustainable coffee farm, a Biodigester, and local art co-op. From there the group journeyed to the beach where they learned about a dry tropical forest at Santa Rosa National Park, observed white-faced capuchin and howler monkeys, and went snorkeling. The students and faculty returned with a greater appreciation for Costa Rica’s biodiversity and world-renown efforts to protect tropical forests.

Another Costa Rica group photo Costa Rica group learning about geothermal energy

Biology Alum Receives First Place Award for Student Research

millwardBiology alum Lindsay Millward (2016) received the first place Frank G. Brooks Award for Excellence in Student Research in Ecology at the Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society National Convention in St. Paul, MN in June 2016.  Lindsay’s research was on “Leaf Decomposition Rate Differs Between Invasive Exotic Lonicera maackii and Native Acer saccharum in a Temperate Deciduous Forest” that she completed as part of her senior research project with biology professor Dr. Darlene Panvini.  In April, Lindsay won first place in the regional Tri Beta District II oral presentation session and received an award that paid for her expenses to the national convention.  Lindsay will begin a Master’s program in ecology this fall at Central Washington University where she received a teaching assistantship.   

Niedzwiecki Gives Talk at Tennessee Ornithological Society Meeting

Dr. Niedzwiecki second from right
(Niedzwiecki - 2nd from right in the photo)

Dr. John Niedzwiecki, Professor of Biology at Belmont University, gave a talk to The Nashville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society held at the Radnor Lake State Natural Area Visitor's Center on June 16, 2016. Niedzwiecki presented his program "Using Comparative Landscape Genetics to Quantify Interisland Gene Flow in Darwin's Finches". 

Dr. Niedzwiecki recently worked on the migration of Darwin's Finches between islands in the Galapagos, investigating connections with ecology as well as the evolutionary consequences of migration.   One assumption persistent over the last 100 years is that speciation occurred, with birds effectively isolated on different islands, allopathic speciation.  His team was interested if speciation may have occurred despite persistent gene flow between islands. Dr. Niedzwiecki presented his data, and described a collecting trip to get a data set to test intra-island gene flow.


Belmont NSTABelmont's National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) student chapter recently took science on the road by bringing a series of physical science and chemistry demonstrations to students at Nashville's Martin Luther King, Jr. Academic Magnet High School.

NSTA President Katlin Stodard (Biology), Vice-President Sarah Cannavino (Chemistry), Secretary Ilyana Ilieva (Philosophy), and members Mary Barber (Biochemistry & Molecular Biology), Lindsey Dennis (Biology) and Chris Burdette (Chemistry) performed fun with liquid nitrogen, the iodine clock reaction, magic pepper and "elephant toothpaste." Faculty sponsor and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Danielle Garrett said she hopes this will become an annual event, allowing Belmont students to share their passion for science with the community.

When asked why events like these are important Stodard said, "Being able to share the joy of science with others is the primary goal of NSTA. That's what happened during the demos at MLK -- students learned that science is fun! As a future teacher, watching students engage with the activities was a beautiful sight."

Biology Faculty Awarded Grant, Host STEM Discussion Panel

Biology faculty members Drs. Darlene Panvini and Chris Barton were recently awarded a grant entitled “Promoting Undergraduate Well-Being in STEM Fields through Community and Civic Engagement” from the Bringing Theory to Practice organization. The grant award provided funds to host a number of seminars aimed to increase community engagement among undergraduate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) students at Belmont.

stemAs part of this, the biology department hosted eight Nashville-based leaders in STEM fields on March 21st in the Wedgewood Academic Center. The panel discussion was attended by students and faculty and focused on ways in which undergraduates can become more involved in the community through service and internships. Students also were given the opportunity to speak one-on-one with the panelists following the seminar. In addition, they hosted a dinner with the panelists and faculty from the College of Sciences and Mathematics which gave faculty a chance to interact with the panelists to discuss ways in which faculty can best prepare students for community engagement and internships.

The list of invited STEM panelists included:
* Tony Weil (Faculty, Molecular Physiology & Biophysics at Vanderbilt University)
* Wes Hall (Tennessee STEM Innovation Network)
* Jon Staples (NextGxDx and Code for Nashville)
* Taylor Murphy (Data Procurement at NextGxDx)
* Carol Etherington (Vanderbilt Institute of Public Health)
* Bryan Mayes (Engineer at Eventbrite)   
* David Withers (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation)
* Rebecca Leslie (Nashville Academy of Medicine)

Wings To Soar Birds of Prey Rehab Program Visits Belmont


The Beta Beta Beta (Tri-Beta) Biological Honor Society recently sponsored a program by the Wings to Soar Birds of Prey Rehabilitation Program. The nonprofit organization “Wings to Soar” cares for injured birds of prey that are unable to survive on their own. They create awareness for the importance of birds of prey by giving interactive outreach programs. During the program they show a video, play music, and give the audience a unique opportunity to view some of the birds in action (as in flying over your head).

Tri-Beta Volunteers at the Adventure Science Center

Members of Beta Beta Beta (Tri-Beta) Biological Honor Society recently volunteered at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville at the 14th annual Engineering Day. There were a lot of hands-on opportunities for children to learn about different aspects of the engineering design process from local engineers and explore exciting student STEM projects while gaining a better understanding of concepts used in the field.

The Belmont students helped with various stations that taught kids about engineering. Most of the students from Tri Beta have had Physics I and II, so they were able to apply some of the skills they have learned in class. One station they worked involved building Lego-like cars and placing them on different ramps. Another station involved building planes with paper and straws to see how far different structures could fly.  In addition to those students listed in the photos, Dora Geving, Lindsey Dennis and Martena Ibrahim also attended. You can find more information on Tri-Beta on Facebook!

tribeta tribeta
Prisha Patel, Angel Brothers, Hannah Stalmaker, and
Andrea Schollnick
          Angel Brothers and Prisha Patel

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

zoo 4
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. 

zoo 2The 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.

zoo 3 zoo 1

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.”

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.

weed weed weed

Belmont University had 22 Belmont students, 1 Belmont alumni, and Dr. Panvini, Biology Professor, representing the Environmental 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.

Dr. Panvini's Botany class has been planting on the new green roof:
green_roofgreen roofgreen_roof

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.