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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

Maymester in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Group

Biology 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 Forest

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

Another Costa Rica group photo

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

Costa Rica group learning about geothermal energy

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.

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).

Brain Awareness Week

March 14 - 18, 2016


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

DECEMBER 3, 2015

4:00 - 5:00 PM     WAC4094   Keynote speaker: Dr. Christopher Raridan, Clayton State University, will present: What Undergraduate Research Means to Me
5:00 - 7:00 PM     WAC 3rd and 4th floor atriums     Student poster session
5:00 - 9:00 PM     Various locations in WAC     Student Oral presentations

Barton Gives Lecture at Cumberland University 

Chris Barton, Assistant Professor of Biology, gave an invited lecture at Cumberland University on October 23, 2015.  His lecture, “Cancer Progression and Treatment: A Tale of Evolution and Selection,” focused on the formation of human tumors and how natural selection and evolution drives the development of invasive and metastatic cancers.  With Cumberland University students and faculty, he also discussed how evolutionary processes often result in cancers that are resistant to many commonly used anti-cancer treatments.  His lecture was a part of Cumberland’s “Connect” lecture series, a program aimed to “improve student engagement in ideas, problems, and questions” and to “facilitate student exploration of career interests, service to their community, and enriching off-campus learning experiences.

Niedzwiecki Presents at SEPEEG Conference

 Dr. John Niedzwiecki, Associate Professor of Biology, attended the 2015 South East Population Ecology and Evolutionary Genetics Conference (SEPEEG), hosted By the University of Georgia, October-23-25, 2015 at the Rock Eagle 4H Center in Eatonton, GA. The conference, attended by approximately 100 Faculty, Post-Docs and Graduate students from around the Southeast, included research talks, posters and a keynote address. Dr. Niedzwiecki presented a talk, "Using Dystopian Fiction to Enhance Learning and Alleviate Fears of Evolution and Genetics" based on his work in Belmont's Learning Communities with Dr. Wyeth Burgess of the English Department.

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 4zoo 3
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 2
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.

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.”

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. 

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

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.