BioMass Newsletter

The 2011 graduation luncheon was attended by more than 400 people, and we didn't even run out of food! Congratulations to all graduating Biologists, and to this year's Biology Department Award Winners (download spreadsheet of award winners). Awardee and Family Group photos from our 2011 inaugural Biology Grad Luncheon are available at our Biology Alumni Links Page! Also, take a look at the Graduates Photobooth Slide Show made at the event.

Free T-Shirts! If you were unable to attend the luncheon this year, a limited supply of T-Shirts is still available in the Biology Undergraduate Advising Office. To get a free T-shirt, all we ask is that you upload a picture and comment about yourself as a Biology Graduate.

State Flower


Biology Alumnus Newsletter
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

State Bird
State Fish

It is an exciting time to be a biologist, and a great time to study Biology at UMass. Over the last few decades, biologists have provided profound new insights into the very mechanisms that account for species diversity on this planet, have contributed to our understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms that make life possible, and have greatly added to our ability to understand and treat human disease. The current rate of scientific discovery in the life sciences is unprecedented. But not to worry, as each new discovery leads to a host of new scientific questions, there are a multitude of important issues for the next generation of biologists to tackle. Our department combines cutting-edge Life Science research with a strong commitment to excellence in teaching, making UMass an exciting place to study biology.

Download Past Editions of BioMass

by Joe Kunkel

As expected, a modern university is characterized by dynamic change. The University is used to rapid change in its resident students on campus ... they become our alumni. While our alumni may like to remember the campus populated with their favorite friends and teachers, each decade brings a reinvention of the campus population. One face of our new campus is the changes that have occurred in our faculty. Since our last BioMass Newsletter (2001) there have been dramatic changes in our Biology Department Faculty through moves, retirements and deaths.

by Tobias Baskin

In 1963, while Peter Hepler was putting coleus plants under the electron microscope to understand how they build xylem tissue, he saw tiny tubes within the cytoplasm. These are now known as microtubules, an essential part of the cell's cytoskeleton, and Peter would have been their discoverer of record except he got scooped that year by a couple of guys at Harvard. Undeterred, Peter went on to have a highly-acclaimed career studying microtubules and other structures of plant cells. He moved to UMass in 1975 joining the already well respected Plant Biology group, and he has not stopped putting plants under the microscope.

by Elizabeth Connor

The opening of the Integrated Science Building (ISB) heralds a new approach to teaching our Biology courses! Since adopting a set of Learning Goals for Biology majors, the Biology Department has been actively redesigning the curriculum with the goal of offering our students multiple opportunities to develop and hone the skills of practicing science. A $1.6M Undergraduate Science Award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute funded the development of four new courses that provide mentored opportunities for students to practice the skills of a scientist and include two upper level laboratory-based courses, Gene and Genome Analysis and Bio-imaging as well as a two-semester sequence of super deluxe introductory courses for 48 BioTap students, Quantitative Biology of the Cell and Quantitative Systems Biology. These courses, taught in the ISB, incorporate fundamentals of the research experience in the form of inquiry-based learning including experimental techniques, hypothesis testing, data analysis, teamwork, and communication skills. Our course assessment demonstrates that these course experiences prepare students for independent research; many of the students in these courses go on to join research labs, present their work at our annual Undergraduate Life Science Research Symposium, and pursue advanced degrees or careers in science! Following up on that success, other faculty have gotten in on the act … two new courses are being introduced this Fall 2011 that will allow students to explore questions, collect and analyze data, and further hone their research skills.

Help us. We are very grateful to our alumni and friends for responding to our plea for help. Thank you! Your generosity has enabled us to support the projects you have identified; the unspecified donations are being used to enrich the undergraduate research experience, enhance undergraduate field trips, and support the undergraduate organization BioSci. We welcome your ideas and contributions; please contact us!

by W. Brian O'Connor-Jan 2011

John Roberts died in Amherst on May 16, 2010. He came to the Zoology Department 58 years earlier in 1952 and devoted a very productive and memorable 38 years in the Department before retiring in 1990. I describe here his contributions to the department, college and the university, excerpts of my eulogy for John's Memorial Service at the University on September 25, 2010.

by Joe Kunkel

This past Fall 2010 the UMass Campus was treated to a visit from an accomplished Biology alumnus, Dr. Don Wojchowski. He gave a Molecular and Cellular Biology, MCB Colloquium talk on his specialty which is the regulation of red blood cell generation: "Novel molecular mechanisms of (hematopoietic) cell growth, survival and lineage determination as discovered via global analysis of erythropoietin (EPO) receptor action." This return of a Zoology and MCB Alumnus went off so well that we are itching to invite back other of our Alumni who can inspire our current faculty, graduates and undergraduates.

by Theodore ("Ted") Sargent

I arrived at the University of Massachusetts as an incoming freshman in the fall of 1954. During my sophomore year, after deciding to be a Zoology major, I first met a newly-arrived professor, Dr. John G. Moner, who was enthusiastically introduced to my Introductory Zoology class by Dr. Gilbert Woodside, then head of the Zoology Department. Little did I dream that one day, in the not too distant future, John and I would share in teaching a similar introductory course in this very department.