New Website for the UMass Amherst Natural History Collections

The UMass Amherst Natural History Collections showcase 300,000 specimens of mammals, birds, plants, fishes, reptiles and amphibians, with an especially strong representation of local flora and fauna. These resources play a major role in research activities and undergraduate education. A new Website provides a detailed information about the collections. View the Website

Distinguished Faculty Lecture: Duncan J. Irschick

Nature-inspired solutions are being discovered for some of the most intransigent problems that society faces, such as potential cures for cancer from animal and plants, novel antibiotics, and gecko-inspired adhesives. This “bioinspired” approach applies integrative methods from anatomy, animal function, evolution, and biomechanics to understand how animals evolve novel biomaterials and functions, and how these properties can inspire novel synthetic materials. This lecture will discuss how studies of the form and function of geckos has contributed to a broader understanding of bioinspiration.

The lecture will further focus on recent research using 3-D imaging techniques to digitally reconstruct living animals, ranging from lizards to sharks in full 3-D color and in high resolution. This new method of “Digital Life” provides the opportunity to understand biological diversity in a way never before possible.

Professor Irschick will be presented with the Chancellor’s Medal, the highest recognition bestowed to faculty by the campus, at the conclusion of the lecture.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016 in the Bernie Dallas Room, Goodell Building, 4 P.M. This lecture is free and open to the public. Reception follows the lecture.


Neurobiologist Eric Bittman, biology, has received a two-year, $420,000 exploratory grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to study how the master clock in the brain talks to other neurons and how it controls a variety of organs including the heart, lung and liver.

Circadian rhythms are internally generated cycles that repeat at 24-hour intervals in the normal, fluctuating environment but which persist with a slightly shorter or longer period in constant conditions, he explains. Many physiological events, including body temperature, sleep and wakefulness, heart rate and blood pressure show circadian rhythms. Other events that recur at longer intervals, including reproductive cycles, are based on the daily circadian clock.

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Professor Downes rushes into his laboratory, his mind whirring with possibilities for research that could lead to cures for diseases. “Sometimes I forget to say, ‘Hi,’” says the professor of neurobiology. “I just say, ‘Here is what we need to do.’"

Downes obviously is a man on a mission - actually several missions. With the help of a 10-member lab team and thousands of zebrafish, an ideal animal for studying neurobiology, Downes investigates neurological diseases with an eye toward finding treatments. As a professor, he wants to do more than teach biology; he wants his students to be critical and strategic thinkers. He selects undergraduates and offers them meaningful research experiences that give them an advantage in applying to medical school, graduate school, or the workforce. It is also important to him to reach out to the community to give young people an image of a scientist unlike Einstein or Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movies.

At 45, he has made quick work toward his goals. In one breakthrough, his experiments found zebrafish models that can be used to develop new treatments for maple syrup urine disease (MSUD), a rare neurometabolic disorder that can be fatal. He is establishing new animal models to study epilepsy and a disorder that combines symptoms of autism and epilepsy. Last year, he and colleagues were awarded an $824,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study zebrafish to better understand how the brain stem controls movement. The research uses an integrated genetic, molecular, cellular, and behavioral approach to reveal how brain stem neurons integrate sensory information and control locomotion. Basic research into cellular and molecular mechanisms of brain circuitry is essential to deeper understanding of how brains work, leading to new therapies to treat neurological disease.

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Read more UMass Magazine Fall 2016article

Lecturer Search - 3 Positions

Three Lecturer Positions in Biology
University of Massachusetts Amherst

The Department of Biology ( at the University of Massachusetts Amherst seeks to hire three academic year, full-time Lecturer positions with expertise and/or teaching experience in one or more of the following areas:
• General animal physiology, neurobiology
• Cellular and molecular biology
• Genetics
• Introductory biology

These are benefited 2-year positions and renewable contingent upon performance. Lecturers at the University of Massachusetts are unionized with the potential for long-term careers with promotional advancement.

Successful candidates will have experience teaching in the lower division undergraduate curriculum for life-science majors and an interest in joining a team of instructors dedicated to innovative, evidence-based pedagogical approaches for large-classroom settings.

A Ph.D. in Biology or a closely-related field is required and postdoctoral experience is preferred. Salary will be commensurate with skills and experience. Please apply by the priority date of December 15, 2016 to ensure that your application receives consideration. The earliest start date will be September 1, 2017.

Online applications should include curriculum vitae, a statement of teaching philosophy and interests, and the contact information for three references. Electronic applications are to be submitted at URL:

The University of Massachusetts Amherst, the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts system, is a nationally ranked public research university and home to over 22,000 undergraduate and 6,000 graduate students. UMass Amherst, along with Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges, is a member of the Five College Consortium and the Academic Career network. The 1,430 acre campus is located in the scenic Pioneer valley of western Massachusetts and boasts a rural setting with easy access to Boston, Hartford, and New York City. Amherst is nestled between the Berkshire Mountains, Holyoke Range and Pelham Hills providing many recreational opportunities.

The University is committed to active recruitment of a diverse faculty and student body. The University of Massachusetts Amherst is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer of women, minorities, protected veterans, and individuals with disabilities and encourages applications from these and other protected group members. Because broad diversity is essential to an inclusive climate and critical to the University's goals of achieving excellence in all areas, we will holistically assess the many qualifications of each applicant and favorably consider an individual's record working with students and colleagues with broadly diverse perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds in educational, research or other work activities. We will also favorably consider experience overcoming or helping others overcome barriers to an academic degree and career.