Course


Neuroscientist Sheila Nirenberg, an alumna of MBL’s Neural Systems and Behavior (NS&B) course, was one of 24 people to be named a MacArthur Fellow this week by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Nirenberg, whose research focuses on deciphering the neural “codes” that transform visual stimuli into signals the brain can understand, is an associate professor in the Physiology and Biophysics department at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Nirenberg says NS&B, which she took in 1986, “was one of the best things ever. Worked hard,
played hard, learned so much so fast!” She also lectured in the MBL’s Methods in Computational Neuroscience course in 2012. MacArthur Fellows receive a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000.

Bookmark and Share

WOODS HOLE, Mass.–Back by popular demand, “Bodystorming,” a high-energy dance performance/demonstration presented by Black Label Movement of Minneapolis and the MBL Physiology course, will be held Sunday, July 21, in the MBL Club, 100 Water Street.The informal event, which is free and open to the public, is part of the MBL’s 125th Anniversary celebration. There will be two showings: 4 PM and 5:30 PM.

“Bodystorming” is an exciting new movement technique invented collaboratively by dancers and biologists that inspires powerful, athletic  dances as well as insight into cellular dynamics.

Over the past few years, Black Label Movement (BLM), directed by Carl Flink, has been collaborating with MBL Physiology course faculty member David Odde on “The Moving Cell Project.” By having the dancers physically represent cells and molecules, they are exploring the idea of “using dancers to literally embody our scientific hypotheses, in order to quickly convey them to other people,” says Odde, who is a biomedical engineer at University of Minnesota. “We call it bodystorming, which is like brainstorming ideas, but using actual bodies.”

Over the winter, the collaborators published an article, “Science + Dance = Bodystorming,” in Trends in Cell Biology. They also performed at a TED MED Conference. BLM is currently in residence in the MBL Physiology course, following up on a successful residency last summer.

“Bodystorming” is generously supported by the MBL Education Office, the MBL Associates, Larry Pratt and the Doherty Fund at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the University of Minnesota Institute for Advanced Study.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Members of Black Label Movement in Woods Hole, Summer 2012. Credit: Dyche Mullins

 

 

What happens when graduate students in biology are given the freedom to play, dabble in new fields, launch into the unknowns of genuine research, not worry about getting “good” results?

In the case of the MBL Physiology course, one outcome has been—paradoxically—an extraordinary level of new knowledge and publications generated by student-and-faculty teams.

In the Dec. 21 issue of Science magazine, several scientists who have directed the Physiology course detail their winning formula for instilling in students the passion for and ability to conduct “real research,” as lead author Ron Vale of University of California, San Francisco, describes it.

The article presents the overwhelmingly positive feedback from a poll of Physiology course alumni from 2004 to 2010; and the remarkable list of 23 research papers and 59 meeting abstracts that developed out of Physiology course projects from 2005 to 2012.

Physiology course students, faculty, and family members with a sand sculpture they made of the mitotic spindle. Photo courtesy of Ron Vale.

Vale and Tim Mitchison of Harvard Medical School co-directed the Physiology course from 2004 to 2009 and revamped it in significant ways: (1) an equal number of students from cell biology and from physical sciences are admitted (2) students go through a “boot camp” to learn research techniques outside their fields and to begin thinking and stretching beyond their comfort zones (3) faculty give students the kernel of a “real” research problem – not an exercise – and the students develop an experimental plan, reporting back on what they found at the end of 11 intense days (often working 14 hours a day!)

And if they find nothing? Not a problem! “That’s most of what is going on!” Vale says. “Learning from failure is a crucial part of being a scientist.” The atmosphere the course intentionally creates is “intense, yet low-risk,” minimizing “the fear of failure or of appearing ignorant, factors that impede students, as well as senior scientists, from venturing into new fields or learning new approaches,” the article states.

Very often, students and faculty become so inspired by a research problem that they continue to work on it after the course ends, at their home institutions. That is how the seven-week Physiology course has generated so many publications.

The positive impact on students is evident from the alumni poll, which includes comments like, “I am now much more likely to try new experiments even though they seem nearly impossible. This attitude has had a very positive influence on the fun I have being a scientist, which is also reflected in the results.”

“People have a tremendous amount of fun in the Physiology course, whether their project gets a good result or not,” Vale says. “They appreciate the experience of going after a real research problem, of being surrounded by faculty and fellow students who are excited by the thrill of the chase … We are trying to learn something new, and we don’t necessarily know how to get there. That is science!”

The current co-directors of the Physiology course, Dyche Mullins of University of California, San Francisco, and Clare Waterman of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, have preserved the basic structure and spirit that Vale and Mitchison brought to the course.

Physiology is one of 22 courses the MBL offers for advanced, laboratory-based research training in fields such as cellular physiology, embryology, neurobiology, and microbiology.

Citation:

Vale RD, DeRisi J, Phillips R, Mullins RD, Waterman C, and Mitchison TJ (2012) Interdisciplinary Graduate Training in Teaching Labs. Science 338: 1542-1543.

Dyche Mullins in the library of the Stazione Zoologica, a marine biological station in Naples, Italy, that inspired many of the MBL’s founding investigators.

Physiology course co-director Dyche Mullins, in a delightful/witty post on his blog, ruminates on the Lillie Auditorium “initiation” of Physiology students, how life-altering the course can be, and what it means to become a member of the global MBL tribe:

With little more than a week left, my Summer at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole is winding down. Six weeks ago Clare Waterman and I launched the 2012 Physiology Course with a pair of orientation lectures. We followed our customary division of labor: Clare explained the nuts and bolts of the course and I described its history and philosophy. The incoming students, primed by tales of long hours and difficult experiments, listened nervously —their attention broken only by occasional attempts to get comfortable in the charming but uncompromising wooden chairs of Lillie Auditorium. For me, this annual ritual is a sort of Proustian, madeleines-in-weak-tea moment … read more

Eddie Oroyan and Laura Selle Virtucio of Black Label Movement. Photo by V. Paul Virtucio

 

If you see human beings hurtling through space over the Swope lawn this week, stop, watch, and imagine moving molecules in a cell. What you are witnessing is a literally high-impact collaboration between scientists and dancers from Black Label Movement (BLM) company in Minneapolis, which is in residence in the MBL Physiology course this week.

On Sunday, July 8 at 4 PM, the collaborators will present an informal performance and lecture-demonstration, “HIT: When Dancers and Scientists Collide,” in the MBL Club, 100 Water Street, Woods Hole. The lec-dem is free and open to the MBL community and public.

HIT is part of a burgeoning, 3-year experiment led by Physiology course faculty member David Odde and BLM artistic director Carl Flink, who are both professors at the University of Minnesota (of biomedical engineering and of dance, respectively). Called “The Moving Cell Project,” their collaboration initially sought ways to express biological concepts to a lay audience through the dramatic physicality of dance. But they soon found that their exchange was taking them much deeper.

Odde realized that having movers represent a cell-biological process is much faster (and less tedious) than creating a computer simulation, which can take months. “We started to explore the idea of using dancers to literally embody our scientific hypotheses, in order to quickly convey them to other people,” Odde says. “We call it bodystorming,” which is like brainstorming ideas, but using actual bodies.

Black Label Movement dancers Eddie Oroyan and Laura Selle Virtucio perform “HIT.” Photo by V. Paul Virtucio

They also found themselves entering bracing new territory for dance. In “HIT,” which focuses on a cellular process called “microtubule catastrophe,” the dancers were asked to experience the “stochastic, violent pulling and pushing dynamics of molecules in a cell,” Odde says. This led to arresting movement and musical dynamics; the dance is strange but beautiful and compelling. But it also meant Flink had to develop “impact techniques” for the dancers so they could careen and collide without getting injured.

At the MBL, the collaborators are further exploring their hypothesis that “movers can help advance scientific discovery at the leading edge,” Odde says. They are assisted by Dyche Mullins, co-director of the Physiology course, who became involved in the project a year ago; Physiology course students; and 7 movers from Black Label Movement. In addition, any MBL students, faculty, or researchers who want to test out their own hypotheses with BLM are encouraged to contact Odde (oddex002@umn.edu).

To view a brief documentary video on the collaborative development of “HIT,” please go to: http://vimeo.com/30346802

Next Page »