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Science Colloquium series encourages students

Periodic tables. Bunsen burners. Lab goggles, research papers and equations.

These are a few of the components of science that divide those who love science and those who don’t. To a scientist, the list reminds them of experiments and studies they love. To others, the list may remind them of experiences they’d like to forget.

But the goal of the Science Colloquium Series at Drake University is, essentially, to encourage science for all. The series aims to make students feel more at home with the sciences while learning about the latest research, said Associate Professor of Chemistry Maria Bohorquez, who has a doctorate in chemistry.

Organized by the Drake University Science Collaborative Institute (DUSCI), the series is comprised of lectures by leaders in the science community and emphasizes cutting-edge research and practical application of the sciences, Bohorquez said.

“The Science Colloquium Series is part of the mission of DUSCI in terms of promoting the sciences,” she said.

Bohorquez, the chair of the chemistry department at Drake and head of DUSCI, started the Colloquium Series in 2005 to provide “a venue, essentially, for students and faculty alike to learn.”

Bohorquez has organized the series since its advent in 2005, when Charles Nelson, associate professor of physics and astronomy, gave a lecture called “The Kinematics of Ionized Gas in Nearby Quasars.”

“I basically do all the work,” she said, smiling. “First I talk to professors within the sciences to get their input. Then I contact the speakers and talk to the marketing department.”

The work continues up until the day of the presentations, Bohorquez said. Brochures must be printed, posters must be put up and before each lecture, researchers must be introduced.

“You promote the sciences through education,” Bohorquez said. “Because, of course, if you have the knowledge on a particular topic, you’ll be better equipped to express your opinion about it.”

Does the series cater only to science students?

The colloquiums are open to students of any discipline, Bohorquez said.

“They exist for all of us to learn about each others’ fields and to understand that there is a connection between them.”

“The idea is ‘Let us all enjoy learning, even about an area that is not related to what we study,’” Bohorquez said.

The lectures touch on varying topics. These include psychology, pharmacy, physics, chemistry and math.

Robert Hampton, department of psychology assistant professor of Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., rang in the fifth year of the Science Colloquium Series with a presentation titled “Cognition in Rhesus Monkeys: Recognition, Recall, and Self-Reflection.” The lecture was presented in Olin Hall on Friday, Sept. 3.

The second lecture in this fall’s series took place Friday, Sept. 17. Joel E. Ringdahl, assistant professor of psychology, traveled from the University of Iowa Pediatrics Department to present on the “Assessment and Treatment of Sever Behavior Disorders: A Scientific-Method Based Approach.”

“I’m one of the few members of the staff at Iowa who’s not a practicing doctor,” Ringdahl joked as he introduced himself. “I’m not a real doctor.”

Students and faculty filled Olin Hall 206, leaving only a few empty seats. The atmosphere in the room was relaxed, and put all present at ease, despite the scientific subject matter.

This accessibility is a common aspect of the series, as Bohorquez said.

“Some people, when they think about science, it’s like they panic,” she said.  “Just relax…calm down, and let your brain learn about it.”

“It’s not like somebody’s going to ask you to take a test,” she said.

The presentation itself focused on the process of scientific diagnosis of behavioral problems.

Ringdahl began by explaining the difference between two approaches to answering a research question: group design and single-subject design.

“Group design is good for determining answers to broad questions, such as ‘Is a certain medication effective?’ Or, ‘What is the relationship between these two variables?’” he explained.

“Single-subject design is what we use to answer more individual questions, like ‘Will this medication work for me?’”

Ringdahl used these explanations to move into an analysis of case studies that employed single-subject design. He told the story of Jack, a boy who was 7-years-old when he was referred to the Pediatrics Center.

“Jack had been previously diagnosed with autism and severe mental retardation,” he said. “He had a high rate of problem behavior in the attention condition: He’d learned that pulling his mother’s hair was a good way of getting her attention.”

Ringdahl then related how, through single-subject design, Jack was diagnosed to show problem behavior only when he needed attention.

It was then determined that Jack could be trained to ask for his mother’s attention in a different way: by tapping a picture of his mother. In this way, Jack’s problem behavior—pulling his mother’s hair—was, for the most part, eradicated.

The information in Ringdahl’s presentation was easy to understand, yet enlightening—perfect for both the science-inclined and those with other academic interests.

Still to come this semester in the Science Colloquium Series is a presentation by Dr. Scott Cable of the University of Sydney, Australia. This lecture is titled “Student Perspectives on Learning in the Laboratory: Data from the ASELL Project,” and will take place from 12 to 1 p.m. this Friday in Olin 206.

Photo: Connor McCourtney


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