Beloit College Magazine

Summer 2014 (July 10, 2014 at 12:00 am)

Natural History Lecture Connects Beloit Scientists


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July 11, 2014 at 5:18 pm

classes: Moffet, etc
A triumvirate of Beloit biologists came together around a lecture
series at Old Dominion University. From left: Mark Moffett’79,
Robyn Nadolny’08, and Lytton Musselman’65.
Photo by David Hollingsworth/Old Dominion University

Robyn Nadolny’08 was a senior biology major when Mark Moffett’79 returned to Beloit to accept the Roy Chapman Andrews Society Distinguished Explorer Award. She attended a lecture by the celebrated ecologist, explorer, and photojournalist, and even had the chance to join him for lunch.

“I was positively starstruck to hear about his adventures traveling around the world, his important research in conservation, and his incredible science outreach,” she says.

Fast forward six years and Nadolny is a Ph.D. candidate in ecological sciences at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., where a natural history lecture is named for Lytton Musselman’65, one of the school’s esteemed biology professors.

After attending the lecture last year, Nadolny sent Musselman a congratulatory note. When he wrote back asking her thoughts about future speakers, she suggested Moffett. Then, in March of this year, Moffett took the stage at ODU as the latest well-known field biologist to deliver the Musselman lecture.

For Musselman, the convergence of three Beloit biologists at Old Dominion was more than a happy coincidence: He says it points to Beloit’s continuing strength in the biological sciences. Musselman is the Mary Payne Hogan Professor of Botany at Old Dominion, where the public lecture series bearing his name launched in 2004, after a former student made a substantial financial gift in his honor.

Musselman’s field research and teaching have taken him to Burkina Faso, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Namibia, Sri Lanka, Syria, and beyond. His work has resulted in a guide book to wild edible plants (see page 10), a dictionary of plants from the Bible, and a guide to the plants of the Chesapeake Bay. This year, for the second time, Musselman will set sail as the resident botanist with Garrison Keillor during a cruise organized by the public radio program A Prairie Home Companion.

Moffett’s career is uniquely his own blend of science, art, and adventure. He has been called “the Indiana Jones of entomology” by National Geographic and “Ant Man” by Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report. When he is not appearing on late night shows, Moffett can be found in places like the canopy of the world’s tallest tree or in a sinkhole photographing tiny frogs. He received the prestigious Lowell Thomas Award from the Explorers Club in 2006, and five of his photographs appear in National Geographic’s 100 Best Wildlife Pictures.

 Nadolny’s research focuses on the biogeography of hitchhiking organisms with a focus on ticks, work that brings together mathematical modeling, population genetics, and “lots of time outside catching wild critters,” she explains. The goal is to predict where ticks may be headed, with the aim of preventing tick-borne disease outbreaks in new areas. On a full scholarship through the Department of Defense, she will work with the Army Public Health Command after completing her Ph.D. She looks forward to putting her fieldwork, genetics, and modeling skills to work to make a difference in the fields of ecology and conservation—much like Moffett and Musselman.

“Both Dr. Moffett and Dr. Musselman conduct fascinating research all over the world and work hard to break science free of the ivory tower,” says Nadolny. “It’s inspiring to see alumni of Beloit’s biology department blazing the trail to a world where science and nature are universally appreciated, and I hope to continue the tradition.”

—Susan Kasten

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