Monday, January 11, 2016

Passing of a Long Time Member

Charles Congden (Chuck) Carpenter died January 10, 2016. Chuck was born June 2, 1921, in Denison, Iowa, the third and youngest child of Harry Alonzo and Myrtle Barber Carpenter. Chuck grew up in Marquette Michigan where he graduated from Northern Michigan University in 1943 and immediately entered the Army Medical Corps. After the war, Chuck attended graduate school at the University of Michigan where he received his MS (1947) and PhD (1951) in Zoology. It was at the University of Michigan Biological Station, on a blind date on a Saturday night, that Chuck met the love of his life, Mary Frances Pitynski. Chuck and Mary married in the fall of 1947 and were married for 68 years.
Chuck was a professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma from 1952 until his retirement in 1987. He was the Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles at the Stovall Museum of Natural History (now the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History). He also taught summer courses at the University of Oklahoma Biological Station at Lake Texoma for 35 summers. Chuck was a wonderful mentor to his graduate students, to whom he was known as “Doc”. He trained 26 PhD, 22 MS and three MNS students. Chuck firmly believed that students learn best in the field and led his students on “safaris” to Mexico and the southwestern U.S. every spring.
Chuck was a world-renowned herpetologist and animal behaviorist. He and his students studied a broad array of taxa, but his passion and focus was reptile behavior. Notably, he pioneered the study of head-bobbing and pushup behavior as a form of communication in lizards. He published over 150 scientific papers. A highlight of his career was two expeditions to the Galapagos Islands in 1962 and 1964 to study the behavior of lava lizards, marine iguanas and land iguanas. He received many awards for his work including the first recipient of the W. Frank Blair Eminent Naturalist award from the Southwestern Association of Naturalists, the Oklahoma Academy of Science Scientist of the Year, the Distinguished Alumni Award from Northern Michigan University and the University of Oklahoma Regent’s Award for Superior Accomplishments in Research and Creative Activity.
Chuck was a talented musician and artist. He could not read music, but played guitar, piano and accordion by ear, and played tuba in the Army band. He had a fine tenor voice and loved to sing barber shop quartets in college and later with several of his Zoology faculty colleagues. He sang his daughters to sleep every night when they were young, always ending with “Good Night Ladies” as he left the room. His children cherish his paintings of reptiles. He was an avid collector of stamps and coins. He was a natural athlete and an absolutely fearsome competitor on the volleyball court. He walked his beloved German Shepard five miles a day until well into his 80s.

His eldest daughter, Janet, preceded Chuck in death. His wife Mary, daughter Caryn and husband Joe Vaughn of Norman; son Geoffrey of Bosque Farms, New Mexico; grandson Andrew and wife Mona Vaughn of Norman; and granddaughters Katherine Vaughn of Norman and Emile Carpenter of Bosque Farms survive him. Donations may be made in Chuck’s honor to the Charles and Mary Carpenter Endowed Fund care of the University of Oklahoma Foundation. This fund will provide support for graduate students in the Department of Biology to conduct research in the areas of natural history, ecology, animal behavior and/or conservation. A memorial in Chuck’s honor will be held at a later date.

Caryn Carpenter Vaughn

Monday, November 16, 2015

The 2015 Technical Meeting: You Should Have Been There

The 104th  Annual Technical Meeting of the Oklahoma Academy of Sciences has just concluded, and with it my term as president. I am now the Immediate Past President. The president for 2016-2017 will be Terry Conley, a dean at Cameron University. The new president elect, who will become president in 2018, is Adam Ryburn of Oklahoma City University. During Adam’s term I will devolve from being Immediate Past President to being Le PrĂ©sident Ancien, a position now held by Craig Clifford, and then after that I will be Le PrĂ©sident Vieux, a position now filled by Ken Hobson.

The OAS Technical meetings are an excellent venue to connect with our fellow scientists from around the state. It is also an excellent place for students to present their first research results in a non-threatening environment. Our passion at OAS is to nurture an ongoing culture of science in Oklahoma. It was inspiring to see so many students giving oral presentations and posters.

The meeting organizer, Adam Ryburn, succeeded in bringing OAS further away from the rut it had started to get into, of being merely a Friday morning event. The active and interesting poster session was in the afternoon. There was also an all-day symposium on climate change, which lasted until 4:00, with the last presentation being mine. A big “thank you” to the stalwart holdouts for the last talk.

I wanted to mention something really interesting I learned at the symposium. The four symposium presentations preceding mine (by graduate student Christopher Dunn and faculty members Chris Butler, James Cressey, and Wayne Lord, all of the University of Central Oklahoma), concerned the rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis). As the name suggests, this parasite prefers Norway and brown rats. But in North America it has jumped to a new host, the cotton rat (which is a different genus). Most of us understand that, with global warming, tropical conditions (and their associated parasites) might spread poleward. But it’s not that simple. You can use ecological and epidemiological modeling to predict where the known hosts will live, but if the parasite jumps to a new host, you can get totally unanticipated results. And, as Wayne Lord explained, this can happen in at least two ways. Within the overall trend of global warming, we expect greater weather extremes. During extreme flooding (which Oklahoma experienced in the spring of 2015), parasites that prefer wet conditions can spread to new locations. And during extreme droughts (which Oklahoma experienced most recently in 2011 and 2012), hosts that normally stay apart might end up nuzzling each other in little wetland pockets, increasing the chances that the parasite will jump to a new host. One thing you can certainly say will happen with global warming: inevitable surprises.

It is difficult to identify a “high point” for the meeting, but it would have to be the noon banquet presentation by Ingo Schlupp of the University of Oklahoma, who studies social life (including sexual selection) in freshwater fishes. Somehow, and even Ingo is not sure how, a female molly (and they all clonal females) can tell a clonal sister from a more distantly-related one and behave accordingly. Even though these mollies are clonal and do not have meiosis, they need sperm in order to stimulate reproduction. That is, sperm from a different species of fish. The sperm do not fertilize the eggs, however. Thank you, Ingo, for a very interesting presentation!

Ingo got famous for his discovery that female mollies preferred the males of related fish species that had mustaches (or what would be called mustaches on humans). As a result of this research, Ingo became probably the only scientist to be immortalized in a limerick on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me on June 26, 2010. I read the limerick during Ingo’s introduction:

At me, the girl fish let their lust flash,
I’m well-groomed, which makes hearts in their bust dash.
The ladies all flip
At my hairy lip,
The molly fish all dig a…

Congratulations to Ulrich Melcher for getting the answer: mustache! Ingo is also the only Oklahoma scientist to have his name made into a verb. NPR host Peter Sagal said, “It seems hipster girls aren’t the only rare species attracted to guys with mustaches. According to a new study by German biologist Ingo Schlupp, female Mexican molly fish also prefer males with fuzzy upper lips. Schlupp and her [!] associates paired females with male mollies, some with whiskery faces, some without. And in every case the female schlupped the mustached fish.”

Here are some photographs from the meeting. If you wish to let OAS know about other events at the meeting, or have other photographs to share, please send them to me at

Sujana Rapakheti, an undergraduate from Cameron University, discusses her poster with Cameron University science dean and new OAS president Terry Conley.

Ingo Schlupp gives his talk at the noon banquet. In this slide he discussed relatedness (as between the two twins) and its effects on altruism, as revealed by Bill Hamilton.

Terry Conley presents a plaque to outgoing president Stan Rice.

Terry Conley presents an OAS Lifetime Achievement Award to Susan Barber.

Stan Rice, Immediate Past President

Monday, April 13, 2015

Spring 2015 Field Meeting

The Oklahoma Academy of Science had its spring field meeting this past weekend at Sequoyah State Park near Muskogee. If you missed it, this essay will help you regret it. Fortunately we missed the torrential rains that started falling today. It was gently cool, and softly overcast—which made the green of the new leaves very intense. On Saturday morning and afternoon we had field trips. I accompanied Gloria Caddell for the botany hikes.

We saw beautiful and interesting plants. Examples include the mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum in the Berberidaceae):

And spiderwort (Tradescantia ernestiana in the Commelinaceae):

We also saw the mycotrophic orchid Corallorhiza wisteriana. It does not have chlorophyll. It gets its nutrition from decaying wood. But not directly. It is mycotrophic rather than saprophytic because mutualistic fungi absorb the nutrients from rotting wood and provide them to the orchid.

On one of our hikes we visited a nearby Boy Scout camp owned and operated by the family of Andrea Blair, a graduate student at Oklahoma State University Tulsa campus. Here, Andrea is talking with Ken Hobson, former president of OAS and professor of biology at OU.

We saw a magnificently blooming buckeye (Aesculus glabra in the Hippocastanaceae). But it was on the other side of the creek so I had to wade across to get photos of it. This would have been a simple matter except that the rocks were just the right size to hurt my tender old feet.

Among the student participants was John Williams and his sons and nephew from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Mia Revels of Northeastern Oklahoma State University and Gloria Caddell of University of Central Oklahoma brought their classes (ornithology and systematic botany, respectively). The photo shows John's young son soaking up the wonders of the forest.

Especially in the afternoon, the field trips combined forces to gain a multi-disciplinary view of nature. Liz Bergey of OU found a slime mold. And we all wished for a competent paleontologist when we found abundant fossils near the lake shore. In this photo, you can see many crinoids (a kind of echinoderm, with stalks that look like stacks of coins), corals, and bryozoans (now known as ecoprocts). The bryozoans were of the genus Archimedes and looked more like a fish backbone. That’s what I thought they were at first, but I never saw any “fish ribs” with the “backbones,” which meant I had to be wrong.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, guest speakers provided fascinating presentations. On Friday, Charles Brown of University of Tulsa told us about his over three decades of research into the costs, benefits, and evolution of colony behavior in cliff swallows. You think you’ve had bedbugs? But a single little swallow nest can have hundreds of them. On Saturday, Ron Bonett of University of Tulsa told us about salamanders in Oklahoma, and about the repeated evolution of species in which juveniles become sexually reproductive. In the photo, field meeting organizer Connie Murray (of Tulsa Community College Metro campus) talks with Charles Brown.

Every spring and fall, OAS has wonderful field meetings. There are always lots of interesting things to see, and wonderful people to explore with. My thanks to everyone who made the meeting a success, including our Executive Director David Bass who had to make sure everything happened.

Stan Rice, president

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Encourage your students to come to the spring field meeting!

Hi everyone,

The spring field meeting is coming up, April 10-12 at Sequoyah State Park. Information will be available soon on the OAS website. Some of you may already be planning on bringing a lot of students as part of your classes. But if not, I suggest an alternative, one that I have used for many years in the past.

I offer extra credit to students for participating in the field meetings. I am usually unable to offer them a ride, so they have to get themselves to the field meeting site and back. Quite a few of them have managed to do so. I require them, for extra credit, to participate in a morning or an afternoon field trip on Saturday. For distant locations, I offer a little more extra credit. How much? You can figure that out.

Of course, there is the concern that students may show up and not pay attention. It is conceivable that a student might show up and just stand around and spit tobacco. (I wish I were making this up. It has happened on required class field trips.) Also, there is the concern that I have some evidence to show that the students fully participated in the trip. To accomplish these things, I have each student write a unique one-page summary of what they learned. This gets them to be fully engaged and gives me documentation. Since, nearly without exception, my students who have come to OAS have been highly motivated, they are happy to do this.

This is something to think ahead about as the date gets closer and closer.

Stan Rice, president

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What Do College Science Classes Accomplish?

The Fall 2014 semester is about over. For many professors and students, it is a busy spring to the end. But I deliberately arranged my schedule so that the last week of classes would be leisurely. I have a review, an extra credit video, and a time for them to come and ask questions. I did this partly because I wanted to have some extra time in case bad weather or illness forced me to cancel some classes. But I also did it because I realized that cramming material into a course right up until the last moment serves no useful purpose.

Either the students “get it” well before the last week of class, or they aren’t going to. What do I mean by “get it”? What I want them to “get” is a few basic points, and an appreciation of the importance of science. All the rest they can look up online if they need to. I want them to get the basic points because, if they do not, they will never see any reason to ever look up anything about science in the future. I want to get them to see the world in a different way.

What are some basic points? Here are a few for my general bio class.

  • There is enough food in the world. Total agricultural productivity is enough to give every person on earth 2868 calories a day. Yet 805 million people worldwide are undernourished. The problem is not productivity but politics and economics. The best land is used for cash crops, especially for livestock feed. You don’t have to give up meat, but just eat less of it.
  • You have pseudogenes. You are carrying around the evidence of your evolutionary ancestry inside your chromosomes.
  • Plants (and photosynthetic microbes) keep the Earth alive. They produce all the oxygen, remove carbon dioxide, make all the food, hold down the soil, prevent floods, and help recharge aquifers.
  • The key to a healthy lifestyle: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants (a quote from Michael Pollan); and exercise as part of daily life, e.g. walking. Frugality will make you healthy and happy and will help save the planet too. If you eat less meat, you will enjoy it more, according to numerous personal experiences.
  • Notice things and think about what you see. Notice the trees and the birds and the fossils, and think about what they do and/or where they came from.
  • Make a habit of thinking about why you believe what you believe. Demand evidence and be willing to search for evidence yourself. We all have biases. Be aware of your own biases.

If they haven’t gotten this by December 1, they are not going to get it. I believe that less is more when it comes to teaching: they will remember more if you teach them fewer facts to memorize. None of them will make a bad political or economic decision because they forgot what an endoplasmic reticulum is. I teach for those who want to think, and I convey to them the joy of living a life of thinking about the world rather than just being a member of the food chain. For the rest, I just keep track of their attendance and grades.

Stan Rice, president

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Science is Alive and Well in Oklahoma, part two.

Among the afternoon activities at the 2014 Technical Meeting of the Oklahoma Academy of Science was a well-attended symposium about science-based issues in Oklahoma. About forty people were in the audience to learn the latest about evolution education, climate change, conservation of natural areas, fracking and earthquakes, and water issues. The Science Communication and Education Section sponsored the symposium.

It wasn’t just scientists or students in the audience or on the panel. We included speakers from citizens’ groups as well. You didn’t have to be at the symposium very long before you realized how important it is to understand science in order to make the right decisions about these issues, which are among the most important that Oklahoma (and every place else) now face and will continue to face in the future. This is an important fact that, I think, most politicians and perhaps also most members of the press overlook. Fracking, for example, is not something that oil companies have the sole competence to judge. Citizens need access to scientific information. Perhaps even more, they have to know that they need scientific information.

Vic Hutchison, a retired zoology professor from the University of Oklahoma, is the grand old man of evolution education in Oklahoma. He started Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE), which may be the most active state-level anti-creationist group in the country. He summarized recent creationism-inspired bills that have come before the Oklahoma legislature and have, thus far, failed, mainly due to the persistent efforts of OESE members. Because OESE focuses on the importance of science, rather than attacking religion, we have been able to convince not just the Democrats but some of the Republican majority as well. A couple of years ago, Vic received an award from the Academy for his many years of work. Such an award is not an annual event but given only for special reasons. OESE leaders will have a hard time even collectively continuing the work that Vic has started.

Monica Deming, a researcher at the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, summarized the scientific evidence of current and future climate change and how it will affect Oklahoma. Oklahoma is facing higher temperatures and droughts in upcoming decades that will have a major effect on the economy. As an employee of a state scientific agency, she did not address any political issues. She didn’t have to. The facts speak for themselves.

Jona Tucker, a project manager for The Nature Conservancy, told about the conservation efforts of the Conservancy, which works with private land owners—conservation problems simply cannot all be solved by the state or federal government. She called on any scientists present to conduct some of our research on Conservancy properties. Nothing proves the usefulness of Nature Conservancy work as well as having scientific research done in areas that the Conservancy has saved, and having this research published.

Amberlee Darold, one of Oklahoma’s two state seismologists (scientists who study earthquakes), explained that Oklahoma has begun to rival California as the earthquake capital of the United States. While from 1882 to 2008, Oklahoma experienced an average of 0.1 earthquakes per year of magnitude 4.0 or greater, there were three per year in 2009 to 2013, and 2014 by itself has had twenty-four such earthquakes—and the year isn’t even over yet. This corresponds precisely with the recent acceleration of new oil extraction techniques. The earthquakes correlate closely with wastewater injection for oil extraction, but not actually with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) itself. This was clearly documented in a July article in Science magazine. A member of the audience, representing the Sierra Club, pointed out that these were not mere numbers, but reflected significant damage to the homes of people who cannot afford to rebuild their damaged homes. Amberlee just presented the science, but it was obvious to all of us that the explosion of earthquakes in Oklahoma represents a cost shared by nearly everyone in the earthquake-damaged regions of Oklahoma that pays for the profit enjoyed by corporations, mainly by its wealthy directors and investors.

Amy Ford is president of Citizens for the Protection of the Arbuckle Simpson Aquifer (CPASA). The Arbuckle-Simpson is a very important aquifer in south-central Oklahoma. Amy told us about the long struggle to prevent this water, upon which several large and many small communities depend for their survival—many thousands of people—from being sold and piped away for the profit of just a handful of land owners. The passionate efforts of this citizens’ group, and its legal work that is funded by private donations, has resulted in laws and policies that now protect this aquifer. CPASA shows that citizens need not be the helpless victims of corporations. (And it helps to have rich donors helping out as well.) Amy emphasized the importance of science in this effort. CPASA had the scientific evidence on its side. When corporate interests challenged them, CPASA invited them to present their scientific evidence—of which they had none. As unlikely as it may have seemed, science won the day against political and economic shouting matches—even if just barely.

The panel participants are important people and I am glad they accepted our invitation to speak. It wasn’t always easy. For example, the governor of Oklahoma appointed Amy Ford to a panel that is evaluating Oklahoma reading and math education standards (and eventually, I assume, science education standards as well). Because at some point she may be confronted by creationists, she had to avoid any appearance of favoritism with OESE, and had to politely leave the room while Vic was talking. In order to have all of these fine people on the same panel, we found a way to work things out.

The presentations generated some lively discussion. Although I had to step in at least once and direct the energies of some audience members in a constructive direction, I believe that the occasional strong feelings were a good thing: it means that these issues matter! Even some inconvenient comments were, in my opinion, welcome (to a point).

Here is a photo (sorry, it is not of the greatest quality) of the panel members. Left to right: Amberlee Darold; Jona Tucker; Amy Ford; Monica Deming; Vic Hutchison.

I think symposia of this nature are going to become a new tradition in OAS. Terry Conley, president-elect of OAS, is already planning a symposium for next year about endangered species, which is an important issue in Oklahoma, where many citizens do not realize that it is an important issue.

Stan Rice, president

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Science is Alive and Well in Oklahoma, part one.

The Oklahoma Academy of Science held its 2014 Technical Meeting at Northeastern Oklahoma State University (Broken Arrow campus) on November 7, preceded by the Executive Council meeting on November 6.

As president, I am happy to report that your Executive Council will begin to address an important issue we have not taken seriously enough in the past: marketing. A lot of scientists and science educators in Oklahoma simply do not know that OAS exists, or that it is active. We are working on ideas to get the word out in Oklahoma, and will also be soliciting input from all members.

I enjoyed watching and occasionally coordinating the good and enthusiastic work of so many students and faculty from around the state at the meeting on November 7. Nobody had to be there. It was sheer enthusiasm for science that made the meeting a success.

I wanted to mention one paper that really got my attention. Lois Ablin, a chemist at Oral Roberts University, talked about advances in “green chemistry,” particularly in student organic chemistry laboratories. I took organic chemistry in 1976 and it has been downhill from there. Back then, we poured toxic chemicals all over the place (including benzene on our hands), and all of them ended up down the drain and probably out in the ocean (I was at UC Santa Barbara). Today, thankfully, we have many rules that preserve personal and environmental safety. One of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of waste produced by student labs is simply to use small-scale reactions. In my day we used whole flasks and beakers of toxic chemicals. But in green chemistry, the same reactions can be performed in small vials, heated in a microwave oven instead of over a burner or in a hot glove. It saves time, too: you can microwave a reaction for eight minutes with the same result that you would get with an hour-and-a-half reflux. Some universities have even gone so far as to carry out reactions on filter paper, rendering fume hoods unnecessary.

There were lots of student posters. This is an time for faculty to see the excellent work done by students at other universities. I barely had time to glance at them and take a few grainy photos. I got to stop and look at a poster from a student at Cameron who had studied the stomach contents of a mammoth that had lived in what is now southern Oklahoma during the last ice age (in case you didn’t know there were mammoths here). The mammoth had eaten horsetails.

Bruce Carnes, from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, gave the luncheon presentation about the evolution of aging. What an interesting topic, especially for people who might have wondered what evolution has to do with medicine. For those who might have thought that aging is simply a problem that can be solved by some magic medical bullet, Bruce (who described himself as a disappointed optimist) had some bad news. Natural selection has indeed produced a human species that is guaranteed, in the absence of intrinsic and extrinsic accidents, to live for about 55 years, which is enough time not only for nearly all reproduction to be completed but for a person in tribal society to discharge their grand-parental duties as well. Fifty-five years, then, is our “warranty period.” After age 55, the body starts to break down in multiple ways. There’s no way to stop it, even though we try very hard to prolong our lives as much as possible. It makes more sense, Bruce indicated, to try to have a healthy old age rather than simply a long one. Once the “expiration date” has passed, a car or a person might keep running for a long time, but will require more and more intervention. Old age is not a problem to be solved but a process to be managed.

In the next entry, I will write about the symposium about science-related issues in the afternoon. It was one of the most exciting things the Oklahoma Academy of Sciences has ever done, I think.