I have three main goals as a teacher. The first is to help students become interested in and understand the material I am teaching.

My second goal relates to imparting effective communication skills. Regardless of what you choose to pursue after college, the ability to write and/or speak in a manner that allows you to communicate your ideas to others is almost sure to be imortant. Similarly, listening and reading are critical skills in many fields. Thus I believe strongly that college coursework should provide ample opportunity for students to practice and hone all of these communication skills.

My third goal is to help students develop as independent and critical thinkers. To achieve this, I believe it is important for students to

  1. read, discuss and critique primary literature,
  2. gain insight into the historical developments underlying the ideas they are learning,
  3. design and perform experiments, collect and analyze data, interpret results.

These activities not only allow students to see that science is an ongoing and dynamic creative process, but also facilitate the development of individual ideas and opinions about things learned in class and elsewhere.

Courses taught

Biology 150A, Solving Life's Problems

All life-forms face certain challenges (e.g., acquiring energy, transporting fluids and materials, reproducing), and have evolved specific morphological and physiological mechanisms for “solving” these challenges. This introductory course will focus largely on exploring some of these solutions, in particular, those found within two of the major groups of macroscopic organisms: plants and animals. To this end, we will investigate topics ranging from leaf design, root function and water movement in plants, to digestive systems, nervous and endocrine control, and the function of skeletal muscle in animals.

Biology 160, Integrated Biology and Chemistry

This course is designed to better integrate biology and chemistry in the introductory science curriculum and is co-taught with chemist Sean Decatur.

Biology 322, Comparative Biomechanics (spring semesters in odd years: 2003, 2005...)

This course will explore the functional design of living organisms using an approach that combines the intellectual tools of both the biologist and engineer. Some of the topics to be addressed include: the effects of size on biological systems, the dynamics of terrestrial locomotion, the material properties of biological tissues and how basic principles of fluid dynamics provide insight into topics as varied as circulatory systems, filter feeding and swimming versus flying. Using a combination of lectures, discussions of primary literature, and laboratory experiments we will delve into some of the general principles and subtle details underlying life's varied forms and functions.

Biology 335, Mammalian Anatomy (spring semesters in even years: 2004, 2006...)

This course will examine the fundamental structural organization of the mammalian body. The lecture portion of the class will focus largely on humans, and students will gain practical insight into other mammalian systems in the laboratory.

Biology 321, Extreme Life (occasional fall semesters)

This course explores how organisms adapt to extreme environments (e.g., water availability temperature, oxygen levels) or reach extreme levels of performance (e.g., python feeding, rattlesnake tail muscles). Students learn basic principles of physiology in a comparative context. The class is in a seminar format, and largely consists of discussion based upon readings from the primary literature.

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Gillis lab