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Student collects data in wooded campus for Field Ecology lab
June 01, 2023



As far as professional research experience goes, Curry Science students needn’t look any further than our own backyard.

For the past several years, a variety of faculty-led science research projects have taken place on the rich grounds of our Milton Campus, giving students hands-on experience and publishing opportunities that are unique to our College. And in hypercompetitive fields, our students are getting a leg up on the competition.

Science faculty Dr. Samantha Sawyer and Dr. Elizabeth Wade spearheaded the on-campus studies this year, which grant students up to three credits worth of research hours.

Dr. Sawyer, an Assistant Professor of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and a Decomposition Ecologist, led two of the three research projects on campus. As an experienced professional in the field, a majority of her research is looking at competition between vertebrate scavengers and insects for remains, two topics that she’s brought into the classroom.

Hailey Gonsalves ’23, a double major in Forensic Science and Biology, is part of Dr. Sawyer’s Decomposition and Theoretical (D.E.A.T.H.) Ecology Laboratory research group, where she and her lab mates investigate the geospatial and temporal variation of wildlife and necrophagous flies, as well as the influence of increased surface area to volume ratio of remains on necrophagous insect production.

“The experience I’ve received doing research will be so valuable to me once I enter the workforce, and this is something you just won’t get at other schools,” said Gonsalves.

Utilizing Curry’s 131 wooded acres of land, senior Biology major Will Noyes participated in Dr. Sawyer’s project involving geospatial and temporal variation of wildlife in eastern Massachusetts. In the study, industry-standard cameras are displayed throughout campus to determine how wildlife are utilizing the wooded habitats across time while understanding scavenger movements to determine who is more likely to scavenge based on time of year and environmental correlates.

“The long-term directive for the research is predictive modeling, which is using all of the data so that we can mathematically determine the animal most likely to scavenge,” Noyes said. As someone who aspires to work in the Field Ecology, Noyes embraces the opportunity to use high-tech field equipment to monitor wildlife while also gaining valuable research experience with advanced software for data processing.

Dr. Wade, an Associate Professor of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, brings her expertise in genetics, evolution, entomology, and bioinformatics to her students. Her on-campus research focuses on water assessment in our campus wetlands, which are located on the North Side and South Side of campus. “The reason why there are no buildings between here and The Suites is because there’s an entire wetland, which is protected,” said Dr. Wade. “The brook itself starts in the Blue Hills Reservation and goes through campus before eventually releasing into the Neponset River. It's a great environment for research purposes.”

Dr. Wade and her students conducted physical chemical testing of the water for oxygen and nutrient levels, while testing for heavy metals. They also researched E. coli abundance throughout the brook and wetlands while looking at the genetic diversity of the E. coli

Earlier this month, Noyes, Gonsalves, and over 15 other students in the sciences presented their research at the 2023 Academic Forum. With the ultimate goal of publishing the research, science faculty also regularly take our students to a variety of conferences to showcase their impressive work.

“Conducting high-level research while involving our students in the process is a big part of our job as scientists and as faculty members,” concluded Dr. Wade. “We’re fortunate to have such ideal conditions at Curry that allow us to teach our students in an experiential way.”

“Undergraduate students across the board rarely have the ability to publish,” said Dr. Sawyer. “At Curry, our students can be listed as the first authors, and in a highly competitive job market, that really stands out.”