The strong interaction we can have with students hits a sweet spot few other schools do.

Leocadia Paliulis

Leocadia "Le" Paliulis and her students sometimes hunt through people's basements and barns looking for surprising hidden treasures: the spiders that live in dark places. Paliulis, a professor of biology, studies chromosome segregation in a number of species of spiders to answer general questions about chromosome segregation in all organisms.

Studying the basis of life and genetics is "incredibly interesting and fascinating," says Paliulis, who works to share her enthusiasm with students.

Made up of DNA and proteins, chromosomes carry the information that makes life possible. Chromosomes that are not properly segregated (or copied) during cell division can lead to eggs or sperm with missing or extra chromosomes. Understanding the basic phenomenon of chromosome segregation and cell division by studying spiders is a window into fertility, miscarriage and major health issues, she explains.

To help students in her genetics classes understand how chromosomes segregate, Paliulis leads them through many hands-on exercises, like creating three-dimensional chromosomes with pipe cleaners.

In her upper-level cytogenetics course, students dig more deeply into what is known about chromosome movements and how to communicate what they know to others. They read scientific literature and then report on what they learned writing in different "voices," such as a paper directed to clinicians, another for patients, and a third as a magazine article aimed at a general audience. They also produce a two-minute stop-motion video.

Paliulis also teaches genomics, a course focused on using genome structure to understand gene expression and evolution.

"One exciting thing about that class is that students are doing original research that gets pooled with students' work at more than 100 schools to produce compelling and comprehensive research articles with all of the student contributors as authors," she says.

Even before completing her doctorate, Paliulis knew her interest was in chromosome research. "I thought it was super fun. I never wanted to stop," she says, adding that there are still so many mysteries to solve — and that Bucknell, which values both teaching and research, is the perfect place to do it. "The strong interaction we can have with students hits a sweet spot few other schools do."

Posted July 2018