Will you study biology from a textbook, or design your own experiments and explore
marine life with your faculty?
The newly established Marine Biology program provides a remarkable research opportunity
for biology students at Illinois Wesleyan. Selected students travel with a faculty
member to the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, Florida – a research center
of the National Museum of Natural History specializing in the study of marine biodiversity
and ecosystems. There they conduct experiments on free-swimming developmental stages
of marine invertebrates called larvae that are collected from oceanic and coastal
waters. They then return to campus to continue their experiments and analyses for
the remainder of the summer.
The research they complete draws on their coursework in the Biology Department, yet
the primary selection criterion for the program is something the students bring themselves:
“I want them to be curious,” says Professor Will Jaeckle.
Students seek answers to unexplored questions through a project of their own design,
which Jaeckle calls "genuine" research. Their results will make direct contributions
to the scientific community’s understanding of the biology of marine invertebrate
Each student’s independent project combines classroom, laboratory, and field experiences. Building
on the concepts of experimental design introduced in their General Biology classes,
the students will apply what they’ve learned in a different environment, with animals
they won’t experience in any of their other courses.
Students will devise and implement their own experiments, read the scientific literature to see how their research question fits within the
context of what’s known, and convey the results of their research to others.
“There’s an accountability that comes with being an independent researcher,” Jaeckle
says. “Each student has ownership; I just have to provide them with an environment
where they can do the work. Because they’ll take their project from its beginning
through to the end, this experience draws on everything we try to teach them in our
Regardless of their intended career paths, he notes, the experience of doing science
will prepare students to be informed citizens, who are able to read and interpret
Marine animals collected or reared by the students have included echinometra and cerinathid.