Breakthrough Academics

Will you study biology from a textbook, or design your own experiments and explore marine life with your faculty?

Group of four
Students Morgan Flynn, Jamie Blumberg, and Ian Taylor traveled with Prof. William Jaeckle (second from left) to a marine station in Florida. (Photo by Ian Taylor)

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 larvae.

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 department.” 

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 science.

specimen specimen

Marine animals collected or reared by the students have included echinometra and cerinathid.