Birds offer insight into natural selection for new Lodish Professor
Ask Robert Mauck why he studies storm-petrels and he'll tell you the long-lived seabirds offer a unique opportunity to study why some animals are better survivors than others, a peek at natural selection in action. And they smell good.
Mauck has spent years examining these small cousins to the albatross, which make their homes off the northeast Atlantic Coast. The musky smell the biology professor refers to comes from an oil their bodies secrete, which the birds rub on their feathers to keep them waterproof. It's one of many physiological traits that has captured the interest of this Kenyon biologist, who recently was named the Harvey F. Lodish Faculty Development Professor in the Natural Sciences.
The professorship, established in 2000 with a gift from Harvey Lodish '62 H'82 P'89, and Pamela Lodish P'89, recognizes excellence in teaching, research, and scholarship among junior faculty in the natural sciences at Kenyon. Lodish, professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Founding Member of Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, established the $1.5 million endowment in 2000.
"This is such a wonderful honor," says Mauck, who first came to Kenyon in 1998 as a visiting scientist.
Mauck enjoys a good challenge, and over the course of his fifty years, he has faced quite a few. He was a smoke jumper in Fairbanks, Alaska; a sports reporter in Anchorage; and a football coach in Italy. But he's always been a closet scientist. Science, he says, combines much of what he loved about his previous professions into one delightfully complex package. When Mauck enrolled as a doctoral student in biology at Ohio State University in the 1990s, everything seemed to fall into place.
"The real switch for me happened when I learned that science was about questions, not answers," says Mauck, who has shared his scientific curiosity with dozens of Kenyon students in the classroom and in the lab. Through his studies of birds--primarily sparrows, chickadees, bluebirds, and his favorite, storm-petrels--Mauck is learning about the physiological, environmental, and behavioral influences on birds' success as breeders and survivors.
He does much of his work at the Bowdoin Scientific Station at Kent Island in New Brunswick, Canada, where he serves as director. A number of Kenyon students have accompanied Mauck to the island during the summer to do field work.
Mauck will be on junior leave during spring semester, doing research on the life strategies of birds with a collaborator at Colorado State University. That project, as well as others in his lab, will be supported, in part, by the Lodish professorship.
"In a very short time at Kenyon, Professor Robert Mauck has established a reputation as a fine teacher and productive scientist. His students praise his teaching and are eager to be engaged in his research," says Provost Gregory Spaid. "Bob is exactly the type of promising teacher/scientist that the Lodish Professorship was intended to honor and support."
Mauck received a bachelor's degree in premodern studies from Ohio Wesleyan in 1978 and a doctorate in zoology from Ohio State University in 1997.
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