BIO159Y From Environment to Embryo

Project Location

First year students determine whether natural gas production pose teratogenic effects

Student Audience


Scientific Domain

  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry (General)
  • Chemistry (Organic)
  • Developmental biology
  • Ecology
  • Environmental science
  • Genetics/Genomics
  • Geoscience
  • Human health and nutrition
  • Molecular and cellular biology
  • Neuroscience
  • Physiology

Nature of the Research

  • Wet lab/bench research
  • Field research
  • Basic research
  • Applied research
  • Translational research

Core Concepts

  • Structure and Function: Basic units of structure define the function of all living things.
  • Information Flow and Exchange: The growth and behavior of organisms are activated through the expression of genetic information in context.
  • Systems: Living systems are interconnected and interacting.

Core Competencies

  • Applying the process of science
  • Using quantitative reasoning
  • Tapping into the interdisciplinary nature of science
  • Communicating and collaborating
  • Understanding the relationship between science and society

Guiding Questions

  • Does Hydraulic Fracturing pose an environmental-health danger?

Learning Objectives

  • Read, analyze and critique primary literature
  • Generate, develop, and implement a novel experimental design
  • Use environmental science, aqueous geochemistry, cell biology, genetics, and developmental biology to study environment-embryo interactions.
  • Analyze one's own results critically and respond with next step questions and experiments.
  • Create both platform (powerpoint) and poswer presentations of their research as well as be able to confidently deliver these presentations to the scientific community


Does Hydraulic Fracturing pose an environmental-health danger?   This research based lecture-laboratory course is designed to expose students to fundamental concepts across the natural and life sciences through interdisciplinary research. In the Fall students will read and discuss all aspects of Fracking from the politics to the science, and then engage in laboratory research the following Spring semester. Students will collect samples at actual Fracking sites, and analyze the chemical nature of these samples in the Center for Geochemistry. Using molecular and microscopy techniques students will design experiments using the zebrafish model system to investigate whether their collected compounds can cause malformations in a variety of developing systems such as cardiovascular, nervous, endocrine, and muscular tissues. Lastly, students will generate final poster presentations and  present their findings both to the Smith College community as well as at the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.   This course will engage students in a personally relevant investigation to generate both exciting and publication worthy results to impact our world. This approach will provide students the environment to foster an appreciation for how all the sciences can and should converge to solve a problem and reaffirm student interests and confidence in pursuing science.

In the fall, students will meet once a week to discuss the topic of hydraulic fracturing in order to develop a foundational knowledge of the subject matter from a variety of perspectives. These discussions will set the stage for students to be able to design investigations and interpret their results during the Spring semester. Students will be evaluated on their analysis of their readings as demonstrated in short writing assignments and presentations during this 1-hour weekly meeting. (1 credit).

            In the spring, students will meet twice a week for two laboratory periods. In some cases we will go on field trips, other times we will be conducing “wet” labs, and yet others used for lecture/discussion/reflection times. This will be a particularly interdisciplinary approach tackling a problem with unknown outcomes; therefore, it requires flexibility in order to adjust to both student learning assessments and variable experimental results and problems that may arise. 


4-6 hours per week

Member Contact

Class time

1st semester 1 hr/wk; 2nd sem 6h/wk