Chris Gillen studies the molecular physiology of ion transport proteins in insect models systems including fruit flies and mosquitoes. His work has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Gillen is director of Kenyon’s creative Science Writing program. He has co-directed and taught writing workshops including the Kenyon Review Young Science Writers and the Kenyon College – Indian Institute of Technology Madras Scientific Writing Workshop.

Gillen is a winner of Kenyon's Trustee Teaching Excellence Award and the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology’s M. Patricia Morse Award for Excellence and Innovation in Science Education.

Areas of Expertise

Animal physiology, science writing, insect salt and water balance


1994 — Doctor of Philosophy from Yale University

1989 — Bachelor of Arts from Lafayette College

Courses Recently Taught

This is the first laboratory course a student takes and is a prerequisite for all upper-division laboratory courses. Students are introduced to the processes of investigative biology and scientific writing. It is not designed to accompany any particular core lecture course. Laboratories cover topics presented in the core lecture courses, BIOL 115 and 116, and introduce a variety of techniques and topics, including field sampling, microscopy, PCR, gel electrophoresis, enzyme biochemistry, physiology, evolution and population biology. The course emphasizes the development of inquiry skills through active involvement in experimental design, data collection, statistical analysis, integration of results with information reported in the literature and writing in a format appropriate for publication. The year culminates in six-week student-designed investigations that reinforce the research skills developed during the year. Evaluation is based on short reports, quizzes, lab performance and scientific papers, as well as oral and written presentations based on the independent project. Enrollment is limited to 16 students in each section. Prerequisite: completion or concurrent enrollment in BIOL 115 or equivalent. Required for the major.

Energy flow is a unifying principle across a range of living systems, from cells to ecosystems. With energy flow as a major theme, this course covers macromolecules, cells, respiration and photosynthesis, physiology and homeostasis, population and community interactions, and ecosystems. Throughout the course, the diversity of life is explored. The course also introduces students to the process of scientific thinking through discussion of research methodology and approaches. This course is required for the major and as such, Biology majors should take this class prior to the junior year. No prerequisite. Offered every year. Required for the major although AP or IB credit can be applied against this course.

Animal physiology examines the processes of animal cells, tissues and organ systems. In this class, we will seek to understand how physiological processes relate to the survival of an animal in its environment. We will use three primary approaches: (1) comparative, contrasting animals that live in different environments; (2) environmental, exploring how animals survive in challenging environments; and (3) structure-function, examining how the anatomy of a system relates to its function. Each organ system (nerve, muscle, cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, renal and excretory) will be covered in detail. Readings from the primary research literature will be assigned. Students complete a project in which they write about a physiology research paper for both scientific and general audiences. This counts toward the upper-level organismal biology/physiology requirement for the major. Prerequisite: BIOL 115, equivalent or permission of instructor.

This laboratory class explores the techniques, equipment and experimental designs common to animal physiology. Topics may include muscle physiology, cardiac physiology, salt and water balance, metabolism, and exercise physiology. A variety of experimental techniques will be used. Students will participate in experimental design, perform experiments and present results in oral and written form. Students also will read and analyze relevant papers from the primary literature. Prerequisite: BIOL 109Y-110Y and completion of or concurrent enrollment in BIOL 243. This counts toward the upper-level laboratory requirement.

In this capstone seminar, students explore current research topics in biology by writing a mini-review on a topic of their choice. In doing so, students analyze and integrate information from research articles they connect specific studies to broader biological questions and propose future work that refines and extends prior studies. Students communicate their insights in both oral and written formats. Assignments include short essays, student presentations, a general-audience piece and peer review. This course counts toward the upper-level lecture course requirement for the biology major. Prerequisite: senior standing and biology or molecular biology major.

This course offers an in-depth research experience. Prior to enrollment in this course, students are expected to complete at least one semester of BIOL 385 and participate in the Summer Science Scholars program. Two semesters of BIOL 385 are recommended. Emphasis is on completion of the research project. Students also are instructed in poster production and produce one or more posters of their honors work for presentation at Kenyon and possibly at outside meetings. There will be oral progress reports, and students draft the Introduction and Methods section of the honors thesis. The letter grade is determined by the instructor and project advisor in consultation with the department. Students must have an overall GPA of at least 3.33 and a GPA of 3.33 in biology. Permission of instructor and department chair required. Prerequisite: BIOL 385 and permission of project advisor and department chair.

In recent years, there has been a renaissance of science writing for the common reader that combines literary and scientific merit: from Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" to Oliver Sacks' "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat", from Dava Sobel's "Longitude" to Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," a series of books that explore scientific questions in a style that transcends the conventions of academic science writing or popular history have brought important questions from physics, biology, chemistry, neuroscience, and mathematics to wider public attention. Short form science journalism has become one of the most important areas of literary nonfiction, recognized both by annual awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and two different series of Best of American Science Writing anthologies. This interdisciplinary science writing course will combine literary analysis of exemplary essays on scientific topics with a writing workshop that requires students to do close observation of scientific processes, conduct independent research and interviews, interpret data, and present scientific information in highly readable form. Weekly readings will be selected from prize-winning science essays and the Best of American Science and Nature Writing series. We may also read one book-length work of science writing. Weekly writing assignments will include journals, observational accounts of science experiments, exercises in interpreting scientific data, interviews, narratives and a substantial research essay. This counts toward the approaches to literary study or post-1900 requirements for the major. No prerequisite.