Joan Slonczewski publishes research with undergraduates on bacterial pH stress, funded by the National Science Foundation. She also studies cold-adapted microbes from Antarctica. She authors science fiction novels, including The Highest Frontier and A Door into Ocean, both of which earned the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. She teaches courses on microbiology, virology and biology in science fiction.

Visit her professional website.


1982 — Doctor of Philosophy from Yale University

1977 — Bachelor of Arts from Bryn Mawr College

Courses Recently Taught

This is the first laboratory course a student takes and is a prerequisite for all upper-division laboratory courses- required for the major. Students are introduced to the processes of investigative biology and scientific writing. 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. Prerequisite: BIOL 109Y and 115 or equivalent.

This course is required for the major, therefore, biology majors should take this class prior to the junior year. How is information generated, transmitted, stored and maintained in biological systems? The endeavor to understand the flow of biological information represents a fundamental undertaking of the life sciences. This course examines the mechanisms of heredity, the replication and expression of genetic information and the function of genes in the process of evolution, with an emphasis on the tools of genetics and molecular biology to address research questions in these areas. Prerequisite: BIOL 115 or equivalent. Offered every year.

Students volunteer weekly at Knox Community Hospital, College Township Fire Department or another designated health provider. We study health research topics including articles from biomedical journals. The academic portion of the class meets as a three-hour seminar. Students read and critique articles on topics such as diabetes in the community, pain-killers and drug addiction, AIDS and STIs, influenza transmission, and socioeconomic status and health disparities. Outside of class, students have four hours a week of reading, and a minimum of four hours a week of service. Students' assignments include keeping a journal on their service and class presentations related to the reading and their service. This counts toward the upper-level organismal biology/physiology requirement for the major. Prerequisite: one year of biology or chemistry and permission of instructor.

Microbes inhabit the most extreme environments on Earth, ranging from superheated sulfur vents on the ocean floor to alkaline soda lakes. In medicine, newly discovered bacteria and viruses cause a surprising range of diseases, including heart disease; they may even hold the key to human aging. Yet other species live symbiotically with us, keeping us healthy, and even regulate our brain. Still other microbes, such as nitrogen fixers, are essential to the entire biosphere. This course covers microbial cell structure and metabolism, genetics, nutrition and microbial communities in ecosystems, and the role of microbes in human health and disease. This counts toward the upper-level lecture in organismal biology/physiology or cellular/molecular requirements for the major. Prerequisite: BIOL 116.

In this course, students learn the classic techniques of studying bacteria, protists and viruses in medical science and ecology, and practice microbial culture and examine life cycles, cell structure and metabolism and genetics. High-throughput methods of analysis are performed, such as use of the microplate UV-VIS spectrophotometer and whole-genome sequencing. For the final project, each student surveys the microbial community of a particular habitat, using DNA analysis and biochemical methods to identify microbial isolates. This counts toward the upper-level laboratory requirement. Prerequisite: BIOL 109Y-110Y or a chemistry lab course. Prerequisite or corequisite: BIOL 238.

In this course, students examine the form and function of viruses through current research papers and documentaries on viral disease. Specific viruses are examined in depth, exemplifying their roles in human and animal health, biotechnology and global ecology. Topics may include human papillomavirus, a DNA virus causing cancer; hepatitis C virus, a growing cause of liver failure; Ebola virus, an RNA virus with extraordinary virulence; influenza virus, an RNA virus of humans and animals with pandemic potential; and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of AIDS. We investigate the use of HIV-derived viral vectors for gene therapy. This counts toward the upper-level cellular/molecular biology requirement for the major. Prerequisite: BIOL 238, 243, 263, 266 or 358. Generally offered every other year.

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 are 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.