Life Sciences

Using Notre Dame's state-of-the-art facility, the Jordan Hall of Science, students in the Life Sciences track engage in two major areas of study: Ecology and Environmental Science and the Molecular Genetics of Disease. Both content areas foster collaborative problem-solving skills and experiential understanding of science by actively involving students in the design, implementation, and analysis of experiments in molecular biology (i.e. cancer biology and molecular genetics) and environmental science (i.e. stream environmental assessment/restoration and lake ecosystem management).

Students improve proficiency and confidence under laboratory conditions and field situations and directly engage in accurate reading of scholarly journal articles, the structure/function of scientific research papers, posters and seminar presentations, and the use of biostatistical analysis.

The topics covered within these areas highlight both basic research conducted by Notre Dame faculty and the connection of this research to applied fields in industry, medicine, and environmental management. Students investigate these topics using a variety of formats, including interactive lectures, laboratory work, collaborative learning, computer and video material, group discussions, and field trips.

In the ecology and environmental science component of the course, students investigate unique local ecosystems including Warren Dunes, Michigan (ecological succession, geologic history and ecosystem management), and Warren Woods, Michigan (ecology of rare, old growth forest). Students conduct projects that involve laboratory experiments and field assessments of environmental quality in stream and lake ecosystems. Students sample and compare several characteristics of Notre Dame’s two lakes including zooplankton, water chemistry, dissolved oxygen, and clarity. Students also discuss published scientific literature on lake management and stream restoration strategies during colloquia and on field trips with Notre Dame researchers.

In exploring molecular genetics, students initiate laboratory studies using numerous cutting-edge molecular genetics techniques (PCR, electrophoresis, genetic transformation, bioinformatics, and DNA sequencing). Projects include genetics of retinal degeneration in drosophila and the molecular basis of colon cancer. Students also analyze DNA sequence data and identify the molecular basis of the disorder. Notre Dame faculty members also review and discuss relevant scientific literature with the students.

Academic Directors

Mark Olsen

Mark Olsen, associate teaching professor and majors/honors biology laboratory program coordinator, conducted his undergraduate studies at St. Michael’s College in Vermont (B.S. in biological sciences, 1981) and his graduate work at the University of Notre Dame (‘89 M.S., ‘94 Ph.D.). Dr. Olsen’s master’s degree research explored the impact of an introduced crayfish on the community ecology of northern Wisconsin lakes and his doctoral work explored behavioral, physiological, and biochemical adaptations for natural sub-zero temperature tolerance in invertebrates.

A member of the Notre Dame faculty since 1994, Dr. Olsen passionately promotes student engagement in undergraduate research by coordinating the annual College of Science Internship Information Workshop and collaborating with College of Science and Engineering colleagues in implementing a five-year National Science Foundation STEP grant to foster student engagement, undergraduate research, and STEM retention.

In addition to his work with science major intents, Dr. Olsen teaches an environmental science course at Notre Dame that engages non-majors in collaborative exploration of many of today’s environmental problems, causes, and solutions via a lively mix of discussion, field-based environmental assessment, and group seminar presentations. He writes and reviews questions for the National Science Bowl and has served as a resource teacher in Place Based Education for elementary and high school instructors.

Dr. Olsen received the Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award from Notre Dame’s Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning and is currently a member of the Indiana Academy of Sciences, the National Science Teachers Association, and the Association for Biology Laboratory Education.

David J. Veselik

David J. Veselik

David J. Veselik, coordinator for the Cell Biology Laboratory, Biology Club advisor, and Biology Honors Program co-director, received his B.A. in pre-professional studies in 1996 from the University of Notre Dame. He then conducted graduate studies at Georgetown University where he explored the role of environmental estrogens and the estrogen receptor in the etiology and progression of breast cancer (M.S. 1998, Ph.D. 2006, biochemistry and molecular biology).

Since 2006, David has taught upper level cell biology labs and lectures (BIOS30341/31341). For the past several years, he has led the NSF-funded Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Molecular Biology Workshop at Notre Dame in an effort to make local high school biology curriculums more inquiry-based and investigative. In addition to this David has been active in leading and coordinating numerous outreach projects in the Department of Biological Sciences.