Night Owls: This past fall, research associate Glenn Proudfoot and seven student assistants got a taste of Vassar’s wild nightlife. Under the glow of the moon and their own blue headlights, the team devoted 20 nights to catching and tagging Saw-whet owls stopping through Vassar Farm as part of their migration. This is just one of at least four species of owls found at the farm. Seeking to understand the owl’s migration, the team first lured the bird in with its own call. After catching the birds in a thin net, they moved into the light of the college’s field station for a closer look. The researchers carefully recorded the tiny bird’s measurements—an average weight of just a quarter of a pound and a body of less than eight inches. Next, they swabbed a DNA sample from its mouth, tagged it, and then plucked three feathers before releasing the owl back into the dark night.
Bringing the Funk: No, Vassar isn’t the next Area 51. These checkerboard aliens aren’t here to spread evil— they’ve come in the pursuit of funk. Hailing from Florida, Yip Yip features the electronic progressive rock of Brian Esser and Jason Temple (we can’t tell them apart either). Yip Yip is just one of over a hundred entertainers sponsored yearly by Vassar College Entertainment (ViCE), an organization run almost entirely by students. It’s okay if you haven’t heard of Yip Yip, but chances are good that previous performers like Wyclef Jean, Rufus Wainwright, the Roots, Sleater-Kinney, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are on your radar. And if that’s not enough, ViCE also sponsors comedians, lecturers, and performance artists.
Build Your Own Paradise: No man is an island entire to himself, but as one Vassar student recently proved, one man can make an island entirely by himself. Hugh Laughlin ’06 turned an assignment for his sculpture class into a floating oasis on Vassar’s Sunset Lake. After mulling over the assignment to create a sculpture relating to time, Laughlin came up with the idea after an afternoon spent on a lakeside bench. Using materials found around campus, he attached four barrels to pallets to create a giant raft. A live palm tree donated by the greenhouse and an actual person basking in the sun provided the finishing touches for Laughlin’s paradise.
Finding Tadro: Faced with the problem of trying to study the evolution of an extinct fish, John Long, professor of biology, and his team of student researchers decided the best means of study was to re-create the fossil fish. Enter Tadro, short for tadpole robot, complete with parts designed to mimic the brains and bodies of the fish. Designed to travel toward light (which represents food), the Tadros use a single mechanical eye and a flapping tail to find and encircle the light without any help from their creators. Sound confusing? This is only the beginning. To study the function and evolution of the fish’s backbone, they decided to continue tinkering with their Franken-fish by using computer algorithms to mate them for 10 generations. Observing each generation’s tail stiffness and ability to seek food, the team concluded that stiffer tails resulted in better swimmers, and the backbone’s stiffness also brought about other behavioral changes. Their findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.