On Teaching Botany

I became a botanist without knowing it! A shift of interest evolved gradually during my development as a biology teacher. After earning B.S. and M.A. degrees in zoology, I began teaching general biology at a community college in Southern California. My undergraduate background included courses in general botany and plant physiology, but my teaching assignment motivated me to learn much more about plants. I apprenticed with botanical colleagues studying the local flora so I could do a better job of leading my students on field trips to the nearby mountains and deserts. I also designed new lab exercises that used plants as experimental systems to engage students in the process of science without having to "sacrifice" animals.

Leading students to discover more about plants and the botanical sciences can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
Photo courtesy of Marsh Sundberg.
In one of those labs, my students and I used the sensitive plant (Mimosa) to study the universal biological property of "excitability," the capacity of organisms to sense environmental changes and respond to those stimuli. I never imagined that I would return, several years later, to the rapid leaf movements of the sensitive plant as an experimental model in my own research.

When I decided to resume graduate work to earn a Ph.D. degree, I chose the University of California at Riverside only because it was close enough for me to keep my teaching job. I studied the structure and function of salt glands that enable certain desert plants to thrive in salty soil. After publishing several papers, I accepted a faculty position at Cornell University, where my research focused on the cellular mechanism of leaf movements. It was not until I was a member of Comell's Section of Plant Biology that I realized I had become a botanist.

My lab and field experiences with general biology students continue to shape my work. For the past several years, I have been writing biology textbooks back in California. It is an activity that keeps me in touch with undergraduates and secures a starring role for plants in my books.

Neil A. Campbell, Univ. of California, Riverside.

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