Ross is an Associate Professor in the Natural Sciences Department, teaching physics, chemistry, and environmental science. He received a B.A. in environmental studies and chemistry from Middlebury College, a M.S. in mathematics from The University of Vermont, and a Ph.D. in Engineering Sciences from Dartmouth College. Starting with examining the pore structure of soil systems in 2006, Ross has been using X-ray micro-computed tomography (μCT) to probe the microstructure of various samples. The majority of his research has been studying snow, ice, and other geologic samples from Antarctica to the Arctic. More information on his research is available at http://lieblappen.vtc.edu/.
For many of his projects, Ross partners with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) located in Hanover, NH. Research expeditions have taken him and his students from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Recently he received a $3.3 million project to study microbes across various Arctic environments. Additionally, he has partnered with the Vermont Manufacturing Collaborative to use μCT to characterize the structure of various manufactured parts ranging from plastics to metals. He recruits students to join him in his research projects with opportunities to work at a governmental lab, publish scientific papers, and present work at national and international conferences.
In his free time, Ross enjoys the woods of VT, adventuring outside with his wife, two kids, and two dogs whether it be skiing, hiking, biking, paddling, or adventure racing. If you are interested in getting involved with polar research, looking for tips on outdoor adventures, or want advice about class or life as a scientist, don’t hesitate to reach out.
I am an ecologist who uses a combination of field research and molecular techniques to study microbial diversity in natural ecosystems, including soils and ticks. I study the environmental and microbiological factors that influence how Lyme disease risk varies across forested ecosystems in southern Vermont by performing epidemiological monitoring of the black-legged tick (also known as the “deer tick”) densities and by testing these ticks for infection with Borrelia burgdorferi (the Lyme disease pathogen), Anaplasma phagocytophilum (the causative agent of Anaplasmosis) and Babesia microti, which causes Human Babesiosis. Using next generation sequencing I characterize the assembly of bacteria, fungi and protists inhabiting the black-legged tick and seek to understand how this microbiota may influence disease transmission. In addition to this microbiome research, I am participating in a whole-genome sequencing project to study genetic variation of the black-legged ticks collected in Vermont, USA and Quebec, Canada, and how the genetics of the black-legged tick may influence their susceptibility to infection with human pathogens. Finally, I am developing a DNA-based test to determine the identity of the blood meal hosts of questing black-legged ticks, information that remains elusive but that could enhance our understanding of how black-legged tick populations are maintained in nature. My research is carried out in collaboration with students at Vermonst State University. If you are interested in getting involved or would like to learn more send me a message!
Connect on Social Media
For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in learning about the natural world and spending time outdoors. With a biology degree in hand I embarked on a career in field biology. I had the pleasure of studying a variety of raptors up and down the West Coast including the California condor, peregrine falcon, American bald eagle, northern spotted owl, and northern pygmy owl. Those were exceptional years, and I could hardly believe my luck, making my living chasing birds through some of the most beautiful forests and mountains in the world. The need for stronger data analysis skills brought me back to academia, and two graduate degrees later I had decided I wanted to move back to the northeast and switch from the field to the classroom.
I love Vermont, and I love working at Lyndon. I enjoy taking students into the field and encouraging them to look carefully around. Science is great fun and immensely satisfying. At its core it is about paying close attention to what is around you, and building knowledge based on thoughtful reflection. I have been privileged to watch students complete the circle of learning by giving professional conference presentations to audiences of other researchers. It is wonderful to witness their progression.
For many years I researched ticks and tick-borne diseases. Lately I have switched, and begun to study the ecological impact of trails and mountain biking.
Andrew Vermilyea’s goal at Castleton is be an effective teacher in the classroom and provide as many opportunities as possible for students in their field outside the classroom. Working on research projects allows students to better understand what a career in science entails and to accumulate a strong background that prepares them for graduate study or jobs that demand knowledgeable, self-reliant scientists.
As an undergraduate at Hamilton College, Dr. Vermilyea majored in Chemistry and minored in Geology. In graduate school at the Colorado School of Mines, he studied contaminate photochemical degradation and mechanisms of formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Dr. Vermilyea examined mechanisms and the speed for these processes in freshwater bodies and during research cruises in the Gulf of Alaska and around Bermuda. These reactions are important because ROS influence the bioavailability of redox active metals, some of which are trace and limiting nutrients (such as iron in the Pacific Ocean).
Dr. Vermilyea’s post-doctorate work at the University of Alaska Southeast broadened his research interests to include much larger-scale systems. There he worked to understand how landscapes influenced the total export of nutrients from watersheds to a very productive coastal ecosystem like the Gulf of Alaska. Dr. Vermilyea has collaborated with the University of Vermont to study nutrient export from our Vermont landscapes and the resulting impact on Lake Champlain. Currently, he is continuing work in Lake Champlain while joining a team to help inform a watershed action plan for Lake St. Catherine in Poultney/Wells, VT.
Preston Garcia joined the Natural Sciences faculty in August 2010.
He has been studying microbiology and conducting research since his time as an undergraduate student in the lab of Bruce A. Wiggins, Ph.D. at James Madison University in Virginia.
Before attending graduate school, Dr. Garcia spent two years working as a departmental technician in the Biology department at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. There, he spent time helping faculty with research in Microbiology, Immunology, and Cell and Developmental Biology.
Dr. Garcia attended graduate school at the University of Connecticut where he earned his Master’s of Science and Ph.D. under the direction of Daniel J. Gage, Ph.D. His research focused on the mechanisms of Succinate-Mediated Catabolite Repression in the nitrogen-fixing bacterial symbiont, Sinorhizobium meliloti.
After receiving his doctorate, he was an NIH Postdoctoral fellow in Infectious Disease at the University of Virginia working on vaccine development for the pathogen, Burkholderia mallei in the lab of Joanna B. Goldberg, Ph.D.
Dr. Garcia currently serves as the Natural Sciences Department Chair and the Biology Program coordinator and has continued his research from his graduate studies here at Castleton. He has received external grant support which has provided funding for undergraduate student independent research projects, summer stipends and travel to national meetings.
Connect on Social Media
Helen Mango has taught geology and chemistry at Castleton for 32 years. She received her bachelor’s degree in geology from Williams College, and her Ph.D. in geology from Dartmouth College. Her research focus is geochemistry: the application of chemical principles to solve geologic problems. Her early work concentrated on the geochemistry of ore deposits in Mexico. Understanding how metals are transported by hydrothermal (“hot water”) solutions during ore deposit formation led her to change her research focus to how metals are transported by groundwater and can lead to contamination of drinking water. She has applied this to groundwater systems in Mexico and Vermont. Helen loves to travel, and has shared this enthusiasm with students for decades, leading geology travel courses to Costa Rica and, now, to Iceland. She is also currently researching Icelandic soil chemistry with a Castleton biology colleague who is working on reforestation projects in Iceland. For fun, Helen unsuccessfully attempts to stay a step ahead of the weeds in her garden, and she sings with several area groups, including the Irish group Extra Stout.
Dr. Palmer is interested in how organisms respond to the environment, from the molecular to physiological to ecological level. Her research interests and teaching at VTSU Castleton work to help students experience biology from the smallest molecules to ecosystem processes, and students are directly involved in the research in both the field and lab.
Dr. Palmer completed a B.A at Williams College in Biology, learning firsthand the benefit of doing research as an undergraduate in a range of independent research projects from biochemical assays to fluorescence imaging to nucleic acid analyses. She completed a M.S at the University of Pennsylvania in Cell and Molecular Biology investigating the dynamics of DNA packaging and modifications in human cells in response to DNA damage from environmental stressors. Continuing a focus on molecular responses to environmental stress, Dr. Palmer completed a Ph.D. in Biology at Dartmouth College studying transcriptional regulation of metal homeostasis in plants. Her work identified several proteins required for plant survival under limiting iron conditions, typical of soils around the world. As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Davis, Dr. Palmer incorporated bioinformatics into her research to investigate natural variation in the ability of plants to respond to shade, which represents a limited food situation for these organisms. In addition, she volunteered with the Forest Service on high alpine plants, including the ancient bristlecone pine, and seed cone collection in Giant Sequoia National Park.
At Castleton, her work continues to focus on the molecular mechanisms behind organismal responses to environmental challenges. Dr. Palmer and Castleton research students work with colleagues at Dartmouth College to investigate the tolerance of Neotropical katydids to challenging diet sources as a model for human gut health through a combination of field research at the Smithsonian Institute on Barro Colorado Island in Panama and bench research on site at Castleton. Students were directly involved in the collection and processing of samples as well as the publication of a manuscript. This work was funded by the Vermont Biomedical Research Network (VBRN) and other sources.
Currently, Dr. Palmer’s research focuses on mycorrhizal communities in subarctic regions, stemming from her work as an NSF Arctic Research/Fulbright Scholar. For a year, Dr. Palmer lived and worked in Iceland with the Iceland Forest Service to establish newly forested sites and use molecular biology to better understand the fungal communities in the soil. This work is ongoing and is the current focus of her lab. Dr. Palmer is passionate about the outdoors, with a particular soft spot for trees, so this research fits both personal and professional goals and interests.
Dr. Livia Vastag has been a professor at Castleton since 2011. Her passions are teaching and cooking. She enjoys integrating these two in her Science of Food course offered as a science course in the nutrition minor and the general education program. She also teaches Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Nutrition, and Virology.
Dr. Vastag completed her undergraduate education at Middlebury College. Her undergraduate research was in the area of bioinorganic chemistry, focusing on platinum-based chemotherapy agents. As a significant shift in her focus of study, her masters and Ph.D. work was completed at the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University. She worked in the pioneering field of viral metabolomics, studying the impact viruses have on their host cells with a team of scientists from a variety of different fields.
In her free time, Dr. Vastag likes to travel, cycle, test new recipes, watch movies, and write her blog “The Planet of Crepes”.
My undergraduate degree, in physics (minoring in history and psychology), was at Michigan State University, starting Fall, 1962, where I designed part of the cyclotron the summer of my freshman year, and continued to work on software for the cyclotron group (my adviser, Henry Blosser, was the head of it) for the rest of my time there. I wrote the second video game in the world, the other being done at MIT at about the same time in 1963. I also worked as a computer operator at nights to pay for flying lessons in the MSU flying club, where I obtained my private pilots license in 1964. After graduation (June, 1966), I started grad school in physics, but started working for IBM Components Division in Fishkill, NY, January, 1967.
At IBM, I designed their first memory chip, with two other people. It was probably the first completely computer design and manufacturing project of any kind in the world. During that time, I obtained my instrument rating, commercial pilots license, sea plane rating and glider license. I left IBM in January, 1969, to go back to grad school, and went to UMass, Amherst, in physics. I obtained my airplane, instrument and glider flight instructor ratings in 1969 while at UMass. I worked part time as an airplane flight instructor while in school, and spent the summer of 1970 as a full time glider flight instructor at Sugarbush Airport in Vermont. I switched to Zoology after a year, and did an M.S. on seagull soaring flight aerodynamics. My PhD., from the Zoology Department, awarded in 1979, was on bat flight aerodynamics and functional anatomy.
I started teaching at Vermont Technical College, Randolph Center, VT, in August, 1977, teaching physics and zoology. I initiated and taught Spacecraft Software (for our Software Engineering MS degree, with Peter Chapin), Spacecraft Technology I & II, Intro. Zoology, Anatomy and Physiology, Ada, Advanced Ada, Operating Systems and Pascal; and taught Calculus and non-calculus based Physics, Modern Physics, Introductory Chemistry and BASIC computer programming. Starting 2004, I have applied for 24 NASA grants, and have received 33, totaling about $700,000. This has resulted in the construction of a CubeSat that was launched in an Air Force Minotaur 1 rocket in November 19, 2013, the first by any college in New England or New York. It was in orbit and operational for 2 years and two days, before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere on November 21, 2015, and was the only successful satellite of any kind launched by a college in the North East of the United States until 2018. I have just started on a grant to work on a spacecraft software system with Jeremy Ouellette and our students to develop a satellite version of the JT65 weak signal protocol, that will allow a university satellite to communicate with a university ground station from Jupiter avoiding the very expensive and hard to get time on Deep Space Network of NASA. At about the time of my first grant, my son, Jack Brandon, was born, and is now 15 years old. He has traveled with me to technical conferences in Europe (where I gave talks in York, UK; Venice, Italy; Porto Venere, Italy; Stockholm, Sweden; Berlin, Germany; Paris, France; Madrid, Spain; Pisa, Italy; Vienna, Austria; and Jerusalem, Israel). He accompanied me to the launch of our CubeSat from Wallops Island, VA in November, 2013. I have also given talks in San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) multiple times, Washington, DC, multiple times, Cambridge, MA, multiple times, Ithaca, NY and Ottawa, Canada. I was a keynote speaker at Ada Europe, Lisbon in 2018, and an invited speaker (along with John Glenn, Scott Carpenter and Buzz Aldrin) at Space Operations, Washington, DC, in 2012 and an invited speaker at the Amateur Radio Satellite Corporation 50th Anniversary conference in 2019.