Scott McRobert, Ph.D.
Areas Taught: Biology, Environmental and Sustainability Studies, Environmental Science
Expertise: Animal Behavior, Genetics, Evolutionary Biology, Endangered Species, Environmental Science
A visitor to the laboratory of biologist Scott McRobert, Ph.D., instantly feels transported to a tropical rainforest. Crowded with colorful fish, poisonous frogs, and endangered turtles, the lab allows McRobert and his students to conduct creative investigations into animal behavior.
Unlike most other university labs, McRobert's biodiversity laboratory does not focus on just one organism. His students work with a wide range of animals, including very rare and exotic species. The lab is only one of a few such facilities in the country, and holds more than 100 species of insects, fish, amphibians and reptiles. “I have a fascination with all different types of animals,” he says. “My students love it here — the lab provides fertile ground for them to develop as scientists.”
McRobert researches the biology of threatened and endangered species, and has served as director of the University's Environmental Science Program. He has worked for the Academy of Natural Sciences as a herpetologist and for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources as a naturalist. His studies on sleep deprivation in Drosophila melanogaster – known as the fruit fly – were profiled by journalist Leslie Stahl in a two-part 60 Minutes series titled “The Science of Sleep.” He also commented on this study for the Boston Globe. Recent studies in the shoaling, or grouping behaviors of fish, were profiled by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Among other research initiatives, McRobert is involved in teaching children about animals and environmental issues. He ran experiments at an elementary school in which second graders studied the effects of temperature on tadpoles, and the project was profiled in Science and Scientific American. The study duplicated earlier work in the biodiversity lab that focused on poisonous frogs in Costa Rica, providing the school children the opportunity to perform publishable research.
Recently, McRobert set up an interactive website called Fish Cam, which features a live camera broadcasting the shoaling behavior of fish for school children and their teachers to study. “Instead of ‘telling’ children about science, I like to create situations where the kids can be scientists,” McRobert says.