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Coppinger Helping Explain Mysteries of Biological Sciences

August 27, 2014

Coppinger In The Lab

In The Lab: The William Alfred Cook Laboratory for Bioscience Research and Synthetic Biology Laboratory, opened in 2013, has allowed Associate Professor of Biology Peter Coppinger to expand undergraduate student research opportunities. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

Making science more accessible has had Associate Biology Professor Peter Coppinger, PhD, busy this year with a series of popular news segments on a Terre Haute television station.

Coppinger has been featured in nine stories since mid-May, helping explain the mysteries behind the following science concepts found in everyday life:

The latest “Clearing Up The Science” segment reveals that strawberries aren’t really berries at all, but a different type of fruit

“Science is our ever-evolving world, and I believe, as an educator and scientist I’m here to help people know about the unique things that are happening around them,” says Coppinger, a member of the Rose-Hulman faculty since 2005. “I like using whatever avenues are available—television, mass media, and social media—to explain common, everyday biological science topics.”

Coppinger also is involved in groundbreaking scientific discoveries. He joined 2014 biology graduate Nathan Wheeler in uncovering what has been infecting trillium plants near Coppinger’s Michigan hometown.

Coppinger also started a project that teamed Rose-Hulman students with local high-school science students, studying the antimicrobial properties of tea.

Coppinger Plant Biologist

Plant Biologist: Professor Peter Coppinger has been featured throughout the summer on science news segments for a Terre Haute television station. (Photo by Jim Garber)

“Dr. Coppinger has a great way of putting science in language that’s simple for everybody to understand,” says WTHI-TV Meteorologist/News Reporter Joseph Dames, who produces the station’s science segments. “We come up with ideas, something that might have been posed by a viewer, and Dr. Coppinger has an explanation. We haven’t been able to stump him yet.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that biology education is one of Coppinger’s many areas of specialization, including molecular plant-microbe interactions and plant biotechnology. He has done research in genetic screens for suppressors of disease resistance in Arabidopsis thaliana, and has studied the biochemical function of Arabidopsis NDRI (non-race specific disease resistance).

As a plant biologist, Coppinger has watched Rose-Hulman’s sciences curriculum grow and prosper throughout his years as a professor on campus. He has provided the right amount of encouragement, dedication, and expertise along the journey.

Since Coppinger’s arrival, the Department of Biology and Biomedical Engineering’s enrollment has grown steadily, added the William Alfred Cook Laboratory for Bioscience Research and Synthetic Biology Laboratory and expanded undergraduate student research opportunities. He will be teaching classes in cell structure and function, and Mendelian and molecular genetics.

Coppinger is living his dream of teaching at a small college, after earning his bachelor’s degree in biology from Kalamazoo College.

“I wanted a job where I could think and talk about science all day long,” he says. “I knew I wanted to teach at a small college, where I could get to know the students and we could work together on exciting things.”