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University of Iowa News Release


Aug. 27, 2007

'Dancing in the Dark with Termites' is subject of Sept. 1 lecture

Termites are only about one-millionth the size of humans but - like humans - still behave as social creatures.

Social interaction is just one aspect of a bug's life that Barbara Stay, professor in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) Department of Biological Sciences, will address when she speaks on "Dancing in the Dark with Termites" at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, in Room 40 of Schaeffer Hall, the southeast building on the UI Pentacrest. The talk is free and open to the public.

Part of the CLAS 2007 Saturday Scholars lecture series, the talk will examine how termites, like bees, ants and humans, depend upon interactions between individuals within families and colonies for continued existence. Surprisingly, social insects affect the human habitat because of the enormous number of individual insects that exist to benefit the colony. In the case of termites, a queen and her king -- the primary reproductive individuals -- produce enormous numbers of offspring that develop into different castes. Workers provide food and care, not only for the king and queen, but also for the soldiers, the defenders of the colony. Chemical communication between caste members maintains the composition of the colony for the benefit of the whole.

"Our interest is in how the social environment is communicated through the brain to the endocrine system that regulates developmental pathways and reproductive ability," Stay says about her research.

Stay joined the UI faculty in 1967 after holding teaching positions at the University of Pennsylvania and Pomona College, as well as conducting research with entomologists at the Army Research Center in Natick, Mass. She received a bachelor's degree from Vassar College, a master's degree and doctorate from the Radcliffe Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Harvard University and was a Fulbright Fellow in Australia studying the maggots of the sheep blowfly.

She has enjoyed teaching introductory biology to large classes and an insect seminar to small groups of students for many years. Her research is focused on how information flows from the nervous system to the endocrine system to control development and reproduction in insects. After conducting extensive studies on the Hawaiian "beetle" cockroach as a model insect, she has turned her attention to the role of hormones in caste determination in termites living on the UI campus.

Other events in the 2007 "Saturday Scholars" series will include:

--Sept. 15: "Music Therapy: Improving Quality of Life," Mary Adamek, School of Music, Division of Performing Arts,

--Sept. 29: "Nanotechnology: Solving Big Problems with Small Science," Sarah Larsen, Department of Chemistry,

--Oct. 6: "Freedom of Expression: For a Price," Kembrew McCleod, Department of Communication Studies,

--Oct. 20: "Ethical Activism in the Poetry of Adrienne Rich and Mary Oliver," Linda Bolton, Department of English,

--Nov. 3: "Animated Culture: Contemporary Experimental Art Practices," Jon Winet, School of Art and Art History.

Saturday Scholars was developed to give the public a chance to hear about the latest teaching and research innovations by faculty members in the college. The sessions last about an hour, including a 20-30 minute presentation followed by time for questions. Refreshments are served. Additional information is available at

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in advance at 319-335-2610.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 301, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,