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Widener biology professor named next Cynthia H. Sarnoski Science Faculty Fellow

The third Cynthia H. Sarnoski Science Faculty Fellow

From left, Widener Trustee Cynthia Sarnoski '74, Biology Professor David Coughlin and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Sharon Meagher.

Dr. David Coughlin, a professor of biology, has been named Widener University’s third Cynthia H. Sarnoski Science Faculty Fellow. The two-year fellowship, which will commence July 1, will allow Coughlin to conduct research with undergraduate students on the topic “Climate Change and Aquatic Environments: Fish Swimming, Muscle Function and Gene Expression.”

Coughlin’s study proposes to use functional, physiological and cutting edge genetic techniques to understand how climate change might affect the fitness of economically relevant fish species. He was selected through a competitive process that included a panel of external reviewers working in consultation with Dr. Fran Weaver, associate dean of science.

Coughlin proposed to assess the thermal acclimation response of various fish species when exposed to changing temperatures associated with climate change. He and his students will conduct experiments in an effort to answer three questions: 1) How will increasing temperatures in aquatic habitats resulting from climate change affect fish health and swimming performance? 2) How is muscle function affected by shifts in the thermal environment? 3) How do changes in gene expression explain variations in swimming performance and muscle function in the target fish species?

The Sarnoski Fellowship will provide financial support for undergraduate research assistants and pay for experiments. Widener University students will be recruited to work on all aspects of the project including fish care, swimming experiments, muscle mechanics research and genomic analysis. The experience will train the students in cutting edge research techniques to prepare them for post-graduation career paths.

“Dr. Coughlin’s research project provides a wonderful experience for Widener students to strengthen skills they will use in their careers. Its timely connection to issues of climate change makes it even more impressive,” Sarnoski said.

Coughlin has experience mentoring students in his labs and has co-presented and co-published with students. The Sarnoski Fellowship will allow him to both continue his research and support more students in undergraduate research beyond the classroom.

“I am very grateful to Trustee Sarnoski for her support of this fellowship, which will allow me to advance my research into new areas. I will also be able to engage undergraduate students in a wide range of projects, providing cutting-edge training in the study of form and function relationships in animals. I look forward to getting started this summer,” Coughlin said.

Sarnoski graduated from Widener in 1974 with a bachelor's degree in chemistry. She is a retired senior vice president for Global Compliance and Quality Systems for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and a member of the Widener Board of Trustees.

“This fellowship is yet another example of how Dr. Sarnoski generously supports her alma mater. In addition to her financial gifts, she gives a great deal of her time to support university programs that promote student growth, like alumni mentoring and working with the summer research symposium – all in addition to her duties as a trustee. I am grateful for her support of this fellowship, and for all the ways she invests in Widener’s success,” President Dr. Julie E. Wollman said.

Coughlin has taught at Widener since 1995, earning the rank of professor in 2006. He teaches Animal Physiology, Introductory Biology, Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy, Mammalian Anatomy, Research Methods, Biomechanics, Values Seminar and various laboratories. He earned his doctorate in marine biology from Boston University in 1991. He is the recipient of numerous National Science Foundation and other grants and has authored or co-authored more than 40 peer reviewed journal articles.

Click here to download a photo of Trustee Cynthia Sarnoski, Professor David Coughlin and Sharon Meagher, dean of the Widener University College of Arts & Sciences.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. Visit the university website,