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Jablonski Lab

Jablonski Lab 4-16


L-R Hsin-Yu Chen, Sandy Koch, Tina Lasisi, George Chaplin,

Nina Jablonski, Biz Wright, Tess Wilson


The research activities of the Jablonski Lab are focused on questions of primate and human evolution, including those surrounding the evolution of morphological diversity.  Members of the lab are involved in basic scientific research and in science education research aimed at improving public understanding and engagement in science.

At present, researchers in the Lab are affiliated with one or more of the four projects listed below.  Undergraduate students or potential graduate students interested in any of these project areas should contact Nina Jablonski (ngj2 at psu dot edu) or Tess Wilson (tmw119 at psu dot edu).


Image: Cut-paper illustration by Gail McCormick, from map by Nina Jablonski and George Chaplin.1.  The evolution of human skin and skin pigmentation, including the effects of skin pigmentation on health and human social well-being. The large family of studies in these areas is conducted by Nina Jablonski, George Chaplin, Hsin-Yu Chen, and Tess Wilson, along with collaborators from medical and social sciences from many institutions, including Penn State.  Current studies are focused on the evolution of skin pigmentation in India (with Mircea Iliescu from Cambridge), on factors determining the production of vitamin D in the skin (with Anna Coussens and Robert Wilkinson from the University of Cape Town), and the use and abuse of skin bleaching agents in different countries (with Lester Davids of the University of Cape Town).  Public education and outreach activities about skin pigmentation and its implications for health and human social well-being (including lectures and the writing of books for the general public) are conducted regularly by Jablonski and other members of the Lab.


2.  The evolution of diversity in human hair form and color, with special emphasis on the evolution of the form and function of human scalp hair.  This group of studies is being pursued by graduate students Sandra Koch and Tina Lasisi, along with Nina Jablonski.  Our primary collaborators are Mark Shriver (Penn State) and Ophelia Dadzie (University College London).


3.  The use of a personalized “genetics and genealogy” approach to enhance interest in STEM subjects and careers, at the K-12 and undergraduate levels. Studies in this area are focused on the development of informal and formal curricula that are testing the hypothesis that student interest in science can be spurred by study of their own genetic ancestry and genealogy.  These studies make use of the intellectual framework developed by collaborator Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of Harvard in his studies and programs on African Americans in the U.S., hence the use of his project title, “Finding Your Roots.”  At present, these studies comprise development of summer camps, primarily for underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged learners of middle school age, and of personalized genetics and genealogy modules within undergraduate biology classes, primarily at historically Black colleges and universities.  At present, these studies are being developed primarily by Elizabeth (Biz) Wright, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Jablonski Lab, and by Aditi Pai (Spelman College).  Tess Wilson manages the projects, and collaborators from many institutions and disciplines (including science education) participate.


4.  The evolution of Old World monkeys, including the mode and tempo of lineage evolution with respect to environmental change.  This work constitutes Jablonski’s original focus of research in paleoanthropology.  Current projects in this area are focused on description of new fossil finds of colobine and cercopithecines monkeys in East Asia and Africa, in collaboration with Ji Xueping (Yunnan Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute), Yohannes Haile-Selassie (Cleveland Natural History Museum), and others.