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Loren Haarsma -- Curriculum Vitae (updated 2009 August 13)

Contact information


Physics and Astronomy Department

Calvin College

1734 Knollcrest Circle SE

Grand Rapids, MI 49546-4403

office: Science Building #180

lab: Science Building #033

telephone: (616) 526-8517

fax: (616) 526-6501




Ph.D. in Physics, Harvard University, 1994.

M.S. in Physics, University of Washington, 1987.

B.S. (honors) in Physics and Mathematics, Calvin College, 1985.

Education and employment

2008-present, Calvin College. Associate Professor of Physics.

1999-2008, Calvin College. Assistant Professor of Physics.

1997-1999, University of Pennsylvania. Postdoctoral Research Associate with Professor Peter Sterling studying electrophysiology of the retina, particularly the functional circuitry of amacrine and ganglion cells.

1994-1997, Tufts University. Post-doctoral Research Associate with Professor Kathleen Dunlap; studying the biophysical basis of neurotransmitter modulation of calcium current in vertebrate nerve cells, using patch-clamping recording and single-channel analysis.

1987-1994, Harvard University. Research Assistantship (towards Ph.D.) with Professor Gerald Gabrielse; developed a system which traps and accumulates large numbers of positrons, as part of a project to produce and study antihydrogen.

1986-1987, University of Washington. Research Assistantship with Professor Gerald Gabrielse; designed ion traps for high precision studies of antiprotons and for antihydrogen production.

1985-1986, University of Washington. Graduate Teaching Assistantship; taught undergraduate laboratory classes.

1984-1985, Calvin College. Undergraduate Research Assistantship (including full-time summer employment) with Professors David VanBaak and John Van Zytveld; experiments to measure the fine structure of metastable hydrogen and the electrical properties of liquid alloy MgZn.

1982-1984, Calvin College. Undergraduate Teaching Assistantship; taught tutorial sections and assisted in freshman- and sophomore-level laboratory classes.

Professional societies

American Physical Society, member.

American Association of Physics Teachers, member.

American Scientific Affiliation, fellow.

Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, member.

Scientific courses taught, 1999-present

Physics 221-222: General Physics. Algebra-based physics, two-semester sequence typically taken by pre-medical and other students. Topics include Newtonian mechanics, fluids, waves, thermodynamics, electricity, magnetism, light, optics, atomic physics, and nuclear radiation. Attention is given throughout to quantitative analysis, empirical methods, experimental uncertainties, perspectives on the assumptions and methodologies of the physical sciences, and the use of physics in the life sciences. Lecture and laboratory. (Calvin College 1999, 2000, 2001.)

Physics 112: Physics and Earth Science for Elementary School Teachers. This course uses a hands-on approach in surveying topics in chemistry, earth science, and physics that are relevant for teaching in elementary school. This course is designed to give prospective teachers background knowledge and experiences that will help them to teach inquiry-based science effectively. Topics covered include scientific models, climate and weather, convection, observational astronomy, the particulate nature of matter, energy, electricity and magnetism, and the development of evidence in scientific investigation. Integrated lecture and lab. (Calvin College 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.)

Physics 195/295: Physics and Astronomy Student Seminar. A seminar course featuring student and faculty presentations on topics relating to new developments in physics, to science, technology, and society issues, and to ethical issues related to Physics. (Calvin College 2002, 2006.)

Physics 133: Introductory Physics: Mechanics and Gravity. Calculus-based study of Newtonian physics, conservation laws. Lecture and laboratory. (Calvin College 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009.)

Physics 235: Introductory Physics: Electricity and Magnetism. Calculus-based study of electric and magnetic forces, fields, and energy, electric circuits, and the integral form of Maxwell’s equations. Lecture and laboratory. (Calvin College 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 20908.)

Physics 375-376: Quantum Mechanics. This course’s main emphasis is on wave mechanics and its applications to atoms and molecules. One-electron atoms are discussed in detail. Additional topics discussed are electronic spin and atomic spectra and structure. Nuclei, the solid state, and fundamental particles are also considered. (Calvin College 2002, 2003, 2006.)

Scientific course curriculum development

Physics 133, 235, 221-222 Best-fit Macros. Wrote “macros” for Microsoft Excel to calculate the linear, power, or exponential function which best fits a data set—taking into account the size of the error bars on each data point.

Physics 133, 235, 221-222 Laboratory for General Physics—new student reference manual. [1] Modified every instructional experiment to incorporate computer-aided graphical analysis of data and propagation of experimental uncertainties, including the use of the best-fit “macros.” [2] Updated several instructional experiments to make use of new laboratory equipment. (Calvin College, 2000, 2001.)

Science Division Core Curriculum Committee, chair. [1] With the committee, developed content guidelines and evaluation tools for all Science Division courses which are part of the college’s “core” curriculum. [2] Developed a “resource packet” of materials to aid in teaching core courses. (Calvin College, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003)

Scientific teaching prior to 1999

Quantitative Neuroscience. A course for graduate students using as a textbook Foundations of Cellular Neurophysiology by D. Johnston and S. Wu. (Tufts University, 1996.)

High school physics and calculus, part-time tutor. (Somerville High School, 1995-1996.)

Freshman physics laboratory, teaching assistant (University of Washington, 1985-1986.)

Current scientific research interests

Three co-PIs and I have recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to set up an electrophysiology lab at Calvin College and work on the following projects.

Neuronal development and the Rho family of small GTPases

Stem cells have the ability to become other types of cells, including nerve cells. PC12 cells can be used to study this transition because, when cultured with Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), they become more nerve-like in at least three ways. (1) They stop dividing. (2) They grow long processes similar to axons and dendrites. (3) They become more electrically excitable. Previous research showed that if, prior to addition of NGF, PC12 cells are transfected with DNA which up-regulates the protein RhoA, the up-regulated RhoA prevents NGF from causing the first two changes. We are using patch clamp techniques to study the third change. Preliminary results show that, perhaps surprisingly, up-regulating RhoA does not appear to prevent the increase in electrical excitability associated with neuronal development. We will use transfection techniques to up- and down-regulate other members of the Rho family of small GTPases to study what effect (if any) they have on the development of electrical excitability. (This work is being done in collaboration with Prof. Stephen Matheson of Calvin College's Biology Department.)

Lacrimal gland duct cells and the potassium content of tears

Tear fluid is much more than just water. Tears provide an appropriate combination of ions, growth factors, signaling molecules, and other biological molecules which continually bathe the surface of the eye. This fluid is essential for the health and proper functioning of the eye. Lacrimal glands produce the aqueous component of the tears. The lacrimal gland is primarily composed of acinar secretory cells which secrete a protein-rich fluid with an electrolyte composition similar to normal extracellular fluid. Acinar secretory cells empty into ducts that are composed of a single layer of epithelial cells. These ducts do not merely conduct the lacrimal gland fluid, but they appear to modify it – especially its ion content. This is apparent from the fact the tears have a potassium ion concentration more than four times higher than in the fluid produced by the acinar cells. If these duct cells are actively involved in the secretion and modification of the lacrimal fluid, it is expected that they will express ion transporters and ion channels that are uniquely involved in this process. It is also expected that this process is regulated by the nervous system, and therefore certain types of neurotransmitter receptors should be expressed on the duct cells. We are using electrophysiology techniques to investigate ion channels and neurotransmitter receptors in these duct cells. (This work is being done in collaboration with Prof. John Ubels of Calvin College's Biology Department.)

Amacrine cells of the retina

My postdoctoral research at the Retinal Microcircuitry Lab of the University of Pennsylvania studied the functions of a certain class of retinal nerve cells -- the "spiking" amacrine cells. I plan to continue studying the functional circuitry of spiking amacrine cells -- how they receive inputs, how they transmit information to ganglion cells, and what types of information they encode. Details: Most retinal amacrine cells do not appear to "spike." (That is, they do not appear to fire the traveling "action potentials" typical of most nerve cells). However, certain types of amacrine cells have long axon-like processes which spread laterally over long distances (several millimeters) in the inner plexiform layer of the retina. These "wide-field" amacrine cells (and perhaps a few other types of amacrine cells) do appear to fire action potentials. It has long been known that retinal ganglion cells receive information about visual stimulation over these distances, and we wondered whether wide-field amacrines were responsible. We used tetrodotoxin to block action potentials in an intact in vitro retina, and intracellularly recorded the activity of ganglion cells which receive inputs from these spiking amacrine cells. Two important results are (1) Action potentials are necessary to transmit visual information to ganglion cells over long distances (more than a millimeter), implicating the spiking wide-field amacrine cells. (2) A few minutes after all action potentials in the retina were blocked, ganglion cell responses to visual stimulation increased. Thus, the over-all sensitivity of the retina to visual stimulation is controlled, to some extent, by the continual activity of spontaneously spiking cells. I plan to continue these studies into the functional circuitry of amacrine cells and the role they play in encoding visual information.

Investigation of possible neuronal function for Probst’s bundles

Agenesis of the corpus callosum (ACC) is a congenital defect. In some human and animal types, neuronal fibers which ordinarily would cross the midline during fetal development instead run in a rostral-to-caudal direction and terminate in the ipsilateral cortex, forming Probst’s bundles (PB). Despite its potential clinical importance, no study to date has established the physiological or behavioral significance of these fibers. We will use the electrophysiology rig to study tissue slices from PBs from a mouse strain which consistently exhibits ACC. We will investigate if the PB axons conduct action potentials, if the fibers become functional GABAergic neurons, and if they result in inhibitory or excitatory post-synaptic potentials on their targets. (This work is being done in collaboration with Prof. Paul Moes of Calvin College's Psychology Department.)

Scientific Grants received

2009-10. Calvin College Research Fellowship. One course teaching load reduction, equipment and supply costs.

2008-09. Calvin College Research Fellowship. Two course teaching load reduction.

2007-08. Calvin College Research Fellowship. Two course teaching load reduction.

2007. Co-PI on NIH grant (PI: John Ubels, Biology, Calvin College), “Elevated potassium ion in lacrimal fluid and the health of the ocular surface.” ($564,527). (NIH-R01 #EY018100-01)

2007. Spring semester sabbatical leave, Calvin College.

2005. PI on NSF-MRI grant, “Acquisition of Electrophysiology Patch-Clamp Equipment to Support Cross-Disciplinary Research and Undergraduate Research Training,” with co-PIs: Stephen Matheson (Biology), Paul Moes (Psychology), and John Ubels (Biology) of Calvin College ($107,382). (NSF-MRI #DBI-0520840)

2002. Co-PI on NSF-CCLI grant (PI: Paul Moes, Psychology, Calvin College), “Adaptation & Implementation of an Electrophysiology Lab for Undergraduate Psychology and Physics Students,” to develop an electroencephalography laboratory for teaching and research, with co-PI: Donald Tellinghuisen (Psychology, Calvin College). 0 ($12,500). (NSF-CCLI #DUE-0126984)

Scientific Publications (Reverse chronological order. Conference presentations not included.)

15. “Singleton, K.R., Will, D.S., Schotanus, M.P., Haarsma, L.D., Koetje, L.R., Bardolph, S.L., Ubels, J.L. Elevated Extracellular Potassium Inhibits Apoptosis of Corneal Epithelial Cells Exposed to UV-B Radiation. Exp. Eye Res. 89, 140-151.

14. “Bipolar cells contribute to nonlinear spatial summation in the brisk-transient (Y) ganglion cell in mammalian retina,” J.B. Demb, K. Zaghloul, L. Haarsma, and P. Sterling, J. Neuroscience 21(19), 7447-7454 (2001).

13. “Functional circuitry of a far-peripheral non-linear response in mammalian retinal ganglion cells,” J.B. Demb, L. Haarsma, M. Freed, and P. Sterling, J. Neuroscience 19(22), 9756-9767 (1999).

12. “Extremely cold positrons accumulated electronically in ultra-high vacuum,” L. Haarsma, K. Abdullah and G. Gabrielse, Phys. Rev. Lett. 75, 806 (1995).

11. Accumulating Positrons in an Ion Trap, L. Haarsma, Ph.D. thesis, Harvard University, 1994.

10. “Extremely Cold Antiprotons for Antihydrogen Production,” G. Gabrielse, W. Jhe, D. Phillips, W. Quint, C. Tseng, L. Haarsma, K. Abdullah, J. Grobner and H. Kalinowsky, Hyperfine Interactions 76, 81 (1993).

9. “Extremely Cold Positrons for Antihydrogen Production,” G. Gabrielse, L. Haarsma and K. Abdullah, Hyperfine Interactions 76, 143 (1993).

8. “A Single Trapped Antiproton and Antiprotons for Antihydrogen Production,” G. Gabrielse, W. Jhe, D. Phillips, W. Quint, L. Haarsma, K. Abdullah, H. Kalinowsky, and J. Grobner, Hyperfine Interactions 81, 5 (1993).

7. “Extremely Cold Antiprotons, For Mass Measurement and Antihydrogen,” G. Gabrielse, W. Jhe, D. Phillips, W. Quint, C. Tseng, L. Haarsma, K. Abdullah, J. Grobner, and H. Kalinowsky, in Atomic Physics 13, Thirteenth International Conference on Atomic Physics, (American Institute of Physics, New York, 1993), p. 85.

6. “Cylindrical Penning Traps and Self-Shielding Superconducting Solenoids for High Precision Experiments,” W. Jhe, D. Phillips, J. Tan, L. Haarsma and G. Gabrielse, in Proc. of the Workshop on Physics with Penning Traps, Lertopet, Sweden. Physica Scripta 46, 264 (1992); RPS 20, 44 (1993).

5. “Open-endcap Penning Traps for High Precision Experiments,” G. Gabrielse, S.L. Rolston and L. Haarsma, Int. J. of Mass Spectrom. and Ion Proc. 88, 319 (1989).

4. “Electrical Resistivity and Thermopower of the Liquid Alloy MgZn,” M. Walhout, L. Haarsma and J.B. Van Zytveld, J. Phys: Condens. Matter 1, 2923 (1989).

3. “Antihydrogen Production with Cold Trapped Plasmas,” G. Gabrielse, S.L. Rolston, L. Haarsma and W. Kells, Phys. Lett. A129, 38 (1988).

2. “Antihydrogen Production,” G. Gabrielse, S.L. Rolston, L. Haarsma and W. Kells, in Laser Spectroscopy VIII, edited by W. Persson and S. Svanberg (Springer-Verlag, New York, 1987), p. 26.

1. “The Problem of Managing a Strategic Reserve,” D. Cole, L. Haarsma and J. Snoeyink, The College Mathematics Journal 17:1, 48-60 (1986).

Scientific Presentations (Reverse chronological order, poster presentations not included)

11. “Investigation of the role of RhoA in the development of neuronal voltage-activated ion currents.”

  1. Wheaton College Physics Department seminar, March, 2007.

  2. Taylor University Physics Department seminar, February, 2007.

  3. Hope College Physics Department seminar, February, 2007.

  4. Valparaiso University Physics Department seminar, January, 2007.

  5. Calvin College Physics Department seminar, October, 2006.

10. “Self-organized Complexity,” Calvin College Mathematics and Biophysics seminar, May, 2001.

9. “Steady State Cosmology as an Example of Fringe Science,” invited talk (co-author with Deborah Becker Haarsma) Calvin College Physics Department, April, 2000.

8. “Circuitry for a far peripheral nonlinear response in ganglion cells,” co-author on invited talk, ARVO, May 1999.

7. “Action potential blockade in the mammalian retina expands the receptive field center,” poster session, ARVO, May 1999.

6. “An Axon-bearing Amacrine Cell Tracer Coupled to the Off Y Ganglion Cell,” poster session, ARVO, May 1999.

5. “Ganglion Cell Types of the Guinea Pig Retina,” poster session, ARVO, May 1999.

4. “Intracellular recording of non-linear light responses in mammalian ganglion cells at photopic levels,” poster session, FASEB, July 1998.

3. “Modulation of single N-type calcium channel kinetics in chick sensory neurons,” invited talk, Tufts University Neuroscience Department, July, 1997.

2. “Biophysical characterization of calcium channels in neuronal membranes,” invited talk, Calvin College Physics Department, March, 1996.

1. “Trapped Positrons for Ion Cooling and Antihydrogen,” contributed talk, American Physical Society General Meeting, April, 1994.


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