Samuel Hammer

hammer-1-inch-1Associate Professor of Natural Sciences & Mathematics


BA Anthropology, Grinnell College
MA Counseling, DePaul University
MA Biology, San Francisco State University
PhD Biology, Harvard University

Research interests: Science and nature, botany, history, arts

My passion is communicating about science, especially biodiversity and evolution, to non-scientists. I therefore count myself to be very lucky to be at the College of General Studies, where the opportunity to introduce students to the wonders of biology is always a healthy challenge.

I would like to see more science documentation by students, something that they could apply to a potential career in science journalism, for example. To that end, I taught a guided research project this past semester in which students produced short videos about scientific problems. The results were impressive, and we had a lot of fun besides.

I was recently invited to appear on WGBH Television to talk about environmental issues on the Greater Boston show—another good opportunity to communicate about science.

I did a five-year project with the National Science Foundation that featured all-expense paid botanical field trips during the summer for CGS students. The program gave me a great opportunity to show students how we do science “down and dirty” in the field and at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Student participants in the project did independent research and presented their results at the Boston University UROP symposium each year.

My own research specialty is lichen taxonomy. There are two major foci to my research. Part of my work is the discovery, naming, and classification of new species. I recently finished several field seasons in Australia, New Zealand, and New Caledonia, in which I named about 20 new species and a few new genera as well. Exciting stuff!

Electron micrograph of a panno lichen

Electron micrograph of a panno lichen

I am also a specialist in a field that I more or less invented—lichen morphogenesis, which means how lichens get their particular shapes. The photographs on this page are close-up images of lichens taken with the electron microscope. I got interested in how lichens get their shape when, as a graduate student at Harvard, people insisted that they were boring, amorphous organisms. My scientific mission has been to demonstrate the misapprehension behind that prejudice.

Selected publications:

  • 2001. “Additions to the lichen family Cladoniaceae in Australia.” The Bryologist 104: 560–575.
  • 2001. “Enhancing biological understanding through undergraduate field research.” The Journal of General Education 50: 192–201.
  • 2001. “Growth dynamics and the taxonomic status of Cladonia leporina.” Rhodora 103: 405–415.
  • 2001. “Lateral growth patterns in the Cladoniaceae.” American Journal of Botany 88 (5): 788–796.
  • 2001. “A new Cladonia from California.” The Bryologist 104: 226–229.
  • 2001. “Variability and ontogenetic process in Cladonia pertricosa.” Australasian Lichenology 48: 10–15.
  • 2001. “Development in Thysanothecium scutellatum (Cladoniaceae: Ascomycotina).” Bibliotheca Lichenologica 78: 75–83.