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Cassandra Miller-Butterworth teaches a biology class.

Most of the Penn State Beaver community knows Dr. Cassandra Miller-­Butterworth as a biology professor. But there’s more to her than meets the eye.

Miller-Butterworth, assistant professor of biology, joined the Penn State Beaver faculty in 2008. Before coming to the United States in 2004, she lived in South Africa.

“I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. I later moved to Cape Town and went to the University of Cape Town,” Miller-Butterworth said in her distinctive accent.

While living in South Africa, Miller-Butterworth said she developed an interest in wildlife and, in particular, bats.

“I got my bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in zoology,” Miller-Butterworth said. “I’ve studied wildlife since I started my master’s degree in 1997.”

In addition to teaching, she works with the Pennsylvania Game Commission by researching bats. “I’m doing research on conservation genetics, which involves using DNA-based techniques to study wildlife,” she said. She went on to explain that there are several applications for the use of conservation genetics, such as studying the structure of populations and genetic diversity and identifying new species.

“My Ph.D. research was on a South African species of bat, and my postdoctoral work was on monkeys, particularly the macaques. I now work on several species of bats, particularly the species in Pennsylvania that are being killed by the fungus that causes White Nose Syndrome.”

White Nose Syndrome is a mysterious disease that is killing off more than 75 percent of bats in colonies, Miller-Butterworth said.

She is working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission to determine where the fungus will strike next, because it is affecting the state's little brown bat population.

Miller-Butterworth recently collaborated with her colleagues in biology and engineering on a student project to design, build and install bat houses on campus. The bat houses are intended to serve as summer roosts and maternity shelters for mother bats raising their young, and should help the faculty and students to further their research on bats.

Students help Miller-Butterworth with her research. Joel Rosenstern said doing research with Miller-Butterworth is a great opportunity for him because it pertains to his major.

“My major is veterinary biomedical sciences, so a project focused on animals and studying their genetic variability is something that is indeed useful for me,” Rosenstern said.

He is helping Miller-Butterworth in her research of the little brown bats.

“My role in this research project is to extract mitochondrial DNA and determine how genetically variable the little brown bat species is, and if White Nose Syndrome will cause a bottleneck effect, which is when a species loses more genetic diversity, potentially changing or even killing off an entire species,” Rosenstern said.

Melissa Schultz spent a year as Miller-Butterworth's research assistant, helping her with genetic research for the Pittsburgh Aviary on the Louisiana water thrush, a species of small bird.

“The goal was to extract DNA from the feathers and analyze it to determine the sex of the bird,” Schultz said. According to Schultz, doing this would help scientists gain a better understanding of breeding rituals in that species.


Ph.D. in Zoology
University of Cape Town, South Africa

Bachelor of Science Honours in Zoology (Post-Graduate)
University of Cape Town, South Africa

Bachelor of Science in Zoology
University of Cape Town, South Africa