The Harden Lab at Benedictine University conducts integrative ecological research on reptiles and amphibians. Our lab’s central research questions revolve around of how these organisms function and interact with their increasingly modified environment, by studying them on a physiological, behavioral, and spatial/temporal level. We use field-based and laboratory-based approaches to investigate how abiotic factors influence the physiology, behavior, and habitat preferences of these ectothermic vertebrates, with applications to their conservation and management.

The Harden Lab is a community-oriented lab and we aim to create an environment that is supportive, safe, diverse, and inclusive for all members. Students are encouraged to lean into their own creativity and curiosity  to develop unique scientific questions about the natural world that they want to answer.


June 2023: Our collaborative study with the Milanovich Lab on Home Ranges of Ornate Box Turtles in Remnant Prairies in North-central Illinois was published in Reptiles & Amphibians.

May 2023: Harden Lab students Aymun Khan ’23 and Samreen Hussain ’23 win Benedictine University Seniors Awards, Benedictine Hallmark Award and Benedictine Service Award, respectively.

April 2023: Students Aymun Khan, Rachel Cepolski, and Nick Musick present their environmental education (EEAI) projects at the Environmental Education Association of Illinois Conference in Moline IL: Macroinvertebrate Ecology Sampling and Surveying (M.E.S.S.) Project; Rebounding Blanding’s: Conservation-Based Outreach and Education.

Nick Musick ’23 wins the Student Environmental Educator of the Year Award at the 2023 at this EEAI conference!

The Harden Lab and Jurica Suchy Nature Museum are awarded an Environmental Education Association of Illinois’ mini-grant for $350 for their project: E.C.O. Field Pack Project.

March 2023: Our collaborative study with Armand Cann ’21 and the Milanovich Lab on the Spatial and thermal ecology of juvenile head-started Blanding’s turtles Emydoidea blandingii was published in Wildlife Biology.

October 2022: Dannah Medina presented her PUMA-STEM research poster Investigating the Use of Flame Atomic Absorption Spectrometry to Measure Trace Metals in Freshwater Turtle Blood. Louis Stokes Midwest Regional Center of Excellence (LSMRCE) Symposium in Schaumburg, IL.

September 2022: Maddie Russelburg ’24 joins the Harden Lab and is focusing her research on Validating the Use of Bacterial Killing Assays to Investigate Immune Health of Spotted Turtles Living in Contaminated Environments.

Yumnah Khan ’23 and Samreen Hussain ’23 join the Harden Lab and are focusing their research projects on Prevalence of Haemogregarine Parasites in Freshwater Painted Turtles Inhabiting Lake St. Benedict.

June 2022: Rachel Cepolski ’25 joins the Harden Lab and is focusing her research on spatiotemporal macroinvertebrate diversity in Lake St. Benedict.

Dannah Medina ’22 joins the Harden Lab as a PUMA-STEM (Promotion of Underrepresented Minorities in Academic STEM) summer research student and is focusing her research on Investigating the Use of Flame Atomic Absorption Spectrometry to Measure Trace Metals in Freshwater Turtle Blood.

April 2022: The Harden Lab and Jurica Suchy Nature Museum are awarded an Environmental Education Association of Illinois’ mini-grant for $350 for their project: Macroinvertebrate Ecology Sampling & Surveying Project (MESS Project).

November 2021: the Harden Lab and Milanovich Lab are awarded $30,000 from Northern Indiana Public Service Company for the proposal: Examining the habitat use, home range, hibernacula, nesting, and thermal ecology of spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata) in and adjacent to Northern Indiana Public Service Company Property in Northwestern Indiana.

September 2021: Rebecca Weber ’20 and Armand Cann ’21 (Loyola UC Milanovich Lab MS student) publish our collaborative paper in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology on the Physiological Health and Survival of Captive-reared and Released Juvenile Blanding’s Turtles!

May 2021: Allison Dickman ’21 graduates and receives the Biology Department’s senior research award for her excellence in undergraduate biological research.

April 2021: Dr. Harden win’s the 2021 Benedictine University Research Award thanks to her supportive colleagues, collaborators and former students!

February 2021: Macy Andlinger ’20 was accepted to University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and will start in Fall 2021!

January 2021: Nick Musick joins the Harden Lab and continues the lab’s long term capture-mark-recapture study investigating turtle populations on campus!

December 2020: Elena Garza ’20 graduates and is awarded the Rising Star award for outstanding graduating seniors.

August 2020: The Harden Lab (co-PI), Milanovich Lab (PI), and Cardno Environmental (Brock Struecker, co-PI) received an $80,000 two-year grant from IN DNR and US FWS to conduct surveys for endangered copperbelly water snakes (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta) in northern Indiana.

June 2020: Allie Dickman ’21 joins the lab this summer as part of the NSSRP program to investigate diving behavior in estuarine turtles with implications for population-level visual assessments via encounter surveys.

May 2020: Rebecca Weber ’20 and Alex Karwowska ’20 were both awarded university-wide senior awards! Rebecca was awarded the Procopian Award, the highest honor at BenU, for her consistent outstanding curricular and extra-curricular activities. Alex was awarded the Thomas J. Dyba Leadership Award for her outstanding ability to initiate and organize worthwhile activities, to encourage and direct the cooperative efforts of others and to command respect as a campus leader. Congrats to Rebecca and Alex! Rebecca is headed to Governor’s State University to pursue a Master’s in Biology and Alex is heading to Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine!

November 2019: Rebecca Weber was nominated as Benedictine University’s 2019 Lincoln Academy of Illinois Student Laureate. Rebecca, her mom, and Dr. Harden traveled down to the Old State Capitol in Springfield IL on Nov. 16th to attend the beautiful induction ceremony!

October 2019: Elena Garza presents her research entitled: “Adapting a Commercially Available Enzyme Immunoassay to Measure Corticosterone in Turtle Serum” at the Louis Stokes Midwest Regional Center of Excellence conference in Indianapolis, IN.

September 2019: Rama Alzein and Yasmeen Ahmad join the Harden Lab! Their collaborative research project focuses on comparing the physiological health of captive-reared hatchlings at various head-starting program sites across the Chicago region.

August 2019: Congrats to Harden Lab’s Rebecca Weber and Elizabeth Kvitek for winning this summer’s Outstanding Group Presentation for the BenU 2019 Natural Science Summer Research Program!

July 2019: Rebecca Weber presents her collaborative research project on the hematological health of captive-reared Blanding’s turtles at the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in Utah! This research is a collaboration with the DuPage Forest Preserve, The Milanovich Lab, and Benedictine University.

May 2019: Junior pre-vet student Elena Garza joins the lab! Welcome!

May 2019: Dr. Harden, her former PhD advisor Dr. Amanda Williard, and Steve Midway (LSU) publish their experimental research on the effects of temperature and salinity on the physiology of diamondback terrapins (PDF) in Journal of Experimental Biology and win the journal cover photo!

April 2019: Harden Lab junior Rebecca Weber wins the American Physiological Society Local Undergraduate Research Award (LURAP) at the 2019 Assoc. Colleges of Chicago Area (ACCA) Student Symposium for her research on the physiological health of captive-reared Blanding’s turtles!

November 2018: Dr. Harden and her former PhD advisor Dr. Amanda Williard publish a book chapter in Ecology and Conservation of the Diamond-backed Terrapin entitled: Osmoregulation of Diamond-backed Terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin).

October 2018: The Harden Lab in collaboration with the Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum , DuPage Forest Preserve, and Cosley Zoo host the first annual Discovery Day event: Life in a Pond: The Science of Turtles!

August 2018: Congrats to Harden Lab’s Rebecca Weber and Macy Andlinger for winning this summer’s Outstanding Group Presentation for the BenU 2018 Natural Science Summer Research Program!

August 2018: Harden Lab alum Tim Benjamin publishes his first paper (as first author no less!) in Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology (PDF) along with Dr. Harden, Steve Midway (LSU) , Rebecka Brasso (Weber State), and Dan Thompson (DuPage Forest Preserve)! Congrats, Tim!

July 2018: Dr. Harden, Steve Midway (LSU) and The Milanovich Lab publish their research on ornate box turtle seasonal physiology in Journal of Wildlife Diseases (PDF)!

May 2018: Congratulations to lab members Tim Benjamin and Sumaiya Shahjahan on their graduation from BenU! Tim has taken as job as a Natural Areas Maintenance Technician at Integrated Lakes Management in West Chicago and Sumaiya is applying to medical school!

April 2018: Lab students presented their research at BenU’s Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Arts (URSA) conference as well as at the Associated Colleges of the Chicago Area undergraduate research symposium.

February 2018: Dr. Harden and the Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum are awarded a Chicago Herpetological Society grant entitled: Rebounding Blanding’s: Conservation-Based Outreach and Education!

January 2018: Lab student Tim Benjamin presents his research investigating Hg levels in endangered, adult Blanding’s turtles at the 2018 Midwest Fish & Wildlife Conference.

October 2017: Lab students Alex Karwowska, Sumaiya Shahjahan, and Tim Benjamin present their summer research on Blanding’s turtles at the BenU College of Science Open House.

September 2017: Rebecca Weber, a sophomore at BenU, joins the Harden Lab!

May 2017: The Harden Lab’s collaborative Blanding’s turtle research with the Milanovich Lab and the Forest Preserve District of DuPage Co. is featured in the Daily Herald and NCTV17!

April 2017: The Harden Lab is featured in the Spring Edition of Voices, a BenU publication.

January 2017: Dr. Harden, Dr. Milanovich, Brock Struecker, and Stan Warcholek published their research on Ornate box turtle hibernacula in Wildlife Biology (PDF)!