Hancock Biological Station

The Hancock Biological Station (HBS) on Kentucky Lake is a year-round facility with a mission of providing scientists with a base of operation for a wide variety of field research and presenting students with opportunities for field-oriented classes, individualized instruction and independent research. Researchers and students benefit from close interactions with researchers, laboratory facilities, field and lake sites, and a strong academic environment.

HBS is located on the shores of Kentucky Lake in western Kentucky, sixteen miles from Murray, Kentucky, and within three hours drive of a number of major metropolitan areas including St. Louis, Nashville, Memphis, and Louisville. The region is diverse in aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Western Kentucky has one of the largest densities of major rivers and reservoirs of any region in the world. Kentucky and Barkley Lakes, ponds and streams are in close proximity. Kentucky Lake is one of the largest reservoirs in the United States (187 miles long) and is joined by a canal to Lake Barkley; together they have 3700 miles of shoreline and 250,000 surface acres. Additional nearby areas for aquatic study include the Cumberland River, Tennessee River, Ohio River, Mississippi River, Reelfoot Lake, and the cypress swamps of Murphy's Pond. The Land-Between-the-Lakes (LBL) National Recreation Area managed by the US Forest service contains nearly 400 square miles of terrestrial habitats.

HBS Facilities 

Natural Resources

The Station grounds contain over 70 acres of relatively little disturbed woodlands bounded by State and Federal lands. Scientists and students also have access to 172,500 acres of mixed mesophytic woodlands, old fields, and grasslands in the US Forest Service's Land-Between-the-Lakes Natural Recreation Area including experimental watersheds. Additional opportunities exist nearby for the study of environmental impacts of wetland restoration, agriculture, strip mining, petrochemical processing, shipping and electricity generation.

There are ample opportunities for recreation at or near the Station including swimming, sailing, canoeing, fishing, horseback riding, hiking and camping.

The Biological Station and the Land-Between-the-Lakes (LBL) have been designated as an Experimental Ecological Reserve by the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Ecology. As an Experimental Ecological Reserve, the Station and LBL have been identified as an important natural system for long-term ecological research. Interaction among scientists is intended to develop collaborative and integrated research on the terrestrial and aquatic systems of Station and LBL sites.

LBL has been designated as a US Man and the Biosphere reserve by UNESCO, further enhancing the region's teaching and research resources.

Research Environment

The Station provides an excellent base for year-round research in aquatic and terrestrial biology. Visiting scientists and graduate student investigators are encouraged to utilize the Station. Laboratory space, offices and a wide variety of equipment are available for research at the Station. There is a large covered dock on Kentucky Lake equipped with specimen holding and processing rooms. The Station maintains three pontoon boats, workboats with motors and trailers, canoes, and the Surveyor I, a 23-foot SeaArk research vessel.

The main building contains 13,000 sq. ft. as research laboratories, classrooms, office space, kitchen/dining area, computer room, and library. Construction of a research glasshouse/mesocosm facility was completed in 2002 through funds provided by the National Science Foundation. The new Resource Building was completed in 2003 with NSF support and provides additional research and classroom space, a fabrication shop, dive support, and herbarium facilities.

Equipment Available

Equipment available for field research and teaching includes such items as four-wheel drive vehicles, traps, various nets, water samplers, seines, portable fish shockers, and camping equipment. Laboratory equipment includes a new JEOL scanning electron microscope, balances, teaching and research grade microscopes, spectrophotometers, organic carbon analyzer, CHNS/O analyzer, gas chromatograph, ion chromatograph, fluorometers, flow injection analyzer, photometers, particle counter, autoclave, water baths, incubators, drying ovens, dissolved oxygen meters, pH meters, liquid scintillation counter, and facilities for radiotracer and microbial studies. A stable isotope mass spectrometer is now available. Special research items may need to be supplied by individual investigators, and their availability should be determined ahead of time. Fees for the use of space, facilities, boats, and housing are reasonable, and fee schedules may be obtained from the Station Director.

Biological Collections

Several outstanding collections of flora and fauna of western Kentucky are maintained by the Department of Biological Sciences. Over 19,000 plant specimens are available in the Purchase Area Herbarium as well as in the HBS herbarium . The zoological museum contains more than 200 amphibians and reptiles species and extensive collections of mammal skins and skulls. Fish and invertebrate collections are maintained at the Biological Station.


Summer Program

Program Description

Field courses: Courses in the summer session are designed to provide in-depth and concentrated study of biological topics. Because we promote close faculty-student interactions, enrollments are often limited, and some courses fill quickly. Therefore, early application is encouraged.

Students may take 2 courses in the regular 5-week session or 1 course in the short 2-week session. Students should indicate the first and second course choices for each session, but all efforts will be made to place students in desired courses. A maximum of 8 semester hours can be earned in the regular summer session. Students planning to take research credits must make arrangements with and have approval of a summer or MSU faculty member prior to enrollment.

Admissions: Graduates, undergraduates, postgraduates, and others interested in field biology are encouraged to apply for admission to the summer program. Courses at the Hancock Biological Station are considered part of the summer session of Murray State University and may be taken for undergraduate or graduate credit. Students must register through the University. Tuition remains among the lowest of any biological station in the country. Credit hour fees are the same as for courses taken on campus. Students from the Tennessee counties of Obion, Weakley, Henry, and Stewart are considered in-state and pay the same tuition as Kentucky residents. Students from universities other than Murray State planning to transfer credits for courses taken at the Station should obtain approval in advance from their home institutions.

Undergraduates should have had at least two previous courses in college level biology. Students wishing to apply credits earned in Station courses toward degrees at Murray State University must be admitted to the University prior to enrollment. Application forms for admission to the graduate program may be obtained here or from the Graduate Coordinator, Department of Biological Sciences, Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky 42071.

Station Use Fees: Station housing fees are reduced for those students residing through a session. Fee schedules for non-class use of boats, other major equipment items, living space, and laboratory space are available upon request from the station administrator.


Summer fellowships are available through the Ecological Consortium of Mid-America for students from member institutions.  The Biological Station awards a limited number of summer fellowships for summer students.  All awards are made on a competitive basis.  Information on fellowships can be obtained by contacting the Station.  Students living at the Station and willing to work 5 hours per week will have the lodging fee waived.   

Summer Program Housing

Housing is available in the student cabins on a first come first serve basis at $5.00 per night ($100 for 5-week summer session).  for more information about lodging in the cabins.

Meals are not provided, but student residents usually form a cooperative and prepare their own meals in the Station kitchen. Camping sites are available adjacent to the Station for those who wish to bring tents or trailers. Camping and fires are not allowed on the Station property.

Lodging and board are available on the Murray State University campus 15 miles from the Station. Information on campus housing may be obtained by contacting the Housing Office at MSU Campus Housing or by calling (270) 809-2310.