Monthly Archives: March 2012

Stem Cell Research May Lead to Epilepsy Treatment

A recent report by William Weir of The Hartford Courant highlighted the efforts of three different research lab groups at Wesleyan that are all working toward the same goal: using stem cells as a possible way to treat epilepsy. The labs are overseen by Laura Grabel, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology; Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior; and Gloster Aaron, assistant professor of biology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior. Their work was profiled in a Wesleyan Connection piece recently, titled: “Future Stem Cell-based Therapies for Treating Epilepsy Explored in 3 Biology Labs”.

Wesleyan Seniors Continue School’s Rockin’ Tradition

A piece in USA Today focuses on Wesleyan’s recent run of turning out bands and individuals who are making names for themselves in popular music.  The article mentions MGMT (Ben Goldwasser ’05, Andrew VanWyngarden ’05; Will Berman ’04), Das Racist (Victor Vasquez ’06, Himanshu Suri ’07), Santigold (Santi White ’97), Amazing Baby (Simon O’Connor ’05), among others, as well as Peace Museum, which features Wesleyan Seniors Casey Feldman ’12, Sky Stallbaumer ’12. Audio clips from the various acts are included with the article

Othon, Taylor Design Molecule to Aid Space Travel Ailments

Christina Othon, assistant professor of physics, and Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, tune the laser frequency for ultrafast spectroscopy experiments in Othon's Lab in Exley Science Center.

During extended space travel, astronauts may experience dramatic health consequences, such as anemia, due to reduced gravity and exposure to space radiation.

To help combat the adverse effects of space ailments, two scientists at Wesleyan are developing new molecules that enhance cells’ ability to tolerate large swings in pressure, fluid redistribution, temperature and radiation exposure.

Christina Othon, assistant professor of physics, and Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, received a $20,000 seed grant from NASA’s Biological and Physical Research Enterprise to work on the project titled “Osmoregulation for Microgravity Environments.”

The scientists are taking inspiration from organisms that thrive in extremely hot, acidic or physically severe conditions. These animals, known as extremophiles, use water-regulating molecules known as osmolytes to combat extremes in temperature, hydration and pressure.

Erika Taylor and Christina Othon. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

By creating chemically modified carbohydrate molecules, the scientists anticipate being able to dramatically alter water dynamics in their newly-designed osmotic molecules. By introducing these new osmolytes near proteins, Othon and Taylor will create a “cage-like environment” around the proteins, eliminating competing hydrogen bonds, and thereby stabilizing the protein structure, even in extreme, anti-gravity environments.

“Ultimately, this could lead to new therapeutic pathways for the deleterious effects of long term space exploration,” Othon says.

Othon, who came to Wesleyan in 2010, worked on similar research at the California Institute of Technology. There, her group discovered a way to alter the movement of water surrounding proteins by adding fluorine. This process made the proteins significantly more stable to chemical and thermal changes.

And at Wesleyan, Taylor is investigating how of sugar molecules attached to a bacterial cell’s surface alter the way the cell interacts with its environment. “In my system, it has been shown that increasing the size of the carbohydrates attached to the surface of a bacterial cell increases the stability of that cell,” Taylor explains.

Since biochemistry and biophysics are closely related disciplines, the cross-department collaboration came naturally for physicist Othon and chemist Taylor. They’re both part of the Molecular Biophysics Program at Wesleyan, an interdepartmental, interdisciplinary program comprised of faculty, postdoctoral research associates, graduate students, and undergraduate students  situated in the departments of chemistry, molecular biology and biochemistry, physics and biology.

“Christina and I have many similar interests in understanding how biological systems work, and my hope is that this collaboration can grow toward a joint investigation of small molecule dynamics at the surface of a cell,” Taylor says.


“Making the Invisible Sun Visible” Topic of March 27 Sturm Lecture

Alan Title, director and senior fellow of the Advanced Technology Center at Lockheed Martin, will speak on "Making the Invisible Sun Visible" during the 2012 Sturm Memorial Lecture at 8 p.m. March 27 in Daniel Family Commons.

Almost all light from the Sun is the visible light that illuminates our days, but human eyes cannot detect the light from the million-degree Solar Corona, which is at short wavelengths.

On March 27 during the 21st annual Sturm Memorial Lecture, solar physicist Alan Title will describe the instrumentation he has helped develop to make the invisible Sun visible and how this has revolutionized our understanding of the Sun. His talk is titled “Making the Invisible Sun Visible.”

The Sturm Memorial Lecture is held in memory of Kenneth E. Sturm ’40. The annual event features a presentation from an astronomer that is outstanding in their field and able to communicate the excitement of science to a lay audience. Title’s lecture begins at 8 p.m. in Daniel Family Commons.

Title is a leader in solar physics and principal investigator of the imager on NASA’s recently launched Solar Dynamics Observatory, an $850-million mission to study the Sun and its influence on the Earth. He works as the director and senior fellow of the Advanced Technology Center at Lockheed Martin, and as a professor of physics at Stanford University.

Title has received numerous awards, including membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the Hale Prize from the American Astronomical Society, a NASA Public Service Award and most recently the American Geophysical Union’s John Adam Fleming Medal for “original research and technical leadership in geomagnetism, atmospheric electricity, aeronomy, space physics, and related sciences.” His work on the magnetic structure of the Sun has been enabled by his groundbreaking designs of instruments that have flown on several generations of space missions.

Wesleyan Thinks Big Launches March 29

Wesleyan Thinks Big will feature fun and exciting faculty presentations.

What would you get if you took the feel of the famous “TED” talks but gave them a distinctly Wesleyan flavor?

Wesleyan Thinks Big.

Wesleyan Thinks Big is a new type of lecture series designed to give audiences presentations by popular faculty in a never-before seen format. According to the event’s website, Wesleyan Thinks Big will feature fun and exciting faculty presentations with no slides, no handouts, and no Moodle. It will be an evening of “six faculty members, nominated by students, delivering nine-minute lectures on topics that excites and inspires the professors, even if it’s not something they talk about in class.”

The event takes place on Thursday, March 29 in Memorial Chapel. It is a free but ticketed event. The inaugural program includes:

“Asceticosmologies: Modern Science as Religious Practice” by Mary-Jane Rubenstein

“Nature vs. Nurture: the Example of Psychosis” by Matthew Kurtz

“States Without Romance” by Richard Adelstein

“The Death of Affirmative Action: Rethinking the Debate” by Leah Wright

“Poor Joshua: Private Space & the Constitution” by John Finn

“An As-of-Yet Untitled Film Talk” by Jeanine Basinger

The event will be moderated by Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth. Tickets are available at the Usdan Box Office beginning March 26.

Conducive Classrooms, Numerical Representation, Lignin Degration are Topics of McNair Fellow Presentations

Wesleyan's 2011-12 McNair Fellows receive guidance, research opportunities and academic and financial support.

Eleven Wesleyan seniors will speak on their undergraduate research projects during the Spring 2012 McNair Fellow Presentation Series March 29 through April 26. The presentations describe the research that students conducted with Wesleyan faculty mentors.

Many of the projects also are the subject of student theses or final papers presented for the Wesleyan B.A. requirements.

The Wesleyan University Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement McNair Program was established in 2007. It assists students from underrepresented groups with preparing for, entering, and progressing successfully through postgraduate education. They are often first generation college students from low-income families, OR African-American, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander, or Native American.

The program provides guidance, research opportunities, and academic and financial support to students planning to pursue Ph.Ds. Junior and Senior Fellows do research with faculty mentors and participate in program activities with the McNair cohort. More than 59 students have participated in the program, 40 of whom were first generation college attendees.

The program provides guidance, research opportunities, and academic and financial support to students planning to pursue Ph.Ds.

“We’re very proud of our graduating fellows,” says Santos Cayetano, administrative director of the McNair Program. “Many of our fellows go on to graduate school and post baccalaureate programs. We welcome the entire Wesleyan community to come hear about their research.”

All talks are at noon in Exley Science Center 109. The schedule is as follows:

March 29
Julia Marroquin-Ceron ’12 will present “Spanish legal translation and interpretation: Wesleyan students and involvement in the greater Middletown community.”

Wesleyan Media Project Already Shaping 2012 News Coverage

Erika Franklin Fowler is co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Much like the primaries for both sides in 2008, this race looks to continue its jockeying right into June. But through it there is one resource that provides some clarity, at least when it comes to the money being spent on campaign ads: The Wesleyan Media Project.

Created in 2010, The Wesleyan Media Project is a nonpartisan, academically-based effort designed to television track advertising in all federal elections. It is directed by Erika Franklin Fowler, assistant professor of government. The co-directors include Michael Franz, associate professor of government at Bowdoin College, and Travis Ridout, associate professor of political science at Washington State University.

Adelstein Explores the History of Corporate Power in New Book

Richard Adelstein, the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics, presents an original theory of the rise of business firms in his new book.

The influence and power wielded by large corporations in our country has never been more pronounced than it is today. But how did we get here? In a new book published this month (March 27), Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics Richard Adelstein explores the remarkable transformation undergone by business in the U.S. over the half-century following the Civil War—from small sole proprietorships and partnerships to massive corporations possessing many of the same constitutional rights as living men and women. Approaching this story through historical, philosophical, legal and economic lenses, Adelstein presents an original, three-pronged theory of the rise of business firms.

In The Rise of Planning in Industrial America, 1865-1914 (Routledge), Adelstein traces the big business boom to three historic developments: a major managerial achievement within the firms themselves; an ill-conceived and ill-timed attempt by legislators to rein in rapidly expanding firms; and the Supreme Court’s understated—but immensely consequential—decision granting constitutional rights to corporations separate from those of their owners.

The first of the three developments refers to the unprecedented emergence following the Civil War of industrial giants demonstrating successful, consensual central planning at a large scale. For the first time in history, thousands of men and women were organized to work toward large-scale production for the common goal of profit maximization. Previously, only military generals and a few slave masters had succeeded in purposefully coordinating the efforts and interactions of hundreds or thousands of individuals toward a single purpose.

In the 1880s, as the efficiencies brought by large-scale production drove down prices, firms in dozens of industries organized in trade associations, cartels and trusts to keep prices up, output down and marketing territories protected. An anti-monopoly campaign was initiated, but by the time the federal Sherman Act was enacted in 1890, many of the trusts and cartels had already collapsed under their own weight, releasing their small member firms back into the competitive sea. Some of these firms continued to grow much larger by acquiring suppliers and distributors to ensure a steady flow of materials in and product out of their enormous facilities. Consequently, the Sherman Act was of little use in a fight against bigness, which Adelstein argues was the more important problem posed by the great firms, and which only began to become clear to Americans after 1890.

Building a National Museum Topic of CAAS Distinguished Lecture April 4

Historian and author Lonnie Bunch will deliver the Center for African American Studies' 18th Annual Distinguished Lecture on April 4.

What are the challenges of building a national museum? Lonnie G. Bunch III, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, will speak on this topic during the Center for African American Studies’ 18th Annual Distinguished Lecture. The event takes place at 8 p.m. April 4 in Beckham Hall. A reception will follow.

Bunch, a historian, author, curator and educator, is the founding director of the national museum. In this position he is working to set the museum’s mission, coordinate its fundraising and membership campaigns, develop its collections, establish cultural partnerships and oversee the design and construction of the museum’s building. Rooted in his belief that the museum exists now although the building is not in place, he is designing a high-profile program of traveling exhibitions and public events ranging from panel discussions and seminars to oral history and collecting workshops.

“I have known Lonnie Bunch for many years, but the most important reason the African American Studies Program selected him as this year’s Distinguished Lecture speaker is because of his immeasurable accomplishments as a historian, curator, and educator and his scholarly publications and contributions to the field of African American studies,” says Alex Dupuy, the John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology, chair of the African American Studies Program. “It is impossible to overestimate the significance of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture for our nation as a whole, and of Mr. Bunch’s role in its construction. His lecture on ‘The Challenge of Building a National Museum’ will give Wesleyan a unique opportunity to hear and learn directly from the Museum’s founding director and his work in its mission, design, contents, fundraising, and partnerships from the ground up.”

The museum, the 19th to open as part of the Smithsonian Institution, will be built on the national Mall where Smithsonian museums attracted morethan 24 million visitors in 2005. It will stand on a five-acre site adjacent to the Washington Monument and opposite the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

As a public historian, a scholar who brings history to the people, Bunch has spent nearly 30 years in the museum field where he is regarded as one of the nation’s leading figures in the historical and museum community.

Justice Scalia Delivers Defense of Originalism at Hugo Black Lecture

Antonin Scalia, associate justice of the U.S Supreme Court, delivered the 21st Hugo Black Lecture on Freedom of Expression March 8 in Memorial Chapel.

An originalist approach to interpreting the Constitution may not be perfect, but it’s “the only game in town,” was the message from U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia when he delivered the annual Hugo L. Black Lecture on Freedom of Expression at Wesleyan on March 8.

“Do you think that judges—that is to say, lawyers—are better at the science of what ought to be than the science of history? I don’t think so,” Scalia told a packed crowd in Memorial Chapel. “The reality is that originalism is the only game in town; the only real verifiable criteria that can prevent judges from reading the Constitution to say whatever they think it should say. Show Scalia the original meaning, and he is prevented from imposing his nasty conservative views upon the people. […]

Sultan Elected to Connecticut’s Academy of Science and Engineering

Sonia Sultan

Sonia Sultan, chair and professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, has been elected to the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering. Sultan, an evolutionary biologist, joins 39 other Connecticut experts in science, engineering and technology to membership in the Academy this year. Four other Wesleyan faculty are already members of the Academy.

Election to the Academy, according to the CASE web site, is based on scientific and engineering distinction achieved through significant contributions in theory or applications, as demonstrated by original published books and papers, patents, the pioneering of new and developing fields and innovative products, outstanding leadership of nationally recognized technical teams, and external professional awards in recognition of scientific and engineering excellence.

“I am certainly honored to have been elected, and to become part of an organization that includes researchers I admire very deeply, such as Wesleyan’s Laura Grabel, Michael Donoghue at Yale (a major plant evolutionary biologist), and Robin Chazdon at the University of Connecticut (a distinguished tropical ecologist who was also elected this year),” she says.

The Sultan Lab’s recent work has addressed several timely aspects of plant evolutionary ecology,

H.F. Guggenheim Supports Teter’s Research on Blood Libel, Papal Power

Magda Teter, the Jeremy Zwelling Associate Professor of Jewish Studies, received a 2012-13 Harry Frank Guggenheim Fellowship.

As a 2012-13 Harry Frank Guggenheim Fellow, Magda Teter, the Jeremy Zwelling Professor of Jewish Studies, will narrate the cultural, social and political connections between Italy—center of papal power, and Poland—home to the largest Jewish community in the world, in her new book, The Pope’s Dilemma: Blood Libel and the Boundaries of Papal Power.

Teter, who also is chair and professor of medieval studies, professor of history, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, will take a full year leave on sabbatical to work on the book. Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation sponsors scholarly research on problems of violence, aggression and dominance. The award will support Teter’s travel and research expenses to the Vatican and Poland.

The Pope’s Dilemma takes the familiar story of blood libel against Jews to tell a much broader story of religion and politics in Europe, demonstrating that the persistence of the ‘blood libel’ illuminates the reach, and also the limits, of papal authority in coping with local powers – a topic of significant interest even today, in light of the sex abuse scandals,” Teter says.

Among the vivid characters in these compelling stories are popes, bishops,