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Wesleyan’s Pre-College Access Program Wraps Up Summer Program

Seventy-nine high school students attended the summer session of Wesleyan’s Pre-College Access Program. (Photo by Cybele Moon)

This summer, high school students from Middletown and surrounding areas were immersed in college life, often collaborating with faculty and staff across campus, during the summer session of Wesleyan’s Pre-College Access Program. From an overnight stay on campus, to a field trip to Philadelphia to visit colleges, opportunities to get a feel for college life were plenty.

Wesleyan University’s Pre-College Access Program is application-based and is developed to enhance the academic skills and preparation of talented high school students who have an interest in pursuing higher education.

“Our programs tailor to low-income and first-generation college students,” explained Miguel Peralta, director of Pre-College Access Programs and Upward Bound Math-Science at Wesleyan. “Two-thirds of our participants are both.”

Serving 79 students from Middletown, Meriden and New Britain and running from June 22 to Aug. 1, the Pre-College Access Program is made possible by the federally funded TRIO program and designed to strengthen the math and science skills of high school students from Meriden and New Britain. Middletown students are served by Wesleyan funds and private foundations.

Hughes, Leiman-Sifry Research Published in Astrophysical Journal, Nature

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, is the co-author of “Debris Disks in the Scorpius-Centaurus OB Association Resolved by Alma,” published in The Astrophysical Journal, Vo. 828, No. 1. Jesse Lieman-Sifry ’15 also is a co-author of the article.

In addition, the international weekly journal of science Nature mentioned the article in a Sept. 8 publication.

The co-authors explored the idea of carbon-monoxide potentially being in large-star disks. As explained in her abstract, “Stars twice the size of the sun can feature carbon-monoxide-rich gas disks around them, contrary to the expectation that ultraviolet radiation would have stripped away the gas.”

Hughes used the “Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in northern Chile to probe the regions around 24 young star systems, only about 5 million to 10 million years old. They chose stars surrounded by a disk of dust debris—resembling a scaled-up version of the Solar System’s Kuiper belt—this leftover material could form new planets, including gas giants.

In conclusion, the researchers noted that three of the larger stars in the sample had strong carbon monoxide emissions.

Astronomy Department Celebrates Observatory Centennial with Conference, Reception

On June 16, the Astronomy Department hosted the Van Vleck Observatory Centennial Symposium: A Celebration of Astronomy at Wesleyan University. Wesleyan’s observatory has been celebrating its centennial during the 2015-16 academic year, with a series of events and an exhibition, “Under Connecticut Skies.”

The symposium was co-sponsored by the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford (ASGH), and held in conjunction with StarConn.

The exhibition was spearheaded by Roy Kilgard, support astronomer and research associate professor of astronomy, and Amrys Williams, visiting assistant professor of history. At the meeting, they discussed the exhibition, which was developed by a team of faculty, students and staff using the observatory’s extensive collection of scientific instruments, teaching materials, photographs, drawings and correspondence to illustrate the changes in astronomical research and teaching over the past century. Located in Van Vleck’s library, the exhibition is semi-permanent and open to the public for viewing when the building is open.

In addition, University Archivist Leith Johnson created an exhibition in Olin Library titled, “A Stellar Education: Astronomy at Wesleyan, 1831-1916.” It is available for viewing through October.

The day-long event included guests speakers discussing topics in the full range of professional and amateur astronomy. Talks were given by many members of Wesleyan’s astronomy department and other departments, past and present.

The event concluded with a gala reception and re-dedication ceremony of the Van Vleck Observatory. Guests viewed the restored 20-inch refractor telescope.

Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, was honored for his contributions to the Astronomy Department. Herbst and Seth Redfield also discussed “Stellar Astronomy and the Perkin Telescope" during the conference.

Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, was honored for his contributions to the Astronomy Department. Herbst and Seth Redfield also discussed “Stellar Astronomy and the Perkin Telescope” during the conference.

Wesleyan Hosts Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

More than 200 women undergraduates from the North East who are majoring in physics attended the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP)

Attendees from the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics gathered for a group photo. Wesleyan is the first liberal arts college to host a CUWiP.  Pictured in red at far left, assistant professor Chris Othon, and pictured at far right, assistant professor Meredith Hughes co-organized the conference at Wesleyan.

More than 200 women undergraduates from the Northeast attended the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) Jan. 15-17 at Wesleyan. Wesleyan was one of nine institutions from around the country to host a conference. (View an extensive recap of the conference starting on Page 8 of this APS newsletter.)

The APS CUWiP provides female physics majors with the opportunity to experience a professional conference, information about graduate school and professions in physics, and access to other women in physics with whom they can share experiences, advice and ideas.

The program included panel discussions about graduate school and careers in physics, presentations and discussions about women in physics, laboratory tours, student research talks, a student poster session, banquet and career fair.

Flaherty to Speak on New Planetary Systems during AAAS Annual Meeting

Kevin Flaherty, a postdoctoral researcher working with Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, will speak on “Dusty Debris as a Window into New Planetary Systems” during the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) 2016 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., Feb. 13. Flaherty is one of three symposium speakers who will discuss the theme “Planet Formation Seen with Radio Eyes.”

Scientists are now probing how, where, and when planets form and are analyzing the links between planetary system architecture and the properties of the parent circumstellar disk. Though the relationship of planetary to stellar masses remains obscure, it is clear that most stars host planets. This symposium describes the state-of-the-art radio-wavelength observing campaigns astronomers are using to probe planet formation and samples new scientific results that radio telescopes are yielding.

After planetary systems form, small bodies analogous to Kuiper Belt Objects collide and produce dusty debris that can be seen around distant stars with radio interferometers. The structure of such debris disks is intimately connected with the dynamics of young planetary systems. In his presentation, Flaherty will describe how recent spectacular Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array observations of debris disks are revealing the properties of emerging planetary systems and the processes by which they form and evolve.

Hughes Recipient of 2015 Bok Prize for Astronomy

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes

For her outstanding contributions to Milky Way research by observational methods, Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, received the 2015 Bok Prize in Astronomy from Harvard University.

The prize, named in honor of Astronomer Bart Bok (1906–1983), is awarded to a recent holder of a PhD degree in the physical sciences from Harvard or Radcliffe who is under 35 years of age. Hughes received her PhD from Harvard in 2010, and a MA in astronomy from Harvard in 2007.

Hughes is an expert on planet formation, circumstellar disk structure and dynamics, gas and dust disk evolution and radio astronomy. She studies planet formation by observing the gas and dust in the disks around young stars, mostly using (sub)millimeter interferometers.

At Wesleyan, she teaches the courses Observational Astronomy, Radio Astronomy, Introductory Astronomy and Pedagogy Seminar.

She’s also the 2015 faculty advisor for the Wesleyan Women in Science organization (WesWIS) and serves on the American Astronomical Society Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy and acts as the liaison between CSWA and the Working Group on LGBTIQ Equality.

Petit Family Foundation Supports Women in Physics Conference

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). Pictured, from left is Kimberly Petit, Chris Othon, William Petit and Meredith Hughes.

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). Pictured, from left is Kimberly Petit, Chris Othon, William Petit and Meredith Hughes.

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). The three-day conference, scheduled for January 15-17, 2016, will showcase career opportunities available to physicists through plenary talks, panel discussions and a career fair. Attendees will have the opportunity to network and interact with more than 200 fellow undergraduate women physicists as well as a variety of industrial and academic leaders.

Chris Othon, assistant professor of physics, and Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, are co-organizing the conference with help from Nisha Grewal ’17 (physics/economics) and Julia Zachary ’17 (physics/astronomy). The group is planning a career fair representing regional technology companies and graduate physics programs.

The 2016 CUWiP will be held at nine different sites including Wesleyan, Black Hills State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Old Dominion University – Jefferson Laboratory, Ohio State University, Oregon State University, Syracuse University, the University of California – San Diego, and the University of Texas – San Antonio. For more information visit the CUWiP website.

Graduate Student Factor Studies Planet Formation Around a Young Star

Sam Factor, a graduate student in astronomy, at the Submillimeter Array, located on Mauna Kea in Hawai'i in March 2015.

Sam Factor, a graduate student in astronomy, at the Submillimeter Array, located on Mauna Kea in Hawai’i in March 2015.

#THISISWHY
In this News @ Wesleyan story, we speak with Sam Factor ’14, a graduate student in astronomy.

Q: Sam, congratulations on completing your master’s thesis in astronomy! We understand you took your first astronomy class in the fall of your senior year at Wesleyan. What was your undergraduate major and how did your late-developing interest in astronomy come about?

A: Thank you very much! As an undergrad, I majored in physics and computer science. During the fall of my senior year I took Introductory Astronomy (ASTR 155). I signed up for the course mainly because I wanted an interesting and relatively easy course to fill out my schedule. I had been interested in astronomy since I was very young, but had never taken a formal class. I absolutely loved the class and decided to apply to the BA/MA program.

Q: How and when did you decide to stay on at Wesleyan to pursue a master’s degree in astronomy?

A: I actually decided to apply to the BA/MA program only a few weeks before the application was due!

Astronomy Department Awarded Grants for Research

Seth Redfield, astronomy professor of astronomy, campus director of the NASA CT Space Grant Consortium, reports that several students and faculty have recently been awarded grants for their research in astronomy.  Photo c/o Redfield

Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, campus director of the NASA CT Space Grant Consortium, reports that several students and faculty have recently been awarded grants for their research in astronomy. (Photo c/o Redfield)

Several Wesleyan students and faculty were recently awarded grants for research by NASA’s Connecticut Space Grant Program. Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy and campus director of NASA’s CT Space Grant Consortium, was excited about the number of winners.

“I was thrilled to see how successful Wesleyan was this year in getting grants through NASA’s CT Space Grant program,” wrote Redfield. “It demonstrates the diversity and quality of work we do that is aligned with NASA’s mission.”

“The grants this year support undergraduate, graduate, and faculty research, as well as special events organized by faculty at Wesleyan to promote exposure and career development in STEM fields,” explained Redfield.

Women in Science Gather for Tea Reception, Female Scientists Discussion

#THISISWHY

About 30 Wesleyan students and faculty gathered for a Wesleyan Women in Science (WesWIS) Tea Reception Feb. 19 at the Wasch Center. Women in Science is a student group composed of undergraduates, post-docs, staff and faculty dedicated to issues affecting women in science. The group is open to all majors and genders.

During the gathering, guest speaker Michelle Francl, professor of chemistry on the Clowes Fund for Science and Public Policy at Bryn Mawr College, spoke to the group about physicist and chemist Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Francl handed out copies of her commentary titled “Sex and the Citadel of Science,” which was published in the August 2011 edition of Nature Chemistry, and included a copy of the journal’s cover — a portrait of Marie Curie’s face created from photographs of 200 women scientists (including Francl’s). “I’m actually in here twice. There’s another picture in here of my mother, who also was a chemist, holding me as an infant,” she said.

“I love how energized the room felt at the WesWIS tea,” said Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy. “It was exciting to have Dr. Francl there, and also to get so many energetic Wesleyan women scientists all in one place!”

WesWIS Steering Committee members Alex Irace ’15 and and Maya Lopez-Ichikawa ’18 spoke about the group and introduced Professor Francl. Francl also delivered two workshops on contemplative pedagogy during her time at Wesleyan.

Photos of the event are below:

Wesleyan Women in Science Tea Reception, Feb. 19, 2015.

Wesleyan’s “Observatory Nights” Featured on Local Media

The Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.

The Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.

The Hartford Courant and WNPR both featured stories on Wesleyan’s “observatory nights,” which began this month. Every Wednesday night at 8 p.m. during the Spring semester, the Van Vleck Observatory will open its doors to the public, rain or shine, for viewing of the sky through telescopes and presentations on the latest space-related research.

According to the Courant, Research Assistant Professor of Astronomy Roy Kilgard said the department is seeking to supplement its outreach to groups already interested and involved in science with new sessions for people who may not have a high level of knowledge about space and astronomy.

“We’re really trying to grow it beyond looking through the telescopes,” Kilgard said.

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, works with students on a small radio telescope, located on the roof of the Van Vleck Observatory.

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, works with students on a small radio telescope, located on the roof of the Van Vleck Observatory.

Assistant Professor of Astronomy Meredith Hughes told WNPR:

“It’s actually pretty amazing that in the middle of a city, we can see a ton of beautiful things in the night sky.”

“For example, tonight,” Hughes said, “our list of cool objects to observe — if the weather is good enough — includes Jupiter; the Orion nebula, which is a million years old — which sounds old, but is actually very young in stellar terms — a stellar nursery where stars are being born; we have the Beehive Cluster, which is a cluster of stars that is relatively recently formed; and the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest neighbor galaxy to our own.”

Beginning Feb. 20, there will also be special “Kids’ Nights” on the first and third Friday of every month where topics will be tailored for children, according to the Courant. Graduate student Jesse Shanahan will run the kids program, which will cover topics including the life cycle of a star, black holes, comets and an introduction to our solar system.

Astronomy Department Hosts Public Stargazing, Space Discovery Presentations

The Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.

The Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.

Beginning Feb. 4, Wesleyan’s Van Vleck Observatory will open to the public every Wednesday night, rain or shine, for presentations by faculty and students on the latest space-related discoveries, as well as a chance for everyone to view the sky through a telescope, weather permitting.

The program will start at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. Presentations are intended to be accessible to visitors of all ages, although aimed primarily at high school level and above.