Tag Archive for IDEAS

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

1. Los Angeles Times“As the World Warms, Deadly and Disfiguring Tropical Diseases Are Inching Their Way Toward the U.S.”

In this op-ed, Professor of Biology Frederick Cohan and Isaac Klimasmith ’20, both in the College of the Environment, write that infectious disease is a growing threat, resulting from climate change, that humans may find hard to ignore. Cohan is also professor, environmental studies and professor, integrative sciences.

2. Hartford Courant: “Trump’s Immoral Response to Climate Report”

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, writes in this op-ed that it is “irresponsible” and “immoral” to ignore the findings of a major new report on climate change. Delaying action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will be increasingly damaging and expensive, he writes. Yohe is also professor of economics and professor, environmental studies, and was a reviewer on the new National Climate Assessment.

Recent Alumni News

  1. The Takeaway; WNYC Studios: “Politics with Amy Walter: Pentagon’s First-Ever Audit Exposes Massive Accounting Fraud”

David Lindorff ’71, the investigative journalist who wrote an exclusive on the topic for The Nation, joins Walter’s guests—including Staff Sergeant Patricia King, Ambassador Eric Edelman, and Dr. Isaiah Wilson III, a retired Army colonel and senior lecturer with Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs—to discuss military spending and its alignment with the military’s strategic goals.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

1. Inside Higher Ed: “Voting Is Good, but Higher Ed Must Do More”

In this op-ed, President Michael S. Roth writes: “In a year when inducements to political violence have become normalized at the highest level, colleges and universities must do more than just encourage our students to vote.” It is crucial that colleges actively work to protect free expression, free inquiry, and fact-based discussion, Roth argues.

Students “Hop” into Midterms with Design and Engineering Project Presentations

Students who are enrolled in the fall semester Introduction to Design and Engineering course presented their midterm projects on Oct. 17 and 18. At the beginning of the semester, the students were given a box of materials and tasked with creating a “hopper”—an object that would spring into the air but only after a delay of 8 seconds (and less than 60 seconds) from when the student released the object.

After designing the hopper, and (often) creating multiple prototypes, students used laser-cut wooden pieces, rubber tubes, ball bearings, capacitors, balloons, wire, and other equipment to fabricate their final ideas.

The Introduction to Design and Engineering course, which provides a hands-on introduction to design and engineering, is taught by Greg Voth, chair and professor of physics, and professor, integrative sciences; and Daniel Moller, assistant professor of the practice in integrative sciences. It is part of Wesleyan’s Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Science (IDEAS) program, which prepares students to succeed at the intersection of design, the arts, and engineering. Through the program, students develop foundational knowledge in design and engineering by working in collaborative groups on project-based studies. The IDEAS program is hosted and administered by the College of Integrative Sciences.

Photos of the midterm presentations are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake and Cynthia Rockwell)

Wesleyan’s Natural History Collection and Curiosities Featured in Usdan

The exhibit "Shelving the History of Life" will be featured inside the display cases in Usdan Universiy Center throughout the fall semester. The true-to-scale exhibit showcases specimens curated, restored, prepared, and documented from the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History, the former Wesleyan Museum, and other collections on campus.

The exhibit “Shelving the History of Life” will be featured in the display case in Usdan University Center until fall recess. The exhibit showcases specimens curated, restored, and documented from the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History, the former Wesleyan Museum, and other collections on campus.

In 1870, Orange Judd bequeathed Wesleyan $100,000 to build Judd Hall, which was designed as a building for the study of natural sciences. Included with this building was the Wesleyan Museum, which housed a prominent natural history collection containing over 300,000 specimens.

In 1957, the museum was closed and specimens were donated to other museums, put into storage in various places on campus, or “temporarily” loaned to local schools. In 1970, before the current museum reopened in Exley, the collection stored in the tunnels under Foss Hill was found to have been severely vandalized, with many specimens lost, stolen, or irreparably damaged.

Within the last two years, several Wesleyan faculty, students, and staff have exhumed thousands of these misplaced artifacts and are working to bring them back for public viewing. A new exhibit in Usdan, “Shelving the History of Life,” showcases many of these once-lost, and now found, relics of Wesleyan’s natural history collections.

“This exhibit is a showcase of the spectrum of natural history objects remaining in our collections, including taxidermy specimens, a wide range of wet specimens preserved in alcohol, skeletons, seashells, fossils, and minerals,” explained Andy Tan ’21, who is one of the cocurators of the exhibit.

Students Showcase Design and Engineering Projects

Final projects for Introduction to Design and Engineering (IDEA 170 in the Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Sciences Minor) included a bicycle powered by a chainsaw motor; reusable, lockable shipping boxes requiring no tape; an electricity-producing dance floor; and the “solar rover”—solar panels with storage batteries mounted on wheels and designed for long-term use around the University as a mobile power source for events and solar power education.

Taught by Professor of Physics Greg Voth, who chairs the department, and Assistant Professor of the Practice in Integrative Sciences Daniel Moller, the course offered 16 students the opportunity to work collaboratively on project-based studies at the intersection of design, the arts, and engineering. The course is part of a new interdisciplinary minor, the Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Sciences (IDEAS) program, hosted and administered by the College of Integrative Sciences (CIS).

Professor of Physics and Director of the CIS and the IDEAS program Francis Starr noted, “These projects are amazing examples of what Wesleyan students can do when given the skills and opportunity to creatively explore design and engineering. And I think this is why we have already seen about 30 students enroll in the new IDEAS minor in just its first year. I can’t wait to see what next year brings.”

Moller concurs: “IDEA 170 is a great opportunity for students to explore an open-ended design and fabrication environment, to recognize the technical challenges of putting ideas into action, and to learn about themselves as designers.”

(Photos by Cynthia Rockwell and Daniel Moller)

The Chainsaw Bike Group—Asim Rahim ’19, Jake Abraham ’20, Eiji Frey ’20, Coby Gesten ’19 (pointing to Professor Moller)—attached a chainsaw motor to power a bicycle.

Thomas’s Science Paper Examines Earth’s Oxygen Levels over Geological Time

Ellen Thomas

Throughout time, rising oceanic and atmospheric oxygen levels have been crucial to the habitability of environments at the surface of the Earth.

“The Earth had no free oxygen gas in its atmosphere early on,” said Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences. “The oxygen has been provided over time by photosynthesis of algae followed by storage of organic matter in rocks.”

Thomas, who also is research professor of earth and environmental sciences, examines the timing of oxygen formation in Earth’s atmosphere and oceans over geological time in a study published in the May 2018 issue of Science.

The paper, titled “Late Inception of a Resiliently Oxygenated Upper Ocean,” stems from a multiyear, multinational, multiauthor research effort that explores the time trend and causes of increased oxygenation during the current Phanerozoic Eon, which began more than 542 million years ago. Thomas and her colleagues used iodine geochemistry to determine that the upper section of the ocean became rich in oxygen much later than previously predicted, linked to evolution of oceanic phytoplankton.

The research was supported by a National Science Foundation grant at Wesleyan and coauthored by scientists at Syracuse University and the University of California, Riverside.

The study also is featured in the May 2018 issue of Science Daily and Phys.org.

Robinson Lab Coauthors Study on Compulsive, Drug Addiction Behaviors

Mike Robinson studies how individuals react differently when presented with a junk food diet.

Mike Robinson

Drug and behavioral addictions like gambling are characterized by an intense and focused pursuit of a single reward above other healthier endeavors. Pursuit of the addictive reward is often compulsively sought despite adverse consequences.

In a newly published study, Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, and integrative sciences explored how our decisions can become narrowly focused onto one particular choice. He and his research team used laser light (optogenetics) to activate the central portion of the brain’s amygdala (CeA), an area normally known for its role in generating responses to drug-related and fearful stimuli.

The study, titled “Optogenetic Activation of the Central Amygdala Generates Addiction-like Preference for Reward,” appears in the May 2018 issue of the European Journal of Neuroscience. Robinson Lab members Rebecca Tom ’16, MA ’17, Aarit Ahuja ’16, Hannah Maniates ’16, and current graduate student Charlotte Freeland coauthored the article and participated in the study.

Giant Glyptodon Emerges in Exley Science Center

Joel LaBella, facility manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Bruce Strickland, Instrument maker specialist; Jim Zareski, research assistant/lab manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Freeman Scholar Yu Kai Tan '20; Freeman Scholar Andy Tan '21; Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences; Annie Burke, chair and professor of biology; and David Strickland, instrument maker.

The Glyptodon, a giant fossil cast that has been in storage since 1957, is now on display in Exley Science Center. Several members of the Wesleyan community helped install the 8-foot-long cast on Feb. 26. Pictured, from left, are Joel LaBella, facility manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Bruce Strickland, Instrument maker specialist; Jim Zareski, research assistant/lab manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Freeman Scholar Yu Kai Tan ’20; Freeman Scholar Andy Tan ’21; Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences; Annie Burke, chair and professor of biology; and David Strickland, instrument maker. Glyptodon means “grooved or carved tooth” in Greek. The creature lived approximately 2 million to 10,000 years ago.

The Glyptodon as seen from the front (upper) and back (lower) in its glory days, when it was displayed in the Orange Judd Museum of Natural Sciences, before 1957. Note the skull and hind left foot present, and the armored tail visible from the rear. Copy of 1876 advertisement by Ward, dated 1876, in which he names ‘the Wesleyan University of Middletown, Conn.’, as having purchased a number of his ‘Casts of celebrated Fossils’.

Prior to 1957, the Glyptodon was displayed in the Orange Judd Museum of Natural Sciences. Pictured in the center is an 1876 Ward advertisement, in which he names “the Wesleyan University of Middletown, Conn.” as having purchased a number of his “casts of celebrated fossils.”

For the past 60 years, a massive megafauna mammal thrived in crates buried in Wesleyan’s tunnels and attics. This month, the creature, known as a Glyptodon, has emerged in Exley Science Center for public viewing.

Although the armored armadillo-like animal became extinct more than 10,000 years ago, Wesleyan acquired a fossil cast in the 1870s, where it became a showpiece at the university’s Orange Judd Museum of Natural Sciences.

In 1957, the museum closed and thousands of artifacts, including the Glyptodon, were haphazardly stuffed into crates and boxes and hauled to multiple locations throughout campus.

“After the museum closed, everything was scattered all over, anywhere there was a place to put it,” said Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences and research professor of earth and environmental sciences. “Just recently, we’ve started to uncover all these lost treasures and we’re working to get them organized and cataloged. The Glyptodon is one of our major finds.”

Hughes Named 2018 Cottrell Scholar

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, assistant professor of integrative sciences, has been named a Cottrell Scholar for 2018 by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA).

Hughes is one of two dozen early career academic scientists to receive this honor, which comes with a $100,000 award for research and teaching.

“The Cottrell Scholar (CS) program champions the very best early career teacher-scholars in chemistry, physics and astronomy by providing these significant discretionary awards,” said RCSA President and CEO Daniel Linzer.

Loui Co-Authors Article on Human Creativity and the Brain

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, co-authored a new article published in the December 2017 issue of Brain and Cognition.

The paper is titled, “Jazz Musicians Reveal Role of Expectancy in Human Creativity.” Loui and her colleagues found that within one second of hearing an unexpected chord, there is a world of differences in brain responses between classical and jazz musicians.

Speakers, Poster Sessions at Annual Molecular Biophysics Program Retreat

Wesleyan’s Molecular Biophysics Program hosted its 18th annual retreat Sept. 28 at Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown. Wesleyan affiliated speakers included:

Professor Francis Starr, spoke about DNA junction dynamics and thermodynamics during the 18th annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat.

Professor Francis Starr spoke about DNA junction dynamics and thermodynamics during the 18th annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat.

  • Colin Smith, assistant professor of chemistry, on “An Atomistic View of Protein Dynamics and Allostery;”
  • Meng-Ju Renee Sher, assistant professor of physics, on “Tracking Electron Motions Using Terahertz Spectroscopy;”
  • Kelly Knee, PhD ’07, principle scientist for Pfizer’s Rare Disease Research Unit, on “Protein Folding Chaperones: Molecular Machines for Tricky Problems;”
  • and Francis Starr, professor of physics, director of the College of Integrative Sciences, on “DNA Four-Way Junction Dynamics and Thermodynamics: Lessons from Combining Simulations and Experiments.”

Arthur Palmer, the Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center, delivered the keynote address on “Conformational dynamics in molecular recognition and catalysis: Lessons from ribonuclease H, AlkB, and GCN4.”

The day-long retreat also included two poster sessions, where undergraduates, graduate students and faculty shared their research with their peers and colleagues. The event concluded with a reception.

The Molecular Biophysics Training Program, Chemistry Department, and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department sponsored the event.

Photos of the retreat are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Robinson Writes About the Real Reason Some People Become Addicted to Drugs

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

Writing in The ConversationAssistant Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson looks to the brain to explain the real reason that some people become addicted to drugs.

Robinson, who also is assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, begins by debunking two popular explanations for drug addiction: that compulsive drug use is simply a “bad habit,” and that overcoming the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms is too hard for some addicts.

While pleasure, habits and withdrawal can play a role in drug use, Robinson says, the true reason for addiction can be explained by the psychological differences between “wanting” and “liking.”