Mike Sembos

Mike is a writer and musician from New Haven who is happy to be a part of the Wesleyan communications team. He plays in several bands, travels to faraway lands whenever possible and plays a mean game of Scrabble.

COE, Musician/Fellow Launch Online Environmental Teaching Tool for Kids

College of the Environment fellow Rani Arbo is working with COE Director Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, on a project called "Earth Out Loud: Stories from Our Habitat." Earth Out Loud is designed for elementary school-aged children and educators, and offers a short story in audio and/or video format, as well as ideas for exploring the topic further in the classroom or at home.

College of the Environment fellow Rani Arbo is working with COE Director Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, on a project called “Earth Out Loud: Stories from Our Habitat.” “Earth Out Loud” is designed for elementary school-aged children and educators, and offers a short story in audio and/or video format, as well as ideas for exploring the topic further in the classroom or at home.

The College of the Environment has teamed up with local singer/songwriter (and mother) Rani Arbo to debut the pilot version of “Earth Out Loud: Stories from Our Habitat” — an educational-but-entertaining online project where second and third graders can hear, explore and respond to stories from their habitat. It uses a straightforward interface to provide accessible audio and video clips for kids and their teachers that relate to their schools’ curriculum in an exciting way.

In the "Earth Out Loud" episode "Radical Raptors," children lean about the great horned owl and ways it adapts to its environment.

In the “Earth Out Loud” episode “Radical Raptors,” children lean about the great horned owl and ways it adapts to its environment.

Arbo, COE director Barry Chernoff and Wesleyan student interns are still brainstorming and developing the content, but the infrastructure is now live and is being built upon.

“It started with a conversation Barry and I were having about science literacy in media and kids, about this time last year,” Arbo said. “I was a science major, and now I have a kid who is happiest outdoors, finding bugs and tadpoles. I’d been wishing he could do more with science in school, but in the younger grades, the focus is really on reading and math. So, Barry and I started talking about an environmental radio show for kids. Something that would help ensnare kids’ imaginations about environmental topics at a young age.”

While the concept still revolves around featuring radio-show-like audio tracks, it’s becoming clear that video may be equally important. So far there’s an episode on raptors and a segment on recycling, available in both audio and video formats. Upcoming episodes will touch upon the nature of bees, soils, and phases of matter, as applied to sweet treats like maple syrup, chocolate and Italian ice.

“If we’re going to make any progress in the world getting an environmental ethic into people, we have to get them excited at a young age,” said Chernoff. “We’re also interested in reaching communities that don’t have a single economic basis or ethnic or social structure — to be able to reach really broad audiences that include both inner city kids and rural kids.”

Physics’ Kottos Develops an Innovative Power Limiter

Tsampikos Kottos, the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of Physics is developing a power limiter which may protect the human eye from radiation.

Tsampikos Kottos, the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of Physics, is developing a reusable power limiter that will protect sensors from radiation without being destroyed in the process.

The U.S. Air Force has taken a keen interest in the recent work of Tsampikos Kottos, the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of Physics. Kottos, along with Graduate Research Assistant Eleana Makri, Hamidreza Ramezani Ph.D. ’13 (now a postdoc at U.C. Berkeley) and Dr. Ilya Vitebskiy (AFRL/Ohio), has come up with a theoretical way to build a more effective, reusable power limiter.

Generally speaking, the function of a power limiter is to protect a sensor  — be it the human eye, an antenna, or other sensitive equipment — from high-intensity radiation, like that generated by high-power lasers.

Kottos, Makri, Ramezani and Vitebskiy published a paper titled “Non-Linear Localized Modes Give Rise to a Reflective Optical Limiter” [Phys. Rev. A 89, 031802(R) (2014)] that was highlighted in Washington, D.C. at the spring review meeting of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) as one of the main research achievements in electromagnetics of 2014 that can potentially benefit the U.S. Air Force. Now, with the Air Force’s help, Kottos is taking the necessary steps to make the project become a reality.

Generally speaking, there are two categories of limiters —  dynamic and passive. These new limiters are of the passive variety.

Tsampikos Kottos is working with Professor of Physics Fred Ellis on a sensor experiment.

Tsampikos Kottos is working with Professor of Physics Fred Ellis on a related acoustical experiment.

“Dynamic limiters are very slow,” explained Kottos. “They consist of many parts, and then these parts have to communicate with each other. So these are not very good. Passive limiters perform the limiting action —  the filtering of the high power —  based on the intrinsic properties of the materials.”

So, passive limiters are the way to go.

When striving to produce better passive limiter components, one can synthesize new materials (which Wes is not currently equipped to do on-site), or one can rely on existing materials and try to design or propose geometries that will improve the efficiency of existing materials.

Since the dawn of lasers in the 1960s, the standard filtering protection has been based on the use of what are called sacrificial limiters. When high-intensity light passes through a sacrificial limiter, the materials absorb the energy, heat up and melt, becoming opaque. The light is blocked and the sensor is protected, but the limiter is destroyed and must be swapped out like a burnt lightbulb. This is less than ideal, as it’s expensive and time-consuming to replace.

A power limiter consisting of a non-linear lossy layer (blue layer) embedded in a Bragg grating (white and orange layers) allows for (a) a transmission of a low intensity beam while (b) it completely reflects a high intensity beam without any absorption.

A power limiter consisting of a non-linear lossy layer (blue layer) embedded in a Bragg grating (white and orange layers) allows for (a) a transmission of a low intensity beam while (b) it completely reflects a high intensity beam without any absorption.

“We want to propose a clever limiter which is not going to sacrifice itself in order to save the sensor on the other side,” Kottos said. “What we are proposing is to create two stacks of alternate layers, A and B. This is what people usually call a Bragg mirror. Such a structure creates a frequency window for which light is completely reflected irrespective of its intensity. This solves one part of the problem but it creates another one. Namely, we want ‘non-harmful,’ low-intensity light to be transmitted. How can we achieve this? Well, the simple way is by creating a ‘bridge.’ But the bridge has to be clever. It must allow low intensity light to pass and block high intensity light. One way to do this is to make sure that the bridge will collapse if high intensity light goes through.”

Kottos’ new work involves placing a defect layer of dissipative nonlinearity (“the bridge”) in the middle of the Bragg mirror. The nonlinear properties of the materials increase dissipation for high light intensities. Strange as it sounds, losses (dissipation) can rescue the limiter (bridge) from high power light and reflect the energy into space.

“To understand this we need to think of how three oscillators coupled with springs — with the middle one having friction (the dissipation layer) — will behave when energy is pumped into the system. Say the left one is excited, displacing it from the equilibrium position. Then energy will move from the left one to the right one via the spring and then will continue to the third via the second spring that connects the last two together. Via this process, some energy will be turned to heat via the friction of the middle oscillator. Now let’s further increase the friction in the middle, which in optics is achieved via the dissipative nonlinear mechanism when incident power is increased. Obviously the process will be repeated, but now more energy will be radiated as heat since the friction in the middle is higher. But what will happen if the friction in the middle is huge, corresponding to high incident power in optics which will trigger high dissipative nonlinearities?”

The intuitive prediction is that friction-generated heat will burn the middle oscillator. But students in Kottos’ “Waves and Oscillations” course would predict that a huge friction will turn the middle oscillator into an immovable wall, neutralizing the friction and reflecting all the energy back without letting it pass to the third oscillator. And this is exactly the mechanism Kottos and co. are exploring, but in the optics realm.

“We knew this principle since centuries ago — it’s called impedance mismatching,” Kottos said. “The more you create an absorber, the more the energy that’s not absorbed but reflected back. I know that’s an oxymoron, but this is how it happens. The reason that we did not use this property up to now is rather psychological. In most cases we strive to ‘match’ things and we are used to this way of thinking. In this specific case we thought the other way around.”

The experimental realizations of these new theoretical optical limiters are currently being investigated at two U.S. labs. With time, the Wes group hopes to continue refining its proposal to further increase the limiters’ effectiveness. A further step down the road is to implement the same idea acoustically.

“I am hopeful that the experimental group of Professor Fred Ellis at Wes will be able to demonstrate the applicability of this idea in acoustics,” said Kottos. “Discussions along this line of research are in progress.”

Fraser ’82 Launches Shebooks.net, Offering Short e-Books for Women

Laura Fraser '82

Laura Fraser ’82

Laura Fraser ’82, who majored in American studies, has cofounded and launched Shebooks, an e-publishing site dedicated to producing short e-books by and for women. The site went live in January, and it features exclusive memoirs, fiction and journalism by established authors like Hope Edelman, Marion Winik, Faith Adiele, Jessica Anya Blau and Suzanne Paola. Some contributing Wesleyan authors include Jennifer Finney Boylan ’80, who wrote an original novella for Shebooks and is on its advisory board, Virginia Pye ’82, who wrote an original novella, stories by Bonnie Friedman ’79 and some essays by Fraser herself.

All works, ranging from long articles to short books, are designed to be read in under two hours. They’re available on all major e-readers and soon by subscription directly from the shebooks.net site. Individually, each title costs $2.99.

“Women writers are looking for new outlets for their most personal work, and women readers crave great reads that fit into their busy lives,” said Laura Fraser, in a press release. “We are thrilled by the variety and quality of our first titles.”

Fraser’s own bestselling 2001 book, An Italian Affair, documented her post-divorce getaway to Italy and the romantic rendezvous that followed. Her more recent title, All Over the Map, continues the tale in Oaxaca, Mexico, where Fraser visited to celebrate her 40th birthday and reflect on her past experiences.

Any women writer can submit her own shebook for consideration, but be warned that it’s a carefully curated collection and a very selective process.

“Our main criteria for publication is that the writing is really good, and of interest to women,” reads the text on Shebooks’ submission page. “If you haven’t published anything elsewhere, it’s unlikely that we will be interested in your work, but not impossible. It all depends on how compelling your story is—whether we MUST keep reading.”

Westmoreland, Craft, Hensiek Present Papers at American Chemical Society Meeting

David Westmoreland, associate professor of chemistry, and chemistry graduate student Breanna Craft presented a paper titled, “pH-Dependent Mechanisms of 1H Relaxivity in a Series of Structurally Related Mn(II) Cyclen Derivatives” at the 245th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society held in New Orleans, La. in April 2013.

Westmoreland, Craft and chemistry graduate student Sarah Hensiek also presented a paper titled, “Solution Dynamics of Transition Metal Complexes of Cyclen Based Ligands Containing Amide and Carboxylate Functional Groups.”

Shaw ’99 Featured in Book on Black Theater and Dance in Chicago

Rashida Shaw '99

Rashida Shaw ’99

Assistant Professor of Theater Rashida Shaw ‘99 shared her observations as a researcher, ethnographer and audience member who has attended urban theater productions in Chicago for a chapter in a book called Black Theater Is Black Life: An Oral History of Chicago Theater and Dance, 1970-2010, written by Harvey Young and Queen Meccasia Zabriskie, and published in November 2013 by Northwestern University Press.

It features interviews with producers, directors, choreographers, designers, dancers, and actors, and serves to frame the colorful four-decade period for the African American artistic community in the Windy City.

Taylor, Hingorani, Grad Students Co-Author Paper on Protein Function

Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies; Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry; molecular biology and biochemistry graduate student Shreya Sawant and chemistry graduate student Daniel Czyzyk co-authored “E. coli Heptosyltransferase I: Exploration of Protein Function and Dynamics” published in Biochemistry, 52, 5158–5160 in 2013. They presented the paper at the 23rd Enzyme Mechanisms Conference held in Coronado Bay, Calif. in January 2013 and at the 57th Biophysical Society Conference held in Philadelphia, Pa. in February 2013.

Willis’s Poetry Published in Several Journals, Anthologies

Elizabeth Willis

Elizabeth Willis

Elizabeth Willis, professor of English, authored several poems recently:

  • “Alive” is forthcoming in American Reader in 2014.
  • “Ephemeral Stream” was posted on Poem-A-Day, Academy of American Poets online on Jan. 2, 2014.
  • “Survey” was published in A Public Space No. 17 in 2013.
  • “The Witch” is included in the forthcoming 100 Poems Your Teachers Don’t Want You to Read anthology to be published by Penguin Putnam in 2015.
  • “Watertown Is Ninety-Nine Percent Land” is included in the forthcoming Collected in One Fund Boston Benefit anthology to be published by Granary Books in 2014.
  • “Oil and Water” included in the Oh Sandy!: A Remembrance anthology was published by Brooklyn Rail in 2014.
  • “The Witch“ was included in the Norton Anthology of Postmodern Poetry anthology published by Norton in 2013.
  • “R. D. / H. D.” appeared in Far From the Centers of Ambition published by Lenoir-Rhyne University in 2013.
  • “Bright Ellipses: The Botanic Garden, Meteoric Flowers, and Leaves of Grass” is forthcoming in Active Romanticism to be published by the University of Alabama Press in 2014.