Olivia Drake

Thomas: Carbon Impact—Not Volcanism—Key in Driving the Cretaceous Mass Extinction

Thomas

Ellen Thomas

(By Kayleigh Schweiker ’22)

As scientific study regarding the mass extinction of marine life during the Cretaceous era has progressed, theories including extraterrestrial impact and intense volcanism have surfaced. However, a recent study co-authored by Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, suggests that carbon impact—not volcanism—was key in driving the Cretaceous mass extinction.

In a paper titled “Rapid ocean acidification and protracted Earth system recovery followed the end-Cretaceous Chicxulub impact,” which was published in the Oct. 21 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Thomas and her colleagues discuss how increases in ocean acidity played a driving force in the mass extinction of marine organisms. This mass extinction, labeled the “Crustaceous-Palogene die-off,” or the K-Pg event, led approximately 75% of plant and animal life on Earth to extinction. Though scientists have suggested that the presence of sulphuric acid proceeding the crash may have caused ocean pH levels to drop, Thomas and her team’s research on this topic reveals a different possibility.

Karimi Shares Enzyme Research during Graduate Speaker Series

graduate student

Neuroscience and biology BA/MA graduate student Helen Karimi presented a Graduate Speaker Series talk on Nov. 1.

On Nov. 1, neuroscience and biology BA/MA graduate student Helen Karimi presented a Graduate Speaker Series talk titled “All good things come in pairs: Uncovering the activity of BcnI through co-localization microscopy.”

Karimi’s talk focused on restriction endonucleases (REases), a large family of enzymes that make sequence-specific cuts in DNA. As her abstract details, type IIP REases usually cleave sequences as homodimers. However, BcnI, an enzyme belonging to this subtype, acts in a different way. Karimi’s work aims to observe the fine details of BcnI’s cleavage mechanism by using Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy, an imaging technique in which only molecules within a few hundred nanometers of a glass surface are illuminated.

Football Victory Highlight of Homecoming/Family Weekend

Wesleyan celebrated Homecoming/Family Weekend Nov. 1–3. The Wesleyan Cardinals won their 2019 Homecoming game 27 to 21 against Williams College on Nov. 2.

Attendees attended WESeminars, tailgating festivities, music and art events, multiple athletic contests, the 27th Annual Dwight L. Greene Symposium, the annual parents’ assembly, and much more.

View the entire Homecoming/Family Weekend photo album online here.

View video highlights below:


Halloween Celebrated with Parade, Decorative Pumpkin Displays

In honor of Halloween, several offices created or carved decorative pumpkins. Usdan University Center hosted its 11th annual Usdan Pumpkin Contest with Public Safety, Residential Life, Events and Conferences, Cardinal Tech, Usdan Operations, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, and Student Leadership and Development (SALD) and Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Office participating. SALD/WSA Office won the contest with its Dia de los muertos pumpkin. The Office of University Communications carved and painted pumpkins and displayed them in offices in South College and Exley Science Center.

Photos below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

pumpkins

pumpkin1

Freeman Scholars Gather for Group Photos, Dinner

More than 40 Wesleyan Freeman Asian Scholars gathered for their annual group photos and dinner on Oct. 27.

The Freeman Asian Scholarship Program provides expenses for a four-year course of study toward a bachelor’s degree for up to 11 exceptionally able students annually from these countries and regions: the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The program was established in 1994–95 and supported scholars for 20 years through the generosity of the Freeman family—Mansfield Freeman ’16, P’43, Hon. ’79; Houghton Freeman ’43, P’77, Hon. ’93; Doreen Freeman P’77, Hon. ’03; and Graeme Freeman ’77.

Wesleyan continues to honor the Foundation’s legacy through this scholarship, which aims to improve understanding and strengthen ties between the United States and the countries and regions of the Pacific Rim. A number of early Wesleyan graduates were influential educators and ministers in Asian countries, and today Wesleyan has formal ties to several prominent universities in Asia.

Photos of the gathering are below: (Photos by Simon Duan ’23)

freeman scholars

Class of 2023.

Classics/Archaeology Class Learns about Ancient Bronze Casting from Local Bladesmiths

class

Two professional bladesmiths taught Wesleyan students how to create weapons “the old fashioned way” on Oct. 24. The class, Single Combat in the Ancient World, is taught by Kate Birney, pictured second from left.

Students taking the CCIV/ARCP 153: Single Combat in the Ancient World course learned how to cast their own bronze sword and arrowhead during class on Oct. 24.

The process is a modern-day method of how weapons would have been crafted during the Late Bronze Age (3000 to 1200 BC).

The two-hour workshop was taught by Connecticut bladesmiths Barbara Wechter of Wechter Arms and Matt Berry of Hopkins Forge. Berry is a former contestant on History Channel’s “Forged in Fire.” While Berry heated molten bronze (copper and tin) to 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit, Wechter demonstrated how to build a mold from oil-based sand, a wooden box, and a sword-shaped form. After pouring the molten alloy into the form and letting it harden, Berry cooled the sword in a bucket of water. Within 10 minutes, students took turns passing around the six-pound object, which with additional crafting, could become a complete weapon.

They also cast Scythian arrowheads—a style known from the 6th century BC—using a lost-wax technique.

The class is taught by Kate Birney, chair of the Archaeology Program and associate professor of classical studies.

“One of the things that the CCIV/ARCP 153 course explores is the reciprocal relationship between weapons design and the rules of combat, and how changes in technology demand new rules. In a world where everything is bought off-the-shelf, students rarely have a chance to think about the relationship between technology and craftsmanship, and to appreciate the tremendous technical expertise that is required for every step of the process, from sourcing raw materials to making the base alloy to casting and finishing the final blade,” Birney said.

Experimental approaches like the workshop help students better understand the material properties of the artifacts they’ve been studying in class.

“It also drives home the extent to which the adoption of new technology was a big commitment—not like simply buying the next upgrade—one which required the movement of people, ideas, and a cultural commitment,” she said.

Photos of the casting demonstration are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Paper on Bacteria Adhesion Named “Editor’s Pick” by Journal of Biological Chemistry

Rich Olson

Rich Olson

Katherine Kaus PhD '18

Katherine Kaus

A paper written by Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Rich Olson and his former students was designated as an “Editor’s Pick” by the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Only 2% of the approximately 6,600 papers published each year in the journal receive this designation.

Titled “The 1.9 Å crystal structure of the extracellular matrix protein Bap1 from Vibrio cholerae provides insights into bacterial biofilm adhesion,” the paper, published on Oct. 4, explores how bacteria “glues” itself to surfaces in the environment. The co-authors include Alison Biester ’19, Ethan Chupp ’18, Jianyi Lu ’17, Charlie Visudharomn ’17 and Katherine Kaus PhD ’18. Kaus, who is first author on the paper, is featured in a special profile on the JBC website.

Bacteria commonly form structures called biofilms, which are communities of living cells encapsulated by a three-dimensional matrix of secreted proteins, nucleic acids, and carbohydrates. Biofilms are a defense mechanism against environmental challenges and play a role in many pathogenic diseases.

Taylor ’21 Speaks to Choate Juniors on the Importance of Mindfulness

Tyla Taylor '21 She joined Choate counseling office coordinator Susanna Stinnett; coach and Chaplain James Davidson; Yale student Abigail Grimes, and Mindfulness Instructor Amanda Votto,

Tyla Taylor ’21, pictured second from left, served as a panelist for a discussion on “A Mindfulness Meditation Approach to Managing Stress” at Choate Rosemary Hall. Other panelists included, from left, Chaplain James Davidson, Yale student Abigail Grimes, Choate counseling office coordinator Susanna Stinnett; and mindfulness instructor Amanda Votto.

Tyla Taylor '21

Tyla Taylor ’21

By grounding oneself in the present moment, mindfulness can help create a free, calm, and content space without any judgment.

Tyla Taylor ’21, the mindfulness intern for Wesleyan’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, is working to share the practice of mindfulness with the campus community and beyond.

“Our minds are often going at full speed planning the next move, and the one after that,” Taylor said. “For me, mindfulness is paying attention to whatever is happening in the present moment, with compassion and non-judgment. From my own practice, I’ve seen how it’s made me a kinder friend, a more attentive student, and better able to handle situations that are thrown at me that are out of my control.”

On Oct. 15, Taylor was invited to Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., to speak on a panel titled “A Mindfulness Meditation Approach to Managing Stress.” Taylor shared her experience and knowledge of mindfulness with more than 150 high school juniors.

“I brought up how mindfulness has helped me feel more engaged with whatever I’m doing in my life—my school work, spending time with friends, extracurriculars—and helps me navigate and feel like I have power and agency when something comes up in my life that makes me feel out of control,” she explained.

Having attended an independent college prep day school for her own high school education, Taylor hoped to connect with the students on a personal level. She spoke about the stressors students face on a daily basis.

“Mindfulness was a practice that I dabbled with in high school but didn’t take seriously until college, and I tried to let them know why it is important, and how I wish I had had this tool in high school as well,” she said. “For example, when you get a bad grade in high school, it’s easy to catastrophize and think, ‘This is so bad. I’m not smart. I’ll never get into that great college, etc.’ Mindfulness can help them detach from this thought that is creating a negative emotion, and understand how that unpleasant emotion isn’t who they are, but rather a temporary state that will pass.”

Taylor, who is majoring in psychology and minoring in education studies, also is a residential advisor for West College Residence Hall. As part of her mindfulness intern responsibilities, Taylor leads Mindful Wes, a group that meets weekly for mindfulness-based meditation sessions.

She also brings different speakers to campus and hosts events related to mindfulness. Last spring, Mindful Wes ran an “Unplugging Event” and challenged students to give up their phones for one day.

“My favorite testimony after the event was that one student reduced—and maintained afterward—her phone usage from eight hours a day to two hours a day,” Taylor said.

Additionally, as a volunteer component to the job, Taylor started an initiative at Middletown’s Farm Hill Elementary School, where she leads mindfulness exercises twice a week for two different classes. She recently taught a lesson on recognizing emotions. After that class, a fourth-grade student reported back to Taylor that when his sister had made him angry by taking his toy, instead of hitting her back like he usually would have, he took three mindful breaths and then walked away.

“It’s never too young for children to start mindfulness meditation,” she said. “It can help with their academic achievement, concentration, emotional control, and overall resilience towards stress.”

For more information, contact Mindful Wes.

Fall is in the Air

fall

The campus is slowly beginning to show its autumn colors during Wesleyan’s fall break Oct. 21-22. Pictured are Alpha Delta Phi Society and the 200 Church residence. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

The McKelvey Green.

The McKelvey Green.

Grossman Discusses Latest Unemployment Trends on WTIC Radio

Grossman

Richard Grossman

On Oct. 16, Richard Grossman, chair and professor of economics, discussed the latest unemployment numbers and current state of the economy with Todd Feinburg at WTIC in Hartford. This month, the national unemployment rate has fallen to a new low—3.5%.

“Historically, and certainly for the last 10 years, the number peaked at 10% after the financial crisis, and it’s been working its way down ever since,” Grossman said. “That doesn’t mean all is wonderful if you’re in the labor force. There’s a lot of other things going on … people working part-time who would like to be working full-time … people who are doing contract work that would like to be having full-time jobs with benefits.”

Economists generally see an uptick in wages when unemployment goes down.

“Last month, the wage rate went up, but it went up by less than it had gone up in the previous month, so it suggests that even though the employment rate is low, that still hasn’t had an effect on wage. Normally we’d expect a really strong labor market to have some positive impact on wages.”

Grossman is an expert on economic history and current policy issues in macroeconomics, banking, and finance.

Hogendorn Presents Economics Papers in New York and Portugal

Christiaan Hogendorn

Christiaan Hogendorn

On Oct. 3, Christiaan Hogendorn, associate professor of economics, presented a paper titled “Unequal Growth in Local Wages: Rail versus Internet Infrastructure” for the City College of New York’s Economics Department. David Schwartz ’17 co-authored the paper.

And on Oct. 12, Hogendorn presented a paper titled “The Long Tail of Online News Visits” at the 17th Media Economics Workshop in Braga, Portugal. The paper was co-authored by Hengyi Zhu ’15 and Lisa George of Hunter College. He also served as a discussant for a panel on Network-Mediated Knowledge Spillovers in ICT/Information Security.

“Bomb Cyclone” Strikes Campus on Oct. 17, Causing Extremely Low Pressure, High Winds

weather station

The Wesleyan University Weather Station measures wind speed, barometric pressure, air temperature, relative humidity, and solar irradiance.

On Oct. 17, the Wesleyan Weather Station recorded a dramatic drop in atmospheric (barometric) pressure—a drop so severe it compared to one from Hurricane Sandy in November 2012.

Between 2 a.m. on Oct. 16 and 2 a.m. on Oct. 17, the pressure dropped from 1020 to 980 millibars, resulting in what meteorologists refer to as bombogenesis or a “bomb cyclone.” Bomb cyclones are defined by a drop of more than 24 millibars of pressure over less than 24 hours, and here, the pressure dropped 40 millibars.

During Hurricane Sandy the pressure also dropped to 980 millibars.

“We’ve looked through the last three years of data collected by the Wesleyan Weather Station, and no other event over that time period is more dramatic than this one,” said Dana Royer, professor of earth and environmental sciences. “This clearly shows that the bomb cyclone this month was indeed unusual.”

In Hartford, Conn., the pressure minimum (~980 millibars, similar to the pressure the Wesleyan Weather Station recorded) tied the all-time record for the month of October.

The bomb cyclone also affected wind speed. Between 1 and 2 a.m. on Oct. 17, wind rapidly increased from 0 to 34 mph and fluctuated between 5 and 25 mph over the next 24 hours.

The Wesleyan Weather Station was established with a Teaching Innovation Grant from President Michael Roth and Johan “Joop” Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science. The station and weather “dashboard” is maintained by Joel LaBella, facilities manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department.

bomb cyclone

The Wesleyan Weather Station recorded the dramatic drop in atmospheric pressure on Oct. 17. This graph shows the average air pressure from the last 30 days.

bomb cyclone

During the bomb cyclone, the Wesleyan Weather Station recorded the drastic fall in atmospheric pressure and the rapid rise in wind speed.