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8 Students Present Research at Northeast Astronomy Consortium

astronomy

Several Wesleyan students and faculty attended the 2019 KNAC Undergraduate Research Symposium at Vassar College.

Eight Wesleyan undergraduates presented results of their summer research to the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium sponsored by the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC) on Oct. 5.

This year’s symposium was held at Vassar College and attended by 125 astronomy students and faculty, primarily from the consortium colleges (Bryn Mawr, Colgate, Haverford, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Vassar, Wellesley, Wesleyan, and Williams).

Astronomy majors Mason Tea ’21 and Rachel Marino ’20 and sophomores Alex Henton ’22 and Ava Nederlander ’22 gave oral presentations of their projects conducted on campus this summer. In addition, astronomy majors Fallon Konow ’20, Hunter Vannier ’20, Gil Garcia ’20, and Terra Ganey ’21 gave poster presentations of their summer research. The presenters were joined by an equal number of first- and second-year students who went to hear the talks, participate in breakout sessions on various astronomical topics, and network with potential future colleagues.

Both Marino and Garcia are Wesleyan McNair Fellows.

KNAC was founded in 1990 to enhance research opportunities for astronomy students at smaller institutions in the northeast by sharing resources. Today it operates a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program funded by the National Science Foundation through a grant to Wesleyan.

View additional photos on this Astronomy Department’s Error Bar blog post.

Mason Tea presenting results on a gravitational lensing telescope.

Mason Tea ’21 presents his results on a gravitational lensing telescope.

Ava Nederlander presenting work on a brown dwarf in a debris disk.

Ava Nederlander ’22 presents her work on a brown dwarf in a debris disk.

Gil Garcia presented his work on black holes.

Gil Garcia ’20 presented his study on black holes.

Author Translated by Winston Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature

Krishna Winston, the Marcus L. Taft Professor of German Language and Literature is coordinator of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program.

Krishna Winston, the Marcus L. Taft Professor of German Language and Literature, Emerita.

For the second time, an author whose work Krishna Winston, the Marcus L. Taft Professor of German Language and Literature, Emerita, translated, has won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Austrian author Peter Handke on October 10 “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience,” according to the Nobel committee. Handke has become “one of the most influential writers in Europe after the Second World War,” the committee said.

Winston, who specializes in literary translation, began translating Handke after his long-time English translator, Ralph Manheim, died. She has published many translations of Handke’s works, including Essay on the Jukebox (1994), My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay (1998), On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House (2000), Crossing the Sierra de Gredos (2007), Don Juan: His Own Story (2010), The Moravian Night (2016), and The Great Fall (2018). She is currently working on several new translations of Handke’s work.

O’Connell in The Conversation: How Deep is the Ocean?

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Suzanne O’Connell has written a new article for The Conversation’s “Curious Kids” series answering the question “How deep is the ocean?” The article is based on her research studying the sea floor.

Curious Kids: How deep is the ocean?

The remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer captures images of a newly discovered hydrothermal vent field in the western Pacific. NOAA

The remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer captures images of a newly discovered hydrothermal vent field in the western Pacific. (NOAA)

Explorers started making navigation charts showing how wide the ocean was more than 500 years ago. But it’s much harder to calculate how deep it is.

If you wanted to measure the depth of a pool or lake, you could tie a weight to a string, lower it to the bottom, then pull it up and measure the wet part of the string. In the ocean you would need a rope thousands of feet long.

In 1872 the HMS Challenger, a British Navy ship, set sail to learn about the ocean, including its depth. It carried 181 miles (291 kilometers) of rope.

During their four-year voyage, the Challenger crew collected samples of rocks, mud and animals from many different areas of the ocean. They also found one of the deepest zones, in the western Pacific, the Mariana Trench, which stretches for 1,580 miles (2,540 kilometers).

Pie-Eating Contest, Benefit Bake Sale, Live Music at 2019 Pumpkin Fest

On Oct. 5, hundreds of Wesleyan and local community members celebrated the early fall season at the 16th annual Pumpkin Fest at Long Lane Farm.

Participants were treated to farm tours, crafts, a pie-eating contest, free veggie burgers and cider, prizes, and a baked goods sale benefiting New Horizons Domestic Violence Shelter. Lopii, Iris Olympia, Barry Chernoff, Emcee Elvee, Rebecca Roff, and Skye Hawthorne provided live music throughout the event.

Representatives from Wesleyan’s Office of Sustainability, WesDivest, Bread Salvage, Wesleyan Climate Action Group, the Wesleyan Resource Center, WildWes, Natural History Museum, Sunrise, Outing Club, Wesleyan Refugee Project, Uslac, Veg Out, Real Food Challenge, and the Wesleyan North End Action Team provided information booths at the festival.

The event was cosponsored by Long Lane Farm, the College of the Environment, the Green Fund, and Wesleyan Bon Appétit.

View photos of the event below and on this College of the Environment coexist blog post. (Photos below by Nick Sng ’23 and Simon Duan ’23)

pumpkin fest

3 Alumni Receive MacArthur “Genius” Awards 

MacArthursThree of the 26 “extraordinarily talented and creative individuals” to receive 2019 MacArthur Fellowships are Wesleyan alumni.

Mary Halvorson ’02, Saidiya Hartman ’84, Hon. ’19, and Cameron Rowland ’11 each received a $625,000, no-strings-attached award by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Recipients of a MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as the “genius” grant, are selected based on “exceptional creativity,” “promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments,” and “potential for the Fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work,” according to the foundation.

They join 17 other Wesleyan alumni and university affiliates named MacArthur Fellow recipients. (View all.)

Mary Halvorson '02

Mary Halvorson ’02

Mary Halvorson ’02 is a guitarist, ensemble leader, and composer who is pushing against established musical categories with a singular sound on her instrument and an aesthetic that evolves with each new album and configuration of bandmates. She melds her jazz roots with elements of experimental rock, folk, and other musical traditions, reflecting a wide range of stylistic influences.

Her additional albums as a solo performer or leader include Saturn Sings (2010), Bending Bridges (2012), Illusionary Sea (2014), and Meltframe (2015), and she has performed on numerous other recordings as a side musician or co-leader. Since 2018, Halvorson has served as an instructor at The New School’s College of Performing Arts. She has performed at such national and international venues and festivals as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Newport Jazz Festival, the Berlin Jazz Festival, and the Village Vanguard, among many others.

Molecular Biophysics Program Hosts 20th Annual Retreat

MBB

Three Wesleyan faculty, one guest, and one alumnus delivered talks during the 20th Annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat on Sept. 26. The speakers included David Beveridge, Joshua Boger University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics, Emeritus; Lila Gierasch, Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Chemistry at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry; Michael LeVine ’11 of D.E. Shaw Research; and Laverne Melón, assistant professor of biology.

On Sept. 26, the Molecular Biophysics Program hosted its 20th Annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat at Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown. Several Wesleyan faculty, students, and guests attended the all-day event, which included five talks, two poster sessions, and a reception.

Lila Gierasch, Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Chemistry at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, delivered the keynote address, titled “Hsp70s: Allosteric Machines that Perform a Multitude of Cellular Functions.” Gierasch, a leader in the field of protein folding, is a newly elected member of the National Academy of Sciences. Her work focuses particularly on folding in the cell and understanding the action of folding helper proteins, known as chaperones. Her career-long contributions were recently recognized by the American Peptide Society with a lifetime achievement honor, the Merrifield Award. She is also a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s Ralph F. Hirschmann Award in Peptide Chemistry, an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is currently editor-in-chief of the premier biochemical publication, the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Sultan to Lead $2M Evolutionary-Developmental Biology Project

Sonia Sultan

In the Wesleyan Research Greenhouse, Professor of Biology Sonia Sultan studies how Polygonum plants develop and function differently in response to contrasting environmental conditions. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

With support from a $2 million John Templeton Foundation National Sciences grant, Professor of Biology Sonia Sultan will spearhead a multi-institution evolutionary biology research project over the next three years.

The project, titled “Agency in Living Systems: How Organisms Actively Generate Adaptation, Resilience and Innovation at Multiple Levels of Organization,” developed from Sultan’s research on how individual organisms respond to their environments. Sultan and her Wesleyan research group study this question through experiments with the common plant Polygonum.

Sultan's data on Polygonum plant have broader implications for understanding evolution.

Sultan’s data on Polygonum plant have broader implications for understanding evolution.

Sultan’s previous findings have shown that genetically identical Polygonum plants can develop very differently depending on their growth conditions, allowing adaptive adjustments by individual plants without any genetic change. Because these adjustments are made actively by plants, rather than pre-scripted by their DNA sequence, this insight poses challenges to prevailing conceptual models for development and evolutionary adaptation.

“Scientists are particularly keen to understand these types of induced changes because they may help populations to very rapidly adapt to novel environmental stresses caused by human activities,” Sultan said.

The Templeton Foundation grant supports a consortium to investigate more broadly this property of biological agency—the ways in which active, real-time responses by living organisms influence the organisms’ own features. Sultan and her international team of co-investigators will focus on the active response mechanisms produced by evolution that grant organisms a degree of agency in shaping their own development, behavior, and subsequent evolution.

“New findings over the past decade about gene expression, development, the nature of inheritance, and the basis of adaptation, have led developmental and evolutionary biologists to re-examine some fundamental and long-standing ideas,” Sultan said. “The concept of agency may provide a unifying framework at a time when many scientists are seeking to update and expand those ideas. This project gives us the opportunity to help move the field forward and hopefully contribute to a more nuanced understanding of organisms.”

What’s the Buzz About Pollinators? Class Visits Local Apiary to Find Out

bees

Drew Burnett, kneeling, at right, gave Wesleyan students a tour of a local apiary, where they learned about the centrality of honeybees to our industrialized agricultural system. The students are pictured holding Drew’s Honeybees lip balm.

Students in a Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems class recently stepped out of the classroom … and into beekeeping suits. The buzzworthy hands-on experience was part of a field trip to an apiary in Norwich, Conn.

“The course explores strategies to create a sustainable agriculture and food system,” said Rosemary Ostfeld ’10, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies, who teaches the class. Her students have already been gaining an understanding of some of the key environmental impacts associated with our agricultural system, and read Rachel Carson’s seminal Silent Spring. The purpose of the field trip on Sept. 18 “was to learn more about pollinators—specifically honeybees—and some of the reasons their populations have been declining in recent years,” Ostfeld said.

Hosting the students were beekeeper Drew Burnett and his assistant Curtis Witt. Burnett is the founder of Drew’s Honeybees, a honeybee-centric, all-natural, USDA organic skincare company. Drew’s Honeybees donates 20 percent of its profits to the State of Connecticut’s Agricultural Experiment Station to fund pioneering research into the causes of and solutions to Colony Collapse Disorder.

President Roth Discusses New Book, Higher Education

On Sept. 26, the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore hosted a public discussion between Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 and Roxanne Coady, founder of RJ Julia Booksellers, on Roth’s new book and the crises facing higher education today.

Roth’s new book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses, was published Aug. 20 by Yale University Press. In the book, Roth takes a pragmatic and empathetic approach to the challenges facing higher education. He offers important historical, sociological, and economic context, as well as firsthand observations from his decades as a higher ed administrator, to debates over free speech, political correctness, safe spaces, affirmative action, and inclusion. As the book’s title suggests, he envisions a higher education space that is “safe enough” for students to openly explore new ideas and perspectives—even those that are unpopular or cause discomfort—and where no idea is protected from reasoned challenge.

Roth also is the author of Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters (Yale University Press, 2014).

The discussion concluded with a Q&A, reception, and book signing. (Photos by Nick Sng ’23)

Roth booktalk

Wynn Named Vice President for Communications

Renell Wynn is Wesleyan’s new vice president for communications.

Renell Wynn has been hired as Wesleyan’s new vice president for communications, President Michael Roth ’78 announced in a campus email on Sept. 27. She will start on Oct. 21.

Roth shared Wynn’s “deep experience in higher education communications and marketing,” with leadership positions at the University of Denver, George Mason University, and The College of William & Mary, among others.

“In these positions, she has led efforts to elevate institutional reputation, played a critical role in successful fundraising campaigns, and served as a trusted senior advisor. Renell is skilled at developing productive working relationships with diverse populations and using skillful storytelling to advance strategic priorities. She brings a strong record of strategic, data-based thinking, creative energy, and dynamic leadership,” he wrote.

Aleshkovsky Discusses Novels With Translator White, Editor Fusso

On Sept. 27, the award-winning contemporary Russian writer Yuz Aleshkovsky sat down with two collaborators and former colleagues, Duffield White and Susanne Fusso, at the RJ Julia Bookstore to discuss the publication in English of his novels, Nikolai Nikolaevich and Camouflage.

On Sept. 27, the award-winning contemporary Russian writer Yuz Aleshkovsky (third from left) sat down with two collaborators and former colleagues, Duffield White and Susanne Fusso (left), at the RJ Julia Bookstore to discuss the publication in English of his novels, Nikolai Nikolaevich and Camouflage. Pictured at right is Yuz’s wife, Irina Aleshkovsky, adjunct professor of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies.

Born in 1929 in Krasnoyarsk, Aleshkovsky grew up in Moscow and served in the Soviet Navy. He was imprisoned for three years on a petty criminal charge and released after the death of Stalin led to a general amnesty. He published children's books but became best known for his songs and novels circulated in samizdat (the underground network of censored literature in the USSR). Aleshkovsky left the Soviet Union in 1979, and the following year Wesleyan sponsored his entry into the United States, where he was invited to serve as Visiting Russian Writer in Wesleyan's Russian Department.

Born in 1929 in Krasnoyarsk, Aleshkovsky grew up in Moscow and served in the Soviet Navy. He was imprisoned for three years on a petty criminal charge and released after the death of Stalin led to a general amnesty. He published children’s books, but became best known for his songs and novels circulated in samizdat (the underground network of censored literature in the USSR). Aleshkovsky left the Soviet Union in 1979, and the following year Wesleyan sponsored his entry into the United States, where he was invited by Priscilla Meyer, professor of Russian language and literature, emerita, to serve as visiting Russian writer in Wesleyan’s Russian Department.

Townsend ’90 Discusses New Memoir at Bookstore with McCrea ’21

bookstore

Professor of Letters, Emeritus, Paul Schwaber joined College of Letters alumna and author Sarah Townsend ’90, P’21, and current COL major Sara McCrea ’21 for a discussion of Townsend’s book at Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore.

On Sept. 19, Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore hosted a Q&A with College of Letters (COL) alumna Sarah C. Townsend ’90, P’21, author of Setting the Wire: A Memoir of Postpartum Psychosis, (Lettered Streets Press, 2019) in conversation with current COL major Sara McCrea ’21.

McCrea, who reviews alumni books for the Wesleyan Connection, had selected Townsend’s book for inclusion in the second of her recent-publications series last spring. Encouraging others to read Townsend’s work, she had written: “Bursts of sharp and vulnerable detail presented in lyrical prose display Townsend’s fearlessness as she evaluates the ways in which her own body and others’ bodies handle and inform emotion. Through its discussion of losing and finding wholeness, Townsend’s succinct and striking writing implores readers to reckon with the power and limitation of physical reflections in representing mental illness.”

This semester, at the bookstore event, she told those gathered, “I was in complete awe of this book’s riveting honesty and its masterful structure.”

An audience that boasted many of McCrea’s COL peers, along with University Professor of Letters Kari Weil, were seated to face Townsend and McCrea. Additionally, Professor of Letters Emeritus, Paul Schwaber, who had been director of the College of Letters as well as one of Townsend’s advisors while she was an undergraduate, was also in attendance, contributing his observations and a question to the discussion that followed the Townsend/McCrea dialogue.

Townsend began by reading from the book, tracing her experience as a new mother with a nursing infant, quickly moving into psychosis, undergoing hospitalization, and finally returning to a healthy sense of self. Yet, “this isn’t a really heavy book,” Townsend explained. “It’s joyful, actually—a love story.”

Prompted by McCrea’s questions, Townsend explored the meaning of the title: She had become fascinated by Phillipe Petit, the man who walked on a wire strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center. He had talked about the importance of properly “setting the wire”—a through line—before beginning to cross. Like Petit’s high wire, she noted, her baby’s umbilical cord had been attached off-center, in what is called a compromised attachment.

“I think our minds are natural pattern-makers, and we have that in our favor,” Townsend noted, commenting on the associations these items had brought to her consciousness. The two also discussed Townsend’s use of sound, as well as the book’s narrative shape, noting that it is unlike that of a male hero’s journey; instead, it traced out a spiral structure. The two also explored Townsend’s writing process, as well as the ways that her career as a psychotherapist had informed the work.

“I guess one of the great things about writing is that there aren’t any rules and you can just take from anywhere and see what you might do with it,” Townsend concluded, ending the formal part of the program to greet students personally and sign books.

Townsend’s debut book, Setting the Wire, is an account of postpartum psychosis and a meditation on what holds us together. Her style mixes memoir with film, music, visual art, and psychology.

The conversation touched on Townsend’s experience of fragmentation when she was a new mother.