Campus News & Events

Khamis Speaks on Labor Markets

Melanie Khamis

Melanie Khamis

Melanie Khamis, associate professor of economics, recently presented two talks.

On Sept. 2, Khamis discussed “Migration and the Labor Market: New Evidence from Mexico” at the Macmillan Center for Latin American and Iberian Studies at Yale University.

On Sept. 20, she presented a paper titled “Personality, Gender, and the Labor Market” at the European Association of Labor Economists in Uppsala, Sweden. The paper addresses the topic of what effects do personality traits, both controlling for gender and interacting with gender, have on labor market-related choices and outcomes.

Coauthors of the paper include Giovanni Hutchinson ’19 and Joyce Jacobsen former Wesleyan provost and Andrews Professor of Economics.

Wave-Transport Lab Receives DoD, NSF Grants to Support Research

wave lab

Wesleyan’s Wave-Transport Lab recently received $709,000 in grants to study the movement of waves. The lab is spearheaded by Professors Tsampikos Kottos and Fred Ellis, pictured in the back row.

The Physics Department’s Wave-Transport Lab recently received awards totaling $709,000 to support its ongoing aim to understand and manipulate the movement of waves—sound, mechanical, or electromagnetic waves—through natural or human-made materials.

The lab received a $340,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation program titled “Engineering Dynamical Symmetries for Extreme Wave-Matter Interactions in Elastodynamics,” and a $369,000 grant from the Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) titled “Waveform Shaping Techniques for Targeted Electromagnetic Attacks.”

The Wave-Transport Lab was established in 2016 when Fred Ellis, chair and professor of physics, and Tsampikos Kottos, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society and professor of physics, developed arguments for a mechanical system that would detect very small surface cracks, like the micro-cracks an airplane’s exterior collects after many hours of flight.

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.

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).

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.

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.

Wesleyan in the News

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

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The Hill: “Analysis: 2020 Digital Spending Vastly Outpaces TV Ads”

The Hill reports on a new analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project, which finds that 2020 presidential hopefuls have spent nearly six times more money on Facebook and Google advertising than on TV ads. President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee lead the way in digital advertising, having spent nearly $16 million so far. All told, Facebook and Google have raked in over $60 million on online ads this cycle to date. “At this stage in the campaign, candidate spending is driven by supporter list-building and investing heavily to secure enough donors to qualify for the Democratic debates,” explained Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

2. Religion News Service: “Sixty Years Later, Only Frank Lloyd Wright Synagogue Continues as ‘Work of Art'”

Joe Siry, Kenan Professor of the Humanities and professor of art history, speaks about Beth Sholom Synagogue, the only synagogue designed by the distinguished architect Frank Lloyd Wright, on the 60th anniversary of its opening. Siry is an expert on Wright’s work, and the author of Beth Sholom Synagogue: Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Religious Architecture (The University of Chicago Press, 2011). Read an interview with Siry about the book.

3. KERA “Think”: “Do Colleges Really Need Safe Spaces?”

President Michael Roth joins host Kris Boyd for a wide-ranging conversation in connection with his book Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses. They discuss Roth’s ideas of how to balance students’ needs to feel safe and included on college campuses while keeping them open to exploring new ideas, as well as common misunderstandings about the concept of “safe spaces,” and the effects of the backlash against political correctness. Roth also recently spoke about his book on Tablet Magazine’s “Unorthodox” podcast. (Roth comes in around 49 minutes).

4. WTIC “Todd Feinberg”: “Richard Grossman”

Richard Grossman, professor and chair of economics, is interviewed about what’s going on with the US economy, why he’s not too worried about prolonged low interest rates, concerns over a recession, and what can be done to fix income inequality.

5. Exhale Lifestyle: “Award-Winning Boston Filmmaker Sparks Conversations About Change”

This profile describes how Tracy Heather Strain, professor of the practice in film studies and co-director of the Wesleyan Documentary Project, became a filmmaker specifically because she wanted to make a film about her longtime idol, Lorraine Hansberry. Like Hansberry, the author of the monumental play A Raisin in the Sun, about black families living under racial segregation in Chicago, Strain is “concerned with contemporary society’s obvious injustices.” Strain earned a Peabody Award for her 2017 documentary about Hansberry, Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart.

Alumni in the News

1. Chicago Sun-Times: “The Music of Alsarah & The Nubatones Transcends Borders, Cultures”

Mary Houlihan profiles Sarah Elgadi ’04, noting, “From a young age, Alsarah, who fronts the Brooklyn group Alsarah & the Nubatones, found refuge in music.” Elgadi was 12 when her family arrived in United States. “Now, years later, the 37-year-old singer, songwriter, bandleader and ethnomusicologist (she has a degree from Wesleyan University) has forged a career with ties to her background, bringing a fresh sound to world music.”

2. Eureka Alert: ”Study: Adults’ Actions, Successes, Failures, and Words Affect Young Children’s Persistence”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science reports on the study led by Julia A. Leonard ’11, MindCore postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, who observes: “Our work shows that young children pay attention to the successes and failures of the adults around them and, reasonably, don’t persist long at tasks that adults themselves fail to achieve.”

3. Boston.gov: “Dr. Taylor Cain [’11] Appointed to Lead Boston’s Housing Innovation Lab”

In the release announcing her appointment, Cain said: “As the new director, I cannot wait to grow the threads of this work. I am looking forward to partnering with the many communities that care deeply about housing in Boston and exploring projects that grapple with the connections between housing, transportation, employment, and other important dimensions of urban life.”

4. NPR.org: “How UAW’s Strike Against GM May Affect Ford and Fiat-Chrysler”

In this interview with New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse ’73, P’08, author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present and Future of American Labor, NPR host David Greene asks about the strike that the United Automobile Workers union launched earlier this month in more than 30 factories after failing to reach a deal with GM.

5. Core77: ”frog’s Francois Nguyen [’94] is Actively Helping Shape What the Future Looks Like

Writer Alexandra Alexa notes in this interview—which is part of a series on the presenters in this year’s Core77 Conference, exploring the future of the design industry—that Nguyen was one of the lead designers of the original “Beats Studio” headphones by Dr. Dre. She writes: “Even when he’s not working, Francois Nguyen never really stops envisioning what the world might look like. More than a decade into his industrial design career, Nguyen knows a thing or two about staying resilient and nimble as the discipline changes.”

6. International Examiner: “‘Carrie Yamaoka [’79]: recto/verso’ is Not So Much About What You See as How it Happens

Susan Kunimatsu writes about the artist’s retrospective, currently at University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery through Nov. 3: “Yamaoka is fascinated with transformations, like the moment when exposed photo paper hits the developing chemical and an image starts to appear. Many of her artworks are about capturing that moment.”

Wesleyan Community Participates in Global Climate Strikes (with Photo Gallery)

climate justice

Students participated in the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20.

On Sept. 20, members of the Wesleyan community—including students, faculty, staff, and Middletown community leaders—joined millions of young people around the world by participating in the Global Climate Strike. Taking place in more than 150 countries, the Global Climate Strike (held Sept. 20-27) amplifies a chorus of concern about the catastrophic dangers of climate change.

The on-campus strike included speeches by students, faculty, and a community member, and concluded with a march around campus. Boldly displaying handcrafted signs, students paraded around campus chanting, “No coal, no oil, keep the carbon in the soil,” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, fossil fuels have got to go.”

The strike concluded with a march around campus and candlelight vigil. The event kicked off a week’s worth of activities centered around the threat of climate change.

O’Connell Works with International Scientists to Collect Sediment Cores from Scotia Sea

JOIDES

The JOIDES Resolution at the pier in Punta Arenas, Chile. (Credit: Thomas Ronge & IODP)

Suzanne O'Connell

Suzanne O’Connell

As campus was winding down for spring break last semester, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Suzanne O’Connell was packing her bags for a two-month expedition in the Scotia Sea, just north of the Antarctic Peninsula, to drill for marine sediment miles below the ocean waves.

On her ninth expedition since 1980, O’Connell was one of 30 international scientists working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, navigating “Iceberg Alley” aboard the JOIDES Resolution research vessel. It is the only ship in the world with coring tools powerful enough to extract both soft sediment and hard rock from the ocean floor.

At five carefully selected sites the ship stopped, and—provided the vicinity was iceberg-free—scientists lowered coring equipment through an opening in the floor of the ship to drill 0.5 to 2.5 miles down through the water and into the ocean sediment. After two hours, the equipment (which uses an action similar to that of coring an apple), would bring back the 31-foot-long core. Back on board, the cores were cut into 1.5-meter segments and then split lengthwise to reveal a layer cake of preserved mineral and organic sediment, each layer representing a snapshot of the ocean floor from a moment in geologic history.