Faculty

Sultan Questions Evolutionary Theory at Evolutionary Biology Conference

Sonia Sultan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies, was a guest speaker at the “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology: Biological, Philosophical, and Social Science Perspectives,” conference hosted by The Royal Society, London held Nov. 7-9.

The international event, in an effort to encourage cross-disciplinary discussion, brought together researchers from the humanities, sciences and social sciences to examine the many “developments in evolutionary biology and adjacent fields, which have produced calls for revision of the standard theory of evolution.”

As part of the conference, Sultan spoke about “Developmental Plasticity: Re-conceiving the Genotype,” a topic which examines the possibility of “re-conceiving the genotype as an environmental response repertoire rather than a fixed developmental program.”

Sultan’s work also was featured in an article published in The Atlantic on Nov. 28, which highlighted the move to expand upon the idea evolution. Using the smartweed plant and its living, environmental conditions as an example, Sultan explained how allowing the plant to grow in low sunlight versus allowing the plant to grow in bright sunlight produces plants “that may look like they belong to different species, even though they’re are genetically identical.” In low sunlight the leaves take on a very broad shape, where as in bright sunlight they are narrower. “This flexibility or plasticity in adapting to the amount of sunlight can itself help drive evolution, by allowing the plant to spread to a range of habitats,” she says.

More on Sultan’s work, as well as, the work of other presenters can be found here.

Varekamp, Lefkowitz ’12 Co-Author Chapter On Volcanic Lakes

Based on the senior thesis of Jared Lefkowitz ’12, “A Tale of Two Lakes: The Newberry Volcano Twin Crater Lakes, Oregon, USA,” was published online, Nov. 25, by the Geological Society of London, U.K, as part of the volume, Geochemistry and Geophysics of Active Volcanic Lakes. The study is co-authored by Lefkowitz and Johan Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor in Earth Science. Varekamp also is professor of environmental science, adjunct professor in Latin American studies, and chair of the Geological Society of America’s Limnogeology Division.

The chapter examines the complex ecosystems of Newberry Volcano’s two small crater lakes, East Lake and Paulina Lake, which are of interest to scientists because of the presence of highly toxic components and the signs gas-charging in East Lake. “These factors present natural hazards, which may change when new volcanic activity is initiated,” Varekamp explained. The presence of nearby “seismic triggers or disrupted lake stratification gives scientists a situation to monitor, as these factors can cause sudden intense CO2 degassing in the very different chemistries and gas contents of the two lakes.”

Lefkowitz and Varekamp’s abstract is online here.

Additionally, Varekamp contributed papers on Taal Lake in the Philippines and on the Copahue Volcano crater lake in Argentina. Both of these chapters will be published in the same volume in the upcoming weeks.

Board of Trustees Confers Tenure on 4 Faculty

In its most recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure on four faculty members including Tiphanie Yanique, associate professor of English; Jay Hoggard, professor of music; Ron Kuivila, professor of music; and Sumarsam, professor of music. Sumarsam also was appointed to the Winslow-Kaplan Professorship of Music. The appointments will be effective on Jan. 1, 2017.

“Please join us in congratulating them on their impressive records of accomplishment,” said Joyce Jacobsen, provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Tiphanie Yanique

Tiphanie Yanique

Tiphanie Yanique is a widely published and highly regarded fiction writer, essayist and poet. She is the author of two novels, one children’s book, one collection of poems, numerous works of short fiction, and many nonfiction essays. Her novel, Land of Love and Drowning (Penguin Random House Publishers/Riverhead Books, 2014), is the recipient of several awards, including the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize and the American Academy Rosenthal Prize, and her recent poetry collection, Wife (Peepal Tree Press, 2015), received the 2016 Bocas Poetry Prize in Caribbean Literature and the 2016 Forward/Felix Dennis Prize for best new collection in the United Kingdom. Her work has focused on themes of belonging and freedom. She offers courses on creative writing and literature. (Yanique’s photo by Debbie Grossman)

Comfort Remembered for Teaching Mathematics 40 Years at Wesleyan

Wis Comfort

Wis Comfort

William Wistar “Wis” Comfort II, the Edward Burr Van Vleck Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus, died Nov. 28 at the age of 83.

Comfort received his BA from Haverford College, and an MSc and PhD from the University of Washington (Seattle) and was an expert on point-set topology, ultrafilters, set theory and topological groups. He joined the Wesleyan faculty in 1967 after teaching at Harvard, University of Rochester and University of Massachusetts (Amherst). Comfort taught in the mathematics department for 40 years until his retirement in 2007, where he supervised 17 PhD theses and three MA theses. He was a key figure in the founding of the Math Workshop, a drop-in help center for students that he directed for many years that remains widely used today.

Comfort was named an American Mathematical Society Fellow in the inaugural class of AMS Fellows in 2013 in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the creation, exposition, advancement, communication and utilization of mathematics. He was active in the AMS, serving as associate secretary of the Eastern Section and as the managing editor of the Proceedings of the AMS. He published three books, including Chain Conditions in Topology (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1982), and more than 100 mathematical papers.

Comfort was a Quaker, a musician who played the trombone in a Dixieland band, and a dignified gentleman who exuded collegiality. He is survived by his daughter, Martha, and his son, Howard. His beloved wife, longtime Wesleyan staff member Mary Connie Comfort, passed away in May 2016. His family requests that memorial contributions be made in Wis’s name to Middletown Friends Meeting (Quakers) or the Essex Meadows Employee Scholarship Fund. A memorial service will be held on campus in April 2017.

Wesleyan Hosts 8th Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of Connecticut

Professor Gilmore accepting the Joe Weber Award

Marty Gilmore accepts the Joe Webb Peoples Award at the 8th Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of Connecticut.

On Nov. 18, the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (E&ES) hosted the 8th Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of Connecticut (GSC). The event featured a student scholarship wine-tasting fundraiser and a public science lecture called “The Real Jurassic Park in the Connecticut Valley,” by paleontologist Robbert Baker.

During the meeting, Phillip Resor, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, Martha “Marty” Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, were awarded the Joe Webb Peoples Award for their efforts in hosting the 2015 New England Intercollegiate Geologic Conference. The award recognizes those who have contributed to the understanding of the geology of Connecticut through scholarship, education and service.

Many other E&ES faculty were in attendance, including Dana Royer, Suzanne O’Connell, Johan Varekamp, Peter Patton and Timothy Ku. Additionally, several E&ES graduate students attended, including John Hossain, Melissa Luna, Shaun Mahmood, and alumni Bill Burton ’74, Nick McDonald MA ’75, and Peter LeTourneau MA ’85.

Kuenzel Published in European Economic Review

David Kuenzel

David Kuenzel

David Kuenzel, assistant professor of economics, is the author of a new paper published in the European Economic Review titled “WTO Dispute Determinants.”

In the paper, Kuenzel investigates what factors drive the decisions of World Trade Organization member countries to engage in trade disputes with each other. “Understanding the determinants of the dispute pattern is crucial, since the WTO can only function properly if its dispute settlement mechanism is equally accessible to all member countries,” Kuenzel said.

The paper presents a new theory and empirical evidence to show that trade policy flexibility, which is defined as the difference between the tariff rate a country is legally allowed to set and the tariff rate it actually applies, is the key to understanding the WTO dispute pattern. Less trade policy flexibility constrains WTO members’ legal policy options when responding to adverse shocks in the world economy, and leads more frequently to the application of illegal trade barriers.

Countries with less trade policy flexibility, Kuenzel says, are also more likely to gain from dispute filings, since WTO rulings have to be enforced by countries themselves through the threat of applying higher tariffs rates.

“Importantly, the results in the paper illustrate that the WTO’s current emphasis on providing subsidized legal advice to developing countries is not making the WTO dispute settlement mechanism more accessible,” he says. “While the subsidy helps poorer members to file disputes and increases the likelihood of winning a case, developing countries still lack the power to enforce WTO rulings due to their much greater trade policy flexibility relative to other WTO member groups, which substantially diminishes the economic incentive for low-income members to initiate a dispute.”

Chemistry, Physics Students Attend Biomedical Research Conference

Contributed photo

From Nov. 9-12, two faculty members and five students from the physics and chemistry departments, attended the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Tampa, Fla.

Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics, and Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry, were joined by McNair Scholars Luz Mendez ’17, Tatianna Pryce ’17, Stacy Uchendu ’17 and Hanna Morales ’17; and Wesleyan Mathematics and Science (WesMaSS) Scholar Helen Karimi ’19.

Students observed other research being performed around the nation by students who are members of underrepresented groups in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). In addition, the Wesleyan students presented their own research and Morales and Karimi were awarded Outstanding Poster Presentation Awards.

“Through the PIE Initiative, Wesleyan has a deliberate strategy to support underrepresented students and faculty in STEM fields by providing resources that increasing post-Wesleyan mentorship and exposure to research excellence, all of which were fulfilled through this conference,” said Antonio Farias, vice president for equity and inclusion/Title IX officer. “It cannot go without saying that without Professor Taylor’s and Professor Etson’s holistic mentorship approach, these type of opportunities for our young scholars would not be possible.”

Sumarsam Performs Shadow Puppet Play at Islamic Intersections Festival

Sumarsam, University Professor of Music

Sumarsam, University Professor of Music

On Nov. 9, Sumarsam, professor of music and puppeteer, performed his shadow-puppet play, Bima’s Quest for Enlightenment, at the Performing Indonesia: Islamic Intersections festival, presented by the Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art and George Washington University. This music, dance, and theater festival celebrates the many manifestations of Islamic culture in the island nation, which is home to more Muslims than any other country.

During the festival, Sumarsam performed a condensed version of an all-night wayang puppet play, featuring only the main episodes of the story. Wayang is the Javanese word for shadow, or bayang in standard Indonesian. More than 200 people attended.

Additionally, Sumarsam and his students led a panel discussion “Intercultural and Interreligious Encounters in Indonesian Performing Arts.”

On Dec 2., Sumarsam and the Wesleyan Gamelan Ensemble will present a Javanese wayang puppet play in the World Music Hall. The performance is free and open to the public.

Sumarsam’s research on history, theory, and performance practice of gamelan and wayang, and on Indonesia-Western encounter theme has resulted in the publication of numerous articles and two books. His recent research focuses have been on the intersections between religion and performing arts.

Imai Presents Economics Research at Banking Conference, Macroeconomics Research Workshop

Masami Imai

Masami Imai

Masami Imai, chair and professor of economics, professor of East Asian studies, presented a paper at the 19th Annual International Banking Conference held at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago on Nov. 4. This year’s theme was Achieving Financial Stability: Challenges to Prudential Regulation, giving Imai the opportunity to speak on “Japan’s Regulatory Response to Banking Problems.”

At the 12th Annual Workshop on Macroeconomics Research at Liberal Arts Colleges, held at Williams College in August, and at the Japanese Economic Association Meeting held at Waseda University College in Tokyo, Japan in September, Imai discussed “The Effects of Ethnic Chinese Minority on Vietnam’s Regional Economic Development in the Post-Vietnam War Period.”

His work examined the impact of the Hoa, an ethnically Chinese, economically dominant minority on regional economic development in Vietnam following the Vietnam War. Imai found that the ethnic group had a positive impact on the development of Vietnam, but the “post-Vietnam War exodus of ethnic Chinese is likely to have had long-term negative economic impacts.”

Imai teaches courses on money, banking and financial markets, economy of Japan, economies of East Asia, and quantitative methods in economics. His research interests include money and banking, political economy, and the economy of Japan.

(Randi Plake contributed to this article).

 

Sanislow’s Research on Psychiatric Diagnosis Published in 2 Journals

Charles Sanislow

Charles Sanislow

Charles Sanislow, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the author of two papers in leading journals for psychiatry and psychology on his work with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Research Domain Criteria (RDoC). The RDoC is a framework to drive translational research to improve psychiatric diagnosis and develop new and better treatments.

In the October issue of World Psychiatry, Sanislow reports on ongoing RDoC work, including the consideration of adding the domain “Motor Systems” to the RDoC. Early this month, Sanislow participated in a workshop at NIMH to review the evidence for research constructs having to do with disruptions of movement related to psychopathology.

In the November issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Sanislow argues for the need to research connections between internal mechanisms and core dimensions of human suffering and dysfunction. In Sanislow’s lab at Wesleyan, students learn methods to study alterations in cognitive and neural processes, and ways to clarify how such alterations relate to clinical symptoms. Sanislow began work on the RDoC when it started in 2009, and he continues to serve as member of the NIMH Internal Working Group for the project.

Alumnus Slowik ’03 Returns to Wesleyan, Joins Film Studies Faculty

Michael Slowik '03

Michael Slowik ’03

As an undergraduate film studies major in the early 2000s, Michael Slowik admired how Wesleyan’s film faculty emphasized “their unabashed enthusiasm for movies,” the history of film and ways films impacted the audience. “These were things I closely connected with,” Slowik said.

Slowik, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2003 with a BA in film studies, was appointed assistant professor of film at Wesleyan this fall. His research interests include U.S. film history, film sound, film authorship and film’s relationship to music and theater.

“Nearly all of the film professors who were so influential to me are still at Wesleyan, so when I was offered a position in the department, I was happy and honored to accept it,” he said. “I feel privileged to be able to teach in our beautiful film building, and I also love the warm, almost family-like atmosphere of the department. It’s great to be back ‘home’ at Wesleyan.”

After graduating from Wesleyan, Slowik received a MA in humanities from The University of Chicago and a MA and PhD in film studies from the University of Iowa. His dissertation, After the Silents: Hollywood Film Music in the Early Sound Era, 1926-1934, was ultimately published by Columbia University Press in 2014.

Redfield Speaks to Wesleyan Staff about Discovering Exoplanets

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On Oct. 31, Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy, spoke on “Blue Skies on Distant Worlds” during a special luncheon for staff in Daniel Family Commons. Redfield, whose research interests focus on exoplanets and their atmospheres, explained how astronomers can detect and measure planets outside of our solar system. In the same way Earth orbits around the sun, an exoplanet will circle around a star. For some planetary systems, from Earth, astronomers can view the the exoplanet passing directly in front of its host star once per orbit.