Faculty

Faculty, Students, Alumnus Co-Author Paper in Biochemistry Journal

Wesleyan co-authors published a paper titled “The Stories Tryptophans Tell: Exploring Protein Dynamics of Heptosyltransferase I from Escherichia coli” in the January 2017 issue of Biochemistry.

The co-authors include chemistry graduate student Joy Cote; alumni Zarek Siegel ’16 and Daniel Czyzyk, PhD ’15; and faculty Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry; Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Their paper investigates the intrinsic properties of Tryptophan amino acids found within the protein, Heptosyltransferase I, to understand the ways this protein moves during catalysis. Understanding the movement of this protein is an important step in developing its inhibitors.

When this protein is inactive, either because it was genetically altered or inhibited, hydrophobic antibiotics become more effective, so inhibitors could be useful in reactivating antibiotics that are current not effective against these bacteria.

While it is popularly believed that inhibiting a protein requires a compound to compete with the substrate, their paper argues that instead one can design a inhibitor to disrupt protein dynamics, preventing activity. The co-authors compare the function of this “protein dynamics disruptor” to a wedge holding open a door–once inserted, the inhibitor prevents the protein from performing its function.

Their research on Tryptophan residues also found that distant regions of the protein communicate whether or not they are binding their substrate to other regions.

“It would be like if your right hand knew that your left hand was holding a pencil just by the changes in the position of your left hand. We are currently pursuing computational studies to look for these motions via molecular dynamics experiments,” Taylor said.

Irani Analyzes Differences in Good and Bad Rhetoric

Tushar Irani, associate professor of philosophy, associate professor of letters, recently published an essay titled “What is good rhetoric?” for Aeon, a digital magazine for culture and ideas. Related to his current book, Plato on the Value of Philosophy, the essay calls on the public to consider the civic good that rhetoric serves in democratic politics, and the effect it may have on our ability to engage in independent thought.

The essay discusses the difference between good and bad political rhetoric. By drawing on Plato’s understanding of persuasive speech, Irani draws a distinction between flattering rhetoric and “self-moving” rhetoric. The problem with conventional rhetoric, according to this view, is not with persuasive speech itself or the fact that people use it. It is with the ability of a persuasive speaker “to subvert or short-circuit an audience’s power of independent thought.” Good rhetoric, while it is still persuasive, invites the listener to think independently about what the speaker is saying, creating an opportunity to “have our desire to understand enlisted.” Irani refers to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as an example of this type of rhetoric.

Aeon is a unique digital magazine, publishing some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web. Irani’s essay can be read online.

Gallarotti Discusses Rising Tensions Over Russia, North Korea on Radio Program

Giulio Gallarotti

Giulio Gallarotti

Professor of Government Giulio Gallarotti was a guest recently on “Best of the Valley/ Shore” on WLIS/WMRD to discuss “Current Challenges of American Foreign Policy.”

“Our economy is doing well, the stock market is strong. The Fed’s been talking about raising interest rates, that’s how well we’re doing. And that hasn’t happened in a long, long time,” said Gallarotti by way of introduction. “There’s a lot going on all over the world and Americans are involved all over the world because we’re a global power.”

On recent tensions with Russia, he said: “I think it’s always been a kabuki dance, even at the height of the Cold War. It’s kind of like two very big people sharing the room. There will be a lot of friction, no matter who they are. Even in good times, they’ll always have issues. And in bad times, the friction will sometimes get to a crisis level. People will be very worried. I think that Russia is trying to solve a lot of different problems. Its main problems are domestic, not foreign, and a lot of the foreign policy is oriented toward maintaining some kind of stability in this political regime. Putin is using a lot of ‘rally around the flag’ tactics.”

Gallarotti elaborated on the problems in Russia, which include political instability, declining oil revenues, and a bad economy. And he said that the Russian people are “culturally comfortable” with being ruled by an iron fist throughout their history.

Listen to the whole interview here (scroll to “Valley Shore–41417–Wesleyan Government Professor”).

Gallarotti is also co-chair of the College of Social Studies, professor of environmental studies.

Grimmer-Solem Delivers Talk at Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences Meeting

Erik Margot Kohorn

Erik Grimmer-Solem

Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem presented a talk, “The Wehrmacht Past, the Bundeswehr, and the Politics of Remembrance in Contemporary Germany,” at the meeting of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences (CAAS), April 12.

Grimmer-Solem also is associate professor of German studies and a tutor in the College of Social Sciences. His expertise is in modern German history with specializations in economic history, the history of economic thought, and the history of social reform. He has also developed research interests in German imperialism, German-Japanese relations before 1918, and Germany in the two world wars.

Grimmer-Solem discussed his research, which uncovered the involvement of a Wehrmacht general, honored in public as a member of the military resistance to Hitler, in massive war crimes and crimes against humanity. He discussed how his findings were received by the German public, how that resulted in the official renaming of an air force base, and what that reveals about German perceptions of the war of destruction waged in the Soviet Union by the German army. The talk explored the deep involvement of the Wehrmacht in the Holocaust, the Janus-faced nature of many members of the German military resistance, and the ongoing problem of basing contemporary Germany’s military tradition and “official memory” on aspects of this tainted legacy.

CAAS, chartered in 1799, is the third-oldest learned society in the United States. Its purpose is to disseminate scholarly information through lectures and publications. It sponsors eight monthly presentations during the academic year, hosted by Wesleyan and Yale, that are free and open to the public, allowing anyone to hear distinguished speakers discuss current work in the sciences, arts, and humanities.

 

Kolcio Leads Somatic Exercises for the Ukrainian National Guard

Professor of Dance and Environmental Studies Katja Kolcio leading a somatic workshop with Ukrainian National Guardsmen. What I’ve learned is most radical about being invited by the National Guard – The have instituted counseling and mind-body programming in an effort to mitigate the dehumanizing effects of war. There is a great concern about the long term effects that this invasion political conflict with Russia will have in Ukraine on the present and future generations.

The Ukranian National Guard invited Wesleyan Professor of Dance and Environmental Studies Katja Kolcio to their country to lead somatic workshops for Guard personnel. The request from a reserve military force, says Kolcio, was unprecedented, and it illustrates that country’s radically new understanding of conflict. “They have instituted counseling and mind-body programming in an effort to mitigate the dehumanizing effects of war,” Kolcio says. “There is a great concern about the longterm effects that this political conflict with Russia will have in Ukraine on the present and future generations.”

Wesleyan Professor of Dance and Environmental Studies Katja Kolcio traveled again to Ukraine in April, this time to work with soldiers and psychologists in the National Guard. It was her third trip to the region to teach somatic practices to those undergoing the stress of political conflict, displacement, and combat.

Somatics are “mind-body practices that combine physical activity and motion with deep reflection,” she explained in “Somatics and Political Change: Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity,” (Contact Quarterly, summer/fall 2016), detailing her first trip to the region after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. In June 2015 she had been invited to lead somatic workshops for the volunteers working with refugee families and injured soldiers and offered her first set of classes in Ukraine then.

“One goal of somatics is to become more aware of subtle physical indications of dis-ease before they become acute or chronic issues,” she wrote. “Somatics is also a practice of “sense-making’—of integrating internal experiences with the external environment in order to become more conscious in the present moment.”

Kolcio considers this crucial work for her Wesleyan students, including first-year students “who are away from home for the first time, encountering world-shifting ideas.” Working with the breath and experiencing the body in the environment—its weight, the stress it holds—helps to orient the practitioner in the present moment—and envision new possibilities, make sense of the world in a different way.”

This work of integrating experiences is particularly important for those in regions undergoing crises, Kolcio believes—and it is what she can offer this country where she has familial roots. At the invitation of the National Guard of Ukraine this time, Kolcio returned to implement a somatics program to alleviate the injuries that soldiers sustain in combat.

Offering two-day workshops, Kolcio taught the creative and contemplative physical practices of somatics, as well as the cognitive approaches to build psychological flexibility and stress resistance among soldiers. Some of the techniques included the history of the body, self-awareness, breathing, body weight, muscle tension and movement.

“Various events leave a mark not only in memory but also in the body,” says Kolcio. “Thus, when helping patients recover from traumatic events, it is important to consider not only the memory in a classic sense, but the memory within the body.”

A political science major as an undergraduate, Kolcio places her body work in the context of that country’s history. The peaceful protest of the Revolution of Dignity has helped that country envision “another kind of orientation, one that seemed intent on superseding ethnic, national, and religious definitions,” she wrote in Contact Quarterly.

”What if we treated social-political orientation in the way we approach awareness in a somatic workshop?” she asks in her article. “I believe this is why my somatic workshops are being embraced here. People are seeking new ways of making sense in the world…. Somatics is an individual practice; I also see it as a social movement.” dlya_oficeriv-psyhologiv_provely_trening_za_uchasti_zakordonnyh_ekspertiv_2

 

Slotkin Featured in PBS Special, ‘The Great War’

Richard Slotkin appeared on PBS's American Experience April 10-11.

Richard Slotkin appeared on PBS’s American Experience April 10-11.

Richard Slotkin, the Olin Professor of English, emeritus, was featured in a PBS American Experience special, “The Great War,” on April 10.

“It’s a watershed in American history. The United States goes from being the country on the other side of the ocean to being the preeminent world power,” says Slotkin in Chapter 1 of the series.

In Chapter 2, Slotkin appears beginning around 15 minutes.

“When Wilson declares war, the total armed trained force of the United States is less than a quarter of a million men,” he says. “The British Army loses more than that in one battle.”

“In order to just enter the war at all, the United States has to raise from nothing an army of millions. But they can’t rely on volunteering because it just would take too long. So they realized that they needed to have some kind of draft.”

 

Slobin Elected Member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Mark Slobin

Mark Slobin

On April 12, ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, Emeritus, was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is one of 228 national and international scholars, artists and philanthropic leaders who joined the 237th class.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing—and opportunities available to—the nation and the world. Members contribute to Academy publications and studies in science, engineering, and technology policy; global security and international affairs; the humanities, arts, and education; and American institutions and the public good.

Slobin, who retired from Wesleyan in June 2016, is an expert on East European Jewish music and klezmer music, as well as the music of Afghanistan. Slobin’s career started at Wesleyan in July 1971. He has been president of the Society for Ethnomusicology, president of the Society for Asian Music, and editor of Asian Music. He has been the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Seeger Prize of the Society for Ethnomusicology, the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award, the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award (for lifetime achievement) from the Foundation for Jewish Culture, and the Curt Leviant Award In Yiddish Studies from the Modern Languages Association (honorable mention). He was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award for Chosen Voices (1989).

Slobin joins philanthropist and singer-songwriter John Legend; award-winning actress Carol Burnett; chairman of the board of Xerox Corporation Ursula Burns; mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani; immunologist James Allison; and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the 2017 American Academy of Arts and Sciences class. Other recipients are Pulitzer Prize winners; MacArthur Fellows; Fields Medalists; Presidential Medal of Freedom and National Medal of Arts recipients; and Academy Award, Grammy Award, Emmy Award, and Tony Award winners.

“In a tradition reaching back to the earliest days of our nation, the honor of election to the American Academy is also a call to service,” said Academy President Jonathan F. Fanton. “Through our projects, publications, and events, the Academy provides members with opportunities to make common cause and produce the useful knowledge for which the Academy’s 1780 charter calls.”

Slobin will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 7 in Cambridge, Mass.

Naegele Named a 2017 ‘Women of Innovation’ by the Connecticut Technology Council

Jan Naegele accepts her Women of Innovation® award.

Jan Naegele accepts her “Women of Innovation” award.

The Connecticut Technology Council recently selected Professor Janice Naegele as a 2017 “Women of Innovation.”

Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, was honored during the “Women of Innovation” awards dinner, held March 29 in Plantsville, Conn. The award recognizes women accomplished in science, technology, engineering, math and those who are involved in their community.

Naegele is a developmental neuroscientist whose research seeks to identify novel treatments for epilepsy and brain damage. She has published extensively on applications of stem cell transplantation for neural repair, including articles on embryonic stem cell therapy for treating epilepsy and the synaptic mechanisms underlying seizure suppression by fetal inhibitory neuron transplants. In the Naegele Laboratory, a team of graduate students, working with undergraduates and technicians, investigates the therapeutic effects of stem cell transplantation through experimental approaches including behavior, electrophysiology, immunohistochemistry, viral-mediated gene overexpression and optogenetics.

The Connecticut Technology Council received more than 200 nominations for the Women of Innovation® awards. Nagele was one of three women named a finalist in the Academic Innovation and Leadership-College category.

Wesleyan’s Antonio Farias, vice president for equity and inclusion; Joyce Jacobsen, provost and vice president for academic affairs; Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry; and Joe Knee, dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics division, professor of chemistry, nominated Naegele for the award.

From left, Antonio Farias, Ishita Mukerji, Jan Naegele, Joyce Jacobsen and Joe Knee attended the Connecticut Technology Council Women of Innovation® awards dinner on March 29.

From left, Antonio Farias, Ishita Mukerji, Jan Naegele, Joyce Jacobsen and Joe Knee attended the Connecticut Technology Council’s “Women of Innovation” awards dinner on March 29.

“I’m very grateful to my Wesleyan colleagues who nominated me for this award,” Naegele said. “The award was unexpected and a wonderful honor.”

Naegle, who came to Wesleyan in 1991, has served as chair of the Biology Department, director of the Center for Faculty Career Development, and as vice chair of the faculty. Her work is funded by the Connecticut Regenerative Medicine Research fund, the National Institutes of Health, and CURE Epilepsy. Recent honors and awards include the Louise Hansen Marshall Mentoring Award from the Society for Neuroscience; election to the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering; and completing a one-year fellowship in the ELATE at Drexel women’s executive leadership program.

Read more News @ Wesleyan articles about Professor Naegele.

 

Shapiro Brings to Life Victor Séjour’s Classics

Norman Shapiro, Distinguished Professor of Literary Translation, continues his work as a translator of traditional French literature with his newly published books, The Fortune-Teller (La Tireuse de cartes) and The Jew of Seville (Diégarias). Both originally written by Victor Séjour, the plays highlight the complexities surrounding those who were ‘black and free in the Antebellum South, exposing “in subtle and veiled ways how the conflict of race and class existed in nineteenth century Louisiana.”

The Jew of Seville follows the story of a Jewish man masquerading as a Christian and the lengths he goes to get revenge after his identity as a Jew is revealed leading to the unraveling of his, as well as his daughter’s well-established lives. The Fortune Teller is based on the real events of the Mortara incident. In Séjour’s rendition, an infant girl is taken from her Jewish home. Fast forward 17 years and readers follow the story of her wealthy mother disguised as a poor fortune teller in search of her lost daughter.

Both of Shapiro’s new works, as well as past translations can be found and purchased here.

Royer Finds Climate Could Soon Hit a State Unseen in 50 Million Years

Dana Royer

Dana Royer

New climate research by Dana Royer, professor and chair of earth and environmental sciences, finds that current carbon dioxide levels are unprecedented in human history and, if they continue on this trajectory “the atmosphere could reach a state unseen in 50 million years” by mid-century, according to an article in Salon.

The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere today are ones that likely haven’t been reached in 3 million years. But if human activities keep committing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at current rates, scientists will have to look a lot deeper into the past for a similar period. The closest analog to the mid-century atmosphere we’re creating would be a period roughly 50 million years ago known as the Eocene, a period when the world was completely different than the present due to extreme heat and oceans that covered a wide swath of currently dry land.

“The early Eocene was much warmer than today: global mean surface temperature was at least 10°C (18°F) warmer than today,” Dana Royer, a paleoclimate researcher at Wesleyan University who co-authored the new research, said. “There was little-to-no permanent ice. Palms and crocodiles inhabited the Canadian Arctic.”

Royer’s paper was published April 4 in Nature Communications and widely covered in the mainstream press. The implications, writes Salon, “are some of the starkest reminders yet that humanity faces a major choice to curtail carbon pollution or risk pushing the climate outside the bounds that have allowed civilization to thrive.”

According to an article in U.S. News & World Report:

 CO2 levels in the atmosphere have varied over millions of years. But fossil fuel use in the last 150 years has boosted levels from 280 parts per million (ppm) before industrialization to nearly 405 ppm in 2016, according to the researchers.

If people don’t halt rising CO2 levels and burn all available fossil fuels, CO2 levels could reach 2,000 ppm by the year 2250, the researchers said. CO2 and other gases act like a blanket, preventing heat from escaping into space. That’s known as the greenhouse effect, the researchers explained.

But the researchers note that CO2 levels are not the only factor in climate change; changes in the amount of incoming light also have an affect, and nuclear reactions in stars like the sun have made them brighter over time. Royer says this interplay is important:

“Up to now it’s been a puzzle as to why, despite the sun’s output having increased slowly over time, scant evidence exists for any similar long-term warming of the climate. Our finding of little change in the net climate forcing offers an explanation for why Earth’s climate has remained relatively stable, and within the bounds suitable for life all this time.”

Royer also is professor of environmental studies, professor of integrative sciences. See more coverage in Science Daily and International Business Times.

Gottschalk Featured in CBS Special ‘Faith in America’

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk, professor of religion, professor of science in society, was featured in a CBS special on March 28, “Faith in America: A History.” The program covered a history of Catholic, Jewish and Muslim intolerance in the U.S.

“The very understanding of who is acceptable in American society goes to the very heart of who Americans are, and who Americans can be,”said Gottschalk in his opening appearance. “So issues like excluding immigrants based on a religion test, which is against various laws in our country, not only threaten those who would like to come to the United States, but it threatens those who are within the United States”

“We find that folks like Thomas Jefferson and others were quite clear that there was going to be no discrimination whatsoever, and he very clearly stated that we need to be welcoming of Jews, gentiles, Gentoos, which is actually a word for Hindus, and Muslims. So just absolutely no interest whatsoever in any kind of delimiting notion of who can be American based on religion.”

Today, Muslims face the biggest threat from discrimination. Said Gottschalk, “This current president has capitalized on a nativist sentiment… As we saw in the 1920s, there’s concern about immigrants coming in, taking our jobs, and displacing our values and often not looking like us. So the nativism often has a racial premise as well as a religious premise.”

Gottschalk also is director of the Office of Faculty Career Development.

Smoklin Contributes to “Year of Russia” at KSU

Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock

Victoria Smolkin

Participating in Kennesaw State University’s “Year of Russia” program, Assistant Professor of History Victoria Smoklin presented on the current state of US-Russia relations. KSU’s “Year of Russia” invites academics, artists and dignitaries “to promote a deeper appreciation for and understanding of Russia and its people.”

During her presentation Smoklin discussed ideological struggle over national identity in contemporary Russia. She noted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement in this struggle. His strategic engagement with his country’s history he has led to an unprecedented gain approval ratings. In particular, she cited Putin’s construction of a 54 foot tall statue of the 10th century Slavic leader and proponent of Orthodox Christianity, Vladimir the Great.

Commenting on Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Smoklin argued that Russia’s actions suggest not merely a desire to seize control of the area but rather to assert its claims. This increasing expansion is part of Putin’s desire to create “a spiritual geographic entity” that will replace the “narrative of liberal democracy” that inadequately supported Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

You can learn more about “Year of Russia” online here.