Grants

NASA Selects 2 Proposed Venus Mission Concepts Co-Developed by Gilmore

Gilmore

Martha Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology and professor of earth and environmental sciences, believes that if scientists are able to measure Venus’s atmosphere and surface, we can better understand the climate, volcanic activity, and the habitability of Earth-size worlds. The selected missions aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like planet after it was potentially another habitable world in the solar system with an Earth-like climate. (Photo by Henry Greenwood)

Two proposed Venus mission concepts co-developed by planetary geologist Martha Gilmore were selected by NASA’s Discovery Program this week. The selected missions aim to understand how Venus became a scorching planet after it was potentially another habitable world in the solar system with an Earth-like climate.

Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, is a co-investigator of both winning concepts. Each project will receive approximately $500 million per mission for development and is expected to launch in the 2028–2030 timeframe.

The projects include VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) and DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus).

“Venus is so critical to our understanding of how Earth-sized planets form in our solar system and other solar systems,” Gilmore said. “I can’t wait to see what we know about Venus in 20 years—will we know then that Venus was once covered in oceans? Will we know how the inner planets acquired their water inventory? Will we know how to recognize habitable planets around other stars? Will we find evidence of life there?”

VERITAS, a Venus orbiter, will create high-resolution topography imaging of Venus’s surface and produce the first maps of the planet’s global surface composition. By charting surface elevations of nearly the entire planet, scientists will be able to learn more about the geological history of the planet and why it developed so differently than Earth. VERITAS also will map infrared emissions from Venus’s surface to map its rock type and determine whether active volcanoes are releasing water vapor into the atmosphere. VERITAS is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

DAVINCI+ is an atmospheric probe that would be managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. As the probe plunges into Venus’s thick atmosphere, it would measure the chemical composition, revealing the possibility of a history of water on Venus. In addition, DAVINCI+ will return the first high-resolution pictures of the unique geological features on Venus known as “tesserae,” which may be comparable to Earth’s continents, and, as the oldest terrains on Venus, may record past climates. This will be the first U.S.-led mission to Venus’s atmosphere since 1978.

“Having these two such complementary missions is a dream come true,” Gilmore said. “I’m so happy and look forward to working with our students on this fascinating planet.”

According to NASA, these investigations are the final selections from four mission concepts NASA picked in February 2020 as part of the agency’s Discovery 2019 competition. Following a competitive, peer-review process, Gilmore’s missions “were chosen based on their potential scientific value and the feasibility of their development plans.” The project teams will now work to finalize their requirements, designs, and development plans.

NASA“We’re revving up our planetary science program with intense exploration of a world that NASA hasn’t visited in over 30 years,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science in a June 2 press release. “Using cutting-edge technologies that NASA has developed and refined over many years of missions and technology programs, we’re ushering in a new decade of Venus to understand how an Earth-like planet can become a hothouse. Our goals are profound. It is not just understanding the evolution of planets and habitability in our own solar system, but extending beyond these boundaries to exoplanets, an exciting and emerging area of research for NASA.”

Established in 1992, NASA’s Discovery Program has supported the development and implementation of over 20 missions and instruments. These selections are part of the ninth Discovery Program competition.

Gilmore, who also is the co-coordinator of Wesleyan’s Planetary Sciences program, is a fellow of the Geological Society of America, has served on dozens of NASA and National Academy of Sciences-NRC Committees, has mentored more than 20 master’s degree recipients, has served as chair of the Wesleyan’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Venus Exploration Analysis Group, deputy chair of VEXAG, and has a publication record of fundamental research contributions in planetary geoscience, particularly on the geological evolution of the Earth, Venus, and Mars.

In 2020, she received the Randolph W. “Bill” and Cecile T. Bromery Award from the Geological Society of America for her exemplary contributions to research in the geological sciences and for being an instrumental mentor to young people of color.

Redfield Receives NASA Grant to Study the Properties of Outer Space

Seth Redfield

Associate Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield will use the Hubble Space Telescope to measure composition, density, temperature, motion, and the spectroscopic signatures of gas and dust.

If a spacecraft were to quickly travel outside the solar system—potentially en route to a nearby exoplanetary system—it would need to pass through an atmosphere unfamiliar to scientists on Earth.

As a recipient of a $415,000 grant from NASA, Seth Redfield, chair and associate professor of astronomy, hopes to learn more about the mysterious makeup of this “outer space.”

“There are several very early designs for an interstellar probe, but first, we need to understand the properties of the space in between the stars if you are traveling through it, especially at high speed,” Redfield said. “Given the vastness of space, even in our nearest cosmic neighborhood of the closest stars, very high speeds are needed. The designs for an interstellar probe involve speeds that range from 11,000 miles per hour to 6 million miles per hour! These require the biggest rockets that NASA has ever built and new propulsion ideas that are still in very early design phases.”

MacQueen, Coolon, Mukerji Receive NIH Academic Research Enhancement Awards

Three Wesleyan faculty recently received Academic Research Enhancement Awards (R15) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

R15 grants stimulate research at educational institutions that provide baccalaureate training for a significant number of the nation’s research scientists, but that have not been major recipients of NIH support. Awards provide funding for small-scale, new, or ongoing health-related meritorious research projects, enhancing the research environment at eligible institutions and exposing students to research opportunities.

Amy MacQueen

Amy MacQueen

Amy MacQueen, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, received a $492,900 award on Aug. 7 for her research titled “How do Synaptonemal Complex Proteins Mediate the Coordinated?”

MacQueen investigates the molecular mechanisms that underlie how reproductive cells (sperm and eggs in humans and spores in yeast) form. In particular, she focuses on how the genetic material (DNA)—which is packaged into chromosomes—is evenly distributed during the cell division cycle (meiosis) that gives rise to reproductive cells.

Angle Guest-Edits Special Issue of Contemporary Chinese Thought

Stephen Angle

Stephen Angle

Stephen Angle, Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, professor of philosophy, has had a number of recent publications.

Angle is the editor of “The Adolescence of Mainland New Confucianism,” special issue 49:2 of Contemporary Chinese Thought (2018). The issue is devoted to recent mainland Chinese Confucian philosophizing, and particularly to arguments about what “Mainland New Confucianism” signifies, which were prompted by noted Taiwanese scholar Li Minghui’s 2015 remarks about Mainland New Confucianism.

Angle also wrote an introduction to the issue, which explores how Mainland New Confucianism has entered a somewhat more diverse and mature stage than previously. The introduction also reflects on the place of Confucianism within contemporary East Asia.

Earlier this year, Angle authored the article “Does Confuscian Public Reason Depend on Confucian Civil Religion?”, which was published in the Journal of Social Philosophy. The article focuses on a dimension of the increasingly pluralist field of political philosophy, in which Western and non‐Western theories and experiences are reevaluated in light of one another.

In addition to these publications, Angle is a contributor to and co-administrator of Neo-Confucianism, a companion website for Angle’s book, co-authored with Justin Tiwald, Neo-Confucianism: A Philosophical Introduction (2017); and Warp, Weft, and Way, a group blog focused on on Chinese and comparative philosophy.

Besides his research and teaching responsibilities, Angle also serves as the director of the Fries Center for Global Studies. He is a principal investigator on the “Wesleyan South Asia Initiative,” a grant awarded by the US Department of Education’s Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language program (2018–2020).

NASA Funds Study of Gilmore’s Venus Mission Concept

Martha Gilmore

Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, believes we have a lot to learn from studying Venus—yet the United States has not sent a mission to the Earth-sized planet since the early 1990s. That’s why Gilmore has proposed a major flagship mission concept study to assess whether Venus was ever a habitable planet by looking at its rocks and atmosphere.

In October, NASA agreed to fund the planetary mission concept on Venus submitted by Gilmore, a planetary geologist, and colleagues at several other institutions, who come from varied disciplines. Gilmore, who is the principal investigator, said NASA received 54 proposals and selected 10 to feed into the next Planetary Decadal Survey. Theirs was the only proposal on Venus to receive funding.

In 2020, the National Academy of Science will convene a panel of scientists and engineers to determine the scientific priorities for Planetary Science over the period 2023–2032. This Planetary Decadal Survey is conducted every 10 years and is tasked with recommending a portfolio of missions to NASA. The mission concepts that were funded will be developed for consideration by the Decadal Survey. In the coming months, Gilmore will be meeting and communicating regularly with her science team and conducting mission design runs at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Final reports are due to the Decadal Survey in June 2020, and will describe mission architecture, cost, and how the mission will address the scientific priorities of the Decadal Survey and NASA.

Gilmore’s expertise is on the surface morphology and composition of Venus, Mars, and Earth, and her PhD focused on Venus during the United States’ Magellan mission. She explained that all three planets are rocky, and there is evidence that they all had oceans early in solar system history. Scientists believe that Mars’s ocean dried up first—within about one billion years—and that Venus’s ocean may have lasted for two or three billion years.

“Thus, for most of solar system history, there were two Earth-sized planets with oceans,” said Gilmore. “Was Venus habitable like the Earth and if so, what changed?”

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—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.

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.”

Barth, Patalano Receive $1.09M NSF Grant to Support Numerical Cognition Research

Sophie Charles ’20,

Student research assistant Sophie Charles ’20, a neuroscience and behavior major, shows the line estimation task used by the Psychology Department to understand how people make judgments about number and quantity.

Hilary Barth and Andrea Patalano, both professors of psychology, have received a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support collaborative research on numerical cognition.

Hilary Barth, professor of psychology, and Andrea Patalano, professor of psychology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, have received a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support collaborative research on numerical cognition.

Collaborative research by Hilary Barth and Andrea Patalano is supported by the National Science Foundation.

The three-year $1,091,303 grant, which is funded by NSF’s EHR Core Research program focused on STEM learning, includes support for Wesleyan student participation in the proposed research project, which will involve experimental studies of children’s and adults’ understanding of, and judgments about, number and quantity.

The two labs collaborate frequently, and have been working jointly on another project for the past three years supported by an earlier NSF grant. The new project is distinct, but grew out of a discovery made in the Barth lab during the earlier project related to a number line estimation task. In this task, participants are shown a line with numbers at each endpoint (e.g., 0 and 1,000) and asked to estimate where on the line a particular three-digit number would fall. The researchers found that participants had a tendency to place two numbers much farther apart on the line than they actually were when those numbers had a different first digit, even if they were quite close to each other in actuality (for example, 799 and 802). This was true even of adult participants, who have a good understanding of numbers.

Grant Supports Digital Design at Wesleyan

On April 9, members of the campus community gathered in the Downey House to discuss how digital design might evolve at Wesleyan in the near future.

On April 9, members of the campus community gathered in Downey House to discuss how digital design might evolve at Wesleyan in the near future. At left, Nicole Stanton, dean of the Arts and Humanities Division and associate professor of dance, answered questions from the audience. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

With the support of a new $500,000 grant, Wesleyan will be able to expand its Digital Design Studio and integrate technology more fully into the University’s arts program.

The Sherman Fairchild Foundation awarded Wesleyan the grant in March. It will be applied over four years.

“We’re very grateful for this award,” said Nicole Stanton, dean of the Arts and Humanities Division and associate professor of dance. “The grant will enable Wesleyan to integrate technology more fully into our arts program, support the innovative work of our faculty and students, and expand cross-disciplinary opportunities within the arts and with other disciplines.”

The funds will specifically help with the creation of a new comprehensive Digital Design Commons (DDC), which will include renovations of the current Digital Design Studio housed in the Davison Art Center. The studio has already become a gathering space for faculty and students working in photography, architecture, graphic design, scenic design, typography, animation, and various other media. The new commons will include space for studio photography, art documentation, video and motion capture (i.e., green screening), media projection, and 3-D scanning. In addition, Wesleyan will be able to create a large, multidisciplinary space to be used for teaching and projects that promote greater collaboration among students.

Kottos Awarded $2.8M DARPA Grant for High-Level Photonic Research

Led by Professor of Physics Tsampikos Kottos, Wesleyan will serve as the lead institution for a four-year grant developing cutting-edge technology toward the next generation of navigation systems, optical diodes, efficient frequency converters for night vision, and high-powered filters.

Led by Professor of Physics Tsampikos Kottos, Wesleyan will serve as the lead institution for a four-year grant developing cutting-edge technology toward the next generation of navigation systems, optical diodes, efficient frequency converters for night vision, and high-powered filters.

Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics, and Wesleyan University will lead a complex, multi-institution initiative to research and develop the next generation of national instrumentation technology thanks to a four-year, $2,794,606 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Awarded this August, the grant is the culmination of at least eight years of photonics research by Kottos and his fellow collaborators, and will have significant implications for the future of a variety of technologies employed by the federal government and the private sector. An agency of the US Department of Defense, DARPA funds research and development projects that push the boundaries of technology and science. The focus of Kottos’s project is to “develop models and photonic devices that utilize dynamical (hidden) symmetries in order to achieve extreme light-matter interactions” and has three main targets:

  • Target 1: Develop the next generation of navigation instruments by designing photonic architectures with an extreme response to small perturbations. The goal is to use them to hone gyroscopes and accelerometers, which measure and guide the rotation and maneuvers of vehicles like race cars and jet airplanes.
  • Target 2: Utilize the temporal dimension (or time) as an altogether different degree of freedom in order to manipulate the flow of light. Applications vary from efficient night vision cameras, to management of thermal radiation in turbine aircraft engines.
  • Target 3: Investigate how to protect sensitive sensors from high-powered sources—this could include a pilot’s eyes from a laser source, an antenna from a directed electromagnetic burst, or a radar receiver from its own outbound signal.

Wesleyan Receives Major Grant to Teach Hindi and Urdu, Expand South Asian Programming

The annual Navaratri Festival is an example of Wesleyan’s long-time commitment to South Asian cultural programming.

Wesleyan has received a two-year $165,699 grant under the U.S. Department of Education’s Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language (UISFL) program to support the teaching of Hindi and Urdu, the research of STEM faculty and students in India, and the increase of cultural programming related to South Asia.

“This grant will allow Wesleyan to become one of a very small number of liberal arts institutions in the country with classroom instruction in Hindi and Urdu,” said Stephen Angle, director of the Fries Center for Global Studies. “We are excited about the ability this grant will give us to support STEM faculty and students doing summer research in India as a way of growing opportunities for international experiences in the sciences. Together with our existing faculty strength in South Asian studies (currently nine faculty across the arts, humanities, and social sciences) and the president’s initiative to expand Wesleyan’s visibility in India, the new grant will help to further solidify Wesleyan as a leader in South Asian studies.”

Gilmore, Greenwood Recipients of NASA Grant to Map Venus’s Craters

Caption: Radar image of Venus. Alpha Regio tessera is partly covered by the dark parabola of the impact crater Stuart on the volcanic plains.

Professors Martha Gilmore and James Greenwood recently received a NASA grant to study crater parabolas on Venus using radar data. Pictured is a Magellan radar image of Venus. Alpha Regio tessera is partly covered by the dark parabola of the impact crater Stuart on the volcanic plains. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Like planet Earth, the geology of Venus is diverse; consisting of areas of flat plains and deformed, mountain-like terrains called tesserae. And like Earth, Mars, and the Moon, Venus is checkered with hundreds of craters.

“What’s odd about Venus’s craters, is that craters we do see are relatively young, indicating the surface of Venus has been covered by planet-wide volcanic flows,” says Martha “Marty” Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences. “The tesserae are the only terrains older than these volcanic flows and thus our only hope at accessing rocks from the first billion years of Venus’s history, when the planet may have had an ocean and may have been habitable.”

As the recipient of a three-year $430,801 grant from NASA’s Solar System Workings Program, Gilmore and James Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, will use Magellan radar data to create the first map of crater ejecta on Venus classified by origin on plains or tessera terrain. Their project is titled “Radar Emissivity and Dielectric Permittivity of the Venus Surface Beneath Crater Parabolas.” Crater parabolas refer to the shape of the ejecta deposits as they are carried westward by the high-altitude Venus winds.