Royer’s Study Published in PLOS Biology

Dana Royer

Dana Royer

Dana Royer, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the co-author of “Plant Ecological Strategies Shift Across the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary,” published in PLOS Biology on Sept. 15.

The study reveals that a meteorite that hit Earth 60 million years ago – and may have led to the mass extinction of the world’s dinosaur population – also led to a shift in the landscape of plants, particularly deciduous plants.

Royer and his colleagues showed how they applied bio-mechanical formulas to fossilized leaves of flowering plants dating from the last 1.4 million years of the Cretaceous period and the first 800,000 of the Paleogene. Read more about Royer’s study in this News @ Wesleyan article.

Hornstein, Nguyen ’12 Published in International Review of Financial Analysis

Abigail Hornstein, associate professor of economics, and her former thesis student, Zachary Nguyen ’12 are the co-authors of a paper titled “Is More Less? Propensity to Diversify via M&A and Market” published in the International Review of Financial Analysis, June 2014, pp. 64-88.

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) could lead to a firm diversifying into new industries, and the impact of this may be related to the firm’s prior diversification. By using a panel of 1,030 M&A transactions from 2000-2010, Hornstein and Nguyen found that that previously diversified firms are more likely to pursue industrially diversifying M&A.

“Both previous and contemporary diversification measures are not associated with the firm’s cumulative abnormal returns (CAR) at time of announcement but have a lasting effect on various performance measures up to two years later,” Hornstein explained. “We find evidence supporting both a diversification discount and premium, which can be predicted by the sign of the CAR at time of announcement.”

Their study suggests that while diversification is necessary to explain firm value, it is not sufficient.

After graduating, Nguyen worked at Charles River Associates in Boston 2012-14 and is now a first year student at The University of California — Berkeley School of Law.

Bloom’s Novel Lucky Us on Success, Luck, Big Dreams, Scandals

New book by Amy Bloom.

New book by Amy Bloom.

Amy Bloom, the Distinguished University Writer-in-Residence and director of the Shapiro Center for Creative Writing, is the author of a novel, Lucky Us, published in July 2014 by Random House.

Disappointed by their families, Iris, a hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.

With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Lucky Us is a resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life, conventional and otherwise.

In celebration of her book release, Bloom will be speaking Sept. 2 at the Society Club in London, and Sept. 3 at Shakespeare and Company in Paris.

Bloom’s stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, and numerous anthologies here and abroad. She has written for The New Yorker, Thee New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, Slate and Salon, among many other publications, and has won a National Magazine Award.

Grad Student’s Graphic to Appear on Journal’s Cover

Katherine Kaus's story and figure will appear in the September 2014 Journal of Molecular Biology. The figure depicts the structure of a domain of the Vibrio vulnificus hemolysin that binds cell-surface glycans allowing the toxin to attack target cells. The structure was determined using a technique called X-ray crystallography.

Katherine Kaus’s figure, based on an article she co-authored, will appear on the cover of the Sept. 9 Journal of Molecular Biology. The figure depicts the structure of a domain of the Vibrio vulnificus hemolysin that binds cell-surface glycans allowing the toxin to attack target cells. The structure was determined using a technique called X-ray crystallography.

A figure created by Katherine Kaus, graduate student in the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department, was selected to run as the featured cover graphic in the Sept. 9 Journal of Molecular Biology.

The graphic is related to her article, titled “Glycan Specificity of the Vibrio vulnificus Hemolysin Lectin Outlines Evolutionary History of Membrane Targeting by a Toxin Family,” which was published in the journal on July 29. It is co-authored by Rich Olson, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and researchers at the University of Connecticut. The abstract appears online here.

Vibrio vulnificus is an emerging human pathogen that causes severe food poisoning and opportunistic infections with a mortality rate exceeding 50 percent.

The aquatic pathogen secretes a pore-forming toxin (PFT) called V. vulnificus hemolysin (VVH) which form transmembrane channels in cellular membranes. “Determining the mechanism for how PFTs bind membranes is important in understanding their role in disease and for developing possible ways to block their action,” Kaus explained in the paper’s abstract. Sequence analysis in light of the authors structural and functional data suggests that V. vulnificus hemolysin may represent an earlier step in the evolution of Vibrio PFTs.

Research by Loui, Harrison ’14 on Musically-Induced ‘Thrills and Chills’ is Published

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior

Many of us have experienced an intense emotional and physical sensation while listening to a particularly moving piece of music–often described as a thrill, chill or goosebumps. In a new article published in Frontiers in Psychology, Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, and psychology major Luke Harrison ’14 integrate the existing multidisciplinary literature to create a comprehensive, testable model of “transcendent psychophysiological moments in music.” The paper came out of Harrison’s final paper in Loui’s course on Music Perception and Cognition.

They begin by considering the different nomenclature used in popular and academic discourse for this phenomenon, and the advantages and disadvantages of terms such as “thrills,” “chills,” “frissons,” or even “skin orgasms.” They go on to discuss the importance of cultural and social context in explaining musical “frisson,” and the emotional and neurobiological mechanisms behind this sensation. Finally, they explore the specific types of musical stimuli that elicit this reaction.

Read the full article here.

When Water “Unmixes”: Starr Commentary Published in Nature Physics

Water is the most ubiquitous fluid on Earth, and plays a foundational role in life as we know it.  And yet the complexity of this seemingly simple molecule remains a vigorously debated area of scientific research to this day.  Writing in the most recent issue of Nature Physics, Professor of Physics Francis Starr provides a commentary on recent research to uncover the mystery of water’s unusual properties.  

Francis Starr

Francis Starr

“We all learn as children that oil and water don’t mix,” Starr writes. ” If there was only one fluid – say just the water – then “unmixing” should not even be a possibility.  However, it turns out that evidence suggests that, under unusual supercooled conditions, water can unmix from itself, forming two distinct fluids, both of which are pure water.  And it turns out this unusual behavior just might help explain many of water’s other unusual and vital features.”

Nature Physics, part of the prestigious group of Nature journals, is published monthly.

Starr’s research at Wesleyan focuses on computational approaches to understand the emergent complexity of soft and biological matter.  His lab has explored DNA modeling and nanotechnology, lipid membrane dynamics, and polymer films and composites. Undergraduates and graduate students work together in the Starr lab, emphasizing connections to experimental results.

Gruen Edits Book on Contemporary Ecofeminism

Book co-edited by Lori Gruen.

Book co-edited by Lori Gruen.

Professor Lori Gruen is the co-editor of a new book titled Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth, published by Bloomsbury Academic in July 2014.

Gruen is chair and professor of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies. She also co-coordinates Wesleyan Animal Studies.

In this 288-page book, leading feminist scholars and activists introduce and explore themes central to contemporary ecofeminism.

Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth first offers an historical, grounding overview that situates ecofeminist theory and activism and provides a timeline for important publications and events. This is followed by contributions from leading theorists and activists on how our emotions and embodiment can and must inform our relationships with the more than human world. In the final section, the contributors explore the complexities of appreciating difference and the possibilities of living less violently. Throughout the book, the authors engage with intersections of gender and gender non-conformity, race, sexuality, disability and species.

The result is a new up-to-date resource for students and teachers of animal studies, environmental studies, feminist/gender studies, and practical ethics.

Gruen also is the editor of The Ethics of Captivity, published in May 2014, and the author of Ethics and Animals: An Introduction, published in May 2011.

Jenkins Explores Bali’s Saraswati Ritual in New Book

New book by Ron Jenkins.

New book by Ron Jenkins.

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, is the author of a new book titled Saraswati in Bali: a Temple, a Museum and a Mask, published by the Agung Rai Museum of Art, Peliatan, Ubud, Bali, in July 2014.

Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge, through whom the Balinese symbolically link their tangible (sekala) and intangible (niskala) worlds. The Balinese celebrate Saraswati at an annual festival.

In a July 7 Jakarta Post article, contributing writer Jean Couteau explains that instead of trying to “understand” Bali like anthropologists would, “often reifying it or losing themselves in abstruse concepts of dubious ‘universalist’ value, Jenkins presents it ‘in action.’

In Saraswati in Bali, Jenkins explores the festival as a “performance” or ritual in motion. Jenkins explains how local Balinese express their collective wisdom through ceremonies, and their understanding through active participation in communal song, prayers and ritual preparations.

He also explains the relation of several paintings to the story of Saraswati and the esoteric Balinese knowledge associated with it.

“Jenkins’ purpose is not to conceptualize, but to ‘bring to life,’ which is obviously to him a more efficient way to cross the cultural barrier that separates modern people from traditional Balinese,” Couteau writes.

View a PDF of The Jakara Post story here.

Singer’s Study Reveals that Finicky Feeders Avoid Bird Predation

In a recent study, Associate Professor Mike Singer compared 41 caterpillar species to show the link between dietary breadth and vulnerability to predators.

In a recent study, Associate Professor Mike Singer compared 41 caterpillar species to show the link between dietary breadth and vulnerability to predators.

Grandmothers used to warn youngsters against being “a jack of all trades, and a master of none,” and with good reason, at least in the animal kingdom, according to research by Mike Singer, associate professor of biology, associate professor of environmental studies.

Singer’s decade of research in the ecosystems of Connecticut forests reveals that caterpillars with finicky feeding habits avoid predation from birds, whereas those that feed generally on many plants become meals for baby birds. The “specialist” bugs are much better at survival.

Singer and five collaborators published these findings in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences June 16.

Mike Singer studies the Papilio glaucus, one of the most bird-resistant caterpillars. (Photo by Mike Singer)

Mike Singer studies the Papilio glaucus, one of the most bird-resistant caterpillars. (Photo by Mike Singer)

“Dietary specialization of herbivores drives the dynamics of this food chain,” Singer explained. Caterpillars with generalized diets are less likely than specialists to be camouflaged or to display warning colors or features to avian predators.

A familiar example of a dietary specialist is the caterpillar of the Monarch butterfly, which feeds exclusively on milkweed plants. This caterpillar accumulates toxins from its food-plants, rendering it unpalatable to birds and other predators. The toxic caterpillar is distinctively striped and colored as a warning to its enemies.

Starr, Hanakata ’14 Co-Author Paper on Polymer Films, Published in Nature Communications

Francis Starr and Paul Hanakata '14 study the mobility gradient on a thin, polymer film.

Francis Starr and Paul Hanakata ’14 study the interfacial mobility in a thin, polymer film.

Francis Starr, professor of physics, and Paul Hanakata ’14 are the co-authors of a new article published in the journal Nature Communications on June 16. The article, titled “Interfacial Mobility Scale Determines the Scale of Collective Motion and Relaxation Rate in Polymer Films,” is based off Hanakata’s senior thesis research at Wesleyan.

Thin polymer films are ubiquitous in manufacturing and medical applications. Their chemical and mechanical properties make them suitable as artificial soft biological tissue and there has been intense interest in how film thickness and substrate interactions influence film dynamics.

The nature of polymer rearrangements within these films determines their potential applications.  However, up to now, there has been no way to readily assess how design choices of the film affect these dynamic rearrangements.

“Paul’s paper is novel because it demonstrates how an experimental measurement of the surface properties can be used to infer the changes to collective motions within the film,” Starr explained. “These results offer a practical metrology that might be used for the design of new advanced materials.”

Hanakata, who graduated in May, will begin his graduate studies at Boston University next fall.

Grossman’s Paper on Irish Stock Market Prices is Published

Professor of Economics Richard Grossman’s paper, “A Monthly Stock Exchange Index for Ireland, 1864-1930,” was published June 5 in the European Review of Economic History. Co-authored by professors at Trinity College Dublin, All Souls College (Oxford, UK), and Greater London Authority, the paper  constructs new monthly Irish stock market price indices for 1864-1930. According to the abstract: “In addition to a total market index covering 118 equity securities issued by ninety-four companies, sectoral indices are presented for railways, financial services companies, and “other” companies. Nominal equity prices doubled between 1864 and 1898. Between the turn of the century and 1914, prices fell by 25 percent, in contrast to the price increases experienced on the London exchange. Overall, the average annual gain in equity prices over the period was just 0.9 percent. We speculate about the respective roles of Irish politics and international shocks in driving these trends.”

Read the full paper here.

Thomas’s Paper Published in Paleoceanography

The deep-sea benthic foram Aragonia velascoensis went extinct about 56 million years ago as the oceans rapidly acidified. (Photo by Ellen Thomas)

The deep-sea benthic foram Aragonia velascoensis went extinct about 56 million years ago as the oceans rapidly acidified. (Photo by Ellen Thomas)

Ellen Thomas, research professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the author of a paper titled “Rapid and sustained surface ocean acidification during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum,” published in Paleoceanography, May 2014. 

In this paper Thomas and her colleagues document that ocean acidification of the surface ocean not only occurred during past times of global warming and high CO2 levels, but also by how much — about 0.3 pH units. The group studied planktic foraminifers from a drill site in the North Pacific.

Thomas’ study has been highlighted in a press release from Columbia University and also on