Science & Technology

Students Share Summer Research Projects at Poster Session

Cher Qin ’21 presented her quantitative analysis study titled “Text Classification of 2016 Presidential Campaign Advertisement” during a poster session July 26. Qin’s advisors are Pavel Oleinikov, associate director of the Quantitative Analysis Center, and Erika Franklin Fowler, associate professor of government.

More than 135 undergraduate research fellows shared their summer-long research during a poster session on July 26 in Exley Science Center.

Students from the Psychology Department, College of the Environment, Biology Department, Neuroscience and Behavior Program, Chemistry Department, Physics Department, Astronomy Department, Math and Computer Science Department, Quantitative Analysis Center, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department, and Astronomy Department presented posters. Posters often contain text, graphics, and images that illustrate the students’ research results on a single board. Poster session attendees can view the posters and interact with the authors.

The summer research program is hosted by the College of Integrative Sciences.

“We had possibly the largest poster session ever this year, with presentations by students from across the sciences, as well as many departments in the social sciences,” said Francis Starr, professor of physics, professor of integrative sciences, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, head of the College of Integrative Sciences. “Year after year, I am in awe of what our Wesleyan students are capable of.”

Photos of the poster sessions are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Rochelle Spencer ’20 shared her poster titled “Dendrimer Synthesis via Highly Efficient Thoil-Michael Reactions.” Her advisor is Brian Northrop, associate professor of chemistry, associate professor of integrative sciences.

Personick Honored with Young Investigator Program Award from Army Research Office

Michelle Personick joined the faculty this fall, and is teaching courses in Chemistry of Materials and Nanomaterials and an Integrated Chemistry Lab. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Michelle Personick

Michelle Personick, assistant professor of chemistry, is the recipient of a three-year, $339,000 Young Investigator Program grant funded by the U.S. Army Research Office. Personick will use the funds to support her nanoparticle research, which ultimately may protect military soldiers from hazardous chemicals and materials.

The Army’s Young Investigator Program is designed to identify and support talented scientists and engineers who show exceptional promise for doing creative research, in order to encourage their teaching and research careers. The program is open to U.S. citizens, Nationals, and resident aliens holding tenure-track positions at U.S. universities and colleges, who have held their graduate degrees for fewer than five years at the time of application.

Students Receive Research Awards from NASA

Three undergraduates and one graduate student received NASA Connecticut Space Grant Awards from the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC). The CTSGC is a federally mandated grant, internship, and scholarship program that aims to inspire the pursuit of careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Astronomy and math major Nicole Zalewski ’20 received a $5,000 undergraduate research fellowship to pursue her study on “Measurement of the Radar Properties of the Oldest Rocks on Venus to Constrain Mineralogy.” Her advisor is Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, co-coordinator of planetary science, and director of graduate studies.

Thomas’s Science Paper Examines Earth’s Oxygen Levels over Geological Time

Ellen Thomas

Throughout time, rising oceanic and atmospheric oxygen levels have been crucial to the habitability of environments at the surface of the Earth.

“The Earth had no free oxygen gas in its atmosphere early on,” said Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences. “The oxygen has been provided over time by photosynthesis of algae followed by storage of organic matter in rocks.”

Thomas, who also is research professor of earth and environmental sciences, examines the timing of oxygen formation in Earth’s atmosphere and oceans over geological time in a study published in the May 2018 issue of Science.

The paper, titled “Late Inception of a Resiliently Oxygenated Upper Ocean,” stems from a multiyear, multinational, multiauthor research effort that explores the time trend and causes of increased oxygenation during the current Phanerozoic Eon, which began more than 542 million years ago. Thomas and her colleagues used iodine geochemistry to determine that the upper section of the ocean became rich in oxygen much later than previously predicted, linked to evolution of oceanic phytoplankton.

The research was supported by a National Science Foundation grant at Wesleyan and coauthored by scientists at Syracuse University and the University of California, Riverside.

The study also is featured in the May 2018 issue of Science Daily and Phys.org.

Robinson Lab Coauthors Study on Compulsive, Drug Addiction Behaviors

Mike Robinson studies how individuals react differently when presented with a junk food diet.

Mike Robinson

Drug and behavioral addictions like gambling are characterized by an intense and focused pursuit of a single reward above other healthier endeavors. Pursuit of the addictive reward is often compulsively sought despite adverse consequences.

In a newly published study, Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, and integrative sciences explored how our decisions can become narrowly focused onto one particular choice. He and his research team used laser light (optogenetics) to activate the central portion of the brain’s amygdala (CeA), an area normally known for its role in generating responses to drug-related and fearful stimuli.

The study, titled “Optogenetic Activation of the Central Amygdala Generates Addiction-like Preference for Reward,” appears in the May 2018 issue of the European Journal of Neuroscience. Robinson Lab members Rebecca Tom ’16, MA ’17, Aarit Ahuja ’16, Hannah Maniates ’16, and current graduate student Charlotte Freeland coauthored the article and participated in the study.

Hüwel’s Book Examines the Physics, Technology of Timekeeping

Lutz Hüwel, professor of physics, is the author of the book Of Clocks and Time, published by Morgan & Claypool Publishers in April 2018.

According to Hüwel, Of Clocks and Time takes readers on a five-stop journey through the physics and technology—and occasional bits of applications and history—of timekeeping. He offers conceptual vistas and qualitative images, along with equations, quantitative relations, and rigorous definitions.

The book includes discussion of the rhythms produced by the motion of sun, moon, planets, and stars, a summary of historical theoretical insights that are still influential today, examination of the tools that allow us to measure time, as well as explanations of radioactive dating and Einstein’s theories of relativity.

The book is available for downloading and for Kindle.

Students Inducted into Honor Society, Present Research at American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Meeting

Undergraduates from the Biology, Chemistry, and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry majors showed off their science at the 2018 meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. From Left, Alex Shames '18 (MacQueen Lab), BA/MA student Arden Feil (MacQueen Lab), Will Barr '18 (Weir Lab), Christine Little '18 (Mukerji Lab), Cody Hecht '18 (Taylor Lab), and Emily Kessler '18 (Hingorani Lab).

Undergraduates from the biology, chemistry, and molecular biology and biochemistry majors showed off their science at the 2018 meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. From left, Alex Shames ’18 (MacQueen Lab), Arden Feil BA/MA ’18 (MacQueen Lab), Will Barr ’18 (Weir Lab), Christine Little ’18 (Mukerji Lab), Cody Hecht ’18 (Taylor Lab), and Emily Kessler ’18 (Hingorani Lab).

Seven Wesleyan students recently were inducted into the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) Honor Society, and many of them presented research posters at the ASBMB annual meeting in San Diego, April 21–25.

The ASBMB Honor Society recognizes exceptional undergraduate juniors and seniors who are pursuing a degree in the molecular life sciences for their scholarly achievement, research accomplishments, and outreach activities. The Wesleyan students inducted were Will Barr ’18, Alexa Strauss ’19, Emily Kessler ’18, Christine Little ’18, Julie McDonald ’18, Rubye Peyser ’18, and Alexander Shames ’18.

The following students attended the annual meeting:

• Kessler, whose poster was titled, “Investigating the Mechanistic Basis of Mutant MutS DNA Repair Protein Malfunction in Lynch Syndrome”
• Barr, “An mRNA-rRNA base pairing model for efficient protein translation”
• Little, “Investigation into the Binding Interactions of Saccharomyces cerevisiae Histone H1 with Holliday Junction”
• Shames, “The Long and Short of Synaptonemal Complex Assembly: Investigating the genesis and functional relevance of a smaller Zip1 isoform”
• Cody Hecht ’18, “Escherichia coli Heptosyltransferase I: Examining Protein Dynamics with Pyrene Excimer Fluorescence and Tryptophan-Induced Quenching”
• Arden Feil BA/MA ’18, “Scraping the Tip of Zip1’s Role in Meiotic Chromosome Dynamics: Using lacO/LacI corecruitment to identify crossover promoting factors that interface with the N-terminus of a synaptonemal complex protein”

“It was a joy to present the research that I’ve been working on for the past two years as a part of Wesleyan’s Beckman Scholars Program,” said Barr. “Science research can seem like a roller coaster at times, and presenting my research in the company of scientists at all levels of their careers helped me remember just how thrilling this process has been.”

The mission of ASBMB is to advance the science of biochemistry and molecular biology through organization of scientific meetings, advocacy for funding of basic research and education, support of science education at all levels, promotion of the diversity of individuals entering the scientific workforce, and publication of a number of scientific and educational journals, including the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the Journal of Lipid Research.

Honors, MA Students Share Research at Science Theses Celebration

Honors and MA students from the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division participated in the Celebration of Science Theses, April 27 in Exley Science Center. Students shared their work with the broader Wesleyan community.

Honors and MA students from the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division participated in the Celebration of Science Theses, April 27 in Exley Science Center. Students shared their work with the broader Wesleyan community.

Darci Collins presented her research titled "Lord Kelvin's Error? An Investigation into the Isotropic Helocoid." Collins' advisor is Greg Voth.

Darci Collins ’18 presented her research titled “Lord Kelvin’s Error? An Investigation into the Isotropic Helocoid.” Collins’s advisor is Greg Voth, chair and professor of physics.

PhD Candidate Case Speaks on DNA Repair

On March 7, Brandon Case, a PhD candidate in molecular biology and biochemistry, delivered a talk titled "Just Another Day Fixing the Double Helix" as part of the Graduate Speaker Series.

On March 11, Brandon Case, a PhD candidate in molecular biology and biochemistry, delivered a talk titled “Just Another Day Fixing the Double Helix” as part of the Graduate Speaker Series. Case’s advisor is Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, professor of integrative sciences. 

Students Learn about New Technologies Being Used to Study the Past

On March 28, the Archaeology Program and the Department of Classical Studies invited Ian Roy of Brandeis University to Wesleyan to discuss ways new technologies are used to study the past. Roy is the founding head of Brandeis MakerLab and director for research technology and innovation at Brandeis University’s library.

Object from the Wesleyan Anthropology Archeology Collections

Students learned how to use a portable Artec 3-D scanner to scan a vessel from the Wesleyan University Archaeology and Anthropology Collections.

Roy first visited the Archaeometry: How to Science the Heck out of Archaeology class taught by Andrew Koh, visiting assistant professor of archaeology. There, he demonstrated how to scan objects in 3-D using an Artec Space Spyder, a tool that uses structured light to capture incredibly high-resolution scans of objects. The class produced multiple models of artifacts, including a vessel that has since been posted to Sketchfab.

“What’s so amazing is that these are just quick versions made in only 15 minutes, without any post-processing and touch-ups,” said Kate Birney, assistant professor of classical studies, archaeology, and art history.

Song, Hingorani Coauthors of 2 Papers in The Journal of Biological Chemistry

Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Professor Manju Hingorani and graduate student Bo Song are coauthors of two studies published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry and Nucleic Acids Research in February 2018.

The papers are titled “Positioning the 5′-flap junction in the active site controls the rate of flap endonuclease-1-catalyzed DNA cleavage” and “Missed cleavage opportunities by FEN1 lead to Okazaki fragment maturation via the long-flap pathway.”

The research is related to Song’s PhD dissertation, which he plans to defend in April 2018. Song examined the mechanism of action of human FEN1, an enzyme that cleaves extra single-stranded segments of DNA before they can damage the genome, and thus serves as a guardian of genome stability. Song’s major findings were published in JBC, and he contributed to a study led by Dr. Samir Hamdan’s laboratory at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, which was published in NAR.

“Bo initiated research on FEN1 in my laboratory, and his interest in FEN1 sparked an exciting collaboration with Dr. Hamdan, halfway around the world. We look forward to furthering investigation of this critical enzyme whose malfunction is associated with many human cancers,” Hingorani said.

The research at Wesleyan University was supported by NIH grant R15 GM114743 awarded to Manju Hingorani.

Star, Planet Formation Expert Delivers Sturm Lecture

On March 27, the campus community gathered to hear the 2018 Sturm Memorial Lecture, titled "Building Stars, Planets and the Ingredients for Life in Space."

On March 27, the campus community gathered in the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall to hear the 2018 Sturm Memorial Lecture, titled “Building Stars, Planets and the Ingredients for Life in Space.” This annual event in memory of Wesleyan alumnus Kenneth Sturm ’40 is held in the spring and is open to the public. It features a presentation from an astronomer who is outstanding in their field and able to communicate the excitement of science to a lay audience.