Science & Technology
by Olivia Drake •
Three teams from Wesleyan received honors during the American Statistical Association DataFest, hosted at Wesleyan April 8-10.
During DataFest, students are presented with a large, complex, surprise data set and work over the weekend to explore, analyze, and present their findings. Teams of three to five undergraduate students from Wesleyan, Trinity, Connecticut College, Yale, and the University of Connecticut competed against each other.
After two days of intense data wrangling, analysis and presentation design, each team was allowed only five minutes and no more than two slides to impress a panel of judges.
The event, coordinated by Wesleyan’s Quantitative Analysis Center, is part of a set of initiatives to strengthen quantitative reasoning and facilitate computational and data analysis work across the curriculum. It is designed to bring together current students, alumni and data analysis professionals as they work together in addressing real world problems that involve computational data work.
The event also provided an opportunity for recruiters to connect with students who are interested and skilled in data analysis, and may be candidates for internships or job openings.
by Bill Holder •
Students, faculty and staff who exercised cultural sensitivity, helped promote diversity and inclusion, and improved the campus climate were recognized at the annual Edgar Beckham Social Justice Awards ceremony held April 23. The event brought together generations of alumni, students, faculty and staff to celebrate the tenets that make Wesleyan diverse.
Originally called the Edgar Beckham Helping Hand Awards when it was founded in 2013, the awards were created in honor of Edgar Beckham, the first African-American Dean of the College at Wesleyan University and a tireless advocate for social justice.
by Olivia Drake •
The Neuroscience and Behavior (NSB) Program hosted their third annual undergraduate research symposium April 29 in Daniel Family Commons. Senior thesis writers delivered 10-minute scientific presentations during a dinner with fellow NSB students and faculty. Students also showcased their finest scientific projects during a research poster session, pictured below: (Photos by Ryan Heffernan ’16)
by Andrew Logan ’18 •
Ellen Thomas, professor of earth and environmental sciences and University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, recently co-authored five papers in academic journals.
Her first paper, “Jianshuiite in Oceanic Manganese Nodules” co-authored with Jeffery Post and Peter Heaney, appeared within American Mineralogist. Deviating from her usual research, Thomas focused on mineralogy and, in particular, the crystal structure of a rare mineral found in sediments during an ancient counterpart of future global warming.
Thomas co-authored “Variability in Climate and Productivity during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum in the Western Tethys,” with Flavia Boscolo-Galazzo and Luca Giusberti, both of the University of Padova. This paper, more in line with her usual research, examines unicellular organisms of the deep sea floor that suffered extinction due to a prior period of global warming. It appeared in Climate of the Past.
Working once again with Boscolo-Galazzo and Giusberti and several other scholars, Thomas co-authored, “The Planktic Foraminifer Planorotalites in the Tethyan Middle Eocene” in the Journal of Micropaleontology. This paper describes the researchers’ use of stable isotope analysis to distinguish between floating planktonic matter from bottom-dwelling foraminifera. Through this analysis, they discuss environmental changes during a relatively period of global warming that took place between approximately 9 and 40 million years ago.
“Late Paleocene-Middle Eocene Benthic Foraminifera on a Pacific Seamount (Allison Guyot, ODP Site 865):Greenhouse Climate and Superimposed Hyperthermal Events,” appeared in Paleoceanography. It discusses deep-sea faunas during the same period in the article from the paragraph above. The two other authors of the paper were mentored by Thomas and briefly visited Wesleyan while under her supervision.
The final paper, “Oxygen depletion recorded in upper waters of the glacial Southern Ocean,” appeared in Nature Communications. This paper documents Thomas’s collaborative research with several scholars and PhD students on Antarctic environments during the last few ice ages. In particular, their work focuses on benthic foraminifera, and chemical analysis of their shells.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, faculty director of the McNair Program, together with Ed Laine ’69 and Kerry Brenner ’94, attended a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) workshop in Washington, D.C. on April 20-21. The three were involved in a report on Service Learning in the Geosciences.
O’Connell presented the report at the meeting.
Laine, recently retired from Bowdoin College, was on the meeting steering committee, while Brenner, a senior program officer in the Board on Science Education in the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (NAS) coordinated the meeting.
A summary of the workshop will be published as a book by the National Academies Press in fall 2016.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
Wesleyan’s Van Vleck Observatory is celebrating its centennial this spring, with a series of events and an exhibition beginning in early May.
On May 6, the observatory’s library will reopen to the public with an exhibition on the history of astronomy at Van Vleck. Developed by a team of faculty, students, and staff, the exhibition will use the observatory’s extensive collection of scientific instruments, teaching materials, photographs, drawings, and correspondence to illustrate both the changes in astronomical research and teaching over the past century, and the observatory’s consistent mission of conducting instruction and research under the same roof. The exhibition will incorporate the history of science into Van Vleck’s existing public outreach programs through period lectures, demonstrations of historic artifacts, and gallery talks.
The exhibition was spearheaded by Roy Kilgard, support astronomer and research associate professor of astronomy, Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy, associate professor of integrative sciences, Amrys Williams, visiting assistant professor of history, and Paul Erickson, associate professor of history, associate professor of environmental studies, associate professor of science in society.
More events are planned in the run-up to the exhibition opening. On May 1, the Wesleyan Orchestra will hold a concert featuring astronomically themed music, including John Cage’s Atlas Eclipticalis, which was composed using star charts from the Van Vleck Observatory library. On May 3, Special Collections & Archives will host an exhibition, “A Stellar Education: Astronomy at Wesleyan, 1831-1916.” Located on the first floor of Olin Library, the exhibition documents the study of astronomy at Wesleyan from the university’s opening through the construction of the Van Vleck Observatory. On May 4, the History Department is hosting David DeVorkin, senior curator at the National Air and Space Museum, who will give a talk situating Van Vleck in the history of American observatories.
by Olivia Drake •
by Cynthia Rockwell •
Award-winning science fiction writer Jack McDevitt MALS ’71 received an out-of-this-world honor: Lowell Observatory astronomer named an asteroid for him.
In an e-mail, astronomer Lawrence Wasserman, explained, “I discovered the books of Jack McDevitt early in 2015 and spent most of the year plowing through every novel he has written. I was especially taken by his naming the first Mars spaceship for Percival Lowell, our founder. And, as a person who spent their teens in the ’60s reading Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, I was very pleased to find someone who writes science fiction that doesn’t have any elves, dwarfs, or magic swords but gets back to spaceships and time travel.”
Wasserman, who notes his specific interest in asteroids and the Kuiper Belt (a region of the solar system beyond Neptune’s orbit that contains many small orbiting bodies), has discovered around 50 asteroids.
“The International Astronomical Union regulates the naming of these objects (they’re the same ones who demoted Pluto),” he says. “The rules say that the discoverer gets to name the asteroid and that becomes the official name for all astronomers to use.”
Wasserman had named asteroids in honor of his parents, son, and high school physics teacher. Then, “Since Jack McDevitt chose to honor our observatory’s founder, Percival Lowell, in one of his books, I wanted to return the favor and name an asteroid for him.”
The astronomer and the author have exchanged a few e-mails. Wasserman sent McDevitt a photograph of asteroid Jackmcdevitt, as well as one of the asteroid Larissa, which was mentioned in McDevitt’s novel, Coming Home, set in the 12th millennium.
McDevitt, whose newest novel, Thunderbird, was released in December, adds: “Professor Wasserman sent me a list of names provided for asteroids during the past two months. They included mostly scientists, a few literary characters out of Greek mythology, some historical people, a few cities, Tina Fey, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan. And, finally, me. They’ve put me in pretty decent company.
by Frederic Wills '19 •
Six Wesleyan students were inducted into the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) honor society this year. Helena Awad ’16, Noah Hamlish ’16, Selin Kutlu ’16, Melanie Parziale ’16, Julianne Riggs ’17, and Zarek Siegel ’16 were honored with this prestigious award for exceptional work in biochemistry and molecular biology.
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 mission of the society 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.
Winners of this award have the ability to present their research at the 2017 annual ASBMB annual meeting, being held in Chicago.
by Frederic Wills '19 •
Dr. Joseph Wright ’77, MD, MPH, and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics and Child Health at Howard University College of Medicine, was recently elected to the American Pediatric Society (APS).
“Election to the APS is a special honor,” said Wright, noting that membership provides a platform for him to further, not only “Howard’s commitment to outstanding patient care and service to the community,” but also the missions of the numerous national advisory bodies he serves on, including the Department of Transportation’s National EMS Advisory Council, the American Hospital Association’s Maternal and Child Health Council, the March of Dimes’ Public Policy Advisory Council, and recently, as an Obama Administration appointee to the Food and Drug Administration’s Pediatric Advisory Committee.
He was a psychology major at Wesleyan.
by Olivia Drake •
Three Wesleyan students, faculty and several alumni recently attended the 47th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.
This conference brings together international specialists in petrology, geochemistry, geophysics, geology and astronomy to present the latest results of research in planetary science. The five-day conference was organized by topical symposia and problem-oriented sessions.
Earth and environmental sciences graduate students Ben McKeeby and Shaun Mahmood, and earth and environmental science major Melissa Lowe ’17 presented their ongoing planetary science research at the conference. Lowe received a NASA CT Space Grant travel award to attend the conference.
The students were accompanied by their advisor, James Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences. Greenwood presented on “Volatile content of the lunar magma ocean: Constraints from KREEP basalts 15382 and 15386.” In addition, Martha Gilmore, chair and professor of earth and environmental sciences and the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, was an author on two Venus presentations at the conference.
Several alumni also made contributions at the planetary sciences meeting including Ian Garrick-Bethell ‘02; Peter Martin ‘14; Bob Nelson MA ‘69; James Dottin ‘13; Keenan Golder MA’13; Tanya Harrison MA ‘08; Nina Lanza MA ’06; and Ann Ollila MA ’06.