Science & Technology

Wilkins, Wellman, Schad ’13, MA ’14 Paper Examines Reactions to Claims of Anti-Male Bias

Clara Wilkins, assistant professor of psychology, has studied perceptions of discrimination against whites and other groups who hold positions of relative advantage in society—such as heterosexuals and men—since she was a graduate student at the University of Washington. She became became interested in the topic of perceptions of bias against high status groups after hearing Glenn Beck call president Barack Obama racist. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Clara Wilkins

A paper authored by Assistant Professor of Psychology Clara Wilkins, her former post-doc Joseph Wellman, and Katherine Schad ’13, MA ’14, was published in August in the journal Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 

Titled “Reactions to anti-male sexism claims: The moderating roles of status-legitimizing belief and endorsement and group identification,” the paper examines how people react to men who claim to be victims of gender bias, an increasingly common phenomenon. In particular, the researchers considered how status legitimizing beliefs (SLBs), which encompass a set of ideologies that justify existing status hierarchies, and gender identification (GID) moderated men’s and women’s reactions to a man who claimed to have lost a promotion because of anti-male sexism or another cause.

They found that for both men and women, SLB endorsement was was associated with a more positive reaction toward this man, consistent with theory that claiming bias against a high-status group reinforces the status hierarchy. With regard to group identification, they found that men evaluated the claimant more positively the more strongly they identified with their gender, while women who identified more strongly with their gender evaluated the claimant more negatively. The researchers also demonstrated that SLBs and GID moderated the extent to which the claimant was perceived as sexist. They discussed how these reactions may perpetuate gender inequality.

Hingorani’s DNA Mismatch Study Published in PNAS

Manju Hingorani

Manju Hingorani

Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, is the co-author of “MutL Traps MutS at a DNA Mismatch,” published in the July 21 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Postdoctoral researcher Miho Sakato also co-authored the article.

DNA mismatch repair is the process by which errors generated during DNA replication are corrected. Mutations in the proteins that initiate mismatch repair, MutS and MutL, are associated with greater than 80 percent of hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer and many sporadic cancers. The assembly of MutS and MutL at a mismatch is an essential step for initiating repair; however, the nature of these interactions is poorly understood.

In this study, Hingorani, Sakato and their fellow researchers discovered that MutL fundamentally changes the properties of mismatch-bound MutS by preventing it from sliding away from the mismatch, which it normally does when isolated. This finding suggests a mechanism for localizing the activity of repair proteins near the mismatch.

 

NSF Supports Thomas’s Study on the Impact of Rapid Carbon Emissions on Global Climate

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas, the University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, received a grant in August from the National Science Foundation to support her research on “Evaluating Deep-Sea Ventilation and the Global Carbon Cycle during early Paleocene Hyperthemals.”

The $105,000 award is part of a combined $619,000 grant shared with Yale University and the University of Texas at Arlington.

Rapid, short-term global warming events in the Early Paleogene (~65-45 million years ago) were caused by massive greenhouse gas release into the ocean-atmosphere system. These warming events, called hyperthermals, had far-reaching effects on the evolution of life on Earth, ecosystems and the carbon cycle. The most extreme of these events was the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (~55.5 million years ago). Hyperthermals resemble what could happen during anthropogenic climate change, and provide analogs for the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and their long-term effects on life on Earth.

By testing earth system interactions during the Paleogene hyperthermals, this interdisciplinary project will provide new insight into the impact of rapid carbon emissions on global climate—carbon cycle feedbacks and extremes in climate.

In this three-year collaborative project, new biotic, isotopic and trace element proxies will be integrated with existing data into a state-of-the-art, high-resolution, comprehensive earth system model to test the hypothesis that deep-sea ventilation released a massive amount of carbon from the refractory dissolved organic matter (DOM) pool during hyperthermal events, increasing atmospheric CO2 levels, thus amplifying climate change through carbon-cycle feedback.

“We will investigate the environmental response (e.g., ocean acidification and deoxygenation) and its impact on pelagic ecosystem structure for three Paleogene hyperthermals with different magnitude and duration,” Thomas explained. “The project will focus on a key mechanism involving remineralization of organic matter and oxidation of the DOM pool in the ocean, with potentially major implications for future climate evolution.”

Petit Family Foundation Supports Women in Physics Conference

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). Pictured, from left is Kimberly Petit, Chris Othon, William Petit and Meredith Hughes.

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). Pictured, from left is Kimberly Petit, Chris Othon, William Petit and Meredith Hughes.

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). The three-day conference, scheduled for January 15-17, 2016, will showcase career opportunities available to physicists through plenary talks, panel discussions and a career fair. Attendees will have the opportunity to network and interact with more than 200 fellow undergraduate women physicists as well as a variety of industrial and academic leaders.

Chris Othon, assistant professor of physics, and Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, are co-organizing the conference with help from Nisha Grewal ’17 (physics/economics) and Julia Zachary ’17 (physics/astronomy). The group is planning a career fair representing regional technology companies and graduate physics programs.

The 2016 CUWiP will be held at nine different sites including Wesleyan, Black Hills State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Old Dominion University – Jefferson Laboratory, Ohio State University, Oregon State University, Syracuse University, the University of California – San Diego, and the University of Texas – San Antonio. For more information visit the CUWiP website.

Students Study Kangaroo Behavior in Response to Environmental Changes

Angus McLean and Mariel Becker collecting kangaroo droppings in Boundary Road Reserve. (Photo courtesy of the Bathurst Kangaroo Project)

Angus McLean and Mariel Becker collecting kangaroo droppings in Boundary Road Reserve. (Photo courtesy of the Bathurst Kangaroo Project)

Two Wesleyan students and a former visiting professor have just wrapped up a seven-week-long research project on kangaroo behavior in Bathurst, Australia. Working with Liv Baker, an animal studies postdoctoral fellow in the College of the Environment in 2014-15, Angus McLean ’16 and Mariel Becker ’18 have collected “more than 600 pages of data recording kangaroo behavior in response to daily changes and threats in their environment,” according to an article in Western Advocate.

“There were noticeable differences in behaviour between the kangaroos we observed out of town, and between the three different mobs around the Mount,” McLean told the paper.

Angus MacLean observes a kangaroo at one of their sites. At this site, kangaroos were extremely habituated to humans.

Angus McLean observes a kangaroo at one of their sites. At this site, kangaroos were extremely habituated to humans.

“We’ve also collected a freezer full of kangaroo droppings being stored at Charles Sturt University, and which University of Technology Sydney will be testing for cortisol levels, which indicate stress. Our supervisor Dr. Liv Baker from Wesleyan University will be analysing both sets of data and writing up a paper about how Mount Panorama kangaroos are responding to stressors in their environment.”

The project began in June, when Baker held a workshop at the Bathurst Art Gallery collating descriptions of kangaroo behaviors to inform the students’ character-state recognition records.

Mariel Becker collected fecal samples, which were sent to a lab in Sydney. The samples are analyzed for cortisol levels, which is a hormone produced when the animal is stressed.

Mariel Becker collected fecal samples, which were sent to a lab in Sydney. The samples are analyzed for cortisol levels, which is a hormone produced when the animal is stressed.

WesMaSS Scholars Get Intensive Introduction to Studying Sciences at Wesleyan

Ten WesMaSS scholars participated in a weeklong program on campus this summer.

Ten Wesleyan Mathematics and Science Scholars participated in a weeklong program on campus this summer.

The Wesleyan Mathematics and Science Scholars (WesMaSS) Program is a highly selective academic program designed to support students from traditionally underrepresented groups who are interested in pursuing study in mathematics and natural sciences. The program aims to foster community building and provides the scholars, who are all incoming first-year students, with mentoring and academic resources which encourage and facilitate their sustained involvement in these fields. Each scholar also receives a Wesleyan faculty mentor.

From July 26-31, 10 of the 32 WesMaSS scholars participated in an intensive introduction to studying science at Wesleyan. Students toured the science departments, became familiar with the range of resources available, and attended workshops focused on the expectations for academic work at Wesleyan. They also met with T. David Westmoreland, associate professor of chemistry, who is serving as director of the WesMaSS Program.

Students attended a mini-course in network analysis offered by Pavel Oleinikov, associate director of the Quantitative Analysis Center; a microscopy lab introduction by Jeff Gilarde, director of scientific imaging; and a tour of the Joe Webb Peoples Mineral Museum by James Gutmann, the Smith Curator of Mineralogy and Petrology. The students also participated in many social activities. The program culminated with the Undergraduate Research in the Sciences Symposium, a day-long event that featured a keynote lecture by a prominent scientist and a poster session of the undergraduate scientific research projects.

Photos of the program are below: (Photos by Roslyn Carrier-Brault and Olivia Drake)

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Seamon is Author of New Book on Memory and the Movies

Professor John Seamon has studied cognitive psychology for more than 40 years at Wesleyan.

Professor Emeritus John Seamon studied cognitive psychology for more than 40 years at Wesleyan.

John Seamon, professor of psychology, emeritus, is the author of a new book, Memory and the Movies, published August 14 by The MIT Press. The book is an outgrowth of a Psychology course, “Memory in the Movies,” which Seamon taught at Wesleyan for five years before his retirement in 2013. He is currently preparing a MOOC version of it to run on Coursera next winter.

The book examines what films such as Slumdog Millionaire, Memento, and Away From Her can teach us about how human memory works. Seamon explains that memory is actually a diverse collection of independent systems, and uses examples from movies to to offer an accessible, nontechnical description of what science knows about memory function and dysfunction. He also demonstrates how movies frequently get certain things, like amnesia, wrong.

Read more about the book on The MIT Press website.

Faculty Teach Local Girls about Science

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The Green Street Teaching and Learning Center hosted a Girls in Science Camp Aug. 3-7. Wesleyan faculty members Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology (pictured third from left); Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies (pictured at far right); Chris Othon, assistant professor of physics (pictured at left), along with three undergraduate students, worked with the campers on various experiments. Sara MacSorley, director of the GSTLC (second from left), coordinated the activities.

Johnson led the campers on a bug hunt through Wesleyan’s West College Courtyard garden. There, the girls observed insects while considering insect diets and insect life-cycles. The girls also learned about the life-cycle of the fruit fly and set up an experiment to test the effects of feeding flies a high-sugar diet (this negatively affects the fly life-cycle, and is akin to inducing Type II Diabetes). Johnson also taught the campers about genetic variations (mutations) that affected wing and bristle development.

“Learning about these phenotypes served as an intro to genetics, genes and proteins,” Johnson said.

Johnson also taught the girls about microscopy. After a short presentation on how a variety of biological objects appear when viewed with high magnification, the girls viewed and captured images of the fly pupal eye with a fluorescent microscope. The girls also viewed a variety of mutant adult fly eyes with dissecting microscopes and, to build their skills in observation, built 3D models of these with modeling clay.
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Courant Explores History of Astronomy at Wesleyan Ahead of Centennial Celebration

cam_vvo_2013-0102225113Ahead of the centennial celebration of Wesleyan’s Van Vleck Observatory, The Hartford Courant explored a bit of observatory history, including some recent discoveries of rare artifacts.

A team of Wesleyan professors and students, together with the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford, is preparing for an exhibit this spring, “Under Connecticut Skies: Exploring 100 Years of Astronomy at Van Vleck Observatory in Middletown, Connecticut.”

“We’ve been looking into every nook and cranny to see what we have here,” Associate Professor of History Paul Erickson told the Courant. One exciting find: a rare early mechanical model of the solar system, long believed to be lost, known as “Russell’s Stupendous and Magnificent Planetarium or Columbian Orrery.” Back in the 1830s, the device traveled the country in a wagon to be exhibited to big crowds.

According to the story:

Some of the other finds include an early 18th century French refractor telescope and a late 19th century mechanical calculating machine known as “the Millionaire.” The Swiss-made machine was employed in the principal research of the observatory, attempting to calculate stellar distances. “Astronomy involves a lot of number crunching, so this was a very useful tool before the computer,” Erickson said.

Of particular interest is the observatory guestbook, which records the visits of world-famous astronomers, such as Harlow Shapley, the first scientist to correctly estimate the size of the Milky Way, and Edwin Powell Hubble, for whom the Hubble Telescope is named. There is also a visit in the 1920s of a young Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the Indian-born astrophysicist who went on to win the Nobel Prize.

Read more about a project to restore the Van Vleck Refractor telescope here. The project is set to wrap up this summer.

Study by Redfield, Johnson ’11 Published in Astrophysical Journal, New Scientist

Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy, and Marshall Johnson ’11 are the co-authors of an article titled “The Interstellar Medium in the Kepler Search Volume,” published in The Astrophysical Journal, Vol. 802, No. 2, July 2015. The article highlights ways scientists are studying the gas and dust in the galaxy near where the Kepler Space Telescope is discovering exoplanets.

“Stars, with planets, can interact with the gas surrounding them in interesting ways, like bubbles in a drink, where each of the bubbles is an individual star (perhaps with planets) and the drink is the ‘interstellar medium’, the gas in between the stars,” Redfield explained.

In addition, The New Scientist published an article on Aug. 6 titled, “Distant worlds could be sheltering in a bubble around their star,” which focuses on the authors’ Astrophysical Journal study. It reads:

Distant planets may be swaddled in a protective bubble of magnetism and charged particles, courtesy of their parent star. The first study to scrutinize these so-called astrospheres shows that some exoplanets are more well shielded than Earth, others not so lucky – and that their protection can be fickle.

Within our solar system, the sun’s wind of charged particles and radiation forms a bubble called the heliosphere, which repels cosmic rays that can affect Earth’s weather, eat away at the ozone layer and damage DNA. Likewise, astrospheres guard faraway worlds from the ravages of the cosmos, says Marshall C. Johnson, an astronomer at the University of Texas in Austin.

An astrosphere’s size is determined partly by the strength of the star’s winds, and partly by the surrounding interstellar medium of gas and dust. The star’s velocity through the galaxy also has an effect.

“It’s just like if you are driving and you stick your hand out the window. You will experience higher pressure on your hand when you are driving fast than when you are driving slowly,” Johnson says. “If there is a greater relative velocity between the star and the interstellar medium, there will be a greater pressure exerted on the astrosphere.”

Johnson is working on his PhD in astronomy at the University of Texas in Austin. Marshall and Redfield had gone together in 2010-11 to observe at the McDonald Observatory in west Texas, and this project grew out of this work.

Another co-author on the paper, Adam Jensen, was a postdoctoral researcher at Wesleyan between 2010-2013 and was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Bow Shock Study by Redfield, Cauley Published in Astrophysical Journal

Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy, and Wilson Cauley, postdoctoral researcher in astronomy, led the effort on a paper titled “Optical hydrogen absorption consistent with a thin bow shock leading the hot Jupiter HD 189733b” accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

Wilson Cauley, postdoctoral researcher in astronomy, created a animation that shows the transit of bow shock material as it crosses a stellar disk, and the absorption values the model predicts. Cauley's study demonstrates an exciting path forward in attempting to measure exoplanet magnetic fields. 

Wilson Cauley, postdoctoral researcher in astronomy, created a animation that shows the transit of bow shock material as it crosses a stellar disk, and the absorption values the model predicts. Cauley’s study demonstrates an exciting path forward in attempting to measure exoplanet magnetic fields.

Bow shocks are ubiquitous astrophysical phenomena resulting from the supersonic passage of an object through a gas. In this paper, the authors present a robust detection of a time-resolved pre-transit, as well as in-transit, absorption signature around the hot Jupiter exoplanet HD 189733b using high spectral resolution observations of several hydrogen lines.

Better knowledge of exoplanet magnetic field strengths is crucial to understanding the role these fields play in planetary evolution and the potential development of life on planets in the habitable zone.

Cauley’s research is funded at Wesleyan through the National Science Foundation to study the extended atmospheres of exoplanets. For more information and to view a animation that summarizes the paper’s results, visit Cauley’s website.

In addition, Redfield and Cauley will present results from an observation made at the largest telescopes in the world, the Keck Telescope in Hawaii, during the International Astronomical Union General Assembly in August.

 

Students Share Summer Research at Poster Session

On July 30, Wesleyan’s Summer Research Poster Session took place at Exley Science Center. More than 110 undergraduate research fellows from Math and Computer Sciences, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, the Quantitative Analysis Center, and Psychology presented research at the event. (Photos by Laurie Kenney)

Aidan Bardos ’17 presented her research titled "The Effects of Nutrition on the Immune Response of Wooly Bear Caterpillars Infected by Parasitoid Wasps." Bardos' faculty advisor is Michael Singer, associate professor of biology and environmental studies.

Aidan Bardos ’17 presented her research titled “The Effects of Nutrition on the Immune Response of Wooly Bear Caterpillars Infected by Parasitoid Wasps.” Bardos’ faculty advisor is Michael Singer, associate professor of biology and associate professor of environmental studies.

A poster titled "Immunohistochemical Analysis of Status Epilepticus Mice Treated with Striatal-Enriched Tyrosine Phosphatase Inhibitor" was presented by Matt Pelton ’17. His advisor is Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.

A poster titled “Immunohistochemical Analysis of Status Epilepticus Mice Treated with Striatal-Enriched Tyrosine Phosphatase Inhibitor” was presented by Matt Pelton ’17. His advisor is Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.