Science & Technology

Starr’s Nanoparticle Research Published in Science

Professor Francis Starr and his collaborators are working to self-assemble a diamond-structured lattice at will from nanoscale particles.(Image by graduate student Hamed Emamy). 

Professor Francis Starr and his collaborators are working to self-assemble a diamond-structured lattice at will from nanoscale particles. (Image by graduate student Hamed Emamy).

Professor Francis Starr, graduate student Hamad Emamy and collaborators from the Brookhaven National Lab have co-authored a paper titled “Diamond Family of Nanoparticle Superlattices” published in the prestigious journal Science on Feb. 5. Starr is professor of physics and director of the College of Integrative Sciences.

Their work proposed a solution to a decades-long challenge to self-assemble a diamond-structured lattice at will from nanoscale particles.

“Such a diamond-lattice structure has long been sought after due to its potential applications as a light controlling device, including optical transistors, color-changing materials, and optical — as opposed to electronic — computing,” Starr said.

To solve this challenge, the team utilized the specific binding properties of DNA as a tool for materials science. Specifically, they created nanoscale “atoms” that consist of 15 nanometer gold nanoparticles coated with many single-stranded DNA. The single-stranded DNA act like binding arms to connect nanoparticle/DNA “atoms” by forming double-stranded DNA links, and analogue of traditional chemical bonds between atoms. By appropriate selection of the sequence and orientation of these DNA links, the nanoparticles will spontaneously arrange themselves into the desired structure.

“This self-assembly approach not only allows for highly specific order, but also offers the potential for tremendous savings in the cost of materials production, as compared to traditional methods used in the semi-conductor industry,” Starr explained.

Emamy, a graduate student in Starr’s lab, carried out numerical simulations that helped to develop the approach and explain how to stabilize the structure. Collaborators at Brookhaven experimentally synthesized and verified the structure and properties. The effort, Starr said, represented an ideal collaboration between experiments, theory and computation.

Herman Receives Dropkin Postdoctoral Fellowship to Study Evolution of Plant-Pathogen Interactions

Jacob Herman

Jacob Herman

PhD candidate in biology Jacob Herman received a V. Dropkin Postdoctoral Fellowship to research the epigenetics of plant response to pathogen infection at the University of Chicago’s Department of Ecology and Evolution.

The V. Dropkin fellowship funds a postdoctoral researcher for up to four years to study the ecology and evolution of plant-pathogen interactions.

Herman will begin the post-doctoral position after completing his dissertation defense this April. His advisor at Wesleyan is Sonia Sultan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies.

Northrop Featured in Synform‘s Young Career Focus

Brian Northrup

Brian Northrop

Synform, a journal of chemistry, recently featured an interview with Associate Professor of Chemistry Brian Northrop through its Young Career Focus series. Within it, Northrop briefly discusses his research and his most important scientific achievements.

“Currently, I think the greatest impact of my group’s research is more a matter of approach than a specific result. By this I mean that we approach research projects working across each of the ‘three M’s’ of chemistry: making, modeling and measuring. This complementary blend of synthesis, analysis, and theory provides my group with a deep, fundamental understanding of the chemical reactions and processes we are interested in…

“It is my hope that our approach to research and our initial published work have laid a solid foundation for a variety of more important scientific achievements in the future,” he said.

Read the full interview here.

Pollack, Chan Attend Number Theory Conference in Germany

David Pollack, associate professor of mathematics, and Wai Kiu “Billy” Chan, chair and professor mathematics and computer science, recently attended a conference titled “Lattices and Applications in Number Theory” in Germany.

Pollack and Chan traveled to the Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach (MFO), the first research institution established in Germany after World War II, to take part in a weeklong workshop held Jan. 17-23. Dedicated to providing an institute for international cooperative research, the MFO brings together leading experts from all over the world in order to pursue their research activities, discuss recent developments in their field, and generate new ideas. Pollack and Chan were both invited guests.

The workshop focused on the interaction of lattices with number theory, looking specifically at the application of modular forms, finite group theory, algebraic number theory, and the application of tools from linear and semi-definite optimization; applications of lattice theoretic methods to the investigation of algebraic structures; Arakelov geometry; and algebraic modular forms and Hecke operators, especially for orthogonal groups where lattice theoretic concepts play a major role.

(Article by Fred Wills ’19)

Johnson, Alumni Author New Paper in Developmental Biology

Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology, assistant professor of integrative sciences, is the co-author of a new paper titled “The adaptor protein Cindr regulates JNK activity to maintain epithelial sheet integrity” published in the journal Developmental Biology on Jan. 7. The paper was co-authored by Hannah Yasin ’15, Samuel van Rensburg MA ’15, and Christina Feiler, an exchange masters student who worked in Johnson’s lab during 2012-13. The publication represents Yasin’s honors thesis, and van Rensburg’s and Feiler’s masters theses.

According to the abstract:

Epithelia are essential barrier tissues that must be appropriately maintained for their correct function. To achieve this a plethora of protein interactions regulate epithelial cell number, structure and adhesion, and differentiation. Here we show that Cindr (the Drosophila Cin85 and Cd2ap ortholog) is required to maintain epithelial integrity. Reducing Cindr triggered cell delamination and movement. Most delaminating cells died. These behaviors were consistent with JNK activation previously associated with loss of epithelial integrity in response to ectopic oncogene activity. We confirmed a novel interaction between Cindr and Drosophila JNK (dJNK), which when perturbed caused inappropriate JNK signaling. Genetically reducing JNK signaling activity suppressed the effects of reducing Cindr. Furthermore, ectopic JNK signaling phenocopied loss of Cindr and was partially rescued by concomitant cindr over-expression. Thus, correct Cindr-dJNK stoichiometry is essential to maintain epithelial integrity and disturbing this balance may contribute to the pathogenesis of disease states, including cancer.

Wesleyan Hosts Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

More than 200 women undergraduates from the North East who are majoring in physics attended the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP)

Attendees from the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics gathered for a group photo. Wesleyan is the first liberal arts college to host a CUWiP.  Pictured in red at far left, assistant professor Chris Othon, and pictured at far right, assistant professor Meredith Hughes co-organized the conference at Wesleyan.

More than 200 women undergraduates from the Northeast attended the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) Jan. 15-17 at Wesleyan. Wesleyan was one of nine institutions from around the country to host a conference.

The APS CUWiP provides female physics majors with the opportunity to experience a professional conference, information about graduate school and professions in physics, and access to other women in physics with whom they can share experiences, advice and ideas.

The program included panel discussions about graduate school and careers in physics, presentations and discussions about women in physics, laboratory tours, student research talks, a student poster session, banquet and career fair.

Scientific American Editor Moskowitz ’05 is Woman Physicist of the Month

Clara Moskowitz. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

Clara Moskowitz ’05. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

The American Physical Society (APS) named Clara Moskowitz ’05 the Woman Physicist of the Month for December 2015. A senior editor at Scientific American, she was an astronomy and physics double major at Wesleyan. It was in her senior year that she discovered her “favorite part” of her undergraduate career: her thesis.

“I was fascinated by science from a very young age,” she says, “but so many people feel separated from science—as though they can’t get it. I realized that I like writing and I like to communicate the concepts for nonscientists.” After earning a graduate degree in science journalism at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Moskowitz then joined the online publication Space.com, where she covered NASA’s space shuttle missions and other astronomy news. Two years ago, she joined the venerable Scientific American: “We try to keep it current and stay true to its legacy,” she notes.

Moskowitz recalls her favorite assignment at the magazine—which she focused on both historic import and present application: she served as editor of the theme issue on 100 years of general relativity (Sept. 2015, Vol. 313, Issue 3).
“Einstein is such a fascinating figure; he singlehandedly revolutionized science just by thinking about problems: he went through in his mind exactly what it would be like to ride a beam of light. A hundred years after he proposed the theory, we are still thinking about it, still using it—in our cellphones, GPS devices, and satellites.

“His realization that gravity is not so much a force that pulls things together—but rather that it comes from the shape of space and time—is such a beautiful idea.”

As for her success with the project, editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina wrote, “Issue editor Clara Moskowitz and the team have created a special report that is profound yet playful and sparkles with the wonder of discovery—rather like the great man himself. We hope you enjoy reading [this issue] as much as we did putting it together.”

Said Moskowitz, “I’m constantly working hard to make science understandable. I want everyone to see what’s so cool about it.”

Reached at the American Astronomical Society’s January 2016 meeting, which she was covering for Scientific American, Moskowitz was most excited about a recent talk she attended about astronomers planning to use telescopes all over the world in conjunction, in order to capture the event horizon of the black hole that astronomers think lies at the center of our galaxy. The project—which could further prove the theory of general relativity, or call for modifications—will take its first images of the black hole in 2017.

“A lot of us are on the edge of our seats until we get the results,” Moskowitz said.

Moskowitz also was back at Wesleyan on Jan. 16 for the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, where she spoke about her career path. She will present a Physics Department colloquium on March 3 about science journalism.

Wall Street Journal Names Fossel ’73 Book a “Best Book for Science Lovers”

telomerase revolutionThe latest book by Michael Fossel ’73, The Telomerase Revolution: The Enzyme That Holds the Key to Human Aging . . . and Will Soon Lead to Longer, Healthier Lives, published by BenBella Books, was recently selected as one of the Best Books for Science Lovers in 2015 by the Wall Street Journal. Fossel has been writing about the telomerase theory of aging for 20 years and is considered the foremost expert on the clinical use of telomerase for age-related diseases.

“As a doctor, my emphasis has always been on clinical results,” says Fossel in his introduction. “Understanding the nature of aging is essential, of course. But the goal isn’t simply to achieve understanding. The goal is to develop techniques to extend lives, cure diseases, and reduce suffering.”

Each time a cell reproduces, its telomeres (the tips of the chromosomes) shorten, decreasing the cell’s ability to repair its molecules. While most of our cells age in such a way, sex cells and stem cells can reproduce indefinitely, without aging, because they create telomerase, which re-lengthens the telomeres and keeps the cells young. In The Telomerase Revolution, Fossel describes how telomerase might soon be used as a powerful therapeutic tool, with the potential to extend lifespans and maybe even reverse human aging.

Fossel earned both his PhD and MD from Stanford University, where he taught neurobiology and research methods. A past recipient of a National Science Foundation fellowship, he was a clinical professor of medicine for almost 30 years, executive director of the American Aging Association and the founding editor of Rejuvenation Research. He wrote the first ever book on the telomerase theory of aging, Reversing Human Aging (1996), followed by Cells, Aging, and Human Disease (2004), and The Immortality Edge (2011). He currently teaches The Biology of Aging at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., and is working to bring telomerase to human trials for Alzheimer’s disease.

Flaherty to Speak on New Planetary Systems during AAAS Annual Meeting

Kevin Flaherty, a postdoctoral researcher working with Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, will speak on “Dusty Debris as a Window into New Planetary Systems” during the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) 2016 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., Feb. 13. Flaherty is one of three symposium speakers who will discuss the theme “Planet Formation Seen with Radio Eyes.”

Scientists are now probing how, where, and when planets form and are analyzing the links between planetary system architecture and the properties of the parent circumstellar disk. Though the relationship of planetary to stellar masses remains obscure, it is clear that most stars host planets. This symposium describes the state-of-the-art radio-wavelength observing campaigns astronomers are using to probe planet formation and samples new scientific results that radio telescopes are yielding.

After planetary systems form, small bodies analogous to Kuiper Belt Objects collide and produce dusty debris that can be seen around distant stars with radio interferometers. The structure of such debris disks is intimately connected with the dynamics of young planetary systems. In his presentation, Flaherty will describe how recent spectacular Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array observations of debris disks are revealing the properties of emerging planetary systems and the processes by which they form and evolve.

Washington Post Reports on Atwater’s Contributions to U.S. Dietary Guidelines

William Olin Atwater, Class of 1865 and later a chemistry professor at Wesleyan, developed America's first dietary guidelines in 1894. (Photo c/o Special Collections & Archives, Olin Library)

William Olin Atwater, Class of 1865 and later a chemistry professor at Wesleyan, developed America’s first dietary guidelines in 1894. (Photo c/o Special Collections & Archives, Olin Library)

On the release of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest dietary guidelines, The Washington Post looks back at the man responsible for starting it all: William Olin Atwater, Class of 1865 and later a chemistry professor at Wesleyan, who authored the very first dietary guidelines in 1894.

According to the Post, at that time, the U.S. government provided basically no funding into nutritional research, and good nutrition meant simply getting enough to eat.

But Atwater was a firm believer that nutrition was about more than simply staving off hunger. He framed the effort to figure out what foods are good for you as a moral imperative.

“The intellectual and moral condition and progress of men and women is largely regulated by their plane of living,” he wrote, and “the plane of their intellectual and moral life depends upon how they are housed and clothed and fed.”

In 1894, Atwater got his wish. Congress approved $10,000 in funding for nutrition investigations, and Atwater published the first ever federal dietary guidelines in the Department of Agriculture’s “farmers bulletin.”

In 32 pages, Atwater meandered through an examination of the various types of nutrients, how they are used in the body (at least, as far as 19th century scientists understood them), how Americans were eating them compared with how they ought to be, and their impact on health, which a few detours to discuss, say, the practices of ancient blacksmiths or a method for cooking rice (Atwater was, apparently, a man of many interests). He also took a look at foods’ nutritional value compared to their cost to determine which ones were most worthwhile.

In some ways, his conclusions weren’t too different from modern dietary guidelines. Americans should eat less sugar and fewer fats; well-to-do men with physically undemanding jobs (women were nowhere to be found in Atwater’s report) should eat fewer calories, workers who do hard manual labor should eat more. Everyone should avoid eating in excess of their needs, a problem that Atwater describes as not just unhealthy but also wasteful and “evil” (the modern USDA probably wouldn’t phrase that last one in quite such stark terms).

On the other hand, some of Atwater’s recommendations — his abiding admiration for milk, his general dismissiveness toward fruits and vegetables — would be unrecognizable to modern eaters.

Atwater’s voluminous personal papers—which include correspondence, articles, research materials, and notes—and two collections of family papers related to him and members of his family—among them, his daughter Helen, a prominent home economist—are available for research in Special Collections & Archives, Olin Library.

Atwater, far right back row, with his chemistry students, 1873-74. (Photo c/o Special Collections & Archives, Olin Library)

Atwater, far right back row, with his chemistry students, 1873-74. (Photo c/o Special Collections & Archives, Olin Library)

Gary Yohe Discusses Impact of Climate Change on Economy

Gary-YoheGary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, appeared on the RT show “Boom Bust” to discuss the impact of climate change on business and the economy. (Yohe’s interview begins at 3:45). He was asked what sectors of the economy are being affected the most by the forces of climate change.

“Agriculture comes to mind. It’s not just hurricanes and extreme precipitation events—although that seems to be happening along the East Coast. Any [real estate or] infrastructure that’s located near the coast line or near a river, for that matter, is in increasing vulnerability. But it’s more than that. It’s […] agriculture, suffering huge losses from drought. Farmers and cattle ranchers in Texas trying to figure out what to do with cows during their drought… People in California who are trying to figure out where the water is going to come from for very water-intensive crops that have sustained that part of the economy for a very, very long period of time. Industries typically have located, historically at least, along waterways and near coastlines because it makes transportation easier and it’s easier to get their products out, but those companies are realizing that over the short term, they have to protect their plants and their businesses. Over the long term, they have to move away from the water. That will be costly, but given enough time, it won’t be as costly as you might think.”

Yohe was also asked which areas of the U.S. are most susceptible to the effects of climate change.

“The whole Southeast coast. Go along the Gulf of Mexico down to Houston, Tx. Those places are increasingly vulnerable. For sure, Florida: it’s very low lying and it’s right in the way of many hurricanes and many very severe storms.” But even in places like Boston, Yohe said, sea level rise has meant that storm surges in two- or three-year storms look more like those once seen in 25-year storms.