Science & Technology

Carleo Co-Authors Paper in Nature on Molecular Discovery in Space

Ilaria Carleo, a postdoc working with Associate Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield, co-authored a paper called “Five carbon- and nitrogen-bearing species in a hot giant planet’s atmosphere,” which details the discovery of six different molecules in the atmosphere of a hot, gas giant exoplanet called HD209458b.

The paper, published in Nature on April 7, discusses known information about the exoplanet, as well as the process by which these molecules were discovered using observations from the Galileo National Telescope.

“Now that the analysis technique has been optimized, we are investigating the presence of these molecules in the atmosphere of other hot-Jupiters and this will help to understand whether all these planets have common formation and evolution history,” Carleo said.

OConnell Talks Ocean Exploration in Vox Podcast

Suzanne O'Connell

Suzanne OConnell

Suzanne OConnell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, is featured on Vox Media’s podcast Unexplainable in a March 17 episode titled “Journey Toward the Center of the Earth.”

The podcast explores unanswered scientific questions about mysterious aspects of the world and examines what scientists are doing to find answers. The episode with OConnell delves into a 20th-century quest to drill into the Earth’s layers through the ocean, specifically to learn more about a very dense region between the crust and the mantle called the Mohorovičić discontinuity, or the Moho.

“Project Moho was a bust, but it lay a foundation for exploring the ocean, which hadn’t been done before,” OConnell said in the podcast. “We still don’t know that much about it, and every day, almost, we learn something so exciting and so important about our planet.”

OConnell explained that drilling into the ocean allowed scientists to learn about past life and climate on Earth and discover life in the remotest depths of the ocean floor.

“Drilling into the surface sediment, we had no idea what the surface sediment of the ocean was like, and it defined a whole new field of geoscience: paleoceanography,” OConnell said. “And there could be a whole new field of mantle rheology that could be discovered with more pieces of mantle material.”

Read an accompanying Vox article titled “How an ill-fated undersea adventure in the 1960s changed the way scientists see the Earth” online here.

 

Volcanic Lake Study by Varekamp, Former Students, Published in Geology

Joop Varekamp

Joop Varekamp

Johan “Joop” Varekamp, Harold T. Stearns Professor in Earth Science, professor of earth and environmental studies, is the co-author of an article published in Geology, March 2021.

The study, titled “Volcanic Carbon Cycling in East Lake, Newberry Volcano, Oregon,” focuses on the bubbling East Lake, the site of the Newberry Volcano, and the geological implications of the carbon reactions happening there.

Varekamp co-authored the article with graduate student Christina Cauley and former students: Hilary Brumberg ’17, Lena Capece ’16, Celeste Smith ’19, Paula Tartell ’18, and Molly Wagner MA ’19. The team researched this geological phenomenon from 2015 to 2019, and they are currently preparing several longer papers on their Newberry lakes findings.

Varekamp’s research centers around volcanic lakes, mercury pollution, and rising sea levels.

Lin ’22 Wins Biophysical Society Poster Award

Shawn Lin '22

Shawn H. Lin ’22

During the 65th Biophysical Society Annual Meeting held virtually Feb. 22–26, Shawn H. Lin ’22 was honored with an Undergraduate Poster Award for his work on “Elucidation of Interactions Between Integration Host Factor and a DNA Four-Way Junction.”

Lin, a Wesleyan Freeman Scholar, is among only six undergraduate students internationally to receive the award.

Lin’s advisors are Ishita Mukerji, Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics.

Lin’s poster is below (click to enlarge):

Shawn Linn poster

Study by Snashall ’21, Poulos Published in Forests

Gabe Snashall ’21 and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Helen Poulos are the co-authors of “Oreos Versus Orangutans: The Need for Sustainability Transformations and Nonhierarchical Polycentric Governance in the Global Palm Oil Industry,” published in the Feb. 22 issue of Forests.

According to the paper’s abstract, “While the myriad benefits of palm oil as a food, makeup, and cleaning product additive drive its demand, globally, the palm oil industry remains largely unsustainable and unregulated. The negative externalities of palm oil production are diverse and devastating to tropical ecosystem integrity and human livelihoods in palm oil nations. Given the current trend in increasing sustainability and transparency in global supply chains, we suggest that sustainability policy reforms are feasible and have the potential to promote 21st-century U.S. and international sustainability standards. Polycentric governance may improve the attainment of sustainable global palm oil standards with a set of rules that interact across linear and nonlinear hierarchies and structures, thereby improving collaboration efforts, and increasing connectivity and learning across scales and cultures. Transformations towards sustainability in international palm oil governance has the potential to make valuable contributions to global sustainable development and improve the prosperity of poor rural communities in the tropics by providing a framework for achieving palm oil trade transparency and aligning the sustainability goals across a range of actors.”

Garvey ’20, Abel ’65 Collaborate on Mind-Eye Connection Research

Zoe Garvey '20 and Dr. Abel

Zoe Garvey ’20 and Dr. Robert Abel ’65 connected through the Wesleyan Alumni Directory and have since collaborated on mind-eye studies.

After graduating from Wesleyan last May, Zoe Garvey ’20 had plans to conduct research at a local hospital, but the COVID-19 pandemic hindered that plan. As an aspiring physician who is taking a gap year before enrolling in medical school, Garvey began browsing the Wesleyan Alumni Directory, looking for any potential, comparable leads.

“I wanted to see if any Wesleyan alumni who were physicians would be able to offer me opportunities to work with them during my year off,” she said.

And that’s when she connected with Dr. Robert Abel Jr. from Wesleyan’s Class of 1965. Abel, Garvey learned, was a Delaware-based ophthalmologist, a former clinical professor of ophthalmology at Thomas Jefferson University, and is the author of The Eye Care Revolution, which teaches patients how to treat and manage common vision problems.

4 Seniors Receive NASA Undergraduate Research Fellowship Awards

space grantsFour members of the Class of 2021 are recipients of NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium awards.

Kimberly Paragas ’21, Ben Martinez ’21, Molly Watstein ’21, and Mason Tea ’21 each received a $5,000 Undergraduate Research Fellowship for their ongoing research. They’re among only seven students statewide to receive the honor.

“I have never seen an institution be so successful at these very competitive grants, and was so proud and impressed by the student applicants,” said Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy.

Paragras is working with Redfield on her project titled “Gas Giant Atmospheric Mass Loss.” According to the abstract, “Atmospheric mass loss is one of two aspects that influence the evolution of planets, making it essential for understanding their origin. The helium 1083 nm line offers insight into the atmospheric escape of close-in exoplanets, which significantly sculpts their population. This project aims to detect excess helium absorption in the atmosphere of the gas giant HAT-P-18b and estimate its present-day mass loss rate by using transit observations taken with an ultra-narrow band filter. The outcome of this project will provide valuable data for constraining mechanisms of mass loss, as helium outflows have only been detected in 5–6 planets to date.”

Martinez ’21 is working with Ed Moran, chair and professor of astronomy, on a project titled “An Unbiased Survey of Black Hole Activity in the Local Universe.” According to the abstract, “Cosmological simulations have shown that the fraction of low-mass galaxies in today’s universe that contain a nuclear black hole is directly related to the mechanism by which massive black hole seeds formed in the early universe. We have obtained optical emission-line measurements for an unbiased sample of local galaxies using a variety of instruments and will separate the objects into four distinct activity classes. We must remove continuum features from our spectra via the process of starlight subtraction, and examine X-ray and near-IR source catalogs for additional evidence of black-hole accretion to create a comprehensive picture of black hole activity in the nearby universe.”

Watstein ’21 also is working with Moran on a project titled “New Insights into AGN Unification from NuSTAR Observations of Nearby Seyfert 2 Galaxies.” According to the abstract, “Recent X-ray studies have reported a correlation between accretion rate and the presence of a hidden broad-line region in obscured active galactic nuclei (AGNs), suggesting that a substantial revision of the unified model for AGNs is needed. These investigations, however, were based on soft X-ray data, which are unreliable for determining intrinsic luminosities and accretion rates in such objects. Using NuSTAR data in the hard 3-80 keV band, I will determine the intrinsic X-ray luminosities of a large sample of obscured AGNs that have sensitive Keck spectropolarimetry observations, which will afford a definitive test of the accretion-rate hypothesis.”

Tea ’21 is working with Roy Kilgard, associate professor of the practice in astronomy, on a project titled “Analysis, Characterization and Variability of Local, Accreting X-ray Binaries with Archival Chandra Observations.” According to the abstract, “Compact objects are often found in binary systems, emitting X-ray radiation from plasma in their accretion disks as they siphon material from a donor star. Observations of these X-ray binaries (XRBs) in nearby galaxies provide the best opportunity to study the gravitational effects of compact objects on their environment and the high-energy physics powering their emission. In performing a detailed spectral and temporal analysis of the roughly 80 brightest X-ray sources within 15 Mpc, I hope to assess their spectral state and variability in order to more accurately constrain the parameter space and local population of XRBs and black hole binaries (BHBs).”

The NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC) is a federally mandated grant, internship, and scholarship program that is funded as a part of NASA education. NASA CTSGC was formed in 1991 in an effort to encourage broader participation in NASA research programs.

Several Wesleyan Faculty, Students Participate in Annual American Astronomical Society Meeting

Four Wesleyan faculty, nine undergraduate students, one graduate student, and one postdoctoral researcher attended the 237th American Astronomical Society meeting virtually Jan. 10–15.

Wesleyan faculty attendees included Ed Moran, chair and professor of astronomy; Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy; Meredith Hughes, associate professor of astronomy; and Roy Kilgard, associate professor of the practice in astronomy.

Poster presentations included:
Kimberly Paragas ’21, who is working with Redfield, presented “Metastable Helium Reveals Ongoing Mass Loss for the Gas Giant HAT-P-18b.”

Molly Watstein ’21, who is working with Moran, presented “New Insights into AGN Unification from NuSTAR Observations of Nearby Seyfert 2 Galaxies.”

Hannah Lewis ’23, who is working with Hughes, presented “A Search for Kinematic Signatures of Planets in the Debris Disk Around 49 Ceti.”

Graduate student Megan Delamer, who is working with Hughes, presented “A High-Resolution Study of Spatial and Spectral Variations of Dust Properties in the 49 Ceti Debris Disk.”

Anthony Santini ’18, MA ’19, who is working with Kilgard, presented “An Analysis of X-ray Binary Populations Outside the Visible Extent of Nearby Galaxies.”

Mason Tea ’21, who is working with Kilgard, presented “Circling the Cosmic Drain: Analysis, Characterization and Variability of Local, Accreting X-ray Binaries with Archival Chandra Observations.”

David Vizgan ’21, who is working with Hughes, presented “Tensile Strengths of Bodies in the Collisional Cascade: A Dual-Wavelength Study of the Vertical Structure of the AU Mic Debris Disk.”

Ilaria Carleo, a postdoctoral researcher working with Redfield, presented “TOI-421: A Multiplanet System with a Super-Puffy Mini Neptune.” Carleo’s talk was based on her research cited in AAS Nova.

Ava Nederlander ’22, who is working with Hughes, presented “Resolving Structure in the Debris Disk around HD 206893 with ALMA.”

Seth Larner ’21, who is working with Kilgard, presented “Investigating Transition States in Bright Chandra ACIS X-ray Binaries Exhibiting Intra-Observational Variation.”

Ben Martinez ’21, who is working with Moran, presented “An Unbiased Survey of Black Hole Activity in the Local Universe.”

Anna Fehr ’23, who is working with Hughes, presented “Planet Configurations Carving Gapped Debris Disks.”

Also, Emma Goulet from St. Anselm College, presented “Fitting the Local Interstellar Medium Toward EK Draconis.” Goulet worked under Redfield during the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium’s  Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program.

Single-Tusked Walrus Skull Settles into Olin Library

walrus

On Jan. 20, crews installed a walrus exhibit in Olin Library. Pictured, from left back row, are Katherine Brunson, assistant professor of archaeology and East Asian studies; Wendi Field Murray, Archaeology Collections manager and adjunct assistant professor of East Asian studies; Andrew White, Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian; Ann Burke, professor of biology; Bruce Strickland, instrument maker specialist; Jim Zareski, research assistant/lab manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; David Strickland, instrument maker; and Vivian Gu ’23. Pictured, kneeling, from left, are Yu Kai Tan ’20 and Andy (Dick Yee) Tan ’21.

Olin Library’s newest resident is looking for a good book to sink his tusk into.

The skull of a one-toothed walrus, which was installed in the Campbell Reading Room on Jan. 20, is the University’s latest exhibit on display from the former Museum of Wesleyan University (1871–1957). The piece was donated to Wesleyan 145 years ago by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History but has spent about half of its university life in storage.

The 26-pound skull, which is missing its right tusk, belonged to a Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) living along the Ugashik River in Alaska in 1876. The aquatic mammal would use its tusks to climb onto ice flows, attract mates, establish social structure, or for combat.

“We’re not exactly sure what happened to its other tusk,” said Professor of Biology Ann Campbell Burke. “In the wild, they don’t naturally shed their tusks, but they do get broken. This one was removed after death.”

Students’ Essays on Infectious Disease Prevention, COVID-19 Published Nationwide

cohan

More than 25 students in Fred Cohan’s Global Change and Infectious Disease course have had op-eds published in media outlets nationwide. Cohan, professor of biology and Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment (pictured), assigns the op-ed writing as part of his course and offers students extra credit if they are able to get their work published.

As part of the BIO 173: Global Change and Infectious Disease course, Professor Fred Cohan assigns students to write an essay persuading others to prevent future and mitigate present infectious diseases. If students submit their essay to a news outlet—and it’s published—Cohan awards them with extra credit.

As a result of this assignment, more than 25 students have had their work published in newspapers across the United States. Many of these essays cite and applaud the University’s Keep Wes Safe campaign and its COVID-19 testing protocols.

Cohan, professor of biology and Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment (COE), began teaching the Global Change and Infectious Disease course in 2009, when the COE was established. “I wanted very much to contribute a course to what I saw as a real game-changer in Wesleyan’s interest in the environment. The course is about all the ways that human demands on the environment have brought us infectious diseases, over past millennia and in the present, and why our environmental disturbances will continue to bring us infections into the future.”

Over the years, Cohan learned that he can sustainably teach about 170 students every year without running out of interested students. This fall, he had 207. Although he didn’t change the overall structure of his course to accommodate COVID-19 topics, he did add material on the current pandemic to various sections of the course.

“I wouldn’t say that the population of the class increased tremendously as a result of COVID-19, but I think the enthusiasm of the students for the material has increased substantially,” he said.

To accommodate online learning, Cohan shaved off 15 minutes from his normal 80-minute lectures to allow for discussion sections, led by Cohan and teaching assistants. “While the lectures mostly dealt with biology, the discussions focused on how changes in behavior and policy can solve the infectious disease problems brought by human disturbance of the environment,” he said.

Based on student responses to an introspective exam question, Cohan learned that many students enjoyed a new hope that we could each contribute to fighting infectious disease. “They discovered that the solution to infectious disease is not entirely a waiting game for the right technologies to come along,” he said. “Many enjoyed learning about fighting infectious disease from a moral and social perspective. And especially, the students enjoyed learning about the ‘socialism of the microbe,’ how preventing and curing others’ infections will prevent others’ infections from becoming our own. The students enjoyed seeing how this idea can drive both domestic and international health policies.”

A sampling of the published student essays are below:

Alexander Giummo ’22 and Mike Dunderdale’s ’23 op-ed titled “A National Testing Proposal: Let’s Fight Back Against COVID-19” was published in the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.

They wrote: “With an expansive and increased testing plan for U.S. citizens, those who are COVID-positive could limit the number of contacts they have, and this would also help to enable more effective contact tracing. Testing could also allow for the return of some ‘normal’ events, such as small social gatherings, sports, and in-person class and work schedules.

“We propose a national testing strategy in line with the one that has kept Wesleyan students safe this year. The plan would require a strong push by the federal government to fund the initiative, but it is vital to successful containment of the virus.

“Twice a week, all people living in the U.S. should report to a local testing site staffed with professionals where the anterior nasal swab Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, used by Wesleyan and supported by the Broad Institute, would be implemented.”

Kalyani Mohan ’22 and Kalli Jackson ’22 penned an essay titled “Where Public Health Meets Politics: COVID-19 in the United States,” which was published in Wesleyan’s Arcadia Political Review.

They wrote: “While the U.S. would certainly benefit from a strengthened pandemic response team and structural changes to public health systems, that alone isn’t enough, as American society is immensely stratified, socially and culturally. The politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic shows that individualism, libertarianism and capitalism are deeply ingrained in American culture, to the extent that Americans often blind to the fact community welfare can be equivalent to personal welfare. Pandemics are multifaceted, and preventing them requires not just a cultural shift but an emotional one amongst the American people, one guided by empathy—towards other people, different communities and the planet. Politics should be a tool, not a weapon against its people.”

Sydnee Goyer ’21 and Marcel Thompson’s ’22 essay “This Flu Season Will Be Decisive in the Fight Against COVID-19” also was published in Arcadia Political Review.

“With winter approaching all around the Northern Hemisphere, people are preparing for what has already been named a “twindemic,” meaning the joint threat of the coronavirus and the seasonal flu,” they wrote. “While it is known that seasonal vaccinations reduce the risk of getting the flu by up to 60% and also reduce the severity of the illness after the contamination, additional research has been conducted in order to know whether or not flu shots could reduce the risk of people getting COVID-19. In addition to the flu shot, it is essential that people remain vigilant in maintaining proper social distancing, washing your hands thoroughly, and continuing to wear masks in public spaces.”

Kottos Awarded Simons Collaborative Grant to Advance Wave Transport Research

kottos

Professor Tsampikos Kottos is one of 11 researchers worldwide to receive funding from the Simons Collaborations in Mathematics and the Physical Sciences Initiative. Simons is awarding $16 million total in funding over the next eight years.

With support from the Simons Foundation, Tsampikos Kottos, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of physics, will work on groundbreaking wave transport research, ultimately benefiting a broad range of technologies ranging from wireless communications and efficient energy harvesting, to biomedical and avionics sensing technologies.

Kottos is one of 11 principal investigators (PIs) from 12 universities and research institutions across the globe to receive funding from the Simons Collaborations in Mathematics and the Physical Sciences Initiative. The group’s project, “Harnessing Universal Symmetry Concepts for Extreme Wave Phenomena,” is based at the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. (Read Kottos’ ASRC bio online here.)

During the first four years, Simons is awarding ASRC $8 million, out of which Wesleyan is receiving $600,000. In the second phase, Simons will award an additional $8 million.

The grant aims to stimulate progress on fundamental scientific questions of major importance in mathematics, theoretical physics, and theoretical computer science. This research aims to further the fundamental understanding of and ability to manipulate light and sound waves in order to facilitate the development of novel wave-based technologies.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for Wesleyan to be part of this international coalition, which hopefully will address the next generation’s needs of classical wave-based technologies,” Kottos said.

Kottos’s research interests include linear, nonlinear, and non-Hermitian wave transport, mesoscopic transport, and mathematical physics. He has published more than 140 papers. During the 2020–21 academic year, Kottos is teaching PHYS 324: Electricity and Magnetism; PHYS 521: Physics Colloquium; PHYS 214: Quantum Mechanics; and PHYS 510: Theoretical Physics Seminar II.

In addition to participating in the research, Kottos also is serving on the Simons Collaboration Initiative steering committee.

Tan ’20 Honored by Geological Society of America for Poster Presentation

GSAOn Nov. 23, the Geological Society of America’s (GSA) Geobiology and Geomicrobiology Division awarded earth and environmental sciences graduate student Yu Kai Tan ’20 with a student presentation award.

Tan presented his poster, “Freshwater Mussels in North America: Museum Collections and Pre-Industrial Biogeography,” on Oct. 29 during the GSA’s annual (virtual) meeting. Andy (Dick Yee) Tan ’21 collaborated with Tan ’20 on the poster. Their advisors are Ann Burke, professor of biology, and Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History, and University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences.

Judges commended Tan’s poster for being “beautifully organized” and having a “terrific use of time and space.” They also noted that “the digitalization and processing of these collections is incredibly important to maintaining them and making them accessible for future research,” and the work “plays a vital role in understanding past and present biodiversity.”

poster

(click to enlarge)