Science & Technology

Hanakata ’14 Finalist for American Physical Society’s Apker Award

Paul Hanakata '14

Paul Hanakata ’14

Paul Hanakata ’14 was named a finalist for the American Physical Society’s prestigious Leroy Apker Award, the highest prize offered in the United States for an undergraduate thesis in physics. He will compete to win the award this month.

The Apker Award was created to recognize outstanding achievements in physics by undergraduate students, and thereby provide encouragement to young physicists who have demonstrated great potential for future scientific accomplishment.

At Wesleyan, Hanakata received high honors for his Wesleyan thesis titled, “Cooperative Dynamics in Supported Polymer Films,” under his advisor, Francis Starr, professor of physics and director of the College of Integrative Sciences.

In recognition of his exceptional research accomplishments,

COE Scholar Presents Multi-Media Exhibit on “Colony Collapse”

Joseph Smolinski, visiting scholar at Wesleyan's College of the Environment, is a guest artist at the Green Street Arts Center this month. His exhibit, Colony Collapse, explores the recent disappearance of millions of honeybees.  The work focuses on the notion of collapse in relation to human impacts on the environment in drawing, video and 3D printed sculpture forms.

Joseph Smolinski, visiting scholar at Wesleyan’s College of the Environment, is a guest artist at the Green Street Arts Center this month. His exhibit, Colony Collapse, explores the recent disappearance of millions of honeybees.  The work focuses on the notion of collapse in relation to human impacts on the environment in drawing, video and 3D printed sculpture forms.

The mysterious disappearance of millions of honeybees – known as colony collapse disorder – has frustrated and worried scientists around the world for more than seven years. The visiting scholar at Wesleyan’s College of the Environment explores this mystery in a new exhibit at the Green Street Arts Center that opened Sept. 4.

Joseph Smolinski, a noted artist who has exhibited in many venues ranging from MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass. to the Cleveland Institute of Art , uses 3-D printing, video and other media to show the scale of the honeybee crisis – and note that environmental stressors

Burge Discusses Women in Tech

Janet Burge, associate professor of computer science, spoke to the news site Silicon Angle about the tech industry’s dismal record of employing women. According to the article, the problem starts early on, with too few women choosing to pursue STEM fields in college. Burge says this is due, in part, to a lack of confidence.

“One of my best students stopped by my office early last year to chat,” she said. “I suggested she apply to Google but she never did; she just didn’t feel confident enough in her skills for the interview and took a job elsewhere, never applying to Google at all even though she felt it was her ‘dream company.’” Burge added that the student, “wasn’t just my best female student in the class she took from me — she was the best student of all of them, by far!”

Burge also expressed concern that publicity around big tech companies’ lack of gender diversity might further discourage young women from pursuing tech careers.

McNair Summer Fellows Perform Research, Prepare for Grad School

RockyAndIshitaMcNairPoster

McNair Fellow Raquel Ibarra ’16 and Ishita Mukerji, dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division, director of technology initiatives, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, speak at the Research in the Sciences poster session on July 30.

This summer, 13 students had an opportunity to work closely with a faculty mentor to conduct research, as well as get a leg up in the grad school application process, through the McNair Program. For 10 weeks, they studied topics in psychology and neuroscience, earth and environmental science, biology, physics, and science in society.

The McNair Fellows, all rising juniors and seniors, are either low-income, first-generation college students or members of a group traditionally underrepresented in graduate school. The fellows may be engaged in research in any field, though the vast majority focus their studies in the sciences. This summer, eight fellows were fully funded by McNair, three were partially funded by McNair, and two others received funding from other sources, according to Ronnie Hendrix, associate director of the McNair Program.

Graduate Students, Faculty Attend American Chemical Society Meeting

Chemistry graduate student Duminda Ranasinghe spoke about his research on "Density functional for core-valence correlation energy."

Chemistry graduate student Duminda Ranasinghe spoke about his research on “Density functional for core-valence correlation energy.”

Two graduate students and two faculty attended the 248th national meeting of the American Chemical Society Aug. 10-14 in San Francisco, Calif.

Chemistry graduate students Duminda Ranasinghe delivered a poster presentation on her research titled “Efficient extrapolation to the (T)/CBS limit” and an oral presentation on “Density functional for core-valence correlation energy.”

"Assessing weak interactions in small dimer systems with PM7."

Chemistry graduate student Kyle Throssell presented a poster titled “Assessing weak interactions in small dimer systems with PM7.”

Chemistry graduate student Kyle Throssell presented two poster presentations on “Potential curves of selected radical thiol double additions to alkynes” and “Assessing weak interactions in small dimer systems with PM7.”

The students were accompanied by George Petersson, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of chemistry; and Michael Frisch, research professor in chemistry.

Ph.D. Candidate Marino Attends Workshop on Computational Number Theory

Mathematics Ph.D. candidate Alicia Marino, pictured top, left, joined 11 other women studying mathematics and computer science for a four-day workshop this summer.

Mathematics Ph.D. candidate Alicia Marino, pictured top, left, joined 11 other women studying mathematics and computer science at a four-day workshop this summer.

Mathematics Ph.D. candidate Alicia Marino recently attended a four-day workshop in Portland, Ore. studying various aspects of computational number theory. The workshop focused on Sage, a mathematics software package, developed by and for the mathematical community.

The event included talks, tutorials, and time spent in small project groups developing Sage code. Participants worked to enhance the Sage library and discussed ways to increase the number of women in Sage development. The workshop ran July 28-Aug. 1.

Alicia Marino works on coding at the Sage workshop. 

Alicia Marino works on coding at the Sage workshop.

Marino, who holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science, attended the conference to sharpen her programming skills.

“My initial desire to attend the workshop was to throw myself back into that kind of an environment,” she said. “With the knowledge I gained at the workshop, I can continue to develop Sage on my own relative to what I do at Wesleyan.”

Marino learned about the workshop from event organizer Anna Haensch, who earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Wesleyan in 2013. Haensch is now on the faculty at Duquesne University.

Professor of Mathematics Wai Kiu “Billy” Chan served as advisor to Marino and Haensch.

“It was definitely an empowering experience to spend a week in a beautiful environment with intelligent women dedicating our time to a merge of math and computer science,” Marino said.

Grad Student’s Graphic to Appear on Journal’s Cover

Katherine Kaus's story and figure will appear in the September 2014 Journal of Molecular Biology. The figure depicts the structure of a domain of the Vibrio vulnificus hemolysin that binds cell-surface glycans allowing the toxin to attack target cells. The structure was determined using a technique called X-ray crystallography.

Katherine Kaus’s figure, based on an article she co-authored, will appear on the cover of the Sept. 9 Journal of Molecular Biology. The figure depicts the structure of a domain of the Vibrio vulnificus hemolysin that binds cell-surface glycans allowing the toxin to attack target cells. The structure was determined using a technique called X-ray crystallography.

A figure created by Katherine Kaus, graduate student in the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department, was selected to run as the featured cover graphic in the Sept. 9 Journal of Molecular Biology.

The graphic is related to her article, titled “Glycan Specificity of the Vibrio vulnificus Hemolysin Lectin Outlines Evolutionary History of Membrane Targeting by a Toxin Family,” which was published in the journal on July 29. It is co-authored by Rich Olson, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and researchers at the University of Connecticut. The abstract appears online here.

Vibrio vulnificus is an emerging human pathogen that causes severe food poisoning and opportunistic infections with a mortality rate exceeding 50 percent.

The aquatic pathogen secretes a pore-forming toxin (PFT) called V. vulnificus hemolysin (VVH) which form transmembrane channels in cellular membranes. “Determining the mechanism for how PFTs bind membranes is important in understanding their role in disease and for developing possible ways to block their action,” Kaus explained in the paper’s abstract. Sequence analysis in light of the authors structural and functional data suggests that V. vulnificus hemolysin may represent an earlier step in the evolution of Vibrio PFTs.

NSF Grant Supports Shusterman’s Study on Number Word Learning

Anna Shusterman

Anna Shusterman

Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman has received a major grant from the National Science Foundation to study language structure and number word learning in children. The research is a collaboration with David Barner at the University of California-San Diego. The total grant is $1,496,636, of which $724,128 will go to Wesleyan.

According to Shusterman, the project explores how the structure of a language affects children’s acquisition of word meanings for abstract concepts. Specifically, they will consider how the pace of children’s number acquisition is affected by the presence of a “dual marker” — that is, grammatical marking to specify a precise quantity of two, rather than simply singular versus plural—in their native language. The researchers will study dialects of  Slovenian and Saudi Arabic. The study has broader implications related to understanding how aspects of language, such as syntax, facilitate conceptual development, such as mathematics.

At Wesleyan, the grant will fund a full-time project manager and post-doc, who will mentor and interact with students, for all three years of the study. Students working on the study will get exposure to cross-cultural and cross-linguistic research.

Middletown Students Get Taste of STEM at Wesleyan

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Making “gak” at Green Street

Oneiry, in sixth grade and 11 years old, liked the tie-dye experiment, where learning about the light and color also resulted in cool take-home T-shirts. Genesis, a nine-year-old fourth grader, really enjoyed the liquid nitrogen demonstration, especially the ice cream she got to make with it. And Julia, at 10 in fifth grade, had a good time making “gak,” a substance that’s not quite solid and not quite liquid – and slimy and fun.

They were among 10 Middletown girls between fourth and sixth grade who participated in a girls’ science camp sponsored by the Green Street Arts Center Aug. 4-8. The session, staffed by Wesleyan faculty, was designed to introduce girls to the “STEM” fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Women are underrepresented in these fields, and educators believe it’s important to engage girls in them as early as possible.

Yohe on the Keystone XL Pipeline

Gary Yohe

Gary Yohe

Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Gary Yohe responded to a new study which predicted the Keystone XL Pipeline could produce carbon emissions as high as four times the level previously stated by the U.S. State Department. The earlier estimates didn’t take into account the downward pressure the pipeline would put on fuel prices, if approved, spurring greater fuel consumption and increasing pollution.

Lower fuel prices may sound like a good thing, Yohe told The Associated Press, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

“Lower fuel prices are bad if they don’t include all of the social costs,” he said. “Consumers are happy, but the planet is not necessarily.”

Yohe is also chair of economics.

Solar Storms a Wake-Up Call, Redfield Says

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This NASA image shows a solar storm in early 2012.

A July NASA report that a huge solar storm narrowly missed Earth in 2012 – avoiding catastrophic damage to energy, transportation and communications systems – has caused a media stir and some worry among Earthlings.

What’s more, other recent reports say that Earth is overdue for a devastating storm of the kind known as a “Carrington event” after an 1859 storm that disrupted telegraph signals and caused other damage in a still-nascent industrial world. Named for 19th-century English astronomer Richard Carrington, it was the largest of its kind on record. A similar event now, in a world dependent on digital communications and electrical energy, would cause widespread, long-lasting power outages and disrupt transportation and communications planet-wide. Eric Mack, a science blogger for Forbes, referred facetiously to a reversion to “Amish-style” civilization.

Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, says the recent near-miss isn’t a cause for worldwide freakout, but should be a wake-up call; while a catastrophic solar storm may be several generations away, “it’s going to happen,” and scientists should be working on ways to better predict the event.

“I think it’s really important for us to understand what’s going on and have some good perspective on that because if we don’t prepare for it, we’re going to suffer the consequences,” he said. “We don’t need a Manhattan-style project and (to) devote 10 percent of our GDP to this one. But we do need to pay attention.”

Research by Loui, Harrison ’14 on Musically-Induced ‘Thrills and Chills’ is Published

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior

Many of us have experienced an intense emotional and physical sensation while listening to a particularly moving piece of music–often described as a thrill, chill or goosebumps. In a new article published in Frontiers in Psychology, Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, and psychology major Luke Harrison ’14 integrate the existing multidisciplinary literature to create a comprehensive, testable model of “transcendent psychophysiological moments in music.” The paper came out of Harrison’s final paper in Loui’s course on Music Perception and Cognition.

They begin by considering the different nomenclature used in popular and academic discourse for this phenomenon, and the advantages and disadvantages of terms such as “thrills,” “chills,” “frissons,” or even “skin orgasms.” They go on to discuss the importance of cultural and social context in explaining musical “frisson,” and the emotional and neurobiological mechanisms behind this sensation. Finally, they explore the specific types of musical stimuli that elicit this reaction.

Read the full article here.