Science & Technology

Neuroscience Program Holds Undergraduate Research Symposium, Poster Session

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)

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Thomas Co-Authors 5 Papers in Academic Journals

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.

O’Connell, Alumni Participate in National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Workshop

Suzanne O’Connell, right, with Ed Laine ’69 and Kerry Brenner ’94 at a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine workshop.

Suzanne O’Connell, right, with Ed Laine ’69 and Kerry Brenner ’94 at a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine workshop.

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.

Van Vleck Observatory Celebrates Centennial with Exhibition, Event Series

Wesleyan’s iconic observatory dome was built to house the Van Vleck Refractor, used in research until the early 1990s. Photo by John Van Vlack.

Wesleyan’s iconic observatory dome was built to house the Van Vleck Refractor, used in research until the early 1990s. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

The building was named for Professor John Monroe Van Vleck, who taught mathematics and astronomy at Wesleyan from 1853 until his death in 1912.

The building was named for Professor John Monroe Van Vleck, who taught mathematics and astronomy at Wesleyan from 1853 until his death in 1912.

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 Millionaire” Mechanical Calculator. Useful for determining distances to stars, this late 19th-century calculator had high precision (eight significant figures) and is still in perfect working order. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

“The Millionaire” Mechanical Calculator. Useful for determining distances to stars, this late 19th-century calculator had high precision (eight significant figures) and is still in perfect working order. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

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.

PhD Candidate Frayne Speaks on Designing Dendritic Polymers

During the Graduate Student Speaker Series talk on April 20, Stephen Frayne, a PhD candidate in chemistry, spoke on "Designing Dendritic Polymers: From Theory to Experiment." Study and application of polymeric materials spans the physical, life, and applied sciences and has revolutionized nearly every facet of modern day society: medicine, transportation, construction, agriculture, and electronics, to name a few.

During the Graduate Student Speaker Series talk on April 20, Stephen Frayne, a PhD candidate in chemistry, spoke on “Designing Dendritic Polymers: From Theory to Experiment.” Study and application of polymeric materials spans the physical, life, and applied sciences and has revolutionized nearly every facet of modern day society: medicine, transportation, construction, agriculture, and electronics, to name a few.

McDevitt MALS ’71 Honored with Asteroid Jackmcdevitt

As a science fiction writer of some renown, Jack McDevitt MALS ’71 was invited to NASA to watch a rocket launch—which he is anticipating in this photograph.

As an award-winning science fiction writer, Jack McDevitt MALS ’71 was invited to NASA, to watch a rocket launch—which he is anticipating in this photograph.

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.

Students Inducted into American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Honor Society

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.

Wright ’77 Elected to American Pediatric Society

Dr. Joseph L. Wright ’77, MD, was elected to the American Pediatric Society.

Dr. Joseph L. Wright ’77, MD, was elected to the American Pediatric Society.

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.

Students, Faculty, Alumni Present Research at Planetary Science Conference

From left, graduate student Ben McKeeby, Melissa Lowe ’17 and graduate student Shaun Mahmood met Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, the only geologist to go to the moon. Schmitt collected collected the samples that Lowe and Mahmood were presenting on at this meeting.

From left, graduate student Ben McKeeby, Melissa Lowe ’17 and graduate student Shaun Mahmood met Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, the only geologist to go to the moon. Schmitt collected the samples that Lowe and Mahmood are studying.

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.

McKeeby shared his research titled, “An investigation of jarosite and associated alteration mineralogy
in Martian Meteorite Roberts Massif 04262 using Micro-Raman spectroscopy;” Mahmood presented his study titled, “Hydrous glasses of lunar sample 75055: A Micro-Raman spectroscopy investigation;” and Lowe spoke about her study titled “Cl-rich britholite substitution in apatite of high-titanium basalt 75055: A chlorine and REE-enriched phase of lunar phosphates.”

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.

Students Present Research at the Eastern Psychological Association’s 2016 Meeting

Sheri Reichelson '16

Sheri Reichelson ’16

Several Wesleyan students presented research at the Eastern Psychological Association’s 2016 Annual Meeting in New York, N.Y. on March 4.

Sheri Reichelson ’16 presented a poster titled “Does the Arbitrary Grouping of Physical Options Influence Children’s and Adults’ Choices?”

Reichelson received an Eastern Regional travel grant from the Psi Chi Grants Committee and Boards of Directors to fund her travel. She also is an accepted BA/MA student continuing her work next year in Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Labs under the supervision of Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology.

Reichelson’s research, an ongoing collaborative project between the Cognitive Development Labs and the Reasoning and Decision Making Lab (led by Andrea Patalano, chair and associate professor of psychology), investigates how the grouping of categories affects decision making in children and adults.

Samantha Hellberg '16

Samantha Hellberg ’16

Samantha Hellberg ’16 also presented a poster titled, “Effects of Adolescent Ethanol Exposure and Anxiety on Motivation for Gambling-Like Cues.” She worked with Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, and also won a Psi Chi Award.

And Rebecca Tom ’16 and Charlotte Freeland, lab manager in Robinson’s lab, presented a poster, “Optogenetic Activation of the Central Amygdala Generates Addiction-like Preference for Reward.”

Faculty, Students Win Research Support from NASA’s CT Space Grant Consortium

The Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.

The Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.

Two faculty members and three students have been awarded grants in the latest call for proposals from NASA’s Connecticut Space Grant Consortium.

Jim Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, professor of integrative sciences, were awarded $8,000 for a Faculty Collaboration Grant titled “Chondrule Formation Experiments.” This is to run high-temperature experiments on material that makes up meteorites in order to test a hypothesis that they put forward in a recent paper in Icarus this year.

Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy, associate professor of integrative sciences, was awarded $1,500 for a STEM Education Programming Grant

PhD Candidate Obenchain Recipient of Humboldt Research Fellowship

Dan Obenchain,a PhD candidate in chemistry, has been awarded the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship to study microwave spectroscopy in Germany. He's pictured here with his Wesleyan advisor, Stew Novick, professor of chemistry.

Dan Obenchain, a PhD candidate in chemistry, has been awarded the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship to study microwave spectroscopy in Germany. He’s pictured here with his Wesleyan advisor, Stew Novick, professor of chemistry.

A PhD candidate in chemistry will spend two years in Germany working on microwave spectroscopy research.

As a recipient of the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship, Dan Obenchain will continue his studies at the University of Hanover. He will start his fellowship in August 2016 after taking two months of intensive German language classes.

On March 4, Dan Obenchain met with Jens Grabow, a professor from the Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry at the University of Hanover. Grabow was visiting Wesleyan to speak at the Department of Chemistry's Colloquium. Obenchain will work with Grawbow for the next two years in Germany.

On March 4, Dan Obenchain met with Jens Grabow, a professor from the Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry at the University of Hanover. Grabow was visiting Wesleyan to speak at the Department of Chemistry’s Colloquium. Obenchain will work with Grabow for the next two years in Germany.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation brings young and senior scientists from around the world to Germany to conduct research in many different fields of science.

“Thankfully, working at Wesleyan has given me many great opportunities to publish my work. The faculty of both the chemistry and physics departments have been very supportive throughout my time at Wesleyan,” Obenchain said.

At the University of Hanover, Obenchain will work alongside Jens-Uwe Grabow, a professor from the Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry. Both Obenchain and Grabow are microwave spectroscopists who study the properties of molecules by observing how they rotate. In 2015, Obenchain wrote a research proposal that looks at the interaction of two metals found in bimetallic nano-particles. Nano-particle research is a growing field of materials science, and is helping to make advances in many fields, including fuel cell efficiency and in polymer synthesis.

“Thinking about what we do is similar to thinking about a figure skater spinning in place. The skater will go faster if they bring their arms into their body, and slower if they extend them out. We use the same ideas when molecules rotate to determine their shapes and the type of chemistry they can do,” Obenchain explained.

In addition to having similar research interests, Obenchain and Grabow also design and maintain their own research instruments. Wesleyan’s Machine Shop constructed Obenchain’s microwave spectrometer, which mimics Grabow’s design in Germany.

After graduating from Wesleyan with a PhD in chemistry this May, Dan Obenchain will conduct research in Germany

After graduating from Wesleyan with a PhD in chemistry this May, Dan Obenchain will conduct research in Germany.

“Jens is not only a great scientist, he’s the best at designing and building microwave spectrometers,” Obenchain said. “I am more of a MacGyver when it comes to the instruments, while Jens is more of a Michelangelo. Hopefully, I can gain some of his expertise as one day I’d like to start my own academic research lab.”

Obenchain, who is completing his fifth year at Wesleyan, plans to defend his thesis at the end of the month and graduate in May. In addition to his research in Hanover, Obenchain looks forward to exploring Germany “and experiencing its culture, and hopefully seeing a Bundesliga soccer match at some point.”

After completing his fellowship, Obenchain will join more than 27,000 Humboldt Foundation alumni worldwide – the Humboldtians.