Science & Technology

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

1. Los Angeles Times“As the World Warms, Deadly and Disfiguring Tropical Diseases Are Inching Their Way Toward the U.S.”

In this op-ed, Professor of Biology Frederick Cohan and Isaac Klimasmith ’20, both in the College of the Environment, write that infectious disease is a growing threat, resulting from climate change, that humans may find hard to ignore. Cohan is also professor, environmental studies and professor, integrative sciences.

2. Hartford Courant: “Trump’s Immoral Response to Climate Report”

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, writes in this op-ed that it is “irresponsible” and “immoral” to ignore the findings of a major new report on climate change. Delaying action to mitigate and adapt to climate change will be increasingly damaging and expensive, he writes. Yohe is also professor of economics and professor, environmental studies, and was a reviewer on the new National Climate Assessment. He also recently co-authored an op-ed in HuffPost titled “People Are Already Dying by the Thousands Because We Ignored Earlier Climate Change Warnings.” 

3. National Geographic: “Both of NASA’s Voyager Spacecraft Are Now Interstellar. Where to Next?”

With both of NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft now having crossed the threshold into interstellar space, Seth Redfield, associate professor and chair of astronomy, comments on what the spacecraft are likely to encounter on their journey. Redfield is also associate professor, integrative sciences, and co-coordinator of Planetary Science.

4. Inside Higher Ed: “Ordinary Education in Extraordinary Times”

President Michael Roth writes in this op-ed that in uncommon times, “traditional educational practices of valuing learning from people different from ourselves have never been more important.”

Recent Alumni News

  1. The Takeaway; WNYC Studios: “Politics with Amy Walter: Pentagon’s First-Ever Audit Exposes Massive Accounting Fraud”

David Lindorff ’71, the investigative journalist who wrote an exclusive on the topic for The Nation, joins Walter’s guests—including Staff Sergeant Patricia King, Ambassador Eric Edelman, and Dr. Isaiah Wilson III, a retired Army colonel and senior lecturer with Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs—to discuss military spending and its alignment with the military’s strategic goals.

Kim, Students Coauthor Paper on Self-Memory Advantage

Kyungmi Kim

Assistant Professor of Psychology Kyungmi Kim, Youngbin (Amabel) Jeon ’19, Alexis Banquer ’20, and Danielle Rothschild ’19 are coauthors of a study published in the October 2018 volume of Consciousness and Cognition.

In the paper, “Conscious awareness of self-relevant information is necessary for an incidental self-memory advantage,” Kim and her students examine the relative contributions of conscious vs. unconscious self-processing to the incidental self-reference effect.

The incidental self-reference effect refers to a memory advantage for items simultaneously presented with self-relevant information (e.g., one’s own name) over those presented with other relevant information (e.g., someone else’s name) when the task at hand bears no relevance to the self (e.g., a simple location judgment task; “Does each item appear above or below the name in the middle?”).

In the study, Kim and her students compared memory for target items that were presented with one’s own name vs. another person’s name when the names were consciously identifiable vs. unidentifiable. They found the incidental self-reference effect when the names were consciously identifiable but not when they were consciously unidentifiable.

“These findings show that conscious awareness of self-cues in the environment is necessary for an incidental self-memory advantage to emerge, suggesting a boundary condition under which the self influences memory,” Kim explained.

Kottos Awarded $2.8M DARPA Grant for High-Level Photonic Research

Led by Professor of Physics Tsampikos Kottos, Wesleyan will serve as the lead institution for a four-year grant developing cutting-edge technology toward the next generation of navigation systems, optical diodes, efficient frequency converters for night vision, and high-powered filters.

Led by Professor of Physics Tsampikos Kottos, Wesleyan will serve as the lead institution for a four-year grant developing cutting-edge technology toward the next generation of navigation systems, optical diodes, efficient frequency converters for night vision, and high-powered filters.

Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics, and Wesleyan University will lead a complex, multi-institution initiative to research and develop the next generation of national instrumentation technology thanks to a four-year, $2,794,606 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Awarded this August, the grant is the culmination of at least eight years of photonics research by Kottos and his fellow collaborators, and will have significant implications for the future of a variety of technologies employed by the federal government and the private sector. An agency of the US Department of Defense, DARPA funds research and development projects that push the boundaries of technology and science. The focus of Kottos’s project is to “develop models and photonic devices that utilize dynamical (hidden) symmetries in order to achieve extreme light-matter interactions” and has three main targets:

  • Target 1: Develop the next generation of navigation instruments by designing photonic architectures with an extreme response to small perturbations. The goal is to use them to hone gyroscopes and accelerometers, which measure and guide the rotation and maneuvers of vehicles like race cars and jet airplanes.
  • Target 2: Utilize the temporal dimension (or time) as an altogether different degree of freedom in order to manipulate the flow of light. Applications vary from efficient night vision cameras, to management of thermal radiation in turbine aircraft engines.
  • Target 3: Investigate how to protect sensitive sensors from high-powered sources—this could include a pilot’s eyes from a laser source, an antenna from a directed electromagnetic burst, or a radar receiver from its own outbound signal.

PhD Candidate DeAngelis Speaks on Development of Fruit Fly Retinas

On Oct. 31, Miles DeAngelis, a PhD candidate in biology, presented a graduate speaker series talk titled, “The Hippo Signaling Pathway acts as a novel regulator of morphogenesis.”  DeAngelis’s advisor is Associate Professor of Biology Ruth Johnson, associate professor, integrative sciences.The field of morphogenesis aims to understand the biological processes that tell tissues how to organize into their life-supporting shapes. The Hippo signaling pathway is just one of these many processes. In the past, this pathway was thought to only regulate tissue size. DeAngelis’s work with Drosophila fruit flies suggests that in addition to regulating tissue size, the Hippo signaling pathway also regulates the patterning of pupal retina. The Graduate Speaker Series events are open to the entire Wesleyan community and include lunch. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Robinson, Hellberg ’16, Russell ’17 Coauthor Paper on the Interactions between Gambling, Anxiety, Substance Abuse

Assistant Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson, Samantha Hellberg ’16, and Trinity Russell ’17 are coauthors of a study published in the Journal of Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, October 2018.

In the paper titled “Cued for risk: Evidence for an incentive sensitization framework to explain the interplay between stress and anxiety, substance abuse, and reward uncertainty in disordered gambling behavior,” the coauthors propose a theoretical framework about how cross-sensitization of reward systems in the brain, in part due to uncertainty, leads to high levels of comorbidity between gambling, substance use, and anxiety disorder.

In particular, the coauthors review the literature on how cue attraction and reward uncertainty may underlie gambling pathology, and examine how this framework may advance our understanding of comorbidity with anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders, such as alcohol and nicotine, which are both frequently consumed in gambling settings.

COE Celebrates Schumann Institute with Gathering, Keynote Alumni Speakers

On Oct. 26, members of the campus community celebrated the Robert F. Schumann Institute of the College of the Environment (COE) with a reception, remarks, and keynote speakers.

On Oct. 26, members of the campus community celebrated the Robert F. Schumann Institute of the College of the Environment (COE) with a reception, remarks, and keynote speakers. The event was held at the Fries Center for Global Studies in Fisk Hall.

The Robert F. Schumann Institute was established in July 2017 with a $2.5M gift from The Robert F. Schumann [’44] Foundation. Pictured, from left is Timothy Crowley, a foundation trustee, and Robert F. Schumann’s sons and foundation advisors, David and Ford Schumann.

Redfield Speaks at California Academy of Sciences

Seth Redfield

Seth Redfield

On Oct. 15, Seth Redfield, associate professor and chair of astronomy, gave a lecture at the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences. He was invited to speak as part of the Benjamin Dean Astronomy Lecture series. The title of his talk was, “Exploring Our Galactic Neighborhood.” The talk will be posted to the Academy’s iTunes University site.

Redfield is also associate professor, integrative sciences, and co-coordinator, planetary science.

 

Case, Hingorani Coauthor Study on DNA Repair

Molecular biology and biochemistry graduate student Brandon Case and Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, are coauthors on a study published in Nucleic Acids Research in October 2018.

The paper, titled “Coordinated protein and DNA conformational changes govern mismatch repair initiation by MutS,” reports new findings on how the Mutator S (MutS) protein repairs mistakes in the DNA sequence, which is essential for maintaining the accuracy of the genetic code.

The collaborative effort from researchers at Wesleyan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University employed single molecule and ensemble kinetic methods to study the mechanism of action of MutS. The outcome is a unified model of coordinated changes in MutS and DNA conformation that enable the protein to recognize errors in DNA and initiate their repair.

The research at Wesleyan was supported by NIH grant R15 GM114743 awarded to Manju Hingorani.

19th Annual Biophysics Retreat Includes Speakers, Poster Sessions

Wesleyan faculty, students, alumni and guests participated in the 19th annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat Sept. 27 at Wadsworth Mansion.

Wesleyan faculty, students, alumni, and guests attended the 19th annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat Sept. 27 at Wadsworth Mansion. The event included a series of speakers, two poster sessions, and a keynote address.

Alison O’Neil, assistant professor of chemistry, spoke on "Investigating the toxicity of SOD1 aggregates in a stem cell-derived model of ALS." Research in the O'Neil lab is focused on understanding the structure-function relationship of proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases, specifically ALS.  Utilizing human stem cells allows us to study the unique cell types associated with disease. 

Alison O’Neil, assistant professor of chemistry, spoke on “Investigating the toxicity of SOD1 aggregates in a stem cell-derived model of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).” ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Research in the O’Neil lab is focused on understanding the structure-function relationship of proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases, specifically ALS.

Graduate Students, Faculty Attend Yeast Genetics Meeting

From the left is Anna Rogers and Lorencia Chigweshe, both graduate students in the Molecular biology and Biochemistry program.

Graduate students Anna Rogers and Lorencia Chigweshe presented their poster at the GSA meeting.

Two Wesleyan graduate students and two faculty members presented posters at the GSA Yeast Genetics and Molecular Biology Meeting held at Stanford University on Aug. 22–26. This meeting, which is held once every two years, is organized by the Genetics Society of America (GSA). The meeting brings together hundreds of scientists making groundbreaking discoveries in the field of genetics and gene regulation using the innovative power of yeast genetics.

Both students received a travel grant through Wesleyan’s Melnick Fund to support travel to the conference.

Lorencia Chigweshe presented a poster titled “Interactions between histone variant H2A.Z and linker histone H1 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae meiosis,” while Anna Rogers presented “The histone variant H2A.Z promotes chromosome condensation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.” Both students are mentored by Scott Holmes, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, whose lab investigates how the processes of chromosome segregation and gene expression are regulated in eukaryotes.

“We had the opportunity to engage with experts in the field of yeast genetics and learn from them and get insight on our own work,” Chigweshe said. “The conference was a great opportunity to appreciate yeast as a powerful tool for understanding genetics in addition to its industrial application in beer and bread-making.”

Amy MacQueen, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, associate editor for Genetics, cochaired a workshop on scientific publishing and also presented a poster titled “Synapsis and recombination unite at the Zip1’s N-terminal tip” while Mike McAlear, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, presented “Adjacent gene co-regulation (AGC) as a strategy for transcriptional control and coupling.” McAlear is also associate professor, integrative sciences, and Holmes is also professor, integrative sciences.

O’Connell in The Conversation: What Scientists Have Found by Drilling into the Ocean Floor

Suzanne O'Connell

Suzanne O’Connell

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair. In a new article,Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, writes about the important findings that have resulted from 50 years of scientific drilling on the ocean floor—and how much is still unknown.

Scientists have been drilling into the ocean floor for 50 years – here’s what they’ve found so far

It’s stunning but true that we know more about the surface of the moon than about the Earth’s ocean floor. Much of what we do know has come from scientific ocean drilling – the systematic collection of core samples from the deep seabed. This revolutionary process began 50 years ago, when the drilling vessel Glomar Challenger sailed into the Gulf of Mexico on August 11, 1968 on the first expedition of the federally funded Deep Sea Drilling Project.

I went on my first scientific ocean drilling expedition in 1980, and since then have participated in six more expeditions to locations including the far North Atlantic and Antaractica’s Weddell Sea. In my lab, my students and I work with core samples from these expeditions. Each of these cores, which are cylinders 31 feet long and 3 inches wide, is like a book whose information is waiting to be translated into words. Holding a newly opened core, filled with rocks and sediment from the Earth’s ocean floor, is like opening a rare treasure chest that records the passage of time in Earth’s history.