Science & Technology

Wesleyan in the News

NewsWesleyan in the News
1. The Open Mind: “Democratizing the Jury”

Associate Professor of Government Sonali Chakravarti is interviewed in connection with her new book, Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life, in which she offers a “full-throated defense of juries as a democratic institution.” “I am very interested in how ordinary people engage with political institutions, and juries are the place where ordinary people have the most power,” she says. Chakravarti calls for more robust civic education, continuing into adulthood, in order to have a “more effective, modern jury system.”

2. Hartford Courant: “Sen. Murphy, Aiming to Expand Pell Grant Eligibility for Incarcerated Students, Hears from Inmates at York Correctional Institution”

Senator Chris Murphy, who is the co-sponsor of a bill to expand the federal Pell grant program for college students to include inmates, met with 11 inmates who have participated in educational programs at York Correctional Institution through the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education and other college-in-prison programs.“What’s important about the REAL Act is that college affordability should be accessible to all students regardless of where they are,” said CPE program manager Allie Cislo. “It’s one thing rhetorically to commit to reentry,” she said, but resources like educational programs “can make or break it for people.”

3. American Theatre: “Digging for New Roots”

This article on “climate change theatre” features Ocean Filibuster, a play by Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl through her theater company, PearlDamour. Commenting on the play’s premise, in which a new Senate bill proposes sentencing the world’s oceans to death and the ocean stands to speak in its own defense, Pearl said, “We thought, well, what if the ocean finally got fed up with taking all of our crap, and started talking and didn’t stop until we actually shut up and listened?” American Theatre, a leading publication in the theater industry, writes: “Ocean Filibuster recalibrates the human experience by reminding us of the comparatively small scale and depth of our own existence.”

$6M in NASA Funding Awarded to Projects with Contributions by Gilmore

NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies for new missions

NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies for new spacecraft missions. Wesleyan Professor Martha Gilmore is a science team member on two of these missions. Pictured is an artist concept of the solar system courtesy of NASA.

Marty Gilmore

Martha Gilmore

Not one, but two spacecraft mission concepts co-developed by Martha Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology and professor of earth and environmental sciences, received second-round backing from NASA’s Discovery Program on Feb. 13. Both concepts—which were awarded $3 million each—would assess whether Venus was ever a habitable planet by examining its landscape, rocks, and atmosphere.

NASA’s Discovery Program, now in its ninth year, funds investigations to develop concept studies for new missions. Although they’re not official missions yet, the selections focus on compelling targets and science that are not covered by NASA’s active missions or recent selections. Gilmore’s projects were among four selected.

“Venus is the key to understanding how Earth-size planets evolve. Like Earth, we predict Venus had an ocean that may have lasted for billions of years. Like Earth, Venus may be volcanically and tectonically active today. These missions will target the modern and ancient history of Venus, as recorded in the rocks and the atmosphere. The oldest rocks on Venus are my speciality, and I would very much like to know what environment they record.” Gilmore said.

Cohan in The Conversation: A Clue to Stopping Coronavirus

Fred Cohan

Fred Cohan

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 this article, Fred Cohan, professor of biology, Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment, PhD student Kathleen Sagarin, and Kelly Mei ’20 explain how viruses like coronavirus—and several others over history—spread from animals to humans, what determines the size of the outbreak, and how behavioral modifications and technology can stop the spread.

A clue to stopping coronavirus: Knowing how viruses adapt from animals to humans

As the novel coronavirus death toll mounts, it is natural to worry. How far will this virus travel through humanity, and could another such virus arise seemingly from nowhere?

As microbial ecologists who study the origins of new microbial species, we would like to give some perspective.

As a result of continuing deforestation, “bushmeat” hunting of wild animals and caring for our domestic animals, the novel coronavirus will certainly not be the last deadly virus from wild animals to infect humans. Indeed, wild species of bats and primates abound in viruses closely related to SARS and HIV, respectively. When humans interact with wild animal species, pathogens that are resident in those animals can spill over to humans, sometimes with deadly effects.

Recent Media Hits

NewsWesleyan in the News

  1. Connecticut Public Radio: “The Struggle for Sleep: Why More School Districts Are Considering Later Starts”

Speaking as both a scholar and a mother, Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman comments in this story on the movement to push schools in the state to start later. “People ask me, as a developmental psychologist, ‘Oh, we have this mental health crisis in the state, what are we going to do, what should we be funding, what kind of resources do we need to build in?’ And I just think it’s so silly when we have such a straightforward solution that has such large, measurable impacts.”

2. The Washington Post: “For the Super Bowl, Bloomberg and Trump Are Each Spending $10 Million on Ads”

Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler and her colleagues on the Wesleyan Media Project write about what makes political advertising in the 2020 election cycle look so different (hint: two self-funded billionaires are blowing up existing records) and the unusual decision by candidates Michael Bloomberg and President Donald Trump to spend $10 million each to reach nearly 100 million American viewers at the same time. Fowler was also recently interviewed on Marketplace about political advertising.

3. Transitions Online: “Russian Government Reshuffle: Plus ça Change”

Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, Professor of Government, analyzes the recent mass resignation of the Russian government following a surprise announcement from Russian President Vladamir Putin that he was rewriting the constitution. There is much unclear about the changes, including why Putin chose to make them at this time, and what the impact will be on Russia’s government. What is clear, Rutland writes, is that “Russia’s political system is broken” due to Putin’s constant tinkering with the country’s political institutions “to create the appearance of change while retaining power in his own hands.”

4. The Middletown Press: “Wesleyan Student Heading to Hollywood Among Writers of the Future Winners”

Students, Alumni Attend Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Hawaii

American Astronomical Society in Hawaii

Ismael Mireles MA ’19, Rachel Marino ’20, Katharine Hesse MA ’20, Justin Perea MA ’20, Gil Garcia ’20, Hunter Vannier ‘20, Fallon Konow ’20, and David Vizgan ’21 gathered for a photo at the American Astronomical Society in Hawaii in January.

Seth Redfield, Hunter Vannier (BA ‘20), Fallon Konow (BA ‘20)

Seth Redfield poses with his students, Hunter Vannier ’20 and Fallon Konow ’20, at a poster session.

Several Wesleyan undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and alumni attended the 235th American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, Jan. 4–8, 2020.

“The meeting was a huge success, and we were thrilled to have such a large contingent of Wesleyan students able to attend and present their research,” said Seth Redfield, associate professor and chair of astronomy.

Wesleyan McNair Fellow Rachel Marino presented a poster titled “HD106906 Debris Disk Morphology and Origin of an External Perturber.” Her advisor is Meredith Hughes, associate professor of astronomy.

Hunter Vannier ’20 shared his research titled “Mapping the Local Interstellar Medium: Using Hubble to Look Back at the ISM along the Sun’s Historical Trajectory.” His advisor is Seth Redfield.

Wesleyan McNair Fellow Gilberto Garcia ’20 shared his poster titled “From Einstein to Chandra: Dramatic long-term X-ray variability in AGNs.” His advisor is Ed Moran, professor of astronomy.

Fallon Konow ’20 presented “Constructing a Survey of the Local Interstellar Medium using Hubble Spectra.” Her advisor is Seth Redfield.

David Vizgan ’21 presented a project titled “Using [CII] luminosity as a tracer of gas mass @ z=6,” which was based on work from a summer research program in Copenhagen.

Graduate student Justin Perea presented a poster titled, “Emission-line active galaxies and the Cosmic X-ray Background.” His advisor is Ed Moran.

Graduate student Katharine Hesse spoke on “Removing (and Using!) Contaminating Field Stars Around Bright K2 Targets.” Her advisor is Seth Redfield.

Alumni attending included Ismael Mireles MA ’19, Amy Steele MA ’14, Raquel Martinez MA ’13, and Chris Dieck MA ’08.

Redfield and Ilaria Carleo, a postdoctoral researcher in the Astronomy Department, also attended the meeting.

MacQueen, Coolon, Mukerji Receive NIH Academic Research Enhancement Awards

Three Wesleyan faculty recently received Academic Research Enhancement Awards (R15) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

R15 grants stimulate research at educational institutions that provide baccalaureate training for a significant number of the nation’s research scientists, but that have not been major recipients of NIH support. Awards provide funding for small-scale, new, or ongoing health-related meritorious research projects, enhancing the research environment at eligible institutions and exposing students to research opportunities.

Amy MacQueen

Amy MacQueen

Amy MacQueen, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, received a $492,900 award on Aug. 7 for her research titled “How do Synaptonemal Complex Proteins Mediate the Coordinated?”

MacQueen investigates the molecular mechanisms that underlie how reproductive cells (sperm and eggs in humans and spores in yeast) form. In particular, she focuses on how the genetic material (DNA)—which is packaged into chromosomes—is evenly distributed during the cell division cycle (meiosis) that gives rise to reproductive cells.

Gilmore’s Paper on Venus’s Volcanoes Published in Science Advances

Martha Gilmore

Martha GIlmore

Martha “Marty” Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the author of a research article titled “Present-day volcanism on Venus as evidenced from weathering rates of olivine,” published in Science Advances Vol. 6 on Jan. 3, 2020.

According to the paper’s abstract:

At least some of Venus’ lava flows are thought to be <2.5 million years old based on visible to near-infrared (VNIR) emissivity measured by the Venus Express spacecraft. However, the exact ages of these flows are poorly constrained because the rate at which olivine alters at Venus surface conditions, and how that alteration affects VNIR spectra, remains unknown. We obtained VNIR reflectance spectra of natural olivine that was altered and oxidized in the laboratory. We show that olivine becomes coated, within days, with alteration products, primarily hematite (Fe2O3). With increasing alteration, the VNIR 1000-nm absorption, characteristic of olivine, also weakens within days. Our results indicate that lava flows lacking VNIR features due to hematite are no more than several years old. Therefore, Venus is volcanically active now.

The research was mentioned in Science Alert and Universe Today.

Thomas Co-Authors 5 New Publications

Thomas

Ellen Thomas

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, is the co-author of five new publications. They include:

Kottos Co-Authors Several Publications

Tsampikos Kottos

Tsampikos Kottos

Tsampikos Kottos, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society and professor of physics, is the co-author of several new publications.

They include:

Tucker in The Conversation: From Their Balloons, the First Aeronauts Transformed Our View of the World

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” On the release date of the new film The Aeronauts, Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker writes about how the first hot-air balloon trips in the 19th century transformed our views of the world and opened up a new “laboratory for discovery” for scientists interested in studying the atmosphere and meteorology.

From their balloons, the first aeronauts transformed our view of the world

A lithograph from Gaston Tissandier’s balloon travels depicts falling stars. Archive.org

A lithograph from Gaston Tissandier’s balloon travels depicts falling stars. Archive.org

Near the beginning of the new film “The Aeronauts,” a giant gas-filled balloon called the “Mammoth” departs from London’s Vauxhall Gardens and ascends into the clouds, revealing a bird’s eye view of London.

To some moviegoers, these breathtaking views might seem like nothing special: Modern air travel has made many of us take for granted what we can see from the sky. But during the 19th century, the vast “ocean of air” above our heads was a mystery.

These first balloon trips changed all that.

Wesleyan in the News

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

Wesleyan in the News

  1. CNN: “What the ‘Woke Student’ and the ‘Welfare Queen’ Have in Common”

“Every age seems to need a bogeyman, some negative image against which good people measure themselves,” writes President Michael Roth ’78 in this op-ed. Roth compares today’s bogeyman, the “woke” college student, with those of past eras—the “welfare queen” and “dirty hippie”—and seeks to build understanding and dispel negative misperceptions of activist college students. “The images of the welfare queen and of the woke student are convenient because they provide excuses to not engage with difference, placing certain types of people beyond the pale,” he writes. “These scapegoats are meant to inspire solidarity in a group by providing an object for its hostility (or derision), and educators and civic leaders should not play along.”

2. Los Angeles Times: “Opinion: Our Food Is Tainted with E. Coli, Yet the FDA Is Rolling Back Safety Rules”

As yet another food-borne E. coli outbreak sickens Americans, Fred Cohan, the Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment and professor of biology, and Isaac Klimasmith ’20, argue in this op-ed that more can and should be done to prevent dangerous contaminations of our food supply. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has rolled back rules that “would have required monitoring and treating irrigation water for E. coli,” a major cause of these outbreaks. “We should not be surprised that a regulation-averse administration would disregard the science of food safety, but it is concerning that consumers have become complacent about yearly outbreaks of E. coli contamination and largely silent about the rollback of food safety regulations,” they write.

3. The Washington Post: “What Happens When College Students Discuss Lab Work in Spanish, Philosophy in Chinese or Opera in Italian?”

Stephen Angle, director of the Fries Center for Global Studies, professor of philosophy, and the Mansfield Professor of East Asian Studies, is interviewed about Wesleyan’s efforts to promote language study, including the new Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum (CLAC) initiative, through which students can study a range of disciplines in other languages. For example, Angle teaches a Mandarin-language section of Classical Chinese Philosophy, a course historically taught in English. Read more about CLAC and Wesleyan’s language instruction here.

McNair Fellows Present Research at Diversity in STEM Conference

SACNAS

Elizaveta “Liz” Atalig ’21 and Ekram Towsif ’21 won 2019 SACNAS conference presentation awards for their respective fields of research.

Two Wesleyan McNair Fellows recently participated in the largest multidisciplinary and multicultural STEM diversity event in the country.

From Oct. 31–Nov. 2, Elizaveta “Liz” Atalig ’21 and Ekram Towsif ’21 joined more than 4,000 peers at the 2019 SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) conference in Hawaii. For more than 45 years, SACNAS has served as an inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of Chicano/Hispanics & Native Americans, from college students to professionals, in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership within STEM.

Attendees of the three-day conference are immersed in cutting-edge scientific research and professional development sessions, motivational keynote speakers, a career expo, multicultural celebrations, and an inclusive and welcoming community of peers, mentors, and role models.

In addition, both Atalig and Towsif received Outstanding Research Presentation awards in their respective disciplines.

“This is the first time McNair fully funded Fellows to participate in the SACNAS conference, so we’re very proud of Ekram and Liz for maximizing their conference experience and conducting their award-winning poster presentations,” said Ronnie Hendrix, associate director of the Wesleyan McNair Program.