Science & Technology

Makri Awarded Graduate Scholarship from Greek America Foundation

PhD candidate Eleana Makri and Professor Tsampikos Kottos work on reflective optical limiter research at Wesleyan. On Sept. 25, Makri received a $5,000 scholarship from the Greek America Foundation to support her research for the 2017-18 academic year.

For her ongoing research in developing electromagnetic filters that block high power radiation, physics PhD candidate Eleana Makri recently received a Constantine and Patricia Mavroyannis scholarship from the Greek America Foundation. The $5,000 award will support her doctoral research during the 2017-18 academic year.

At Wesleyan, Makri works with Professor Tsampikos Kottos in the development of the reflective limiter concepts that block high power radiation from damaging sensitive sensors, like the eye, while they allow low power radiation to reach the sensor for further processing. Kottos is professor of physics, professor of mathematics and professor of integrative sciences.

The Mavroyannis scholarship is awarded to Greek and Greek-American graduate students studying in U.S. and Canadian institutions and universities. After completing the scholarship, Makri will submit a brief progress report to the Greek America Foundation highlighting her research efforts.

“[Eleana] has distinguished [her]self as not just one of the strongest applicants, but also as someone whose scientific career we look forward to following,” said Jennifer Kellogg, executive director of the Greek America Foundation.

Loui Co-Authors Article on Lack of Pleasure from Music

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, is the author of a new publication on musical anhedonia—the lack of pleasure from music. Together with others in her lab, Loui studied an individual with musical anhedonia and compared his brain against a group of controls. They found that his auditory cortex was differently connected to his reward system, a finding which gives further support for the role of brain connectivity in the musical experience.

The article, titled, “White Matter Correlates of Musical Anhedonia: Implications for Evolution of Music,” was published Sept. 25 in Frontiers in Psychology.  It was coauthored by Sean Patterson, BA ’17, MA ’18; Tima Zeng ’17; and Emily Przysinka, former lab manager in Loui’s lab.

Knee Co-Authors Article on Hydrogen-Bonding Interactions

Joseph Knee, the Beach Professor of Chemistry and Dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division, is the author of a new article published in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics (PCCP). This “Perspectives” article, which was commissioned by the PCCP editorial board and editorial office, is a high-profile look at work by Knee and his collaborators that has been going on for nearly a decade. Perspectives articles are intended to present an authoritative state-of-the-art account of a particular research field.

The research by Knee and his collaborators, which is ongoing, uses experimental and computational methods to explore hydrogen bonding interactions, which are extremely important in the structure of water, various solutions, and in many key biochemical structures and processes.

Knee explains, “The most important aspect of our methodology is making careful experimental measurements of two single molecules forming hydrogen bonds and then modeling these bonds with modern quantum chemical calculations. The calculations allow us to decompose the various forces which contribute to the bond strength and structure. The larger goal is to generalizing this insight to more complex hydrogen bonded systems, particularly hydrogen bonding networks which exist in liquids and biological systems.”

The full article can be read here by those with subscriptions or institutional subscriptions, including those on Wesleyan’s campus.

Niraula MA ’18, Redfield Lead Team in Discovery of 3 Super-Earths

A team of scientists from Wesleyan, led by Associate Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield and graduate student Prajwal Niraula MA’18, discovered three super-Earths transiting around a nearby star, just 98 light-years from Earth. This NASA-generated image was created to depict 55 Cancri e, a super-Earth 40 light-years away from Earth.

A team of scientists from Wesleyan discovered three super-Earths transiting around a nearby star, 98 light-years away. The NASA-generated image above depicts a different super-Earth: 55 Cancri e, discovered in 2004.

A team of scientists from Wesleyan, led by Associate Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield and graduate student Prajwal Niraula MA ’18, has co-authored a paper on the discovery of three planets, or super-Earths, transiting around a nearby star, just 98 light-years away.

“Super-Earths are slightly larger than Earth, and the three of them straddle the divide between the rocky planets like Earth and ice giants like Neptune,” explains Redfield.

These planets were found using the Kepler Space Telescope. “Kepler has found thousands of exoplanets these last eight years, but this is the closest planetary system that Kepler has ever found, although closer planetary systems have been found using different telescopes,” says Redfield.

BA/MA Student Antonellis ’17 Awarded Scholarship for Energy Technology Research

BA/MA student Nicholas Antonellis ’17

Nicholas “Nicky” Antonellis ’17, a BA/MA student in physics, is one of 14 students in the U.S. selected to receive a $10,000 scholarship from the Directed Energy Professional Society (DEPS).

Candidates for the award must be full-time graduate students who are interested in pursuing or are currently studying the directed energy technology areas of high-energy lasers or high-power microwaves.

Antonellis is interested in using his knowledge in photonic device design and computational simulations in order to eventually improve upon medical technologies.

Yohe Writes about Trump, Climate Change

Gary Yohe

In the near future, the Trump Administration must decide whether to approve or reject a new scientific report on climate change. Writing in The Conversation, Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, asserts, “If the Trump administration chooses to reject the pending national Climate Science Special Report, it would be more damaging than pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Full stop.”

Yohe backs up this bold claim by explaining why this report is so important and describing a crucial difference between the report and the Paris Climate Agreement. Namely, “the Paris accord focuses on reducing emissions, while the Climate Science Special Report is designed to help the U.S. better adapt to the effects of climate change even as it underscores the importance of cutting emissions.”

You’re Invited! View the Solar Eclipse at the Van Vleck Observatory, Aug. 21

Watch a partial eclipse of the Sun at Wesleyan’s Van Vleck Observatory on Aug. 21.

The campus and local community is invited to witness the partial eclipse of the Sun at Wesleyan’s Van Vleck Observatory on Aug. 21. While Middletown isn’t in the narrow path of totality, viewers should still be able to see about 65 percent of the Sun disappear. Telescopes for the family-friendly event will be set up at 1 p.m., and the eclipse will begin at approximately 1:20 p.m., with mid-eclipse falling at approximately 2:40 p.m. The event is hosted by Wesleyan’s Astronomy Department and is free of charge.

Plasma Bubble, Stem Cell Images Win Scientific Imaging Contest

This summer, Wesleyan hosted the second annual Wesleyan Scientific Imaging Contest, which recognizes student-submitted images from experiments or simulations done with a Wesleyan faculty member that are scientifically intriguing as well as aesthetically pleasing. This year, 33 images were submitted from six departments.

The entries were judged based on the quality of the image and the explanation of the underlying science.  The images were judged by a panel of four faculty members: Steven Devoto, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior; Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology, assistant professor of integrative sciences; Brian Northrop, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of integrative sciences; and Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics.

The first-place winner received a $200 prize; the second-place winner received $100; and the third-place winner received $50. Prizes were funded by the Office of Academic Affairs.

The three winning images are shown below, along with scientific descriptions, written by the students.

Yonathan Gomez '18 won first place with his image, "Jumping" Drop. The drop is an expanding partially-ionized plasma created underwater by a pulsed Nd:YAG laser, which pushes upwards on the surface of the water. As the plasma bubble expands, it disrupts the surface from below, which launches a water drop upward. The water drop shown has a diameter of approximately 2mm. The image was taken at 1/2,000 frames per second.

Yonathan Gomez ’18 won first place with his image, “Jumping” Drop. The drop is an expanding partially-ionized plasma created underwater by a pulsed Nd:YAG laser, which pushes upwards on the surface of the water. As the plasma bubble expands, it disrupts the surface from below, which launches a water drop upward. The water drop shown has a diameter of approximately 2mm. The image was taken at 1/2,000 of a second.

Mukerji, Oliver Co-Author Study in PNAS on Basic Cell Function

In this illustration, SecA is shown in light gray and the SecYEG complex is in dark gray. The rainbow colored portion of SecA is the two helix finger. n cyan is a model of the hairpin.

In this illustration, the hairpin is highlighted in cyan. The hairpin is formed by the initiator part of a protein.

All cells — bacterial or human — secrete up to 10 or 20 percent of the proteins that they make. Human secreted proteins, for example, include components of serum, hormones, growth factors that promote cell development during embryogenesis and tissue remodeling, and proteins that provide the basis for immune cell signaling during infection or when fighting cancer.

The secretion process, however, isn’t an easy feat for cells, as they need to move the proteins across a membrane through a channel. Transport requires the formation of a hairpin, formed by an initiator protein.

In a recent study, Don Oliver, the Daniel Ayres Professor of Biology, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, explain the importance of where and why hairpins form and how they help proteins move across the cell.

The study, titled “Alignment of the protein substrate hairpin along the SecA two-helix finger primes protein transport in Escherichia coli,” brings together key areas of membrane biochemistry, structural biology and molecular biophysics, and has innovative applications of molecular genetics and fluorescence spectroscopy. It was published in the Aug. 7 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Students Catalog Wesleyan’s Lost Fossil Collections

Research fellows Sajirat “Bright” Palakarn ’20 and graduate student Melissa McKee ’17 are discovering and cataloging thousands of fossils at Exley Science Center. The fossils were once housed at the former Wesleyan Museum, a natural history museum that occupied part of the Orange Judd Hall of Natural Sciences from 1871-1957. Once the museum closed, the fossils and other objects were displaced at various locations on campus. “We’d love to make these fossils accessible to Wesleyan students, faculty, classes and the general public,” McKee said. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Research fellows Sajirat “Bright” Palakarn ’20 and graduate student Melissa McKee ’17 are discovering and cataloging thousands of fossils at Exley Science Center. The fossils were once housed at the former Wesleyan Museum, a natural history museum that occupied part of the Orange Judd Hall of Natural Sciences from 1871-1957. Once the museum closed, the fossils and other objects were displaced at various locations on campus. “We’d love to make these fossils accessible to Wesleyan students, faculty, classes and the general public,” McKee said. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Scattered throughout campus are remnants of not only Wesleyan’s history, but world history. After the closing of the Wesleyan Museum in 1957, thousands of specimens in many collections were displaced, often haphazardly, to nooks, crannies, tunnels, attics, storage rooms, and random cabinets at Exley Science Center, Judd Hall, and the Butterfield and Foss Hill residence complexes.

A fossilized bee was discovered in the fossil collections.

A fossilized bee was discovered in the fossil collections.

Many of these specimens haven’t been accessed in 60 years.

“Sadly, few people are aware that Wesleyan has these unique resources,” said Ellen Thomas, the University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences and research professor of earth and environmental sciences. “The collections have not been well curated, and not much used in education and outreach. We are discovering beautiful fossils, but the knowledge that they are at Wesleyan has long been lost.”

This summer, Thomas, along with two student research fellows, began the painstaking process of not only locating and organizing collections, but digitally cataloging their finds.

Sajirat Palakarn ’20 and earth and environmental science graduate student Melissa McKee ’17 work 40 hours a week on the project and have created a “fossil assembly line” in Exley Room 309. The students take turns sorting trays of fossils by class and phylum, and then match the fossils with identifying hand-written cards or books from an archaic card catalog, entering the information, piece by piece, into a spreadsheet. They’re expecting to itemize more than 15,000 fossils this summer.

“Look here,” Thomas says, while opening a wooden cabinet at random in Exley’s specimen storage room. “We’ve got shells, fossils of shells, one after another with no labels. They are all disorganized. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could make these accessible to the students?”

Melissa McKee holds a plant fossil from Greenland, collected during the second relief expedition for a Peary Arctic Expedition. The leaves were then thought be by Miocene (~20 millions years old), but now they've been identified as being much older at ~ 60 million years.

Melissa McKee holds a plant fossil from Greenland, collected during the second relief expedition for a Peary Arctic Expedition. The leaves were then thought be by Miocene (~20 millions years old), but now they’ve been identified as being much older at ~ 60 million years.

So far, the students have discovered dozens of fish fossils from the Jurassic Period (99.6 to 145.5 million years ago) and Triassic Period (251 million and 199 million years ago). They’ve encountered fossils of preserved leaves and insects from what is today Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, dating back to the Eocene Period, when the world was much warmer (40-45 million years ago). They’ve also found fossilized plants from coal deposits in Illinois (about 300 million years old), as well as fossil sea lilies (crinoids), which lived in shallow warm seas in what is now Indiana. Many of these fossils were collected by S. Ward Loper, who was curator of the Wesleyan Museum from 1894 to his death in 1910.

They’ve even discovered a plant fossil from Greenland, donated to the Wesleyan Museum in 1895 by A.N. Varse, who was on the second relief expedition attempting to assist Robert Peary on one of his early expeditions to explore Greenland and reach the North Pole.

“It’s really incredible to hold a piece of history like this in our hands,” McKee said. “Not only can fossils tell us what an organism might have looked like and how it lived, but fossils also give us clues about ancient environmental conditions. We can use fossils to understand how the Earth has changed over time.”

While most of the fossil finds are located in locked drawers in the hallways of Exley Science Center, the students also are cataloging fossils in the Joe Webb Peoples Fossil Collection, located on the fourth floor. The museum is named after the late Professor Joe Webb Peoples, who was chair of the Department of Geology from 1935 until his retirement in 1975.

The students not only catalog the artifacts, but they also write about their finds, and the museum, on a blog and on Twitter.

McKee and Palakarn, a College of Social Studies major, are constantly learning on the job. “I don’t have a science background, but here I am learning about unicellular microorganisms, sponges, coral, arthropods, trilobites and sea urchins,” Palakarn said.

“I know by the end of this summer you’re going to change your major to earth and environmental science,” McKee said. “I’m sure of it.”

Sanjirat "Bright" Palakarn '20; Ellen Thomas; and graduate student Melissa McKee '17 hold fish fossils inside the Joe Peoples' Museum in Exley.

Sajirat “Bright” Palakarn ’20; Research Professor Ellen Thomas; and graduate student Melissa McKee ’17 hold fish fossils inside the Joe Webb Peoples’ Fossil Collection in Exley.

While rummaging through drawers in Exley's Specimen Storage room, Ellen Thomas discovered large collections of old coins including miniature intaglios and ancient Chinese coins collected by the Methodist missionaries who started Wesleyan. The coins are documented in an accompanying booklet.

While rummaging through drawers in Exley’s Specimen Storage room, Ellen Thomas discovered large collections of old coins including miniature intaglios and ancient Chinese coins collected by the Methodist missionaries who started Wesleyan. The coins are documented in an accompanying booklet.

Melissa McKee holds polished halves of a Perisphinctes species found in Madagascar.

Melissa McKee holds polished halves of a cephalopod found in Madagascar. This species lived during the late Jurassic Period.

Sanjirat Palakarn '20 displays a fossil of Diplomystus dentatus from the Eocene Period. The fossil was discovered in what is now Wyoming. Diplomystus is an extinct freshwater fish distantly related to herrings and sardines.

Sajirat Palakarn displays a fossil of Diplomystus dentatus from the Eocene Period. The fossil was discovered in what is now Wyoming. Diplomystus is an extinct freshwater fish distantly related to herrings and sardines.

The students transcribe hand-written records into electronic form. Pictured is the record of A.N. Varse's fossil discovery in 1895.

The students transcribe hand-written records into electronic form. Pictured is the record of A.N. Varse’s fossil discovery in 1894. It was donated to Wesleyan in 1895.

The research team also found dozens of coral samples stashed away above these cabinets in Exley Science Center.

The research team also found dozens of coral samples stashed above these cabinets in Exley Science Center. “Some of these are now extinct. We will want to catalog these too, but this will be a project for another time,” Thomas said.

Tavernier Studies Effects of Technology Use, In-Person Interactions on Sleep

Royette Tavernier

Royette Tavernier

Assistant Professor of Psychology Royette Tavernier has published a new paper examining the effects of technology use and face-to-face interactions with friends and family on adolescents’ sleep. Tavernier is the lead author on “Adolescents’ technology and face-to-face time use predict objective sleep outcomes,” now in press in Sleep Health, the Journal of the National Sleep Foundation.

About 70 racially diverse high school students (11 – 18 years old) were recruited from three different high schools in a large city in the Midwest to participate in the study. Their sleep-wake habits were recorded for three consecutive nights using sleep monitoring devices.

Using brief daily surveys, students reported the amount of time they spent engaged in eight different technology-based activities—texting, instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, talking on the phone, TV, working on the computer and video games—as well as time spent engaged in face-to-face interactions with family and friends.

Students Present Academic Research at Poster Sessions

Hundreds of Wesleyan students had the opportunity to present their academic research at various poster sessions in March and April. Posters often contain text, graphics and images that illustrate the students’ research results on a single board. Poster session attendees can view the posters and interact with the author.

This year, the Psychology Department, College of the Environment, Biology Department, Neuroscience and Behavior Program, Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division, Quantitative Analysis Center and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences hosted poster sessions.

Photos of the poster sessions are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake, Caroline Kravitz ’19 and Rebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19)

Kylie Moynihan ’17 presented “Testing the Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Model of Franks et al.." Her advisor is Dana Royer, chair and professor of earth and environmental sciences.

On April 21, Wesleyan’s Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division hosted a Celebration of Science Theses, a poster session featuring the work of Honors and MA students in the NSM fields. During the event, Kylie Moynihan ’17 presented her thesis research titled “Testing the Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Model of Franks et al..”

Psychology graduate student Lucy De Souza examined “Honor and Masculinity Among Latinos and European-Americans.” De Souza’s faculty advisor is Patricia Rodriguez Mosquera, associate professor of psychology.

On April 27, the Psychology Department hosted a poster session in Beckham Hall. Psychology graduate student Lucy De Souza presented her poster on “Honor and Masculinity Among Latinos and European-Americans.”