Science & Technology

College of Integrative Sciences to Offer Researched-Based Approach to Learning Science

Beginning next year, students majoring in the natural sciences or mathematics will have the option to pursue a cross-disciplinary, research-based course of study through the new College of Integrative Sciences (CIS), which was approved by the faculty on May 21.

According to a proposal for the new College developed by Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Ishita Mukerji in consultation with faculty colleagues: “CIS aims to be an intellectual home for students interested in exploration at the boundaries of scientific disciplines, and to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for students of all disciplines who are interested by a research-based approach to learning science.”

Mukerji, who is also director of technology initiatives and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, added: “The College builds on the idea that tomorrow’s scientists will face challenging problems in the diverse areas of energy, public health, the environment, among others, that will require a broad knowledge base, and a synthesis of different research methodologies and creative problem solving skills. Thus, a key feature of the CIS is the integration of different fields to address complex problems.”

Antique Van Vleck Refractor Telescope to Get a Facelift

Wesleyan's 20-inch refractor telescope, located inside the Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill, will undergo renovations for the next 15 months. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Wesleyan’s 20-inch refractor telescope, located inside the Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill, will undergo renovations for the next 15 months. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Beginning June 2, the nearly century-old 20-inch Van Vleck Refractor, which lives on Foss Hill in its iconic dome, will get a complete facelift to return it to full working order. The rare historic telescope will be dismantled, cleaned, repaired, reassembled and modernized over a period of about 15 months in preparation of the observatory centennial in 2016. (View several photos of the renovation here.)

The work will be done by Fred Orthlieb, Ph.D. and Chris Ray, members of the Antique Telescope Society who run a company called Ray Museum Studios. Based in Swarthmore, Penn., they are well-regarded experts in the highly-specialized field of antique telescope restoration; Orthlieb is the Isaiah V. Williamson Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at Swarthmore College.

Exchange, Reuse Unwanted Items through Wesleyan’s Freecycle Listserv

Lisa Pinette, library assistant in Olin Library, offered this watercolor paintings recently on Wesleyan's Freecycle listserv. "They've been sitting in my closet for years. One of them is actually my own painting! I'm glad someone finds the beauty in them, and was able to take them and re-use them."

Lisa Pinette, library assistant in Olin Library, offered these watercolor paintings recently on Wesleyan’s Freecycle listserv. “They’ve been sitting in my closet for years. One of them is actually my own painting! I’m glad someone finds the beauty in them, and was able to take them and re-use them.”

Since 2006, the Wesleyan Freecycle program has facilitated the opportunity for one person’s trash to become another person’s treasure. Through its own electronic mailing listserv, Freecycle encourages students, staff and faculty to exchange unwanted items, rather than throwing them away.

Wesleyan’s program is part of the national Freecycle movement, where people give away things that they don’t need, or ask for items they do need. These items are free and recycled, hence the name Freecycle.

Jen Kleindienst, sustainability coordinator, has given and received dozens of items on Freecycle.

“Freecycle has definitely helped to build a culture of waste reduction on campus,” Kleindienst says.  “Multiple times a week people contact me to find out how to join, and it’s so rewarding to know that your ‘stuff’ is getting a new home.”“

Freecycle etiquette involves posting an email with the words OFFER, WANTED or TAKEN in the subject line, accompanied with the item’s name. A short description can go in the e-mail’s body with location of the item.  Photos also can be attached to the e-mail.

Follow these guidelines when making a post to Wesleyan's Freecycle list.

Follow these guidelines when making a post to Wesleyan’s Freecycle list.

To join the Wesleyan Freecycle list, e-mail lyris@lyris.wesleyan.edu with a blank subject and one line in the body: join Freecycle. Lyris will reply back with a confirmation e-mail link needed to confirm the membership.

Once confirmed, users can send messages through freecycle@wesleyan.edu and will receive all messages sent to that list.  For more information, visit www.wesleyan.edu/sustainability/recycling/freecycle.html.

Tsui ’15 to Study with Professor Fry as American Chemical Society Fellow

Elaine Tsui ’15

Elaine Tsui ’15, who is currently studying abroad, will speak at the 2014 Connecticut Valley Section-American Chemical Society Undergraduate Research Symposium.

This summer, Elaine Tsui ’15 will work on her undergraduate research in the Chemistry Department as an American Chemical Society Fellow.

Tsui, who is double majoring in English and chemistry, received the fellowship from the Society’s Connecticut Valley Section. Funding opportunities are available for those with interests in physics, biology, materials science, engineering and medicine.

As a fellow, Tsui will conduct self-directed research under the supervision of Albert J. Fry, the E.B. Nye Professor of Chemistry. In 2013, Tsui worked with Fry as a Hughes Fellow and studied “Andodic Oxidation of 1,1-Diphenylacetone in Various Alcohols.” She will continue this research for 10 weeks under the fellowship.

“I will be continuing work on a project that investigates the mechanism for the electrolytic conversion of 1,1-diphenylacetone to the benzhydryl alkyl ether,” Tsui said. “This particular reaction has been my main focus since I first started work in Professor Fry’s lab during my sophomore year.”

As a fellow, Tsui is also required to give a talk at next year’s Connecticut Valley Section-American Chemical Society Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Tsui was initially notified of the opportunity through Professor Fry.

Of particular appeal to Tsui was the funding opportunity that the fellowship presented. “During the year, with all my classes and other responsibilities, it’s difficult to be able to carry out some of my experiments that take hours to complete, and the summer is a great opportunity to just focus on my project in lab,” she said. “To be honest, I didn’t think I would actually get the fellowship considering how many excellent chemistry students are out there, so I was surprised and happy when I was notified that I had gotten it.”

With her most recent appointment, Tsui hopes to hone her skills as a chemical scientist. “I’m also hoping that I will be able to gain more familiarity with lab work and the entire process of using different techniques to investigate different questions we have,” she said.

From the experience, Tsui foresees a growing interest in chemical research surrounding her current work surrounding oxidation reactions in alcohols. “There is still so much to learn about this reaction,” said Tsui, “and the results we have been getting from some of our experiments continually surprise us.”

After graduating, Tsui hopes to pursue additional research opportunities in organic chemistry, largely in part to the influence of her alliance with Fry.

“I think being exposed to this environment and my own growing interest in my project and what my lab mates are working on have made me realize that I do want to get into a career in research,” she said.

Tsui is currently completing a semester abroad in England and will begin her research in June. She’s also planning to submit a paper for review and publication.

James ’14 Publishes Field Guide to the Birds of Wesleyan

Oliver James '14 and his Connecticut bird guide.

Oliver James ’14 wrote and illustrated A Field Guide to the Birds of Wesleyan for his COE capstone project.

“Sporting its conspicuous red crest, the eponymous Northern Cardinal can be found year round on sweatshirts and coffee mugs across campus. In addition to the homecoming football game, the species is also commonly attracted to suburban feeders where it uses its powerful, conical bill specialized to crush seeds. The Northern Cardinal is arguably one of the most recognizable birds in North America.”

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

So begins an entry on the Northern Cardinal, or cardinalis caridnalis, in A Field Guide to the Birds of Wesleyan, a book written and illustrated by Oliver James ’14 for the capstone project of his College of the Environment major. The book, containing descriptions and illustrations of 16 of the most common birds found on Wesleyan’s campus, was published by Stethoscope Press, a student-run writing and publishing group, with a limited release of 300 copies.

James has been an avid birder since about the age of 5. One of his earliest memories growing up in Berkeley, Calif is of accompanying his aunt, a field ornithologist, to Bodega Bay, where she was researching the vocalizations of a type of sparrow.

Eusebio ’17 to Study Washington’s Natural Environment as Doris Duke Conservation Scholar

Joseph Eusebio '17

Joseph Eusebio ’17 will explore themes of biodiversity, food, water and climate as a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar in Washington this summer.

Joseph Eusebio ’17 was selected to take part in the brand new Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at the University of Washington this summer. According to the program website, this eight-week, all-expenses-paid program will take students on a journey from the “urban jungle” to the old growth forest and back, allowing them to explore how conservation can make a difference, and how they can make a difference in conservation.

Eusebio is one of only 26 students on the team, chosen from a pool of nearly 400 applicants. He said he came across the scholarship by chance while thinking about opportunities for the summer over winter break.

“I began just looking at internships, but then I started to consider other things such as taking language courses at the University of Washington. While browsing the UW website for its summer opportunities, I happened to come across the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars link and the description just really stuck with me,” he said. “It surprised me that, as far as I can tell, I’m the only student from Washington who is a part of the program.”

However, Eusebio considered it a long shot that he would be accepted into the program, given that he has not specialized in environmental science in his coursework.

“I have, however, always had a strong attachment to nature and the outdoors,” he said.

Faculty, Students Discuss Milgram’s “Shock” Experiment Research at Humanities Theory Salon

Jill Morawski, the Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor of Psychology, professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, along with Ethan Hoffman ’14 and Nick Myerberg ’14 (not pictured) presented “Body Resistance: Mapping Power and Defiance in the Milgram Experiments”, their research on the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments, on May 9 at the Center for Humanities’ last theory salon of the 2013-2014 school year.

Jill Morawski, the Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor of Psychology, professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, along with Ethan Hoffman ’14 and Nick Myerberg ’14 (not pictured) presented their research on the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments, May 9 at the Center for Humanities’ theory salon.

On Friday, May 9, the Center for Humanities held its last theory salon for the 2013-2014 academic year. The intimate faculty-student presentation revealed ground-breaking research on the Stanley Milgram “shock” obedience experiment, led by Jill Morawski, the Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor of Psychology, professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and assistants Ethan Hoffman ’14 and Nick Myerberg ’14.

Stanley Milgram, a psychologist from Yale University, is known for his experiment on obedience to authority figures. In the 1960s, Milgram measured the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their conscience. In the experiment, a subject is asked to deliver painful electric shocks to a learner, who is actually and actor. The subject believes the learner was receiving shocks, however there was no physical pain inflicted on the learner.

“Body Resistance: Mapping Power and Defiance in the Milgram Experiments” re-imagines the ways in which dissonance, power, and human behavior are taught and thought about. Rather than challenge the extent of Milgram’s contributions and their applications, the team was more interested in using archival information—largely based on Milgram’s observational notes and recordings—to analyze previously overlooked nuances. Much of the research draws on the construction of agency and, as suggested by Hoffman, Milgram’s own suspicions.

“Milgram did a lot of double-talk,” Hoffman explained, “and this led us to believe that he was attentive to the problematic nature of the work.”

Interest in these classic findings has been persistent throughout the years and, recently, is becoming more interdisciplinary. Milgram’s findings have extended outside of the realms of social psychology and have incited studies in cognitive psychology, neuroscience and legal theory.

“There is great demand for understanding behavior in terms of implicit attitudes,” Morawski said.

Chemistry’s Taylor Leads Biofuels Workshop for Area Teachers

On April 26, Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, led a biofuels workshop for area teachers at the Green Street Arts Center.

On April 26, Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, led a biofuels workshop for area teachers at the Green Street Arts Center.

Taylor led a presentation about her biofuel research and led an activity where the teachers made biofuel from cooking oil. The workshop was funded by a Connecticut Teacher Quality Partnership grant, which supports professional development of high school teachers in alternative energies and project-based learning.

Taylor led a presentation about her biofuel research and led an activity where the teachers made biofuel from cooking oil. The workshop was funded by a Connecticut Teacher Quality Partnership grant, which supports professional development of high school teachers in alternative energies and project-based learning.

Goodstein ’14 to Deliver WESeminar on Mental Illness and Stigma

Taylor Goodstein '14 wrote her senior thesis on the human experience of mental illness. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Taylor Goodstein ’14 wrote her senior thesis on the human experience of mental illness. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we speak with Taylor Goodstein from the Class of 2014. She is delivering a WESeminar at Reunion & Commencement on the topic of her capstone project: “Looking Inward: Examining the Broken Brain and Reducing Stigma.”

Q: Taylor, what is your major, and how did you settle on this topic for your thesis?

A: I am a neuroscience and behavior and biology double major, and I am also obtaining a certificate in creative writing. I was never planning on writing a thesis because I don’t conduct research in a neuroscience or biology laboratory, but then one day the idea just sort of came to me. I realized how neuroscience classes at Wesleyan focus so much on the hard science, and it becomes easy to forget that the illnesses and disorders that are discussed at a physiological level have real-world social and personal implications. I wanted to explore the human side of neuroscience, and I was inspired by writers who have done the same thing, such as Oliver Sacks. Combining narrative and current neuroscience research is an excellent tool for increasing understanding and reducing the stigma of mental illness, and I wanted to try it out.

Q: Please tell us about the people you interviewed for your project.

A: I interviewed six people, including one Wesleyan student with multiple sclerosis—whose story illustrates how living with an invisible, inconsistent disability can be hard to explain and thus causes lots of misunderstanding—as well as another Wes student who talked about living with an anxiety disorder that perpetuated an eating disorder. Her story was very valuable to me because she has since made a full recovery, and I really went in to detail discussing the aspects of her environment that made it easy for her to seek help and get treatment. Hopefully, such environments can be replicated more and more so people don’t remain silent about mental illness.

Barth, Alumni Co-Author Paper on Preschoolers’ Trust

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the co-author of of “Preschoolers trust novel members of accurate speakers’ groups and judge them favorably,” published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Issue 67, pages 872-883, in 2014. The paper is based on work from BA ’08/MA ’09 student Keera Bhandari’s thesis, and research by former undergraduates Kyle MacDonald ’10 and Jenn Garcia ’10, and former lab manager Elizabeth Chase.

It is known that by age 3, children track a speaker’s record of past accuracy and use it as a cue to current reliability. Through two different experiments, the Wesleyan researchers explored whether preschoolers’ judgments about, and trust in, the accuracy of a previously reliable informant extend to other members of the informant’s group.

In Experiment 1, both 3- and 4-year-olds consistently judged an animated character who was associated with a previously accurate speaker more likely to be correct than a character associated with a previously inaccurate speaker, despite possessing no information about these characters’ individual records of reliability. They continued to show this preference one week later.

Experiment 2 presented 4- and 5-year-olds with a related task using videos of human actors. Both showed preferences for members of previously accurate speakers’ groups on a common measure of epistemic trust. This result suggests that by at least age 4, children’s trust in speaker testimony spreads to members of a previously accurate speaker’s group.

Blümel, Nam Published in Physical Review A

Reinhold Blümel, the Charlotte Augusta Ayres Professor of Physics, and physics graduate student Yunseong Nam are the co-authors of “Robustness of the quantum Fourier transform with respect to static gate defects,” published in Physical Review A, Issue 89, in April 2014.

The quantum Fourier transform (QFT) is one of the most widely used quantum algorithms, ranging from its primary role in finding the periodicity hidden in a quantum state to its use in constructing a quantum adder.

COE, Musician/Fellow Launch Online Environmental Teaching Tool for Kids

College of the Environment fellow Rani Arbo is working with COE Director Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, on a project called "Earth Out Loud: Stories from Our Habitat." Earth Out Loud is designed for elementary school-aged children and educators, and offers a short story in audio and/or video format, as well as ideas for exploring the topic further in the classroom or at home.

College of the Environment fellow Rani Arbo is working with COE Director Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, on a project called “Earth Out Loud: Stories from Our Habitat.” “Earth Out Loud” is designed for elementary school-aged children and educators, and offers a short story in audio and/or video format, as well as ideas for exploring the topic further in the classroom or at home.

The College of the Environment has teamed up with local singer/songwriter (and mother) Rani Arbo to debut the pilot version of “Earth Out Loud: Stories from Our Habitat” — an educational-but-entertaining online project where second and third graders can hear, explore and respond to stories from their habitat. It uses a straightforward interface to provide accessible audio and video clips for kids and their teachers that relate to their schools’ curriculum in an exciting way.

In the "Earth Out Loud" episode "Radical Raptors," children lean about the great horned owl and ways it adapts to its environment.

In the “Earth Out Loud” episode “Radical Raptors,” children lean about the great horned owl and ways it adapts to its environment.

Arbo, COE director Barry Chernoff and Wesleyan student interns are still brainstorming and developing the content, but the infrastructure is now live and is being built upon.

“It started with a conversation Barry and I were having about science literacy in media and kids, about this time last year,” Arbo said. “I was a science major, and now I have a kid who is happiest outdoors, finding bugs and tadpoles. I’d been wishing he could do more with science in school, but in the younger grades, the focus is really on reading and math. So, Barry and I started talking about an environmental radio show for kids. Something that would help ensnare kids’ imaginations about environmental topics at a young age.”

While the concept still revolves around featuring radio-show-like audio tracks, it’s becoming clear that video may be equally important. So far there’s an episode on raptors and a segment on recycling, available in both audio and video formats. Upcoming episodes will touch upon the nature of bees, soils, and phases of matter, as applied to sweet treats like maple syrup, chocolate and Italian ice.

“If we’re going to make any progress in the world getting an environmental ethic into people, we have to get them excited at a young age,” said Chernoff. “We’re also interested in reaching communities that don’t have a single economic basis or ethnic or social structure — to be able to reach really broad audiences that include both inner city kids and rural kids.”