Science & Technology

Grad Student’s Graphic to Appear on Journal’s Cover

Katherine Kaus's story and figure will appear in the September 2014 Journal of Molecular Biology. The figure depicts the structure of a domain of the Vibrio vulnificus hemolysin that binds cell-surface glycans allowing the toxin to attack target cells. The structure was determined using a technique called X-ray crystallography.

Katherine Kaus’s figure, based on an article she co-authored, will appear on the cover of the Sept. 9 Journal of Molecular Biology. The figure depicts the structure of a domain of the Vibrio vulnificus hemolysin that binds cell-surface glycans allowing the toxin to attack target cells. The structure was determined using a technique called X-ray crystallography.

A figure created by Katherine Kaus, graduate student in the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department, was selected to run as the featured cover graphic in the Sept. 9 Journal of Molecular Biology.

The graphic is related to her article, titled “Glycan Specificity of the Vibrio vulnificus Hemolysin Lectin Outlines Evolutionary History of Membrane Targeting by a Toxin Family,” which was published in the journal on July 29. It is co-authored by Rich Olson, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and researchers at the University of Connecticut. The abstract appears online here.

Vibrio vulnificus is an emerging human pathogen that causes severe food poisoning and opportunistic infections with a mortality rate exceeding 50 percent.

The aquatic pathogen secretes a pore-forming toxin (PFT) called V. vulnificus hemolysin (VVH) which form transmembrane channels in cellular membranes. “Determining the mechanism for how PFTs bind membranes is important in understanding their role in disease and for developing possible ways to block their action,” Kaus explained in the paper’s abstract. Sequence analysis in light of the authors structural and functional data suggests that V. vulnificus hemolysin may represent an earlier step in the evolution of Vibrio PFTs.

NSF Grant Supports Shusterman’s Study on Number Word Learning

Anna Shusterman

Anna Shusterman

Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman has received a major grant from the National Science Foundation to study language structure and number word learning in children. The research is a collaboration with David Barner at the University of California-San Diego. The total grant is $1,496,636, of which $724,128 will go to Wesleyan.

According to Shusterman, the project explores how the structure of a language affects children’s acquisition of word meanings for abstract concepts. Specifically, they will consider how the pace of children’s number acquisition is affected by the presence of a “dual marker” — that is, grammatical marking to specify a precise quantity of two, rather than simply singular versus plural—in their native language. The researchers will study dialects of  Slovenian and Saudi Arabic. The study has broader implications related to understanding how aspects of language, such as syntax, facilitate conceptual development, such as mathematics.

At Wesleyan, the grant will fund a full-time project manager and post-doc, who will mentor and interact with students, for all three years of the study. Students working on the study will get exposure to cross-cultural and cross-linguistic research.

Middletown Students Get Taste of STEM at Wesleyan

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Making “gak” at Green Street

Oneiry, in sixth grade and 11 years old, liked the tie-dye experiment, where learning about the light and color also resulted in cool take-home T-shirts. Genesis, a nine-year-old fourth grader, really enjoyed the liquid nitrogen demonstration, especially the ice cream she got to make with it. And Julia, at 10 in fifth grade, had a good time making “gak,” a substance that’s not quite solid and not quite liquid – and slimy and fun.

They were among 10 Middletown girls between fourth and sixth grade who participated in a girls’ science camp sponsored by the Green Street Arts Center Aug. 4-8. The session, staffed by Wesleyan faculty, was designed to introduce girls to the “STEM” fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Women are underrepresented in these fields, and educators believe it’s important to engage girls in them as early as possible.

Yohe on the Keystone XL Pipeline

Gary Yohe

Gary Yohe

Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Gary Yohe responded to a new study which predicted the Keystone XL Pipeline could produce carbon emissions as high as four times the level previously stated by the U.S. State Department. The earlier estimates didn’t take into account the downward pressure the pipeline would put on fuel prices, if approved, spurring greater fuel consumption and increasing pollution.

Lower fuel prices may sound like a good thing, Yohe told The Associated Press, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

“Lower fuel prices are bad if they don’t include all of the social costs,” he said. “Consumers are happy, but the planet is not necessarily.”

Yohe is also chair of economics.

Solar Storms a Wake-Up Call, Redfield Says

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This NASA image shows a solar storm in early 2012.

A July NASA report that a huge solar storm narrowly missed Earth in 2012 – avoiding catastrophic damage to energy, transportation and communications systems – has caused a media stir and some worry among Earthlings.

What’s more, other recent reports say that Earth is overdue for a devastating storm of the kind known as a “Carrington event” after an 1859 storm that disrupted telegraph signals and caused other damage in a still-nascent industrial world. Named for 19th-century English astronomer Richard Carrington, it was the largest of its kind on record. A similar event now, in a world dependent on digital communications and electrical energy, would cause widespread, long-lasting power outages and disrupt transportation and communications planet-wide. Eric Mack, a science blogger for Forbes, referred facetiously to a reversion to “Amish-style” civilization.

Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy, says the recent near-miss isn’t a cause for worldwide freakout, but should be a wake-up call; while a catastrophic solar storm may be several generations away, “it’s going to happen,” and scientists should be working on ways to better predict the event.

“I think it’s really important for us to understand what’s going on and have some good perspective on that because if we don’t prepare for it, we’re going to suffer the consequences,” he said. “We don’t need a Manhattan-style project and (to) devote 10 percent of our GDP to this one. But we do need to pay attention.”

Research by Loui, Harrison ’14 on Musically-Induced ‘Thrills and Chills’ is Published

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Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior

Many of us have experienced an intense emotional and physical sensation while listening to a particularly moving piece of music–often described as a thrill, chill or goosebumps. In a new article published in Frontiers in Psychology, Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, and psychology major Luke Harrison ’14 integrate the existing multidisciplinary literature to create a comprehensive, testable model of “transcendent psychophysiological moments in music.” The paper came out of Harrison’s final paper in Loui’s course on Music Perception and Cognition.

They begin by considering the different nomenclature used in popular and academic discourse for this phenomenon, and the advantages and disadvantages of terms such as “thrills,” “chills,” “frissons,” or even “skin orgasms.” They go on to discuss the importance of cultural and social context in explaining musical “frisson,” and the emotional and neurobiological mechanisms behind this sensation. Finally, they explore the specific types of musical stimuli that elicit this reaction.

Read the full article here.

When Water “Unmixes”: Starr Commentary Published in Nature Physics

Water is the most ubiquitous fluid on Earth, and plays a foundational role in life as we know it.  And yet the complexity of this seemingly simple molecule remains a vigorously debated area of scientific research to this day.  Writing in the most recent issue of Nature Physics, Professor of Physics Francis Starr provides a commentary on recent research to uncover the mystery of water’s unusual properties.  

Francis Starr

Francis Starr

“We all learn as children that oil and water don’t mix,” Starr writes. ” If there was only one fluid – say just the water – then “unmixing” should not even be a possibility.  However, it turns out that evidence suggests that, under unusual supercooled conditions, water can unmix from itself, forming two distinct fluids, both of which are pure water.  And it turns out this unusual behavior just might help explain many of water’s other unusual and vital features.”

Nature Physics, part of the prestigious group of Nature journals, is published monthly.

Starr’s research at Wesleyan focuses on computational approaches to understand the emergent complexity of soft and biological matter.  His lab has explored DNA modeling and nanotechnology, lipid membrane dynamics, and polymer films and composites. Undergraduates and graduate students work together in the Starr lab, emphasizing connections to experimental results.

Wesleyan Launches Pilot Pre-Frosh Math and Science Program

Ishita Mukerji, dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, leads a lab tour.

Ishita Mukerji, dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, leads a lab tour.

New students interested in math and the sciences,  who want to get a jump start on their college experience, are taking advantage of a new program this summer.

The Wesleyan Physical Sciences and Mathematics Scholars Program will welcome 11 students from the Class of 2018 to campus for its debut summer session July 27-Aug. 1. An additional 11 students will participate online.

“We’re really excited to put this program into place,” said Ishita Mukerji, dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “One common variable among all these scholars is a very strong interest in science.”

Long Lane Farm Welcomes Chickens, New Farmers

Catherine Walsh '16 handles a young rhode island red hen July 14 at Long Lane Farm. Chickens are a new addition to the two-acre, student-run farm this summer. The hens will start laying in fall and supply Bon Appétit and Wesleyan's Dining Services with fresh eggs. 

Catherine Walsh ’16 handles a young hen July 14 at Long Lane Farm. Chickens are a new addition to the two-acre, student-run farm this summer. The hens will start laying in fall and supply Bon Appétit and Wesleyan’s Dining Services with fresh eggs.

Long Lane Farm is Wesleyan’s student run organic farm devoted to allowing students a place to experiment and learn about sustainable agriculture. This summer, seven students are tending the two-acre farm full-time. New to this year’s farm are Rhode Island red hens, who reside in the farm’s chicken coop. The coop was designed and built by Wesleyan’s Architecture II class in 2013.

Throughout the summer, other students and community members help out around the farm with planting, watering and weeding.

Food harvested from the farm is sold at the North End Farmers’ Market throughout the summer, and at the Wesleyan Farmers’ Market during the academic year. The student farmers donate excess food to Amazing Grace Food Pantry in Middletown, and have an arrangement through which Bon Appétit: dining services funds positions for students to work on the farm in exchange for weekly deliveries of farm vegetables. In addition, the students invite local families to the farm and teach children about the various aspects of farming and producing food. Children are sent home with a bag of produce that they personally harvested.

The farm is funded by the College of the Environment, Bon Appétit and Wesleyan’s Green Fund. View more photos of the farm below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Upward Bound Students Participate in 6-Week Program at Wesleyan

Area high school students participating in Wesleyan's Upward Bound Math-Science Program are on campus through July 25. The students, pictured here on July 7, often spend their lunch recess near Usdan University Center and play sports on Andrus Field. Upward Bound is designed to help low-income and first-generation college students recognize and develop their potential, to excel in math and science, pursue post secondary degrees, and ultimately careers in the math and science professions.

Area high school students participating in Wesleyan’s Upward Bound Math-Science Program are on campus through July 25. The students, pictured here on July 7, often spend their lunch recess near Usdan University Center and play sports on Andrus Field. Upward Bound provides fundamental support to participants in their preparation for college entrance.

The six-week academic summer program offers intensive math, science, writing and language training; counseling, mentoring and academic support services; exposure to Wesleyan's faculty members who do research in mathematics and the sciences; and education or counseling services designed to improve the financial and economic literacy of students.

The six-week academic summer program offers intensive math, science, writing and language training; counseling, mentoring and academic support services; exposure to Wesleyan’s faculty members who do research in mathematics and the sciences; and education or counseling services designed to improve the financial and economic literacy of students.

Students also go on educational field trips which supplement classroom activities and participate in cultural enrichment activities such as visits to museums, plays, and art exhibits as well as community service. Activities, trips, and involvement are designed to help students become more familiar with S.T.E.M. (Science Technology Engineering Math) education. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Students also go on educational field trips which supplement classroom activities and participate in cultural enrichment activities such as visits to museums, plays, and art exhibits as well as community service. Activities, trips, and involvement are designed to help students become more familiar with S.T.E.M. (Science Technology Engineering Math) education. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Wesleyan Receives State Funds for Stem Cell Outreach

The University of Connecticut-Wesleyan University Stem Cell Core was among the recipients of a new batch of state funding granted for stem cell research.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy on June 24 announced nearly $10 million in new funds to 18 Connecticut-based stem cell researchers. The UConn-Wesleyan Core received $500,000, of which about $25,000 will go to the outreach component of the Core run by Laura Grabel, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology. According to Grabel, the funds will support visits by stem cell researchers to Connecticut colleges and universities. Since its founding in 2006, the UConn-Wesleyan Core has contributed substantially to the Connecticut stem cell initiative by providing a central source of technologies and materials for research on human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells.

Read more about it here.

Read the Governor’s announcement about the new stem cell research funds here.

PIMMS Hosts Math Institute for Local Teachers, Teaching Artists

Wesleyan's Project to Increase Mastery of Mathematics and Science (PIMMS) is hosting an Intel Math Institute for local teachers. PIMMS, a partner of the Green Street Arts Center, developed the course for Middletown and Meriden teachers. Thirty K-8 teachers are attending, along with two teaching artists from Green Street.

Wesleyan’s Project to Increase Mastery of Mathematics and Science (PIMMS) is hosting an Intel Math Institute for local teachers. PIMMS, a partner of the Green Street Arts Center, developed the course for Middletown and Meriden teachers. Thirty K-8 teachers are attending, along with two teaching artists from Green Street.

The 10-day Institute began June 23 and offers a space for interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

The 10-day Institute began June 23 and offers a space for interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

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The Institute is co-taught by Christopher Rasmussen, assistant professor of mathematics (pictured at left), and math education specialist Sharon Heyman, currently the only Intel-trained instructors based in Connecticut (not pictured). Rasmussen taught an Intel Math course to teachers in the Danbury, Conn. area in 2013. Sara MacSorley, director of PIMMS and the Green Street Arts Center, is serving as project coordinator.

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The Institute pairs an intensive, 80-hour math course with ongoing academic-year professional development and arts integration workshops, to help teachers link common concepts to classroom instruction.

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The institute is supported by a Connecticut State Mathematics and Science Partnership grant.