Science & Technology

Gilmore Speaks on Venus’s Terrain at American Museum of Natural History

Sporting their Earth and Environmental Sciences–labeled jackets, John Hossain MA ’18 and Avi Stein ’17 posed for a photo with Professor Marty Gilmore during her recent talk at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Martha “Marty” Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology and professor of earth and environmental sciences, presented a talk at the American Museum of Natural History on Feb. 4 titled “Venus: One Fate of a Habitable Planet.” Gilmore’s presentation was part of the museum’s Frontiers Lecture Series, which highlights the latest advances in our knowledge of the universe by presenting the work of scientists at the cutting edge of astrophysics.

Gilmore, a planetary geologist, uses surface mapping and orbital spectroscopy to study Venus’s terrain. During her talk, she spoke about the planet’s oldest rocks and what they can tell us about the history of water on one of Earth’s closest neighbors.

“Venus is likely to have had an ocean longer than Mars which forces us to consider it as another potentially habitable planet in our solar system,” Gilmore said. “Because it is Earth-sized, it uniquely informs us about the origin and fate of our planet and Earth-sized planets in other solar systems.”

Gilmore supports her investigations by studying minerals formed and/or weathered under conditions on Venus.

Wesleyan alumni Avi Stein ’17 and John Hossain MA ’18 attended the standing-room-only talk.

Gilmore is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America. At Wesleyan, she’s also the director, graduate studies, and co-coordinator, planetary science.

Klusmeyer Receives a Chambliss Award for Astronomy Research

After a star forms, a dusty ring of space debris may begin orbiting around a star. These circumstellar disks are composed of asteroids or collision fragments, cosmic dust grains, and gasses.

Astronomy graduate student Jessica Klusmeyer is interested in understanding the molecular composition of the debris disk gas. “It has important implications not only for our knowledge of debris disks but also for planet formation,” she said.

Klusmeyer joined more than 25 Wesleyan affiliates and shared her research during the 233rd American Astronomical Society Meeting Jan. 6-10 in Seattle, Wash. The American Astronomical Society (AAS) awarded Klusmeyer a Chambliss medal for her poster presentation titled, “A Deep Search for Five Molecules in the Debris Disk around 49 Ceti.”

The Astronomy Achievement Student Awards recognize exemplary research by undergraduate and graduate students who present at one of the poster sessions at the meetings of the AAS. Awardees are honored with a Chambliss medal or a certificate.

Klusmeyer competed for the Chambliss award against hundreds of graduate and PhD students from research universities around the country.

A second-year masters student, Klusmeyer is working on the project with her advisor, Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy and assistant professor, integrative sciences.

“Professor Hughes has a very active and supportive research group that covers a wide variety of circumstellar disks and planet formation topics,” Klusmeyer said. “She works in radio wavelengths of light and the group often utilizes data from the world-class Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope.”

Klusmeyer joined Hughes’s group during her first year of graduate school and is working on unlocking the molecular composition of a nearby debris disk surrounding 49 Ceti, a star located in the constellation of Cetus. Cetus, which is named after a Greek sea monster, resembles the shape of a whale and can be viewed from campus (or as far away as Chile!).

Scientists once thought that debris disks would lose their gas composition after planet formation, however, more than 20 debris disks containing molecular carbon monoxide gas have already been detected by astronomers.

“Our project wants to understand the nature of this gas,” Klusmeyer explained. “Is it leftover material from when the star formed, or is it constantly being produced in collisions from exocomets or other small bodies orbiting around 49 Ceti?”

If a debris disk has gas, “it may provide a longer period of time for gas giant planet formation or we could detect other molecules commonly found in comets and have the first glance at the molecular composition of comets around other stars,” she said.

Girish Duvvuri ’17 received a Chambliss medal in 2018. Read more.

The Next New Things: Presenting Final Projects in IDEAS 170

In December, the students of IDEAS 170: Introduction to Design and Engineering presented inventions of their own design. These final group projects are possibly the next new life hacks everyone will crave: a projector that doesn’t rely on electricity (great for watching movies when the power is out), a chair that folds flat (packs easily and saves space), or a dorm room light that mimics the sun (helps set your sleep/wake cycle naturally).

Additionally, one group of Wesleyan students collaborated with students from Renbrook School in West Hartford. Betsy Flynn, Lower School Learning Specialist at Renbrook, explained: “The Renbrook students brought their accessible playscape design to Wesleyan and pitched their idea to the class on the same day that other project ideas were pitched. Then the Wesleyan team came to Renbrook with several elements of their inclusive playground to get feedback from Renbrook students. They spent an hour together getting to know each other and had a spirited discussion of what each had in mind in their designs.”

On the day the final projects were presented, the Wesleyan students set about creating a one-inch scale prototype of the playscape, inviting their younger collaborators to visit the University to see how their initial ideas had taken physical (albeit miniature) form.

The two IDEAS sections of the fall 2018 semester, taught by Professor of Physics Greg Voth and Assistant Professor of the Practice in Integrative Sciences Daniel Moller, offered 32 students the opportunity to work collaboratively on project-based studies at the intersection of design, the arts, and engineering. The course, part of a new interdisciplinary minor, the Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Sciences (IDEAS) program, is hosted and administered by the College of Integrative Sciences (CIS).

Wesleyan (issue 3, 2018) featured the course in its cover article, Putting the Art in Smart Design, following the students through the first half of the course as they worked on individual devices that would hop after a timing mechanism released. A video, “The Big Hopper Reveal,” illustrated their design and engineering work at the semester’s midpoint. The photos and video below, taken at the end of the fall 2018 semester, show the group inventions. (Remember: You saw them here first). (Photos by Cynthia Rockwell)

Trevor Devanny ’20, Joe Clayton ’20, Liam Murray ’20, and Mauricio Bailleres ’21 ready their go-cart, complete with fully functional steering mechanism, for its outdoor trial run.

Professor and Chair of the Physics Department Greg Voth examines the steering mechanism for stability.

Tucker in The Conversation: In ‘Mary Poppins Returns,’ an Ode to the Gas Lamp

Jennifer Tucker

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, Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker explores our ongoing romance with the gas lamp in connection with the new Mary Poppins film. Tucker is also associate professor and chair, feminist, gender, and sexuality studies; associate professor, science in society; and associate professor, environmental studies.

In ‘Mary Poppins Returns,’ an ode to the gas lamp

Mary Poppins Returns” transports audiences back to 1930s London.

The beloved nanny at the center of the original 1964 hit film will return, this time played by Emily Blunt.

But Mary’s original companion, Bert, a chimney sweep played by Dick Van Dyke, has been replaced by Jack, a lamplighter played by Lin-Manuel Miranda [’02].

Some fans of the original might be disappointed to see Bert cede screen time to Jack. But as a historian of Victorian science, I was delighted to see a bygone industrial technology – the gas lamp – take center stage.

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.

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.