Tag Archive for COE

Stewart Holds Annual Earth Day Rant on “Bending the Curves”

stewart earth rant

On April 22, Professor of Physics Brian Stewart held his annual Earth Day Rant through the Zoom application. This year’s topic was “Bending the Curves: Coping with Crises from Car Crashes to Coronavirus to Climate Change.”

On April 22, Professor of Physics Brian Stewart held his annual Earth Day Rant. This year’s topic was “Bending the Curves: Coping with Crises from Car Crashes to Coronavirus to Climate Change.”

During his talk, Stewart discussed and compared how a car crash, storm, epidemic, and climate change vary in terms of mitigation, adaptation, perception, agency, cost to the United States, and deaths per 100,000 people. The current epidemic has cost the U.S. more than $2.5 trillion, whereas vehicle accidents amount to $277 billion per year (excluding indirect costs), and storms cause $30 billion per year in damages. All contribute to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

“Now, time is extremely short . . . What are the mechanisms we can put into place to give ourselves a shot at retooling society in a sustainable way? Nobody knows. We haven’t figured that out,” he said.

Stewart pointed out one of the rare positive effects of the COVID-19 epidemic: It has slightly reduced the emission of carbon dioxide that leads to global warming.

“I’d like to say with the economy of the United States dramatically dampened . . . it’s possible that CO2 emissions will decline by 5 percent this year, owning to the cessation of much economic activity,” he said.

Stewart explained how a coordinated effort to reduce CO2 emissions would not necessitate such a large impact on the economy per unit of CO2 reduction, “but that the prospects are nonetheless daunting, and time is not on our side.”

Winston Named Honorary Fellow of the American Association of Teachers of German

winston

Krishna Winston retired from Wesleyan in 2019. She taught German studies for 49 years.

The American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) recently named Krishna Winston, Marcus L. Taft Professor of German Language and Literature, Emerita, an honorary fellow of the association. The fellowship is limited to 25 fellows worldwide.

Founded in 1926, the AATG has nearly 3,500 members and “believes that bringing the language, literature, and cultures of the German speaking-world to all Americans is a vital humanistic endeavor, which serves an essential national interest,” according to its website.

To receive this honor, Winston was nominated by 10 colleagues, with the nomination approved by the Honorary Fellows Committee and voted on by the Association membership at its 2019 annual meeting. According to the AATG, honorary fellows are “men and women of letters of international distinction who have contributed to the advancement of German studies in the fields of literary studies, literary criticism, linguistics, creative writing, translation, and second language acquisition.”

Iris Bork-Goldfield, chair and adjunct professor of German studies, made the initial recommendation. She’s known Winston for more than 20 years.

“Krishna has devoted her life to the German language and literature. With her many celebrated translations of works by Golo Mann, Siegfried Lenz, Peter Handke, and of course Günther Grass, just to name a few, she has enabled millions of English speakers to appreciate German literature,” Bork-Goldfield said in her nomination letter. “Apart from being a brilliant translator, Professor Winston has educated generations of American students as a teacher of German. She is a passionate teacher, deeply committed to her students whom she inspires to enjoy German literature, study abroad in Germany, apply for scholarships to teach and /or do research in German-speaking countries, and become engaged citizens.”

Winston, who retired from Wesleyan in 2019, recently published a volume of four film narratives by Werner Herzog, Scenarios III (University of Minnesota Press, 2019), and has just completed translations of a novel and an essay by Peter Handke. Her translation of the address Handke delivered upon receiving the 2019 Nobel Prize can be found on the Swedish Academy’s Nobel Prize website. She is currently working on another Handke essay.

Winston remains actively engaged in campus life. In the fall of 2019, she taught her First-Year Seminar “The Simple Life?”, and she continues to serve as an advisor to the Community Standards Board, support the University’s sustainability efforts, and participate in the nomination process for Fulbright, Watson, and Udall fellowships.

“Krishna Winston has been a great source of motivation and inspiration for everyone around her, in the US and in Germany,” Bork-Goldfield said. “Her lifelong dedication to promoting German, be it as a teacher or a translator, complemented by her and her social activism, makes her an ideal honorary fellow.”

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.

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.

Students Use GIS Skills to Help Solve Environmental Problems

reed

In the Introduction to GIS course, Joshua Reed ’21 used governmental data to explore “The Relationship Between Education and Poverty in the US.”

Fifteen Wesleyan students who were enrolled in the Introduction to GIS course this fall learned how to apply GIS concepts and skills to solve local problems in environmental sciences.

Kim Diver, associate professor of the practice of environmental sciences, taught the class and an accompanying service-learning lab component. After learning about the basic theory of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), data collection, data management, spatial analysis, visualization, and map preparation, the students were paired with a community partner or organization to assist them with an issue.

On Dec. 5, the students presented the results of their projects to their community partners and other students and faculty.

Joshua Reed ’21 worked with Wesleyan Book Buds, an Office of Community Service student group on a study titled “The Relationship Between Education and Poverty in the US.”

Students Create Performances Based on Shadowing Physical Plant Employees

As part of the Introduction to Environmental Studies class, six students embedded themselves into the work lives of Wesleyan’s Physical Plant employees to learn the inner workings of campus.

Leila Henry ’23, Serena Aimen ’22, Tanvi Punja ’22, Molly Scotti ’22, Nina Criswell ’22, and Mikaela Marcotullio ’23 shadowed the Physical Plant workers for three-hour shifts every week throughout the fall semester. The experience concluded with performances on Dec. 5 that represented the culmination of that work.

The class was taught by Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, and the performances were curated with the help of Allison Orr, creative director of Forklift Danceworks and the Distinguished Fellow in the College of the Environment.

The second-annual project grew out of BUILD (2016), a dance thesis performance choreographed by Clara Pinsky ’16.

Photos of the class presentations are below and on this Flickr album: (Photos by Laurie Kenney)

NASA Supports Poulos’s Wildfire Research

Helen

Helen Poulos examines a high fire severity site.

Wildfires can transform forest ecosystems to varying degrees, depending on fire severity. While low-severity wildfires change plant community composition by killing short-statured trees and understory plants, high-severity fires result in top kill of above-ground vegetation. This variation in wildfire effects can have major impacts on post-fire vegetation composition and water stress.

Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, received a $300,000 grant from NASA on Dec. 5 to examine how forests can permanently change in response to high-severity wildfire in southeastern Arizona.

NASA Funds Study of Gilmore’s Venus Mission Concept

Martha Gilmore

Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, believes we have a lot to learn from studying Venus—yet the United States has not sent a mission to the Earth-sized planet since the early 1990s. That’s why Gilmore has proposed a major flagship mission concept study to assess whether Venus was ever a habitable planet by looking at its rocks and atmosphere.

In October, NASA agreed to fund the planetary mission concept on Venus submitted by Gilmore, a planetary geologist, and colleagues at several other institutions, who come from varied disciplines. Gilmore, who is the principal investigator, said NASA received 54 proposals and selected 10 to feed into the next Planetary Decadal Survey. Theirs was the only proposal on Venus to receive funding.

In 2020, the National Academy of Science will convene a panel of scientists and engineers to determine the scientific priorities for Planetary Science over the period 2023–2032. This Planetary Decadal Survey is conducted every 10 years and is tasked with recommending a portfolio of missions to NASA. The mission concepts that were funded will be developed for consideration by the Decadal Survey. In the coming months, Gilmore will be meeting and communicating regularly with her science team and conducting mission design runs at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Final reports are due to the Decadal Survey in June 2020, and will describe mission architecture, cost, and how the mission will address the scientific priorities of the Decadal Survey and NASA.

Gilmore’s expertise is on the surface morphology and composition of Venus, Mars, and Earth, and her PhD focused on Venus during the United States’ Magellan mission. She explained that all three planets are rocky, and there is evidence that they all had oceans early in solar system history. Scientists believe that Mars’s ocean dried up first—within about one billion years—and that Venus’s ocean may have lasted for two or three billion years.

“Thus, for most of solar system history, there were two Earth-sized planets with oceans,” said Gilmore. “Was Venus habitable like the Earth and if so, what changed?”

“Bomb Cyclone” Strikes Campus on Oct. 17, Causing Extremely Low Pressure, High Winds

weather station

The Wesleyan University Weather Station measures wind speed, barometric pressure, air temperature, relative humidity, and solar irradiance.

On Oct. 17, the Wesleyan Weather Station recorded a dramatic drop in atmospheric (barometric) pressure—a drop so severe it compared to one from Hurricane Sandy in November 2012.

Between 2 a.m. on Oct. 16 and 2 a.m. on Oct. 17, the pressure dropped from 1020 to 980 millibars, resulting in what meteorologists refer to as bombogenesis or a “bomb cyclone.” Bomb cyclones are defined by a drop of more than 24 millibars of pressure over less than 24 hours, and here, the pressure dropped 40 millibars.

During Hurricane Sandy the pressure also dropped to 980 millibars.

“We’ve looked through the last three years of data collected by the Wesleyan Weather Station, and no other event over that time period is more dramatic than this one,” said Dana Royer, professor of earth and environmental sciences. “This clearly shows that the bomb cyclone this month was indeed unusual.”

In Hartford, Conn., the pressure minimum (~980 millibars, similar to the pressure the Wesleyan Weather Station recorded) tied the all-time record for the month of October.

The bomb cyclone also affected wind speed. Between 1 and 2 a.m. on Oct. 17, wind rapidly increased from 0 to 34 mph and fluctuated between 5 and 25 mph over the next 24 hours.

The Wesleyan Weather Station was established with a Teaching Innovation Grant from President Michael Roth and Johan “Joop” Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science. The station and weather “dashboard” is maintained by Joel LaBella, facilities manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department.

bomb cyclone

The Wesleyan Weather Station recorded the dramatic drop in atmospheric pressure on Oct. 17. This graph shows the average air pressure from the last 30 days.

bomb cyclone

During the bomb cyclone, the Wesleyan Weather Station recorded the drastic fall in atmospheric pressure and the rapid rise in wind speed.

Author Translated by Winston Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature

Krishna Winston, the Marcus L. Taft Professor of German Language and Literature is coordinator of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program.

Krishna Winston, the Marcus L. Taft Professor of German Language and Literature, Emerita.

For the second time, an author whose work Krishna Winston, the Marcus L. Taft Professor of German Language and Literature, Emerita, translated, has won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Austrian author Peter Handke on October 10 “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience,” according to the Nobel committee. Handke has become “one of the most influential writers in Europe after the Second World War,” the committee said.

Winston, who specializes in literary translation, began translating Handke after his long-time English translator, Ralph Manheim, died. She has published many translations of Handke’s works, including Essay on the Jukebox (1994), My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay (1998), On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House (2000), Crossing the Sierra de Gredos (2007), Don Juan: His Own Story (2010), The Moravian Night (2016), and The Great Fall (2018). She is currently working on several new translations of Handke’s work.

O’Connell in The Conversation: How Deep is the Ocean?

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Suzanne O’Connell has written a new article for The Conversation’s “Curious Kids” series answering the question “How deep is the ocean?” The article is based on her research studying the sea floor.

Curious Kids: How deep is the ocean?

The remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer captures images of a newly discovered hydrothermal vent field in the western Pacific. NOAA

The remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer captures images of a newly discovered hydrothermal vent field in the western Pacific. (NOAA)

Explorers started making navigation charts showing how wide the ocean was more than 500 years ago. But it’s much harder to calculate how deep it is.

If you wanted to measure the depth of a pool or lake, you could tie a weight to a string, lower it to the bottom, then pull it up and measure the wet part of the string. In the ocean you would need a rope thousands of feet long.

In 1872 the HMS Challenger, a British Navy ship, set sail to learn about the ocean, including its depth. It carried 181 miles (291 kilometers) of rope.

During their four-year voyage, the Challenger crew collected samples of rocks, mud and animals from many different areas of the ocean. They also found one of the deepest zones, in the western Pacific, the Mariana Trench, which stretches for 1,580 miles (2,540 kilometers).

Pie-Eating Contest, Benefit Bake Sale, Live Music at 2019 Pumpkin Fest

On Oct. 5, hundreds of Wesleyan and local community members celebrated the early fall season at the 16th annual Pumpkin Fest at Long Lane Farm.

Participants were treated to farm tours, crafts, a pie-eating contest, free veggie burgers and cider, prizes, and a baked goods sale benefiting New Horizons Domestic Violence Shelter. Lopii, Iris Olympia, Barry Chernoff, Emcee Elvee, Rebecca Roff, and Skye Hawthorne provided live music throughout the event.

Representatives from Wesleyan’s Office of Sustainability, WesDivest, Bread Salvage, Wesleyan Climate Action Group, the Wesleyan Resource Center, WildWes, Natural History Museum, Sunrise, Outing Club, Wesleyan Refugee Project, Uslac, Veg Out, Real Food Challenge, and the Wesleyan North End Action Team provided information booths at the festival.

The event was cosponsored by Long Lane Farm, the College of the Environment, the Green Fund, and Wesleyan Bon Appétit.

View photos of the event below and on this College of the Environment coexist blog post. (Photos below by Nick Sng ’23 and Simon Duan ’23)

pumpkin fest