Tag Archive for College of Integrative Sciences

Loui Co-Authors Article on Human Creativity and the Brain

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, co-authored a new article published in the December 2017 issue of Brain and Cognition.

The paper is titled, “Jazz Musicians Reveal Role of Expectancy in Human Creativity.” Loui and her colleagues found that within one second of hearing an unexpected chord, there is a world of differences in brain responses between classical and jazz musicians.

Speakers, Poster Sessions at Annual Molecular Biophysics Program Retreat

Wesleyan’s Molecular Biophysics Program hosted its 18th annual retreat Sept. 28 at Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown. Wesleyan affiliated speakers included:

Professor Francis Starr, spoke about DNA junction dynamics and thermodynamics during the 18th annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat.

Professor Francis Starr spoke about DNA junction dynamics and thermodynamics during the 18th annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat.

  • Colin Smith, assistant professor of chemistry, on “An Atomistic View of Protein Dynamics and Allostery;”
  • Meng-Ju Renee Sher, assistant professor of physics, on “Tracking Electron Motions Using Terahertz Spectroscopy;”
  • Kelly Knee, PhD ’07, principle scientist for Pfizer’s Rare Disease Research Unit, on “Protein Folding Chaperones: Molecular Machines for Tricky Problems;”
  • and Francis Starr, professor of physics, director of the College of Integrative Sciences, on “DNA Four-Way Junction Dynamics and Thermodynamics: Lessons from Combining Simulations and Experiments.”

Arthur Palmer, the Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center, delivered the keynote address on “Conformational dynamics in molecular recognition and catalysis: Lessons from ribonuclease H, AlkB, and GCN4.”

The day-long retreat also included two poster sessions, where undergraduates, graduate students and faculty shared their research with their peers and colleagues. The event concluded with a reception.

The Molecular Biophysics Training Program, Chemistry Department, and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department sponsored the event.

Photos of the retreat are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Robinson Writes About the Real Reason Some People Become Addicted to Drugs

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

Writing in The ConversationAssistant Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson looks to the brain to explain the real reason that some people become addicted to drugs.

Robinson, who also is assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, begins by debunking two popular explanations for drug addiction: that compulsive drug use is simply a “bad habit,” and that overcoming the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms is too hard for some addicts.

While pleasure, habits and withdrawal can play a role in drug use, Robinson says, the true reason for addiction can be explained by the psychological differences between “wanting” and “liking.”

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.

Thomas Awarded NSF Grant for Paleoceanographic Research

Ellen Thomas

The availability of sufficient dissolved oxygen in seawater is critical for marine life, and places where oxygen falls below a critical concentration — or “dead zones” — are often associated with mass die-offs of fish, shrimp and other creatures.

With future global warming, the oceans are on course to see progressively less dissolved oxygen available. Scientists currently use often not well-tested computer models to predict the expansion of dead zones, but a team of researchers from Wesleyan, University California Riverside and Syracuse University are hoping to use oceanic sediment samples to better predict where die-offs may occur next.

Their study, titled “Refining Foraminifera I/Ca as a Paleoceanographic Proxy for the Glacial Atlantic Ocean” was funded by a National Science Foundation grant on Aug. 16. The award, worth $423,739, will be awarded to the three universities over three years.

Ellen Thomas, University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, research professor in earth and environmental sciences, will use her share of the funds to support undergraduate student summer research fellowships.

Students Showcase Research at Visualizing Knowledge Exhibition

On May 12, Wesleyan held its first student exhibition to showcase examples of visual knowledge and data visualization from across the campus. To be included, students needed to showcase how they conveyed or established information in a mainly non-verbal form. Cail Daley '18 presented his project titled "Orbital Motion of Gas in Planetary System HD 100546." He presented an animation that shows the orbital velocity of matter around a star changing depending on its distance from the star. If close to the star, matter is predicted to move faster, while lower orbital velocities are expected at a larger radii. 

On May 12, Wesleyan held its first student exhibition to showcase examples of visual knowledge and data visualization across disciplines. To be included, students needed to showcase how they conveyed or established information in a mainly non-verbal form. Cail Daley ’18 presented his project titled “Orbital Motion of Gas in Planetary System HD 100546.” He presented an animation that shows the orbital velocity of matter around a star changing depending on its distance from the star. If close to the star, matter is predicted to move faster, while lower orbital velocities are expected at a larger radii.

New Minor in Design, Engineering and Applied Sciences Announced

Professor of Physics Greg Voth, at right, will teach a new course, CIS 170, Introduction to Engineering and Design, as part of Wesleyan's new Interdisciplinary minor in Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Sciences (IDEAS

Professor of Physics Greg Voth, at right, will teach a new course, CIS 170, Introduction to Engineering and Design, as part of Wesleyan’s new Interdisciplinary minor in Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Sciences.

Amid rising student interest, Wesleyan has announced a new interdisciplinary minor in Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Sciences (IDEAS), beginning in 2017-18. It will be hosted within the College of Integrative Sciences (CIS).

The IDEAS minor will introduce foundational skills in engineering and design, and bring together existing arts, design, and applied science courses to create a more formal structure to guide students interested in these fields.

According to Professor of Physics Francis Starr, a co-proposer of the minor and director of the CIS, “The new minor plays into Wesleyan’s unique capabilities and dovetails with Wesleyan’s commitment to prepare students for the challenges facing society today. Our aim is to provide students with practical design and problem solving skills, coupled with the context to understand the social and cultural implications of their work.” The minor passed the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) in April.

Wesleyan is at the forefront of an emerging approach in academia

Royer Finds Climate Could Soon Hit a State Unseen in 50 Million Years

Dana Royer

Dana Royer

New climate research by Dana Royer, professor and chair of earth and environmental sciences, finds that current carbon dioxide levels are unprecedented in human history and, if they continue on this trajectory “the atmosphere could reach a state unseen in 50 million years” by mid-century, according to an article in Salon.

The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere today are ones that likely haven’t been reached in 3 million years. But if human activities keep committing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at current rates, scientists will have to look a lot deeper into the past for a similar period. The closest analog to the mid-century atmosphere we’re creating would be a period roughly 50 million years ago known as the Eocene, a period when the world was completely different than the present due to extreme heat and oceans that covered a wide swath of currently dry land.

“The early Eocene was much warmer than today: global mean surface temperature was at least 10°C (18°F) warmer than today,” Dana Royer, a paleoclimate researcher at Wesleyan University who co-authored the new research, said. “There was little-to-no permanent ice. Palms and crocodiles inhabited the Canadian Arctic.”

Royer’s paper was published April 4 in Nature Communications and widely covered in the mainstream press. The implications, writes Salon, “are some of the starkest reminders yet that humanity faces a major choice to curtail carbon pollution or risk pushing the climate outside the bounds that have allowed civilization to thrive.”

According to an article in U.S. News & World Report:

 CO2 levels in the atmosphere have varied over millions of years. But fossil fuel use in the last 150 years has boosted levels from 280 parts per million (ppm) before industrialization to nearly 405 ppm in 2016, according to the researchers.

If people don’t halt rising CO2 levels and burn all available fossil fuels, CO2 levels could reach 2,000 ppm by the year 2250, the researchers said. CO2 and other gases act like a blanket, preventing heat from escaping into space. That’s known as the greenhouse effect, the researchers explained.

But the researchers note that CO2 levels are not the only factor in climate change; changes in the amount of incoming light also have an affect, and nuclear reactions in stars like the sun have made them brighter over time. Royer says this interplay is important:

“Up to now it’s been a puzzle as to why, despite the sun’s output having increased slowly over time, scant evidence exists for any similar long-term warming of the climate. Our finding of little change in the net climate forcing offers an explanation for why Earth’s climate has remained relatively stable, and within the bounds suitable for life all this time.”

Royer also is professor of environmental studies, professor of integrative sciences. See more coverage in Science Daily and International Business Times.

Weaver MALS ’75, CAS ’76 to Co-Direct Smithsonian’s Video Game Pioneers Archive

ChristopherWeaverChris Weaver MALS ’75, CAS ’76, visiting professor in the College of Integrative Sciences at Wesleyan, was appointed co-director of the Video Game Pioneers Archive at the Smithsonian Institute’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. This one-of-a-kind initiative will record oral-history interviews with first-generation inventors of the video game industry, creating a multimedia archive that will preserve the evolution of the industry in the words of its founders. The archive will offer scholars and the public the opportunity to better understand the personalities, technologies, and social forces that have driven interactive media to become one of the largest entertainment businesses of all time.

The Lemelson Center became interested in the video game industry while working to acquire the basement laboratory of the late Ralph Baer, considered the father of the video game industry. The Baer family and the Smithsonian wanted to expand on the importance of video games in today’s society so they tapped Weaver, someone with his own remarkable career in the industry and a close friend of Baer, to take the helm as external director, working side-by-side with Arthur Daemmrich, director of the Lemelson Center. This partnership has resulted in the creation of the Video Game Pioneers Archive, a long-term, massive undertaking—and a first for the Smithsonian—made even more unique by the fact that, according to Weaver, “no other industry in the history of technology has ever created anything like this. This archive will be a comprehensive recording of the creation of an industry as told by its founders.”

Thomas Co-Authors 5 Papers in Academic Journals

Ellen Thomas, professor of earth and environmental sciences and University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, recently co-authored five papers in academic journals.

Her first paper, “Jianshuiite in Oceanic Manganese Nodules” co-authored with Jeffery Post and Peter Heaney, appeared within American Mineralogist. Deviating from her usual research, Thomas focused on mineralogy and, in particular, the crystal structure of a rare mineral found in sediments during an ancient counterpart of future global warming.

Thomas co-authored “Variability in Climate and Productivity during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum in the Western Tethys,” with Flavia Boscolo-Galazzo and Luca Giusberti, both of the University of Padova. This paper, more in line with her usual research, examines unicellular organisms of the deep sea floor that suffered extinction due to a prior period of global warming. It appeared in Climate of the Past.

Working once again with Boscolo-Galazzo and Giusberti and several other scholars, Thomas co-authored, “The Planktic Foraminifer Planorotalites in the Tethyan Middle Eocene” in the Journal of Micropaleontology. This paper describes the researchers’ use of stable isotope analysis to distinguish between floating planktonic matter from bottom-dwelling foraminifera. Through this analysis, they discuss environmental changes during a relatively period of global warming that took place between approximately 9 and 40 million years ago.

“Late Paleocene-Middle Eocene Benthic Foraminifera on a Pacific Seamount (Allison Guyot, ODP Site 865):Greenhouse Climate and Superimposed Hyperthermal Events,” appeared in Paleoceanography. It discusses deep-sea faunas during the same period in the article from the paragraph above. The two other authors of the paper were mentored by Thomas and briefly visited Wesleyan while under her supervision.

The final paper, “Oxygen depletion recorded in upper waters of the glacial Southern Ocean,” appeared in Nature Communications. This paper documents Thomas’s collaborative research with several scholars and PhD students on Antarctic environments during the last few ice ages. In particular, their work focuses on benthic foraminifera, and chemical analysis of their shells.

Dierker, Mukerji Honored as Women of Innovation

Lisa Dierker

Lisa Dierker

Lisa Dierker, professor of psychology, director of pilot programs for the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, and Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, professor of integrative sciences, were both honored at the 12th annual Women of Innovation Awards. Presented by the Connecticut Technology Council, the awards celebrate the energy, creativity and success of women and students from Connecticut’s science and technology community.

Both professors were honored in the category of Academic Innovation and Leadership. The celebration was held April 6 in Plantsville, Conn.

Dierker was honored for her work developing a curriculum to introduce students to a passion-driven, project-based course in applied statistics, data analysis and programming. Through a growing network of high schools, community colleges, and universities as well as a massive open online course (MOOC), she is dedicated to creating real access for women and other underserved populations, both locally and across the globe.

Ishita Mukerji

Ishita Mukerji

Mukerji was recognized for her research focused on the study of protein-DNA interactions to understand the mechanisms of gene expression, DNA replication and DNA repair. She previously served as dean of science and mathematics at Wesleyan, where she helped to establish the Wesleyan Math and Science Scholars program and the College of Integrative Sciences.

Loui Studies How Brain Connectivity Reflects Aesthetic Responses to Music

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui

Assistant Professor of Psychology Psyche Loui has long been interested in studying the intersection of music and emotions. In her latest study, published March 10 in Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience, she identified specific connections in the brain between the auditory processing regions and regions for social and emotional processing. The article is titled, “Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to music.”

Loui, who also is assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, has previously studied how music can cause chills, or similar strong physiological reactions in people when listening to music. Together with former thesis student Matt Sachs, she set out to study what was different in the brains of people who experience these music-induced chills compared to those who don’t.

The researchers started by conducting a large online survey with more than 230 participants. From this group, they selected 10 people who reported frequently experiencing chills from music and 10 people who reported not getting chills. They controlled for musical experience, gender and personality differences. Each participant was asked to bring in a few favorite pieces of music to the lab. Since individuals respond differently to music—that is, music that is chill-inducing varies from person to person—the researchers used music provided by one participant as control stimuli for another participant.