Tag Archive for faculty achievements

Wesleyan Media Project’s Research Cited in Senate Committee Hearing

The Wesleyan Media Project’s research was cited by U.S. Senator Angus King of Maine during a hearing April 30 of the Senate Committee on Rules & Administration. The subject of the hearing was “Dollars and Sense: How Undisclosed Money and Post-McCutcheon Campaign Finance Will Affect 2014 and Beyond.” Watch a recording of the webcast here.

The Wesleyan Media Project, directed by Assistant Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler and collaborators at Bowdoin College and Washington State University, works to increase transparency about political advertising. It tracks political ad airings on television and reports in real time about ad sponsors, spending, tone and content. The project’s co-directors submitted written testimony to the Senate committee about growing interest group involvement in elections and how disclosure matters.

Hughes Receives NSF Grant for Research on Planetary Systems

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes

Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, received a grant from the National Science Foundation to support her research on “Dust and Gas in Debris Disks Reveal the Origins of Planetary Systems.” The grant, awarded on April 21, is worth $532,943.

Hughes’ research focuses on understanding the formation and evolution of planetary systems.  She particularly studies the huge disks of gas and dust surrounding a young star, which can give insight into how and when a star planet might form. The disk is made up of  “junk” left over from the star’s formation.

The main technique Hughes uses to observe these circumstellar disks involves collecting radio waves. Invisible to the human eye, radio light allows astronomers to peer into dense dust clouds and trace the motions of small molecules.

Read more about Hughes’ research on planetary system formation in these past articles:

http://newsletter.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2014/03/06/hughesscience/
http://newsletter.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2013/05/26/hughes/

Oliver Honored with NIH Award for Protein Translocation Research

Don Oliver

Don Oliver

Professor Don Oliver received a three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) (R15) for his research titled “Mechanism of SecA-dependent protein translocation.” The grant, worth $374,148, was awarded on April 15.

Oliver is the Daniel Ayres Professor of Biology and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Oliver studies how proteins are targeted to and transported across biological membranes utilizing bacteria as a simple model system.”The current genetic and biochemical studies are designed to elucidate a molecular motor protein, SecA ATPase, that drives proteins through a universally conserved protein-conducting channel by a largely unknown molecular mechanism,” he said.  “Clarification of the transport mechanism by this motor and its interplay with the channel is essential for understanding comparable protein transport systems in higher cells.”

In addition, such studies should allow for the development of novel antibacterial agents against SecA in order to combat the spread of multi-drug resistant bacterial pathogens.

The grant funds will be utilized to support two Ph.D. Students, a BA/MA fifth-year student, and four undergraduate research students that comprise of Oliver’s research group.

Shapiro Named Distinguished Literary Translator

Norman Shapiro

Norman Shapiro

Academic Affairs has named Norman Shapiro, professor of romance languages, as the university’s Distinguished Literary Translator. Shapiro is one of the country’s leading contemporary translators of French. He holds a BA, MA and Ph.D. from Harvard University, and, as Fulbright scholar, the Diplôme de Langue et Lettres Françaises from the Université d’Aix-Marseille.

At Wesleyan, Shapiro teaches courses in French theater, poetry, Black Francophone literature and literary translation.

His many published volumes span the centuries, medieval to modern, and the genres poetry, novel and theater. His book, The Complete Fables of Jean de La Fontaine is the recipient of the American Translators Association’s Lewis Galantière Award.

Shapiro is a member of the Academy of American Poets and an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de la République Francaise.

To learn more about Shapiro and his publications, see the May 2014 Arts & Humanities Newsletter.

Taylor Keynote at Undergraduate Research Symposium

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, delivered the keynote address at the 16th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, hosted by the School of Natural Sciences of Fairleigh Dickinson University on April 25.

Taylor spoke on “Alternative Energy Sources: Enzymology That Is Essential for Making Lignin.”
At Wesleyan, Taylor is exploring the enzymology that is essential for making Lignin a viable biomass source for production of energy and as a commodity chemical feedstock.

Faculty Writing Group Meets for Encouragement, Goal of Being Published

The Wesleyan Faculty Writing Group meets frequently to work on independent writing projects in a group atmosphere. Pictured at a March meeting is, clockwise from left, Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior; Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior; Mariah Schug, visiting assistant professor of psychology; Sarah Wiliarty, associate professor of government, director of the Public Affairs Center; Lauren Caldwell, assistant professor of classical studies; and Anna Shusterman, assistant professor of psychology.

The Wesleyan Faculty Writing Group meets frequently to work on independent writing projects in a group atmosphere. Pictured at a March meeting is, clockwise from left, Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior; Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior; Mariah Schug, visiting assistant professor of psychology; Sarah Wiliarty, associate professor of government, director of the Public Affairs Center; Lauren Caldwell, assistant professor of classical studies; and Anna Shusterman, assistant professor of psychology.

Once a week, a group of Wesleyan faculty gather to work on individual projects. Although they come from different departments – psychology, classical studies, government, among others – they’re all working towards the same goal: to write, be published, and celebrate each others’ accomplishments.

The Wesleyan Faculty Writing Group, founded in 2010, provides an opportunity for faculty to come sit in a shared space and work on any writing projects they are pursuing. Participants are currently working on book proposals, book manuscripts, articles, reviews, grant and fellowship applications and op-eds.

“All of us have found that the occasional change of scene provided by the Writing Group – just moving outside our individual offices for a few hours once a week – can provide a welcome boost to productivity,” said Lauren Caldwell, assistant professor of classical studies.

Caldwell, who considers herself one of the group’s “regulars,” is using the group time to work on a forthcoming book, Roman Girlhood and the Fashioning of Femininity, and a book review of Susan Mattern’s The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire. She also wrote an op-ed published in The Hartford Courant

“The group also has allowed us to meet faculty outside our departments and divisions and to gain a real appreciation for the breadth of faculty research across the university,” she said.

In the past few years, Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, has had papers published in several journals including Cognitive Development, the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General and Current Biology. She is now using writing group time to work on additional journal articles and a grant proposal. She credits the writing group for helping “in some way with everything” she’s published during this time.

“For me, it’s really helpful to have a quiet, dedicated space and time for writing without distraction,” Barth said. “The group members keep each other on task well. Interruptions are minimized, and that is a lot harder to impose when you are by yourself, given the many other personal and professional tasks that always need to be done.”

Mariah Schug, visiting assistant professor of psychology, also had papers published in Cognitive Development and an op-ed on same-sex marriage in The Hartford Courant while taking part in the writing group. Schug also used the group time to focus on two grant proposals she submitted this semester.

“The breaks can be very isolating for faculty. We find that working together, instead of separately in our own offices, helps us to stay focused and motivated over the breaks. We have all found the group to improve our productivity.”

The group meets at various locations on campus including a conference table in the Judd Hall Lounge, the conference room the Public Affairs Center, or in a classroom in the Allbritton Center. In 2013, the group acquired its own printer and coffee maker, “making us an official group,” Caldwell said.

Wherever the group works, they maintain a quiet atmosphere and occasionally consult with each other about writing-related issues.But unlike a writing workshop, the Writing Group does not present their work to colleagues for feedback. Participation isn’t mandatory, and faculty choose to attend when they can.

The group currently meets about once a week and meets daily throughout the summer.

For more information email Lauren Caldwell.

Kuenzli to Research European Artist through Learned Societies Fellowship

Katherine Kuenzli, associate professor of art and art history.

Katherine Kuenzli, associate professor of art and art history.

Associate Professor of Art and Art History Katherine Kuenzli has won a prestigious American Council of Learned Societies fellowship for next year. The award will support her work on Henry van de Velde, a European artist whose aesthetic helped shape modernism.

The fellowship – one of 65 awarded this year to scholars in the humanities and humanistic social sciences – provides salary replacement for faculty who are embarking on six to 12 months of full-time research and writing.

“I am thrilled to have the support for and acknowledgement of my work,” Kuenzli said. “I began (the project) in 2009 and will devote next year to completing a full draft of a book manuscript – having the energy and train of thought will be essential.”

She said the project, “Designing Modernsim: Henry van de Velde from Neo-Impressionism to the Bauhaus emerged out of her first book, on “intimate modernism” in Paris in the 1980s. While that book examined paintings and prints artists created for private homes, theater stages, and street corners, Kuenzli’s new work broadens that scope to include not just painting, but also the applied arts and architecture. She’s studying the internationalization of art around 1900 and attempts to broaden the public for art, while maintaining a high level of formal and intellectual sophistication. The book uncovers a forgotten chapter in the emergence of abstraction, which has been understood as painting-specific; she hopes to demonstrate how “abstract aesthetics emerged out of an attempt to coordinate the arts, and to unify art and life.”

Matthew Goldfeder, director of the ACLS fellowship programs, said that this year’s fellows were “chosen for their potential to create new knowledge that will improve our understanding of the world and its diverse cultures and societies.”

The fellows represent more than 50 colleges and universities and an array of disciplines, including music, philosophy, art history and sociology. More than 1,000 applications were received for this year’s fellowship cycle.

Kuenzli’s project on van de Velde will explore how the painter, designer and architect – who worked in Belgium, France and Germany in the decades before WWI – developed an abstract formal vocabulary that proved seminal to both painterly modernism and an activist, engaged avant-garde.

Physics’ Kottos Develops an Innovative Power Limiter

Tsampikos Kottos, the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of Physics is developing a power limiter which may protect the human eye from radiation.

Tsampikos Kottos, the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of Physics, is developing a reusable power limiter that will protect sensors from radiation without being destroyed in the process.

The U.S. Air Force has taken a keen interest in the recent work of Tsampikos Kottos, the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of Physics. Kottos, along with Graduate Research Assistant Eleana Makri, Hamidreza Ramezani Ph.D. ’13 (now a postdoc at U.C. Berkeley) and Dr. Ilya Vitebskiy (AFRL/Ohio), has come up with a theoretical way to build a more effective, reusable power limiter.

Generally speaking, the function of a power limiter is to protect a sensor  — be it the human eye, an antenna, or other sensitive equipment — from high-intensity radiation, like that generated by high-power lasers.

Kottos, Makri, Ramezani and Vitebskiy published a paper titled “Non-Linear Localized Modes Give Rise to a Reflective Optical Limiter” [Phys. Rev. A 89, 031802(R) (2014)] that was highlighted in Washington, D.C. at the spring review meeting of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) as one of the main research achievements in electromagnetics of 2014 that can potentially benefit the U.S. Air Force. Now, with the Air Force’s help, Kottos is taking the necessary steps to make the project become a reality.

Generally speaking, there are two categories of limiters —  dynamic and passive. These new limiters are of the passive variety.

Tsampikos Kottos is working with Professor of Physics Fred Ellis on a sensor experiment.

Tsampikos Kottos is working with Professor of Physics Fred Ellis on a related acoustical experiment.

“Dynamic limiters are very slow,” explained Kottos. “They consist of many parts, and then these parts have to communicate with each other. So these are not very good. Passive limiters perform the limiting action —  the filtering of the high power —  based on the intrinsic properties of the materials.”

So, passive limiters are the way to go.

When striving to produce better passive limiter components, one can synthesize new materials (which Wes is not currently equipped to do on-site), or one can rely on existing materials and try to design or propose geometries that will improve the efficiency of existing materials.

Since the dawn of lasers in the 1960s, the standard filtering protection has been based on the use of what are called sacrificial limiters. When high-intensity light passes through a sacrificial limiter, the materials absorb the energy, heat up and melt, becoming opaque. The light is blocked and the sensor is protected, but the limiter is destroyed and must be swapped out like a burnt lightbulb. This is less than ideal, as it’s expensive and time-consuming to replace.

A power limiter consisting of a non-linear lossy layer (blue layer) embedded in a Bragg grating (white and orange layers) allows for (a) a transmission of a low intensity beam while (b) it completely reflects a high intensity beam without any absorption.

A power limiter consisting of a non-linear lossy layer (blue layer) embedded in a Bragg grating (white and orange layers) allows for (a) a transmission of a low intensity beam while (b) it completely reflects a high intensity beam without any absorption.

“We want to propose a clever limiter which is not going to sacrifice itself in order to save the sensor on the other side,” Kottos said. “What we are proposing is to create two stacks of alternate layers, A and B. This is what people usually call a Bragg mirror. Such a structure creates a frequency window for which light is completely reflected irrespective of its intensity. This solves one part of the problem but it creates another one. Namely, we want ‘non-harmful,’ low-intensity light to be transmitted. How can we achieve this? Well, the simple way is by creating a ‘bridge.’ But the bridge has to be clever. It must allow low intensity light to pass and block high intensity light. One way to do this is to make sure that the bridge will collapse if high intensity light goes through.”

Kottos’ new work involves placing a defect layer of dissipative nonlinearity (“the bridge”) in the middle of the Bragg mirror. The nonlinear properties of the materials increase dissipation for high light intensities. Strange as it sounds, losses (dissipation) can rescue the limiter (bridge) from high power light and reflect the energy into space.

“To understand this we need to think of how three oscillators coupled with springs — with the middle one having friction (the dissipation layer) — will behave when energy is pumped into the system. Say the left one is excited, displacing it from the equilibrium position. Then energy will move from the left one to the right one via the spring and then will continue to the third via the second spring that connects the last two together. Via this process, some energy will be turned to heat via the friction of the middle oscillator. Now let’s further increase the friction in the middle, which in optics is achieved via the dissipative nonlinear mechanism when incident power is increased. Obviously the process will be repeated, but now more energy will be radiated as heat since the friction in the middle is higher. But what will happen if the friction in the middle is huge, corresponding to high incident power in optics which will trigger high dissipative nonlinearities?”

The intuitive prediction is that friction-generated heat will burn the middle oscillator. But students in Kottos’ “Waves and Oscillations” course would predict that a huge friction will turn the middle oscillator into an immovable wall, neutralizing the friction and reflecting all the energy back without letting it pass to the third oscillator. And this is exactly the mechanism Kottos and co. are exploring, but in the optics realm.

“We knew this principle since centuries ago — it’s called impedance mismatching,” Kottos said. “The more you create an absorber, the more the energy that’s not absorbed but reflected back. I know that’s an oxymoron, but this is how it happens. The reason that we did not use this property up to now is rather psychological. In most cases we strive to ‘match’ things and we are used to this way of thinking. In this specific case we thought the other way around.”

The experimental realizations of these new theoretical optical limiters are currently being investigated at two U.S. labs. With time, the Wes group hopes to continue refining its proposal to further increase the limiters’ effectiveness. A further step down the road is to implement the same idea acoustically.

“I am hopeful that the experimental group of Professor Fred Ellis at Wes will be able to demonstrate the applicability of this idea in acoustics,” said Kottos. “Discussions along this line of research are in progress.”

Roth to be Honored for His Commitment to Diversifying Higher Education

In recognition of Wesleyan’s commitment to equity and inclusion, A Better Chance Foundation will present President Michael Roth with its 2014 Benjamin E. Mays Award.

Named for the famed civil rights pioneer, the Mays award is presented annually to a leader in education who individually and with their institution demonstrate a clear commitment to diversifying higher education.

“I’m deeply honored to be recognized by A Better Chance,” Roth said. “The Wesleyan community has been enriched by the students who come to us through the foundation.”

The foundation’s mission is to increase substantially the number of well-educated young people of color capable of assuming positions of responsibility and leadership in American society. The oldest national organization of its kind, ABC annually recruits, refers and supports about 500 scholars in grades 6-12 at more than 300 member schools in 27 states. Many of these scholars go on to elite universities.

Every year, A Better Chance recognizes its top Scholars and honors leaders in the community who are committed to promoting education and diversity.

Every year, A Better Chance honors leaders in the community who are committed to promoting education and diversity.

Wesleyan has been one of A Better Chance’s strongest college partners, with more than 250 A Better Chance Alumni matriculated over the past 50 years, more than nearly any other American university.

“Our work continues toward greater diversity and a more inclusive and equitable residential college experience,” Roth said. “And I know that with the help of A Better Chance and other partner groups, we’ll get closer to our goal every year.”

Roth will accept the award in New York on June 20.

Weil Delivers Keynote at Animal Studies Conference in Chicago

Kari Weil

Kari Weil

Kari Weil, University Professor of Letters, delivered a keynote address on “Animal Studies: The Ends of Empathy and Beginnings of Reading” at a “Why do Animal Studies?” conference April 3-4 at the University of Chicago.

During the conference, scholars discussed “What is it that draws a multiplicity of voices into this conversation, and how can they productively engage with one another? Why has this field of inquiry gained such traction in recent decades? How is Animal Studies taking shape as a field that overlaps multiple discourses and disciplines, and what opportunities or difficulties arise as a result? How do different methodologies clarify or substantiate one another, fill knowledge gaps, and illuminate unknown aspects of individual areas of interest?”

Weil has published widely on literary representations of gender, feminist theory, and, more recently, on theories and representations of animal otherness. She recently co-edited a special issue of Hypatia titled, Animal Others (2012) and she is the author of  Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now (2012) and Androgyny and the Denial of Difference (1992). Her current project is tentatively titled,  ‘The Most Beautiful Conquest of Man’ ?: Horses and Other Animal Pursuits in 19-Century France.

Grossman Leads Public Lecture on Economic Policy Disasters in Germany

Professor of Economics Richard Grossman gave a public lecture about his book, WRONG: Nine Economic Policy Disasters and What We Can Learn From Themat the Center for Economic Studies/Institute for Economic Research at Munich University on April 7. He delivered the talk in German. More information about the Munich Seminars is here. The book was published in November 2013 by Oxford University Press.

A video of the lecture is available here.

Roberts Speaks on Late Latin Poetry, Song

Michael Roberts, professor and chair of the Classical Studies Department, presented a paper titled, “Venantius Fortunatus on Poetry and Song,” at the annual meeting of the International Society for Late Antique Literary Studies at Brown University, Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2013. He also spoke at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign on March 21 on “Pompatic Poetics: Claudian’s Epithalamium for Honorius and Maria and Some Features of Late Latin Poetry.”

Roberts also is the Robert Rich Professor of Latin and professor of medieval studies.