Tag Archive for graduate students

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.

Students, Faculty, Alumni Attend American Astronomical Society Meeting

Mark Popinchalk ’13

Roy Kilgard and Mark Popinchalk ’13.

More than 25 Wesleyan affiliates attended the 233rd American Astronomical Society Meeting Jan. 6-10 in Seattle, Wash. All current Wesleyan students who attended presented posters of their research.

Campus attendees included: Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy and professor, integrative sciences; Roy Kilgard, associate professor of the practice in astronomy and associate professor of the practice, integrative sciences; Michael Henderson ’19; Allison Quintana ’19; graduate student Jessica Klusmeyer; graduate student Ismael Mireles; and graduate student Anthony Santini ’18.

Alumni included Hannah Fritze ’18, Aylin Garcia Soto ’18, Prajwal Niraula MA ’18, Amy Steele MA ’14, Nicole Arulanantham MA ’15, Mark Popinchalk ’13, Marshall Johnson ’11, Anna Williams ’09, Ken Rumstay MA ’77, Taft Armandroff ’82, Phil Choi ’95, Anil Seth ’98, Evan Tingle ’08, MA ’09, Diana Windemuth MA ’13, Trevor Dorn-Wallenstein ’15, Clara Moskowitz ’05, Emily Leiner ’10.

Diana Windemuth MA ’13 and Aylin Garcia Soto ’18

Diana Windemuth MA ’13 and Aylin Garcia Soto ’18.

Former graduate student Colin Littlefield, and former post-doctoral researchers Vicki Sarajedini and John Cannon also attended.

In addition, five college students who participated in the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium’s (KNAC) summer Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) program at Wesleyan attended the meeting. Karina Cooper, Sadie Coffin, Aleezah Ali, Katie Chapman, and Diego Garcia worked at Wesleyan’s observatory last summer and were under the direction of Wesleyan faculty and students.

View additional photos of the meeting in this Van Vleck Observatory blog.

5 Students Receive NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium Fellowships, Awards

Two graduate students and three undergraduate students are recipients of Fall 2018 NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC) awards. They are among 39 students from 13 CTSGC academic affiliate institutions to be honored.

NASA CTSGC is a federally mandated grant, internship, and scholarship program that is funded as a part of NASA Education. There are Space Grant Consortia in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Earth and environmental science graduate student Christina Cauley received an $8,000 Graduate Research Fellowship for her project “Chemistry and Biology of Giant Hydrothermal Mounds in Paulina Lake, Oregon.” Her advisor is Joop Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science and Smith Curator of Mineralogy and Petrology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History. Varekamp also is professor of earth and environmental sciences; professor, environmental studies; and professor, Latin American studies.

Astronomy major Hunter Vannier ’20 received a $5,000 Undergraduate Research Fellowship for his project titled “Using Hubble to Look Back at the Sun’s Historical Trajectory Through the Local Interstellar Medium.” Vannier’s advisor is Seth Redfield, chair and associate professor of astronomy. Redfield also is associate professor, integrative sciences, and co-coordinator, planetary science.

Three other students received $1,000 Student Travel Grants, which covered travel expenses to attend the American Astronomical Society Meeting in Seattle, Wash., in January.

At the meeting, Astronomy major Michael Henderson ’19 presented his senior thesis research titled “High Precision Photometry of Faint White Dwarf Stars from K2 Data.” Henderson’s advisor is Seth Redfield.

Astronomy graduate student Ismael Mireles, presented his master’s thesis research on “Searching for planets around the brightest stars in K2.” Mireles’s advisor is Seth Redfield.

And astronomy graduate student Anthony Santini ’18 presented his BA/MA thesis research titled “Determining Fundamental Properties of Galaxies with X-ray Binary Correlations.” Santini’s advisor is Roy Kilgard, associate professor of the practice in astronomy and associate professor of the practice, integrative sciences.

King Coauthors Paper and Is Elected to Chair Research Seminar on Noble Metal Nanoparticles

Melissa King

Melissa King, a PhD student in chemistry, and Michelle Personick, assistant professor of chemistry, are the coauthors of a study titled “Iodide-induced differential control of metal ion reduction rates: synthesis of terraced palladium–copper nanoparticles with dilute bimetallic surfaces,” published in Journal of Materials Chemistry A, August 2018.

In this paper, King and Personick report the use of low concentrations of iodide ions as a means of differentially controlling the reduction rates of a noble metal (palladium) and a non-noble metal (copper). The iodide in this system increases the rate of reduction of palladium ions while concurrently slowing the rate of copper ion reduction, thus providing a degree of control that is not achievable using most other reported means.

In addition, last June, King presented a talk as part of the Gordon Research Seminar on Noble Metal Nanoparticles, a graduate/postdoc meeting that takes place the day before the corresponding Gordon Research Conference. She also was elected to chair the next Gordon Research Seminar on Noble Metal Nanoparticles in two years. King also received an award for her poster at the Gordon Research Conference and gave a 10-minute poster award talk to the Gordon Research Conference audience. With the exception of the poster award talks, all presentations at the Conference portion were invited talks given by faculty.

Case, Hingorani Coauthor Study on DNA Repair

Molecular biology and biochemistry graduate student Brandon Case and Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, are coauthors on a study published in Nucleic Acids Research in October 2018.

The paper, titled “Coordinated protein and DNA conformational changes govern mismatch repair initiation by MutS,” reports new findings on how the Mutator S (MutS) protein repairs mistakes in the DNA sequence, which is essential for maintaining the accuracy of the genetic code.

The collaborative effort from researchers at Wesleyan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University employed single molecule and ensemble kinetic methods to study the mechanism of action of MutS. The outcome is a unified model of coordinated changes in MutS and DNA conformation that enable the protein to recognize errors in DNA and initiate their repair.

The research at Wesleyan was supported by NIH grant R15 GM114743 awarded to Manju Hingorani.

19th Annual Biophysics Retreat Includes Speakers, Poster Sessions

Wesleyan faculty, students, alumni and guests participated in the 19th annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat Sept. 27 at Wadsworth Mansion.

Wesleyan faculty, students, alumni, and guests attended the 19th annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat Sept. 27 at Wadsworth Mansion. The event included a series of speakers, two poster sessions, and a keynote address.

Alison O’Neil, assistant professor of chemistry, spoke on "Investigating the toxicity of SOD1 aggregates in a stem cell-derived model of ALS." Research in the O'Neil lab is focused on understanding the structure-function relationship of proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases, specifically ALS.  Utilizing human stem cells allows us to study the unique cell types associated with disease. 

Alison O’Neil, assistant professor of chemistry, spoke on “Investigating the toxicity of SOD1 aggregates in a stem cell-derived model of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).” ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Research in the O’Neil lab is focused on understanding the structure-function relationship of proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases, specifically ALS.

Graduate Students, Faculty Attend Yeast Genetics Meeting

From the left is Anna Rogers and Lorencia Chigweshe, both graduate students in the Molecular biology and Biochemistry program.

Graduate students Anna Rogers and Lorencia Chigweshe presented their poster at the GSA meeting.

Two Wesleyan graduate students and two faculty members presented posters at the GSA Yeast Genetics and Molecular Biology Meeting held at Stanford University on Aug. 22–26. This meeting, which is held once every two years, is organized by the Genetics Society of America (GSA). The meeting brings together hundreds of scientists making groundbreaking discoveries in the field of genetics and gene regulation using the innovative power of yeast genetics.

Both students received a travel grant through Wesleyan’s Melnick Fund to support travel to the conference.

Lorencia Chigweshe presented a poster titled “Interactions between histone variant H2A.Z and linker histone H1 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae meiosis,” while Anna Rogers presented “The histone variant H2A.Z promotes chromosome condensation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.” Both students are mentored by Scott Holmes, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, whose lab investigates how the processes of chromosome segregation and gene expression are regulated in eukaryotes.

“We had the opportunity to engage with experts in the field of yeast genetics and learn from them and get insight on our own work,” Chigweshe said. “The conference was a great opportunity to appreciate yeast as a powerful tool for understanding genetics in addition to its industrial application in beer and bread-making.”

Amy MacQueen, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, associate editor for Genetics, cochaired a workshop on scientific publishing and also presented a poster titled “Synapsis and recombination unite at the Zip1’s N-terminal tip” while Mike McAlear, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, presented “Adjacent gene co-regulation (AGC) as a strategy for transcriptional control and coupling.” McAlear is also associate professor, integrative sciences, and Holmes is also professor, integrative sciences.

Graduate Students, Faculty to Present Studies at Society for Ethnomusicology’s Annual Meeting

Three Wesleyan music graduate students and two faculty were accepted to present at the Society for Ethnomusicology‘s 2018 Annual Meeting Nov. 15–18 in Albuquerque, N.M.

Bianca Iannitti will present a case study on the queer Indian-American DJ, Bianca Maieli, in order to explore the queer female identity within Desi music and virtual spaces.

Gene Lai, MA ’16, will present a study titled “Disdained at Home Embraced by Motherland: The Revitalized Tamil Folk Drumming Ensemble in Singapore.”

And Douglas Kiman will present a study titled “Mapping Klezmer Music in Contemporary Europe: A Case Study of the Jazz’n Klezmer Festival.” He will also be presenting at the Society for American Music in March on the musical identity of a band, the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars.

In addition, B. “Balu” Balasubrahmaniyan, adjunct associate professor of music, will speak on “Hybridized Instrumentation in Ilayaraja’s Tamil Film Scores: A Quest for Village Identity.” And Kate Galloway, visiting assistant professor of music, will speak on “Stop to Smell the Pixels: A Digital Field Guide to Nonhuman Musicality in Proteus.”

Founded in 1955, the Society for Ethnomusicology is a global, interdisciplinary network of individuals and institutions engaged in the study of music across all cultural contexts and historical periods. The annual meeting will include several presentations, roundtable discussions, a symposium, concerts, an open jam session, and a world music pedagogy workshop and professional development workshop.

Sultan, Baker ’18, Berg ’16 Coauthor Paper on Plant Development

Sonia Sultan, professor of biology and professor, environmental studies, and her former students Brennan Baker BA/MA ’18 and Lars Berg ’16 are the coauthors of a paper published in the August 2018 issue of Frontiers in Plant Science.

The study, “Context-Dependent Developmental Effects of Parental Shade Versus Sun Are Mediated by DNA Methylation,” presents work that Baker completed as a BA/MA student in 2017–18. The article is part of a special Frontiers theme on the emerging area of ecological epigenetics.

In this study, the coauthors compared the development of individual plants when their parents were grown in shade or in full sun. The results show that genetically identical seedlings developed very differently just as a result of this difference in parental conditions.

Baker followed up this finding in several ways, including showing that this ‘neo-Lamarckian’ effect on development was conveyed from parents to offspring through epigenetic regulatory changes to DNA expression rather than changes in the genes themselves.

“Learning how environmental effects in the parent generation can influence offspring via these epigenetic mechanisms is one of the most astonishing and important new areas in biology since it challenges the long-held view that only DNA sequence information could be inherited,” Sultan explained.

Baker will be pursuing his work on transgenerational environmental effects in a different biological context. This fall, he is starting an environmental health PhD program at Columbia University, where he plans to study inherited effects of environmental contaminants on human health. Since graduating from Wesleyan, Berg has held a competitive NIH research internship and is planning to go on to medical school.

In addition, a paper by Baker, Sultan, Maya Lopez-Ichikawa ’18, and Robin Waterman ’19 was an invited submission for a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society that is dedicated to adaptive responses to rapid environmental change. The paper is currently under review for publication.

Wesleyan Group Attends Field Workshop, Gathers Volcano Samples in Italy

Pictured from left, Joop Varekamp, Molly Wagner, Celeste Smith ’19, and Christina Cauley explore Italian lakes while attending the International Summer Meeting on Volcanic Lakes in June.

This summer, three Wesleyan students and one faculty member attended a field workshop in Basilicata, Italy, where they presented research, collected data, and visited an extinct volcano containing two bubbling crater lakes.

The group collected samples from crater lakes Monticchio Piccolo (foreground) and Monticchio Grande.

The International Summer Meeting on Volcanic Lakes, hosted by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior, took place June 25–29 and focused on the theme “Different perspectives and approaches to studying a volcanic lake.” Basilicata is home to the 3,350-foot-high Mount Vulture (pronounced “Vool-tor-eh”), which last erupted 40,000 years ago.

The Wesleyan attendees included Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (E&ES) graduate students Christina Cauley and Molly Wagner; E&ES and environmental studies major Celeste Smith ’19; and Joop Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, professor of environmental studies, professor of earth and environmental sciences, and professor of Latin American studies. Varekamp also is the Smith Curator of Mineralogy and Petrology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History. They joined more than 25 other participants from Italy, Germany, and Hungary.

The meeting consisted of one long day of scientific presentations in a 12th-century abbey (including talks by Smith, Wagner, and Varekamp), two days on crater lakes Monticchio Grande and Monticchio Piccolo collecting in situ data and samples, and a day of culture, with a trip to the nearby ancient town of Matera.

The group also collected materials specifically for Smith’s senior thesis, including water samples for mercury analyses and a 2.5-foot long sediment core from the most active bubbling lake.

After the field meeting, Smith went to the Institute for Ecosystem Studies at Lago Maggiore near the Swiss border to section her core samples, and then went on to Potsdam, Germany, to subsample an existing sediment core from these lakes.

“Celeste’s thesis topic is to obtain mercury degassing records of this dormant volcano over thousands of years, which will help to establish the natural background mercury flux into the ambient world,” Varekamp explained.

Ricci PhD ’14 Awarded Congressional Fellowship

(by Christine Foster)

James Ricci PhD ’14, an assistant professor of mathematics at Daemon College was named a Congressional Fellow. (Photo by Darrell Porter, Daemon College)

James Ricci PhD ’14 was awarded a 2018-2019 Congressional Fellowship. The program is administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in conjunction with The American Mathematical Society.

During this year-long fellowship, Ricci will be paired with either a member of Congress or a congressional committee. Fellows work as special legislative assistants learning about policy creation and contributing their own technical and academic expertise. “They are looking for people who are able to speak clearly and be advocates for STEM education,” says Ricci, who spoke by phone from a salmon fishing boat in Ketchikan, Alaska, where he is working this summer. “I am hopeful that I am all of those things.”

At Wesleyan, Ricci did research on number theory, with a primary focus on the arithmetic theory of quadratic forms. In April 2014 he was chosen as graduate student of the year. Since finishing his PhD, he has been working as an assistant professor of mathematics at Daemen College, near Buffalo, N.Y.

At Daemon, Ricci has worked on a team working to improve retention of students entering with weaker math backgrounds. This included reworking a computer science course he teaches adding in engaging current topics including cybersecurity, cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence, and net neutrality.