Tag Archive for graduate students

Students, Alumni to Make Presentations at Geological Society of America Meeting

Wesleyan students, graduate students, and recent alumni will present research posters during the annual Geological Society of America meeting Oct. 26–30. The virtual event will allow for a five-minute presentation followed by a five-minute period to answer questions.

poster

Earth and environmental sciences graduate student Yu Kai Tan ’20 and Andy (Dick Yee) Tan ’21 will present their poster, titled “Freshwater Mussels in North America: Museum Collections and Pre-Industrial Biogeography,” at 5:15 p.m. Oct. 29. Their advisors are Ann Burke, professor of biology, and Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History, and University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences. Listen to the presentation in advance online here.

PhD Candidate Drum Discusses Biology Research during Graduate Speaker Series

Drum

Zachary Drum, a PhD candidate in biology, delivered the first 2020–21 Graduate Speaker Series talk on Oct. 2 through Zoom. Drum’s advisor is Joseph Coolon, assistant professor of biology. The Coolon Lab uses genetic and genomic tools to better understand how insects evolve to form a resistance to pesticides, damaging $10 billion in crops annually.

Zachary Drum, a PhD candidate in biology, delivered the first 2020-21 Graduate Speaker Series talk on Oct. 2 through Zoom. Titled "The Forbidden Fruit: How Drosophila sechellia came to Love Morinda citrifolia," Drum's research explores how a fruit fly species in Africa is able to eat a poisonous fruit that flies in the the rest of the world would find toxic.

Titled “The Forbidden Fruit: How Drosophila sechellia came to Love Morinda citrifolia,” Drum’s research explores how a fruit fly species in Seychelles is able to eat a poisonous fruit (noni) that flies in the rest of the world would find toxic. Ripe noni fruit contains the fatty acid volatiles octanoic acid and hexanoic acid, which are poisonous to other Drosophila species. “The host fruit has these chemicals that they [sechellia] like, and other flies don’t. They’re attracted and resistant to the fatty acid volatiles in the noni fruit,” Drum explained. “So we’re trying to build this puzzle. How does it resist these volatiles?” (Slide show photo by Charlotte Freeland)

drum

Drum explained the two types of Drosophila sensory organs used for smelling, based on past research.

Graduate Speaker Series events are open to the entire Wesleyan community.

Graduate Speaker Series events are open to the entire Wesleyan community.

Music Graduate Students Share Recent Projects

On Sept. 23, two students from the Music Department kicked off the 2020–21 Wesleyan Music Graduate Series, which is being hosted on YouTube this semester. Hosted by Wesleyan’s Music graduate students, this series showcases the performance, compositional, and research capabilities of Wesleyan graduate music students, alumni, and other Wesleyan affiliates. Panels will be streamed in six weekly installments on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. during September and October 2020.

Wheeler

Stuart Wheeler, a second-year MA student, presented a talk and performance of his composition “Mr. Bernard Shaw from On Vivisection.” The song, which can be performed by 1–13 singers, is based on a poem Wheeler wrote using source text from On Vivisection. The content focuses on Shaw’s political opposition to the practice of vivisection in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Wheeler's construction of the text is drawn heavily from the composer, performance artist, and poet Jackson Mac Low.  "There's specific methods of selection and rearrangement of words in the text, and these methods are both nonintentional and completely pre-determined," Wheeler said. "I'm making no intentional decisions on the granular level, I'm simply developing my own system for selecting and rearranging words from the source text."

Wheeler’s construction of the text is drawn heavily from the composer, performance artist, and poet Jackson Mac Low. “There are specific methods of selection and rearrangement of words in the text, and these methods are both nonintentional and completely predetermined,” Wheeler said. “I’m making no intentional decisions on the granular level, I’m simply developing my own system for selecting and rearranging words from the source text.” Wheeler also explained that his piece is built around a single chord that forms the harmonic architecture for the piece.

Bianca

Bianca Iannitti MA ’19, a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology, presented an an autoethnographic case study of the 2018 song Italiana by Fedez and J-Ax. Iannitti, who is fluent in Italian, recalled overhearing the song during a trip to Italy in 2018. “Italiana became an immediate success and is considered Italy’s top summer hit of 2018,” she said. “It was an integral part of my local surroundings. I would hear it in passing on the radio, in retail stores, local bars, or even watching MTV with my cousins.”

video

Italiana’s chorus serves as a double entendre, to highlight the tourism, and popularity, and beauty of the Italian summer, while also revealing the cracks within this often romanticized portrayal of the country,” Iannitti said. “Although there are references to the summer weather, the Italian beachside, and the beautiful people, there also lies this double meaning, or added layer, which serves as a political critique against the country’s immigration policy as well as the treatment toward undocumented citizens.”

pizza

Iannitti pointed out several pop cultural references and cultural stereotypes in the song and video, including the use of hand gestures, the love of pizza and spaghetti, and a laid-back mindset. “The song’s Italian music style, lyrical content, and music video ultimately exemplifies the complexity of the Italian culture and its identity on a local, national, and international scale,” she said. (Image: Italiana by Fedez and J-Ax.)

Graduate Student McNeill Speaks on the Social, Cultural Aspects of the Black New Orleans Brass Band

graduate student speaker

As part of Wesleyan’s Graduate Speaker Series, Marvin McNeill, a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology, spoke about “Structures of Feeling and the Significance of Affectivity in the Social and Cultural Survivals of the Black New Orleans Brass Band,” on Feb. 7 in Exley Science Center.

McNeil explained how the institution of the Black New Orleans brass band represents a genealogic continuum that extends back to the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to the Louisiana Territory. "This continuum connects a violent past, marked by physical abuse of black bodies in the form of institutionalized slavery, to a violent present confounded by systemic poverty, social injustice, and police brutality," he said. In spite of extreme oppression, the brass band community continues to enrich and enliven both local communities through their iconic musical offerings.

McNeill explained how the institution of the Black New Orleans brass band represents a genealogic continuum that extends back to the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to the Louisiana Territory. “This continuum connects a violent past, marked by physical abuse of black bodies in the form of institutionalized slavery, to a violent present confounded by systemic poverty, social injustice, and police brutality,” he said. “In spite of extreme oppression, the brass band community continues to enrich and enliven both local communities through their iconic musical offerings.”

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.

Karimi Shares Enzyme Research during Graduate Speaker Series

graduate student

Neuroscience and biology BA/MA graduate student Helen Karimi presented a Graduate Speaker Series talk on Nov. 1.

On Nov. 1, neuroscience and biology BA/MA graduate student Helen Karimi presented a Graduate Speaker Series talk titled “All good things come in pairs: Uncovering the activity of BcnI through co-localization microscopy.”

Karimi’s talk focused on restriction endonucleases (REases), a large family of enzymes that make sequence-specific cuts in DNA. As her abstract details, type IIP REases usually cleave sequences as homodimers. However, BcnI, an enzyme belonging to this subtype, acts in a different way. Karimi’s work aims to observe the fine details of BcnI’s cleavage mechanism by using Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy, an imaging technique in which only molecules within a few hundred nanometers of a glass surface are illuminated.

Paper on Bacteria Adhesion Named “Editor’s Pick” by Journal of Biological Chemistry

Rich Olson

Rich Olson

Katherine Kaus PhD '18

Katherine Kaus

A paper written by Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Rich Olson and his former students was designated as an “Editor’s Pick” by the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Only 2% of the approximately 6,600 papers published each year in the journal receive this designation.

Titled “The 1.9 Å crystal structure of the extracellular matrix protein Bap1 from Vibrio cholerae provides insights into bacterial biofilm adhesion,” the paper, published on Oct. 4, explores how bacteria “glues” itself to surfaces in the environment. The co-authors include Alison Biester ’19, Ethan Chupp ’18, Jianyi Lu ’17, Charlie Visudharomn ’17 and Katherine Kaus PhD ’18. Kaus, who is first author on the paper, is featured in a special profile on the JBC website.

Bacteria commonly form structures called biofilms, which are communities of living cells encapsulated by a three-dimensional matrix of secreted proteins, nucleic acids, and carbohydrates. Biofilms are a defense mechanism against environmental challenges and play a role in many pathogenic diseases.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

1. The Nation: “Edward Snowden Deserves to Be Tried by a Jury of His Peers, Just Like Everyone Else”

In this op-ed, Associate Professor of Government Sonali Chakravarti argues against the Justice Department’s decision to deny Edward Snowden’s request for a jury trial. She contends that in Snowden’s case, in which he is accused of leaking classified information from the National Security Administration in 2013, a jury trial “is not only a viable alternative to a hearing before a judge; rather, given the nature of the charges—where the defendant has supposedly acted to protect the people from the very state that would charge him with a crime—jury deliberation is the proper forum for discussion of appropriate punishment and is the bulwark against the potential misconduct of the state.”

2. Transitions Online: “Stuck in the Middle”

Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, professor of government, and Dmytro Babachanakh ’20 explore the history of U.S. involvement in Ukraine, and call upon U.S. leaders of both parties to stop “treating lesser powers as political instruments.”

3. Tulsa World: “Save the Little Grouse on the Prairie”

Alex Harold ’20 is the author of this op-ed that calls for the lesser prairie chicken to be placed on the endangered species list to get the protections it desperately needs, as over 90 percent of its habitat has been degraded or destroyed. While many haven’t heard of this bird, Harold explains that it is an “indicator species” that “reflect(s) the health of the entire prairie ecosystem.” Harold wrote the op-ed as an assignment in E&ES 399, Calderwood Seminar in Environmental Science Journalism, taught by Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Suzanne O’Connell, this semester. The Calderwood Seminars are offered in a variety of disciplines to teach students how to effectively communicate academic knowledge to the public. Read more here.

Wesleyan Welcomes 60 New Graduate Students

graduate students

Wesleyan welcomes 162 graduate students to campus this fall, of which 60 are new.

Of these:

  • 23 new students are enrolled in the BA/MA programs in biology, chemistry, computer science, molecular biology and biochemistry, neuroscience and behavior, physics, and psychology.
  • 13 new students are enrolled in a two-year MA program in astronomy, earth and environmental sciences, and music.

Paper by Robinson, Alumni Published in Behavioural Brain Research

Robinson Lab

A paper coauthored by several members of the Robinson Lab is published in the Oct. 3 issue of Behavioural Brain Research, Volume 371.

The coauthors include Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology; graduate student Charlotte Freeland, Callie Clibanoff ’19, Anna Knes ’19, John Cote ’19, and Trinity Russell ’17.

The flashing lights and celebratory sounds that dominate slot-machine gambling are believed to promote engagement and motivation to keep playing. However, these cues are often presented in the absence of reward, and previous research suggests that this reward uncertainty, which degrades their predictive value, also increases their incentive value. In their paper titled “Distinguishing between predictive and incentive value of uncertain gambling-like cues in a Pavlovian autoshaping task,” the researchers used a process called autoshaping to tease apart the impact of reward uncertainty on the predictive and incentive value of a conditioned stimulus using serial cues.

The Robinson Lab’s research program seeks to identify how intense incentive motivations are produced by brain systems, both naturally in extreme cases and less naturally, but still powerfully, in pathological addictions. Their areas of interest include the role of cues in diet-induced obesity, the impact of uncertainty in gambling, and how cues produce craving in drug addiction.

Varekamp Presents Papers at Volcanic Lakes Meeting in New Zealand, Receives Award

Johan (Joop) Varekamp

Joop Varekamp

Johan (Joop) Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, presented three papers during the Commission on Volcanic Lakes (CVL) program held March 18-20 in Taupo, New Zealand. The papers were coauthored by Wesleyan students, graduate students, recent alumni, and faculty.

The CVL is a scientific, nonprofit organization of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI), connecting researchers that seek to understand how volcanic lakes relate to volcanic activity and their hazards.

Varekamp, who also is the Smith Curator of Mineralogy and Petrology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History and professor of earth and environmental studies, is a former leader of the CVL organization. In addition to delivering a keynote address, Varekamp was named the recipient of the 2019 IAVCEI Kusakabe Award.

Case, Hingorani Coauthor Study on Repair of DNA Damaged by Sunlight

Brandon Case

Molecular biology and biochemistry graduate student Brandon Case and Professor Manju Hingorani are coauthors of a study published in Nucleic Acids Research in March 2019.

The paper, titled “The ATPase mechanism of UvrA2 reveals the distinct roles of proximal and distal ATPase sites in nucleotide excision repair,” reports new findings on how the UvrA2 protein uses its ATPase activity to probe DNA for damage lesions, such as those caused by UV radiation, and initiate nucleotide excision repair (NER). This DNA repair process corrects tens of thousands of lesions introduced daily into the human genome by UV rays and chemical agents.