Tag Archive for graduate students

Graduate Students Learn about Wesleyan, Mingle at Picnic Lunch

Wesleyan’s graduate students participated in New Graduate Orientation Sept. 1-2 in Woodhead Lounge. The orientation included a meet and greet with each other and faculty members, tours of campus and

Wesleyan’s graduate students gathered for a picnic lunch Sept. 1 behind Exley Science Center.

Wesleyan’s graduate students participated in New Graduate Orientation Sept. 1-2 in Woodhead Lounge. The orientation included a meet and greet with each other and faculty members, tours of campus and the Office of Graduate Student Services, a session on graduate pedagogy, a chemical hygiene/lab safety training for science students, and a picnic lunch.

Wesleyan has 11 PhD candidates in the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and Physics; 13 MA students in Astronomy, E&ES and Music; and 18 BA/MAs who received a Wesleyan BA in May 2015 and are staying for one additional year to earn an MA. The graduate students come from the U.S., Iran, Poland, Mexico, Thailand, Africa and Hong Kong.

An additional nine foreign language teaching assistants come from Italy, Spain, France, Japan, China, South Korea and Lebanon. Wesleyan also has one German exchange student and two writing fellows with Wesleyan BA degrees.

Graduate Student Factor Studies Planet Formation Around a Young Star

Sam Factor, a graduate student in astronomy, at the Submillimeter Array, located on Mauna Kea in Hawai'i in March 2015.

Sam Factor, a graduate student in astronomy, at the Submillimeter Array, located on Mauna Kea in Hawai’i in March 2015.

#THISISWHY
In this News @ Wesleyan story, we speak with Sam Factor ’14, a graduate student in astronomy.

Q: Sam, congratulations on completing your master’s thesis in astronomy! We understand you took your first astronomy class in the fall of your senior year at Wesleyan. What was your undergraduate major and how did your late-developing interest in astronomy come about?

A: Thank you very much! As an undergrad, I majored in physics and computer science. During the fall of my senior year I took Introductory Astronomy (ASTR 155). I signed up for the course mainly because I wanted an interesting and relatively easy course to fill out my schedule. I had been interested in astronomy since I was very young, but had never taken a formal class. I absolutely loved the class and decided to apply to the BA/MA program.

Q: How and when did you decide to stay on at Wesleyan to pursue a master’s degree in astronomy?

A: I actually decided to apply to the BA/MA program only a few weeks before the application was due!

Taylor’s Papers Published in Molecular Biosciences, Biochemistry Journals

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, has co-authored a paper published in FEBS Letters, an international journal established for the rapid publication of final short reports in the fields of molecular biosciences.

The paper, which is an expansion of her lab’s work on the enzyme Heptosyltransferase I, is titled “Cloning and Characterization of the Escherichia coli Heptosyltransferase III: Exploring Substrate Specificity in Lipopolysaccharide Core Biosynthesis,” The paper is co-authored by her former graduate student Jagadesh Mudapaka. FEBS Letters is published by Elsevier on behalf of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies.

Taylor also is the co-author of “Improving Alternate Lignin Catabolite Utilization of LigAB from Sphingobium sp. strain SYK-6 through Site Directed Mutagenesis,” published in Process Biochemistry, June 2015. The work in this paper describes molecular engineering of the enzyme LigAB to be better able to metabolize compounds derived from Lignin. Co-authors include Kevin Barry, PhD ’15; Erin Cohn ’15 and Abraham Ngu ’13.

Taylor presented her research “Thoughts about Adenosine: Efforts in Drug Discovery of Nucleoside Utilizing Enzymes” at the Gordon Research Conference: Nucleosides, Nucleotides and Oligonucleotides in July. Her talk described the work she is performing to help in drug discovery for two enzymes from E. coli, Heptosyltransferase I and the TrmD tRNA methyltransferase, and one human enzyme, p300 histone acetyl transferase.

“Our work in these systems involves computational modeling of interactions between small molecules and the enzymes, to help design new compounds with medical applications,” Taylor explained.

Grad Student Ranasinghe Speaks on Computational Chemistry

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Duminda Ranasinghe, a Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry, spoke April 16 in Exley in the fourth event of the Graduate Student Speaker Series. (Photos by Hannah Norman ’16.)

Ranasinghe gave a talk titled “Computational Chemistry: Chemistry Without Chemical.”

Ranasinghe gave a talk titled “Computational Chemistry: Chemistry Without Chemical.”

Computational chemistry uses quantum mechanics to predict reactions and molecular properties.

Computational chemistry uses quantum mechanics to predict reactions and molecular properties.

Over the past decade, computational chemistry has become popular with chemists as a tool to explore reactions and molecules. At Wesleyan, researchers are making reliable computational methods, which are accurate and faster than what is currently available.

Over the past decade, computational chemistry has become popular with chemists as a tool to explore reactions and molecules. At Wesleyan, researchers are making reliable computational methods, which are accurate and faster than what is currently available.

Othon, Taylor Students Published in Physical Chemistry Letters

Christina Othon and Erika Taylor, along with physics graduate student Nimesh Shukla, Lee Chen ’15, Inha Cho ’15 and Erin Cohn ’15, are the co-authors of a paper titled “Sucralose Destabilization of Protein Structure” published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, March 2015. Othon is assistant professor of physics and was PI on the paper. Taylor is assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies.

Sucralose is a commonly employed artificial sweetener that behaves very differently than its natural disaccharide counterpart, sucrose, in terms of its interaction with biomolecules. This research suggests that people may need to think about the impact of sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda) on their proteins.

Watch Othon explain associated research in this video. She speaks around the 34 minute mark.

Kaus Investigates Protein Structure by Using X-Ray Crystallography

Katie Kaus, a PhD candidate in molecular biology and biochemistry, spoke on "Molecular Detectives: Investigating Protein Structure using X-ray Crystallography" during the Graduate Student Speaker Series March 26 in Exley Science Center.

Katie Kaus, a PhD candidate in molecular biology and biochemistry, spoke on “Molecular Detectives: Investigating Protein Structure using X-ray Crystallography” during the Graduate Student Speaker Series March 26 in Exley Science Center.

The molecular structure of proteins is an important component in studying how proteins interact with each other, providing information about how cellular processes are carried out by specific proteins, Kaus explained. By studying the structure of specific proteins, scientists can understand why germs make us sick.

The molecular structure of proteins is an important component in studying how proteins interact with each other, providing information about how cellular processes are carried out by specific proteins, Kaus explained. By studying the structure of specific proteins, scientists can understand why germs make us sick.

Kaus focused her presentation on members of a family of proteins called bacterial pore forming toxins (PFTs); specifically Vibrio cholerae cytolysin (VCC) and Vibrio vulnificus hemolysin (VVH). These proteins are secreted by pathogenic strains of the aquatic bacteria, V. cholerae and V. vulnificus. V. cholerae is the human pathogen that causes cholera, an endemic disease in several parts of the world. V. vulnificus is found in contaminated seafood, such as raw oysters, as well as contaminated seawater. V. vulnificus most frequently causes gastrointestinal distress but can also cross from the gut into the blood stream resulting in lethal septicemia.

Kaus focused her presentation on members of a family of proteins called bacterial pore forming toxins (PFTs)–specifically Vibrio cholerae cytolysin (VCC) and Vibrio vulnificus hemolysin (VVH). These proteins are secreted by pathogenic strains of the aquatic bacteria, V. cholerae and V. vulnificus. V. cholerae is the human pathogen that causes cholera, an endemic disease in several parts of the world. V. vulnificus is found in contaminated seafood, such as raw oysters, as well as contaminated seawater. V. vulnificus most frequently causes gastrointestinal distress but can also cross from the gut into the blood stream resulting in lethal septicemia.

VCC and VVH are homologous proteins that are secreted by their respective bacteria, bind to macromolecules at the surface of host cells, and undergo structural changes creating lytic pores in the host cell membrane. As part of her research, Kaus is interested in understanding how these bacterial proteins recognize and specifically attack human cells. Guided by biochemical assays, Kaus used a technique called X­-ray crystallography to identify structural relationships between VCC or VVH and the biomolecules each protein binds.

KVCC and VVH are homologous proteins that are secreted by their respective bacteria, bind to macromolecules at the surface of host cells, and undergo structural changes creating lytic pores in the host cell membrane. As part of her research, Kaus is interested in understanding how these bacterial proteins recognize and specifically attack human cells. Guided by biochemical assays, Kaus used a technique called X­-ray crystallography to identify structural relationships between VCC or VVH and the biomolecules each protein binds.

X-­ray crystallography involves obtaining protein molecules in a crystalline form and taking advantage of the manner in which an X­ray beam is diffracted by the atoms that make up these protein crystals, to determine their arrangement within the 3-D space of a protein molecule. Pictured, Kaus looks at crystals under a microscope in Hall Atwater Laboratory.

X-­ray crystallography involves obtaining protein molecules in a crystalline form and taking advantage of the manner in which an X­ray beam is diffracted by the atoms that make up these protein crystals, to determine their arrangement within the 3-D space of a protein molecule. Pictured, Kaus looks at crystals under a microscope in Hall-Atwater Laboratory.

By using this approach, Kaus identified similar, yet distinct molecular mechanisms employed by VCC and VVH to specifically recognize and attack host cell membranes. Understanding how these proteins specifically attack human cells will aid in developing treatments against V. cholerae and V. vulnificus infection.

By using this approach, Kaus identified similar, yet distinct molecular mechanisms employed by VCC and VVH to specifically recognize and attack host cell membranes. Understanding how these proteins specifically attack human cells will aid in developing treatments against V. cholerae and V. vulnificus infection. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Graduate Student Blasser Hand Crafts Analog Instruments

Graduate student Peter Blasser tunes one of his hand-crafted analog instruments. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Graduate student Peter Blasser tunes one of his hand-crafted analog instruments. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

#THISISWHY
In this Q&A, we speak with Peter Blasser, a music graduate student. 

Q: What was your first experiences with music? When did you decide that music would be your life work?

A: I was in elementary school in the 1980s when music programs were still part of the public school curriculum. I remember that those music classes were not very noteworthy at the time. In middle school I took a wood shop class and liked working with the tools. After taking classical civilization classes, I started to triangulate all three — I wanted to work with wood to make ancient Greek instruments to see what they sounded like. The first instruments I decided to recreate were ancient stringed instruments.

Blasser changes where the transistors are connected in order to tune the instrument.

Blasser changes where the transistors are connected in order to tune the instrument.

Q: Where did you complete your undergraduate studies?

A: I went to Oberlin College. I initially went as a classics major, but still had a passion for making classical instruments. Oberlin had a conservatory for music, and they offered introductory courses in electronic music. I started to use electronic music to model and tune classical instruments. I also was able to take a course in analog music, learning about transistors and electronics, and how they could be used to make music. This caused me to combine wood and analog electronics, which is all about the flow of the transistors.

Q: What did you do after graduating?

A: I purchased a home in Baltimore about 10 years ago as a space to work on my art. Fixing up the house was an artistic experience in of itself. I also started my own business where I sold analog instruments. I wasn’t making much money, so I spent a lot of time working on poetry, thinking of ideas for my business and exploring my philosophy. I also toured with my instruments, but didn’t like how much I had to promote myself and push my brand.

Q: Why did you choose Wesleyan for your graduate school?

Blasser likes to work with wood, which is frequently used in his instruments.

Blasser likes to work with wood, which is frequently used in his instruments.

A: I decided to attend Wesleyan after developing a friendship with Ron Kuivila, chair of the Music Department. After graduating from Oberlin I never thought I would return to school, but I found that I enjoyed giving lectures and helping other students make their instruments. I also like how Wesleyan’s music program, and art program in general, is experimental — there are no prejudices from students about what music should “be” like. The different departments are porous, there is mixing between different mediums and styles. This enables me to sit with undergraduates and help them make a piece that the student will own, with a shared experience. This made me realize that I enjoy teaching, and in order to become a professor, formal education is required.

Q: What are your plans after Wesleyan?

A: Right now my analog electronics business,

Wesleyan Physics Lab, U.S. Air Force Partner on Groundbreaking Research

Graduate student Eleana Makri and Tsampikos Kottos, the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of Physics, work on reflective optical limiter research Feb. 3. (Photo by Hannah Norman '16)

Graduate student Eleana Makri and Tsampikos Kottos, the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of Physics, work on reflective optical limiter research Feb. 3. (Photo by Hannah Norman ’16)

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Graduate student Eleana Makri and Tsampikos Kottos, the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of Physics, work on reflective optical limiter research Feb. 3. (Photo by Hannah Norman '16)

Makri and Kottos review their power limiter research.

For many years, pilots in the Air Force, scientists conducting research with high-powered lasers, and others have struggled to protect their eyes and sensitive equipment from being damaged by intense laser pulses. In many cases, this was achieved by intense power filters, which offered protection, but self-destructed. Now they have a solution, which provides protection without damaging the filters themselves, thanks to a research collaboration between the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and a team of researchers in Wesleyan’s Physics Department.

The research, led by Tsampikos Kottos, the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of Physics, is included in the just-released U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research 2014 Technical Strategic Plan. The document is published on the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) webpage.

Previous attempts at a solution focused on creating gradually darkening sunglasses to protect the wearer’s eyes when s/he steps into bright sunlight, but return quickly to their normal state when indoors. However, no version could darken quickly enough to protect the wearer from short laser pulses.

As described in the Technical Strategic Plan,

Space Grant Consortium Awards Graduate Students’ Travel Grants

The NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium awarded two Student Travel Grants on Nov. 11. Each award is worth $1000.

Lisa Korn, a graduate student in earth and environmental sciences, will attend the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held March 16-20 in The Woodlands, Texas. Her advisor is Marty Gilmore, chair and professor of earth and environmental sciences and the George I. Seney Professor of Geology.

Sam Factor, a BA/MA student in astronomy, will use the grant to attend the American Astronomical Society 223rd Meeting, held Jan 4-8 in Seattle, Wash. Factor’s advisor is Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy. Dilovan Serindag ’15, Jesse Lieman-Sifry ’15 and Trevor Dorn-Wallenstein ’15 also will attend the meeting.

Graduate Students Speak on Taiwanese Music at Ethnomusicology Meeting

Pictured at the Society for Ethnomusicology's Annual Meeting are, from left, Wesleyan's Ender Terwilliger, Po-wei Weng, Joy Lu and Su Zheng.v

Pictured at the Society for Ethnomusicology’s Annual Meeting are, from left, Wesleyan’s Ender Terwilliger, Po-wei Weng, Joy Lu and Su Zheng.

During the 2014 Society for Ethnomusicology’s 59th Annual Meeting, held Nov. 13-16 in Pittsburgh, Pa., Wesleyan graduate students collaborated to present the first panel dedicated to Taiwanese identity and music.

The panel, titled “How Taiwanese Should I Be? Contesting Taiwanese Identities in Local, Regional and Global Contexts,” comprised of Ph.D. candidates Joy Lu and Po-wei Weng, and graduate student Ender Terwilliger.

Su Zheng, associate professor of music, chaired the panel.

Covering Taiwanese opera, Pili Budaixi, and fusion performances, the panel explored the process of identity formation when promoting Taiwanese identity in politically delicate situations domestically and overseas.

In addition, Ph.D. candidates Dustin Wiebe, Min Yang and Fugan Dineen presented papers at the conference.

Makri’s Power Limiter Research Noted in Scientific Reports Article

Makri used a power limiter consisting of a nonlinear lossy layer embedded in two mirror layers. This setup provides a resonant transmission of a low intensity light and nearly total reflectivity of a high-intensity light.

Makri used a power limiter consisting of a nonlinear lossy layer embedded in two mirror layers. This setup provides a resonant transmission of a low intensity light and nearly total reflectivity of a high-intensity light.

A study co-authored by Graduate Research Assistant Eleana Makri and two other Wesleyan researchers is a topic of a Oct. 20 article published in Scientific Reports.

Due to the ultrahigh-speed and ultrawide-band brought by adopting photons as information carriers, photonic integration has been a long-term pursuit for researchers, which can break the performance bottleneck incurred in modern semiconductor-based electronic integrated circuits. The article states that “recently, Makri theoretically proposed the concept of reflective power limiter based on nonlinear localized modes, where a nonlinear layer was sandwiched by two reflective mirrors, thus increased the device complexity.”

The report is based on Makri’s study, titled “Non-Linear Localized Modes Give Rise to a Reflective Optical Limiter” published in March 2014. The paper is co-authored by Tsampikos Kottos, the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of Physics; Hamidreza Ramezani Ph.D. ’13 (now a postdoc at U.C. Berkeley) and Ilya Vitebskiy (Sensors Directorate at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Ohio).

The same study was also 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. Read more about this study in this past News @ Wesleyan article.

Read the full Scientific Report article, titled “Chip-integrated optical power limiter based on an all-passive micro-ring resonator,” online here.

Kottos, Basiri Author Paper Published in Physical Review

Data by Tsampikos Kottos and Ali Basiri.

Tsampikos Kottos and Ali Basiri, a Ph.D. student in physics, are co-authors of a paper titled “Light localization induced by a random imaginary refractive index,” published in Physical Review A 90, on Oct. 13, 2014. Kottos is the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of Physics.

In the paper, the authors show the emergence of light localization in arrays of coupled optical waveguides with randomness.