Tag Archive for mathematics and computer science

McNair Fellows Present Research at Diversity in STEM Conference

SACNAS

Elizaveta “Liz” Atalig ’21 and Ekram Towsif ’21 won 2019 SACNAS conference presentation awards for their respective fields of research.

Two Wesleyan McNair Fellows recently participated in the largest multidisciplinary and multicultural STEM diversity event in the country.

From Oct. 31–Nov. 2, Elizaveta “Liz” Atalig ’21 and Ekram Towsif ’21 joined more than 4,000 peers at the 2019 SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) conference in Hawaii. For more than 45 years, SACNAS has served as an inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of Chicano/Hispanics & Native Americans, from college students to professionals, in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership within STEM.

Attendees of the three-day conference are immersed in cutting-edge scientific research and professional development sessions, motivational keynote speakers, a career expo, multicultural celebrations, and an inclusive and welcoming community of peers, mentors, and role models.

In addition, both Atalig and Towsif received Outstanding Research Presentation awards in their respective disciplines.

“This is the first time McNair fully funded Fellows to participate in the SACNAS conference, so we’re very proud of Ekram and Liz for maximizing their conference experience and conducting their award-winning poster presentations,” said Ronnie Hendrix, associate director of the Wesleyan McNair Program.

Wesleyan’s Girls in Science Summer Camp Gets Young Scientists Excited about STEM 

GIS

Marty Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, leads an experiment about meteors during the Girls in Science Summer Camp Aug. 8. (Photo by Kerisha Harris)

(Story by Kerisha Harris)

For the sixth year in a row, the weeklong Wesleyan Girls in Science Summer Camp welcomed dozens of middle school-aged girls for a week of learning, exploration, and STEM-centered fun.

From Aug. 5-9 inside Exley Science Center, the 32 campers in grades 4-6 spent the week learning about everything from how to extract DNA from a strawberry, to the parts of the brain, and even how to make (but don’t touch) an ice-cold comet. By Friday, the young scientists were excited to share all they had learned with their friends and families, and did so through a poster presentation and art display.

Girls in Science participants observe a "comet" they created during the camp.

Girls in Science participants observe a “comet” they created during the camp.

This partnership between Wesleyan and Middletown Public Schools gives girls the chance to explore and cultivate their interest in science by conducting fun experiments in real-life labs, discovering scientific concepts, vocabulary and equipment, and learning from female Wesleyan professors and students in the sciences.

This year marked the first time in the program’s history that the camp took place fully under the umbrella of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships.  Additionally, the Jewett Center partnered with In-Reach, a program coordinated by Melisa Olgun ’20, to bring local high school girls in as program assistants. These young scientists-in-training provided guidance and support for the campers, while also getting to spend time in research labs at Wesleyan.

Members of the Class of 2019 Inducted into Phi Beta Kappa

PBK

On May 25, members of the Class of 2019 were inducted into Wesleyan’s Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest national scholastic honor society. The Wesleyan Gamma Chapter was organized in 1845 and is the ninth-oldest chapter in the country.

To be elected, a student must first have been nominated by the department of his or her major. The student also must have demonstrated curricular breadth by having met the General Education Expectations and must have achieved a GPA of 93 and above.

Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest surviving Greek letter society in America, founded in December 1776 by five students who attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The emblem contains the three Greek letters “Phi-Beta-Kappa,” which are the initials of the Greek motto, Philosophia Biou Kybernetes. This essentially means “the love of wisdom is the guide of life.”

The spring 2019 inductees are:

Caroline Adams
Yulia Alexandr
Erin Angell
William Bellamy
Cara Bendich
Zachary Bennett
Chiara Bercu
Sophie Brett-Chin
Nicholas Byers
David Cabanero
Talia Cohen
John Cote 

6 Faculty Receive Endowed Professorships

Fred Cohan

Fred Cohan is one of six Wesleyan faculty to receive an endowed professorship in 2019.

In recognition of their career achievements, the following faculty members are being appointed to endowed professorships, effective July 1, 2019:

Frederick Cohan, professor of biology, is receiving the Huffington Foundation Professorship in the College of the Environment, established in 2010.

Susanne Fusso, professor of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies, is receiving the Marcus L. Taft Professorship of Modern Languages, established in 1880.

William Johnston, professor of history, is receiving a John E. Andrus Professorship of History, established in 1981.

Ethan Kleinberg, professor of history and professor of letters, is receiving the Class of 1958 Distinguished Professorship, established in 2008.

Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics, is receiving the Lauren B. Dachs Professorship of Science and Society, established in 2008.

Daniel Krizanc, professor of computer science, is receiving an Edward Burr Van Vleck Professorship of Computer Science, established in 1982.

Brief biographies appear below:

Frederick Cohan arrived at Wesleyan in 1986 after completing his BS at Stanford University, his PhD at Harvard University, and a postdoctoral appointment at University of California, Davis. His research focuses on the origins of diversity in bacteria. His publications, which have been cited more than 8,000 times, recently include “How We Can All Share the Fight Against Infectious Disease” (Arcadia Political Review, Spring 2019) and “Systematics: The Cohesive Nature of Bacterial Species Taxa” (Current Biology, 2019). Cohan has received numerous grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, and he was elected to the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering in 2017.

Wesleyan Team Places in Top 5 Percent of Putnam Math Competition

“Consider an icosahedron with every edge labeled from 1 to 30. Color these edges red, white, or blue, such that no face has all three edges the same color or all three faces the same color. How many ways are there to do this?”

If you can solve this problem, you might have what it takes to participate in the annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, a preeminent mathematics competition for undergraduate college students.

“The problems themselves are very difficult, often asking us to demonstrate that a general statement is true rather than to solve a specific problem, or if we do solve a specific problem, it is often a very complicated problem,” said competitor Sam Bidwell ’21. “For this particular question, which appeared on last year’s test, the solution involves complicated mathematics that I do not have the experience to properly explain within even five paragraphs to anyone who had not taken the prerequisite class, which was, as I recall, Abstract Algebra 2.”

Bidwell, along with Di Chen ’20, Haochen Gao ’21, Joe Cutler ’21, Morgan Long ’22, and Yaqian Tang ’21 were among 4,623 students from the U.S. and Canada to participate in the 2018 competition. Chen and Gao ranked in the top 500 individual competitors; and a team consisting of Bidwell, Chen, and Gao was ranked 27th out of 568 institutions (within the top 5 percent).

Robertson Remembered for His Love of Mathematics

Lewis Robertson, professor of mathematics, emeritus, passed away Dec. 22, 2018, at the age of 80.

Robertson received his BS and MS from the University of Chicago and his PhD from the University of California—Los Angeles. He came to Wesleyan with tenure in 1970 after serving as an assistant professor at the University of Washington, and he remained at Wesleyan for 28 years until his retirement in 1998.

Robertson’s scholarly research focused on Lie groups, topological groups, and representation theory. His PhD thesis was on algebra, influenced by topology, and that remained his primary interest throughout his career. He published 23 papers, many with Wesleyan colleagues, and supervised three PhD students at Wesleyan.

Robertson loved mathematics and was always eager to think about any mathematics problem that arose.

“Lew was a gentle fellow, and unfailingly kind. As a mathematician, he was extremely self-effacing,” said Edward Burr Van Vleck Professor of Mathematics, Emerita, Carol Wood. “Nonetheless, it was impossible for him to hide his mathematical ability. Lew was a regular in the topology seminar over the decades, and when a topic (often outside his area of expertise) caught his interest, the depth of his comments would yet again remind me that Lew was a gifted mathematician.”

His colleague, Tony Hager, professor of mathematics, emeritus said, “Lew was my colleague and friend for about 50 years. He and I coauthored three fine papers together around 1980, one of which has become a go-to reference in its field. I will miss him greatly.”

Robertson is survived by his wife of 44 years, Janet; their son, Michael; one child from a previous marriage, Laureen; Janet’s daughters from a previous marriage, Julie and Jeanne; and eight grandchildren. A memorial service is being planned for early May 2019. The family requests that memorial contributions be made in Lew’s name to the Wesleyan Fund to support students studying math and science, and sent to the care of Marcy Herlihy, University Relations, 330 High Street, Middletown, CT 06459.

Comfort Remembered for Teaching Mathematics 40 Years at Wesleyan

Wis Comfort

Wis Comfort

William Wistar “Wis” Comfort II, the Edward Burr Van Vleck Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus, died Nov. 28 at the age of 83.

Comfort received his BA from Haverford College, and an MSc and PhD from the University of Washington (Seattle) and was an expert on point-set topology, ultrafilters, set theory and topological groups. He joined the Wesleyan faculty in 1967 after teaching at Harvard, University of Rochester and University of Massachusetts (Amherst). Comfort taught in the mathematics department for 40 years until his retirement in 2007, where he supervised 17 PhD theses and three MA theses. He was a key figure in the founding of the Math Workshop, a drop-in help center for students that he directed for many years that remains widely used today.

Comfort was named an American Mathematical Society Fellow in the inaugural class of AMS Fellows in 2013 in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the creation, exposition, advancement, communication and utilization of mathematics. He was active in the AMS, serving as associate secretary of the Eastern Section and as the managing editor of the Proceedings of the AMS. He published three books, including Chain Conditions in Topology (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1982), and more than 100 mathematical papers.

Comfort was a Quaker, a musician who played the trombone in a Dixieland band, and a dignified gentleman who exuded collegiality. He is survived by his daughter, Martha, and his son, Howard. His beloved wife, longtime Wesleyan staff member Mary Connie Comfort, passed away in May 2016. His family requests that memorial contributions be made in Wis’s name to Middletown Friends Meeting (Quakers) or the Essex Meadows Employee Scholarship Fund. A memorial service will be held on campus in April 2017.

Green Street Receives Grant to Expand K-8 Math Institute

Cameron Hill, assistant professor of mathematics, taught an Intel Math course to area teachers as part of the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center's K-8 Math Institute. The Department of Education recently awarded GSTLC with a grant to expand its program and reach 90 teachers from three new school districts. 

Cameron Hill, assistant professor of mathematics, taught an Intel Math course to area teachers as part of the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center’s K-8 Math Institute. The Department of Education recently awarded GSTLC with a grant to expand its program and reach 90 teachers from three new school districts.

The Green Street Teaching and Learning Center has received a second round of funding from the State of Connecticut Department of Education to expand its K-8 Math Institute to three new school districts over the next two years.

The $428,479 Math and Science Partnership Award will allow Green Street offer the program to 90 teachers from the Hamden, Vernon and New Haven school districts in programs being offered this summer and next. Green Street works closely with district math coordinators to select teachers to participate.

“In Connecticut and all over the country, there are issues with math education—students aren’t achieving at the level they should,” said Sara MacSorley, director of the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center. “With the adoption of Common Core standards in math, we wanted to come up with a program that would help improve teachers’ mastery of math concepts as well as their confidence with math.”

Starr’s Nanoparticle Research Published in Science

Professor Francis Starr and his collaborators are working to self-assemble a diamond-structured lattice at will from nanoscale particles.(Image by graduate student Hamed Emamy). 

Professor Francis Starr and his collaborators are working to self-assemble a diamond-structured lattice at will from nanoscale particles. (Image by graduate student Hamed Emamy).

Professor Francis Starr, graduate student Hamad Emamy and collaborators from the Brookhaven National Lab have co-authored a paper titled “Diamond Family of Nanoparticle Superlattices” published in the prestigious journal Science on Feb. 5. Starr is professor of physics and director of the College of Integrative Sciences.

Their work proposed a solution to a decades-long challenge to self-assemble a diamond-structured lattice at will from nanoscale particles.

“Such a diamond-lattice structure has long been sought after due to its potential applications as a light controlling device, including optical transistors, color-changing materials, and optical — as opposed to electronic — computing,” Starr said.

To solve this challenge, the team utilized the specific binding properties of DNA as a tool for materials science. Specifically, they created nanoscale “atoms” that consist of 15 nanometer gold nanoparticles coated with many single-stranded DNA. The single-stranded DNA act like binding arms to connect nanoparticle/DNA “atoms” by forming double-stranded DNA links, and analogue of traditional chemical bonds between atoms. By appropriate selection of the sequence and orientation of these DNA links, the nanoparticles will spontaneously arrange themselves into the desired structure.

“This self-assembly approach not only allows for highly specific order, but also offers the potential for tremendous savings in the cost of materials production, as compared to traditional methods used in the semi-conductor industry,” Starr explained.

Emamy, a graduate student in Starr’s lab, carried out numerical simulations that helped to develop the approach and explain how to stabilize the structure. Collaborators at Brookhaven experimentally synthesized and verified the structure and properties. The effort, Starr said, represented an ideal collaboration between experiments, theory and computation.

Pollack, Chan Attend Number Theory Conference in Germany

David Pollack, associate professor of mathematics, and Wai Kiu “Billy” Chan, chair and professor mathematics and computer science, recently attended a conference titled “Lattices and Applications in Number Theory” in Germany.

Pollack and Chan traveled to the Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach (MFO), the first research institution established in Germany after World War II, to take part in a weeklong workshop held Jan. 17-23. Dedicated to providing an institute for international cooperative research, the MFO brings together leading experts from all over the world in order to pursue their research activities, discuss recent developments in their field, and generate new ideas. Pollack and Chan were both invited guests.

The workshop focused on the interaction of lattices with number theory, looking specifically at the application of modular forms, finite group theory, algebraic number theory, and the application of tools from linear and semi-definite optimization; applications of lattice theoretic methods to the investigation of algebraic structures; Arakelov geometry; and algebraic modular forms and Hecke operators, especially for orthogonal groups where lattice theoretic concepts play a major role.

(Article by Fred Wills ’19)

Air Force Supports Licata’s Software Verification Project

Dan Licata

Dan Licata

Dan Licata, assistant professor of computer science, is one of 56 scientists in the country to receive a grant from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) through its Young Investigator Research Program. The AFOSR is awarding approximately $20.6 million in grants.

The Young Investigator Research Program is open to scientists and engineers at research institutions across the United States who received PhD or equivalent degrees in the last five years and who show exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research. Licata, who received a PhD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in 2011, will use his grant to study “Software Verification with Directed Type Theory.”

Licata’s proposed work will investigate the foundations of proof assistants, tools that programmers and mathematicians can use to help with their work.

“By using a proof assistant, a programmer can rigorously prove that a program will have good behavior every time it is run, finding errors before the program is deployed and run by the user,” Licata explained. “These tools have been used to verify many large programs and programming language implementations, and in the process many behavioral, efficiency, and security problems have been solved.”

The same tools, he said, also can be used by a mathematician to develop mathematics interactively with the computer, and to formally check that mathematical arguments are correct. This increases confidence in mathematical results and in some cases makes proofs easier to develop.

Licata’s will receive $360,000 over three years. The grant will allow him to hire a postdoc to collaborate on the project. For more information on the Young Investigator Research Program and to view other award recipients see this website.

Students Share Summer Research at Poster Session

On July 30, Wesleyan’s Summer Research Poster Session took place at Exley Science Center. More than 110 undergraduate research fellows from Math and Computer Sciences, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, the Quantitative Analysis Center, and Psychology presented research at the event. (Photos by Laurie Kenney)

Aidan Bardos ’17 presented her research titled "The Effects of Nutrition on the Immune Response of Wooly Bear Caterpillars Infected by Parasitoid Wasps." Bardos' faculty advisor is Michael Singer, associate professor of biology and environmental studies.

Aidan Bardos ’17 presented her research titled “The Effects of Nutrition on the Immune Response of Wooly Bear Caterpillars Infected by Parasitoid Wasps.” Bardos’ faculty advisor is Michael Singer, associate professor of biology and associate professor of environmental studies.

A poster titled "Immunohistochemical Analysis of Status Epilepticus Mice Treated with Striatal-Enriched Tyrosine Phosphatase Inhibitor" was presented by Matt Pelton ’17. His advisor is Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.

A poster titled “Immunohistochemical Analysis of Status Epilepticus Mice Treated with Striatal-Enriched Tyrosine Phosphatase Inhibitor” was presented by Matt Pelton ’17. His advisor is Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.