Tag Archive for Neuroscience

Wickham ’21 Speaks on the Black Student Experience in STEM

posterAs the Black Lives Matter movement continues to shine a light on the Black experience in America, one Wesleyan student is doing his part to foster better understanding for students of color in STEM fields.

On July 2, Fitzroy “Pablo” Wickham ’21 participated in a panel discussion on “Black Lives Matter and Neuroscience: Why This Moment Matters.” The event, hosted by the Society for Neuroscience and moderated by Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, provided a forum to discuss hurdles faced by Black students and faculty in STEM and ways to enhance recruitment, mentoring, and retention in STEM fields.

Wickham, a neuroscience and theater double major, is the Class of 2021 president and a College of Integrative Sciences summer research student. A native of Jamaica, Wickham prefaced his comments by acknowledging that as a West Indian Black his experience does not necessarily reflect the full breadth of experiences had by African American students in science. But for his part, Wickham hopes that in sharing his perspective as a neuroscience undergraduate, he can help move the conversation forward in terms of “how we can make the field more inclusive and equitable” and in particular to voice some of the challenges Black students encounter when navigating STEM.

Aaron, Autry, Shinohara Honored with the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching

Every spring, Wesleyan recognizes outstanding faculty with three Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching.

This year’s recipients include Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, Robyn Autry, associate professor and chair of sociology, and Keiji Shinohara, artist-in-residence.

Made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr., Hon. ’85, these prizes underscore Wesleyan’s commitment to its scholar-teachers, who are responsible for the University’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education.

Solomon ’20 is Lead Author on Paper Published in Medical Journal

Eli Solomon ’20 shared a group project for Advanced Research in Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience on “Oscillatory Markers of Neural Entrainment to Rhythm.”

Neuroscience and behavior major Eli Solomon ’20, pictured here presenting research at a poster session, recently co-authored a paper published in the journal Medical Care.

Lack of reliable transportation can prevent patients from making it to medical appointments or accessing other health care services.

In a recently published paper, lead author Eli Solomon ’20 explored and analyzed existing research on nonemergency medical transportation interventions. The article, titled “Impact of Transportation Interventions on Health Care Outcomes: A Systematic Review,” was published in the American Public Health Association journal Medical Care.

Solomon, a neuroscience and behavior major on a pre-med path, wrote the paper based on research he conducted in summer 2018 with peers at the University of California, San Francisco. While at UCSF, Solomon worked for San Francisco General Hospital, tackling social determinants of health with patients in the pediatric primary care clinic.

Solomon and his mentors searched three databases (Embase, PubMed, and Google) for studies of health care sector-sponsored programs that provided patients with assistance with nonemergency transportation, and directly assessed the impact of transportation assistance on health and health care utilization outcomes. Studies meeting inclusion criteria were graded for quality using standard grading criteria.

Juhasz Studies Word Age-of-Acquisition Effects through Eye Movements

Assistant Professor Barbara Juhasz is interested in understanding how words produce a certain sensory experience when read.

Barbara Juhasz

Barbara Juhasz, Jeffrey L. Shames Professor of Civic Engagement and associate professor of psychology and neuroscience and behavior, is the co-author of an article titled “The time course of age-of-acquisition effects on eye movements during reading: Evidence from survival analyses,” published in Memory and Cognition, January 2020.

According to the paper’s abstract:

Adults process words that are rated as being learned earlier in life faster than words that are rated as being acquired later in life. This age-of-acquisition (AoA) effect has been observed in a variety of word-recognition tasks when word frequency is controlled. AoA has also previously been found to influence fixation durations when words are embedded into sentences and eye movements are recorded. However, the time course of AoA effects during reading has been inconsistent across studies.

The current study further explored the time course of AoA effects on distributions of first-fixation durations during reading. Early and late acquired words were embedded into matched neutral sentence frames. Participants read the sentences while their eye movements were recorded. AoA effects were observed in both early and late fixation duration measures, suggesting that AoA has an early and long-lasting effect on word-recognition processes during reading.

Kurtz, Rose Receive NIMH Award for Schizophrenia Study

Matthew Kurtz

Matthew Kurtz

Jennifer Rose

Jennifer Rose

Two Wesleyan faculty received a $492,410 Academic Research Enhancement Award (R15) from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) to support their study titled “Comparing Cognitive Remediation Approaches for Schizophrenia.”

R15 awards provide funding for small-scale, new, or ongoing health-related meritorious research projects, enhancing the research environment at eligible institutions and exposing students to research opportunities.

The R15 principal investigator Matthew Kurtz, professor of psychology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, and R15 co-investigator Jennifer Rose, professor of the practice and director of the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, will work with a group of Wesleyan undergraduates for the duration of the three-year, randomized clinical trial that compares—for the first time—two well-studied approaches to cognitive training in schizophrenia.

Professor Kirn Remembered for Neurobiology Research, Gentle Demeanor

John Robert Kirn, professor of biology, died on Nov. 10 at the age of 67.

John Kirn

John Kirn

Kirn was born in Columbus, Ohio, and received his BA from the University of Denver, his MA from Bucknell University, and his PhD from Cornell University. Arriving at Wesleyan in 1994, he went on to teach courses on animal behavior, hormonal systems, and the neurobiology of learning and memory for the next 25 years. Kirn was a vital member of the biology department and a pillar of the neuroscience and behavior program (NS&B). He served as the director of graduate studies from 2005–2010, as the chair of the biology department from 2015–2017, and as the chair of the NS&B program for 12 consecutive years from 2001–2013, during a period of tremendous growth in the NS&B major.

Kirn’s research on song learning and song maintenance in birds explored questions of neuronal replacement and the ways the brain acquires and stores information. This is a critical area of neuroscience research, with important clinical applications that help us understand the potentially parallel processes that occur in humans during recovery from brain injury. John’s work was widely respected for opening new neurobiological paradigms and was often published in the most authoritative journals in the field, including The Journal of Neuroscience. He received numerous grants supporting his research from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, as well as a recent three-year grant from the Whitehall Foundation.

“John was an unusual combination: a highly accomplished scientist and lab head, and an exceptionally kind and gentle person,” said colleague Sonia Sultan, professor of biology.

Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, described John as having “a very gentle demeanor” and as “a kind and caring colleague and mentor.”

Ann Burke, chair and professor of biology, said Kirn was respected for his intellect and loved for his generous personality and wry sense of humor. “He trained over 17 graduate students in his lab, and influenced hundreds of undergraduates in his classes,” Burke said. “His colleagues and students are deeply saddened by his loss.”

Kirn is survived by his two children, Jake and Ella, and their mother Cynthia Seiwert.

A memorial event will be held on campus later this year. Read Kirn’s full obituary online here.

 

Barth, Patalano Receive $1.09M NSF Grant to Support Numerical Cognition Research

Sophie Charles ’20,

Student research assistant Sophie Charles ’20, a neuroscience and behavior major, shows the line estimation task used by the Psychology Department to understand how people make judgments about number and quantity.

Hilary Barth and Andrea Patalano, both professors of psychology, have received a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support collaborative research on numerical cognition.

Hilary Barth, professor of psychology, and Andrea Patalano, professor of psychology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, have received a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support collaborative research on numerical cognition.

Collaborative research by Hilary Barth and Andrea Patalano is supported by the National Science Foundation.

The three-year $1,091,303 grant, which is funded by NSF’s EHR Core Research program focused on STEM learning, includes support for Wesleyan student participation in the proposed research project, which will involve experimental studies of children’s and adults’ understanding of, and judgments about, number and quantity.

The two labs collaborate frequently, and have been working jointly on another project for the past three years supported by an earlier NSF grant. The new project is distinct, but grew out of a discovery made in the Barth lab during the earlier project related to a number line estimation task. In this task, participants are shown a line with numbers at each endpoint (e.g., 0 and 1,000) and asked to estimate where on the line a particular three-digit number would fall. The researchers found that participants had a tendency to place two numbers much farther apart on the line than they actually were when those numbers had a different first digit, even if they were quite close to each other in actuality (for example, 799 and 802). This was true even of adult participants, who have a good understanding of numbers.

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 

Wesleyan in the News

In 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 New Yorker: “The Shapeshifting Music of Tyshawn Sorey”

“There is something awesomely confounding about the music of Tyshawn Sorey [MA ’11], the thirty-eight-year-old Newark-born composer, percussionist, pianist, and trombonist,” begins this profile of Sorey, assistant professor of music. Sorey was recently featured in the Composer Portraits series at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.

2. The Register-Mail: “Video Slots Take Heavy Toll on Some Players”

In this article exploring the expansion of video slot gaming in a region of Illinois, Assistant Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson shares what he has learned through his research about how gambling affects our brains through the pleasurable release of dopamine. “You hear gamblers talk about chasing losses,” Robinson said. “Basically, they are talking about how gambling and uncertainty can even change how you respond to losing. It sounds counterintuitive, but for gambling addicts losing money triggers the rewarding release of dopamine almost to the same degree that winning does.”

3. The St. Thomas Source: “V.I. Studies Collective Asks, ‘What Is a Virgin Islander?'”

Professor of English Tiphanie Yanique, a core member of the Virgin Islands Studies Collective, recently led a workshop on St. Thomas at the Virgin Islands Literary Festival. A poet, essayist, and fiction writer who teaches creative writing at Wesleyan, Yanique comes from St. Thomas and has written fiction about life in the Virgin Islands.

4. The Forward: “8 Practical Tips on How to Lead a Progressive Seder This Year”

Asked for advice on leading a “progressive seder” for Passover this year, Wesleyan’s Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and University Jewish Chaplain David Leipziger Teva suggested adding a shoelace to your seder plate to express solidarity with the migrants fleeing their homes to cross into the U.S. “In thinking about the 92,607 migrants and refugees who in March of 2019 alone were detained after crossing the US Mexico border, I was struck by the fact that one of the first things that our US Customs and Border Patrol (USCBP) does is force these tired and vulnerable people to remove their shoelaces,” he explained. “Apparently anything, even the shoelaces of young children, considered ‘nonessential and potentially lethal’ is confiscated.”

5. Reading Religion: “Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Bias”

“Through the medium of cartoons, Gottschalk and Greenberg examine complicated concepts such as Islamophobia and stereotypes in a manner that is both accessible and comprehensive,” according to this review of Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment: Picturing the Enemy, coauthored by Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg ’04 and recently re-released in an expanded and revised second edition. “This book is accessible enough to include on an undergraduate introductory syllabus, but also specialized enough for readers who are familiar with the concept of Islamophobia, or the study of the Muslims in the United States, to benefit from.”

Alumni in the News

  1. PeabodyAwards.com: Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart (PBS/WNET TV)”

Randall MacLowry ’86 is the producer and editor; Tracy Heather Strain is the filmmaker for this documentary, which PBS notes as “the first in-depth presentation of Hansberry’s complex life, using her personal papers and archives, including home movies and rare photos, as source material.” The couple cofounded The Film Posse, Inc., to work together in creating documentaries of high quality, and according to a press release, “spent more than 14 years raising money to develop the independently-produced film, which the couple produced with Strain serving as director and writer, and MacLowry and Chad Ervin as editors. Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart had its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and its television premiere on the PBS biography series American Masters in January 2018.”

2. Women and Hollywood: “Tribeca 2019 Women Directors: Meet Bridget Savage Cole [’05] and Danielle Krudy [’07]Blow the Man Down” 

“Wesleyan University graduates Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy met on a film set in Coney Island. They immediately bonded over a shared love of character-driven stories and juicy filmmaking styles. They have collaborated on numerous music videos, shorts, and writing projects. Blow the Man Down is their first feature-length film,” writes Gabriela Rico, who follows with the directors’ candid Q&A. Blow the Man Down premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on April 26.

3. Vanity Fair: Fosse/Verdon: 5 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets from the Cast and Creators”

Vanity Fair editor Radhika Jones, who moderated a panel that included Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15, provided excerpts of the conversation: “‘I picked up a book off the shelf, and my job was to read the book and put it in Tommy Kail’s [’99] hand,’ said Miranda. The Hamilton creator had gone to Wesleyan University with Sam Wasson [’03], author of the 2013 biography Fosse—on which the FX series is closely based. In June 2016, Hamilton director Kail and Miranda began planning a way to bring Fosse back to the screen.”

4. Broadway World: “MCC Launches Season with Ross Golan’s The Wrong Man Directed by Thomas Kail [’99]”

The Wrong Man (“the wrong man meets the wrong women in the wrong place at the wrong time”) is a new stage musical, written by multi-platinum songwriter Ross Golan (book, music, lyrics), Tony Award–winning director Thomas Kail and three-time Tony and four-time Grammy Award–winning orchestrator Alex Lacamoire. Performances begin on Wednesday, September 18, 2019.

5. Boston Globe: “Cape Air on Course for Seaplane Takeoff in Boston”

Jon Chesto ’93 writes: “Dan Wolf [’79] needed to get his hands on an amphibious aircraft before he could fulfill his yearslong quest to bring seaplane service back to Boston Harbor.

“Now, the chief executive of Cape Air has an entire squadron.”

In this tale of Wolf’s acquisition of the seaplanes, Chesto notes some Wes-related history: “Wolf first learned to fly a seaplane at the Goodspeed Airport along the Connecticut River, while going to school at nearby Wesleyan University. That was nearly 40 years ago, but there’s a connection to this latest deal. Shoreline Aviation was run by John Kelly [MALS ’70], who taught Wolf during his college years. They obviously stayed in touch: Cape Air has used Shoreline planes during its Boston Harbor test runs.”

 6. MIT News: “Candid Conversation about Race: In MIT Talk, Beverly Daniel Tatum [’75, P’04, Hon. ’15] Urges Direct Discussion about Racial Issues at a ‘Polarized’ Moment in U.S. History”

Peter Dizikes, of the MIT News Office, writes: “Candid discussions about race relations are vital at a time of ‘pushback’ against social diversity in the U.S., said Beverly Daniel Tatum, the former president of Spelman College, in a talk at MIT on Thursday.

“‘It seems to me pretty clear we’re living in a pushback moment,’ Tatum said, referring to resistance against both political progress by blacks and a diversifying population. She added: ‘I think that today, most people would agree, we are more polarized than ever.’”

Tatum’s talk at MIT’s Wong Auditorium covered topics including the difference between race and racism, what is possible in the political arena, and the “long-running conditions of material inequality in the U.S.”

7. WBUR.org— “WBUR Announces Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize Winner”

From the website: “WBUR announced today that Hannah Dreier [’08] is the winner of the 2019 Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize. The winning segment was produced at This American Life in partnership with ProPublica, where Dreier serves as an immigration reporter.

“Dreier’s winning entry, ‘The Runaways’ is an hour-long investigative report that documents how the Suffolk County Police Department in New York failed to investigate a series of gang murders when the victims were immigrant teenagers. Days after the story aired on This American Life, the Suffolk County legislature forced the police department to conduct an internal investigation into how it had handled the MS-13 murder cases. ‘The Runaways’ proves that investigative reporting continues to effect change.”

Wesleyan in the News

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

Recent Wesleyan News

1. Inside Higher Ed: “Voting Is Good, but Higher Ed Must Do More”

In this op-ed, President Michael S. Roth writes: “In a year when inducements to political violence have become normalized at the highest level, colleges and universities must do more than just encourage our students to vote.” It is crucial that colleges actively work to protect free expression, free inquiry, and fact-based discussion, Roth argues.

Robinson in The Conversation: How Gambling Distorts Reality and Hooks Your Brain

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

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 a new article, Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, writes that brain science explains how gambling games hook players, including casual ones. Robinson also is assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences.

Designed to deceive: How gambling distorts reality and hooks your brain

To call gambling a “game of chance” evokes fun, random luck, and a sense of collective engagement. These playful connotations may be part of why almost 80 percent of American adults gamble at some point in their lifetime. When I ask my psychology students why they think people gamble, the most frequent suggestions are for pleasure, money, or the thrill.

While these might be reasons why people gamble initially, psychologists don’t definitely know why, for some, gambling stops being an enjoyable diversion and becomes compulsive. What keeps people playing even when it stops being fun? Why stick with games people know are designed for them to lose? Are some people just more unlucky than the rest of us, or simply worse at calculating the odds?

As an addiction researcher for the past 15 years, I look to the brain to understand the hooks that make gambling so compelling. I’ve found that many are intentionally hidden in how the games are designed. And these hooks work on casual casino-goers just as well as they do on problem gamblers.

Robinson Lab Coauthors Study on Compulsive, Drug Addiction Behaviors

Mike Robinson studies how individuals react differently when presented with a junk food diet.

Mike Robinson

Drug and behavioral addictions like gambling are characterized by an intense and focused pursuit of a single reward above other healthier endeavors. Pursuit of the addictive reward is often compulsively sought despite adverse consequences.

In a newly published study, Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, and integrative sciences explored how our decisions can become narrowly focused onto one particular choice. He and his research team used laser light (optogenetics) to activate the central portion of the brain’s amygdala (CeA), an area normally known for its role in generating responses to drug-related and fearful stimuli.

The study, titled “Optogenetic Activation of the Central Amygdala Generates Addiction-like Preference for Reward,” appears in the May 2018 issue of the European Journal of Neuroscience. Robinson Lab members Rebecca Tom ’16, MA ’17, Aarit Ahuja ’16, Hannah Maniates ’16, and current graduate student Charlotte Freeland coauthored the article and participated in the study.