Tag Archive for Othon

Local Children Learn about Physics from Wesleyan Faculty, Students

Christina Othon, assistant professor of physics, assistant professor of integrative sciences, met with students enrolled in the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center‘s Discovery AfterSchool Program on Dec. 1. Othon and Wesleyan students Danielle Levinson ’19, Alexis Braunrot ’18 and and graduate student Stefan Kramel taught the AfterSchool attendees about physics through hands-on activities.

GSTLC s a community-based studio that develops, applies, and disseminates best practices in experiential teaching and learning which enhance Wesleyan and the greater community. The Discovery AfterSchool Programs offers a range of classes in the arts, sciences and math for children in Grades 1- 5.

The objective for the day was to investigate the properties of matter, to review the states of matter, and to discuss some of the ways we can change the properties of matter. Othon’s expertise is in soft matter, and therefore the group focused on fluids, gels and plastic deformation. After reviewing how to define the properties of a liquid, students were asked about how they would characterize some unusual materials like peanut butter or Jell-O.

“Of course these are materials which hold their shape, similar to a solid, but deform under stress or strain like a fluid. We therefore determined that the categories of liquid, gas and solid are not rigid categories, but that some materials have properties of both,” Othon said. “We then conducted some experiments on viscosity where students made predictions about which fluids would flow most quickly down an incline plane. The fluids were water, oil, chocolate sauce, honey and ketchup. The students observed that the ketchup behaved differently than all of the other fluids, and that the clumping of the ketchup dramatically impacted how fast it flowed.”

After investigating viscosity, the group discussed how to change the properties of materials. The students recognized that through temperature they could change water to a solid.

To demonstrate the change in structural properties, Othon and the students decided to make bouncy balls through chemical crosslinking. The students took two fluid solutions (glue and starch, and a salt solution in water), and mixed them to make their own bouncy balls.

“This is a messy project, but is highly engaging and the students greatly enjoyed it,” Othon said. “We always have a lot of fun working with the children at Green Street. We hope that this experience helps makes studying science exciting, and that they realize they can make observations of everyday objects and phenomena in their home.”

(Photos by Rebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19)

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Petit Family Foundation Supports Women in Physics Conference

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). Pictured, from left is Kimberly Petit, Chris Othon, William Petit and Meredith Hughes.

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). Pictured, from left is Kimberly Petit, Chris Othon, William Petit and Meredith Hughes.

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). The three-day conference, scheduled for January 15-17, 2016, will showcase career opportunities available to physicists through plenary talks, panel discussions and a career fair. Attendees will have the opportunity to network and interact with more than 200 fellow undergraduate women physicists as well as a variety of industrial and academic leaders.

Chris Othon, assistant professor of physics, and Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, are co-organizing the conference with help from Nisha Grewal ’17 (physics/economics) and Julia Zachary ’17 (physics/astronomy). The group is planning a career fair representing regional technology companies and graduate physics programs.

The 2016 CUWiP will be held at nine different sites including Wesleyan, Black Hills State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Old Dominion University – Jefferson Laboratory, Ohio State University, Oregon State University, Syracuse University, the University of California – San Diego, and the University of Texas – San Antonio. For more information visit the CUWiP website.

Faculty Teach Local Girls about Science

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The Green Street Teaching and Learning Center hosted a Girls in Science Camp Aug. 3-7. Wesleyan faculty members Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology (pictured third from left); Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies (pictured at far right); Chris Othon, assistant professor of physics (pictured at left), along with three undergraduate students, worked with the campers on various experiments. Sara MacSorley, director of the GSTLC (second from left), coordinated the activities.

Johnson led the campers on a bug hunt through Wesleyan’s West College Courtyard garden. There, the girls observed insects while considering insect diets and insect life-cycles. The girls also learned about the life-cycle of the fruit fly and set up an experiment to test the effects of feeding flies a high-sugar diet (this negatively affects the fly life-cycle, and is akin to inducing Type II Diabetes). Johnson also taught the campers about genetic variations (mutations) that affected wing and bristle development.

“Learning about these phenotypes served as an intro to genetics, genes and proteins,” Johnson said.

Johnson also taught the girls about microscopy. After a short presentation on how a variety of biological objects appear when viewed with high magnification, the girls viewed and captured images of the fly pupal eye with a fluorescent microscope. The girls also viewed a variety of mutant adult fly eyes with dissecting microscopes and, to build their skills in observation, built 3D models of these with modeling clay.
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Othon, Taylor Design Molecule to Aid Space Travel Ailments

Christina Othon, assistant professor of physics, and Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, tune the laser frequency for ultrafast spectroscopy experiments in Othon's Lab in Exley Science Center.

During extended space travel, astronauts may experience dramatic health consequences, such as anemia, due to reduced gravity and exposure to space radiation.

To help combat the adverse effects of space ailments, two scientists at Wesleyan are developing new molecules that enhance cells’ ability to tolerate large swings in pressure, fluid redistribution, temperature and radiation exposure.

Christina Othon, assistant professor of physics, and Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, received a $20,000 seed grant from NASA’s Biological and Physical Research Enterprise to work on the project titled “Osmoregulation for Microgravity Environments.”

The scientists are taking inspiration from organisms that thrive in extremely hot, acidic or physically severe conditions. These animals, known as extremophiles, use water-regulating molecules known as osmolytes to combat extremes in temperature, hydration and pressure.

Erika Taylor and Christina Othon. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

By creating chemically modified carbohydrate molecules, the scientists anticipate being able to dramatically alter water dynamics in their newly-designed osmotic molecules. By introducing these new osmolytes near proteins, Othon and Taylor will create a “cage-like environment” around the proteins, eliminating competing hydrogen bonds, and thereby stabilizing the protein structure, even in extreme, anti-gravity environments.

“Ultimately, this could lead to new therapeutic pathways for the deleterious effects of long term space exploration,” Othon says.

Othon, who came to Wesleyan in 2010, worked on similar research at the California Institute of Technology. There, her group discovered a way to alter the movement of water surrounding proteins by adding fluorine. This process made the proteins significantly more stable to chemical and thermal changes.

And at Wesleyan, Taylor is investigating how of sugar molecules attached to a bacterial cell’s surface alter the way the cell interacts with its environment. “In my system, it has been shown that increasing the size of the carbohydrates attached to the surface of a bacterial cell increases the stability of that cell,” Taylor explains.

Since biochemistry and biophysics are closely related disciplines, the cross-department collaboration came naturally for physicist Othon and chemist Taylor. They’re both part of the Molecular Biophysics Program at Wesleyan, an interdepartmental, interdisciplinary program comprised of faculty, postdoctoral research associates, graduate students, and undergraduate students  situated in the departments of chemistry, molecular biology and biochemistry, physics and biology.

“Christina and I have many similar interests in understanding how biological systems work, and my hope is that this collaboration can grow toward a joint investigation of small molecule dynamics at the surface of a cell,” Taylor says.

 

Physics’s Christina Othon Expert on Membrane Protein Folding, Dynamics

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The Department of Physics welcomes Christina Othon as an assistant professor.

This semester, Othon is teaching a graduate level course called Advanced Topics in Condensed Matter. It is an introductory soft condensed matter physics course that encompasses the physical, mechanical and thermodynamic properties of liquids, colloids, polymers and biological systems.

She’s also teaching an upper-level undergraduate laboratory called Experimental Optics, where students learn about the propagation of light, diffraction and polarization.

In her own research, Othon uses ultrafast fluorescence spectroscopy to investigate changes in protein-solvent interactions during protein structural transitions. She has also investigated the modificatio