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Kilgard Explains Why Scientists Are So Excited About Observing Merging Neutron Stars

The Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.

Writing in The Conversation, Roy Kilgard, research associate professor of astronomy, explains the significance of an exciting new discovery in astronomy. For the first time, astrophysicists have observed merging neutron stars using LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) and the Virgo interferometer.

Kilgard writes:

This news may confirm a longstanding theory: that some gamma-ray bursts (GRBs for short), which are among the most energetic, luminous events in the universe, are the result of merging neutron stars. And it is in the crucible of these mergers that most heavy elements may be forged. Researchers can’t produce anything like the temperatures or pressures of neutron stars in a laboratory, so observation of these exotic objects provides a way to test what happens to matter at such extremes.

Astronomers are excited because for the first time they have gravitational waves and light signals stemming from the same event. These truly independent measurements are separate avenues that together add to the physical understanding of the neutron star merger.

CNN’s Santana ’98 Reports from Puerto Rico: Desperate Shortages, Little Relief

CNN's Maria Santana interviews the mayor of a Puerto Rican city after the Hurricane. In the photo, a CNN cameraman points a video camera on the interview.

CNN’s Maria Santana ’98 interviews the mayor of the town of Aguadilla (pop. 60,000) in Puerto Rico. “To help his people, he’d set up three locations where people could gather water from the local aqueduct. Daily, he traveled the two hours to San Juan at 4 a.m., hoping to pick up FEMA aid. Other mayors were also making that same trip, because each town still lacked a way to communicate with the central government. The mayors would have to show up in person to find out if any aid was available.”

When CNN en Español journalist Maria Santana arrived on the island of Puerto Rico on Sept. 25, five days after category 4 Hurricane Maria tore over the land, she was eager to do her work—tell the stories of those in the center of the devastation and report on the efforts to support the victims and rebuild. But the situation was not what she expected, and—though her job has taken her to many places in the United States that had been ravaged by natural disasters—this was nothing like what she’d seen before.

While she and the crew stayed at a hotel in San Juan—with internet accessibility to transmit her reports—even short trips into the countryside showed massive devastation, but little aid reaching the people.

Fall Harvest Celebrated at Pumpkin Festival

The College of the Environment hosted its 13th Annual Pumpkin Festival Oct. 14 at Wesleyan’s Long Lane Farm to celebrate the fall harvest.

The Pumpkin Festival provides an opportunity for the Wesleyan and local communities to learn about local organic farming and the politics of food. The event included farm tours, a farmer’s market, a bake sale, live music, face and pumpkin painting, free veggie burgers, arts and crafts, bulb planting, and more. Pumpkin Fest was held in conjunction with Campus Sustainability Week.

Photos of the event are below: (Photos by Caroline Kravitz ’19 and Will Barr ’18)

 

Wesleyan-Middletown Collaborations Strengthen Community

The Wesleyan Upward Bound Math-Science Program is designed to help low-income and first-generation college students recognize and develop their potential, to excel in math and science, and pursue post secondary degrees. The Upward Bound Program is benefiting from new federal funding and is one of many Wesleyan-Middletown collaborations. Pictured are Upward Bound students in 2016. 

A new $1.3 million grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education over five years to Wesleyan’s Upward Bound Math-Science program has brought federal funding for an important collaborative initiative in Middletown that will help provide low-income, historically underrepresented high school students with pathways to success in science and math.

The grant is the latest in a growing list of initiatives that are bringing Middletown and Wesleyan together in projects large and small.

“We don’t often pause to appreciate the full scope of collaborations between Wesleyan and Middletown,” said Wesleyan President Michael Roth, “but when we do, the many ways they are contributing to the growth of our strong local community become so apparent. We couldn’t ask for better partners than we have here in Middletown.”

Starr Elected Fellow of the American Physical Society

Francis Starr

Francis Starr

Francis Starr, professor of physics, was elected as a Fellow of the American Physical Society in October. This honor is bestowed upon only 0.5 percent of physicists nation wide.

The criterion for election is “exceptional contributions to the physics enterprise including outstanding physics research, important applications of physics, leadership in or service to physics, or significant contributions to physics education.

Starr received the APS fellowship for his simulation studies elucidating fundamental aspects of glass formation in bulk and ultra-thin film polymer materials. At Wesleyan, the Starr group focuses on soft matter physics and biophysics. Starr and his graduate and undergraduate students combine computational and theoretical methods to explore lipid membranes, glass formation, DNA nanotechnology, polymers and supercooled water.

Starr also is professor and director of the College of Integrative Sciences (CIS) and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry. The CIS is dedicated to providing students with translational and interdisciplinary science education through original research. The CIS summer research program hosts around 180 students annually.

Starr is the seventh Wesleyan faculty to receive the honor since 1921. He was nominated by the Division of Polymer Physics.

Dierker Authors Article on ‘Passion-Driven’ Approach to Teaching Statistics, Data Analysis

Lisa Dierker

Lisa Dierker

Lisa Dierker, the Walter Crowell University Professor of Social Sciences, professor of psychology, is the author of a new article, “Falling in Love with Statistics: Shaping Students’ Relationships With Data.” It was published in October in Scientia, a site that seeks to open a dialogue between science and society.

Dierker writes about the novel approach, called Passion-Driven Statistics, that she and her team at Wesleyan developed to teach statistics and data analysis to students from diverse backgrounds. According to the article, it is a “multidisciplinary, project-based approach that is both supportive and engaging for students at all levels of statistical mastery and those coming from diverse educational backgrounds.”

Loui Co-Authors Article on Human Creativity and the Brain

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, co-authored a new article published in the December 2017 issue of Brain and Cognition.

The paper is titled, “Jazz Musicians Reveal Role of Expectancy in Human Creativity.” Loui and her colleagues found that within one second of hearing an unexpected chord, there is a world of differences in brain responses between classical and jazz musicians.

Oceans and Climate Class Visits D.C. to Learn about Legislation

Pictured, first row at left, Avery Kaplan, Nethra Pullela, Melissa Luna, Ella Caplin, Eric Hagen, Louisa Winchell, Kelly Lam, Suzanne O'Connell. Pictured second row is Ryan Nelson, Ryan Keeth, Miles Brooks, Ciara O’Flynn, Jason Yoo, Matt Butrim, Eduardo Centeno.

On Sept. 26, the Oceans and Climate class traveled to Washington, D.C. Pictured, first row (from left): Avery Kaplan ’20, Nethra Pullela ’20, graduate student Melissa Luna, Ella Caplin ’20, Eric Hagen ’18, Louisa Winchell ’18, Kelly Lam ’19 and Suzanne O’Connell. Pictured second row (from left): Ryan Nelson ’19, Ryan Keeth ’20, Miles Brooks ’20, Ciara O’Flynn ’20, Jason Yoo ’18, graduate student Matt Butrim and Eduardo Centeno ’19.

Students enrolled in the Oceans and Climate service-learning course recently traveled to Washington, D.C., where they had the opportunity to learn how legislation related to climate change is moved through Congress.

The trip, held Sept. 25-26, was led by Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, faculty director of the McNair Program.

After a day of travel and overnight stay, the group took an early Metro ride to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where they met with representatives of the Congressional Research Service. Later that morning, the class traveled to the Dirksen Senate Building, which houses the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. There, they met with two National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellows.

The students shared lunch with policy staff in the Dirksen building and then traveled to the Rayburn House Office Building to meet with Sarah Laven, a legislative fellow for Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (CT). After touring the U.S. Capitol, the class returned to Middletown.

In the Oceans and Climate class, students are studying the major properties of the ocean and its circulation and changes in climate, including the effects of variations in greenhouse gas concentrations, the locations of continents, and the circulation patterns of oceans and atmosphere. They look at past variations in Earth’s climate and oceans and try to understand the implications for possible climates of the future.

Williams ’89 Reads, Sings, Signs at Bookstore Event

Singer-songwriter Dar Williams '89 performed, and read from her new book, at Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore on Oct. 10.

Singer-songwriter Dar Williams ’89 performed—and also read from her new book—at the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore on Oct. 10.

Dar Williams ’89 read, sang and signed copies of her new book, What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities—One Coffee Shop, Dog Run & Open-Mike Night at a Time (Basic Book, 2017), for an appreciative audience made up of members of both the Wesleyan and Middletown communities during an appearance at the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore on Oct. 10. The book is a journey through America’s small towns, where the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter has toured over the past 20 years,

Fraser ’82: When Fat-Shaming Precludes Medical Care 

Laura Fraser's sister Jan, smiling, with her arms around her dog, Sunny.

Laura Fraser’s sister Jan. with her dog, Sunny, at her home in Colorado, several months before Jan died of endometrial cancer, Jan had sought medical attention earlier but her symptoms had not been met with attention they warranted, says Fraser ’82.  (Photo by Cynthia Fraser Taylor)

“My sister’s cancer might have been diagnosed sooner — if doctors could have seen beyond her weight,” wrote Laura Fraser ’82, in an article that detailed how medical personnel ignored her sister Jan’s serious symptoms as the whinings of “a fat, complaining older woman.”

The article, published on Statnews, a site focused on medicine, health, and science journalism and produced by the Boston Globe Media, received more social media shares, Fraser said, than anything else she has written.

Fraser’s first book Losing It: America’s Obsession with Weight and the Industry that Feeds on It (Random House, 1997) had given her a background knowledge of the biases that work against those with obesity and what she saw in her sister’s quest for help. “Sometimes I think fatness is the last bastion of acceptable prejudice in the United States,” she reflects.

Lillie ’74 Receives Higginbotham Lifetime Achievement Award

Charisse Lillie ’74 was honored with the A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award for her accomplishments, service and dedication to the legal profession and minority community. She initially met the late Justice Higginbotham while she was an undergraduate at Wesleyan.

Charisse Lillie ’74, an attorney, member of the business community, and a lecturer on issues of diversity and corporate responsibility, will receive the A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award during the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) Minority Attorney Conference, “Advocacy and Fundamental Rights for Changing Times.”

The award recognizes her accomplishments and dedication to the legal profession and the minority community through civil, community or legal service. Now the CEO of CRL Consulting LLC, she recently retired from Comcast Corporation, where she held senior-level positions. Higginbotham, who died in 1998, was a civic leader, author, academic and federal appeals court judge active in efforts eliminate racial discrimination.

Assistant Professor of Music Sorey MA ’11 Wins MacArthur “Genius” Award

Tyshawn Sorey (Photo Credit: John Rogers)

Tyshawn Sorey (Photo Credit: John Rogers)

Tyshawn Sorey MA ’11, who joined Wesleyan’s faculty this fall as assistant professor of music, has been awarded a fellowship—better known as a “genius” grant—from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The announcement was made Oct. 11.

The fellowship is a “$625,000, no-strings-attached award to extraordinarily talented and creative and creative individuals as an investment in their potential,” according to the MacArthur website. Fellows are selected based on “exceptional creativity,” “promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments” and “potential for the Fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.”