Faculty

E&ES Faculty, Alumni Author Article on New Method for Saharan Dust Collection in the Caribbean

Earth and Environmental Sciences faculty and senior seminar students have identified a potentially fast and inexpensive method for collecting and measuring Saharan dust in the Caribbean.

E&ES faculty members Dana Royer, Tim Ku, Suzanne O’Connell, and Phil Resor, and students Kylen Moynihan ’17, Carolyn Ariori ’09, Gavin Bodkin ’09, Gabriela Doria MA’09, Katherine Enright ’15, Rémy Hatfield-Gardner ’17, Emma Kravet ’09, C. Miller Nuttle ’09, and Lisa Shepard ’17 have coauthored an article published in the January 2018 issue of Atmospheric Environment. The paper, titled “Tank Bromeliads capture Saharan dust in El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico,” summarizes student research performed in three senior seminar capstone projects conducted over an eight-year period starting in January 2009.

Saharan Africa produces approximately 800 billion kilograms of dust each year, a significant portion of which is carried via wind across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean. These dust particles provide critical components for Caribbean ecosystems, including viable fungi and bacteria, but current methods for measuring the dust can be either expensive or limited in the amount and purity of samples collected.

Royer and his team sought to test whether Saharan dust could be detected within the bromeliad tanks of the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, and “to test how well tank bromeliads serve as a natural vessel for distinguishing the regional sources of atmospheric deposition.”

The team theorized that the overlapping structure of the bromeliad’s leaves, which is used to capture rainwater and nutrient-rich debris, could provide a feasible way to measure and trace Saharan dust in the Caribbean. Over the course of three field campaigns, the team sampled the bromeliad tanks, soil, and bedrock at three different sites in the El Yunque dwarf forest. Their findings confirmed that the contents of the tested tanks could be analyzed to identify the source of atmospheric dust inputs, thus providing a potentially simpler and lower-cost alternative to existing methods of collection and measurement.

Collins, Thomas Honored with Endowed Professorships

In recognition of their career achievements, faculty members Karen Collins and Ellen Thomas were appointed to endowed professorships.

Karen Collins

Karen Collins, professor of mathematics, received an Edward Burr Van Vleck Professor of Mathematics, established in 1982.

Collins joined Wesleyan’s department of mathematics in 1986 after receiving her BA from Smith College and her PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her research focuses on graph theory, enumerative combinatorics, and algebraic combinatorics. Her most recent publication was “Split graphs and Nordhaus-Gaddum graphs” (Discrete Mathematics, 2016). She has served on several prize committees, most recently the committee for the 2016 George Polya Prize in Combinatorics. She is a long-time member of the steering committee for the Discrete Mathematics Days of the Northeast, and served as both vice-chair and chair of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics Discrete Mathematics Activity Group. At Wesleyan, she has directed many PhD and MA theses, and served as the chair of her department and on the Review and Appeals Board, the Faculty Committee on Rights and Responsibilities, and the Faculty Executive Committee.

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas, University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, received a Harold T. Stearns professorship, established in 1984.

Ellen Thomas received her BSc, MSc, and PhD from University of Utrecht, Netherlands. She has received the 2016 Brady Medal from the Micropalaeontological Society; the 2013 Professional Excellence Award from the Association for Women Geoscientists; the 2012 Maurice Ewing Medal from the American Geophysical Union and Ocean Naval Research; and she is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her research focuses on quantitative studies of benthic foraminifera as indicators of global, regional, and local natural and anthropogenic environmental changes, and geochemical and trace element analysis of their shells as proxy for environmental change. She has published extensively and received grants from numerous institutions, including the National Science Foundation, the Leverhulme Foundation, and the Yale Climate and Energy Institute.

American Political Development Expert Justin Peck Joins Government Department

Justin Peck

Justin Peck, assistant professor of government, joined the faculty in 2017.

In this Q&A, Assistant Professor of Government Justin Peck speaks about his research interests, teaching at Wesleyan, and road tripping across the U.S. (Brandon Sides ’18 contributed to this article.)

Q: Professor Peck, what are your primary areas of research?

A: My dissertation attempts to explain when and why post-WWII Congresses enacted legal constraints on executive authority. And that’s now my primary area of research; the second area of my research concerns when and how the Republican Party’s position on civil rights issues has changed since the Civil War.

Q: What are your current projects?

A: I’m working on a book manuscript with a co-author, Jeff Jenkins, who’s at the University of Southern California, and who was my dissertation chair. Right now, we’re looking at every single legislative proposal – succeeded or failed – addressing black civil rights, and how members of the Republican Party in Congress positioned themselves around these bills. What we see after the Civil War is lots of hope, some successes, more failures, but a progressive narrowing of the ambitions and goals of the Republican Party. Eventually – right around the end of the 19th century – they decided to just ignore civil rights. The idea of the research is to tell the political history of black civil rights from the end of the Civil War to present day. We have two books in progress: one stretches from 1861 to 1918, which we call the first Civil Rights era. The other one goes from 1919 to 2016, and that’s the second Civil Rights era.

Yohe Speaks on Climate Change at Local Community Center

Gary Yohe spoke about climate change at the Glastonbury Riverfront Community Center on Nov. 15.

Gary Yohe spoke about climate change at the Glastonbury Riverfront Community Center on Nov. 15.

On Nov. 15, Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, delivered a talk on climate change at the Glastonbury (Conn.) Riverfront Community Center. It was sponsored by the Land Heritage Coalition of Glastonbury, Inc.— a non-profit corporation whose mission is to support farming, open space preservation, and water and wetlands protection—as its annual educational initiative.

“As part of our mission, we feel it important to help folks in Connecticut understand the issue of climate change, what the local impacts are, and what we can do in this state,” explained David Ahlgren, LHC co-president. “There’s a lot of hype, spin, misunderstanding, and politics around this very important issue. We’re planning a series of events on this topic, and are starting off with Dr. Yohe, who is eminently equipped to help us understand the science and sift out the spin.”

In the talk, which was free and open to the public, Yohe brought his expertise to address climate change from a scientific perspective, and took questions from the audience.

Col. Cassidy Is Wesleyan’s First Retired Military Officer Teaching Fellow

As Wesleyan's inaugural Retired Military Officer Teaching Fellow Robert "Bob" Cassidy is actively building relationships and understanding between the U.S. Armed Services and Wesleyan students.

As Wesleyan’s inaugural Retired Military Officer Teaching Fellow, Robert “Bob” Cassidy is actively building relationships and understanding between the U.S. Armed Services and Wesleyan students. Cassidy, who joined the U.S. Army in 1981, focuses his teaching, research and scholarship on international security, strategy, irregular war and military culture. His office is located in the Public Affairs Center.

In this Q&A, and in honor of Veterans Day on Nov. 11, Retired Military Officer Teaching Fellow Robert “Bob” Cassidy speaks about his military career, thoughts on the Iraq invasion and teaching at Wesleyan. (Brandon Sides ’18 contributed to this article.)

Q: How did you acquire your teaching fellowship at Wesleyan?

A: I received a Retired Officer Teaching Fellowship (ROTF) through the Chamberlain Project, which supports fellowships at some of the nation’s top liberal arts institutions. Fellows are required to work on building relationships and understanding between the U.S. Armed Services and civilian institutions and to contribute to the richness and diversity of students’ educational experiences. We also teach two full-credit courses. This fall and next spring, I am teaching a seminar on Policy and Strategy in War and Peace at the Center for the Study of Public Life.

Q: What material is covered in this course?

A: We explore the meaning of civilian-military relations and how those relations interact with our ability to align policy and strategy. We start with the Vietnam War and cover eight wars through the present. So far this semester, we’ve studied the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, the peace operations and combat operations in Somalia, the initial war in Afghanistan, and this week, we cover the bad decisions behind the invasion of Iraq. We will end with a look at where we are now with policy and strategy, and the wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere against the likes of the Islamic State.

Yohe Examines Impact of the Newly Released Climate Science Report

Gary Yohe

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, writes in The Conversation about the recently published Climate Science Special Report. While he, like many others, had feared that the Trump White House would reject the report, instead, he writes, “last week’s release was like trick-or-treating on Halloween and coming to a house with a bowl of candy at the door but no one home.”

Government Faculty, Recent Alumni, Co-Author Articles

Two Government Department faculty recently co-authored scholarly articles with recent Wesleyan undergraduates.

Chloe Rinehart ’14 and James McGuire, chair and professor of government, are the co-authors of “Obstacles to Takeup: Ecuador’s Conditional Cash Transfer Program, the Bono de Desarrollo Humano,” published in World Development in September 2017.

Rinehart and McGuire examined factors that keep impoverished people from benefiting from the social assistance programs for which they are legally eligible. Taking the case of Ecuador’s Bono de Desarrollo Humano (BDH), a U.S. $50 monthly cash transfer to families in the poorest 40 percent of the income distribution, they used field research in Ecuador to identify potential obstacles to program takeup, and Ecuador’s 2013-14 Living Standards Measurement Survey to explore which of these potential obstacles were critical deterrents. The quantitative analysis of these survey data showed that compliance costs, like travel to enrollment and payment sites, and psychological costs, including stigma and distrust of government, each had a significant deterrent effect on BDH takeup. 

Wilbur Remembered for Founding Wes Press’s Poetry Series

Richard Wilbur taught English classes at Wesleyan for 20 years. 

Richard Wilbur, pictured third from left, taught English and literature classes at Wesleyan for 20 years. (Photos courtesy of Wesleyan’s Special Collections & Archives)

Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur, eminent poet and former professor of English, died Oct. 14 at the age of 96. Wilbur joined the Wesleyan faculty in 1957 and taught here until 1977. During his two decades at Wesleyan, he received the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for Things of This World (1956), was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and founded the renowned Wesleyan University Press poetry series.

Over his long and distinguished career as a poet and translator, he was appointed as national poet laureate, received two Pulitzer Prizes, a National Medal of the Arts, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the T.S. Eliot Award, and the Frost Medal, among others.

Wilbur died at a nursing home in Belmont, Mass. A memorial celebrating his life and work is being planned on campus in the spring.

Read Wilbur’s obituaries in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post and on NPR.

(Information for this article is provided by Wesleyan’s Office of Academic Affairs)

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.

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.