Faculty

New Access-to-Justice Class Helps Students Enact Changes in Civil Law

In-person members of Assistant Professor of Government Alyx Mark’s access-to-justice course, with class mascot Smudge the corgi in the arms of the course’s community partner liaison, Zach Zarnow of the National Center for State Courts. Photo courtesy of Armando Alvarez.

Assistant Professor of Government Alyx Mark’s aspiring law students arrived at her new service-learning class with a typical set of assumptions about how American courts work: Lawyers do most of the talking, decisions by the Supreme Court are followed to a tee by lower courts, and people who have legal problems tend to resolve them.

However, most individuals’ interactions with the law come through small civil actions—lawsuits, traffic court, and evictions, for example. For many people who live in low-income neighborhoods, not only is finding legal assistance difficult, but when they do access the law, often representing themselves in court, it might make their problem worse.

Assistant Professor of Government Alyx Mark

Alyx Mark

Thanks to Mark’s new access-to-justice course, offered last spring and planned for every two years, Wesleyan students got a new perspective and a chance to help enact real change. “Wesleyan has a lot to offer to the local community, as well as more globally. We have these entrepreneurial, enthusiastic, and sharp students who want to do good things in the world. So, it’s not a hard sell to go to a community partner and say, ‘Do you want a team of researchers to help you solve this problem?’” Mark said.

After a year of planning, Mark partnered with a civil justice funder, a national civil justice advocacy organization, and a local provider of legal services to offer students practical opportunities to wrestle with systemic issues. Mark also recruited a subject-matter expert, Zach Zarnow of the National Center for State Courts, to provide students with a practitioner’s perspective in their weekly meetings. Mark published her thoughts on the project recently in ABA Journal.

“The community partners articulated what they needed, like a wish list of different types of projects that will help them advance their work. What was nice about the projects is that they all required a different set of research skills,” Mark said. “The community partners loved talking to the students.”

Ospina Explores the Struggle of Searching for Community in New Book

María Ospina, associate professor of Spanish

María Ospina, associate professor of Spanish, recently authored a book of short stories titled Variations on the Body. (Photo by Simon Parra)

María Ospina, associate professor of Spanish, believes that writing fiction is another powerful way to engage the subjects that have driven her academic work—memory, violence, and culture.

“Right now, I think that this is the way that I am going to continue exploring intellectual issues that interest me, including those related to history and politics,” said Ospina, who previously published a book of cultural criticism.

Her debut book of short stories, Variations on the Body, has been translated into English from Spanish by Heather Cleary and was published in the United States in July by Coffee House Press. The book (Azares del Cuerpo) had been previously published in Colombia (where is it already in its third edition), Chile, Spain, and Italy, receiving raves from critics.

In six loosely connected stories, Ospina, who was born in Bogotá and is also associate professor of Latin American studies, follows women and girls from different parts of Colombian society. Through meticulous prose, characters struggle with searching for a community after migrating and with the marks that that voyage leaves on the body. It’s a book filled with tactile imagery and almost a journalistic approach in how it documents the lives of its characters.

Autry Pens Articles on Race, Identity, and Politics in the U.S.

Robyn Autry, associate professor of sociology, studies racial identity, Blackness, and memory, in addition to the politics of museum development in the United States and South Africa. She is the author of eight recent articles relating to these topics.

Her work includes the following:

In the fall, she will teach SOC 202-01: Sociological Analysis and SOC 299-01: The Future Perfect.

Hagel Discusses Authenticity Claims in Democratic Life

Nina Hagel, assistant professor of government, is a political theorist whose research focuses on questions of freedom, recognition, resistance, and democratic belonging. She often teaches courses on contemporary political theory, the history of political thought, and feminist political theory. She is working on a book manuscript on the meanings and political value of authenticity claims.

In March 2021, she gave a virtual talk called “Right-Wing Populism and the Dangers of Authenticity” at the University of Alabama as part of the Political Science Department’s Colloquium.

She also presented at the Conference on Philosophy and Social Science in Prague, Czech Republic in May 2020, virtually. Her presentation was called “Rousseau and the Stakes of Authenticity.”

Hagel was additionally invited to speak (virtually) at the Pioneer Valley Political Theory Workshop, in Northampton, Massachusetts in April 2021; present at the Association for Political Theory’s conference in Northampton, Massachusetts in November 2020; and give a talk at the University of Connecticut’s Political Theory Workshop in October 2020.

Moreover, Hagel served as a panel discussant in an “Author Meets Critics” panel for American Incest: An Undercover Politics of White Supremacy by John Seery at the annual meeting of the Western Political Science Association.

At Wesleyan, Hagel received the Center for the Humanities (CHUM) Faculty Fellowship for the fall of 2021, in addition to a grant from Academic Affairs to fund a book conference.

In the fall, she will teach CHUM 376-01: Subjection, Contract, Consent.

Dubar, Thomas ’18, MA ’19 Explore the Psychological Effects of Social Media Ghosting

Royette Dubar

Royette Dubar, PhD, assistant professor of psychology

Jhanelle Oneika Thomas '18, MA '19

Jhanelle Oneika Thomas ’18, MA ’19

So long are the days of slipping out the back door of a party to avoid confrontation with a date gone bad. Through social media, one can easily “ghost”— that is, cut off all communication without giving a reason.

In a new qualitative study titled “Disappearing in the Age of Hypervisibility: Definition, Context, and Perceived Psychological Consequences of Social Media Ghosting,” lead researcher Royette Dubar, assistant professor of psychology, and her former master’s student Jhanelle Oneika Thomas ’18, MA ’19 investigated both the motives and psychological consequences of the act of ghosting.

Dubar and Thomas discovered that this modern-age disappearing act has both negative consequences for the ghostee (i.e. the person being ghosted), and the ghoster (i.e. the person committing the act).

The study, which appears in the June 2021 issue of the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Popular Media, is based on a sample of 76 college students who participated in a focus group session.

Ghosting has an overwhelmingly negative effect on the person being ghosted and can have both short-term and long-term consequences. In the short-term, ghosting may lead to internalized feelings of self-criticism and self-doubt, Dubar explained. Over time, these feelings may hinder the development of trust and vulnerability in future relationships, “which are key ingredients for developing intimacy.”

“Because ghosting does not provide any closure to the ghostee, it robs the individual of an opportunity to address any personal issues that may actually promote growth within that individual,” she said.

A 19-year-old female participant in the study described her own experience of being ghosted: “It becomes a lot of self-doubt at first. I think a lot of personal insecurity comes out when you get ghosted because you begin to question because you don’t have answers. So you question yourself, you question what you know about yourself and you blame yourself. You say that it’s because ‘I’m not pretty enough,” or ‘I’m not smart enough,’ or ‘I said the wrong thing,’ or ‘I did the wrong thing,’ or whatever. And at least for me, that’s really harmful and can really affect my mood for a long period of time.”

Tucker Writes Extensively on British History, Photography, and Archiving

Photo of Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

In the past two years, Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker co-edited one book, one journal issue, two articles, two book chapters, and the headnote for a review essay, and authored eight book chapters and two articles. In addition, she has just finished a draft of her second monograph.

Tucker, a historian of 19th- and 20th-century British society, focuses specifically on photographic and cinematic evidence in the fields of science, law, forensic medicine, news reporting, public trials, and the environment.

Her recent work includes the following:

A Right to Bear Arms? The Contested Role of History in Contemporary Debates on the Second Amendment, published by Penguin Press and released in 2020.

“‘Magical Attractions’ Lantern Slide Lectures at British Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meetings, ca. 1850-1920,” a chapter in the book The Magic Lantern at Work: Connecting, Witnessing, Experiencing and Persuading, published in 2020 by Routledge.

“Making Looking: Lantern Slides in British Science,1850-1920,” a chapter in the book A Million Pictures: Magic Lantern Slides in the History of Learning, published in 2020 by John Libbey Press.

“A View of the Ocean, Between the Tropics (1765-1800),” a chapter in the book Britain in the World: Highlights from the Yale Center for British Art, published in 2020 by Yale University Press.

“Photography in the Making of Modern Science,” a chapter in the book Handbook of Photography Studies, published in 2020 by Bloomsbury Academic Press.

Tucker also co-edited the 142nd issue of the journal Radical History Review titled “Visual Archives of Sex” in 2021.

Faculty Collaborate on New, Patent-Pending, Hypersensitive Accelerometer

Tsampikos Kottos, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of physics; Rodion Kononchuk, postdoctoral physics research associate; and Joseph Knee, Beach Professor of Chemistry

Tsampikos Kottos, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of physics; Rodion Kononchuk, postdoctoral physics research associate; and Joseph Knee, Beach Professor of Chemistry, are developing a hypersensitive sensor at Wesleyan.

When launching spacecrafts and missiles, small navigational mistakes could lead to catastrophic results. A satellite could spin completely out of orbit, a missile could mistakenly strike a civilian territory, or a spaceship could end up at another planet altogether.

Three Wesleyan researchers are collaborating on the development of a novel sensor that would benefit navigation and several other applications.

The new, hypersensitive acceleration sensor is based on a principle borrowed from nuclear physics and has been developed at Wesleyan. It provides enhanced sensitivity and precision compared to conventional sensors.

“Our underlying concept can be applied in a variety of sensing applications ranging from avionics and earthquake monitoring to bio-sensing,” said study co-author Rodion Kononchuk, postdoctoral physics research associate in Wesleyan’s Wave Transport in Complex Systems Laboratory. “We believe that our results will attract a broad interest from research and engineering communities across a wide range of disciplines, which could result in a realization of next-generation sensors.”

In a June 2021 Science Advances article titled “Enhanced Avionic Sensing Based on Wigner’s Cusp Anomalies,” Kononchuk, along with Tsampikos Kottos, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of physics; Joseph Knee, Beach Professor of Chemistry; and Joshua Feinberg, professor of physics at the University of Haifa in Israel, shared their study’s results.

The Wesleyan team has demonstrated a whopping 60-fold improved performance in acceleration measurements compared to conventional accelerometers (i.e. sensing devices that measure variations in the acceleration). Wesleyan has already supported a provisional patent application for this study.

Kottos, who spearheads the Physics Department’s Wave Transport in Complex Systems Laboratory, says a “good sensor” is characterized by two elements: its high sensitivity to small “perturbations” and its dynamical range. The latter is the ratio of the maximum to the minimum perturbation that a sensor can detect. And the larger the dynamic range, the better it is.

“Think of a spacecraft or missile. When it takes off, it develops high accelerations, but in the voyage, it needs to detect small accelerations in order to correct its trajectory,” Kottos said. “We believe that our sensor has the ability to measure such a large range of accelerations. Moreover, it is simple to implement and does not suffer from excessive noise that can degrade the quality of the measurements—as opposed to some recent proposals of hypersensitive sensing.”

Although the project is heavily physics-based, Kottos and Kononchuk knew they needed a chemist to help turn their theories into a reality. As it turned out, Knee—who is an expert on optical sensing—had laboratory experience that was applicable to the current project.

“It was wonderful to be brought into such an exciting project,” Knee said. “My research area is in laser spectroscopy which requires significant expertise and experimental capabilities in optical physics. Fortunately, my lab had some key capabilities which helped us put together an experimental prototype that ultimately was used to validate the theoretical constructs.”

“Joe’s experimental expertise in the chemistry framework was crucial for building the experimental platform,” Kottos said. “Our initial discussions helped us to better understand what can or cannot be done and allowed us to successfully design the experiment with a limited budget.”

Kottos began research for the new hypersensitive avionic sensor design in 2018 after receiving a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. The guiding principles were to maximize the sensitivity of the sensor without compromising its dynamical range [i.e. the ratio between the largest and smallest perturbation that a sensor can measure] while making it as cheap and simple to make, as possible.

The current sensor design is approximately 4 inches long, but the size could be reduced depending on the application. Smartphone sensors, for example, measure about 1/4 of an inch, but they are far less sensitive than the design created at Wesleyan. Wesleyan undergraduate Jimmy Clifford ’23 is currently working on simulations to come up with a miniaturized design of this concept.

“Once we have it, either we will have to partner with a fabricator or we will have to off-shore the design and test it at Wesleyan,” Kottos said. “We hope to take this concept to production and hopefully to the marketplace!”

Read more:
The Why Axis: Cutting-Edge Science at Wesleyan (Wesleyan University Magazine)

Kottos Awarded Simons Collaborative Grant to Advance Wave Transport Research

Kottos Awarded $2.8M DARPA Grant for High-Level Photonic Research

Kottos Awarded Engineering Grant from the National Science Foundation

Taylor Co-Authors 3 Articles, Writes Book Chapter on Lignin Enzymology

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor

Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry, recently co-authored three papers and a book chapter related to (1) biomass to biofuel production and (2) development of new therapeutics to treat Gram-negative bacterial infections.

Taylor’s work investigates problems at the biological chemistry interface and seeks to find applications of her work to the fields of medicine and sustainable energy.

Her chapter called “Lignin Enzymology – Recent Efforts to Understand Lignin Monomer Catabolism” in the book Comprehensive Natural Products III: Chemistry and Biology, and her paper “Identifying Metabolic Pathway Intermediates that Modulate Enzyme Activity: A Kinetic Analysis of the DesB Dioxygenase from Sphingobium sp. strain SYK-6,” published in Process Biochemistry in January 2021, both help illustrate the mechanisms for breaking down Lignin, an important biopolymer that provides the structural integrity of terrestrial plants. The DesB paper is coauthored with alumnus Stacy Uchendu ’17 and other members of her lab. Her work is aimed toward helping understand ways to improve the efficiency of biofuel and fine chemical production.

The remaining papers describe efforts to understand the machine-like motions of the protein Heptosytransferase I and efforts to design inhibitors against them to treat bacterial infections:

A General Strategy to Synthesize ADP-7-azido-heptose and ADP-azido-mannoses and their Heptosyltransferase Binding Properties,” published in Organic Letters in February 2021.

Her paper, “Conserved Conformational Hierarchy Across Functionally Divergent Glycosyltransferases of the GT-B Structural Superfamily as Determined from Microsecond Molecular Dynamics,” published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences in April 2021.

This summer, Taylor is overseeing the McNair research program with Ronnie Hendrix, and in the fall, she will be teaching a new First Year Seminar titled Chemistry in Your Life.

Faculty Appointed Endowed Professorships

monogramIn recognition of their career achievements, the following faculty members are being appointed to endowed professorships, effective July 1, 2021:

Erik Grimmer-Solem, professor of history, is receiving the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Professorship in the College of Social Studies, established in 2008.

Abigail Hornstein, associate professor of economics, is receiving the Woodhouse/Sysco Professorship of Economics, established in 2002.

Edward Moran, professor of astronomy, is receiving the John Monroe Van Vleck Professorship of Astronomy, established in 1982.

Suzanne OConnell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, is receiving the Harold T. Stearns Professorship of Earth Sciences, established in 1984.

Francis Starr, professor of physics, is receiving the Foss Professorship of Physics, established in 1885.

Tracy Heather Strain, associate professor of film studies and co-director of the Wesleyan Documentary Project, is receiving the Corwin-Fuller Professorship of Film Studies, established in 1986.

Also, in recognition of his outstanding research and teaching, Ilesanmi Adeboye, associate professor of mathematics, has been awarded the inaugural Faculty Equity Fellowship for 2021-2022.

Brief biographies appear below:

Ilesanmi Adeboye received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and MS from Howard University. He taught at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Santa Barbara, and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, before arriving at Wesleyan in 2011. Adeboye’s scholarship is at the intersection of geometry, topology, and analysis, with a focus on the study of volume in non-Euclidean geometries. He has published articles on hyperbolic geometry, complex hyperbolic geometry, and projective geometry. Ilesanmi received the 2010 Mochizuki Memorial Fund Award at UC Santa Barbara in recognition of outstanding achievement in mathematics instruction.

Erik Grimmer-Solem was a Harper Fellow at the University of Chicago before joining the history department in 2002. He received his D.Phil. from Oxford University, M.Phil. from Cambridge University, M.Sc. from the London School of Economics, and BA from Brigham Young University. Grimmer-Solem has published two books on the history of German social reform and imperialism, along with many articles and reviews in leading journals. He has received numerous awards, including the Binswanger Prize and a recent fellowship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). His scholarship on the Holocaust was covered widely in the German media and discussed by the Bundestag in 2014.

Abigail Hornstein joined the economics department after completing her Ph.D. and M.Phil. from Stern School of Business, New York University, and her AB from Bryn Mawr College. Her scholarship focuses on corporate finance, multinationals, business strategy and governance, and legal institutions, with particular expertise in the Chinese financial markets. Hornstein’s work has been published in many prestigious journals, including Journal of Empirical Finance, Journal of Comparative Economics, Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Journal of Corporate Finance, and China Economic Review.

Edward Moran arrived at Wesleyan in 2002 after serving as a Chandra Fellow at University of California, Berkeley, and an IGPP Postdoctoral Fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and receiving his Ph.D. and MA from Columbia University. Moran studies black holes in the nuclei of dwarf galaxies to gain insights into galaxy evolution, and the history of black hole activity in the universe via investigations of the cosmic X-ray background radiation. He has received grants from the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Suzanne O’Connell arrived at Wesleyan in 1989 after receiving her Ph.D. from Columbia University, her M.Sc. from State University of New York at Albany, and her AB from Oberlin College. O’Connell studies marine sediment cores recovered through scientific ocean drilling (DSDP, ODP, IODP) to understand past climate change, which helps to understand and model future climate change. She is the 2001 recipient of the Association for Women Geoscientists Outstanding Educator Award and a Fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA). Currently, OConnell serves on the United States Science Advisory Program committee for the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) and on the governing council for GSA.

Francis Starr joined the physics department in 2003 after serving as the deputy director of the Center for Theoretical and Computational Materials Science at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). His research focuses on the emergent complexity of soft matter physics and biophysics. Starr has authored or co-authored over 120 refereed publications and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He is the former director of the College of Integrative Sciences and currently directs the Integrated Design, Engineering, & Applied Science (IDEAS) program.

Tracy Heather Strain received her Ed.M. from Harvard University and her AB from Wellesley College, and is currently an MFA candidate at the Vermont College for the Arts. Strain is an award-winning documentary film director, producer, and writer whose work tells stories with a goal of advancing social justice, building community, and empowering the marginalized. Her films have received two Peabody Awards and have been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ford Foundation, Independent Television Service, and LEF Foundation, among other funding organizations. Her most recent work is American Oz, which premiered April 19, 2021.

Kauanui Guest-Edits Anarchist Studies Journal, Speaks at Virtual Events

Kēhaulani Kauanui

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, professor of American studies, guest-edited a 2021 special issue of Anarchist Development in Cultural Studies called “The Politics of Indigeneity, Anarchist Praxis, and Decolonization” as well as wrote an article for the issue by that same title. Kauanui’s work focuses on Indigenous sovereignty, settler colonial studies, anarchist history and activism, and critical race and ethnic studies. Among other recent publications, in 2021, Kauanui also wrote a commentary for Volume 24 of Postcolonial Studies called “False dilemmas and settler colonial studies: response to Lorenzo Veracini: ‘Is Settler Colonial Studies Even Useful?’”

This past academic year, Kauanui chaired the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Native American Studies Search Committee for the American Studies department and also served as a consultant for select administrators and faculty regarding the politics of land acknowledgments and recognition of the Wangunk, the Indigenous people of the land where Wesleyan is located.

Additionally, Kauanui delivered invited lectures (virtually) for universities across the world, including UC Santa Cruz, Concordia University, York University, University of Virginia, Stanford University, and University of Melbourne. She was also a guest on Kaua‘i Community Public Radio (KKCR), where she discussed Biden’s policy on Native Hawaiians and federal recognition.

This coming fall, Kauanui, who also is an affiliate faculty in anthropology, will hold a fellowship at Wesleyan’s Center for Humanities. She’ll be teaching a new class—CHUM378: Decolonizing Indigenous Gender and Sexuality.

Naegele’s Neuroscience Research Published in Journals 

Jan Naegele

Jan Naegele

Janice Naegele, Alan M. Dachs Professor of Science, dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division, and professor of biology, is the co-author of three recent publications. Naegele’s work focuses on stem cells and finding new treatments for epilepsy and brain damage.

Naegele’s articles include the following:

Induction of temporal lobe epilepsy in mice with pilocarpine,” published by BioProtocol in February 2020.

Development of electrophysiological and morphological properties of human embryonic stem cell-derived GABAergic interneurons at different times after transplantation into the mouse hippocampus,” published by PLoS One in August 2020.

Optogenetic interrogation of ChR2-expressing GABAergic interneurons after transplantation into the mouse brain,” published by Methods in Molecular Biology in September 2021.

Johnston, Otake Explore Fukushima Disaster in New Book

Body in FukushimaA new book written by two Wesleyan faculty explores the experience of two travelers in the land destroyed by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011.

William Johnston, John E. Andrus Professor of History, and Eiko Otake, visiting artist in dance, are the co-authors of A Body in Fukushima, published June 1 by Wesleyan University Press.

Johnston, a historian and photographer, accompanied Japanese-born performer and dancer Otake on five explorations across Fukushima, creating 200 photographs that document the irradiated landscape, accentuated by Eiko’s poses depicting both the sorrow and dignity of the land.

Johnston elaborated on the process of creating the book.

“By witnessing events and places, we actually change them and ourselves in ways that may not always be apparent but are important,” Johnston said. “Through photographing Eiko in many places in Fukushima, we are witnessing not only her and the locales themselves but the people whose lives inhabited these places. I do not consider my photographs as documents of Eiko’s performance. Rather, each photograph becomes a performance of its own when placed in front of a viewer.”

The book also includes essays and commentary reflecting on art, disaster, and grief.

Johnston and Otake were interviewed about their work on the book by the Gagosian Quarterly for the Summer 2021 Issue.

On June 27, 2017 Eiko performed near the wreckage of a home four miles north of the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster. The home, and the surrounding vibrant neighborhood, was destroyed by the tsunami and then inundated with radioactivity from the Daiichi plant.

On June 27, 2017 Eiko performed near the wreckage of a home four miles north of the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster. The home, and the surrounding vibrant neighborhood, was destroyed by the tsunami and then inundated with radioactivity from the Daiichi plant.

Eiko performed at the Tomiko Municipal Sanitation Plant June 26, 2017. The plant is located 4.3 miles south of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors and was damaged by the earthquake. Most Tomioka residents had left the community due to radiation caused by the Daiichi disaster and the plant closed.

Eiko performed at the Tomiko Municipal Sanitation Plant June 26, 2017. The plant is located 4.3 miles south of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors and was damaged by the earthquake. Most Tomioka residents had left the community due to radiation caused by the Daiichi disaster and the plant closed.

Read more:

A Body in Fukushima: Recent Work Exhibition on Display in Zilkha Gallery (February 2018)

Otake, Johnston ‘Fukushima’ Project Culminating Events in NYC on March 11 (March 2017)

Johnston, Otake Exhibit A Body in Fukushima in Manhattan (September 2016)

A Body in Fukushima: Photo, Video Exhibit on Display at 3 CFA Galleries (February 2015)