NIH to Support Weir’s Research on Ribosome Protein Translation

Michael Weir

Michael Weir

Michael Weir, professor of biology, professor of integrative sciences, received a grant worth $491,599 from the National Institutes of Health in September. Weir will use the award to better understand how ribosomes — the machines that make proteins — choose sequences in mRNAs (messenger ribonucleic acids) to start protein translation.

“This is an ongoing challenge in biology and is of great importance for investigations of cell function,” Weir said.

Weir is testing the hypothesis that sequences downstream of the translation start codon of mRNAs can form transient base pairs with a conserved sequence in 18S ribosomal RNA (called the 530 loop). This ribosomal RNA sequence is part of the structure of the ribosome and is located in the ribosome entrance tunnel for mRNAs.

He proposes that the base pairing is like a car’s braking system that helps the ribosome pause at the start codon, and that the transient base pairing also helps the ribosome walk along the mRNA in three-nucleotide steps as it adds amino acids to the growing new protein chain.

Kuenzli, Horst Honored with NEH Grants for Book Projects

Two Wesleyan faculty received National Endowment for the Humanities grants on Aug. 9.

Katherine Kuenzli

Katherine Kuenzli

Katherine Kuenzli, associate professor of art history, received a $250,000 Scholarly Editions and Translations grant. She and project co-directors Michael André and Kathleen James-Chakraborty will use the funds to prepare a critical edition and translation of a selection of writings by the Belgian artist and essayist Henry van de Velde titled Henry van de Velde: Selected Essays, 1889–1914.

Scholarly Editions and Translations grants support the preparation of editions and translations of pre-existing texts of value to the humanities that are currently inaccessible or available in inadequate editions. Typically, the texts and documents are significant literary, philosophical, and historical materials; but other types of work, such as musical notation, also eligible.

Kuenzli also is working on a monograph titled Henry van de Velde: Designing Modernism. Together with Selected Essays, these projects recover van de Velde’s important role in Neo-Impressionist painting and the German Werkbund, and they demonstrate how ideas of internationalism and the total work of art lie at the heart of modern approaches to museum display, art education, and industrial design.

Humanities Open Book Program Supports Out of Print Book Digitizing

Wesleyan recently received a $100,000 grant through the Humanities Open Book Program for digitizing select titles in the areas of dance and theater that were previously published by Wesleyan University Press but are no longer in print.

The Open Book Program is sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities, and is part of the agency-wide initiative called The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square. The purpose of the Open Book grant is to make out-of-print titles previously published by academic presses widely available in an open access (free) e-book format.

Barth, Patalano Receive Major Grant from National Science Foundation

Hilary Barth

Hilary Barth

Andrea Patalano

Andrea Patalano

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, and Andrea Patalano, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, have received a major grant from the National Science Foundation. The $1,101,456 grant will support collaborative research on quantitative reasoning conducted in the Cognitive Development Lab (directed by Barth) and the Reasoning and Decision Making Lab (directed by Patalano). The research project will be conducted in collaboration with Sara Cordes at Boston College, which will receive an additional $177,496.

According to the NSF abstract, humans have an innate ability to estimate quantities yet their intuitions often contain biases that interfere with learning new ways to think about quantity. Weaving together strands of psychology, neuroscience, economics, and education, the researchers hope to shed light on the cognitive processes underlying our abilities to estimate 4 kinds of quantities: number, space, time, and probability. By comparing processes across these four distinct areas, the researchers aim to provide a unifying account of how children and adults estimate quantities, which has the potential to transform current understanding of the cognitive bases of how people learn in and across STEM disciplines. Achieving a simple unifying account is important because the ability to think well about quantity in all of these areas is fundamental to STEM learning.

Support Wesleyan Researchers in Crowdfunding Pilot

Four Wesleyan academic departments, from psychology to dance to chemistry to biology, are competing for grant funds through a new crowdfunding site specifically designed for research project fundraising.’s Challenge Grant for Liberal Arts Colleges asked scientists to define a scientific research question for the crowd with a prize for the project with the most backers. The pilot launched on Feb. 24 and concludes March 25.During this 31-day period, the goal is to reach $4,000 in funding. If so, the team is granted the money. If not, they receive nothing and no one’s pledges are charged. By backing a project, participants will receive updates, results and data from project creators.

Wesleyan research include how the brain prevents risky-decision making/addiction; the effects of using artificial sweeteners; controlling seizures with light; and the effectiveness of somatic mind-body practices on victims of the war.

On Wednesday, March 16 at 11:59 p.m., Experiment will award the project with the most backers $2,000 directly through their project page.

Wesleyan’s projects include:

Wesleyan 1 of 12 Institutions Awarded Beckman Scholars Program

Wesleyan is one of only 12 institutions awarded a prestigious Beckman Scholars Program this year, according to Francis Starr, director of the College of Integrative Sciences and professor of physics, who directs Wesleyan’s Beckman program. The Beckman Scholars Program provides intensive research experiences and career mentoring to help Wesleyan undergraduates develop as leaders in the sciences.

Up to two Wesleyan students will receive this award annually, which carries a total stipend of $18,200 plus funds to support supplies and travel. Awards are normally made to sophomores to support research during the summer through the summer following junior year.

Green Street Receives Grant to Expand K-8 Math Institute

Cameron Hill, assistant professor of mathematics, taught an Intel Math course to area teachers as part of the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center's K-8 Math Institute. The Department of Education recently awarded GSTLC with a grant to expand its program and reach 90 teachers from three new school districts. 

Cameron Hill, assistant professor of mathematics, taught an Intel Math course to area teachers as part of the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center’s K-8 Math Institute. The Department of Education recently awarded GSTLC with a grant to expand its program and reach 90 teachers from three new school districts.

The Green Street Teaching and Learning Center has received a second round of funding from the State of Connecticut Department of Education to expand its K-8 Math Institute to three new school districts over the next two years.

The $428,479 Math and Science Partnership Award will allow Green Street offer the program to 90 teachers from the Hamden, Vernon and New Haven school districts in programs being offered this summer and next. Green Street works closely with district math coordinators to select teachers to participate.

“In Connecticut and all over the country, there are issues with math education—students aren’t achieving at the level they should,” said Sara MacSorley, director of the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center. “With the adoption of Common Core standards in math, we wanted to come up with a program that would help improve teachers’ mastery of math concepts as well as their confidence with math.”

Air Force Supports Licata’s Software Verification Project

Dan Licata

Dan Licata

Dan Licata, assistant professor of computer science, is one of 56 scientists in the country to receive a grant from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) through its Young Investigator Research Program. The AFOSR is awarding approximately $20.6 million in grants.

The Young Investigator Research Program is open to scientists and engineers at research institutions across the United States who received PhD or equivalent degrees in the last five years and who show exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research. Licata, who received a PhD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in 2011, will use his grant to study “Software Verification with Directed Type Theory.”

Licata’s proposed work will investigate the foundations of proof assistants, tools that programmers and mathematicians can use to help with their work.

“By using a proof assistant, a programmer can rigorously prove that a program will have good behavior every time it is run, finding errors before the program is deployed and run by the user,” Licata explained. “These tools have been used to verify many large programs and programming language implementations, and in the process many behavioral, efficiency, and security problems have been solved.”

The same tools, he said, also can be used by a mathematician to develop mathematics interactively with the computer, and to formally check that mathematical arguments are correct. This increases confidence in mathematical results and in some cases makes proofs easier to develop.

Licata’s will receive $360,000 over three years. The grant will allow him to hire a postdoc to collaborate on the project. For more information on the Young Investigator Research Program and to view other award recipients see this website.

The Endeavor Foundation Supports First Year Seminar Program

Wesleyan’s First Year Seminar Program (FYS) is benefiting from a three-year, $225,000 grant from The Endeavor Foundation of New York. The FYS program is part of a comprehensive effort to realize the potential of the first year of college to be academically transformative. With the Foundation’s support, Wesleyan will expand and enhance the program. This fall 43 FYS courses were offered to students; 10 FYS will be offered in the spring.

“The FYS program is a key part of our structure to support development of multiple student competencies, in this case in the area of writing, and to tie competency-building to different stages of students’ intellectual development,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs Joyce Jacobsen. “On behalf of the university, I would like to thank The Endeavor Foundation for its generous support for our FYS program.”

The Endeavor Foundation’ generosity will enable Wesleyan to build a program that will be a model of pedagogical innovation and collaboration across disciplines.

Grant funds will be used to provide faculty stipends to develop and teach new FYS courses, and to provide opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge and the work they have done in the seminars in public presentations. Program funds are also available for faculty to collaborate with or bring to campus scholars and practitioners who are working in fields related to the seminar topic. The grant has already supported visitors at Wesleyan, including Cheryl Rose, DMV, deputy director at U.S. Arctic Research Commission in Anchorage, Alaska who visited the philosophy class, “What do Animals Think;” and Kevin Rothrock, project director at Global Voices Online, who visited the government class, “Writing the World.”

Ellen Nerenberg, the Hollis Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Dean of the Arts and Humanities, is steering the FYS Program.

“Wesleyan also is considering focusing living-learning groups around a select set of the FYS courses next year,” Nerenberg said.

Founded in 1952 by Christian A. Johnson, The Endeavor Foundation is dedicated to efforts that foster independent thought, ethical understanding, deep appreciation of the arts and reverence for the natural world. The Endeavor Foundation pursues this objective primarily by supporting and catalyzing excellence in liberal arts education and related fields, and has supported the curricular and pedagogical development of a significant number of liberal arts colleges in the United States.

NEA, NEH Supports Wesleyan U. Press, Humanities Books, Fellowships at Wesleyan

On Dec. 8, Wesleyan received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts and two grants from National Endowment for the Humanities. The grants will support a poetry program at Wesleyan University Press, a faculty fellowship, and electronic dance and theater publications.

The NEA provided an Art Works award of $25,000 to Wesleyan University Press to support its poetry program. The Art Works category of the NEA supports the creation and presentation of both new and existing work — a goal that aligns with the mission of the Wesleyan University Press, a program that has already published an internationally renowned poetry series, which collected five Pulitzer Prizes, a Bollingen, and two National Book Awards.

“The arts are part of our everyday lives — no matter who you are or where you live – they have the power to transform individuals, spark economic vibrancy in communities, and transcend the boundaries across diverse sectors of society,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Supporting projects like the one from Wesleyan University Press offers more opportunities to engage in the arts every day.”

The Art Works award will support the publication and promotion of books of poetry. The press will publish works by Rae Armantrout, Blunt Research Group, Peter Gizzi, Ted Greenwald and Mark McMorris. Books will be accompanied by online reader companions for teachers, students and general readers, and will be promoted through social media, the press’s website, newsletter and author events.

Sumarsam, University Professor of Music, received a $50,400 fellowship grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund his project titled “Expressing and Contesting Java-Islam through Performing Arts in Indonesia.” Sumarsam is planning to complete this fellowship during the Spring 2017 and Fall 2017 semesters.

In addition, Wesleyan’s Humanities Open Book Program will receive $100,000 from the NEH for a reissue of 18 foundational books in dance and theater as free e-publications.

Read more in this Middletown Press article.

Center for Prison Education Awarded 2-Year Grant from The Tow Foundation

In July, the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education (CPE) was awarded a grant from The Tow Foundation of $100,000 over two years in unrestricted funding for general operating expenses. Funds will be used for academic programming, instructional materials and administrative costs of the program.

Now in its sixth year, CPE provides accredited Wesleyan courses to incarcerated students at Cheshire Correctional Institute, a men’s maximum security prison, and York Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s only women’s facility. Prisoners at MacDougall-Walker CI are also able to apply to the Center, and are transferred to Cheshire CI if admitted. The Center currently serves 40 students, and will hold admissions at both facilities over the summer, bringing its student population to just over 60 students and the number of prisoners who have studied with the Center over the past six years to approximately 100.

The Center currently offers between four and six classes each semester at Cheshire CI and two per semester at York CI, numbers which will grow as the student body continues to grow. Classes are offered in a range of subjects and levels of instruction. When teaching through the Center, professors change neither the content of their courses nor their expectations of students. Every incarcerated student enrolls in two classes per semester and attends a corresponding study hall for each class. Students receive extensive, individualized attention and academic support from the faculty, staff and volunteers who work with the program. Every study hall is staffed by tutors and teaching assistants, who are available to assist students in mastering new material, editing papers and any other academic support that might be necessary. During study halls, students have access to laptops, which not only are used to produce course work, but also have resources for students to perform research, including access to JSTOR, a database of academic articles, and the Wesleyan library catalogue. Students are able to submit research requests for library books, academic papers and various forms of popular media, which are then filled by traditional student volunteers on campus and brought back into the facility for student use. While such access is used primarily for coursework purposes, students are also able to use these services as a means of pursuing their own independent academic interests.

In addition to the core academic offerings, the Center also provides supplemental programming including skill-building workshops, non-credit bearing remedial classes, discussion groups, and lectures by visiting professors. The Center also supports former students in continuing their education post-release, assisting with the application process, applying for financial aid, and ensuring a smooth transition to a new institution of higher education.

NIST Grant Supports Research on Biological Materials, Assembly Processes

Francis Starr, director of the College of Integrative Sciences, professor of physics, received a $282,000 grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in September.

The grant will support “Heterogeneous Dynamics and Assembly Processes in Soft and Biological Materials,” a collaborative research project between Wesleyan and NIST. NIST is expected to fund the project through 2018 with a total amount of $1.66M.

Soft and biological materials are commonly composed of synthetic or biopolymers, or are formed as a result of the supramolecular assembly of small molecule, nanoparticle, or protein molecules into dynamic organized structures. These materials are central to developing new materials for emerging technologies related to energy storage and production, energy-saving light-weight devices, and in the development of diverse new forms of medicine and medical materials that mimic biological processes.

The realization of the promise of this large class of new materials has been limited by the inherent difficulties in understanding and controlling properties and the structural stability of these inherently complex materials. The amorphous, and often hierarchical, structure of these materials make the effective modeling of these materials a challenge.

With support from the NIST grant, Starr and his peers will investigate ways to overcome these challenges and develop these materials for their many intended applications.