Science & Technology

Personick Selected to Participate in an NSF-Funded Project

Michelle Personick joined the faculty this fall, and is teaching courses in Chemistry of Materials and Nanomaterials and an Integrated Chemistry Lab. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Michelle Personick

Michelle Personick, assistant professor of chemistry, has been selected by the Leadership Council of the Interactive Online Network of Inorganic Chemists (IONiC) to participate in a National Science Foundation–funded study to develop, test, and refine a flexible, foundation-level inorganic chemistry course.

As a Virtual Inorganic Pedagogical Electronic Resource (VIPEr) Fellow, Personick joins 17 other inorganic chemists from across the country in a community of practice dedicated to improving student learning. The 2018 VIPEr Fellows are the first faculty who have been selected for this groundbreaking project.

The study, titled “Improving Inorganic Chemistry Education,” is being conducted with support from the National Science Foundation’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education program. The project will use classroom observations, analysis of student work, student surveys, and faculty interviews to study how changes in the classroom affect student learning, interest, and motivation. The project also will investigate how IONiC may encourage the adoption of evidence-based classroom practices.

At Wesleyan, Personick teaches general, inorganic, and materials chemistry. Her research group focuses on developing tailored metal nanomaterials to enable fundamental research toward improved catalysts for resource-efficient chemical synthesis and the clean production of energy.

She received her undergraduate degree from Middlebury College, where she studied platinum anticancer drug analogs, and her PhD from Northwestern University, where she developed syntheses for shaped gold and silver nanoparticles. As a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University, she studied the catalytic behavior of bimetallic nanoporous alloys.

Read more about Personick in these past News @ Wesleyan articles.

Paper by Robinson, Alumni Published in Behavioural Brain Research

Robinson Lab

A paper coauthored by several members of the Robinson Lab is published in the Oct. 3 issue of Behavioural Brain Research, Volume 371.

The coauthors include Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology; graduate student Charlotte Freeland, Callie Clibanoff ’19, Anna Knes ’19, John Cote ’19, and Trinity Russell ’17.

The flashing lights and celebratory sounds that dominate slot-machine gambling are believed to promote engagement and motivation to keep playing. However, these cues are often presented in the absence of reward, and previous research suggests that this reward uncertainty, which degrades their predictive value, also increases their incentive value. In their paper titled “Distinguishing between predictive and incentive value of uncertain gambling-like cues in a Pavlovian autoshaping task,” the researchers used a process called autoshaping to tease apart the impact of reward uncertainty on the predictive and incentive value of a conditioned stimulus using serial cues.

The Robinson Lab’s research program seeks to identify how intense incentive motivations are produced by brain systems, both naturally in extreme cases and less naturally, but still powerfully, in pathological addictions. Their areas of interest include the role of cues in diet-induced obesity, the impact of uncertainty in gambling, and how cues produce craving in drug addiction.

Herbst and Greenwood in The Conversation: The Tell-Tale Clue to How Meteorites Were Made

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy Bill Herbst and Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences James Greenwood write about the model they’ve proposed for how the most common kind of meteorites form—a mystery that has dogged scientists for decades.

The tell-tale clue to how meteorites were made, at the birth of the solar system

April 26, 1803 was an unusual day in the small town of L’Aigle in Normandy, France – it rained rocks.

Over 3,000 of them fell out of the sky. Fortunately, no one was injured. The French Academy of Sciences investigated and proclaimed, based on many eyewitness stories and the unusual look of the rocks, that they had come from space.

The Earth is pummeled with rocks incessantly as it orbits the Sun, adding around 50 tons to our planet’s mass every day. Meteorites, as these rocks are called, are easy to find in deserts and on the ice plains of Antarctica, where they stick out like a sore thumb. They can even land in backyards, treasures hidden among ordinary terrestrial rocks. Amateurs and professionals collect meteorites, and the more interesting ones make it to museums and laboratories around the world for display and study. They are also bought and sold on eBay.

Despite decades of intense study by thousands of scientists, there is no general consensus on how most meteorites formed. As an astronomer and a geologist, we have recently developed a new theory of what happened during the formation of the solar system to create these valuable relics of our past. Since planets form out of collisions of these first rocks, this is an important part of the history of the Earth.

This meteor crater in Arizona was created 50,000 years ago when an iron meteorite struck the Earth. It is about one mile across. W. Herbst, CC BY-SA

This meteor crater in Arizona was created 50,000 years ago when an iron meteorite struck the Earth. It is about one mile across. (Photo by Bill Herbst, CC BY-SA)

The mysterious chondrules

Paper by Kottos, Li ’19 Published in Physical Review Letters

Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics, and Yaxin Li ’19 are the coauthors of an article titled “Coherent Wave Propagation in Multimode Systems with Correlated Noise” published in the April 18, 2019 issue of Physical Review Letters.

In this study, the coauthors utilize a random matrix theory approach to unveil a physical mechanism that shields wave coherent effects in the presence of disorder (noise).

Joshi ’20 Honored with Research Award to Study DNA Mismatch Repair

Meera Joshi '20

Meera Joshi ’20

Meera Joshi ’20 is the recipient of an American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) Undergraduate Research Award for her work on the DNA mismatch repair system.

The $1,000 award will support her research titled “Exploring the Dynamics of Msh2-Msh6 Binding to Holliday Junction Through ATPase Activity. Her advisor is Ishita Mukerji, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Joshi’s research focuses on a DNA mismatch repair protein called Msh2-Msh6 that initiates the repair of DNA mismatches after replication in eukaryotes. This is a highly conserved process from bacteria to humans and has implications for human health.

“We are particularly interested in Msh2-Msh6 because of it’s involvement in DNA repair, which when faulty, can lead to cancer,” Joshi explained. Mutations in this protein have been linked to Lynch syndrome, an inherited cancer syndrome, and tumor development.

Joshi is building on the work of a previous Mukerji lab student who characterized the binding affinity of Msh2-Msh6 with Holliday Junctions—a cross-shaped DNA structure with four strands of DNA, mostly seen during genetic recombination. This structure is also an important intermediate in the repair of damaged DNA. As Msh2-Msh6 usually binds to DNA containing one mismatched base pair, the lab is interested in understanding its role when binding to Holliday Junctions.

In order to study how the protein interacts with the Holliday Junction, Joshi will use fluorescent analogs to observe how the protein binds to the junction and if there are any changes in structure because of binding. The award will be used to fund the fluorescent analogs and the DNA needed for the experiments.

“Meera is a strong research student who is dedicated and hard-working,” Mukerji said. “I think she will make a lot of progress on her project this summer and am excited to see the results.”

After graduating from Wesleyan, Joshi hopes to attend graduate school and find a lab that focuses on protein dynamics.

ASBMB’s mission is to advance the science of biochemistry and molecular biology through the publication of scientific and educational journals, the organization of scientific meetings, advocacy for funding of basic research and education, support of science education at all levels, and promoting the diversity of individuals entering the scientific workforce.

Study by Tavernier, Students Published in Sleep Health Journal

oyette Tavernier, assistant professor of psychology, is director of Wesleyan's Sleep and Psychosocial Adjustment Lab housed in Judd Hall. Here, she monitors an individual's nightly sleep patterns. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Royette Tavernier, assistant professor of psychology, is director of Wesleyan’s Sleep and Psychosocial Adjustment Lab.

College-aged individuals are at an increased risk for mental health issues, as well as poor sleep. There is a rich body of research on the negative consequences of poor sleep for cognitive, physical, and mental functioning. Furthermore, several studies provide support for the importance of three basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) for optimal mental well-being. Less well understood, however, is the issue of “directionality” between basic psychological needs and sleep as students transition across semesters.

“In other words, it is not clear whether an individual’s perceived fulfillment of these basic psychological needs predicts improvements in sleep later on; or whether sleep patterns at baseline might subsequently lead to improvements in these psychological needs over time,” said Royette Tavernier, assistant professor of psychology. “This issue of directionality (the ‘chicken and the egg’ phenomenon) is critical for understanding which factors interventions should target to promote optimal sleep and psychological well-being.”

Tamare Adrien '19 and Grant Hill '20 shared their sleep studies at the Department of Psychology’s Research Poster Presentation on April 25.

Tamare Adrien ’19 and Grant Hill ’20 shared their sleep studies at the Department of Psychology’s Research Poster Presentation on April 25.

In a recently published paper titled “Be well, sleep well: An examination of directionality between basic psychological needs and subjective sleep among emerging adults at university,” coauthors Tavernier, Grant Hill ’20, and Tamare Adrien ’19 examined the relationship between basic psychological needs and sleep quality. Their findings appear in the April issue of the journal Sleep Health.

They find that when University participants perceived that their psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness were met, they reported improvements in sleep duration (slept for longer hours) and sleep quality (reported fewer sleep problems) one semester later. Additionally, they found a significant ‘bidirectional effect’ between perceived fulfillment of the three basic psychological needs and lower daytime dysfunction (i.e., perceived enthusiasm to function during the day), indicating that both these variables mutually predict each other over time.

The authors conclude that while many sleep interventions focus on environmental aspects of sleep, their study highlights the importance of nurturing college students’ psychological needs as a possible approach to improve sleep among this vulnerable sample.

Tavernier is a developmental psychologist and is director of Wesleyan’s SPA Lab.

Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division Hosts Celebration of Science Theses

On April 26, honors and graduate students in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division presented posters at the Celebration of Science Theses.

On April 26, honors and graduate students in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division presented posters at the Celebration of Science Theses.

Han Yang Tay presented a poster titled "Rich Club and Diverse Club in Structural and Functional Neuroimaging Data." His advisor is Psyche Loui

Han Yang Tay ’19 speaks to Barbara Juhasz, associate professor of psychology, about his study titled “Rich Club and Diverse Club in Structural and Functional Neuroimaging Data.” His advisor is Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The New Yorker: “The Shapeshifting Music of Tyshawn Sorey”

“There is something awesomely confounding about the music of Tyshawn Sorey [MA ’11], the thirty-eight-year-old Newark-born composer, percussionist, pianist, and trombonist,” begins this profile of Sorey, assistant professor of music. Sorey was recently featured in the Composer Portraits series at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.

2. The Register-Mail: “Video Slots Take Heavy Toll on Some Players”

In this article exploring the expansion of video slot gaming in a region of Illinois, Assistant Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson shares what he has learned through his research about how gambling affects our brains through the pleasurable release of dopamine. “You hear gamblers talk about chasing losses,” Robinson said. “Basically, they are talking about how gambling and uncertainty can even change how you respond to losing. It sounds counterintuitive, but for gambling addicts losing money triggers the rewarding release of dopamine almost to the same degree that winning does.”

3. The St. Thomas Source: “V.I. Studies Collective Asks, ‘What Is a Virgin Islander?'”

Professor of English Tiphanie Yanique, a core member of the Virgin Islands Studies Collective, recently led a workshop on St. Thomas at the Virgin Islands Literary Festival. A poet, essayist, and fiction writer who teaches creative writing at Wesleyan, Yanique comes from St. Thomas and has written fiction about life in the Virgin Islands.

4. The Forward: “8 Practical Tips on How to Lead a Progressive Seder This Year”

Asked for advice on leading a “progressive seder” for Passover this year, Wesleyan’s Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and University Jewish Chaplain David Leipziger Teva suggested adding a shoelace to your seder plate to express solidarity with the migrants fleeing their homes to cross into the U.S. “In thinking about the 92,607 migrants and refugees who in March of 2019 alone were detained after crossing the US Mexico border, I was struck by the fact that one of the first things that our US Customs and Border Patrol (USCBP) does is force these tired and vulnerable people to remove their shoelaces,” he explained. “Apparently anything, even the shoelaces of young children, considered ‘nonessential and potentially lethal’ is confiscated.”

5. Reading Religion: “Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Bias”

“Through the medium of cartoons, Gottschalk and Greenberg examine complicated concepts such as Islamophobia and stereotypes in a manner that is both accessible and comprehensive,” according to this review of Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment: Picturing the Enemy, coauthored by Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg ’04 and recently re-released in an expanded and revised second edition. “This book is accessible enough to include on an undergraduate introductory syllabus, but also specialized enough for readers who are familiar with the concept of Islamophobia, or the study of the Muslims in the United States, to benefit from.”

Alumni in the News

  1. PeabodyAwards.com: Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart (PBS/WNET TV)”

Randall MacLowry ’86 is the producer and editor; Tracy Heather Strain is the filmmaker for this documentary, which PBS notes as “the first in-depth presentation of Hansberry’s complex life, using her personal papers and archives, including home movies and rare photos, as source material.” The couple cofounded The Film Posse, Inc., to work together in creating documentaries of high quality, and according to a press release, “spent more than 14 years raising money to develop the independently-produced film, which the couple produced with Strain serving as director and writer, and MacLowry and Chad Ervin as editors. Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart had its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and its television premiere on the PBS biography series American Masters in January 2018.”

2. Women and Hollywood: “Tribeca 2019 Women Directors: Meet Bridget Savage Cole [’05] and Danielle Krudy [’07]Blow the Man Down” 

“Wesleyan University graduates Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy met on a film set in Coney Island. They immediately bonded over a shared love of character-driven stories and juicy filmmaking styles. They have collaborated on numerous music videos, shorts, and writing projects. Blow the Man Down is their first feature-length film,” writes Gabriela Rico, who follows with the directors’ candid Q&A. Blow the Man Down premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on April 26.

3. Vanity Fair: Fosse/Verdon: 5 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets from the Cast and Creators”

Vanity Fair editor Radhika Jones, who moderated a panel that included Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15, provided excerpts of the conversation: “‘I picked up a book off the shelf, and my job was to read the book and put it in Tommy Kail’s [’99] hand,’ said Miranda. The Hamilton creator had gone to Wesleyan University with Sam Wasson [’03], author of the 2013 biography Fosse—on which the FX series is closely based. In June 2016, Hamilton director Kail and Miranda began planning a way to bring Fosse back to the screen.”

4. Broadway World: “MCC Launches Season with Ross Golan’s The Wrong Man Directed by Thomas Kail [’99]”

The Wrong Man (“the wrong man meets the wrong women in the wrong place at the wrong time”) is a new stage musical, written by multi-platinum songwriter Ross Golan (book, music, lyrics), Tony Award–winning director Thomas Kail and three-time Tony and four-time Grammy Award–winning orchestrator Alex Lacamoire. Performances begin on Wednesday, September 18, 2019.

5. Boston Globe: “Cape Air on Course for Seaplane Takeoff in Boston”

Jon Chesto ’93 writes: “Dan Wolf [’79] needed to get his hands on an amphibious aircraft before he could fulfill his yearslong quest to bring seaplane service back to Boston Harbor.

“Now, the chief executive of Cape Air has an entire squadron.”

In this tale of Wolf’s acquisition of the seaplanes, Chesto notes some Wes-related history: “Wolf first learned to fly a seaplane at the Goodspeed Airport along the Connecticut River, while going to school at nearby Wesleyan University. That was nearly 40 years ago, but there’s a connection to this latest deal. Shoreline Aviation was run by John Kelly [MALS ’70], who taught Wolf during his college years. They obviously stayed in touch: Cape Air has used Shoreline planes during its Boston Harbor test runs.”

 6. MIT News: “Candid Conversation about Race: In MIT Talk, Beverly Daniel Tatum [’75, P’04, Hon. ’15] Urges Direct Discussion about Racial Issues at a ‘Polarized’ Moment in U.S. History”

Peter Dizikes, of the MIT News Office, writes: “Candid discussions about race relations are vital at a time of ‘pushback’ against social diversity in the U.S., said Beverly Daniel Tatum, the former president of Spelman College, in a talk at MIT on Thursday.

“‘It seems to me pretty clear we’re living in a pushback moment,’ Tatum said, referring to resistance against both political progress by blacks and a diversifying population. She added: ‘I think that today, most people would agree, we are more polarized than ever.’”

Tatum’s talk at MIT’s Wong Auditorium covered topics including the difference between race and racism, what is possible in the political arena, and the “long-running conditions of material inequality in the U.S.”

7. WBUR.org— “WBUR Announces Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize Winner”

From the website: “WBUR announced today that Hannah Dreier [’08] is the winner of the 2019 Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize. The winning segment was produced at This American Life in partnership with ProPublica, where Dreier serves as an immigration reporter.

“Dreier’s winning entry, ‘The Runaways’ is an hour-long investigative report that documents how the Suffolk County Police Department in New York failed to investigate a series of gang murders when the victims were immigrant teenagers. Days after the story aired on This American Life, the Suffolk County legislature forced the police department to conduct an internal investigation into how it had handled the MS-13 murder cases. ‘The Runaways’ proves that investigative reporting continues to effect change.”

Wesleyan Mock Trial Team Takes 8th Place in National Competition

Mock Trial

Wesleyan Mock Trial club competitors gather after their eighth-place finish in their division of a National Championship Tournament.

This year, approximately 740 teams from more than 350 universities across the country competed in tournaments hosted by the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA). And of those 740 teams, Wesleyan’s Mock Trial Team A placed eighth in the country in the Temple Law Division during the National Championship Tournament on April 7.

The AMTA hosted three rounds of competition for the 5,300 participating college students: Regionals, the Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS), and the National Championship. 

Wesleyan’s three teams—A, B, and C—qualified for the ORCS tournament leading up to Nationals. And for the first time in Wesleyan’s history, teams A and B both earned a bid in the National competition.

Wesleyan Wins “Best in Show” at 2019 DataFest

 Anna Zagoren '20, Frederick Corpuz '20, Joseph Cutler '21, Arianna Sang '20 

Anna Zagoren ’20, Frederick Corpuz ’20, Joseph Cutler ’21, and Arianna Sang ’20 won “Best in Show” during the 2019 DataFest.

A Wesleyan team took the top award—“Best in Show”—during DataFest on April 7.

DataFest is a data analysis competition where students are presented with a large, complex, surprise data set and work over the weekend to explore, analyze, and present their findings to a panel of judges. Teams of 3–5 students work together and compete against other teams. This year, students from Wesleyan University, Yale University, the University of Connecticut, and Bentley University participated.

Under the auspices of the American Statistical Association, the event is organized by Wesleyan’s Quantitative Analysis Center

The winning team was made up of Anna Zagoren ’20, Frederick Corpuz ’20, Joseph Cutler ’21, and Arianna Sang ’20.

Winners were honored with a $50 cash prize, a medal, a certificate, and a yearlong membership to the American Statistical Association.

Varekamp Presents Papers at Volcanic Lakes Meeting in New Zealand, Receives Award

Johan (Joop) Varekamp

Joop Varekamp

Johan (Joop) Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, presented three papers during the Commission on Volcanic Lakes (CVL) program held March 18-20 in Taupo, New Zealand. The papers were coauthored by Wesleyan students, graduate students, recent alumni, and faculty.

The CVL is a scientific, nonprofit organization of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI), connecting researchers that seek to understand how volcanic lakes relate to volcanic activity and their hazards.

Varekamp, who also is the Smith Curator of Mineralogy and Petrology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History and professor of earth and environmental studies, is a former leader of the CVL organization. In addition to delivering a keynote address, Varekamp was named the recipient of the 2019 IAVCEI Kusakabe Award.

Fish Species Named After Professor Barry Chernoff

Bryconops chernoffi

Bryconops chernoffi

A new species of fish discovered in Brazil was recently named in honor of Wesleyan Professor Barry Chernoff.

Barry Chernoff

Scientists encountered the Bryconops chernoffi in Rio Ipixuna—a small tributary of the Rio Maicuru, which feeds into the lower Amazon River in Pará, Brazil. Samples of the fish were collected by researchers on four trips in 2014–15, and in March 2019, Zootaxa released an article describing the new species.

Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, focuses his research on freshwater fishes in North America and the Neotropical region, primarily those in South America in the Amazon.

He’s also professor of earth and environmental sciences; professor of biology; chair, Environmental Studies Program; and director of the College of the Environment.

The Zootaxa announcement explains that Bryconops chernoffi’s specific epithet honors “Barry Chernoff, and is in recognition for his contributions to the taxonomy of Bryconops, as well as for ichthyology as a whole.”

Chernoff has published 89 peer-reviewed scientific works, including six books and edited volumes. He has led international teams on expeditions designed to conserve large watersheds of the world, having made more than 34 expeditions in 13 countries.

The Zootaxa abstract describes Bryconops chernoffi as differing from all its congeners “by the presence of an elongated dark patch of pigmentation immediately after the posterodorsal margin of the opercle, running vertically from the supracleithrum to the distal margin of the cleithrum (vs. absence of a similar blotch), and by a dark dorsal fin with a narrow hyaline band at middle portion of dorsal-fin rays (vs. dorsal fin hyaline or with few scattered chromatophores). It differs further from all its congeners, except B. colanegra, by the presence of a blurred black stripe at the anal fin.”

“It doesn’t really resemble my friend Barry, who in addition to being a fish scientist and environmentalist is also a guitar player and songwriter,” wrote Wesleyan President Michael Roth in a recent blog post. “And now he has fish named in his honor. A true species of Wesleyan.”

Chernoff is the third Wesleyan faculty, in recent years, to have a species named in his or her honor.

In 2010, a dinosaur from the Cretaceous Period (about 110 million years ago) was named Brontomerus mcintoshi for John S. “Jack” McIntosh, Foss Professor of Physics, Emeritus. The fossil, discovered in Utah, is marked by its large, powerful thighs, which may have been used to kick predators and travel over rough terrain. The American-British team of scientists who discovered the remains named the dinosaur for McIntosh, “a lifelong avocational paleontologist.”

Two species of benthic foraminifera are named after Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, research professor, earth and environmental sciences; the Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History.

Globocassidulina thomasae, discovered in the northeastern Indian Ocean, was named in 1999, and Ossaggittia thomasae, discovered in the eastern Indian Ocean, was named in 2012. They were named in honor of Ellen Thomas, “a well-known specialist on deep-sea benthic foraminifera, who was one of the first micropaleontologists to document the disappearance of Stilostomellidae and Pleurostomellidae in the Pleistocene of the North Atlantic Ocean.”