Science & Technology

Wickham ’21 Speaks on the Black Student Experience in STEM

posterAs the Black Lives Matter movement continues to shine a light on the Black experience in America, one Wesleyan student is doing his part to foster better understanding for students of color in STEM fields.

On July 2, Fitzroy “Pablo” Wickham ’21 participated in a panel discussion on “Black Lives Matter and Neuroscience: Why This Moment Matters.” The event, hosted by the Society for Neuroscience and moderated by Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, provided a forum to discuss hurdles faced by Black students and faculty in STEM and ways to enhance recruitment, mentoring, and retention in STEM fields.

Wickham, a neuroscience and theater double major, is the Class of 2021 president and a College of Integrative Sciences summer research student. A native of Jamaica, Wickham prefaced his comments by acknowledging that as a West Indian Black his experience does not necessarily reflect the full breadth of experiences had by African American students in science. But for his part, Wickham hopes that in sharing his perspective as a neuroscience undergraduate, he can help move the conversation forward in terms of “how we can make the field more inclusive and equitable” and in particular to voice some of the challenges Black students encounter when navigating STEM.

Raynor’s Study on Fishery Economics Published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research

Raynor

Jennifer Raynor

Jennifer Raynor, assistant professor of economics, is the co-author of a study titled “Can native species compete with valuable exotics? Valuing ecological changes in the Lake Michigan recreational fishery,” published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, 2020.

The Chinook salmon population in Lake Michigan is declining precipitously due to ecological changes, and the impact on recreational fishing value is unknown. In this study, Raynor estimates a conditional model to characterize how Wisconsin resident anglers react to changes in species-specific availability and catch rates.

“Using these results, we calculate the non-market value of access to the fishery that reflects current, historical, and potential future fishing conditions. We then predict whether native lake trout and walleye, which are more resilient to the changing conditions in the lake, can maintain the fishery’s value if non-native Chinook salmon collapses,” Raynor explained.

Results show that while large losses would occur absent other improvements, a portion of the fishery’s value could be maintained if substitute species, particularly walleye, improved in quality and were readily accessible.

This spring, Raynor is teaching ECON 210: Climate Change Economics and Policy and ECON 310: Environmental and Resource Economics.

Vizgan ’21 Honored with Chambliss Medal by American Astronomical Society

David Vizgan '21 was awarded a Chambliss Medal by the American Astronomical Society for his poster presentation at the January meeting.

David Vizgan ’21 was awarded a Chambliss Medal by the American Astronomical Society.

Astronomy and Physics major David Vizgan ’21 has expanded his interest of astrophysics to the far corners of the universe.

By using emissions of a “forbidden” line of ionized carbon [CII] in simulated galaxies, he’s trying to measure mass and other physical properties of young galaxies over 12.7 billion light years away which populated the universe shortly after the universe’s “dark ages”.

For his outstanding research poster presentation on the subject at the most recent American Astronomical Society meeting, David Vizgan ’21 received a Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Award.

Vizgan is one of 15 undergraduates students (out of 355 total entrants) to be honored with a Chambliss medal or certificate. The poster presentations were made during the 235th AAS meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, Jan. 4–8.

At the meeting, Vizgan presented the research he began in summer 2019 at the Cosmic Dawn Center (DAWN) in Copenhagen as part of a NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates. He’s continued this study since returning last August.

Vizgan also is interested in determining the evolution of galaxies from looking at them at different redshift, or distance away from us measured by wavelengths. Galaxies at high-redshift are some of the youngest objects in the universe.

Stemler: Schools’ Mission Statements Can Guide Educators, Homeschooling Parents Amid Social Distancing

Steve Stemler

Steve Stemler

Steve Stemler, associate professor of psychology and co-coordinator of education studies, has spent two decades systematically studying the purposes of school. He is the co-author, together with Dr. Damian Bebell, of The School Mission Statement and maintains the web resource purposeofschool.com. He is the author of an op-ed recently published in The Hartford Courant that provides advice for parents who are now educating their children at home due to coronavirus-related school closures.

You’ve done a good deal of research on the purpose of school, a topic on the minds of many parents these days as they’re getting an up-close look at their children’s daily school experiences. Can you tell us how you went about studying the purpose of school? 

One of the main techniques I use to study school purpose involves systematically analyzing and coding the content of school mission statements. School mission statements have a couple of advantages. First, they are the one common denominator that all schools share. In order to be accredited, schools are required to have a mission statement, so that provides a very nice common element. In addition, they are typically short statements that are meant as public documents that communicate the fundamental values of the school. I have also conducted survey, focus group, and interview research on the dimensions of schooling that people find important.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsWesleyan in the News

  1. Inside Higher Ed: “Contagious Civic Engagement”

In this essay, Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth ’78 calls for a “virtuous contagion” to stimulate voting and other forms of civic engagement among young people, and writes about how this can still be possible at a time of social distancing. “The best way to attack cynicism, apathy or voter suppression is through authentic civic engagement between elections,” he writes. “One of the great things about this kind of engagement is that it is contagious. As we replicate efforts to bring people into the political process, we create habits of engagement and participation. Concern for the public sphere—like a virus—can spread. Usually this happens through face-to-face interaction, but now we must turn to virtual tools—notorious in recent years for being deployed to misinform or stir hatred—to strengthen networks for democracy.”

2. WSHU Public Radio’s “Off the Path from New York to Boston”: “Be(a)man”

Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies Jesse Nasta ’07 is interviewed for this NPR podcast, which examines the histories behind sites from New York to Boston. He discusses the Beman family, who founded the Beman Triangle neighborhood of freed African American slaves, as well as Middletown’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. “There’s so much amnesia around New England slavery,” said Nasta. “But the other part of it is how [the Bemans] emerged from enslavement by the 1800s, built free communities, built free churches, forged the Underground Railroad. And if you think about it, the church that they founded is still going strong two centuries later.”

3. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education: “Celebrating Women in the Academy”

Associate Professor of Chemistry Erika Taylor, who serves as faculty director of the McNair Program, is honored as one of the Top 35 Women in Higher Education. The profile notes: “Her research group has included over 75 students to date, spanning high schoolers to Ph.D. students, with women and other underrepresented students comprising more than three-quarters of her lab members. In addition to her research, she has been a passionate advocate for diversity, lending time and energy to provide opportunities in science for female, minority and low-income students. Taylor was awarded the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching for her passion and dedication to supporting the academic and personal development of all of her students. Her track record of mentoring diverse students culminated in being named Wesleyan University’s McNair Program faculty director in 2018. Beyond Wesleyan, she founded and continues to run a Girls in Science camp for elementary through middle school aged girls, which highlights the diversity of women that exists in science and raises funds to enable nearly half of the students to participate tuition free.”

4. Associated Press: “Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime? Echoes of ’30s in Viral Crisis?”

Richard Grossman, professor and chair of economics, spoke to the AP for an article comparing the current economic crisis, sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Great Depression of the 1930s.“There are more levers now for the government,” he said. “There’s a lot now that the government can do that it wouldn’t even have thought of doing in the 1930s.” One example is a rarely used 1950s-era level that Trump invoked last week, the Defense Production Act, which empowers the government to marshal private industry to accelerate production of key supplies in the name of national security.

5. The New Yorker: “Breaking Transmission: The Fight Against the Coronavirus Offers a Strategy for Cutting Carbon”

Citizen Outlaw, a book by Charles Barber, writer-in-residence in Letters, was cited in this article on interrupting cycles to solve serious problems as diverse as gang violence, the coronavirus, and climate change. “Jumping in at exactly the right time makes all the difference,” explains Barber, who has written extensively on mental-health and criminal-justice issues. He cites studies showing that, otherwise, a single death can lead to a cascade of violence. In an Illinois study, for instance, “a single incident . . . was linked through the victim’s social networks to 469 separate violent incidents.”

6. The Hartford Courant: “Learning from Home and Learning from School Have a Lot in Common”

In this op-ed, Associate Professor of Psychology Steve Stemler offers advice to parents who are now responsible for educating their children at home due to COVID-19-related school shutdowns. Drawing on his research on the purpose of school, he writes: “Many school districts are providing families with some form of online curriculum that includes instruction on all the academic subjects covered in schools. But, as educators know, schools strive to develop not just strong readers and mathematicians but also humans who are emotionally resilient and socially capable, who will contribute to the world as good citizens. Parents may have more to teach their children than they think.”

7. The New York Review of Books: “Pandemic Journal: Michael S. Roth, Middletown, Connecticut

Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth ’78 wrote a first-person account of the impact that COVID-19 has had on the University. He said, “Wesleyan is a residential school, one with a strong sense of engaged and community-based learning. Now, faculty are giving seminars and singing lessons at a distance, but we all know that the fabric of liberal education here comes from mutual entanglement.”

Alumni in the News

1. NPR: “David Biello: A Journey Into Uncharted Territory

In this experimental episode of TED Radio Hour, TED Science Curator David Biello ’95 takes listeners to uncharted places, such as outer space, the deep ocean, and our own brains.

2. Rolling Stone: “‘Blow the Man Down’: A Maine Noir with Money, Murder and Matriarchy

The debut feature film from Bridget Savage Cole ’05 and Danielle Krudy ’07, now streaming on Amazon, is reviewed. The New England noir’s review is favorable: “Blow the Man Down winds its way around the notion that behind every small town’s facade is a whole mess of secrets.”

3. Jazz Journal: “Chris Dingman: Embrace

Chris Dingman ’02 was interviewed about his latest album, Embrace. Embrace received a good review in the article. The album was referred to as “a beautifully warm ensemble sound, and the publicity cites influences from West African traditions and South Indian music, which Dingman has studied.”

4. Cord Cutters News: “Apple’s First Original Movie ‘The Banker’ Is Now Available to Stream

AppleTV+ released its first major movie, The Banker, starring Samuel L. Jackson, produced by Joel Viertel ’97. The article says, “The strong acting seems to be enough to carry the film – it got a 100% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.”

Wesleyan Labs Create, Donate Face Shields to Local Hospital

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Shawn Lopez, Wesleyan’s IDEAS Lab coordinator, models a face shield he created using the lab’s 3D printer. Lopez spearheaded the mask production at Wesleyan two weeks ago and has already donated 100 to Middlesex Hospital.

To help medical personnel safeguard themselves during the coronavirus outbreak, two makerspace labs on campus are manufacturing much-needed protective masks using 3D printers.

On April 1, Wesleyan donated its first set of 100 face shields to medical personnel at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, and others to Wesleyan staff who must work on campus to support the remaining students. The mask, which offers a barrier from the spray of liquids, can be used with or without additional medical masks that cover the nose and mouth.

visors

The face visor frames are printed on 3D printers, and the plastic shield locks onto the small nubs. The completed product protects the entire face.

“Our 3D printers have been running at full speed,” said Francis Starr, professor of physics and IDEAS (Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Sciences) program coordinator.

Shawn Lopez, the IDEAS Lab coordinator, initiated the project at Wesleyan after “weighing the potential benefits (vast) against the potential harm (nonexistent).”

“Designs for hand-sewn masks and 3D-printed visors were making the rounds on makerspace blogs and websites. It was clear that we could jump in and make a difference here at Wesleyan,” Lopez said. “As the coordinator of the lab, I understood that it was within my purview to undertake a project of this nature.”

Cote PhD ’18, Hecht MA ’19, Taylor Co-Author New Paper in Biochemistry

Joy Cote PhD ’18, Cody Hecht ’18, MA’19, and Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry, are the co-authors of a study that explores how opposite charges on our substrate and enzyme cause a protein to change shape when the substrate binds.

The study, titled “Opposites Attract: Escherichia coli Heptosyltransferase I Conformational Changes Induced by Interactions between the Substrate and Positively Charged Residues,” appears in the February 2020 issue of Biochemistry.

“If you can imagine how the opposite charges of magnets are attracted toward each other, then you understand the results of this paper,” Taylor explained. “The enzyme uses positively-charged amino acids to attract its substrate, which has many negatively charged regions. The attraction of the enzyme to the substrate even causes the shape of the protein to change, closing in on the substrate, like the way the fingers of your hand might bend to grasp a ball.”

The researchers describe how they introduced mutations into the amino acid sequence of this protein, and observated how these mutated residues impact the reactivity and protein behavior both in laboratory experiments and in computational studies.

“The amazing thing about these interactions is that they allow the protein to be stable at 203 degrees F, which is almost the boiling point of water, when normally proteins from Escherichia coli are only stable near human body temperatures,” Taylor said.

Although it isn’t clear exactly how the protein becomes so stable, the researchers are intrigued by how the interactions of these charged groups play a major role in that stabilization process.

Cohan: Human Behavior Affects Virus Evolution

Frederick Cohan

Frederick Cohan

Frederick Cohan, the Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment, professor of biology, is a microbial ecologist whose course “Global Change and Infectious Disease” examines how human disturbance of the environment contributes to infectious disease outbreaks. He also researches the origins of diversity among both bacteria and viruses.

In early February, as the novel coronavirus was beginning to spread, Cohan wrote an article in The Conversation, co-authored with PhD candidate Kathleen Sagarin and Kelly Mei ’20, titled, “A Clue to Stopping Coronavirus: Knowing How Viruses Adapt From Animals to Humans.”

Cohan also was interviewed recently by The Wesleyan Argus about the biology of the coronavirus.

You teach a course on Global Change and Infectious Disease, which looks at how human disturbance of the environment can contribute to infectious disease outbreaks like the one we’re now living through. Can you give us a brief introduction to the course?

I teach this course every year or two, and there are usually over 170 students enrolled. I’m also in the middle of writing a book based on the course content. We talk about five categories of environmental disturbance that humans are creating or have created in the past that bring new diseases to us or exacerbate existing ones. The categories are: demand for food (hunting and agriculture), demand for land (living at high density), demand for travel, demand for energy, and demand for health care (including antibiotics).

Startup Led by Dhanda ’95 Developing COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests

Rahul Dhanda

Rahul Dhanda ’95

A lack of fast, reliable diagnostic testing has played a major role in the rapid proliferation of cases of COVID-19. Rahul Dhanda ’95 and his team at Sherlock Biosciences are working furiously to change that, potentially shortening the testing’s time horizon to a matter of minutes.

Dhanda is co-founder, CEO, and president of the engineering biology startup based in Cambridge, Mass., which is creating two different diagnostic tests for COVID-19—one rooted in CRISPR technology, the other in synthetic biology. The hope is that the tests can be released during the course of the current pandemic, Dhanda said, each with its own different applications and utility.

A history major who also took premed classes at Wesleyan, Dhanda earned his MBA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before forging a successful career in the biotech field, with a specialty in diagnostics.

Earth and Environmental Science Seniors Conduct Research in Hawaii

Sixteen earth and environmental science majors from the Class of 2020 recently conducted field research in Hawaii as part of their Senior Field Research course.

The class, E&ES 498, is taught by Tim Ku, chair and associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences. The course is open to students who completed E&ES 497: Senior Seminar, and focuses on improving scientific research skills.

Past classes have conducted research in Death Valley, Calif., the main island of Puerto Rico, the Connecticut River Valley, and the Big Island of Hawaii. The field research took place on the Big Island of Hawaii on Jan. 5-12 and the course concluded with student group presentations on March 3 and 5 and written reports.

The trip was funded by the Lawrence H. Davis ’76 Fund.

The students and their project titles are below:

Emmy Hughes, Avery Kaplan, Haley Brumberger, and Shuo Wang worked on a project titled "Assessing Microplastic Accumulation and Distribution on Four Beaches in Hawaii.

Shuo Wang, Haley Brumberger, Emmy Hughes,and Avery Kaplan worked on a project titled “Assessing Microplastic Accumulation and Distribution on Four Beaches in Hawaii.”

Emily Litz, Jackie Duckett, Miles Brooks, Katie Toner, and Allegra Grant worked together on a project titled "Coffee Soils: Carbon Source or Sink?"

Emily Litz, Jackie Duckett, Katie Toner, Miles Brooks, and Allegra Grant worked together on a project titled “Coffee Soils: Carbon Source or Sink?”

Grant, Naegele to Lead Arts and Humanities, Natural Sciences and Mathematics as New Deans

Beginning May 4, 2020, Roger Mathew Grant will succeed Nicole Stanton as Dean of the Arts and Humanities division, and beginning July 1, 2020, Janice Naegele will succeed Joe Knee as Dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics division.

The announcement was made by Rob Rosenthal, interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

Roger Mathew Grant

Roger Mathew Grant

Roger Mathew Grant, associate professor of music, received his undergraduate degree from Ithaca College and his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. In his recent book, Peculiar Attunements: How Affect Theory Turned Musical (Fordham University Press, 2020), he considers contemporary affect theory in relation to European music theory of the 18th century. He is also the author of Beating Time & Measuring Music in the Early Modern Era (Oxford University Press, 2014), which combines music theory, music analysis, and philosophy to trace the history of meter from the 16th century to the 19th century, and for which he received the Emerging Scholar Award from the Society for Music Theory.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsWesleyan in the News

1. USA Today: “America Has a History of Lynching, but it’s Not a Federal Crime. The House Just Voted to Change That”

Benjamin Waite Professor of the English Language Ashraf Rushdy is interviewed on the topic of legislation that would make lynching a federal crime. In the interview he called lynching “the original hate crime.” “Lynching is a blot on the history of America,” he said. “But it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

2. The New York Times: “Starbucks Baristas Accuse Service Company of Abuse and Pay Gaps”

Associate Professor of Sociology Jonathan Cutler is interviewed about transgender issues in labor organizations as immigrant, transgender, and black baristas face discrimination at airport Starbucks. “Organized labor often lives or dies by its ability to tap into broader social movements,” he said. “In this case, you’re seeing the most public effort to organize around transgender issues.”

3. The Washington Post: “Does Money Even Matter? And Other Questions You May Have About Bloomberg’s Half-Billion-Dollar Failed Candidacy”