Science & Technology

The Cost of Climate Change

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, was called on by The Associated Press to comment on a new analysis of the regional economic impacts of climate change. The report, commissioned by The Risk Business Project, made predictions including:

Between $66 billion and $106 billion in coastal property will likely be below sea level by 2050, labor productivity of outdoor workers could be reduced by 3 percent because extremely hot days will be far more frequent, and demand for electricity to power air conditioners will require the construction of more power plants that will cost electricity customers up to $12 billion per year.

 

While Yohe said the report’s general conclusions are “right on the money,” he noted that “There’s a whole litany of things not calculated in the assessment.”

Yohe added that this report is notable because of the business and financial experience of the people behind it, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Jr., former hedge fund manager, Thomas Steyer, and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, among others.

“These are people who have managed risk all their lives and have made an enormous amount of money doing so,” Yohe said.

 

Wesleyan Faculty Teach Fifth Graders about Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Astronomy

Fifth graders from Snow Elementary School in Middletown toured Wesleyan’s astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics and scientific imaging departments on June 18, 2014. Students also visited the Joe Webb Peoples Museum and Collections in Exley Science Center.

Brian Northrop, assistant professor of chemistry, used the reversible hydration and dehydration of cobalt(II) chloride to demonstrate Le Chatelier's principle and create color-changing "humidity sensors." Pieces of filter paper were saturated with a solution of cobalt(II) in water, which turned the paper pink. Warming the paper with a blow dryer evaporated the water and turned the paper blue by re-forming cobalt(II) chloride.

Brian Northrop, assistant professor of chemistry, used the reversible hydration and dehydration of cobalt(II) chloride to demonstrate Le Chatelier’s principle and create color-changing “humidity sensors.” Pieces of filter paper were saturated with a solution of cobalt(II) in water, which turned the paper pink. Warming the paper with a blow dryer evaporated the water and turned the paper blue by re-forming cobalt(II) chloride.

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Research student Jesse Mangiardi ’15 Mangiardi ’15 demonstrated how to change the chemical composition — and color — of a penny. First he submerged a copper penny in a solution containing zinc mixed with a base, which coated the penny in zinc and made it appear silver. Next, he heated the zinc-coated penny with a blow torch which caused the zinc and copper to react and form brass, and turned a penny bright gold.

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The students took a few silver and gold pennies back with them to Snow School.

Singer’s Study Reveals that Finicky Feeders Avoid Bird Predation

In a recent study, Associate Professor Mike Singer compared 41 caterpillar species to show the link between dietary breadth and vulnerability to predators.

In a recent study, Associate Professor Mike Singer compared 41 caterpillar species to show the link between dietary breadth and vulnerability to predators.

Grandmothers used to warn youngsters against being “a jack of all trades, and a master of none,” and with good reason, at least in the animal kingdom, according to research by Mike Singer, associate professor of biology, associate professor of environmental studies.

Singer’s decade of research in the ecosystems of Connecticut forests reveals that caterpillars with finicky feeding habits avoid predation from birds, whereas those that feed generally on many plants become meals for baby birds. The “specialist” bugs are much better at survival.

Singer and five collaborators published these findings in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences June 16.

Mike Singer studies the Papilio glaucus, one of the most bird-resistant caterpillars. (Photo by Mike Singer)

Mike Singer studies the Papilio glaucus, one of the most bird-resistant caterpillars. (Photo by Mike Singer)

“Dietary specialization of herbivores drives the dynamics of this food chain,” Singer explained. Caterpillars with generalized diets are less likely than specialists to be camouflaged or to display warning colors or features to avian predators.

A familiar example of a dietary specialist is the caterpillar of the Monarch butterfly, which feeds exclusively on milkweed plants. This caterpillar accumulates toxins from its food-plants, rendering it unpalatable to birds and other predators. The toxic caterpillar is distinctively striped and colored as a warning to its enemies.

Poulos Studies Changing Perceptions of Whales Aboard World’s Last Wooden Whaling Ship

Helen Poulos climbs the rigging aboard the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in existence.

Helen Poulos climbs the rigging aboard the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in existence.

On June 15, Helen Poulos, a postdoctoral fellow in the College of the Environment, set sail aboard the Charles W. Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaling ship in the world. Built and launched in 1841, the Morgan embarked on 37 voyages up until 1921, roaming every corner of the globe in pursuit of whales. She had been docked at the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut since 1940, and underwent major restoration work in recent years. This month, she took one final commemorative voyage in order to call attention to the importance of historic ships and America’s maritime heritage, as well as raise awareness about changing perceptions of whales and whaling.

Helen Poulos

Helen Poulos

Poulos is one of 79 individuals—including artists, historians, scientists, journalists, teachers, musicians, scholars and whaling descendants—selected to take part in this unprecedented public history project. Together, the group will produce a creative work for the Mystic Seaport to share online, and through exhibits, publications and public programs. On nine different legs of the journey, they will work alongside staff from the Mystic Seaport museum to “examine every aspect of the journey, and to better understand the past experiences of those who sailed this ship and others like her,” according to the project’s website. The ship will stop in a number of historic ports in New England, including Martha’s Vineyard, Provincetown and Boston. The journey wraps up August 9 with a homecoming celebration at Mystic Seaport.

Closing Schizophrenia Program a Crippling Loss

Writing in The Hartford Courant, Matthew Kurtz, associate professor of psychology, chair and associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, rails against plans to close the 20-year-old Schizophrenia Rehabilitation Program at the Institute of Living in Hartford. Individuals with schizophrenia suffer from impairments that can make daily life a Herculean struggle for the entire family,” writes Kurtz. Moreover, people with schizophrenia represent a substantial proportion of the homeless population; have extremely have levels of unemployment; and, in the absence of treatment, all too often end up in prisons, which are ill-equipped to treat them and where they are highly vulnerable targets of other prisoners.

Kurtz writes: “The Schizophrenia Rehabilitation Program, internationally recognized for its treatments, is one of the very few treatment centers in Connecticut that can address the needs of this patient population and the only program, to my knowledge, to offer such a rich array of integrated services with such proven results. Indeed, despite the dire statistics, we know that evidence-based treatments can improve outcomes in schizophrenia and that many people with the disorder can live rich and fulfilling lives, even with residual symptoms.”

Read more here.

Starr, Hanakata ’14 Co-Author Paper on Polymer Films, Published in Nature Communications

Francis Starr and Paul Hanakata '14 study the mobility gradient on a thin, polymer film.

Francis Starr and Paul Hanakata ’14 study the interfacial mobility in a thin, polymer film.

Francis Starr, professor of physics, and Paul Hanakata ’14 are the co-authors of a new article published in the journal Nature Communications on June 16. The article, titled “Interfacial Mobility Scale Determines the Scale of Collective Motion and Relaxation Rate in Polymer Films,” is based off Hanakata’s senior thesis research at Wesleyan.

Thin polymer films are ubiquitous in manufacturing and medical applications. Their chemical and mechanical properties make them suitable as artificial soft biological tissue and there has been intense interest in how film thickness and substrate interactions influence film dynamics.

The nature of polymer rearrangements within these films determines their potential applications.  However, up to now, there has been no way to readily assess how design choices of the film affect these dynamic rearrangements.

“Paul’s paper is novel because it demonstrates how an experimental measurement of the surface properties can be used to infer the changes to collective motions within the film,” Starr explained. “These results offer a practical metrology that might be used for the design of new advanced materials.”

Hanakata, who graduated in May, will begin his graduate studies at Boston University next fall.

Resor Delivering 6 Lectures to Petroleum Geoscientists in Australia

Associate Professor Phil Resor is delivering six lectures in Australia this June.

Associate Professor Phil Resor is delivering six lectures in Australia this June. He is the 2014 AAPG Distinguished Lecturer.

Philip Resor, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, is taking his knowledge of petroleum down under.

Between June 18-26, Resor, a Distinguished Lecturer for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), is delivering six lectures in Australia. The talks are geared toward members of the Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia (PESA) and a general petroleum industry audience.

Phil Resor at a talk in Melbourne.

Phil Resor at a talk in Melbourne.

While abroad, Resor will speak on “Syndepositional Faulting of Carbonate Platforms” and “Revisiting the Origin of Reverse Drag.”

He’ll be lecturing in Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra.

A specialist in structural geology, Resor’s work integrates field mapping, remote sensing, and numerical modeling to better understand the mechanics of faulting. Recent projects have focused on the causes of syndepositional faulting in carbonate platforms, deformation around normal faults, folding on Venus, and the effects of fault zone geometry on earthquake slip.

Prior to joining the faculty at Wesleyan, Resor worked for several years as an exploration geologist in the oil and gas industry.

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Phil Resor in Sydney.

Kilgard Presents Stunning New Image of ‘Whirlpool Galaxy’

m51_w11Roy Kilgard, support astronomer and research assistant professor of astronomy, together with Trevor Dorn-Wallstein ’15 and Tyler Desjardin MA ’11, recently presented stunning new images of a spiral galaxy produced by combining data from more than 232 hours of observing time with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Similar to the Milky Way, the galaxy is officially known as Messier 51 (M51) or NGC 5194, but nicknamed “the Whirlpool Galaxy.” Located about 30 million light years from Earth, its face-on orientation to Earth offers a perspective astronomers can never get of our own galaxy.

The image showing a vibrant purple swirl was presented June 3 at the 224th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Boston, Mass. K.D. Kuntz of Johns Hopkins University was also a co-author.

The image also appeared as NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day on June 10.

Kilgard told Universe Today, “This is the deepest, high-resolution exposure of the full disk of any spiral galaxy that’s ever been taken in the X-ray.”

Chandra allowed the astronomers to uncover things that can only be detected in X-rays. According to the website for the Chandra observatory: “Most of the X-ray sources are X-ray binaries (XRBs). These systems consist of pairs of objects where a compact star, either a neutron star or, more rarely, a black hole, is capturing material from an orbiting companion star. The infalling material is accelerated by the intense gravitational field of the compact star and heated to millions of degrees, producing a luminous X-ray source. The Chandra observations reveal that at least ten of the XRBs in M51 are bright enough to contain black holes. In eight of these systems the black holes are likely capturing material from companion stars that are much more massive than the Sun.”

Observations have revealed that the Whirlpool Galaxy is in the process of merging with a smaller companion galaxy, visible in the upper left of the composite image. Researchers believe this is triggering waves of rapid star formation.

Read more coverage of the presentation on NBC News and Space.

Also at the American Astronomical Society meeting, Nicole Arulanantham, a second-year graduate student in the Astronomy MA program, was awarded a Chambliss Medal, and astronomy major Ben Tweed ’13 presented a paper. Read more about it here.

Singer ’15 to Study Moon Rocks as Connecticut Space Grant Fellow

Jack Singer '15 holds a fragmented lunar sample (Apollo 12039,3), a crucial sample for studying his mineral of interest — apatite — on the moon.

Jack Singer ’15 holds a fragmented lunar sample (Apollo 12039,3), a crucial sample for studying his mineral of interest — apatite — on the moon. This summer, Singer received a Connecticut Space Grant College Consortium grant to fund his summer research in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department.

As a recent recipient of an undergraduate research fellowship, Jack Singer ’15 is spending his summer at Wesleyan studying the geochemical evolution of the moon. 

The fellowship, supported by the Connecticut Space Grant College Consortium, comes with a $5,000 award. Grantees are expected to work on research related to space/aerospace science or engineering under the guidance of a faculty member or a mentor from industry.

By using a microscope in Wesleyan's Solar Systems Geochemistry Lab, Jack Singer takes a closer look at a Lunar sample.

By using a microscope in Wesleyan’s Solar Systems Geochemistry Lab, Jack Singer takes a closer look at a lunar sample.

For the next three months, Singer will work on various research projects with his advisor James Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental science. Singer will first prepare a fragmented lunar sample (Apollo 12035,76) for analysis under an ion microprobe. An ion microprobe applies a beam of charged ions to the sample and helps determine the composition of the material.

This rock contains olivine, a mineral that is mysteriously sparse in many different lunar samples.

“By analyzing the melt inclusions contained within olivine in this rock, I’ll be able to better understand geochemical evolution of the moon,” Singer said.

Singer’s second project is more experimental. He’s attempting to model and quantify diffusion in a late-stage lunar environment (one of the last regions to cool on the moon) by synthesizing a granite-rich model lunar glass.

Singer will heat this glass past its melting point and place it in contact with solid terrestrial apatite — the Moon’s major water-bearing mineral — and measure how elements diffuse across the glass-grain (or solid-liquid) boundary.

Jack Singer and his advisor, James Greenwood, will travel to Japan this summer to use an ion microprobe at Hokkaido University.

Jack Singer and his advisor, James Greenwood, will travel to Japan this summer to use an ion microprobe at Hokkaido University.

“This type of analysis helps us to better understand the processes that occurred during the last stages of lunar cooling,” he explained.

In addition, Singer and Greenwood will travel to Japan this summer to use an ion microprobe at Hokkaido University.

“This machine allows us to analyze and measure stable isotope ratios in the minerals we are interested in, and can therefore tell us something about the fractionation and geochemical history of the lunar body,” Singer said.

Next fall, Singer will write about his research findings.

Chernoff Photographs Fish to Accompany Scientific Journal Article

On June 5, Professor Barry Chernoff photographed two new species of dwarf silverside fish from the Caribbean.

On June 5, Professor Barry Chernoff photographed two new species of dwarf silverside fish from the Caribbean. Chernoff is the director of the College of the Environment, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, professor of earth and environmental sciences.

Chernoff photographed the fish for a scientific paper that he's submitting for publication. The paper will describe the two new species and their two new, formal names.

Chernoff photographed the fish for a scientific paper that he’s submitting for publication.

The paper will describe the two new species and their two new, formal names.

The paper will describe the two new species and their two new, formal names.

Army Veteran Olivieri to Join Class of 2018 through Posse Foundation

Andrew Olivieri

Andrew Olivieri

In the fall of 2008, Andrew Olivieri felt like he was staring down four years of uncertainty, dissatisfaction and “wasting my parents’ money.” A senior at the Bronx High School of Science, where most graduates are expected to attend college, Olivieri just didn’t feel ready.

But the Army life had always attracted him, as a path that led to maturity, a work ethic, and an opportunity to be part of something larger than himself.

“I wanted to be a part of history, and contribute to it,” Olivieri said. “I never wanted to be one of those people who just say, ‘Oh, I thought about joining the military.’ I thought I should just do it.”

Soon Olivieri was starting what would be the first of four deployments with the Army Rangers, including many months in Afghanistan and half a year in Farsi language immersion, which “helped me understand a culture that I only knew through war,” he said. His last experiences in the Army, working with Afghan commandos, were deeply enriched by his working knowledge of their language.

In September, Olivieri’s next big adventure begins: as a Wesleyan freshman. He’ll be in Wesleyan’s first group of 10 U.S. military veterans on campus through the Posse Foundation.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “The student community seems very active, and that’s what I’m looking for. I want to share my experience in an environment where people are willing to listen and willing to share their lives with me.”

As he neared the end of his military service, a family friend recommended Olivieri to Posse, and he applied, seeking a school where he could explore what had become a passion for him in the military: international relations. “Wesleyan seemed perfect,” he said.

Now 22, he’ll join nine other military veterans in the Class of 2018. This is the inaugural year for Posse at Wesleyan; the university hopes to add 10 veterans per class for the next three years.

Posse is one of five programs the university is highlighting June 15-21, as Access2Wes week celebrates diversity and inclusion at Wesleyan. During this week, alumni and friends can support these programs, which also include A Better Chance, Prep for Prep, QuestBridge and the Freeman Asian Scholars, with their gift through the Wesleyan Fund.

#THISISWHY

How Science Helped Win D-Day

On the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, faculty director of the McNair Program, writes in Slate about the role played by science in making possible the victory of Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy. 

“For any amphibious operation, an ability to predict the height and timing of high tides is crucial,” write O’Connell, yet adds, “Predicting tides correctly is not as simple as you might think. Having taught oceanography to undergrads for many years, I can testify to just how complex, even counterintuitive, this science is.”

Read more here.