Science & Technology

Eusebio ’17 to Study Washington’s Natural Environment as Doris Duke Conservation Scholar

Joseph Eusebio '17

Joseph Eusebio ’17 will explore themes of biodiversity, food, water and climate as a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar in Washington this summer.

Joseph Eusebio ’17 was selected to take part in the brand new Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at the University of Washington this summer. According to the program website, this eight-week, all-expenses-paid program will take students on a journey from the “urban jungle” to the old growth forest and back, allowing them to explore how conservation can make a difference, and how they can make a difference in conservation.

Eusebio is one of only 26 students on the team, chosen from a pool of nearly 400 applicants. He said he came across the scholarship by chance while thinking about opportunities for the summer over winter break.

“I began just looking at internships, but then I started to consider other things such as taking language courses at the University of Washington. While browsing the UW website for its summer opportunities, I happened to come across the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars link and the description just really stuck with me,” he said. “It surprised me that, as far as I can tell, I’m the only student from Washington who is a part of the program.”

However, Eusebio considered it a long shot that he would be accepted into the program, given that he has not specialized in environmental science in his coursework.

“I have, however, always had a strong attachment to nature and the outdoors,” he said.

Faculty, Students Discuss Milgram’s “Shock” Experiment Research at Humanities Theory Salon

Jill Morawski, the Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor of Psychology, professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, along with Ethan Hoffman ’14 and Nick Myerberg ’14 (not pictured) presented “Body Resistance: Mapping Power and Defiance in the Milgram Experiments”, their research on the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments, on May 9 at the Center for Humanities’ last theory salon of the 2013-2014 school year.

Jill Morawski, the Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor of Psychology, professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, along with Ethan Hoffman ’14 and Nick Myerberg ’14 (not pictured) presented their research on the Stanley Milgram obedience experiments, May 9 at the Center for Humanities’ theory salon.

On Friday, May 9, the Center for Humanities held its last theory salon for the 2013-2014 academic year. The intimate faculty-student presentation revealed ground-breaking research on the Stanley Milgram “shock” obedience experiment, led by Jill Morawski, the Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor of Psychology, professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and assistants Ethan Hoffman ’14 and Nick Myerberg ’14.

Stanley Milgram, a psychologist from Yale University, is known for his experiment on obedience to authority figures. In the 1960s, Milgram measured the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their conscience. In the experiment, a subject is asked to deliver painful electric shocks to a learner, who is actually and actor. The subject believes the learner was receiving shocks, however there was no physical pain inflicted on the learner.

“Body Resistance: Mapping Power and Defiance in the Milgram Experiments” re-imagines the ways in which dissonance, power, and human behavior are taught and thought about. Rather than challenge the extent of Milgram’s contributions and their applications, the team was more interested in using archival information—largely based on Milgram’s observational notes and recordings—to analyze previously overlooked nuances. Much of the research draws on the construction of agency and, as suggested by Hoffman, Milgram’s own suspicions.

“Milgram did a lot of double-talk,” Hoffman explained, “and this led us to believe that he was attentive to the problematic nature of the work.”

Interest in these classic findings has been persistent throughout the years and, recently, is becoming more interdisciplinary. Milgram’s findings have extended outside of the realms of social psychology and have incited studies in cognitive psychology, neuroscience and legal theory.

“There is great demand for understanding behavior in terms of implicit attitudes,” Morawski said.

Chemistry’s Taylor Leads Biofuels Workshop for Area Teachers

On April 26, Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, led a biofuels workshop for area teachers at the Green Street Arts Center.

On April 26, Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, led a biofuels workshop for area teachers at the Green Street Arts Center.

Taylor led a presentation about her biofuel research and led an activity where the teachers made biofuel from cooking oil. The workshop was funded by a Connecticut Teacher Quality Partnership grant, which supports professional development of high school teachers in alternative energies and project-based learning.

Taylor led a presentation about her biofuel research and led an activity where the teachers made biofuel from cooking oil. The workshop was funded by a Connecticut Teacher Quality Partnership grant, which supports professional development of high school teachers in alternative energies and project-based learning.

Goodstein ’14 to Deliver WESeminar on Mental Illness and Stigma

Taylor Goodstein '14 wrote her senior thesis on the human experience of mental illness. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Taylor Goodstein ’14 wrote her senior thesis on the human experience of mental illness. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we speak with Taylor Goodstein from the Class of 2014. She is delivering a WESeminar at Reunion & Commencement on the topic of her capstone project: “Looking Inward: Examining the Broken Brain and Reducing Stigma.”

Q: Taylor, what is your major, and how did you settle on this topic for your thesis?

A: I am a neuroscience and behavior and biology double major, and I am also obtaining a certificate in creative writing. I was never planning on writing a thesis because I don’t conduct research in a neuroscience or biology laboratory, but then one day the idea just sort of came to me. I realized how neuroscience classes at Wesleyan focus so much on the hard science, and it becomes easy to forget that the illnesses and disorders that are discussed at a physiological level have real-world social and personal implications. I wanted to explore the human side of neuroscience, and I was inspired by writers who have done the same thing, such as Oliver Sacks. Combining narrative and current neuroscience research is an excellent tool for increasing understanding and reducing the stigma of mental illness, and I wanted to try it out.

Q: Please tell us about the people you interviewed for your project.

A: I interviewed six people, including one Wesleyan student with multiple sclerosis—whose story illustrates how living with an invisible, inconsistent disability can be hard to explain and thus causes lots of misunderstanding—as well as another Wes student who talked about living with an anxiety disorder that perpetuated an eating disorder. Her story was very valuable to me because she has since made a full recovery, and I really went in to detail discussing the aspects of her environment that made it easy for her to seek help and get treatment. Hopefully, such environments can be replicated more and more so people don’t remain silent about mental illness.

Barth, Alumni Co-Author Paper on Preschoolers’ Trust

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the co-author of of “Preschoolers trust novel members of accurate speakers’ groups and judge them favorably,” published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Issue 67, pages 872-883, in 2014. The paper is based on work from BA ’08/MA ’09 student Keera Bhandari’s thesis, and research by former undergraduates Kyle MacDonald ’10 and Jenn Garcia ’10, and former lab manager Elizabeth Chase.

It is known that by age 3, children track a speaker’s record of past accuracy and use it as a cue to current reliability. Through two different experiments, the Wesleyan researchers explored whether preschoolers’ judgments about, and trust in, the accuracy of a previously reliable informant extend to other members of the informant’s group.

In Experiment 1, both 3- and 4-year-olds consistently judged an animated character who was associated with a previously accurate speaker more likely to be correct than a character associated with a previously inaccurate speaker, despite possessing no information about these characters’ individual records of reliability. They continued to show this preference one week later.

Experiment 2 presented 4- and 5-year-olds with a related task using videos of human actors. Both showed preferences for members of previously accurate speakers’ groups on a common measure of epistemic trust. This result suggests that by at least age 4, children’s trust in speaker testimony spreads to members of a previously accurate speaker’s group.

Blümel, Nam Published in Physical Review A

Reinhold Blümel, the Charlotte Augusta Ayres Professor of Physics, and physics graduate student Yunseong Nam are the co-authors of “Robustness of the quantum Fourier transform with respect to static gate defects,” published in Physical Review A, Issue 89, in April 2014.

The quantum Fourier transform (QFT) is one of the most widely used quantum algorithms, ranging from its primary role in finding the periodicity hidden in a quantum state to its use in constructing a quantum adder.

COE, Musician/Fellow Launch Online Environmental Teaching Tool for Kids

College of the Environment fellow Rani Arbo is working with COE Director Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, on a project called "Earth Out Loud: Stories from Our Habitat." Earth Out Loud is designed for elementary school-aged children and educators, and offers a short story in audio and/or video format, as well as ideas for exploring the topic further in the classroom or at home.

College of the Environment fellow Rani Arbo is working with COE Director Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, on a project called “Earth Out Loud: Stories from Our Habitat.” “Earth Out Loud” is designed for elementary school-aged children and educators, and offers a short story in audio and/or video format, as well as ideas for exploring the topic further in the classroom or at home.

The College of the Environment has teamed up with local singer/songwriter (and mother) Rani Arbo to debut the pilot version of “Earth Out Loud: Stories from Our Habitat” — an educational-but-entertaining online project where second and third graders can hear, explore and respond to stories from their habitat. It uses a straightforward interface to provide accessible audio and video clips for kids and their teachers that relate to their schools’ curriculum in an exciting way.

In the "Earth Out Loud" episode "Radical Raptors," children lean about the great horned owl and ways it adapts to its environment.

In the “Earth Out Loud” episode “Radical Raptors,” children lean about the great horned owl and ways it adapts to its environment.

Arbo, COE director Barry Chernoff and Wesleyan student interns are still brainstorming and developing the content, but the infrastructure is now live and is being built upon.

“It started with a conversation Barry and I were having about science literacy in media and kids, about this time last year,” Arbo said. “I was a science major, and now I have a kid who is happiest outdoors, finding bugs and tadpoles. I’d been wishing he could do more with science in school, but in the younger grades, the focus is really on reading and math. So, Barry and I started talking about an environmental radio show for kids. Something that would help ensnare kids’ imaginations about environmental topics at a young age.”

While the concept still revolves around featuring radio-show-like audio tracks, it’s becoming clear that video may be equally important. So far there’s an episode on raptors and a segment on recycling, available in both audio and video formats. Upcoming episodes will touch upon the nature of bees, soils, and phases of matter, as applied to sweet treats like maple syrup, chocolate and Italian ice.

“If we’re going to make any progress in the world getting an environmental ethic into people, we have to get them excited at a young age,” said Chernoff. “We’re also interested in reaching communities that don’t have a single economic basis or ethnic or social structure — to be able to reach really broad audiences that include both inner city kids and rural kids.”

State Grant will Support Hingorani’s Research on Lynch Syndrome

Manju Hingorani

Manju Hingorani

Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, received a grant worth $324,127 from the State of Connecticut Department of Public Health on May 1.

Hingorani will use the grant to address an important need for new diagnostic technology for Lynch Syndrome (LS), a genetic disorder involving malfunction of DNA mismatch repair, which substantively increases the risk of colorectal, endometrial and other cancers. About 150,000 patients are diagnosed with colon cancer in the U.S. per year, of whom more than one in 35 have LS, and three or more of their relatives are at risk for the disorder (about one in 500 Connecticut residents).

“Early diagnosis of LS can profoundly affect the way in which cancer patients are treated—with respect to surgery, chemotherapy and future surveillance—and provide analogous benefits to their family,” Hingorani explained.

Current validated tests for LS have limitations that lower their feasibility and widespread use in screening at-risk populations.

“Our hypothesis is that the core functions of MMR proteins can be measured directly, quantitatively, rapidly, reliably and at clinically relevant protein concentrations on a nano-structured surface,” she said.

This project, proposed in collaboration by investigators Hingorani and Prabir Patra, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Biomedical Engineering Program at the University of Bridgeport, is expected to enable development of novel diagnostic nanosensors that will enable substantive advances in the screening, diagnosis and treatment of colorectal and other cancers.

Craighead’s Paper Published in Macroeconomics Journal

Bill Craighead

Bill Craighead

Bill Craighead, assistant professor of economics, is the author of a paper titled “Monetary Rules and Sectoral Unemployment in Open Economies” published in the June 2014 issue of the Journal of Macroeconomics.

Search theory has given us a more realistic mechanism to study unemployment in macroeconomic models. In this paper, Craighead integrated search theory into an “open economy” macroeconomic model – i.e., a model of an economy that interacts with the rest of the world.  One important question in open economy models is what measure of inflation should monetary policy respond to – consumer prices, which include imported goods, or producer prices (the prices of domestically-produced output).  In this model, Craighead shows that monetary policies that focus on producer prices do a better job of stabilizing unemployment.

New Assessment: Climate Change is Here and Now

Gary YoheOn May 6, the Obama Administration released its most comprehensive analysis to date about the impact of the human activity on the climate in the National Climate Assessment, of which Huffington Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Gary Yohe is vice chair of the Development and Advisory Committee. The report concludes with more certainty than ever that climate change is affecting the daily lives of Americans right now through increases in extreme weather, sea level rise, heat, heavy downpours, drought and other adverse conditions.

PBS Newshour covered the release of the report. Speaking at a press conference at the White House, Yohe said, “What keeps me up at night is a persistence across the population not to recognize that the old normal climate is broken, and we don’t know what the new normal climate is going to be. That lack of recognition and the inability of this community and decision-makers to communicate those risks to individuals unnecessarily puts economic assets at risk, unnecessarily puts human lives at risk, unnecessarily puts ecosystems at risk.”

Yohe also spoke to The Associated Press about the assessment, explaining that this final report is a re-written and shortened version of the draft that was released in January 2013, with more scientific references, reviews by experts and the public, and a thorough review by the National Academy of Sciences. There is even stronger evidence now of climate change than there was in 2013, he said.

And Yohe told NBC News that at a personal level, “…everybody can look out their window and see something about their climate that has changed over the last 5, 10 or 15 years.”

In addition, Mother Jones quotes Yohe as saying: “One major take-home message is that just about every place in the country has observed that the climate has changed…It is here and happening, and we are not cherry-picking or fear-mongering.”

Yohe was also interviewed by Voice of Russia UK radio.

Watch the full White House press conference on C-SPAN.

 

 

Kopac, Herbst, Martinez MA ’13 Attend Space Telescope Science Institute Symposium

Biology Ph.D candidate Sarah Kopac was invited to speak at the 2014 Spring Symposium of the Space Telescope Science Institute on the campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, M.D. on April 29. Kopac spoke on “Specialization of Bacillus in the Geochemcially Challenged Environment of Death Valley.” Watch a video of her 20 minute presentation online here.

Kopac’s talk was part of a four-day interdisciplinary meeting titled “Habitable Worlds Across Time and Space” featuring speakers from around the world working in such diverse fields as biology, geology and astronomy. The focus of the seminar was on identifying places within our Solar System and Galaxy where we can most profitably search for life beyond the Earth.

Astronomy major Raquel Martinez, MA ’13 and William Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, director of graduate studies, also attended the conference.

Both Kopac and Martinez were active active participants in Wesleyan’s Planetary Science Group seminars and activities. Kopac’s advisor is Fred Cohan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies. Martinez’s advisor was Seth Redfield, assistant professor of astronomy.

Biology Ph.D candidate Sarah Kopac speaks at the the Space Telescope Science Institute's Spring Symposium.

Biology Ph.D candidate Sarah Kopac speaks at the the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Spring Symposium.

Raquel Martiniz MA '13 poses with her research poster and conference organizer John Debes. Raquel is currently working in NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center and has been accepted to the Ph.D. program at the University of Texas where she will begin studies in the fall.

Raquel Martiniz MA ’13 poses with her research poster and conference organizer John Debes. Raquel is currently working in NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center and has been accepted to the Ph.D. program at the University of Texas where she will begin studies in the fall.