Science & Technology

Center for the Americas Hosts its 2017 Americas Forum on “Food Justice and Sustainability”

 Photo: Jade Beall.

Alok Appadurai ’00 (Photo by Jade Beall)

On April 28, the Center for the Americas will host its 2017 Americas Forum on “Food Justice and Sustainability” at the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall at 2:30 p.m. The keynote address will be given by Alok Appadurai ’00. Appadurai is the the founder of Fed by Threads, a sustainable, sweatshop-free, multi-brand, American-made organic vegan clothing store that has fed over half a million meals to Americans in need. He also recently founded GoodElephant.org, a global network that aims to promote social and environmental reform by nurturing compassion and empathy.

His time at Wesleyan helped to inform his current projects. As a student, he majored in American studies fashioning his own concentration that incorporated colonialism, workers’ rights, utopian communities, the environment and gender/class issues.

After the keynote, three scholars on a panel will present talks on food Justice and agricultural sustainability.  Elizabeth Hoover, the Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies at Brown University, will give the talk, “From ‘Garden Warriors’ to ‘Good Seeds’; Defining and Enacting Food Sovereignty Through American Indian Community Gardening Projects.” Following her, Brian Donahue, associate professor of American environmental studies at Brandeis University, will present his “Woodlands, Farmlands, and Communities: Visions for New England’s Future.”

Wesleyan’s Courtney Fullilove, associate professor of history, will conclude the panel with “Seed Saving in Economies of Scale: Some Questions about Sovereignty and International Governance.”

Faculty, Students, Alumnus Co-Author Paper in Biochemistry Journal

Wesleyan co-authors published a paper titled “The Stories Tryptophans Tell: Exploring Protein Dynamics of Heptosyltransferase I from Escherichia coli” in the January 2017 issue of Biochemistry.

The co-authors include chemistry graduate student Joy Cote; alumni Zarek Siegel ’16 and Daniel Czyzyk, PhD ’15; and faculty Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry; Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Their paper investigates the intrinsic properties of Tryptophan amino acids found within the protein, Heptosyltransferase I, to understand the ways this protein moves during catalysis. Understanding the movement of this protein is an important step in developing its inhibitors.

When this protein is inactive, either because it was genetically altered or inhibited, hydrophobic antibiotics become more effective, so inhibitors could be useful in reactivating antibiotics that are current not effective against these bacteria.

While it is popularly believed that inhibiting a protein requires a compound to compete with the substrate, their paper argues that instead one can design a inhibitor to disrupt protein dynamics, preventing activity. The co-authors compare the function of this “protein dynamics disruptor” to a wedge holding open a door–once inserted, the inhibitor prevents the protein from performing its function.

Their research on Tryptophan residues also found that distant regions of the protein communicate whether or not they are binding their substrate to other regions.

“It would be like if your right hand knew that your left hand was holding a pencil just by the changes in the position of your left hand. We are currently pursuing computational studies to look for these motions via molecular dynamics experiments,” Taylor said.

Naegele Named a 2017 ‘Women of Innovation’ by the Connecticut Technology Council

Jan Naegele accepts her Women of Innovation® award.

Jan Naegele accepts her “Women of Innovation” award.

The Connecticut Technology Council recently selected Professor Janice Naegele as a 2017 “Women of Innovation.”

Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, was honored during the “Women of Innovation” awards dinner, held March 29 in Plantsville, Conn. The award recognizes women accomplished in science, technology, engineering, math and those who are involved in their community.

Naegele is a developmental neuroscientist whose research seeks to identify novel treatments for epilepsy and brain damage. She has published extensively on applications of stem cell transplantation for neural repair, including articles on embryonic stem cell therapy for treating epilepsy and the synaptic mechanisms underlying seizure suppression by fetal inhibitory neuron transplants. In the Naegele Laboratory, a team of graduate students, working with undergraduates and technicians, investigates the therapeutic effects of stem cell transplantation through experimental approaches including behavior, electrophysiology, immunohistochemistry, viral-mediated gene overexpression and optogenetics.

The Connecticut Technology Council received more than 200 nominations for the Women of Innovation® awards. Nagele was one of three women named a finalist in the Academic Innovation and Leadership-College category.

Wesleyan’s Antonio Farias, vice president for equity and inclusion; Joyce Jacobsen, provost and vice president for academic affairs; Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry; and Joe Knee, dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics division, professor of chemistry, nominated Naegele for the award.

From left, Antonio Farias, Ishita Mukerji, Jan Naegele, Joyce Jacobsen and Joe Knee attended the Connecticut Technology Council Women of Innovation® awards dinner on March 29.

From left, Antonio Farias, Ishita Mukerji, Jan Naegele, Joyce Jacobsen and Joe Knee attended the Connecticut Technology Council’s “Women of Innovation” awards dinner on March 29.

“I’m very grateful to my Wesleyan colleagues who nominated me for this award,” Naegele said. “The award was unexpected and a wonderful honor.”

Naegle, who came to Wesleyan in 1991, has served as chair of the Biology Department, director of the Center for Faculty Career Development, and as vice chair of the faculty. Her work is funded by the Connecticut Regenerative Medicine Research fund, the National Institutes of Health, and CURE Epilepsy. Recent honors and awards include the Louise Hansen Marshall Mentoring Award from the Society for Neuroscience; election to the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering; and completing a one-year fellowship in the ELATE at Drexel women’s executive leadership program.

Read more News @ Wesleyan articles about Professor Naegele.

 

Wesleyan Team Honored for “Best Innovation” at 2017 DataFest

Students from six colleges and universities participated in DataFest March 29-April 2 at Wesleyan.

Students from six colleges and universities participated in DataFest March 29-April 2 at Wesleyan.

The Wesleyan team Data Baes took one of the top prizes for “Best Innovation” during DataFest, held March 31 to April 2 at Exley Science Center. Seventy-five students from six institutions participated in the annual analysis competition.

During DataFest, students are presented with a large, complex data set and work over the weekend to explore, analyze and present their findings. Teams of three to five students work together and compete against other teams from Wesleyan, Connecticut College, Yale University, Lafayette College, University of Connecticut and Trinity College.

Under the auspices of the American Statistical Association, the event is organized by the Quantitative Analysis Center (QAC).

At the end of DataFest, each team had five minutes to present their findings to the judges. The judging panel included data scientists, research analysts and a biostatistician

Royer Finds Climate Could Soon Hit a State Unseen in 50 Million Years

Dana Royer

Dana Royer

New climate research by Dana Royer, professor and chair of earth and environmental sciences, finds that current carbon dioxide levels are unprecedented in human history and, if they continue on this trajectory “the atmosphere could reach a state unseen in 50 million years” by mid-century, according to an article in Salon.

The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere today are ones that likely haven’t been reached in 3 million years. But if human activities keep committing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at current rates, scientists will have to look a lot deeper into the past for a similar period. The closest analog to the mid-century atmosphere we’re creating would be a period roughly 50 million years ago known as the Eocene, a period when the world was completely different than the present due to extreme heat and oceans that covered a wide swath of currently dry land.

“The early Eocene was much warmer than today: global mean surface temperature was at least 10°C (18°F) warmer than today,” Dana Royer, a paleoclimate researcher at Wesleyan University who co-authored the new research, said. “There was little-to-no permanent ice. Palms and crocodiles inhabited the Canadian Arctic.”

Royer’s paper was published April 4 in Nature Communications and widely covered in the mainstream press. The implications, writes Salon, “are some of the starkest reminders yet that humanity faces a major choice to curtail carbon pollution or risk pushing the climate outside the bounds that have allowed civilization to thrive.”

According to an article in U.S. News & World Report:

 CO2 levels in the atmosphere have varied over millions of years. But fossil fuel use in the last 150 years has boosted levels from 280 parts per million (ppm) before industrialization to nearly 405 ppm in 2016, according to the researchers.

If people don’t halt rising CO2 levels and burn all available fossil fuels, CO2 levels could reach 2,000 ppm by the year 2250, the researchers said. CO2 and other gases act like a blanket, preventing heat from escaping into space. That’s known as the greenhouse effect, the researchers explained.

But the researchers note that CO2 levels are not the only factor in climate change; changes in the amount of incoming light also have an affect, and nuclear reactions in stars like the sun have made them brighter over time. Royer says this interplay is important:

“Up to now it’s been a puzzle as to why, despite the sun’s output having increased slowly over time, scant evidence exists for any similar long-term warming of the climate. Our finding of little change in the net climate forcing offers an explanation for why Earth’s climate has remained relatively stable, and within the bounds suitable for life all this time.”

Royer also is professor of environmental studies, professor of integrative sciences. See more coverage in Science Daily and International Business Times.

Observational Cosmologist Delivers Sturm Lecture

On April 3, Daniel Eisenstein, a observational cosmologist and a professor at Harvard University, spoke on "Mapping the Universe with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey" during the annual Sturm Memorial Lecture. In memory of Kenneth E. Sturm from the Class of 1940, this annual event is open the entire Wesleyan community and features a presentation from an astronomer that is outstanding in his/her field and is able to communicate the excitement of science to a lay audience.

On April 3, Daniel Eisenstein, a observational cosmologist and a professor at Harvard University, spoke on “Mapping the Universe with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey” during the annual Sturm Memorial Lecture. In memory of Kenneth E. Sturm from the Class of 1940, this annual event is open the entire Wesleyan community and features a presentation from an astronomer that is outstanding in his/her field and is able to communicate the excitement of science to a lay audience.

Juhasz, Brewer ‘13 Co-Author Article in Psycholinguistic Research Journal

Associate Professor Barbara Juhasz is interested in how words are processed during reading

Associate Professor Barbara Juhasz is interested in how words are processed during reading.

Wesleyan Associate Professor of Psychology Barbara Juhasz and alumna Jennifer Brewer ’13 recently coauthored an article titled “An Investigation into the Processing of Lexicalized English Blend Words: Evidence from Lexical Decisions and Eye Movements During Reading” in the Journal of Psycholinguistic Research.

Their work examines the process of blending, through which a new word or concept develops from the synthesis of two source words. Some examples of common blended words include “smog,” “brunch” and “infomercial.” Though previous research on blending has inspected the structure of blends, Juhasz and Brewer examined how common-blended words are recognized compared to other kinds of words.

Pairing blend words with non-blend control words of similar familiarity, length and frequency, the study asked participants to complete tasks involving lexical decisions and sentence reading. The results found that participants processed blend words differently from non-blend words according to task demands. In the lexical decision task participants recognized blend words more slowly but received shorter fixation durations when read within sentences.

Wilkins, Alumni Author Paper on Consequences of Perceived Anti-Male Bias

Clara Wilkins, assistant professor of psychology, has studied perceptions of discrimination against whites and other groups who hold positions of relative advantage in society—such as heterosexuals and men—since she was a graduate student at the University of Washington. She became became interested in the topic of perceptions of bias against high status groups after hearing Glenn Beck call president Barack Obama racist. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Clara Wilkins

Men in the U.S. today increasingly believe themselves to be victims of gender discrimination, and there are a record number of recent lawsuits claiming anti-male bias. In a study published in March in Psychology of Men and MasculinityAssistant Professor of Psychology Clara Wilkins and her co-authors assess the consequences of these perceptions of anti-male bias. Are men who perceive discrimination more likely to discriminate against women? How do beliefs about societal order affect men’s evaluations of men and women?

The article is co-authored by former post-doctoral fellow Joseph Wellman, now an assistant professor at California State University–San Bernardino, Erika Flavin ’14, and Juliana Manrique ’15, MA ’16.

In a blog post on the study, the authors write:

Traditionally men have had higher status than women in the U.S.; they have been better educated, more likely to be employed, and have tended to earn more than women with the same job and qualifications. People vary in the extent to which they believe that this particular ordering of society is fair and the way things should be. Some believe this type of inequality is legitimate, while others believe it should change. We expected that men who believed men should have higher status in society would be most upset about the thought that men now experience discrimination, and that they would react by favoring men over equally-qualified women. This effort would be a way to reestablish men’s perceived rightful place in society.

They conducted two studies to test this prediction. In the first, male participants read an article about increasing bias against men or another group, and then were asked to evaluate the résumé of a man or woman as part of an ostensibly unrelated study. The résumés were identical except for the name and gender. The researchers found that men who believe the social hierarchy is fair tended to give more negative evaluations of the female candidate relative to the male candidate after reading about bias against men. They also showed less desire to help the female candidate. The same effect wasn’t seen after male participants read about bias against an unrelated group. The researchers conclude that beliefs about the legitimacy of the hierarchy and perceptions of bias against men together seemed to disadvantage women.

In a second study, the researchers manipulated participants’ beliefs about society’s fairness by having them create sentences by unscrambling strings of randomly ordered words that suggested system legitimacy. For example, they created sentences like “effort leads to prosperity” – which makes people believe that hard work in society is rewarded. Or, they unscrambled other words to create neutral sentences unrelated to society. Unscrambling system-legitimizing sentences caused participates to believe the social structure is legitimate, and in turn, caused those primed to perceive discrimination against men to more negatively evaluate female targets. They also reported being less willing to help the female targets than male targets.

The researchers gave participants an opportunity to provide feedback on how to improve targets’ resumes. Those primed with beliefs that the social structure is legitimate reacted to perceiving bias against men by providing more constructive feedback to male targets than female targets. They write that these findings are striking, as the resumes were identical – only the names varied.

This research suggests that men who believe that men should be high-status in society react to perceiving bias against men by engaging in efforts to maintain men’s position of power. These individuals may be unaware that they favor their own group or disadvantage women; they may simply perceive that they are righting a perceived wrong. However, this explanation was not supported by other research results. When the researchers primed men to perceive discrimination against women, they did not react by favoring women over men. It seems as though they are uniquely concerned about maintaining their own group’s position in society, they write.

The researchers conclude that when high-status individuals perceive increasing bias against their group, those who endorse the legitimacy of the social hierarchy may perpetuate social disparities. Thus, if men increasingly perceive discrimination against their group, they may be more inclined to discriminate against women and provide other men with an extra boost. They recommend adopting hiring and evaluation processes that mask gender to prevent these potentially deleterious effects of perceiving bias against men.

Read the complete research article here.

Brumberg ’17 Wins Princeton in Latin America Fellowship

Hilary Brumberg ’17 waters gypsy broccoli seedlings inside a new greenhouse at Long Lane Organic Farm on April 14. The greenhouse, funded by Wesleyan's Green Fund, allows the student farmers to grow plants earlier in the growing season. The seedlings will be transplanted into the farm once warm weather stabilizes. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Hilary Brumberg ’17, who volunteers at Wesleyan’s Long Lane Farm, recently received a Princeton in Latin America Fellowship to develop an environmental education program in Costa Rica. She’s pictured here watering gypsy broccoli seedlings inside the organic farm’s greenhouse.

Hilary Brumberg ’17, who volunteers at Wesleyan’s Long Lane Farm, recently received a Princeton in Latin America Fellowship to develop an environmental education program in Costa Rica.

As a Princeton in Latin America Fellow (PiLA), Hilary Brumberg ’17 will spend next year working at Osa Conservation in Costa Rica developing a river conservation and environmental education program.

Brumberg is double majoring in earth and environmental sciences (E&ES) and Hispanic literatures and cultures. She’s also working on the environmental studies certificate.

PiLA matches highly qualified and motivated recent college graduates with partner organizations engaged in socially responsible development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Yohe Joins Conn. Governor to Oppose Environmental Program Cuts

yohewide

Gary Yohe

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, joined Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy at a press conference March 22 at the Connecticut Science Center to speak out against major cuts to environmental programs proposed by President Donald Trump.

“As a scholar with more than three decades of experience studying climate change, I fear our new president is on a course to reverse this progress with extremely dangerous consequences,” Yohe said at the event, according to The Hartford Courant.

Yohe was a senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which received a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize—from the early 1990s through 2014. He is past-vice chair of the National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee for the Obama Administration; the Assessment was released by the White House in 2014.

Yohe contrasted progress made against climate change by former President Barack Obama to the approach taken by Trump.

“By way of stark contrast, President Trump does not even have a science advisor,” Yohe said. “His administration has attacked climate science, and it has announced its intention to abandon any initiative designed to ameliorate climate risk in any way.”

Yohe also was interviewed by Fox CT, and his comments were featured in stories on WTNH and CT News Junkie.

Yohe Talks Climate Change and Politics on ‘Where We Live’

Gary-YoheGary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, was a guest on WNPR’s “Where We Live” recently to discuss climate change and politics. President Donald Trump’s newly released budget proposal substantially cuts the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce and other agencies that conduct research and do work on climate change. (Yohe begins speaking around 2 minutes into the program).

Since the election, Yohe explains, he and others in the scientific community “have been concerned that part of the attack on science will be the eradication of scientific data scattered around all of the federal agencies. A lot of us have been spending an enormous amount of time trying to protect that data” by posting it to public websites outside the country.

Yohe says that for the next four years, most of the action against the effects of climate change is going to be at the local and state levels.

“That’s where people have the ability to tell their leaders that they want to be protected from the risks of climate change and want them to do something to reduce the sources of growth in the temperatures that they’re seeing,” he said.

Yohe also spoke about a recent visit by former Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin ’79 to his class at Wesleyan. Shumlin’s message: “You can’t just sit here and study this stuff and be convinced that it’s happening. You have to go out and do something which means, in this environment, run for office,”

STEM Zone 42 Learning Hub Opens in Science Library

A new teaching and learning space can be found on campus: STEM Zone 42.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Zone 42, located in the Science Library, is a collaborative project by the Office of Equity and Inclusion, the WesMaSS program and Academic Affairs.

Operating as a pilot program this semester, STEM Zone 42 is a space where students currently taking introductory biology and chemistry courses can receive academic support. Students can get help from course teaching assistants, course instructors, peer mentors and fellow students.

“We are hoping to reduce barriers students experience in seeking academic help and create and foster a STEM community at Wesleyan, in which we work together towards academic success,” explained Teshia Levy-Grant, interim dean for equity and inclusion. “By providing this academic resource to all students, we aim to improve student performance and increase overall retention in the sciences and math.”

Levy-Grant and her team hope to see STEM Zone 42 become a central location for student services, and double as a place where they can work, study and learn together. “This will be more of a one-stop model,” said Levy-Grant. “We now have the Career Center doing drop in hours in the space where students can learn about opportunities for summer internships and programs, but also get help with their resumes.”

And where does the number 42 come from? Levy-Grant explained, “The reference to 42 is inspired by Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s the ‘Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything,’ calculated by a supercomputer, Deep Thought, over a period of 7.5 million years.”

STEM Zone 42 operates on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3-5 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-9 p.m., Saturdays at 3-5 p.m., and Sundays from 7-9 p.m.

Photos of STEM Zone’s opening are below:

eve_stemzoneopening_2017-0206155047