The Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill.
Writing in The Conversation, Roy Kilgard, research associate professor of astronomy, explains the significance of an exciting new discovery in astronomy. For the first time, astrophysicists have observed merging neutron stars using LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) and the Virgo interferometer.
This news may confirm a longstanding theory: that some gamma-ray bursts (GRBs for short), which are among the most energetic, luminous events in the universe, are the result of merging neutron stars. And it is in the crucible of these mergers that most heavy elements may be forged. Researchers can’t produce anything like the temperatures or pressures of neutron stars in a laboratory, so observation of these exotic objects provides a way to test what happens to matter at such extremes.
Astronomers are excited because for the first time they have gravitational waves and light signals stemming from the same event. These truly independent measurements are separate avenues that together add to the physical understanding of the neutron star merger.
Francis Starr, professor of physics, was elected as a Fellow of the American Physical Society in October. This honor is bestowed upon only 0.5 percent of physicists nation wide.
The criterion for election is “exceptional contributions to the physics enterprise including outstanding physics research, important applications of physics, leadership in or service to physics, or significant contributions to physics education.
Starr received the APS fellowship for his simulation studies elucidating fundamental aspects of glass formation in bulk and ultra-thin film polymer materials. At Wesleyan, the Starr group focuses on soft matter physics and biophysics. Starr and his graduate and undergraduate students combine computational and theoretical methods to explore lipid membranes, glass formation, DNA nanotechnology, polymers and supercooled water.
Starr also is professor and director of the College of Integrative Sciences (CIS) and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry. The CIS is dedicated to providing students with translational and interdisciplinary science education through original research. The CIS summer research program hosts around 180 students annually.
Starr is the seventh Wesleyan faculty to receive the honor since 1921. He was nominated by the Division of Polymer Physics.
Lisa Dierker, the Walter Crowell University Professor of Social Sciences, professor of psychology, is the author of a new article, “Falling in Love with Statistics: Shaping Students’ Relationships With Data.” It was published in October in Scientia, a site that seeks to open a dialogue between science and society.
Dierker writes about the novel approach, called Passion-Driven Statistics, that she and her team at Wesleyan developed to teach statistics and data analysis to students from diverse backgrounds. According to the article, it is a “multidisciplinary, project-based approach that is both supportive and engaging for students at all levels of statistical mastery and those coming from diverse educational backgrounds.”
Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, co-authored a new article published in the December 2017 issue of Brain and Cognition.
The paper is titled, “Jazz Musicians Reveal Role of Expectancy in Human Creativity.” Loui and her colleagues found that within one second of hearing an unexpected chord, there is a world of differences in brain responses between classical and jazz musicians.
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Twenty-three students and one faculty member are co-authors of a forthcoming manuscript in the journal G3.
More than 20 Wesleyan students — including three former first-years — are co-authors of a research manuscript accepted for publication in a prestigious biology research journal. The paper focuses on a species of fruit fly that has evolved, and has the ability to ingest a toxic plant.
The paper, which is forthcoming in G3: Genes | Genomes | Genetics, is the result of a study completed by BIOL310 Genomics Analysis students. Course instructor and co-author Joseph Coolon, assistant professor of biology, created BIOL310 to provide students a course-based research experience focused on measuring gene expression.
“Because the students in the course and in my lab collaborated on all the analysis, interpretation, and wrote the paper, all 23 students are co-authors of the published manuscript,” Coolon said. “G3 is a well-known and highly reputable journal for publishing in my field and I am honored to have been able to publish there, especially given the number of undergraduates that are now published authors in such a great journal.”
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Wesleyan’s Molecular Biophysics Program hosted its 18th annual retreat Sept. 28 at Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown. Wesleyan affiliated speakers included:
Professor Francis Starr spoke about DNA junction dynamics and thermodynamics during the 18th annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat.
- Colin Smith, assistant professor of chemistry, on “An Atomistic View of Protein Dynamics and Allostery;”
- Meng-Ju Renee Sher, assistant professor of physics, on “Tracking Electron Motions Using Terahertz Spectroscopy;”
- Kelly Knee, PhD ’07, principle scientist for Pfizer’s Rare Disease Research Unit, on “Protein Folding Chaperones: Molecular Machines for Tricky Problems;”
- and Francis Starr, professor of physics, director of the College of Integrative Sciences, on “DNA Four-Way Junction Dynamics and Thermodynamics: Lessons from Combining Simulations and Experiments.”
Arthur Palmer, the Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center, delivered the keynote address on “Conformational dynamics in molecular recognition and catalysis: Lessons from ribonuclease H, AlkB, and GCN4.”
The day-long retreat also included two poster sessions, where undergraduates, graduate students and faculty shared their research with their peers and colleagues. The event concluded with a reception.
The Molecular Biophysics Training Program, Chemistry Department, and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department sponsored the event.
Photos of the retreat are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)
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Writing in The Conversation, Assistant Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson looks to the brain to explain the real reason that some people become addicted to drugs.
Robinson, who also is assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, begins by debunking two popular explanations for drug addiction: that compulsive drug use is simply a “bad habit,” and that overcoming the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms is too hard for some addicts.
While pleasure, habits and withdrawal can play a role in drug use, Robinson says, the true reason for addiction can be explained by the psychological differences between “wanting” and “liking.”
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Ellen Thomas, University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences and research professor of earth and environmental sciences, is a co-author of a paper titled “Very Large Release of Mostly Volcanic Carbon During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum,” published in the weekly science journal Nature on Aug. 31.
The study focused on Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, a surface warming event associated with ecological disruption that occurred about 56 million years ago, releasing a large amount of carbon. The researchers combined boron and carbon isotope data in an Earth system model and found that the source of carbon was much larger than previously thought.
Most of the carbon, Thomas and her colleagues discovered, was probably released by volcanism during the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean when Greenland separated from Europe.
The paper also was cited in another Nature article, on PhysOrg and on Science Daily.
PhD candidate Eleana Makri and Professor Tsampikos Kottos work on reflective optical limiter research at Wesleyan. On Sept. 25, Makri received a $5,000 scholarship from the Greek America Foundation to support her research for the 2017-18 academic year.
For her ongoing research in developing electromagnetic filters that block high power radiation, physics PhD candidate Eleana Makri recently received a Constantine and Patricia Mavroyannis scholarship from the Greek America Foundation. The $5,000 award will support her doctoral research during the 2017-18 academic year.
At Wesleyan, Makri works with Professor Tsampikos Kottos in the development of the reflective limiter concepts that block high power radiation from damaging sensitive sensors, like the eye, while they allow low power radiation to reach the sensor for further processing. Kottos is professor of physics, professor of mathematics and professor of integrative sciences.
The Mavroyannis scholarship is awarded to Greek and Greek-American graduate students studying in U.S. and Canadian institutions and universities. After completing the scholarship, Makri will submit a brief progress report to the Greek America Foundation highlighting her research efforts.
“[Eleana] has distinguished [her]self as not just one of the strongest applicants, but also as someone whose scientific career we look forward to following,” said Jennifer Kellogg, executive director of the Greek America Foundation.
Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, is the author of a new publication on musical anhedonia—the lack of pleasure from music. Together with others in her lab, Loui studied an individual with musical anhedonia and compared his brain against a group of controls. They found that his auditory cortex was differently connected to his reward system, a finding which gives further support for the role of brain connectivity in the musical experience.
The article, titled, “White Matter Correlates of Musical Anhedonia: Implications for Evolution of Music,” was published Sept. 25 in Frontiers in Psychology. It was coauthored by Sean Patterson, BA ’17, MA ’18; Tima Zeng ’17; and Emily Przysinka, former lab manager in Loui’s lab.
Joseph Knee, the Beach Professor of Chemistry and Dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division, is the author of a new article published in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics (PCCP). This “Perspectives” article, which was commissioned by the PCCP editorial board and editorial office, is a high-profile look at work by Knee and his collaborators that has been going on for nearly a decade. Perspectives articles are intended to present an authoritative state-of-the-art account of a particular research field.
The research by Knee and his collaborators, which is ongoing, uses experimental and computational methods to explore hydrogen bonding interactions, which are extremely important in the structure of water, various solutions, and in many key biochemical structures and processes.
Knee explains, “The most important aspect of our methodology is making careful experimental measurements of two single molecules forming hydrogen bonds and then modeling these bonds with modern quantum chemical calculations. The calculations allow us to decompose the various forces which contribute to the bond strength and structure. The larger goal is to generalizing this insight to more complex hydrogen bonded systems, particularly hydrogen bonding networks which exist in liquids and biological systems.”
The full article can be read here by those with subscriptions or institutional subscriptions, including those on Wesleyan’s campus.
A team of scientists from Wesleyan discovered three super-Earths transiting around a nearby star, 98 light-years away. The NASA-generated image above depicts a different super-Earth: 55 Cancri e, discovered in 2004.
A team of scientists from Wesleyan, led by Associate Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield and graduate student Prajwal Niraula MA ’18, has co-authored a paper on the discovery of three planets, or super-Earths, transiting around a nearby star, just 98 light-years away.
“Super-Earths are slightly larger than Earth, and the three of them straddle the divide between the rocky planets like Earth and ice giants like Neptune,” explains Redfield.
These planets were found using the Kepler Space Telescope. “Kepler has found thousands of exoplanets these last eight years, but this is the closest planetary system that Kepler has ever found, although closer planetary systems have been found using different telescopes,” says Redfield.
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