The 18th annual “Where on Earth Are We Going?” Symposium of the Robert F. Schumann Institute of the College of the Environment was held on Oct. 16 and 17 in a virtual format as part of Homecoming and Family Weekend events.
Tag Archive for Chernoff
by Lauren Rubenstein •
As organisms evolve over time, changes in size—both miniaturization and gigantism—are a major theme. In fish, which are the specialty of Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, Professor of Biology and of Earth & Environmental Sciences, miniaturization happens in many lineages, though it’s not very common. Evolutionary biology has long held that this miniaturization is often accompanied by developmental simplification or paedomorphisis (becoming sexually mature while appearing juvenile-like).
Last March, just before the pandemic began, Chernoff and students in his Tropical Ecology course (ENVS/Bio/E&ES 306) took a trip to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., which is home to one of the largest scientific collections of natural history objects, or specimens, and allows visitors to work with their collections. There, they discovered two new species of fish from the tropics—one from Honduras and one from Colombia. In these new species, the data demonstrated the opposite of expectations from evolutionary theory: that miniaturization occurred with developmental acceleration. That is, the miniatures achieve adult morphology in a shorter period of time by accelerating the transformation from juvenile morphologies to adult morphologies.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
In October, President Michael Roth and other Wesleyan faculty and staff traveled to Asia to meet with alumni, parents, prospective families, and others. The trip included visits to Seoul, Beijing, and Taipei.
A highlight of the trip was Wesleyan’s second annual Liberal Arts + Sustainable Economic Development Forum, which took place in Beijing on Oct. 19. Last year, Wesleyan held the inaugural Liberal Arts + Forum in Shanghai, which highlighted film education and US-China collaborations. (Read the story here.)
Over 100 people attended this year’s forum, including prospective students and families, current parents, counselors, and alumni. The day started with an “admission 101” workshop by Associate Dean of Admission James Huerta that provided invaluable insights for prospective families preparing for the college admission process.
Attendees regrouped in the afternoon for Roth’s opening remarks, which highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary learning and how a liberal arts education equips students with a lifetime of important skills. This was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Julia Zhu ’91, entrepreneur and CEO of Phoenix TV Culture and Live Entertainment Company; Richard Adelstein, the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economic; and Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies. The speakers discussed Wesleyan’s unique interdisciplinary approach to teaching economics and environmental studies. Later, Tian Ai ’06 and Yinghai Xie ’97, alumni working in the financial services industry, shared their insights into the value of a liberal arts education in personal growth and careers in the second panel, moderated by Ted Plafker ’86, P’17, ’18.
Forum attendee and volunteer Tianhua Shao P’21 commented, “It’s such a privilege to serve as a parent volunteer. Although the forum took a day, I had the valuable opportunity to talk with President Roth, professors, and alumni, and enhance my understanding of liberal arts education and Wesleyan. As a transfer, my daughter is taking full advantage of Wesleyan’s open curriculum and thrives at Wesleyan each and every day!”
by Olivia Drake •
The Mattabesset String Collective, a five-piece Wesleyan-affiliated acoustic ensemble, performed at a venue in Higganum, Conn., on July 29. The group plays an eclectic mix of bluegrass, blues, folk, mountain, country, and rock, all in a string band style. (Photos by Olivia Drake and Bill Burkhart)
by Olivia Drake •
Although dam removal is an increasingly common stream restoration tool, it may also represent a major disturbance to rivers that can have varied impacts on environmental conditions and aquatic biota.
In a paper titled “Dam Removal Effects on Benthic Macroinvertebrate Dynamics: A New England Stream Case Study, five researchers from Wesleyan examined the effects of dam removal on the structure, function, and composition of benthic macroinvertebrate (BMI) communities in a temperate New England stream. The benthic—or “bottom-dwelling”—macroinvertebrates are small aquatic animals that are commonly used to study biological conditions of water bodies.
The paper is published in the May 21 edition of Sustainability, an international, cross-disciplinary, scholarly, peer-reviewed and open-access journal of environmental, cultural, economic, and social sustainability of human beings.
The paper’s coauthors include Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies; Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies; Kate Miller PhD ’13; Ross Heinemann ’09, MA ’13; Michelle Kraczkowski PhD ’13; and Adam Whelchel from the Nature Conservancy in New Haven, Conn.
The results of their study indicated that the dam removal stimulated major shifts in BMI community structure and composition above and below the dam.
“Our research shows that the effects of dam removal on the river were not predictable. During the fours years of the study after dam removal, the river did not return to its original state in the areas where the dam was removed,” Chernoff explained.
by Olivia Drake •
A new species of fish discovered in Brazil was recently named in honor of Wesleyan Professor Barry Chernoff.
Scientists encountered the Bryconops chernoffi in Rio Ipixuna—a small tributary of the Rio Maicuru, which feeds into the lower Amazon River in Pará, Brazil. Samples of the fish were collected by researchers on four trips in 2014–15, and in March 2019, Zootaxa released an article describing the new species.
Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, focuses his research on freshwater fishes in North America and the Neotropical region, primarily those in South America in the Amazon.
He’s also professor of earth and environmental sciences; professor of biology; chair, Environmental Studies Program; and director of the College of the Environment.
The Zootaxa announcement explains that Bryconops chernoffi’s specific epithet honors “Barry Chernoff, and is in recognition for his contributions to the taxonomy of Bryconops, as well as for ichthyology as a whole.”
Chernoff has published 89 peer-reviewed scientific works, including six books and edited volumes. He has led international teams on expeditions designed to conserve large watersheds of the world, having made more than 34 expeditions in 13 countries.
The Zootaxa abstract describes Bryconops chernoffi as differing from all its congeners “by the presence of an elongated dark patch of pigmentation immediately after the posterodorsal margin of the opercle, running vertically from the supracleithrum to the distal margin of the cleithrum (vs. absence of a similar blotch), and by a dark dorsal fin with a narrow hyaline band at middle portion of dorsal-fin rays (vs. dorsal fin hyaline or with few scattered chromatophores). It differs further from all its congeners, except B. colanegra, by the presence of a blurred black stripe at the anal fin.”
“It doesn’t really resemble my friend Barry, who in addition to being a fish scientist and environmentalist is also a guitar player and songwriter,” wrote Wesleyan President Michael Roth in a recent blog post. “And now he has fish named in his honor. A true species of Wesleyan.”
Chernoff is the third Wesleyan faculty, in recent years, to have a species named in his or her honor.
In 2010, a dinosaur from the Cretaceous Period (about 110 million years ago) was named Brontomerus mcintoshi for John S. “Jack” McIntosh, Foss Professor of Physics, Emeritus. The fossil, discovered in Utah, is marked by its large, powerful thighs, which may have been used to kick predators and travel over rough terrain. The American-British team of scientists who discovered the remains named the dinosaur for McIntosh, “a lifelong avocational paleontologist.”
Two species of benthic foraminifera are named after Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, research professor, earth and environmental sciences; the Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History.
Globocassidulina thomasae, discovered in the northeastern Indian Ocean, was named in 1999, and Ossaggittia thomasae, discovered in the eastern Indian Ocean, was named in 2012. They were named in honor of Ellen Thomas, “a well-known specialist on deep-sea benthic foraminifera, who was one of the first micropaleontologists to document the disappearance of Stilostomellidae and Pleurostomellidae in the Pleistocene of the North Atlantic Ocean.”
by Olivia Drake •
Six students in the Introduction to Environmental Studies course traded their notebooks, backpacks, and pens for wrenches, electronic temperature control meters, and even plungers as part of a special project involving staff from Wesleyan’s Physical Plant.
Throughout the fall semester, the students partnered up with an electrician, a plumber, material handlers, temperature control mechanics, and others to learn about trades and to form friendships with the staff who keep Wesleyan running behind the scenes. On Nov. 29 the students presented their experiences—through talks, performances, music, and graphics—to fellow classmates and Physical Plant staff.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
Barry Chernoff, director of the College of the Environment, was one of eight scientists recently honored with a new musical composition based upon his research—part of a concert and album titled “The Sound of Science, performed in New York City on Nov. 10.
The project aims to build “bridges between the musical and scientific worlds, celebrating their shared culture of inquiry,” according to the website. The pieces were written by seven celebrated composers for amplified cello and electronics, and were all recorded and performed by world-renowned cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, longtime member of Kronos Quartet and several other groups. The Grammy Award–winning quartet has performed at Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts, most recently in April 2018.
Each composer was paired with a scientist of his or her choosing and tasked with creating music inspired by and reflective of the scientist’s life and practice.
Chernoff’s piece, titled, “Pastaza,” was composed by Graham Reynolds, an Austin-based composer-bandleader-improviser who creates, performs, and records music for film, theater, dance, rock clubs, and concert halls. “Pastaza” and the other works can be played online here.
According to the website: “Graham was drawn to Chernoff’s work for its influence and importance on this grand scale…. When it comes to considering what future we are creating, there is nothing more crucial than the planet, its limited resources, and how it will fare for generations to come.”
The piece aims to honor Chernoff’s “abundant curiosity for the world” around him, and to examine the ways in which his work influences our understanding of “what came before and what’s ahead.”
“I am incredibly honored to have a piece of music inspired by my research and conservation efforts in the Amazon and in South America—and I am in awe of Graham Reynolds’s ability to have imagined the music without having traveled by dugout in the Amazon basin himself!” said Chernoff. “His composition, ‘Pastaza’ is so beautiful, if not breathtaking. Hearing the music performed live by Jeffrey Zeigler with Graham’s electronic backing with my photos being displayed on the wall was an experience I will never forget.”
Chernoff is also the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, and professor and chair of environmental studies.
by Olivia Drake •
by Bill Holder •
The Robert F. Schumann [’44] Foundation has given Wesleyan $2.5 million to establish the Robert F. Schumann Institute of the College of the Environment (COE). The Institute will integrate approaches to learning, research and communication about environmental issues in ways that extend the COE’s educational programs within and beyond Wesleyan.
The Schumann Institute will provide students with life-changing experiences that will develop their abilities to address environmental issues. In order to achieve these goals the Institute will collaborate with or stimulate programs in global studies, civic engagement, arts, environmental (in)justice and sustainability and food security and agriculture.
“I’m so pleased that Bob Schumann’s vision of engaging broader communities in environmental work will now be anchored in the Schumann Institute,” said Barry Chernoff, director of the COE and Robert F. Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies. “I could not think of a more appropriate legacy for Bob, who was deeply devoted to environmental education and to Wesleyan.”
The Institute will emphasize project-based learning, with courses where students participate in faculty-led research teams. It will provide students with internship opportunities, working with specialists outside Wesleyan. Students will also be able to take new courses in food security that integrate research on the two-acre Long Lane Farm. Furthermore, the Institute’s program will develop the arts as an instrument of engagement, sustainability and communication.
“Bob’s generous financial commitment almost two decades ago
by Hannah Norman '16 •
Chloe Nash ‘16, a double major in biology and environmental studies, contributed to groundbreaking research on the mysterious Flatback sea turtle — a species with only two photographs in the wild, both of the same individual turtle. While studying abroad in Australia last spring, Nash volunteered at James Cook University for a project that involved raising 30 flatbacks from hatchlings and attaching GPS devices to their shells.
The turtles were released in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and seven are being tracked by satellite. This research is the first time Flatbacks, only found in Australia, have been monitored underwater.
“I was with them everyday essentially for four months, so they became like my children,” Nash said.
Nash worked as a volunteer, feeding them and cleaning their tanks. Over time, she learned to give them medication and teach them how to dive, which involved luring the turtles down with a food-carrying stick. Once the turtles reached 300 grams, they were strong enough to hold the satellite tags. The research sought to learn more about the Flatbacks’ lives in between hatching and nesting adults— a blank space in the marine biology field.
“One of my favorites named Ali got ill, and we thought he was going to pass away,” Nash said. “But we persevered and he persevered and I ended up getting to release him, which was really great. It was really crazy, just watching him grow.”