Tag Archive for graduate students

Niraula MA’18, Redfield Lead Team in Discovery of 3 Super-Earths

A team of scientists from Wesleyan, led by Associate Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield and graduate student Prajwal Niraula MA’18, discovered three super-Earths transiting around a nearby star, just 98 light-years from Earth. This NASA-generated image was created to depict 55 Cancri e, a super-Earth 40 light-years away from Earth.

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.

BA/MA Student Antonellis ’17 Awarded Scholarship for Energy Technology Research

BA/MA student Nicholas Antonellis ’17

Nicholas “Nicky” Antonellis ’17, a BA/MA student in physics, is one of 14 students in the U.S. selected to receive a $10,000 scholarship from the Directed Energy Professional Society (DEPS).

Candidates for the award must be full-time graduate students who are interested in pursuing or are currently studying the directed energy technology areas of high-energy lasers or high-power microwaves.

Antonellis is interested in using his knowledge in photonic device design and computational simulations in order to eventually improve upon medical technologies.

55 Graduate Students New to Wesleyan

On Aug. 29, the Office of Graduate Student Services hosted a new graduate student orientation and lunch at Exley Science Center. In 2017-18, Wesleyan welcomes 15 new PhDs; 12 MAs; 17 BA/MAs (all received a BA in May 2017); nine foreign language teaching assistants in romance languages, Asian languages and Arabic languages; and two new writing fellows.

During the course of orientation, the new graduate students were introduced to the Graduate Student Association, Wesleyan culture and Wesleyan resources that can support their academic career and life at Wesleyan. Students were introduced to Wesleyan staff representing student accounts, public safety, sustainability initiatives, residential life, counseling and psychological services, athletics, Title IX and more. Librarians provided tours of Olin Library and the Science Library. Faculty and staff from the Center for Global Studies also offered a pedagogy session specifically for the new Foreign Language Teaching Assistants called The American Classroom. New international graduate students were treated to a workshop on cultural adjustment.

Photos of their luncheon are below: (Photos by Cynthia Rockwell)

Mukerji, Oliver Co-Author Study in PNAS on Basic Cell Function

In this illustration, SecA is shown in light gray and the SecYEG complex is in dark gray. The rainbow colored portion of SecA is the two helix finger. n cyan is a model of the hairpin.

In this illustration, the hairpin is highlighted in cyan. The hairpin is formed by the initiator part of a protein.

All cells — bacterial or human — secrete up to 10 or 20 percent of the proteins that they make. Human secreted proteins, for example, include components of serum, hormones, growth factors that promote cell development during embryogenesis and tissue remodeling, and proteins that provide the basis for immune cell signaling during infection or when fighting cancer.

The secretion process, however, isn’t an easy feat for cells, as they need to move the proteins across a membrane through a channel. Transport requires the formation of a hairpin, formed by an initiator protein.

In a recent study, Don Oliver, the Daniel Ayres Professor of Biology, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, explain the importance of where and why hairpins form and how they help proteins move across the cell.

The study, titled “Alignment of the protein substrate hairpin along the SecA two-helix finger primes protein transport in Escherichia coli,” brings together key areas of membrane biochemistry, structural biology and molecular biophysics, and has innovative applications of molecular genetics and fluorescence spectroscopy. It was published in the Aug. 7 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Graduate Student Khan Performs at Multiple Summer Music Festivals

Suhail Yusuf Khan

Suhail Yusuf Khan

This summer, graduate student Suhail Yusuf Khan and his band Yorkston Thorne Khan are performing in music festivals around the world.

The band is comprised of Khan, a sarangi violinist and a vocalist of Indian classical music; James Yorkston, a folk singer and guitarist; and Jon Thorne, a jazz bassist.

Yorkston, Thorne and Khan performed at the Glastonbury Festival June 25 in Somerset, England. Afterwards, the group was mentioned in The Telegraph‘s “10 highlights” article written by Alice Vincent:

While it’s easy to stumble upon a whole new field or an excellent hidden bar at Glastonbury, the best festivals give you a couple of artists to go home and listen to afterwards. And Yorkston, Thorne and Khan, the Indian-folk/jazzy trio, collided to give a wig-out that rang beautifully over it all, Suhail Yusuf Khan’s vocals concertinaing over a jam so deeply felt it was as if you were observing a particularly good band practice. I don’t know the song name, I’ve barely heard of the band, but I’ll be playing them at home the minute I get there.

The group also performed at the Latitude Festival, held July 13-16 Suffolk, England, and the Rudolstadt Festival, held July 6-9 in Germany. In a Zeit Online article, author Christoph Dieckmann wrote:

Skepticism was the formation of James Yorkston / Jon Thorne / Suhail Yusuf Khan: a folk singer and guitarist, a jazz bassist, a sarangi violinist and a vocalist of Indian classical music. The booming world music market produces indeed multicultural soups of the flavors Bockwurst / Sushi / Cardamom, but these three turned out to be the highlight of the festival.

Listen to music from the band’s 2017 album, Neuk Wight Delhi All-Stars, online.

Biology Team Samples Drought-Tolerant Bacteria in Death Valley

Nicole DelGaudio ’18 samples the rhizospheres of a juniper tree at about 7,000 feet above sea level.

Nicole DelGaudio ’18 samples the rhizosphere of a juniper tree.

This spring, a research team from Wesleyan traveled to Death Valley National Park to explore the ways bacteria diversifies in extreme environments.

Death Valley, located about 130 miles west of Las Vegas, is a below-sea-level basin known for being the hottest place on earth and driest place in North America. The average rainfall is less than 2 inches, annually.

“National parks are ideal for research, in general, because the land is protected indefinitely from commercial development,” said team leader Fred Cohan, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies. “Death Valley is a nice model system for exobiology because of its extreme habitat.”

Cohan, along with graduate student Jerry Lee, Bella Wiener ’19 and Nicole DelGaudio ’18, traveled to California May 29 through June 4. During this time, the researchers trekked through miles of parched — and often prickly — landscapes seeking to sample root soil, or rhizosphere, from various plant species, each over a wide range of elevations that differ notably in their temperatures.

Ocorr PhD ’83 Sends Fruit Flies into Space for Cardiovascular Research

Karen Ocorr Ph.D. ’83

Karen Ocorr PhD ’83

Karen Ocorr PhD ’83, a professor at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, Calif., is using fruit flies to investigate how long-term weightlessness might affect the cardiovascular health of astronauts.

Ocorr’s research team packed 400 adult fruit flies and 2,000 eggs in a capsule, which will be launched by a rocket in June and return to Earth after spending a month docked in space.

In a New York Times article published on June 2, titled “Fruit Flies and Mice to Get New Home on Space Station, at Least Temporarily,” Ocorr explains that although the structure of a fly heart is very different than that of a human, the cardiovascular system shares many of the same cellular components in addition to the similar heartbeats.

Fruit flies, Ocorr said, are “actually much closer in some respects to humans than the mouse or rat models are.”

Upon their return, Ocorr and her colleagues will study the flies for abnormalities in the skeletal and heart muscles and the shape of the hearts.

At Wesleyan, Ocorr’s biology research was supervised by Allen Berlind, professor of biology emeritus.

Ocorr also appears on NASA’s educational panel with regard to science projects on the missions at the 1:22 mark. 

Read more in this 2013 News @ Wesleyan article.

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.

Grad Student Khan to Perform with Berklee Indian Ensemble

Suhail Yusuf Khan

Suhail Yusuf Khan

Music graduate student Suhail Yusuf Khan will be a featured guest artist at the Berklee Indian Ensemble on May 9. In addition, he will conduct a master class on Hindustani music and the sarangi, one of the oldest string instruments featured in North Indian classical music. The sarangi is the only instrument in the world that can emulate all the nuances of the human voice. Played with a bow, this instrument has three main strings and 37 sympathetic strings.

Khan started to play the instrument when he was 7 years old. The grandson of the sarangi legend Ustad Sabri Khan, and nephew of sarangi genius Ustad Kamal Sabri, his professional career took off at age 11 when he played his first live concert in Liverpool, England. Khan is the first of his family to fuse ancient classical music from India with genres as varied as jazz, rock, electronic and Irish music. In 2014, he was named a Forbes India “30 Under 30.”

He also is a composer, singer and songwriter. After graduating from Wesleyan, Khan is considering applying to PhD programs in ethnomusicology or will continue to perform around the world.

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.

Faculty, Students, Alumni Attend the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

Avi Stein ‘17.

A group of Wesleyan faculty, students and alumni attended the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodland, Texas March 20-24. The annual conference unites 2,000 international specialists in petrology, geochemistry, geophysics, geology and astronomy to present their latest research in planetary science over the course of several days.

Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the George I. Seney Professor of Geology Martha Gilmore coordinated Wesleyan’s group. While at the event, she presented her work on the oldest rocks on Venus and Mars gully analogues on Earth.

McKeeby MA ’17 and Tarnas ’16 (Photo by Martha Gilmore)

McKeeby MA ’17 and Tarnas ’16.

A number of her current graduate and undergraduate students attended and several also presented their work. Ben McKeeby MA ’17 discussed his work on Mars-analogue volcanic sites on Earth; Shaun Mahmood MA ’17 discussed his work on lunar water; and Avi Stein ’17 discussed his work on Venus sediments. All three of these students were supported by the NASA Connecticut Space Grant. Earth and Environmental Sciences graduate student Jordyn-Marie Dudley MA ’18 also attended the conference.

Professor Martha Gilmore and Golder MA ’13 (Photo by Martha Gilmore)

Professor Martha Gilmore and Golder MA ’13.

Numerous alumni made contributions at the conference including astronomy majors Bob Nelson MA ’69 and Jesse Tarnas ’16; earth and environmental sciences majors Tanya Harrison MA ’08, Nina Lanza MA ’06, Keenan Golder MA ’13 and James Dottin ’13.

Earth and environmental sciences and chemistry double major Peter Martin ’14 and physics major Ian Garrick-Bethell ’02 also contributed.