Tag Archive for mathematics and computer science

Faculty Appointed Endowed Professorships

monogramIn recognition of their career achievements, the following faculty members are being appointed to endowed professorships, effective July 1, 2021:

Erik Grimmer-Solem, professor of history, is receiving the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Professorship in the College of Social Studies, established in 2008.

Abigail Hornstein, associate professor of economics, is receiving the Woodhouse/Sysco Professorship of Economics, established in 2002.

Edward Moran, professor of astronomy, is receiving the John Monroe Van Vleck Professorship of Astronomy, established in 1982.

Suzanne OConnell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, is receiving the Harold T. Stearns Professorship of Earth Sciences, established in 1984.

Francis Starr, professor of physics, is receiving the Foss Professorship of Physics, established in 1885.

Tracy Heather Strain, associate professor of film studies and co-director of the Wesleyan Documentary Project, is receiving the Corwin-Fuller Professorship of Film Studies, established in 1986.

Also, in recognition of his outstanding research and teaching, Ilesanmi Adeboye, associate professor of mathematics, has been awarded the inaugural Faculty Equity Fellowship for 2021-2022.

Brief biographies appear below:

Ilesanmi Adeboye received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and MS from Howard University. He taught at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Santa Barbara, and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, before arriving at Wesleyan in 2011. Adeboye’s scholarship is at the intersection of geometry, topology, and analysis, with a focus on the study of volume in non-Euclidean geometries. He has published articles on hyperbolic geometry, complex hyperbolic geometry, and projective geometry. Ilesanmi received the 2010 Mochizuki Memorial Fund Award at UC Santa Barbara in recognition of outstanding achievement in mathematics instruction.

Erik Grimmer-Solem was a Harper Fellow at the University of Chicago before joining the history department in 2002. He received his D.Phil. from Oxford University, M.Phil. from Cambridge University, M.Sc. from the London School of Economics, and BA from Brigham Young University. Grimmer-Solem has published two books on the history of German social reform and imperialism, along with many articles and reviews in leading journals. He has received numerous awards, including the Binswanger Prize and a recent fellowship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). His scholarship on the Holocaust was covered widely in the German media and discussed by the Bundestag in 2014.

Abigail Hornstein joined the economics department after completing her Ph.D. and M.Phil. from Stern School of Business, New York University, and her AB from Bryn Mawr College. Her scholarship focuses on corporate finance, multinationals, business strategy and governance, and legal institutions, with particular expertise in the Chinese financial markets. Hornstein’s work has been published in many prestigious journals, including Journal of Empirical Finance, Journal of Comparative Economics, Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Journal of Corporate Finance, and China Economic Review.

Edward Moran arrived at Wesleyan in 2002 after serving as a Chandra Fellow at University of California, Berkeley, and an IGPP Postdoctoral Fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and receiving his Ph.D. and MA from Columbia University. Moran studies black holes in the nuclei of dwarf galaxies to gain insights into galaxy evolution, and the history of black hole activity in the universe via investigations of the cosmic X-ray background radiation. He has received grants from the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Suzanne O’Connell arrived at Wesleyan in 1989 after receiving her Ph.D. from Columbia University, her M.Sc. from State University of New York at Albany, and her AB from Oberlin College. O’Connell studies marine sediment cores recovered through scientific ocean drilling (DSDP, ODP, IODP) to understand past climate change, which helps to understand and model future climate change. She is the 2001 recipient of the Association for Women Geoscientists Outstanding Educator Award and a Fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA). Currently, OConnell serves on the United States Science Advisory Program committee for the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) and on the governing council for GSA.

Francis Starr joined the physics department in 2003 after serving as the deputy director of the Center for Theoretical and Computational Materials Science at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). His research focuses on the emergent complexity of soft matter physics and biophysics. Starr has authored or co-authored over 120 refereed publications and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He is the former director of the College of Integrative Sciences and currently directs the Integrated Design, Engineering, & Applied Science (IDEAS) program.

Tracy Heather Strain received her Ed.M. from Harvard University and her AB from Wellesley College, and is currently an MFA candidate at the Vermont College for the Arts. Strain is an award-winning documentary film director, producer, and writer whose work tells stories with a goal of advancing social justice, building community, and empowering the marginalized. Her films have received two Peabody Awards and have been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ford Foundation, Independent Television Service, and LEF Foundation, among other funding organizations. Her most recent work is American Oz, which premiered April 19, 2021.

Zimmeck Spearheads Launch of Important Online Privacy Tool

Sebastian Zimmeck,

Sebastian Zimmeck

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Sebastian Zimmeck is leading a major initiative to help consumers gain greater control of their personal data online.

On Oct. 7, Zimmeck and his collaborator, Ashkan Soltani of Georgetown Law, as well as a group of partner organizations that includes The New York Times, The Washington Post, Mozilla, and the parent company behind WordPress.com and Tumblr, among others, announced the beta launch of the Global Privacy Control (GPC), a new effort to standardize consumer privacy online.

As Zimmeck explains it, privacy regulations introduced in recent years such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have given consumers more rights to limit the sale and sharing of their personal data than ever before. The CCPA regulations give California residents a legal right to opt out of the sale of their data, and requires businesses to respect their preferences through a signal from their web browser. Zimmeck applauds this progress, but says it “doesn’t amount to much if it is hard for people to take advantage of their new rights.” That’s because there had been little progress on developing standards that allow users to signal through their web browser that they wish to opt out of having their data sold or shared. An early standardization attempt, Do Not Track (DNT), suffered from a low rate of adoption due to its lack of enforceability. In practice, this means users generally need to manually opt out of each site or app they want to stop tracking their data—something most users don’t go through the trouble to do.

According to a WIRED article on the beta launch, “the CCPA includes a mechanism for solving the one-by-one problem. The regulations interpreting the law specify that businesses must respect a ‘global privacy control’ sent by a browser or device. The idea is that instead of having to change privacy settings every time you visit a new site or use a new app, you could set your preference once, on your phone or in a browser extension, and be done with it.”

The idea for the new global opt-out started with Zimmeck, who last spring began building an extension for the Chrome web browser with his students called OptMeowt. Initially, Zimmeck worked with Wesleyan computer science students Kuba Alicki ’22, David Baraka ‘21, and Rafael Goldstein ’21. As the effort gained momentum, Daniel Knopf ’22 and Abdallah Salia ’22 joined as well.

“My students are doing an excellent job,” Zimmeck says. “I am mostly taking on the role as an engineering manager and the students are really the ones implementing the various technologies. I think it is also nice that the students are exposed to how things are done in industry, and that they can acquire real-world software engineering skills.”

“As of today, users will be able to set a global browser opt-out in browsers including Mozilla, Brave, and DuckDuckGo, as well as the DuckDuckGo privacy extensions for Chrome,” the WIRED article further explains. “The code necessary for businesses to respond to the privacy control is publicly available. Publishers who have signed on, most notably The New York Times and The Washington Post, have agreed to honor the signal.”

“For California residents, the global privacy control, if enforced by the attorney general, would have a very different effect than existing privacy controls such as third-party cookie blockers. Those settings have no power over what a website or app does with the data it collects directly from you. The global control, by contrast, would issue a legally binding order that, if violated, would be punishable by major fines.”

Indeed, briefly after its release, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra tweeted that “[t]his proposed standard is a first step towards a meaningful global privacy control that will make it simple and easy for consumers to exercise their privacy rights online. #DataPrivacy is the future, and I am heartened to see a wave of innovation in this space.” As Zimmeck told WIRED, “The time is right to do this,” adding that the American public cares much more about privacy than during the earlier DNT effort, and now there is finally law on their side. “I think it’s really important to not just theoretically talk about how this could work,” he said, “but also to actually do it.”

Additional coverage of the beta launch can be read on TechCrunch.com, Neowin.net, and Decipher.

 

McNair Fellows Present Research at Diversity in STEM Conference

SACNAS

Elizaveta “Liz” Atalig ’21 and Ekram Towsif ’21 won 2019 SACNAS conference presentation awards for their respective fields of research.

Two Wesleyan McNair Fellows recently participated in the largest multidisciplinary and multicultural STEM diversity event in the country.

From Oct. 31–Nov. 2, Elizaveta “Liz” Atalig ’21 and Ekram Towsif ’21 joined more than 4,000 peers at the 2019 SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) conference in Hawaii. For more than 45 years, SACNAS has served as an inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of Chicano/Hispanics & Native Americans, from college students to professionals, in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership within STEM.

Attendees of the three-day conference are immersed in cutting-edge scientific research and professional development sessions, motivational keynote speakers, a career expo, multicultural celebrations, and an inclusive and welcoming community of peers, mentors, and role models.

In addition, both Atalig and Towsif received Outstanding Research Presentation awards in their respective disciplines.

“This is the first time McNair fully funded Fellows to participate in the SACNAS conference, so we’re very proud of Ekram and Liz for maximizing their conference experience and conducting their award-winning poster presentations,” said Ronnie Hendrix, associate director of the Wesleyan McNair Program.

Wesleyan’s Girls in Science Summer Camp Gets Young Scientists Excited about STEM 

GIS

Marty Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, leads an experiment about meteors during the Girls in Science Summer Camp Aug. 8. (Photo by Kerisha Harris)

(Story by Kerisha Harris)

For the sixth year in a row, the weeklong Wesleyan Girls in Science Summer Camp welcomed dozens of middle school-aged girls for a week of learning, exploration, and STEM-centered fun.

From Aug. 5-9 inside Exley Science Center, the 32 campers in grades 4-6 spent the week learning about everything from how to extract DNA from a strawberry, to the parts of the brain, and even how to make (but don’t touch) an ice-cold comet. By Friday, the young scientists were excited to share all they had learned with their friends and families, and did so through a poster presentation and art display.

Girls in Science participants observe a "comet" they created during the camp.

Girls in Science participants observe a “comet” they created during the camp.

This partnership between Wesleyan and Middletown Public Schools gives girls the chance to explore and cultivate their interest in science by conducting fun experiments in real-life labs, discovering scientific concepts, vocabulary and equipment, and learning from female Wesleyan professors and students in the sciences.

This year marked the first time in the program’s history that the camp took place fully under the umbrella of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships.  Additionally, the Jewett Center partnered with In-Reach, a program coordinated by Melisa Olgun ’20, to bring local high school girls in as program assistants. These young scientists-in-training provided guidance and support for the campers, while also getting to spend time in research labs at Wesleyan.

Members of the Class of 2019 Inducted into Phi Beta Kappa

PBK

On May 25, members of the Class of 2019 were inducted into Wesleyan’s Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Society, the oldest national scholastic honor society. The Wesleyan Gamma Chapter was organized in 1845 and is the ninth-oldest chapter in the country.

To be elected, a student must first have been nominated by the department of his or her major. The student also must have demonstrated curricular breadth by having met the General Education Expectations and must have achieved a GPA of 93 and above.

Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest surviving Greek letter society in America, founded in December 1776 by five students who attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The emblem contains the three Greek letters “Phi-Beta-Kappa,” which are the initials of the Greek motto, Philosophia Biou Kybernetes. This essentially means “the love of wisdom is the guide of life.”

The spring 2019 inductees are:

Caroline Adams
Yulia Alexandr
Erin Angell
William Bellamy
Cara Bendich
Zachary Bennett
Chiara Bercu
Sophie Brett-Chin
Nicholas Byers
David Cabanero
Talia Cohen
John Cote 

6 Faculty Receive Endowed Professorships

Fred Cohan

Fred Cohan is one of six Wesleyan faculty to receive an endowed professorship in 2019.

In recognition of their career achievements, the following faculty members are being appointed to endowed professorships, effective July 1, 2019:

Frederick Cohan, professor of biology, is receiving the Huffington Foundation Professorship in the College of the Environment, established in 2010.

Susanne Fusso, professor of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies, is receiving the Marcus L. Taft Professorship of Modern Languages, established in 1880.

William Johnston, professor of history, is receiving a John E. Andrus Professorship of History, established in 1981.

Ethan Kleinberg, professor of history and professor of letters, is receiving the Class of 1958 Distinguished Professorship, established in 2008.

Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics, is receiving the Lauren B. Dachs Professorship of Science and Society, established in 2008.

Daniel Krizanc, professor of computer science, is receiving an Edward Burr Van Vleck Professorship of Computer Science, established in 1982.

Brief biographies appear below:

Frederick Cohan arrived at Wesleyan in 1986 after completing his BS at Stanford University, his PhD at Harvard University, and a postdoctoral appointment at University of California, Davis. His research focuses on the origins of diversity in bacteria. His publications, which have been cited more than 8,000 times, recently include “How We Can All Share the Fight Against Infectious Disease” (Arcadia Political Review, Spring 2019) and “Systematics: The Cohesive Nature of Bacterial Species Taxa” (Current Biology, 2019). Cohan has received numerous grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, and he was elected to the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering in 2017.

Wesleyan Team Places in Top 5 Percent of Putnam Math Competition

“Consider an icosahedron with every edge labeled from 1 to 30. Color these edges red, white, or blue, such that no face has all three edges the same color or all three faces the same color. How many ways are there to do this?”

If you can solve this problem, you might have what it takes to participate in the annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, a preeminent mathematics competition for undergraduate college students.

“The problems themselves are very difficult, often asking us to demonstrate that a general statement is true rather than to solve a specific problem, or if we do solve a specific problem, it is often a very complicated problem,” said competitor Sam Bidwell ’21. “For this particular question, which appeared on last year’s test, the solution involves complicated mathematics that I do not have the experience to properly explain within even five paragraphs to anyone who had not taken the prerequisite class, which was, as I recall, Abstract Algebra 2.”

Bidwell, along with Di Chen ’20, Haochen Gao ’21, Joe Cutler ’21, Morgan Long ’22, and Yaqian Tang ’21 were among 4,623 students from the U.S. and Canada to participate in the 2018 competition. Chen and Gao ranked in the top 500 individual competitors; and a team consisting of Bidwell, Chen, and Gao was ranked 27th out of 568 institutions (within the top 5 percent).

Robertson Remembered for His Love of Mathematics

Lewis Robertson, professor of mathematics, emeritus, passed away Dec. 22, 2018, at the age of 80.

Robertson received his BS and MS from the University of Chicago and his PhD from the University of California—Los Angeles. He came to Wesleyan with tenure in 1970 after serving as an assistant professor at the University of Washington, and he remained at Wesleyan for 28 years until his retirement in 1998.

Robertson’s scholarly research focused on Lie groups, topological groups, and representation theory. His PhD thesis was on algebra, influenced by topology, and that remained his primary interest throughout his career. He published 23 papers, many with Wesleyan colleagues, and supervised three PhD students at Wesleyan.

Robertson loved mathematics and was always eager to think about any mathematics problem that arose.

“Lew was a gentle fellow, and unfailingly kind. As a mathematician, he was extremely self-effacing,” said Edward Burr Van Vleck Professor of Mathematics, Emerita, Carol Wood. “Nonetheless, it was impossible for him to hide his mathematical ability. Lew was a regular in the topology seminar over the decades, and when a topic (often outside his area of expertise) caught his interest, the depth of his comments would yet again remind me that Lew was a gifted mathematician.”

His colleague, Tony Hager, professor of mathematics, emeritus said, “Lew was my colleague and friend for about 50 years. He and I coauthored three fine papers together around 1980, one of which has become a go-to reference in its field. I will miss him greatly.”

Robertson is survived by his wife of 44 years, Janet; their son, Michael; one child from a previous marriage, Laureen; Janet’s daughters from a previous marriage, Julie and Jeanne; and eight grandchildren. A memorial service is being planned for early May 2019. The family requests that memorial contributions be made in Lew’s name to the Wesleyan Fund to support students studying math and science, and sent to the care of Marcy Herlihy, University Relations, 330 High Street, Middletown, CT 06459.

Comfort Remembered for Teaching Mathematics 40 Years at Wesleyan

Wis Comfort

Wis Comfort

William Wistar “Wis” Comfort II, the Edward Burr Van Vleck Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus, died Nov. 28 at the age of 83.

Comfort received his BA from Haverford College, and an MSc and PhD from the University of Washington (Seattle) and was an expert on point-set topology, ultrafilters, set theory and topological groups. He joined the Wesleyan faculty in 1967 after teaching at Harvard, University of Rochester and University of Massachusetts (Amherst). Comfort taught in the mathematics department for 40 years until his retirement in 2007, where he supervised 17 PhD theses and three MA theses. He was a key figure in the founding of the Math Workshop, a drop-in help center for students that he directed for many years that remains widely used today.

Comfort was named an American Mathematical Society Fellow in the inaugural class of AMS Fellows in 2013 in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the creation, exposition, advancement, communication and utilization of mathematics. He was active in the AMS, serving as associate secretary of the Eastern Section and as the managing editor of the Proceedings of the AMS. He published three books, including Chain Conditions in Topology (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1982), and more than 100 mathematical papers.

Comfort was a Quaker, a musician who played the trombone in a Dixieland band, and a dignified gentleman who exuded collegiality. He is survived by his daughter, Martha, and his son, Howard. His beloved wife, longtime Wesleyan staff member Mary Connie Comfort, passed away in May 2016. His family requests that memorial contributions be made in Wis’s name to Middletown Friends Meeting (Quakers) or the Essex Meadows Employee Scholarship Fund. A memorial service will be held on campus in April 2017.

Green Street Receives Grant to Expand K-8 Math Institute

Cameron Hill, assistant professor of mathematics, taught an Intel Math course to area teachers as part of the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center's K-8 Math Institute. The Department of Education recently awarded GSTLC with a grant to expand its program and reach 90 teachers from three new school districts. 

Cameron Hill, assistant professor of mathematics, taught an Intel Math course to area teachers as part of the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center’s K-8 Math Institute. The Department of Education recently awarded GSTLC with a grant to expand its program and reach 90 teachers from three new school districts.

The Green Street Teaching and Learning Center has received a second round of funding from the State of Connecticut Department of Education to expand its K-8 Math Institute to three new school districts over the next two years.

The $428,479 Math and Science Partnership Award will allow Green Street offer the program to 90 teachers from the Hamden, Vernon and New Haven school districts in programs being offered this summer and next. Green Street works closely with district math coordinators to select teachers to participate.

“In Connecticut and all over the country, there are issues with math education—students aren’t achieving at the level they should,” said Sara MacSorley, director of the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center. “With the adoption of Common Core standards in math, we wanted to come up with a program that would help improve teachers’ mastery of math concepts as well as their confidence with math.”

Starr’s Nanoparticle Research Published in Science

Professor Francis Starr and his collaborators are working to self-assemble a diamond-structured lattice at will from nanoscale particles.(Image by graduate student Hamed Emamy). 

Professor Francis Starr and his collaborators are working to self-assemble a diamond-structured lattice at will from nanoscale particles. (Image by graduate student Hamed Emamy).

Professor Francis Starr, graduate student Hamad Emamy and collaborators from the Brookhaven National Lab have co-authored a paper titled “Diamond Family of Nanoparticle Superlattices” published in the prestigious journal Science on Feb. 5. Starr is professor of physics and director of the College of Integrative Sciences.

Their work proposed a solution to a decades-long challenge to self-assemble a diamond-structured lattice at will from nanoscale particles.

“Such a diamond-lattice structure has long been sought after due to its potential applications as a light controlling device, including optical transistors, color-changing materials, and optical — as opposed to electronic — computing,” Starr said.

To solve this challenge, the team utilized the specific binding properties of DNA as a tool for materials science. Specifically, they created nanoscale “atoms” that consist of 15 nanometer gold nanoparticles coated with many single-stranded DNA. The single-stranded DNA act like binding arms to connect nanoparticle/DNA “atoms” by forming double-stranded DNA links, and analogue of traditional chemical bonds between atoms. By appropriate selection of the sequence and orientation of these DNA links, the nanoparticles will spontaneously arrange themselves into the desired structure.

“This self-assembly approach not only allows for highly specific order, but also offers the potential for tremendous savings in the cost of materials production, as compared to traditional methods used in the semi-conductor industry,” Starr explained.

Emamy, a graduate student in Starr’s lab, carried out numerical simulations that helped to develop the approach and explain how to stabilize the structure. Collaborators at Brookhaven experimentally synthesized and verified the structure and properties. The effort, Starr said, represented an ideal collaboration between experiments, theory and computation.

Pollack, Chan Attend Number Theory Conference in Germany

David Pollack, associate professor of mathematics, and Wai Kiu “Billy” Chan, chair and professor mathematics and computer science, recently attended a conference titled “Lattices and Applications in Number Theory” in Germany.

Pollack and Chan traveled to the Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach (MFO), the first research institution established in Germany after World War II, to take part in a weeklong workshop held Jan. 17-23. Dedicated to providing an institute for international cooperative research, the MFO brings together leading experts from all over the world in order to pursue their research activities, discuss recent developments in their field, and generate new ideas. Pollack and Chan were both invited guests.

The workshop focused on the interaction of lattices with number theory, looking specifically at the application of modular forms, finite group theory, algebraic number theory, and the application of tools from linear and semi-definite optimization; applications of lattice theoretic methods to the investigation of algebraic structures; Arakelov geometry; and algebraic modular forms and Hecke operators, especially for orthogonal groups where lattice theoretic concepts play a major role.

(Article by Fred Wills ’19)