Science Workshop: Why Fattest Phosphines Flourish, While Famished Phenyls Fail

Do you like fit phosphines? 

Just add some phenyl rings.

And for fitter phosphines

Fatten those phenyls with isopropyl things.

Because the fittest phosphines

Are the fattest phosphines - 

The gist of my truthful tale,

“Why fattest phosphines flourish,

While famished phenyls fail.”



This talk will describe my research on the electrochemistry of severely congested phosphines. If you prefer an Aseussian version of the abstract, see the article link at The Journal of the American Chemical Societywhich published the work earlier this year.


As always, delicious and thematically appropriate snacks will be served.

Upcoming Science Workshop – Dr. David Bond

Please join us for our next Science Workshop with Dr. David Bond, visiting faculty member in Anthropology for the 2013-14 academic year. David is currently teaching two courses at Bennington, Nature in the Americas and The Anthropology of Science and & Technology. As usual, the talk will be in Dickinson 225 and thematic snacks will be provided.

The Environment as Disastrous History of the Present

deepwater rigThe environment is remarkably new. Over the course of the past century, the ‘environment’ shifted from erudite shorthand for ‘context’ to a proper noun worthy of its own governing agency in nearly every nation on earth (whether that domain is called ‘environment,’ ‘medio ambiente,’ mazingira,’ ‘lingkungan,’ or ‘huanjing’). The environment has arrived as an official means of knowing and governing the quality of life. But where, exactly, did this defendable environment come from? Through ongoing fieldwork at the intersection of pollution problems and environmental regulations across the Americas, my research suggests that toxic disasters (quite a few of the hydrocarbon variety) play a key role in the formation and reformation of the defendable environment. This paper recaps a few of these calamitous events and describes how the official response to them put in place new understandings of the ordinary conditions of life. Whether in coal smog or lead gasoline or acid rain or hydro-chlorinated pesticides or shoddy drilling practice or even global climate change, oil spills of one sort or another have been at the forefront of making the conditions of life visible, factual, and governable. This paper presents such disasters as an unfolding history of the present that keeps remaking nearly everything the state knows about the conditions of life. Disasters, then, are not aberrant events in industrial modernity but part and parcel of how the environment becomes knowable and governable in the present.


Work by Carlos Mendez (’15) Published in JBC

jbc coverCarlos Mendez (’15), an undergraduate who has been working in the lab of Professor Amie McClellan, is co-author on a just-published paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The paper, A Biochemical Analysis Linking APOBEC3A to Disparate HIV-1 Restriction and Skin Cancer, describes work examining the pH-dependence and regulation of human deoxycytidine deaminase (Apo3A) and, as described in the abstract, provides insight into “an alternative molecular basis for the initiation events in skin cancer”

This research was performed in the laboratory of Professor Myron Goodman of the University of Southern California Department of Chemistry. Carlos contributed to the work during his first Field Work Term position and last summer. He will also be giving a Science Workshop presentation on September 20th. Don’t miss it.

A Look Ahead to the New Year …

(… and a brief look back at the last one.)

Welcome and Welcome Back to new and returning students. We hope that all of you had enjoyable and productive summers and are ready to engage in all of the upcoming challenges that will be our pleasure to devise for you, as well as those you devise for yourselves. We wanted to help you start the year off by sharing some news, information, and announcements you may find useful.

montovan1First and foremost – we are delighted that Katie Montovan has arrived and will start teaching this term. Katie just completed her Ph. D. at Cornell (title: The adaptive causes and consequences of individual restraint for host-parasitoid spatial dynamics) and will be teaching Introduction to Applied Mathematics and Nonlinear Dynamical Systems this term. For the time being her office is 226 Dickinson so stop by and introduce yourself if you are not in one of her classes. Katie will also be giving a Science Workshop on her work on September 13. More on that a bit later in this post.


tim castle

Somewhere in Bavaria; the site of Herr Schroeder’s most recent campaign.

If you’re looking for Tim Schroeder and can’t find him in his office, don’t bother waiting around too long – he won’t show up. Tim is on a year-long sabbatical in Germany where, according to some accounts, he’s storming castles when not examining rocks in the lab.



We are pleased to announce that in October we will be hosting Amir Aczel, author of more than a dozen books on mathematics and science, including the best-selling Fermat’s Last Theorem and the recent book on the Large Hadron Collider and the discovery of the Higgs boson, Present at the Creation. A research fellow at the Boston University Center for Philosophy and History of Science, he will be giving a series of talks in early October, one of which will be at the October 11 Science Workshop. His visit is being made possible by support from the Onassis Foundation.


As we’ve done for many years now, we’ll be having weekly Science Workshops every Friday at 1:00 in Dickinson 225. These are opportunities to discuss each other’s work, hear from outside speakers, and to talk about issues in the substance and practice of doing science. Our first workshop will be on September 6th and be an informal Meet-n-Greet at which new students can meet old students, old faculty can meet new students, new students can meet new faculty, etc., etc., etc. We have a number of interesting talks already lined up, including the aforementioned presentations from Katie Montovan and Amir Aczel. On September 27 we will welcome Professor Katy Gonder, a biologist at SUNY Albany, who will speak to us about her current research. Students Carlos Mendez, Chernoh Jalloh (both speaking on September 20), Genelle Rankin and Joe Kendrick (October 4) have all agreed to describe work they did in labs over the summer. Please join us on these and every Friday for stimulating discussions, good company and the best snacks on campus.

Finally, the last Science Workshop of each term is a Poster Session for student work. This term will be no different, so be on the lookout for the exact date in early December for this great opportunity to see what everyone will have accomplished by then. Until then, enjoy the following few scenes from this past Spring’s Poster Session (photos by Betsy Sherman and Ferrilyn Sourdiffe) and good luck in the coming term. It’s great to have you back!

spring poster session

Mark the Date: Friday May 24 is SciencePalooza

That’s right. You’ve waited a whole year for this and it’s finally here. Our annual Springtime Potluck Poster Session SciencePalooza is this Friday. Students doing projects in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, Computing, Earth Science and Math will be presenting posters of their work at this special Science Workshop Poster Session.


As with any potluck worthy of the term, there will be food. Lots and lots of food. Pizza, breads, salads, a vindaloo, perhaps, and other homemade specialties, desserts, etc., etc., etc.



Place and Time? Dickinson - all over the building – from 12 to 2 on Friday, May 24. Come see what our students have been working on, ask good questions, enjoy good food, have a great time. It’s a terrific way to bring the year to a close.

See you there.

A Bit of History

Owing to a conflict with the all-student session with one of the Bennington College presidential search finalists, there will be no Science Workshop this Friday, April 26. To alleviate the inevitable anxiety amongst some students and faculty that such disruption to our weekly routine may cause, we offer an intriguing nugget of Bennington history to hold you over until next week’s Workshop.


Catherine Murley (’15) unearthed the fascinating article Teaching Science at Bennington, from a 1941 issue of The Journal of Higher Education. In it, Robert Woodworth, for whom our annual lecture series is named, describes the very earliest renditions of Science Workshop – it’s a great way of learning some our own history. Read it and discover what’s changed – and what hasn’t – in the Bennington approach to teaching science.

Welcome to Bennington, Katie Montovan!

If you happen to stroll over to our faculty list this coming Fall, you’ll see a new name. Katie Montovan, an applied mathematician currently in the process of finishing her Ph. D. at Cornell University’s Center for Applied Math, will be joining us as our new full-time mathematics faculty member, teaming up with current mathematician Andrew McIntyre to offer a rich, innovative math curriculum. After accepting Bennington’s offer, Katie visited campus in early February to get acquainted with the area a bit and to meet with her soon-to-be colleagues. Ecology faculty member Kerry Woods and his wife Cas hosted an old-fashioned Vermont potluck (at their home in nearby Cambridge, New York) to welcome Katie and her partner Maggie to our community.

Katie Montovan (second from right) is welcomed at a mid-winter potluck by, among others not shown, Kerry and Cas Woods (far right and left) and Karen Schroeder (second from left).

Her mentors at Cornell enthusiastically praise her skills as a teacher. In addition to teaching foundation courses at Bennington, such as calculus, Katie proposed several novel offerings that will reach out to students beyond Dickinson. For example, there’s The Art of Mathematics, in which students “will investigate the connections between math and art by studying artworks that address mathematical concepts and learning mathematics through art”.

Ms. Montovan’s current research work is in using modeling, particularly game
theory and dynamical systems,to understand the evolutionary ecology of a parasite.The parasitic wasp she studies lays its eggs in eggs of its butterfly host—but never in more than 30% of the available eggs. Why? Ms. Montovan develops
mathematical models for a number of proposed biological answers, and compares
their results to experimental data. She discussed this work in a fascinating seminar in December and will no doubt continue to find interesting and accessible problems on which to practice her craft.

Katie wants to be not only a mathematician, but an active mentor and member of a
community, and we have the greatest confidence that she will be an ideal addition to the Bennington College community. Please feel free to leave a comment offering your own welcome to Katie. We’re all thrilled she’ll be joining us.


Scenes from the Fall Poster Session

The hallways of Dickinson were abuzz with science students and faculty, along with friends and supporters from across the College, on Friday December 7 for the Fall Term Poster Session. The building was a hive of activity as students discussed their work, asked questions, and generally enjoyed the challenge of substantively engaging with each other and the broader community about their projects.

Faculty member David Edelman talks to students Katie Giarra and Marilee Goad about the Animal Physiology poster “The Effects of Serotonin on Aggression in Subordinate Crayfish” (photo: Julia Evanczuk)

Roughly thirty posters were presented by students from Physics I, Comparative Animal Physiology, and Foundations of Physical Science. These courses range from introductory to advanced levels and the nature of the work reflected this diversity, featuring experiments of students’ own design, literature reviews, laboratory measurements of physical phenomena, and investigations of alternative energy possibilities for the campus and beyond. Selections of posters from each class will be posted on this site in the near future.

Top: Emily Mikucki (’13) discusses her poster “Fitness Consequences Associated with Variation in Developmental Temperature in Cabbage Butterflies” with dance and environmental studies student, Kaya Lovestrand (’14). (photo: Betsy Sherman)
Middle: (left) Chemistry faculty member Janet Foley asks Evan Braun (’13) about his animal physiology research; (right) Evan’s poster “Survey of Worker Ant Plasticity as Mediated by Classical Conditioning” is displayed along with his subject ants in the foreground (both photos: Julia Evanczuk)
Middle: Caroline Barnhart (postbac ’13) describes her work on the impact resistance and force transmission of different helmet designs (photo: Julia Evanczuk)










Several students gave demonstrations to help explain or place their work in context. For example, Carl Johanson (below) arranged for a  live performance from Lance, a five-year old American Cream horse, a nearly extinct breed of draft horse, for his demonstration of “Horsepower, the Other Way of Getting Energy from Biomass.”

Foundations of Physical Science student Carl Johanson (’14) introduces Lance, an American Cream draft horse, to onlookers as part of his presentation on animal power. (photo: Mike Goldin)


Biology faculty member Amie McClellan discusses recent work from her lab with Computing faculty member Andrew Cencini and others. (photo: Betsy Sherman)

Honorary student (and actual faculty member) Amie McClellan, enjoying the last full week of her sabbatical, also presented a poster as a sort of trial run for her upcoming presentation “EMC2 Encodes a Putative Novel Hsp90 Co-chaperone in Saccharomyces cerevisiae“, co-authored with Tambu Kudze (’10), at the 2012 Annual Meeting of The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) in San Francisco, CA.

photo: Mike Goldin



Finally, good food made the event even more enjoyable. Faculty and staff brought in homemade breads and dishes such as Vegetable Lo Mein and Beef Vindaloo, as well as delicious desserts for all to enjoy.


The view from the second floor. (photo: Mike Goldin)

Science Workshop: Satellite Navigation and the Three-Body Problem

Please join us for our next Science Workshop on Friday, November 30th when visiting mathematician Michael Reardon will discuss his work in the area of satellite navigation. The abstract of his talk is presented below.

Lunar Transfers and the Circular Restricted Three-Body Problem

The Vermont Lunar Lander CubeSat Program is a collaborative effort by students and faculty from four VT colleges and universities with the goal of navigating a small (~10 cm3 ) satellite to lunar orbit. In the first part of this talk I will discuss my role in the project, which was to investigate the feasibility of lunar transfer methods for both low and high thrust propulsion systems. The second part will focus on the mathematical model used to describe the trajectories of satellites in the presence of two gravitating bodies: the Circular Restricted Three-Body Problem (CRTBP). As we will see, the CRTBP provides valuable insight into the problem of lunar transfer trajectory design. Furthermore, the CRTBP is also possessed of a rich dynamical structure whose study provides a window into the world of nonlinear dynamics and chaos.


Spelunking in Bennington County

Did you know that there are caves in the hills around Bennington?

Tim Schroeder‘s The Geology of the Bennington Region class explored one such cave on the north side of Mount Anthony on a recent class field trip. The caves are present in the Ordovician marble deposits that have been quarried in this region for centuries. The rocks were originally deposited as limestone in a reef-like setting when Bennington was on the margin of North America 500 million years ago. The rocks were metamorphosed to become marble during the tectonic events that built the Appalachian Mountains. The caves form now because the mineral calcite, which composes the marble, is slightly soluble in acidic rain water, and it slowly dissolves openings as the rainwater infiltrates into fractures in the marble. This particular cave is located very near one of the major faults that formed the Taconic range, which we also mapped on this field trip.

Students gather at the entrance to the cave they will explore at Mount Anthony, Bennington, VT.