Mechanistic Insight Into Cellular Functions and Disease States

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Mechanistic Insight Into Cellular Functions and Disease States

OdonnellOur science workshop speaker for Friday, October 24th will be John O’Donnell, who is currently a PhD student in the laboratory of Holger Sondermann at Cornell University (http://sondermannlab.vet.cornell.edu).  His talk will focus on elucidating the molecular mechanism of the protein atlastin, which is responsible for endoplasmic reticulum membrane fusion. Obtaining the blueprints of this enzyme’s function has enabled him to address questions surrounding atlastin’s contributions to cellular functions and associated disease states such as the neurodegenerative disorder Hereditary Spastic Parapalegia (HSP).

 

Alum research in the NY Times

 

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invasive Eurasian barberry (Berberis) in Acadia National Park (photo, Kerry Woods)

Research of alum Jason Fridley (’97, Ph.D. Univ. North Carolina), now a professor at Syracuse University, is featured in Carl Zimmer’s science column in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/09/science/turning-to-darwin-to-solve-the-mystery-of-invasive-species.html?_r=0

Several of Jason’s research projects have received wide recognition.  Zimmer’s column focuses on his work on the ecology of invasive species and its evolutionary underpinnings.  Fridley has worked with Dr. Dov Sax of Brown University to explore whether a Darwinian perspective on ecological relationships can help understand patterns of invasion.

Geology of the Bennington region class enjoys a beautiful fall field trip

kelly_stand1The Geology of the Bennington Region class examines Precambrian bedrock along Kelly Stand Road in the Green Mountains. This road re-opened a just few weeks ago after having been completely destroyed by the Tropical Storm Irene flood over three years ago. We are very happy to have the road back with its easy access to the mountains. While the flood was tragic, we were excited to find that it scoured several new excellent bedrock exposures along the newly reconstructed road. It is always nice to take a field trip on a beautiful fall day.

 

Old-Growth Forests in Slovenia

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A foggy view of an old-growth forest dominated by European beech and white fir (the rock is limestone; this forest reserve is on ‘karst’ topography with many large sinkholes).

Faculty member Kerry Woods is spending a month in Slovenia as a Fulbright ‘senior specialist,’ where he is collaborating with colleagues at the Forestry School of the University of Ljubljana to build a network of researchers working with long-term permanent plots to understand ecosystem properties of old-growth forests.  Such forests are interesting, in part, for their rarity.  Europe retains very few old-growth forests, but the small country of Slovenia (one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe) has quite a few tracts, and several host study plots established over 30 years ago.

Such under-used, heritage data-sets can give us insight into the ‘baseline’ properties of forest ecosystems.  Does diversity increase or decrease with forest age?  Old forests can be very large carbon reservoirs on a per-area basis, but are they acting as carbon sources or sinks?  Do such properties and processes converge among old-growth temperate forests in different parts of the  world (for example, the old-growth forests Woods studies in Michigan)?

The project will culminate with a workshop attended by researchers from several European countries.  The workshop will, we hope, lead to future collaborations undertaking integrative meta-analysis of data-sets from temperate forests around the world

 

; they can help us understand the processes that maintain diversity,

Science Workshop: Ryan Johnson (Bennington ’06)

Catalyzing CO Oxidation; from Surfaces to Single Atoms

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Model for CO Oxidation, from Peterson et al, Nat. Commun. 5:4885 (2014)

Please join us Friday, September 26th for a special Science Workshop with Bennington alum Ryan Johnson (’06). Ryan received his Ph. D. in Chemistry from the University of New Mexico earlier this year, culminating an exceptionally productive graduate career; he co-authored seven research articles in 2014 alone (so far) in journals such as The Journal of Physical ChemistryThe Chemistry of Materials, and Theoretical Chemistry Accounts.

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Ryan Johnson on the Bennington College campus, December 2013.

His thesis work on computational studies of catalytic processes will be the main focus of his talk. For those wanting to read about some of his research, Ryan just published (on Sept. 15) a paper in Nature Communications entitled, “Low-temperature carbon monoxide oxidation catalysed by regenerable atomically dispersed palladium on alumina”, available here . He will discuss the research and its larger significance, and promises to add some personal insights concerning his choice of pursuing science as an adventure.

Don’t miss it.

 

Science Workshop Friday September 12 – Olivine carbonation and climate change

On Friday September 12 Tim Schroeder will present a part of the research that he did while on sabbatical at the University of Bremen, Germany.

Olivine is the most abundant mineral in Earth’s upper mantle. When it is exposed at Earth’s surface by faulting, it tends to be oxidized to form a number of different possible mineral species that are more stable near Earth’s surface. One possible chain of reactions consumes carbon-dioxide to form solid carbonate minerals. It may be possible to harness this reaction path to absorb much of Earth’s excess atmospheric carbon. Tim studied carbonate minerals formed during hydrothermal circulation through olivine-bearing oceanic crust in order to understand this process.

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This image was taken through a polarizing light microscope. It shows small cores of olivine (Ol) grains that have mostly been replaced by talc (Tlc) and calcite (Cal). Other minerals are present in the rock, including clinopyroxene (cpx) veins of celadonite (Cel)

 

Old-growth Fieldwork

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Part of the study area at the Dukes Natural Area in the Hiawatha National Forest

Two 2014 grads — Joe Kendrick and Ellen Hanson — and two current students — Charlotte Uden and Roi Karlinsky — are spending four weeks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula working with faculty member Kerry Woods in his on-going research on old-growth forests.  They join about 40 other student researchers who have worked on this project since 1989.

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It’s good to find a log for lunch; the mosquitoes are worse near the ground. (Roi Karlinsky, Joseph Kendrick, Ellen Hanson, Charlotte Uden)

The project revolves around monitoring of permanent study plots established as early as 1935 — one of the longest-term records for any old-growth forest.  The work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, The Huron Mt. Wildlife Foundation, and Bennington College faculty grants. A series of resulting publications can be downloaded from this site.

The 2014 season features a late season — trees are still leafing out along the Lake Superior shoreline, where ice-floes were still present three weeks ago — and unusually numerous and hungry mosquitoes.  A large supply of deet (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is proving essential.

Congratulations Graduates!

This year was another productive year for Computer Science at Bennington. Students successfully implemented a distributed file system; spent Field Work Term at Nebula in Seattle (under the supervision of Ben Broderick-Phillips ’13), and CRA in Cambridge (where Erick Daniszewski ’14 will be working after graduation); and built a (nearly functional) operating system using C and ARMv6 assembly from the ground up for the Raspberry Pi.

Introductory students built an alternative source code repository to GitHub (codenamed Reposaurus), while students in Computing in the Developing World designed physical enclosures for wireless mesh network nodes and built prototype mobile apps for the developing world.  In collaboration with astronomer Hugh Crowl, we assisted in building a small radio telescope; while we also collaborated with technologist Guy Snover to use Python and Rhino 3D to create robotically-generated wall drawings and sculpture installed on campus.  It was a busy year.

But perhaps the most significant accomplishment of the year was our re-creation of some old-timey computer science photos on the last day of classes.  I’ve never grown a mustache before, and may never do so again – however, I think we nailed it overall.

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Computer Scientists Gilbert-Espada, Cencini and Daniszewski with their new portable microcomputer, a Kaypro II running CP/M.

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Some members of the Bennington Computer Science Laboratory, clockwise from left: Logan Traynor, Klemente Gilbert-Espada, Torrent Glenn, Andrew Cencini, Brendon Walter, Erick Daniszewski.

Congratulations and good luck to all of the graduating seniors this year!  Have a great summer!  Great things to come in the coming year!