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.


Upcoming Science Workshop: Peter Ryan

Please plan ahead for a special Science Workshop with Professor Peter Ryan of Middlebury College on Friday, November 16 at 1:00. The title and abstract of the talk are presented below.



Arsenic in Vermont’s Groundwater Resource and the Connection between Geology and Public Health

Arsenic is a naturally occurring trace element in the natural environment, and in some regions geological factors have conspired to create elevated arsenic concentrations in the rocks and sediments that host groundwater. Research over the past ten years by the Vermont Geological Survey, the Vermont Department of Health and Middlebury College has revealed that certain parts of the state are prone to elevated arsenic in bedrock aquifers – these include parts of the Taconic slate region, the Rowe-Hawley Belt in north-central Vermont and parts of Windsor County in the vicinity of a granitic intrusion. This talk will explore geological, topographic and hydrological controls on groundwater arsenic in the complex geological landscape of Vermont and also reflect on recent changes to public policy as a result of scientific research.

Climate Change and Allergies: Alum Research

Kristina Stinson (second from right) with Bennington field bio class in 1992

Alum, Dr. Kristina Stinson, ’92 (Harvard Forest and University of Massachusetts) is featured in a youtube video posted from Harvard University.  The spot features her research on how climate change is likely to interact with allergenic pollen production by ragweed in New England (it’s going to get worse!).  This research has been supported by a million-dollar grant from US-EPA.  Dr. Stinson is also well-known for her research on the ecological relationships of the invasive garlic mustard plant, and she was recently awarded a two-million-dollar grant from the Department of Defense to support extensions of this research. Kristina will be talking about the ragweed research in Science Workshop on 9 November.

Science Workshop: Evolution of a research question

Dr. Betsy Sherman will discuss her ongoing research on phenotypic variation among red-spotted newts. Newts are significant predators in freshwater communities and their presence affects the assemblage of organisms that also live in these communities. Newts are not yet regarded as threatened, but Sherman’s work has revealed that temperature, pH, and disease affect newt physiology, behavior, and development and may well have larger implications for amphibian conservation and diversity. Sherman will also discuss how physiological ecologists develop their research questions. Science workshop is on Friday, Nov. 2, from 1:00-2:00 pm in Dickinson 225.  All are welcome.

Science Workshop: Dr. David Edelman

Join us for a discussion about the scientific study of consciousness by Dr. David Edelman, new Bennington faculty member in Biology and Neuroscience.

The Biology of Consciousness

The octopus and parrot: Defining the frontiers of consciousness.

What does it mean to be conscious? Do we have a reasonable definition of consciousness that can be applied broadly to both humans and seemingly sentient non-human animals? Is it possible to study consciousness in animals that can’t tell us what they are experiencing?




Conscious experience seems quite tangible to us. Yet, consciousness in humans has only recently become a legitimate object of scientific study. Moreover, to date, no systematic investigations of consciousness in non-human animals have been undertaken. But now, advances in functional neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and genetics offer the possibility of exploring consciousness substantively and systematically in non-human mammals, birds, and, conceivably, other species as well.

During this discussion, Dr. Edelman will provide a broadly applicable working definition for consciousness. Then, he’ll describe the known properties and correlates of conscious experience as they have been identified in human subjects and provide a plausible evolutionary scenario for the appearance of consciousness in a variety of phyla. Finally, he’ll discuss his recent work with the octopus and offer an experimental framework for the investigation of consciousness in both vertebrates and some invertebrates.


Autumnal Delights

October in Vermont. When the mountains are ablaze with vibrant colors, there’s a chill in the air, and leaves crunch underfoot.

In Dickinson Hall, there’s another seasonal pleasure. Every year at this time, students in Betsy Sherman‘s Comparative Animal Physiology class dissect cats to explore firsthand the connection between form and function of physiological systems. This week students focused on the circulatory system, considering how the function of the heart and blood vessels can be inferred by close inspection of their structure. Prior to this, students examined the digestive and musculoskeletal systems, and will soon turn their attention to the nervous system.

As the term progresses students will design and execute their own research projects. In previous years students pursued topics such as the relationship between hatching asynchrony, development and temperature in moths, does mass affect exertion and time to exhaust in salamanders, the effect of temperature on hemolymph coagulation in crayfish, and the effect of nicotine on regeneration in planaria. This year students will present their results at a poster session on December 7 in Science Workshop.


Science Workshop: Dr. Elizabeth Leininger

Evolution of neural circuits for vocal behavior in Xenopus: How my frogs got their simple calls

Dr. Elizabeth Leininger (Columbia University) will discuss how African clawed frogs (Xenopus) coordinate social interactions via species-specific underwater calls. She addressed this question in species of Xenopus that make slow, simplified advertisement (male fertility) calls. These simple calls are also the rarest type in the genus, and evolved more than once from a more complex call type. How did this occur? Using recordings from the brain and larynx, she found that two of these species (X. borealis and X. boumbaensis) make their simple calls via different modifications of the vocal circuit. She will also discuss how features of the muscle within the Xenopus vocal organ can promote differences in call rapidity across the sexes and species.

Please join us in Dickinson 225, Friday at 1:00. As always, delicious finger foods will be served.

Science Workshop: Rebecca Nakaba & Emily Mikucki

From Ames to tanZania

The next science workshop (Friday, October 5) will feature talks from two Bennington seniors. Rebecca Nakaba’s talk, “Refinement of Rock Stress Experiments Previously Conducted at NASA ARC in August 2011,” will describe her work at the NASA Ames Research Center that involved the measurement of electric current induced in rock samples under pressure (hence the hydraulic press, at right). Curiously, the instruments employed in the measurement continued to indicate current even after the rock samples were removed. She investigated the source of the anomalous readings and will discuss the implications of her work on the interpretation of such pressure/current data collected on mineral samples.

Emily Mikucki’s talk, “Wildlife Conservation and Management in Tanzania“, will focus on work she performed this past summer in Africa in conjunction with The School for Field Studies. Our resident lepidoptera enthusiast (see  here) changed her focus for one month and performed behavioral studies of baboons, giraffes, and elephants in Serengeti National Park and other locations. She also observed habitat preferences of lions, zebras and warthogs.

Please join us in Dickinson 225, Friday at 1:00. As always, delicious and whimsical finger foods will be served.

Cloud Control: An Open Source IPMI Library for Embedded Microcontrollers

Andrew Cencini here…  I’ll be giving this Friday’s Science Workshop talk in Dickinson 225 at 1pm on some work I did this summer as part of a secret project for Nebula, a cloud-computing startup in Palo Alto, CA.

During the workshop, I will introduce you to the problem space I have been working in with this project – data centers and cloud computing.  The work is part of what is expected to be a ‘disruptive’ technology in the space.  It was a very cool and inordinately challenging project, but one that I learned and gained a lot from.

This should be a cool talk, as it covers work that truly bridges the physical and virtual realms of computer science, and will have a real impact on what’s going on out there right now. I hope you can attend.

Update (JB): Great turnout today for Andrew’s talk – it was a fascinating firsthand account of the development of what promises to be a widely used tool in cloud computing and the management of data centers. Be sure to thank Andrew for the talk the next time you see him.