Colgate University’s Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute funds research projects involving collaborations from disparate disciplines to make progress on emerging scientific problems that remain intractable to methods used within a single discipline. “Academic Minute” is a national radio program distributed by NorthEast Public Radio and WAMC. It is sponsored by Inside Higher Education.
Wan-chun Liu, Assistant Professor of Psychology, along with collaborators Dmitriy Aronov (Columbia University) and Atsushi Miyanohara (UCSD) have received a two-year award of $155,000 for their project “Use of optogenetics to identify the effect of social interaction on the development of vocal learning circuits”. Optogenetics involves genetic manipulation which provides neurons with light sensitive activity. This project will create two lines of optogenetic songbirds allowing external control of gene expression related to learning of songs. In addition it will construct a computer tracking facility to monitor the social interaction of the birds as they learn songs from their parents. The research will explore the influence of social interaction on learning in songbirds.
Neil Albert, Krista Ingram, and Jenn Lutman
Neil Albert, Lecturer in Psychology and Neuroscience; Krista Ingram, Associate Professor of Biology, and Jenn Lutman, Director of the Writing and Speaking Center, have received a two year award of $24,342 for their project: “The Paradox of Peak Performance in Elite Scholar-Athletes: Disentangling Circadian and Sleep Effects on Effort and Performance.” This project explores the genetic basis of time-of-day variation and impacts of circadian rhythms on physical and cognitive performance. In particular, genetic variations which influence circadian rhythms predict that some people are naturally night-owls or morning larks. This work will quantify the associations between these genetic markers, sleep quality, and performance by time-of-day.
Enrique Galvez, Charles A Dana Professor of Physics, and his collaborators Robert Alfano (City College of New York) and Linyan Shi (Columbia University) have received a two-year award of $82,000 for the project “Biomedical Diagnosis with Quantum Entanglement”. The project explores the diagnosis of medical tissue using quantum entanglement. Quantum entanglement of twin photons allows monitoring photons going through tissue by measuring partner photons outside the tissue. This has promise as an alternative method to detect disease and to do noninvasive imaging.
Ahmet Ay (Biology and Mathematics) and his collaborator Ertugrul Ozbudak (Albert Einstein College of Medicine) have been awarded $107,392 for their project “Interdisciplinary Investigation of the Vertebral Segmentation Clock”. The gene regulatory network instructingdevelopment of the vertebral column has remained elusive. Expression of multiple genes display dynamic waves in the precursor cells, which are primed to differentiate into the vertebrae disks. This project will combine computational methods for modeling large-scale systems with molecular perturbation techniques in the laboratory to pin down the gene regulatory circuit controlling segmentation of the vertebrae disks during embryonic development.
Jessica Graybill (Geography and Russian & Eurasian Studies) and her collaborators Andrey Petrov (University of Northern Iowa) and Gleb Kraev (Moscow State University) have received a one-year award of $37,430 for their project “Tundra Tracks: Mapping Community and Carbon Mobilities in the Russian Arctic”. Vehicle tracks have a long term impact on the tundra in Arctic Russia. Unused tracks remain recognizable from satellite images ~40 years after creation. The tracks damage plant cover, compact and disengage soil layers and change energy and matter fluxes. Their impact on large scale climate is unknown. They are also intertwined with human activity and community in these regions. This project will explore how carbon fluxes vary on or near tracks, how the tracks vary in density and distribution and how their presence interacts with nearby human communities.
Michael Loranty and Heather Kropp
Michael Loranty and Heather Kropp (Geography) and their collaborators Nick Rutter (Northumbria University, UK) and Chris Fletcher (University of Waterloo, CA) have received a two-year award of $136,545 for their project “Impacts of boreal climate feedbacks on climate change”. Boreal forests represent approximately one-fifth of the Northern Hemisphere land surface and strongly influence global climate. Declines in the duration and extent of seasonal snow cover across the boreal region increases the absorption of solar radiation, which amplifies climate warming. The strength of this positive feedback varies widely between climate models because it is difficult to represent complex snow-forest- climate interactions. This project will confront climate model representations with field measurements and satellite observations of boreal forest-snow energy dynamics. The researchers aim to improve the understanding and climate model representation of interactions between boreal forest structure, snow cover, and climate dynamics.
Tim McCay, Damhnait McHugh, and Ahmet Ay
Tim McCay and Damhnait McHugh (Biology) and Ahmet Ay (Biology and Mathematics) have received a two-year award of $152,907 for their project “An Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding Ongoing Biological Invasions by Crazy Worms (Amynthas) in North America”. Earthworms of the genus Amynthas are rapidly invading North America from Asia. These large, lively worms (aka “Crazy Worms”) have large effects on the ecosystems they invade, but we know very little about their basic biology and potential for spread. This project will integrate fieldwork, lab experiments, molecular analyses, and mathematical modeling to reveal the life history and physiological tolerances of these earthworms, reconstruct their historical invasion of North America, and make predictive statements about their spread and impact. The goal is to learn enough about Amynthas to inform management strategies for these invasive species.
A Colgate research team has been awarded a grant by the National Science Foundation for the project “CNH-‐S: RUI: Understanding the effective processes by which communities manage tropical forests.”
The research team is studying the extent, status and conservation of Ethiopian sacred forests. Numbering in the thousands, these sites protect some of the last remaining native forest in the country’s northern region. In each case, a ring of forest surrounds a Christian Orthodox church. The forests stand out dramatically in a landscape otherwise dominated by agriculture and rangeland. The project’s main goals are to explain the mechanisms of sacred forest protection, and determine why some sacred forest communities are responding well to social change while others are witnessing severe forest degradation. The research team uses mixed methods, including ecological sampling, geographic information science, ethnography, interviews, and archival analysis.
Tropical deforestation is an important threat to livelihoods, biodiversity, and is a large contributor to anthropogenic global warming. Explaining how sacred forests function is both a celebration of what is likely centuries-long protection as well as an opportunity to evaluate the system for lessons about sustainable land management – knowledge that is critically needed in a time of unprecedented land-use change in the tropics.
Principle investigator, Catherine Cardelús (biology), first traveled to Ethiopia in 2009 with funding from Colgate University’s Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute. Subsequently, two years of additional funding from the Picker was awarded to Cardelús, Peter Scull (geography), Peter Klepeis (geography), Eliza Kent (religion), Carrie Woods (biology), Alemayehu Wassie (forestry), and Izabela Orlowska (history). This funding supported extensive fieldwork by Wassie and Orlowska as well as three research trips to Ethiopia to collect field data, which proved critical in the NSF proposal writing process.
Six Colgate students participated in the Ethiopia field work, and seven students have conducted class projects, independent research, or senior theses related to the project.
The institute is awarding a second year of funding to Jonathan Levine (Physics and Astronomy) and his collaborators F. Scott Anderson and Tom J. Whittaker (Southwest Research Institute), for their project: “Mineral Identification with a Prototype Dating Spectrometer for Spaceflight.”
The history of the planets is recorded in extraterrestrial rocks. However, most extraterrestrial rocks with known absolute ages are meteorites, whose precise origins are difficult to ascertain. A major objective of planetary science is to date planetary specimens whose geologic contexts are known, so as to determine the timing of specific events in solar system history, such as the volcanic eruptions that caused the craters that cover much of the Earth-facing side of the Moon.
To this end, a team including Jonathan Levine is building a novel mass spectrometer capable of dating rocks on the basis of the rubidium and strontium isotope abundances in their constituent minerals. This instrument is novel in that its components are all miniaturizable for spaceflight: the aim is to one day land it on the Moon or a planet, and to date rocks in situ.
The funded research would allow Levine’s team to develop techniques for identifying the minerals that they are dating, so as to optimally interpret the age data they obtain.
In November 2014, the Colgate Campus saw the installation of a sculpture by DeWitt Godfrey in the courtyard between Ho Science Center and Olin Hall. The sculpture is named Odin. It took about a week of work on the site just to move the sculpture into place. Framing to hold the pieces during assembly was constructed and then removed. A ceremony to celebrate the sculpture is planned for late April 2015.
This sculpture came out of a project funded by the Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute lead by DeWitt Godfrey, Department of Art & Art History; Tom Tucker, Department of Mathematics; Tomaz Pisanski, University of Ljubljiana; and Daniel Bosia, Expedition Engineering, U.K. The work was described by the artist in an announcement to the campus as follows:
“Odin” is the culmination of a Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute funded project, Mathematical Methodologies for Art and Design. Our team of principal investigators– myself, artist; Thomas Tucker and Tomaz Pisanski, mathematicians; Daniel Bosia, architect and engineer (joined by students, alumni and community members) engaged mathematical, computational and structural questions with theoretical, virtual and practical components. Design concepts were prototyped and tested and the physical manifestations were fed back into the virtual models to model more accurately the physical realities of the prototypes. The resulting structure would be otherwise impossible to conceive and fabricate without this collaborative process and digital tools.
The sculpture consists of a surface of compound curvature, packed with approximately 240 individual weathering steel conical sections (frustums) When finished it will be 40’ in diameter and nearly 20’ tall, filling and bisecting the courtyard formed at the intersection of the Ho Science Center and Olin Hall.
The Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute announces the award of grants supporting interdisciplinary approaches in innovative research. The grants bring together Colgate faculty and other researchers with complementary expertise to open new areas of study and to tackle existing problems in creative new ways. This year, the awards go to two research teams:
During a three-day-long workshop generously supported in part by the Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute, seven natural scientists and five philosophers discussed at length how the accelerated extinction that is currently underway would likely unfold as ecosystems systematically lose resiliency and destabilize into degraded social-ecological states. Read more
Two Colgate professors — Rebecca Miller Ammerman, classics, and Randy Fuller, biology — along with seven collaborative partners across the globe, received major research grants from Colgate’s Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute. Both projects, as envisioned by Harvey M. Picker ’36 when he established the institute in 2006, extend the reach and resources of Colgate faculty members so they can tackle scientific problems in creative new ways.
“An Integrated Approach to the Study of Ceramic Technology at Metaponto, a Greek City-state in Southern Italy”
$125,000 for two years to Rebecca Miller Ammerman, Department of the Classics, and Ioannis Iliopoulos, University of Patras, Greece.
“Whole-ecosystem Restoration Through Liming of Acidified Tributary Streams in the Honnedaga Lake Basin in the Adirondack Mountains”
$70,000 for one year to Randy Fuller, Department of Biology; Cliff Kraft and Don Josephson of Cornell University; Colin Beier and Mark Dovciak of SUNY-ESF; and Barry Baldigo and Greg Lawrence of the US Geological Survey.
Learn more at the Colgate news site.