Seven years ago, Elliott Horch finished the development of a telescopic appendage for the National Science Foundation that provided astronomers with stunningly crisp images of outer space. The instrument, called a Differential Speckle Survey Instrument (DSSI), has been used to learn more about binary star systems, and was even used by NASA’s Kepler Mission to look for Earth-like planets in the Milky Way Galaxy.
And now the professor of physics at Southern is at it again – this time to produce a double-barrel telescope that would generate ultra-high resolutions with even more detailed information about celestial bodies. It’s called a portable multi-channel intensity interferometer. Horch says it’s essentially a two-telescope system, where the two scopes are set up far apart, but essentially look at the same target and function as one super telescope.
“With my previous instrument, the DSSI, it was like putting eyeglasses on a telescope,” he says. “This new project will be like remaking the whole eye.”
The NSF awarded Horch a $300,000 grant to create this new telescope, which is expected to be completed in 2016.
Horch says the primary use will be to look at bright, very close binary stars. Binary star systems feature two stars that revolve around each other. Many physicists, including Horch, believe the sun originally may have been a binary star. In essence, the new telescope would potentially help astronomers learn more about our own sun.
“But we also want to use the new device to study the disks of nearby stars and potentially for exoplanet research,” he says. He notes that the telescope would enable astronomers to see distant stars the way we see the sun and the moon now – as round disks, rather than as points.
“If it works well, it could give us the impetus to create similar instruments in the future with even larger separations between the ‘two telescopes.’”
The grant has enabled Horch to hire three Southern students – two undergraduates and a graduate student — to assist him with this project.
“I am very excited to have an opportunity to take part in this project,” says Justin Rupert, who is pursuing an M.S. degree in applied physics. “This really could be groundbreaking work.”
In addition, the grant is providing SCSU with pieces of cutting-edge equipment being used in the university’s new Academic Science and Laboratory Building.
The Human Genome Project has enabled people to learn about some of their medical predispositions, and is giving scientists a roadmap to discover disease cures and preventions.
This development – the sequencing of human DNA — is ripe with the potential to do much good for humanity, according to Hyi-gyung “Clara” Kim, assistant professor of biology at Southern. But she quickly adds that it also carries risks for abuse and raises new ethical questions. It even poses personal questions about whether someone wants to know if they are predisposed to a particular illness, particularly if those assessments are considered precise barometers of lifetime risk.
“The ethical, legal, and medical questions that will be generated in the years ahead with this technological development make it important for people to be aware of the potential personal and societal ramifications that are involved,” Kim says.
As a result, she created a new course called “DNA as Destiny: Genetics and Society” that is being taught this fall. While only biology majors are taking the class during this semester, the university may open the class to non-science majors in the future.
Some of the types of questions being examined in this class by students include:
Kim says society will have to address these and other moral and ethical questions.
She says as a result of the Human Genome Project, completed more than a decade ago, a person’s risk can be accurately assessed for several physical diseases, such as with Huntington Disease, breast cancer and cystic fibrosis. The risk for other illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes, cannot yet be predicted with the same accuracy, but that will likely change.
“It’s a fascinating time and this technology has the potential to help improve the quality of human lives, as well as longevity,” Kim says. “But there are risks and challenges that come with it, so we need to start considering the ethical questions that are just beginning to surface.”
*A microbeads/microplastics study coordinated by Vincent Breslin, co-chairman of the Environment, Geography and Marine Sciences Department, has generated plenty of media attention. The study found that microbeads, a form of microplastics, were found in New Haven Harbor.
Vince was interviewed by Channel 61 on Sept. 28 during the station’s 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. newscasts.
Channel 8 also aired an interview on Sept. 28 during its 5 p.m. newscast.
The Hartford Courant posted an online piece on Sept. 28 as part of the paper’s Capitol Watch blog.
*Channel 8 interviewed Jim Thorson, professor of economics and finance, during its evening newscast on Sept. 25. The interview was part of a story about the Lockheed Martin purchase of Sikorsky Aircraft from United Technologies. Jim talked about the economic impact of such a deal.
*Ruth Eren, chairwoman of the Special Education Department, was featured in the Sept. 28 edition of the New Haven Register for being selected as Southern’s first-ever endowed chair. She has been named as the Goodwin Endowed Chair in Special Education.
*The New Haven Register today ran a front page story in its Sept. 15 edition about Southern’s School of Education regaining its “full continuing approval” from the state Board of Education. The article talks about Southern’s efforts to lift its probationary approval status from a year ago to gain full continuing approval within one year, even though the university was given three years to do so. The article quotes Sarah Barzee, chief talent officer for the state Department of Education, as saying that Southern engaged in “incredible efforts.” She also praised School of Education Dean Stephen Hegedus, Provost Bette Bergeron and President Mary Papazian in that drive to regain full continuing approval.
Southern also gained two other mentions last week on getting the state Board of Education approval.
The Connecticut Post ran a story in its Sept. 4 edition.
The Hartford Courant ran a story on Sept. 4 in which Southern’s approval was mentioned.
*The New Haven Register ran a photo in its Sept. 11 edition of President Mary Papazianpresenting the SCSU President’s Medal of Honor the previous evening to Rouben Mirzakhanyan, rector at Armenian State Pedagogical University in Yerevan, Armenia. The award was made in recognition of his commitment to enhancing the quality of education in Armenia by establishing international exchange partnerships with Southern and other institutions in Europe and beyond. Provost Bette Bergeron is also in the photo as she assisted in the award presentation.
The presentation was made during a reception at the Lyman Center to mark the opening of a photography exhibit by Philosophy Professor Armen Marsoobian titled, “Bearing Witness to the Lost History of an Armenian Family Through the Lens of the Dildilian Brothers.” The images in the exhibit tell the story of Armen’s family against the backdrop of events that included a war that ravaged the world and a collapsing empire.
The Register also posted an online photo album from the event.
Southern researchers have found a collection of microplastics floating in New Haven Harbor – confirming the suspicions of Connecticut legislators and scientists that these substances are in our waterways and finding their way into Long Island Sound.0
More than two dozen “microbeads” were found during two days of collection in June. The microbeads are small plastic substances that are found in some toothpastes, as well as some cosmetic and facial cleansing items.
“The beads look like fish eggs. As a result, they are mistaken for food by various marine organisms, such as fish and other invertebrates,” said Vincent Breslin, professor of science education and environmental studies. Breslin supervised the collection of the microbeads conducted by then-SCSU student Peter Litwin.
“Obviously, plastic is not a good thing for wildlife to ingest,” Breslin said. “And while the beads themselves can be harmful, they also absorb other contaminants, such as oil and grease. So, the combination can be hazardous to the health of marine life. And obviously, this can affect people, as well, in the consumption of fish and other types of seafood.”
Breslin explained that as the substances are used, they are washed down the sink drains and into the wastewater system. He said these microplastics are not effectively filtered out of the wastewater system, and therefore, flow into waterways — such as rivers, harbors and ultimately, Long Island Sound.
And while a relatively small number were found during the study, scientists estimate that 8 trillion microbeads flow into the aquatic habitat in the United States each day, according to Breslin. And the beads are not biodegradable.
State lawmakers recently approved a ban on the sale of the substance in Connecticut that will take effect in 2017. While expert testimony was provided to lawmakers earlier this year to indicate the likelihood that the beads were in Connecticut’s waterways, the SCSU study appears to provide the first conclusive public evidence that they do.
“I was initially surprised when we found the plastic microbeads in the harbor,” Litwin said. “We didn’t even need to get back to the lab to spot some. Though small, the shape and bright color of some allowed them to be seen after careful inspection of the water we collected before even stepping off the boat. This was an early sign that the problem of microplastic contamination in New Haven Harbor was more advanced than we had hoped, and is likely just a microcosm of Earth’s water supply as a whole.”
Litwin conducted the study as part of SCSU’s Industry Academic Fellowship (IAF) program. Sponsored by the Werth Family Foundation, both undergraduate and graduate students are able to conduct interdisciplinary research, while also exploring the business-related side of working in technology. The program is coordinated through SCSU’s Office for STEM Innovation and Leadership.
Breslin said that other neighboring states, such as New York and Massachusetts, have not yet banned the substances. And because Long Island Sound abuts both Connecticut and New York, and because rivers that begin in other New England states flow down into Connecticut and into Long Island Sound, the beads will continue to flow into the Sound unless other states participate in a regional ban.
Products that include these microplastics have been on the market for the last several years, according to Breslin. Meanwhile, he said Long Island Sound receives about 1 billion gallons of treated water every day. “That means there are a lot of beads in the Sound,” he said.
It may not be a coincidence that your dog is very good at finding and retrieving the little yellow tennis ball that you throw in your backyard lawn. If that ball were green, or even red, Snoopy might have a more difficult time seeing it (though he could eventually sniff it out.)
The reason is that dogs lack the ability to distinguish between red and green – much like humans who are color blind, according to Meghan Barboza, assistant professor of biology at Southern. And anything with red in it, such as orange or pink, are also off your best buddy’s color chart.
“Something that is red or green would likely appear to be a grayish color to a dog,” Barboza says. “But they can distinguish between light and dark, so they would see some type of difference between a maroon and a light green. But they would see them as light and dark grayish colors.”
In addition, she notes that dogs can’t see orange or purple, either, because red is a part of both of those colors.
And for cat lovers who may be chuckling and thinking this is further evidence that “cats rule and dogs drool”…not so fast. Miss Meowington has a very similar color spectrum to Snoopy.
While Barboza hasn’t conducted her own studies on this subject, she teaches a class on animal physiology and is well-versed on how animals see color.
She explains that the limit on the ability to see colors stems from the number of the types of cones in the eye. Dogs and cats have only two, while humans have three. Horses also have two, but instead of seeing blue and yellow, they see blue and green, but not yellow or red.
But there are animals that have a greater number of cone types in their eyes than people. Toward the high end is the mantis shrimp, which has 16 types of cones. “Experts believe they can see a greater number of shades of colors than we can,” Barboza said. “So, a block that appears as a light green color to us would be seen by a mantis shrimp as a variety of different light green colors. And they may even see colors that we can’t see at all.”
It’s hard to imagine what those colors would look like since human eyes have never seen them.
Barboza notes that birds have a varied number of types of cones, she says. Some have two, others three or four, or perhaps even more.
She says that in general, those animals, as well as insects and other forms of life that have depended upon color to live from an evolutionary standpoint, can see a greater spectrum of colors. Bees, for example, which pollenate colorful flowers, have four types of cones. Their sense of color is probably a bit better than ours. But insects that live underground are believed to have little or no ability to see colors since sight has not been needed for them to continue their existence.
The ability of dogs to see colors has been the subject of much misinformation. Some have said they can’t see colors, while others assume they can see the same colors as us. It’s actually somewhere in between where they can see yellows and blues, but not reds and greens.
So, the next time you plan to paint Snoopy’s doghouse, remember that he’ll only be able to appreciate the aesthetic value if you use yellow or blue paint.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro joined SCSU President Mary Papazian and SCSU Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management Terricita Sass today in a discussion about updates concerning the application process for financial aid — changes that are designed to help students.
The discussion, held in the Student Center Ballroom in front of SCSU students and staff, was held a day after President Barack Obama announced his approval of the updates. Among the changes are enabling students and their parents to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in the fall, rather than waiting until Jan. 1. The fall is typically when many students are deciding where to apply, while some are actually sending in enrollment applications to schools of their choice. Another change is to allow students and their parents to submit data from the previous tax year to calculate their student aid eligibility.
“Students will be able to fill out their college and FAFSA applications at the same time, giving them a much clearer picture of how much it will cost and how much aid they will likely receive,” DeLauro said.
President Papazian agreed.
“We are thrilled about these changes,” she said. “Streamlining the financial aid application process can only help families and encourage more students to go to college. This comes at a time when we are striving in Connecticut to meet the state goal of having 70 percent degree attainment by 2020.”
Sass added that financial concerns are consistently among students’ top concerns when pursuing higher education. She said that is particularly true at Southern, which has a relatively high number of first-generation college students and students from families with a low-to moderate income, compared with other schools. These changes will help reduce that stress, Sass said.
A team of Southern faculty members have been presented a prestigious national award that recognizes their efforts to collaborate with the general public on real-world science projects.
SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities) recently announced that six SCSU faculty members are the recipients of this year’s William E. Bennett Award for Extraordinary Contributions to Citizen Science. They are: Winnie Yu, professor of computer science; James Tait, professor of science education and environmental studies; Vince Breslin, professor of science education and environmental studies and newly named chairman of the department; Terese Gemme, chairwoman of theHonors College; Terri Bennett, chairwoman of the Mathematics Department; and Susan Cusato, associate professor and former chairwoman of the Science Education and Environmental Studies Department. They were presented an engraved silver platter at a recent awards ceremony.
“We are deeply honored by this recognition,” said Yu, who coordinated the SCSU team and the effort to seek the award. “It has been my privilege working with our team, as well as our administrators, to boost our efforts toward citizen science. But the award reflects many years of hard work from so many outstanding faculty members.”
Yu pointed out that since 2004, 32 faculty members from 12 departments and three schools at SCSU played a role in the award through their devotion to citizen science. This was accomplished by participating in various activities, such as attending summer institutes, creating new courses and including SENCER ideals into existing courses and programs.
New courses that SENCER had designated as “models,” have included: “Computer Ethics,” designated in 2006 and developed by Terry Bynum, professor of philosophy; “Science on the Connecticut Coast: Investigations of an Urbanized Shoreline,” designated in 2007 and developed by Tait and Breslin; and “Pollinators: A Case Study in Systems Thinking and Sustainability,” designated in 2014 and developed by Cusato and Suzanne Huminski, SCSU sustainability coordinator and an adjunct faculty member who teaches environmental and marine science.
David Burns, executive director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE) and founder of SENCER, praised SCSU for its development of the courses, as well as the “deep insights about some of the things we need to understand about student needs when we think we are doing good things for students.” SENCER is the signature program of the NCSCE.
Yu thanked Steven Breese, dean of the SCSU School of Arts and Sciences, as well as DonnaJean Fredeen, the former dean who launched SCSU’s relationship with SENCER.
Southern’s educator preparation programs have received full continuing approval until September 2019 from the state Board of Education.
The board found that Southern met all state standards and fully addressed the areas in which the state Department of Education sought improvement when it granted the university’s programs probationary approval last fall.
Southern also earned a full, five-year national accreditation under the rigorous standards of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) in late 2014. That reaccreditation was administered by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.
“We are very pleased that our professional education unit has received full approval from the state, and we look forward to further enhancing our program in the spirit of the continuous improvement model that is at the heart of successful educator preparation programs,” said SCSU President Mary A. Papazian.
“I thank School of Education Dean Stephen Hegedus for his leadership, and the faculty and staff in our schools of Education, Arts & Sciences, and Health and Human Services for their dedication to maintaining our time-honored standards of excellence,” President Papazian said.
“Southern has been the frontrunner in educator preparation in our state for the last 120 years, and our graduates will continue to teach and lead in Connecticut’s schools.”
The SCSU School of Education prepares the largest number of education graduates for teaching positions in Connecticut. In addition to elementary, secondary and special education programs, it prepares students for careers in such fields as athletic training, educational leadership, human performance, and counseling and school psychology.
School has begun for most students, but it’s still not too late to get out to a good start.
Last year, Wise Words outlined suggestions on how students can start the new school year on a positive note. The two-part series focused on suggestions by Kelly McNamara, who was then an assistant professor of counseling and school psychology at Southern, to make the new year a better one than last year. She recently left Southern to take an administrative position at a Connecticut school district. But her suggestions to students and parents remain valuable.
Because of its timeliness — and timelessness — we thought we would present these ideas to you again.
Check out Part II of this series.