2017 Sturm Lecture

The 2017 Sturm Memorial Lecture

Speaker: Dr. Daniel Eisenstein, Harvard University

Date: Monday, April 3, 2017, 8:00PM

Where: Ring Family Performing Arts Hall, Wesleyan University

Reception and telescope viewing at the Van Vleck Observatory to follow the lecture.

Celebrating Van Vleck Observatory’s 100th Birthday!

On June 16, 2016, one hundred years to the day of the dedication of Van Vleck Observatory, the Astronomy Department hosted a Centennial Symposium and reception. Over one hundred people — about 1/3 alumni, 1/3 current Wesleyan staff and students, and 1/3 community members, including Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford members, attended. The Symposium program is available here. At the reception, we were treated to music of the early 1900’s by the West End String Quartet and Centeni-ale from our master brewer Roy Kilgard. Costumed visitors from the past, including such luminaries as George Ellery Hale and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (played, respectively, by Professor of Physics Lutz Huwel and Professor of Romance Languages Ellen Nerenberg) mingled among us. For more information and pictures visit the University blog.

See Mae Jemison Give the Sturm Lecture on April 19th at 8pm!

Mae Jemison is the 2016 Sturm Lecturer and will be giving a public lecture next Tuesday, April 19th at 8pm in the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall (formerly the CFA Hall).  Her talk is entitled, “Exploring the Frontiers of Science and Human Potential”.  She is a former astronaut, served in the Peace Corp, is a physician by training, majored in engineering and African and Afro-American Studies at Stanford, is a fierce advocate for STEM education, and is currently leading the 100 Year Starship Project… and that is just some of the things she has done.

Tell your friends, family, classmates, and encourage all to come see her speak.  There will be a reception following the public lecture at the Observatory (and the telescopes will be open if it is clear).



Our new Diversity Journal Club

Editor’s note: I’m posting this on behalf of Kevin Flaherty, postdoctoral scholar in our department. You can find his web page on diversity in astronomy here. -RK

Diversity has been a popular topic of discussion on campuses across the country. In Astronomy, we are particularly aware of diversity, or the lack thereof, within our own field. 73% of astronomers are men, and 83% are white [1]. Recent months have seen headlines exposing professional astronomers across the country for their sexual harassment of students. Clearly we have some work to do…

But there are signs that things are getting better. The American Astronomical Society has made strong statements in the past year reaffirming that harassment has no place within astronomy [2] and in support of policies that increase diversity within graduate programs [3]. Our department is home to members of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy, and the newly-formed Working Group for Astronomers with Disabilities. Over the last fifteen years the students in our Masters program were 81% female, and over the last five years, 60% persons of color [4].

And as of this semester, we have started a Diversity Journal Club. Inspired by similar efforts across the country [5], the focus of a Diversity Journal Club is on discussing published research on demographics, sources of bias, methods to counteract bias, as well as topical issues such as the ongoing Thirty-Meter-Telescope construction controversy. By using social science literature, we can tackle some of these complex topics in a venue where students, faculty and postdocs are able to freely share their ideas and experiences.

Honestly, I was hesitant at first to start this meeting, given the stretched schedule everyone already faces. Who has the extra time to spend reading psychology papers? But the enthusiasm from the faculty and students is overwhelming and bodes well for the future. I am looking forward to a semester of fruitful and informative discussions!

  • Kevin

[1] https://aas.org/files/resources/aas_members_workforce_survey_final_jan2014v2.pdf
[2] http://aas.org/posts/news/2015/10/presidents-column-letter-aas-members-sexual-harassment
[3] http://aas.org/governance/council-resolutions#GRE
[4] https://osf.io/wbcnh/
[5] http://astrodjc.blogspot.com

Wesleyan Astronomy Well Represented at AAS Meeting

Many Wesleyan staff, students and alums attended the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society from Jan. 4-9, 2016, in Kissimmee, FL. Here are a few pictures from the event including research posters by current students Girish Duvvuri and Jesse Tarnas, as well as post-doc Wilson Cauley. Also shown are former students Amy Steele, now in the Ph.D. program at U. Md. and alums Josh Wing, Evan Tingle and Marshall Johnson, who stopped by Roy Kilgard’s poster to say “Hi”. Marshall is just finishing his degree at U. Texas.


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A Body in the Observatory

On November 6 and 7, we officially kicked off the celebration of the centennial of Van Vleck Observatory with a series of performances by world-renowned modern dancer Eiko Otake in the historic refractor dome. I had the distinct honor of playing a (very) small part in Eiko’s performance–operating the restored 20″ telescope through a series of motions choreographed to Eiko’s dance. Below are a few photographs that capture the beauty of this unique event.

My own experience was one of delight and terror. While teaching is in many ways a form of performance, it is a solo act. The “audience” depends solely on the performer’s ability to engage them. And though I spent much of my early life as a musician, it was either solo or in larger ensembles; it is not since my childhood of playing duets on piano with my sister that I’ve had one other performer so dependent upon my actions. I’m not under the illusion that any mistake I could make would have ruined Eiko’s work–one need only glance at a list of locations where she has danced to see that she clearly enjoys an element of unpredictability. Still, it was that thrill that kept me from getting totally lost in Eiko’s etherial movements.

As a professional astronomer, the experience of getting to know and work with a performer like Eiko is one that can only happen at a place like Wesleyan. I feel incredibly lucky and humbled.

-Roy Kilgard, November 2015

Eiko at Van Vleck Observatory_110515_0204 Photo by Wm Johnston
Eiko gazing at the universe with audience in the background. Photo courtesy Prof. William Johnston.
Eiko at Van Vleck Observatory_110515_0338 Photo by Wm Johnston
Eiko and reflection. Photo courtesy Prof. William Johnston.
Eiko at Van Vleck Observatory_110515_0399 Photo by William Johnston
There I am, playing my small part and trying not to look too awkward. Photo courtesy Prof. William Johnston.
Eiko at Van Vleck Observatory_110515_0414 Photo by William Johnston
Eiko during rehearsal. Photo courtesy Prof. William Johnston.

Dance Performance and Public Reopening of the 20″ telescope this weekend

Friday night 9-11pm and Saturday night 8-10pm marks the Grand Re-Opening of the restored 20″ refracting telescope!  Wesleyan is host to the 8th-largest refracting telescope in the country, but you might not have seen it before since it has been closed for the past 1.5 years while it has been completely disassembled, lovingly restored piece-by-piece, and reassembled into a marvel of old and new astronomical instrumentation.  The views are simply spectacular.  For more information about the 20″ restoration, check out the website.

As part of the observatory centennial celebration, Dance Professor and former MacArthur (“Genius Grant”) Fellow Eiko Otake will be giving a dance performance called “A Body in the Observatory,” which is free and open to the public.  There are performances Friday at 6:30 and 8pm, and Saturday at 4 and 6:30pm.  For more information, check out the Center for the Arts page. You can find a video of Professor Otake discussing the performance on our Facebook page.

Wesleyan Students Present Research Results

The 26th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC) was held at Williams College on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, and Wesleyan was well represented! Six students presented results of their summer research: Julian Dann, Aylin Garcia Soto, Cail Daley, and Girish Duvvuri gave oral presentations while Rachel Aronow and Avi Stein presented a poster. Several other students came along to enjoy the weekend, which featured a dinner and social event on Friday night, the seminar on Saturday and breakout sessions on such topics as Inclusive Astronomy and how/why to program in Python. Over 100 students and professors from KNAC attended and a good time was had by all!

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First Light for Refurbished 20-inch Refractor!

Last night the Astronomy faculty and staff were treated to spectacular views of our favorite objects through the fully refurbished 20-inch Clark refractor! The telescope performed flawlessly and views of the Ring Nebula, Andromeda, Uranus, a couple of globular clusters, Albireo, etc. were breathtaking. The computer control quickly and accurately slews the telescope to objects selected by name, seamlessly flipping it to the appropriate side of the pier. It is a wonder to watch and to look through. The telescope will be open to the public on Homecoming Weekend and we will be establishing a regular schedule of public events with it in the months to come. Congratulations and many thanks to Roy Kilgard and Fred Orthlieb for seeing this all through! Thanks also to our many generous donors and supporters inside and outside the University.