Majors News and Notes


Senior major Aidan Jones receives High Honors for his thesis The Impact of Familial ALS-Associated Mutations on Astrocyte Activation under Serum and Serum-Free Conditions.

  • Jessica Luu '24 awarded the American Chemical Society Undergraduate Award in Inorganic Chemistry
  • Aidan Jones '23 inducted into the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biochemistry Honor Society and elected to Wesleyan University's Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Fall 2022
  • Eugene Gato Nsengamungu '23 and Kekeli Logoh '23 awarded the Christopher Brodigan Fund Award
  • Milan Yorke '25 awarded the Bruner Freshman Improvement Prize
  • Aidan Jones '23 awarded the Graham Prize, the Hawk Prize
  • Tom Arbaugh '23 awarded the Karl Van Dyke Prize

Jessica Luu '23 named a 2023 Goldwater Scholar

Read more about the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation at this link.




  • Gato Nsengamumgu

    I have spent much time identifying the bridge that connects my knowledge from social and natural sciences to leave behind a positive mark on this planet. I have long yearned for a scientific society, a society whose policies are based on facts (Data analytics), a society that employs scientific knowledge to find solutions to complex challenges the world faces today such as poor education standards in developing countries, global warming threats, and many more. With its mission of promoting an interdisciplinary and integrative approach to scholarship and learning across different natural sciences to equip students with the tools needed to tackle the scientific challenges of tomorrow, the College of Integrative Sciences (CIS) charmed my soul. With multiple disciplinary backgrounds, CIS curricula that pivot on assembling knowledge from seemingly unrelated departments will equip me with creative, quantitative, and integrative skills through the CIS's rigorous focus on research methods. The skills that CIS offers will further arm me with the tools to race to my destiny, a global citizen ready to tackle complex challenging problems. Gato's Research
    Gato is studying Simulation-Based tutorials for the six-part Gauss’s Law tutorial series with Assitant Professor Candice Etson (MB&B).
  • Ava Purdue

    Ava's Research
    Ava is studying "Enrichment and Autonomy for Formerly Farmed Animals in Sanctuary Care" with Assistant Professor Elan Abrell.

Class of 2024

  • Jessica Luu
  • Maya Milrod
  • Jocelyn Wang
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    Mingyu Wang

    My interests in the sciences are driven by both solving problems faced by working people and expanding the frontiers of empirical knowledge systems. One specific interest is the biophysical mechanisms of a peptide from a biofilm. I would like to engineer an eco-friendly adhesive using insights from multidisciplinary knowledge. My lab will be collaborating with Yan Biofilm Laboratory from Yale, which specializes in material science. I will be using methods and knowledge frameworks from multiple disciplines such as molecular biology, biophysics, and material science at different stages of my project to work toward an overarching goal. Mingyu's Research

    The biofilm adhesion protein (Bap1) is a structural component of the Vibrio cholerae biofilm, a sticky mixture of proteins and glycans that help bacteria colonies survive hostile conditions while also contributing to virulence. Our lab discovered a unique 57-amino acid loop within the Bap1 protein necessary for stickiness to abiotic and biotic surfaces. This sticky peptide has the potential to be used in medical and industrial settings, similar to a mussel-inspired glue currently used as a tissue adhesive and industrial glue. The advantage of our system is that since it is simpler than the mussel protein; it might be more easily industrially produced and optimized.

    The proposed research project involves the cloning and expression of the 57-amino acid peptide in
    Escherichia coli. The goal is to optimize expression of the peptide, understand the mechanism for its
    stickiness, and engineer adhesives inspired from it.

    The research project integrates molecular biology (DNA editing), protein purification  (biochemistry/biophysics), and material science. He is working with Associate Professor Rich Olson (MB&B). 

Class of 2025

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    Nakial Cross

    My interests in the sciences are interdisciplinary—my joint research project with Prof. Arevalo and Prof. Taylor best encapsulates this. I am currently researching a gene family with Prof. Arevalo that is of focus in Prof. Taylor’s lab. Biomedicine leans on principles from multiple disciplines. My aspiration of pursuing an MD-PhD will require me to conduct more biomedical projects after completing my work on my current project. CIS is a perfect fit for me as I have wanted to integrate both MB&B and Chemistry into my curriculum as a double major.  Nakial's Research

    Nakial is compiling a comprehensive review of the biosynthesis of the LPS core with Professor Erika Taylor (Chemistry) and Assistant Professor Phil Arevalo (Biology). 

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    Julissa Cruz Bautista

    I've observed a distinction between research into contemporary medicine and traditional medicine that is frequently practiced in my community as a first-generation Oaxacan woman working in the STEM field. In order to understand the structure of future illness therapies, I dug further into subcategories of biophysics like protein engineering. I've always been interested in the areas where programming and molecular biology meet. I just experienced a "click" moment while taking a Bioinformatics course that helped me understand how the coding in our research lab operates and how it was written precisely to quantify our Mval enzyme cleavage rate/yield. Julissa's Research

    Similar to how we as humans, have our defense mechanisms such as T-cells and macrophages, restriction enzymes are the classic defense mechanism for bacteria. They are able to cleave DNA at specific sequences to defend against an attacker, such as a phage. There is a large diversity among bacteria genetically where different restriction enzymes are expressed by different bacterial strains that balance between their own genes and invading bacteriophages. Many scientists have tried to look into restriction enzymes in terms of how they move around DNA and how it works within our system generally. The problem is that the mechanistic understanding of how REases bind and cleave DNA is very limited, which will become clearer with my continued research in the Etson Lab on the MvaI restriction endonuclease.

    Restriction endonucleases are enzymes that are able to cleave duplex DNA at or near a specific nucleotide sequence. MvaI is a Type IIP restriction endonuclease found in Kocuria varians. Most Type IIP restriction endonucleases are homodimers that cleave a palindromic DNA sequence, however, MvaI has been shown to bind and cleave the pseudo palindromic sequence CC/WGG (where W can be A or T) as a monomer. Previous studies of the related monomeric restriction endonuclease BcnI revealed that this enzyme cleaves both strands of its pseudo palindromic sequence during a single binding event by flipping on the DNA. This kind of reorientation may require the protein to enter a pseudo-bound state, which can be disrupted by high salt concentrations. Alternatively, the protein may maintain nonspecific contacts with the DNA backbone, rendering the transition insensitive to ionic strength. Preliminary work with BcnI suggests that it does not pass through a pseudo-bound state. We are now investigating whether the same is true for MvaI. Our method uses a total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIRF) based single molecule assay to observe DNA cleavage and the use of laminar flow cell devices that will help determine how salt impacts the reaction mechanism. This summer, we implemented NaCl as the salt in our experimental buffers. Research is still ongoing, but the data collected so far tells us that MvaI has no pseudo-bound state, and currently are exploring MvaI with the use of an acetate buffer. We also use quantum-dot labeled DNA substrates that are designed to report on either duplex cleavage or nicking of a specific strand of the pseudo palindromic sequence to determine whether there is a bias in initial binding orientation. We are able to set up a platform for TIRF microscopy and assure the binding of luminous nanoparticles, both of which are crucial to the success of our research, owing to the application of physics. Also, by using MATLAB's computer programming capabilities, we are able to examine our results and, ideally, understand the mechanism of single-molecule catalysis and bimolecular interactions. Nevertheless, our overall goal is to establish a model for how monomeric Type IIP restriction endonucleases bind and cleave duplex DNA.

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    Adin Dowling

    My interest in the sciences started at a young age: through and through I have been interested in investigating the way things, large and small, work. I was involved in Microbiology research, probing lactic acid bacteria and their anti-fungal properties, in high-school, and now I am involved in a physics wave transport lab. We work with worldwide partners and require an in depth understanding of physics, mathematics, and computer science. As an undergrad who is extremely motivated toward graduate school, CIS [gives] me the opportunity to look more carefully into the breadth of research going on at wesleyan and pay closer attention to how research works in a broader sense and in the world. Iʼm very interested in learning more about the process of research itself rather than restricting myself to a physics framework. Adin's Research
    The research of my faculty mentor [Professor Tsampikos Kottos] encompasses wave transport in mesoscopic systems and he is working on a myriad of projects simultaneously. I am working on three projects:
    1. The experimental side of designing a broadband limiter using ceramic resonators in the microwave regime. I code a robotic arm and a vector network analyzer to take measurements of specific structures as well as creating a simulation of the same setup in comsol.
    2. Assisting on the experimental efforts of a project designed to find a coherent perfect absorption regime in a tetrahedron graph with a nonlinear resonator.
    3. Assisting on the experimental efforts of a project designed to find a scar-state in a tetrahedron graph with a single variable bond length aimed at manipulating the phase of waves in the structure.
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    Pete Hwang

    I am an MB&B major on the pre-medical track with a strong interest in biotechnology, genetics, and healthcare. Through the CIS, I plan to take courses and seminars in genomics analysis, data visualization, physical chemistry, and molecular biophysics to expand my scope in these areas. One career path I am considering is an MD/PhD, because I believe it fits my desire to continuously pursue knowledge through research and apply those discoveries to develop new clinical methods. I think the CIS offers a good segue into that lifestyle and will prepare me with the necessary skills to be a principal investigator and physician in the future. Pete's Reasearch
    The Weir lab is researching protein translation regulation through a ribosome interaction surface called CAR. CAR comprises three residues: 16S/18S rRNA C1054, A1196 (E. coli numbering), and ribosomal protein Rps3 R146. The first residue, C1054, is anchored to the A-site tRNA nucleotide nt34 and the A1196 residues via base stacking, and A1196 and R146 residues are anchored to one another via pi-cation stacking. Each residue of CAR interacts explicitly with the +1 codon on the mRNA sequence via hydrogen bonding (H-bonding). From a previous study, we discovered that under stressed environments, cells showed a depression in translation rates and a downregulation of Sfm1, the methyltransferase responsible for methylating R146. Based on molecular dynamics simulations, we also discovered that R146 methylation caused a reduction in the H-bonding of CAR/+1 by disrupting the stacking of R146 to A1196, while for unmethylated R146, the H-bonding was promoted. Therefore, we suggested a possible mechanism for translational regulation under stressed environments: cells produced ribosomes with unmethylated R146, thereby increasing the interaction between CAR and +1 codon and decreasing the rate of protein synthesis. In recent investigations, we also discovered a sequence specificity of CAR/+1 interactions. From molecular dynamics simulations of open reading frames (ORFs) of S.cerevisiae, it was observed that the first nucleotide at position 1 of the +1 codon was more influential than position 2 in determining the strength of the CAR–mRNA interaction, much like the zipper extension of the A-site codon/anticodon base pairing. Specifically, +1 GCU had the highest H-bonding and CGU had the lowest among the +1 codons tested. In addition, information-theoretic analyses showed high conservation of +1 GCU codons in the ramp region (codons 3-7), possibly hinting towards an evolved mechanism of translational regulation in yeasts.

    During the summer and fall of 2022, I collaborated with Evelyn Zhou from our group to expand on the sequence specificity by analyzing ORFs of S. cerevisiae. We found open reading frames with a higher GNN (codons starting with guanine) content were associated with lower protein expression under stressed conditions. This was exciting evidence and suggested highly sensitive genes may have evolved to contain a higher content of GNN codons to suppress protein translation under harmful cellular environments via interactions with CAR. I also performed molecular dynamics simulations where I modified the +1 GCU to a +1 GGG and gathered data on the CAR/+1 H-bonding levels.

    This summer, I will be expanding my work on the analysis of ORFs, but this time focusing on A-site codons with different wobble nucleotides but the same tRNA anticodon. From a previous study, we discovered that if the wobble nucleotide of the A-site codon is uracil (NNU), protein translation occurs more slowly than if the wobble nucleotide was cytosine (NNC). Therefore, I will be obtaining information-theoretic data on the codons before and after any NNU / NNCs, to obtain information-theoretic data on their neighborhoods. Then I will bin this data by the relative protein expression levels of each ORF to understand whether certain wobble nucleotides at the A-site codon are associated with higher or lower protein translation. Finally, I will be utilizing the molecular dynamics techniques I learned in the fall of 2022 to run simulations with various A-site codons and corresponding tRNA anticodons to see how they tie in with the CAR/+1 H-bonding network.
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    Sofia Rinaldi

    I have always had a strong interest in essentially every field of science I've studied. To me, science is inherently interdisciplinary and imaginative; each field cannot exist or be studied without the others. Since I hope to attend medical school after graduation, I was already planning on studying a wide range of science subjects and pursuing research throughout undergrad. Thus, the CIS program creates a great opportunity for me because it allows me to showcase how I uniquely incorporate so many different fields of science (astronomy, my primary major; with physics and mathematics, which are heavily involved in my research; as well as biology, chemistry, and biochemistry, which span my pre-med requirements), all while guaranteeing my summer research. Sofia's Research
    In the local universe, galaxies are clearly classified between elliptical and spiral, star-forming galaxies. However, in the early universe, the lines between these classifications are blurred. We will use high resolution simulations of galaxy formation to uncover the relationship between kinematics and morphology of galaxies at high redshifts. Specifically, we will measure how rotation-dominated such distant systems are and how that relates to their shape to shed light on previous observations.

    This project relates to my interest in interdisciplinary and integrative science because I’ll be using mathematical and computational methods to apply physical principles to simulations in order to answer astronomical questions. I am excited to improve my computational skills–which can be useful in any field of science, including in the medical field–as well as apply concepts I’ve learned in multivariable calculus, linear algebra, general physics, and the introductory astronomy courses I’ve taken so far to such an interesting project. Thus, not only will this project (and this linked major as a whole) deepen my understanding in my primary area of study, astronomy, it will also shape me into a stronger, more well-rounded scientist as a whole.
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    Macy Thompson

    My primary scientific interests revolve around infectious disease and public health which inherently require weaving together knowledge of the biology of pathogens and their hosts, the ecological relationships between them, the genetic basis for their evolution as infectious agents, the molecular mechanisms in which they infect and replicate, the statistical models used to track and characterize their diseases, the chemical drugs used to target their infections, and much more. I need knowledge from all these disciplines in order to be able to provide solutions to the many health problems facing us today. Macy's Research
    Microplastics in the environment and their toxic bioaccumulation in organisms is an escalating concern in the field of environmental science and for the health of the general populace. One potential solution to this problem lies in the realm of microbiology, in the discovery of bacterial species that can degrade and metabolize these microplastics. Soil bacteria with promising plastic-degradation capabilities have already been isolated by members of the Cohan Lab at Wesleyan University, but the extent of their degradation abilities have yet to be fully characterized. It would be beneficial to determine what specific classes of plastic polymers can be metabolized by the bacterial isolates to allow a better understanding of the mechanisms of plastic metabolism as they relate to the effectiveness of environmental applications.

    To accomplish this, several approaches would be needed including data-based genomics, microbiological assays, and a chemical understanding of plastic composition. First, it would be necessary to determine which specific genes in these microbes allow them to degrade plastic. The meta-genome assembled genomes (MAGs) of the isolated microbes could be compared to annotated databases of metabolism-related genes. This would allow for the initial identification of some degradation mechanisms used by the microbes and therefore which plastics may be susceptible (i.e. if a certain enzyme produced by a gene is known to break down certain plastic polymers, then that bacteria can likely break down that type of polymer).

    However, it is possible that some relevant degradation genes will have not been previously identified, so an alternative approach would be needed. A tetrazolium cell metabolism assay could be performed on all isolates in different types of plastic mediums to reveal which species could metabolize which plastics. In tandem one could perform a growth and metabolism assay wherein each species is allowed to grow in a medium that has plastic strips of different types to see to what degree the strips are degraded (measured by a change in mass). Each species that reduced the mass of the strip could then be determined to be able to metabolize that type of plastic.

    With the knowledge of which plastic type each strain can metabolize, one could work backwards to determine the possible products of unannotated degradation genes. The chemical structures of different plastics are degraded by specific classes of enzymes or compounds. Therefore, if a bacterial strain is shown to metabolize a compound it likely produces a protein with a similar structure or function. The predicted protein structure (based on computational modeling) of unannotated genes can be compared to the structure of degradation enzymes to identify novel plastic-type specific genes.

    Understanding these mechanisms allows for the future development of engineered genes or species that may be able to increase the efficiency of plastic degradation or the range of target plastic types. Results from this project could be further applied to environmental science, ecology, public health, and more as one considers the impact of these organisms as a bioremediator or as a model for future plastic removal efforts.
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    Inesh Vytheswaran

    My interest in the sciences has been extremely interdisciplinary and integrative due to my approach
    to learning. I find that after finishing a course, I can connect concepts and ideas from other
    disciplines, and I am always eager to learn more about these disciplines. My ultimate goal as a computer science major and data analysis minor is to acquire the necessary tools to quickly and effectively analyze complex issues. I have found that I am recently particularly fascinated by neuroscience and the chemistry behind how we think. I am also curious if machine learning algorithms can be used to further analyze brain activity.
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    Milan Yorke

    I am deeply invested in all atmospheres of science. As a psychology major my interest is within the brain and its connections to actions and feelings is endless. Aside from my understanding in that realm I have taken a plethora of neuroscience, chemistry and biology class that have peaked my interests. My dream is to continue on to medical school and eventually become a physician. That being said, I believe research and innovation are the groundwork that builds the science community. Without this foundation I won't become the doctor I plan to be, innovative, diverse, and otherwise courageous enough to change the world of medicine for the better. The only way I see myself completing these goals is through the CIS major. Milan's Research
    Within the Johnson Lab we study Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly eyes and wings) in order to fully understand how the processes of direct organization of tissues work. With [Associate Professor Ruth Johnson's] background in epithelial cells these are the tissues we will be working with. Currently the lab is working heavily with processes such as cyto-skeleton, adhesion, and cell signaling in the greater mission of organ functioning. Within this research you can understand that it involves not only Biology but working within the lab chemistry, as well as , a bit of neuroscience/ Psychology can be used within this study. With the over arching continuations of the brain controlling signaling and chemistry in understanding how to set up a lab for experiments with chemicals and other proteins, you will need an interdisciplinary understanding to fulfill a meaningful chance in society and the world as a whole.