Current News and Notes
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Valerie Barr, Bard College’s Margaret Hamilton Distinguished Professor of Computer Science, has been elected as a 2022 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Barr, who teaches in the Computer Science Program, is “being honored for distinguished contributions to computer science education, and to increasing the diversity in the computing fields,” writes the AAAS.
“I am honored that the computer science section of AAAS is recognizing diversity work in computing,” said Barr. “I look forward to continuing this work broadly in the context of the NSF-funded Alliance for Identity-Inclusive Computing Education, led by Drs. Nicki Washington and Shaundra Daily at Duke University, and locally as we develop curricula that will expose students to computing across all disciplines encompassed by the Bard Network.”
“Margaret Hamilton Distinguished Professor of Computer Science Valerie Barr has been recognized as an outstanding scientist, educator, and groundbreaking leader in higher education. Professor Barr’s dedication to increasing diversity in computer science has wide-reaching implications for transformative curriculum and pedagogy. Her work foregrounds the critical importance of computation as she challenges liberal arts institutions to expand our understanding of the interdependence of STEM and humanities. We are honored to welcome her distinctive expertise and vision as she steps into faculty leadership at Bard,” said Dean of the College and Professor of English Deirdre d’Albertis.
Barr is the second Bard faculty member to be honored with this AAAS distinction. David and Rosalie Rose Distinguished Professor of Science, Mathematics, and Computing Felicia Keesing, who teaches in the Biology Program, was elected as a 2021 fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Valerie Barr, Margaret Hamilton Distinguished Professor of Computer Science, is a groundbreaking computer scientist who has been a national leader in efforts to broaden participation in computing and connect the field to a wide array of liberal arts disciplines. She comes to Bard from Mount Holyoke College, where she was chair of the Computer Science department, and is eager to explore what students, and not just computer science students, “need to know about computing in order to actively critique and challenge the current pace and impact of technological change.”
In addition to teaching, Barr has been involved with curriculum development and computing education. Her research projects have been funded repeatedly over the past two decades by the National Science Foundation. Her research interests also include reanalyzing degree attainment data to better identify and understand long-standing trends in the areas of gender, race, and ethnicity, and in software testing, particularly as applied to artificial intelligence and language processing systems. In addition to Mount Holyoke, she has taught at Union College, Hofstra University, Pratt Institute, and Rutgers University. She received her BA from Mount Holyoke College; MS from New York University; and PhD from Rutgers University. She has been on Bard faculty since 2022.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science family of journals, has elected more than 500 scientists, engineers and innovators from around the world and across all disciplines to the 2022 class of AAAS Fellows, one of the most distinguished honors within the scientific community. The newly elected Fellows are being recognized for their scientific and socially notable achievements spanning their careers. View the 2022 class of AAAS Fellows here.
“AAAS is proud to elevate these standout individuals and recognize the many ways in which they’ve advanced scientific excellence, tackled complex societal challenges and pushed boundaries that will reap benefits for years to come,” said Sudip S. Parikh, Ph.D., AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals.
This year’s class has moved their fields forward, paving the way for scientific advances that benefit society. They bring diverse and novelty thinking, innovative approaches and passion that will help solve the world’s most complex problems. The new class hails from academic institutions, laboratories and observatories, hospitals and medical centers, museums, global corporations, nonprofit organizations, institutes and government agencies (including from the U.S. presidential administration).
The new Fellows will receive a certificate and a gold and blue rosette pin (representing science and engineering, respectively) to commemorate their election and will be celebrated in Washington, D.C., in summer 2023. They will also be featured in the AAAS News & Notes section of Science in February 2023.
Bard College Assistant Professor of Physics Shuo Zhang and Bard mathematics and dance major Rose Xu ’23 were invited by the American Astronomical Society (AAS) to present their most recent findings on new x-ray flares from the now inactive supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Their talk, “Detection of Seven High-Energy X-ray Flares from the Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole,” was presented at the 241st AAS press conference on Thursday, January 12 from 5:15pm to 6:15pm ET, in person in Seattle and virtually via Zoom and YouTube livestream. For more information about the 241st AAS press conference, click here.
The center of the Milky Way galaxy harbors the nearest supermassive black hole Sgr A* to Earth, with forty million times the mass of the Sun. Although being in an inactive status nowadays, Sgr A* demonstrates mysterious flares almost every single day, which could come from magnetic phenomena. We are sitting in the front row of these cosmic fireworks. Using 2 Ms data from NASA’s NuSTAR X-ray telescope, our math senior Rose Xu, working with Bard physics professor Shuo Zhang, has discovered seven new hard X-ray flares that took place between 2016 and 2022. This new result doubled the current database of bright Sgr A* X-ray flares, and can help to answer long-standing questions in flare physics, such as: What are the physical mechanisms behind Sgr A* flare? Do bright flares and faint flares share the same origin?
Watch the Presentation at the American Astronomical Society Press Conference“Astronomers are in the exhilarating process of revealing the physical conditions at the vicinity of our own supermassive black hole, which I couldn’t imagine myself being involved in before meeting professor Shuo Zhang. Solving practical problems from a liberal arts perspective is a skill that I am grateful to gain here at Bard College,” said Xu.
As part of one of 26 women-led projects in 17 countries, Associate Professor of Biology Brooke Jude will participate in a project to regenerate natural fabric dyeing processes with traditional Moroccan weavers as part of a Daughters for Earth grant awarded to Around the World in 80 Fabrics. “These grants, totaling over $600,000, are a part of our mission to deliver critical resources into the hands of the women on the frontlines of climate action,” says Daughters for Earth of this year’s grant winners. Professor Jude will lead microbial dye foraging alongside our natural plant dye research as part of a team that “will bring together traditional weavers, researchers, designers, textile experts, scientists, anthropologists, and businesswomen to create sustainable dyeing processes that Ain Leuh Women's Cooperative can use.” The cooperative, which was founded by local women in the Atlas Mountain region of Morocco, has used traditional weaving techniques to support their families for decades. Today, because of the pressures of demand from global trade, synthetic dyes are used more frequently, produced with chemicals that impact weaver health and the environment. The collaboration between the Ain Leuh Cooperative, Artisan Project, Around the World in 80 Fabrics, the Microbe Institute, and Bard College will help to create “an open-source natural dye, plant, and microbial resource book with a map and dye recipes,” with the goal of improving the health of Ain Leuh weavers and the health of the local ecosystem.
Associate Professor of Environmental and Urban Studies M. Elias Dueker, Associate Professor of Biology Gabriel G. Perron, and Bard biology graduates Daniella Azulai ’17 and Mary Reid ’21 have copublished a new study, “Bacteria communities and water quality parameters in riverine water and sediments near wastewater discharges,” in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Data. Over five months, they monitored microbial contaminants relating to the treated water outflow of the wastewater treatment plant operated by Bard, which releases into the Saw Kill, a tributary of the Hudson River and also the source of fresh water for the campus. This is the first of many datasets and research papers that they hope to publish on Bard’s water system. Preliminary data analyses provide insight into the impacts of watershed-wide usage of the Saw Kill as both drinking water source and treated sewage receiver. Future use of this dataset will include a focus on endotoxins and antibiotic resistant bacterial genes, water contaminants only now gaining broader attention in water quality and microbiological sciences.
All of the sampling was conducted as a joint Bard Summer Research Institute project between Dueker’s lab and Perron's lab in summer 2015. Lab members included: Marco Spodek ’17, Beckett Lansbury ’16, Yuejiao Wan ’17, Pola Kuhn ’17, Haley Goss-Holmes ’17. Coauthors Azulai and Reid worked on this project both as undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students.
“This project demonstrates the power of community asking scientific questions, and academia–students, faculty, and staff–being able to help answer those questions through careful observational and applied research,” said Dueker. “Our hope is that this database serves as a tool for researchers and communities around the world trying to respond to stewardship challenges in a science-based and community-accessible way.”
Bard College Assistant Professor of Physics Clara Sousa-Silva has published a new study, “The impending opacity challenge in exoplanet atmospheric characterization,” in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Astronomy. The paper is led by graduate student Prajwal Niraula (MIT), and coauthored by Julien de Wit (MIT), Iouli E Gordon (Harvard), Robert Hargreaves (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian), Clara Sousa-Silva (Bard), and Roman Kochanov (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian). Their research suggests that the current tools astronomers use to analyze data received from space telescopes may not be precise enough to accurately decode the unprecedented clarity of light-signals captured through next-generation observatories, including the extremely powerful James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launched by NASA in December 2021.
“We find ourselves in the extraordinary situation where the incredible engineering of JWST has resulted in the data collected from distant planets outcompeting our ability to interpret what we are seeing,” says Sousa-Silva.
Astronomers rely on ‘opacity models,’ which interpret how matter interacts with light, to describe and predict the physical properties of astronomical objects. This new study used existing opacity models to analyze spectral data collected from JWST and to look at the characterization of exoplanetary atmospheres—predicting atmospheric temperature, pressure, and elemental composition. The researchers warned that for each possible atmospheric signal from an exoplanet, multiple interpretations could be made with current models and fundamental molecular inputs. The imprecision from these models means that data from an alien atmosphere could be misinterpreted. The implications of such misinterpretations include our understanding of whether an exoplanet could support life or not.
“There is a scientifically significant difference between a compound like water being present at 5 percent versus 25 percent, which current models cannot differentiate,” says study coauthor Julien de Wit.
The authors show how the limits of our knowledge on light–matter interactions (i.e. opacity models) will affect our exploration of exoplanetary atmospheres. “Accounting for these limits will prevent biased claims,” they write. “Guided improvements in opacity models, their standardization and dissemination will ensure maximum return on investment from the next-generation observatories, including the James Webb Space Telescope.” Their findings call for an investment in improved laboratory and theoretical data on atmospheric molecules, and development of more precise opacity models.
Nearly everyone can identify a pond, but what, exactly, distinguishes it from a lake or a wetland? Robyn L. Smyth, Bard Center for Environmental Policy faculty member and term associate professor of environmental and urban studies, is coauthor of a new study featured on ScienceDaily that offers the first data-driven, functional definition of a pond and evidence of ponds’ distinct ecological function, which could have broad implications for science and policy.
Understudied and largely left out of federal and state monitoring and protection programs, ponds are often poorly distinguished from lakes or wetlands. This neglect has implications for the accuracy of climate modeling, as ponds are high emitters of greenhouse gases, and their contribution to the global carbon budget is uncertain. In their study, coauthors wanted to evaluate how scientists and policymakers define ponds and examine whether ponds are functionally distinct from lakes and wetlands. Their findings conclude: Ponds are small and shallow waterbodies, with a maximum surface area of five hectares, a maximum depth of 5 meters and less than 30% emergent vegetation.
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