News & Events

Friday, June 22, 2018

Sewage, Sewage, Everywhere: Land, Air, and Water Exchange of Sewage Bacteria in the Saw Kill Watershed

M. Elias Dueker, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science

The extra-enteric ecology of sewage-indicating bacteria presents complexities for their use in management of water resources. Once released into the environment, these indicators may persist in sediments, and participate in multidirectional microbial exchange among water, sediment, and air. This complicates sewage pollution detection in public waterways, particularly in shallow freshwater tributaries prone to sediment resuspension. To address these challenges, we compared bacterial communities in sediment, water, and air in a small tributary of the Hudson River, above and below a sewage outflow. Using both culture-based and culture-independent methods, we found that sewage-associated bacteria, including sewage indicators, were present in sediment, water, and air on this waterway. Microbial communities from these ecological compartments were distinct, with sediment samples harboring greater microbial diversity than overlying water. Microbial communities responded to precipitation events, with water and sediment samples increasing in similarity with increases in waterway turbidity. While sediment samples clearly harbored sewage-indicating bacteria, they maintained a lower diversity of sewage-associated bacteria when compared to overlying water, suggesting that sediments may selectively promote environmental persistence of sewage-indicating bacteria.
Time: 3:30 pm – 4:00 pm
Location: Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium
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Friday, June 29, 2018

Beyond the Diffraction Limit: Imaging and Writing 3D Polymer Nanostructures with Visible Light

Chaitanya K. Ullal, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Recent developments in far-field microscopy have enabled imaging at nanoscale resolutions using visible light. The circumvention of the diffraction limit opens the benefits of optical microscopy to polymer systems at the relevant nanometer length scales. These benefits include the ability to non-destructively provide local, dynamic and three-dimensional structural information. Specific examples related to colloidal crystals and block copolymers that would be challenging to image with contemporary techniques are used to highlight the potential of subdiffraction far-field fluorescence microscopy for the polymer and nanosciences. Ongoing work on imaging of nanoscale variations in cross-link density of colloidal gels and the application of super-resolution optics to lithography will also be presented.

Chaitanya Ullal is an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He got his PhD in materials science and engineering at MIT and did a postdoc in the lab of Stefan Hell, at the MPI-BPC in Germany. He is a recipient of the NSF CAREER Award and the ACS PRF New Investigator Award. His research interests are related to unconventional nanofabrication, optics and polymers. A current emphasis of the group is the use of optical microscopy with nanoscale resolution to image and pattern nanostructured polymers.
Time: 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Location: Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium
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Past Events

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    • 2017

      Senior Project Poster Session

      December 19
      Reem-Kayden Center

      Join our December graduating seniors in presenting their senior projects

      Puffy Planets, Hot Hosts, Probably Perturbed

      December 15
      Hegeman 107

      With over 3500 planets now detected around other stars, you might think that we’ve seen it all.  However, each new exoplanet survey turns up exotic worlds that challenge our notions of how solar systems form and evolve.  One such survey is the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT) survey, which has a knack for finding giant planets very close to their hot host stars.  I will describe recent KELT discoveries, including one giant planet that is hotter than most stars, and will explain how new kinds of analyses are uncovering a population of giant planets on highly-tilted orbits that suggest we have much yet to learn about the dynamical evolution of planetary systems.  I’ll also offer a glimpse into the workings of a modestly-sized telescope at a small college and will describe how my own crew of Wellesley undergraduates contributes to KELT discoveries.

      Hunting for Dark Matter with Liquid Xenon Detectors:
      A Race to Make History

      December 8
      Hegeman 107

      The quest for dark matter is one of particle physics most active research areas today. Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that it exists and makes up to 25% of the universe, a dark matter particle has yet to be detected. While over the years, many different experiments using many different technologies have emerged, liquid xenon detectors have now proven their superiority in leading the field of direct dark matter detection. However, as they need to become bigger and bigger to be more and more sensitive, the current detectors are reaching the limit of irreducible backgrounds, and thus are reaching the end of their detection ability. Therefore new, improved detectors must be invented which will not only address the background issues that current detectors face but also probe new, until now inaccessible, search areas, thus opening a new era for DM detection.

      String Theory:
      The Only Game In Town?

      December 1
      Hegeman 107

      String theory's roots date back to the 1960's in attempts to determine the nature of the strong interaction using S-matrix techniques. The goal was to "bootstrap" to a nearly unique theory using a small, simple set of physical principles, and avoiding the use of quantum fields entirely. Many beautiful results emerged, but the program ultimately fizzled with the success of quantum chromodynamics (QCD). String theory however, has always remained deeply connected to the S-matrix approach and recent developments have inspired a renewed interest in the S-matrix, particularly as a tool for constraining the possible quantum field theories that might be consistently completed into a theory of quantum gravity at high enough energies. In this talk, I will provide an overview of key developments early in the formulation of string theory and describe some exciting new no-go results that have emerged hinting that string theory may indeed be "the only game in town" (modulo important assumptions!).

      Energy Production at Bard:
      From Micro to Macro

      November 17
      Hegeman 107

      Where does Bard get its energy from now, and where will it come from in the future?  This seminar features two short presentations examining both near-term, small-scale changes (microhydroelectric power from the Sawkill) and constraints on long-term planning (how could Bard become carbon neutral by 2035?).  An informal discussion over pizza of prospects and challenges concerning energy production follows the presentations.

      Birth and Death in the Milky Way


      November 3
      Hegeman 107

      Over the past ten years, my colleagues and I have been using the Very Large Array radio telescope to construct by the far highest resolution survey yet made of our Galaxy at centimeter wavelengths. The images reveal thousands of Galactic radio emitters which mark the places of stellar birth in cold clouds of  gas and dust, and stellar death in the violent explosions of supernove. Combining this survey with data from other wavelengths, particularly the Spitzer Space Observatory's Infrared survey of the Galaxy provides a spectacular new multi-colored view of the Milky Way and reveals a number of unexpected surprises.


      Water-Based Liquid Crystals: 
      Ordered Fluids with Unusual Properties and Significant Potential for Applications

      October 13
      Hegeman 107

      The liquid crystals used in displays are oily fluids in which the molecules possess orientational order.  Another class of liquid crystals relies on the spontaneous formation of molecular assemblies when certain dyes and drugs are dissolved in water.  These aqueous systems are the subject of significant scientific research, due to the possibility of applications in biology and medicine.  This research reveals that water-based liquid crystals behave quite differently from their oily counterparts, thus creating the understanding necessary to develop new techniques and devices in an area where liquid crystals have had little impact.


      Listening to the Universe:
      The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics

      October 6
      Hegeman 107

      The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish for the conception, construction and operation of the LIGO detector that detected Gravitational Waves for the first time. Considering the impossibly weak nature of gravitational waves, this was a monumental achievement of experimental ingenuity which has now opened a new type of window to the Universe (a microphone really). I will go through how the detectors work, what Gravitational Waves tell us about the universe and some personal experiences from being part of the collaboration.

      Senior Prospectus Talks in Physics

      September 29
      Hegeman 107

      Come check out what physics senior projects are in the works for this year over a pizza lunch.

      Bard Summer Research Institute Poster Session

      September 28
      Reem-Kayden Center

      Lab Safety Training

      September 15
      Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium

      If you previously attended a lab training session this year, you do not need to attend again. If you are unsure, please contact Maureen O’Callaghan-Scholl with questions at

      Friday, September 8, RKC 103, 4 p.m.
      Friday, September 15, RKC 103, 4 p.m.

      Physics Seminar Series
      Summer Research Presentations

      September 15
      Hegeman 107

      From gravitational microlensing of distant planets to microhydro power on the Sawkill, come enjoy pizza and students discussing their summer research.

      Lab Safety Training

      September 8
      Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium

      If you previously attended a lab training session this year, you do not need to attend again. If you are unsure, please contact Maureen O’Callaghan-Scholl with questions at

      Friday, September 8, RKC 103, 4 p.m.
      Friday, September 15, RKC 103, 4 p.m.

      Physics Phriday:
      Welcome Back!

      September 8
      Hegeman 107

      How Does Biological Control of Ticks Affect Non-target Organisms?

      July 20
      Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium

      Efficient Learning:
      What are the Limits of Human Memory?

      July 13
      Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium

      Our memory systems leverage the statistical structure of the world around us (context) to organize and store incoming information and retrieve previously stored information.  This enables us to recognize the situations we are in and to adapt our behaviors accordingly.  For example, your might choose to behave differently on a road trip with close friends versus commuting into work with your boss, even though many aspects of your perceptual experience are preserved across those two scenarios.  You might also remember different aspects of conversations from those trips when asked about them later.

      In my talk, I will explore the extent to which (and the circumstances under which) these sorts of processes may be manipulated to influence memory.  I’ll begin by exploring these processes using a simple word list learning paradigm.  I’ll show how we can influence memory performance (specifically, how many words people remember and the order people remember the words in).  Then I’ll talk about how these same ideas can be applied to “naturalistic” memories, such as memories for scenes in a movie or concepts learned in the classroom.

      From Black Holes to Gravitational Waves and Quantum Measurement

      July 6
      Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium

      With three detections and counting, the Advanced LIGO gravitational-wave observatories have opened a new window into the Universe. For now, all the detected gravitational-waves originated from collisions of two black holes. The effect that these gravitational-waves have as they pass through space is to stretch and compress space-time, much like sound waves stretch and compress the air. To understand the challenge of detecting this effect here on Earth, imagine (if you can) that a reasonably strong gravitational wave changes the length of one kilometer by one thousandth of a proton's diameter. At this level of sensitivity, quantum mechanics and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle start playing a significant role and if we want to listen further into the Universe, we need to manipulate the quantum nature of light to our advantage. In this talk I will give an overview of gravitational waves, how LIGO detects them, and why quantum mechanics matters when measuring distances with such precision.

      Journey to the Center of the Earth

      June 15
      Reem-Kayden Center Laszlo Z. Bito '60 Auditorium

      Earth's iron alloy inner core was not discovered until 1936-six years after the discovery of Pluto. For many years after that little was known about this most remote part of our planet, but in the last thirty years seismologists have been revealing it has some unusual properties. The cause of these seismic inferences remains uncertain, but they provide clues about the mineral physics and dynamics of the core. This talk will review the seismic observations of the inner core, and discuss their implications for its evolution.

      Looking for Extra Dimensions in the Cosmic Microwave Background

      May 19
      Hegeman 107

      We can only perceive four dimensions, but several standard model extensions suggest the existence of more. If that’s true, why can't we see them? One possible explanation is that these extra dimensions are compactified, meaning they have a finite length compared to the infinite standard four. Cosmology offers a very interesting possibility of finding evidence for the existence of these extra dimensions in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). The CMB is an echo from the Big Bang era, and can give us important insight to the past of our universe and whether it could have included compactified dimensions.

      Senior Project Poster Session

      May 18
      Reem-Kayden Center

      Join Science, Mathematics & Computer graduating seniors in presenting their senior projects.

      Astronomy Night: Jupiter over Montgomery Place

      May 16
      Montgomery Place, Mansion

      Join us at the Montgomery Place visitor center for a short talk by Prof. Eleni Kontou on the the latest science from NASA’s Juno probe of Jupiter, followed by telescope viewing of Jupiter and its moons, a guided tour of the night sky, and a round of Ask-a-Physicist-Anything.

      Buses to the event leave from the Kline South stop at 8:15 pm and 8:30 pm.

      Clear weather permitting.

      Galactic Exploration with Invisible Light

      May 12
      Hegeman 107

      Radio astronomy has greatly enhanced the range of observable astronomical phenomena.  Although a wide range of wavelengths are used in radio astronomy, one of the most important is 21 cm, which corresponds to the hyperfine transition in atomic hydrogen.   Although the 21 cm signal from a small collection of hydrogen atoms is exceedingly weak, and the density of hydrogen in the Milky Way is very low, the Galaxy is a big place and contains enough hydrogen to produce a signal that can be detected with a modest terrestrial apparatus.    In this talk, I will present results obtained at 21 cm with a recently refurbished cold-war-era 60-foot dish antenna.   Data from the dish will be used to measure the Sun's velocity with respect to the average velocity of nearby stars and to infer the existence of dark matter.    Time permitting, pulsar signals will be presented and schematic plans for a kit capable of detecting indirect evidence for dark matter for costing less than $1000 will be presented.

      Next-generation Atomic Clocks:
      Harnessing Quantum Matter to Study Gravity and Search for Dark Matter

      April 28
      Hegeman 107

      The accuracy of atomic clocks has improved a thousandfold over the last 15 years. The latest generation of atomic clocks, called "optical lattice clocks", can detect changes in general relativity's gravitational redshift over a few centimers. These clocks use extremely stable lasers to count the "ticks" of an optical-frequency transition in atoms cooled to the nanokelvin regime, reaching 18 digits of accuracy in a few hours. In this talk, I will discuss how we achieve this accuracy through exquisite control of the quantum mechanical state of these ultracold atoms, and how we are using these clocks to search for dark matter and test relativity.

      ​The Higgs Boson:  What, How, and Why We Care​

      April 7
      Hegeman 107

      In the summer of 2012, two teams of scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland announced that they had discovered the long-awaited Higgs Boson.  What is this particle?  Why do physicists think is it so important?  How was it predicted?  How was it discovered?  What are the implications to our understanding of matter, energy, and the universe?  These and other questions will be addressed as we investigate the fundamental particles and forces that underlie all physical phenomena, culminating in the Higgs discovery and consideration of what might be beyond.

      Visualizing Quantum Gravity:
      A pictorial introduction to causal dynamical triangulations

      March 10
      Hegeman 107

      Quantum gravity is the much sought-after synthesis of quantum mechanics and general relativity, the two pillars of contemporary physics. I will deliver an accessible introduction to the promising approach to quantum gravity called causal dynamical triangulations. Founding my presentation on the quantum mechanics of a particle, I will build an intuitive conception of the quantum mechanics of spacetime. I will survey the key results deriving from causal dynamical triangulations and broach the key question facing causal dynamical triangulations.


      Big Planets from Small Telescopes:
      What We’re Learning About Exoplanets and How Small Observatories Are Making It Possible

      March 3
      Hegeman 107

      Since the discovery of the first extrasolar planet a little more than 20 years ago, the list of known planets orbiting other stars has grown to more than 3,000—but we are still in the early stages of understanding the diversity of other planetary systems.  A key part of this understanding has come from studies of planets that eclipse (or “transit”) their host stars as seen from Earth.   I will explain how studies of these planets allow us to determine their radii, masses, mean densities, atmospheric composition, and the angle at which they orbit relative to the parent star’s equator, all without being able to image the planets directly.  Small telescopes (with primary mirror diameters of 0.3–1 meter) play an important role in the larger “ecosystem” of telescopes that discover and characterize these planets, and such telescopes have been instrumental in the recent discoveries of planets around very bright stars that are much hotter than the Sun, and in the just-announced discovery of seven Earth-radius planets around the ultra-cool dwarf star Trappist-1.

      Hunting the Brightest Galaxies in the Universe

      February 24
      Hegeman 107

      I’ll give an overview of observing at the 50-m Large Millimeter Telescope and will focus on the latest results on distant, dusty, massive starburst galaxies in the early universe.  Studying distant galaxies lets us peer billions of years back in time, well over halfway back to the Big Bang, to learn how galaxies form and evolve.  New infra-red and millimeter-wave images and spectra from the Planck and Herschel satellites and from the LMT have helped identify the most luminous galaxies yet known, thousands of times brighter than our own Milky Way, and churning gas into new stars at a furious rate.  Many are also strongly gravitationally lensed, their images warped and amplified by intervening massive galaxies, which lets us see more detail on fainter galaxies than usual.  Hubble Space Telescope’s sharp vision further enhances our view and can finally reveal what triggers such spectacular starburst activity. 

      Are You Interested in Pursuing a Career as a Health Professional?

      February 16
      Campus Center Lobby

      Join Zammy Diaz, IHN Communications Center, to learn why the one-year MS Program in Nutrition Science may be a great gap or glide year for you.

      Flying Boys, Defibrillated Chickens, and Death By Lightning: 
      A Brief History of Electricity and Magnetism

      February 3
      Hegeman 102

      The development of almost all modern technology relies on a firm understanding of the concepts of electricity and magnetism, and these concepts are at the heart of fundamental explanations of most physical phenomena. The historical evolution of these concepts traces back thousands of years and took a number of surprising, unorthodox, and occasionally tragic turns before the rules governing electricity and magnetism were codified. In this talk, intended for a general audience, I'll review some of the key experiments and insights of past centuries that led to our present theories.

      Physics Program Social and Lunch to Follow