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CS Wednesday Talks Fall 2012

October 17, 2012
David Mednicoff, Ph.D., director of Accelerated Programs for the Center for Public Policy and Administration; director of Middle Eastern Studies in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

October 11, 2012
The Future of Animal Communication: Do climate change and urbanization affect animal signaling behavior?
Sarah Partan, associate professor of of animal behavior, School of Cognitive Science

Biographical: Sarah received her Ph.D. in animal behavior from the University of California, Davis, and her B.A. in biopsychology from Wesleyan University. Her research interests are in the areas of animal social behavior and communication. She is particularly interested in multisensory signaling: how and why animals (including humans) combine signals from multiple sensory channels during communication. She has studied these and related questions in observational studies of wild African elephants; rhesus macaques; squirrels and lizards; and in controlled laboratory studies of birds and dolphins. Sarah is currently creating mechanized animals that simulate animal displays to use in field playback experiments that combine the rigor of laboratory experiments with the natural setting of the field environment.

October 3, 2012
Students present "Lightning Talks!" about their research funded by grants from the Ray and Lorna Coppinger Endowment.

Sara Berk:  Latitudinal variation in feather corticosterone levels and parental effort in four species of Tachycineta swallows
Abstract: Methanol extraction of corticosterone (stress hormone) from feathers is a new measure of stress physiology that provides insight into hormone levels during the period of feather growth. Previous research has shown that birds are less responsive to stress during molt, though it is unclear how this suppression of HPA activity varies with ecology. In collaboration with the Golondrinas project based out of Cornell University, I am extracting corticosterone from four different species of Tachycineta swallows from tropical and temperate latitudes. I will specifically focus on my work at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory in Alberta, Canada during summer 2012.
My work is supported by the Coppinger fund, the Justine Salton fund (from NS) and the Golondrinas project.

Jon Butler:  Sustainable Aquaponics
Abstract: Sometimes, solutions to human problems hide right in front of our noses, hidden in plain sight by the most prolific inventor known to man: nature herself. After being frustrated by plant burrs constantly sticking to his dog after walks, Swiss engineer George de Mestral came up with Velcro. Windmill turbine blades are now being designed with serrated edges that mimic the tubercles on humpback whale flippers; the new blades are quieter, and capture significantly more wind. Organisms have lived, died, coexisted, and cycled through our planet for millions of years, and nature has come up with some pretty incredible ways of keeping the ship running smoothly. By borrowing a few of these powerful innovations, there is potential to transform the industry we rely on most to survive: the industry of food production.

Emma Opitz: Cataloguing the grey squirrel vocalizations
Abstract: My research this summer was an attempt to catalogue and analyze all grey squirrel vocalizations. My findings suggest that previous work does not offer a complete understanding of the grey squirrel vocalization system and I suggest some new names and differentiations of calls.

September 29, 2012
From Death Threats to Islamophobia: Making Sense of Islamic Creationism in England
Salman Hameed, associate professor of integrated science and humanities

Abstract: The rise of Islamic creationism has been a serious concern in England, and Europe in general. There have been reports in the media of boycotts of university evolution lectures and, in one extreme case, even a threat of violence. How widespread is the rejection of evolution amongst Muslims and how do we make sense of these public spectacles of creationism in England? While religious/theological objections are indeed at play in some cases, it is likely that the broader narrative of Muslim rejection of evolution in UK may be bound up in reactions to the secular culture and in the formation of their own minority religious identity.

Biographical: Salman Hameed, associate professor of integrated science and humanities, holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from New Mexico State University at Las Cruces and a B.S. in physics and astronomy from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His primary research interest focuses on understanding the rise of creationism in the Islamic world and how Muslims view the relationship between science and religion. He is currently the lead investigator of a three-year NSF-funded study on this topic, and heads the Center for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies (SSiMS) at Hampshire College.  His other research interests include analyzing reconciliation efforts over sacred objects and places of astronomical importance and new-religious movements (NRM). His astronomy research is focused on understanding star formation processes in spiral galaxies. He teaches interdisciplinary courses on science and religion, including History and Philosophy of Science and Religion (with philosopher Dr. Laura Sizer); Science in the Islamic World, Evolution, Islam, and Modernity; Aliens: Close Encounters of a Multidisciplinary Kind; and co-organizes the Hampshire College Lecture Series on Science and Religion. Salman also runs IRTIQA, a science and religion blog with an emphasis on scientific debates taking place in the Muslim world.

September 12, 2012
Locating events in time and place: Developmental changes in episodic memory
Melissa Burch, assistant professor of cognitive developmen

Abstract: The ability to recall the time and place that events occurred is central to episodic memory. I will present two studies exploring age-related changes in children’s ability to remember these specific details of past events. To examine children’s memory for time, my collaborators and I asked 4-, 6-, and 8-year-old children to make judgments about the relative recency of two naturally occurring personal events and to estimate the time of the events according to conventional time scales, such as time of day and month. We found developmental differences in the ability to make judgments about relative recency of the events and to place the event on conventional time scales. To examine children’s ability to recall place information, we tested 4-, 6-, and 8-year-olds’ ability to recall the location of specific laboratory events. Older children were better able to recall the events and their locations after a one-week delay. This research provides insight into some of the component processes that support autobiographical memory.

Biographical: Melissa’s research interests center on memory development, particularly memory for personal experiences. She has been exploring how parental verbal support may contribute to children’s ability to recall the past. In addition, she is interested in how emotion may affect reports of past experiences and how parents and children talk about these events. She is currently examining autobiographical memory from a cross-cultural perspective to study how different socialization experiences may relate to the detail included in memory reports. She received her B.A. in psychology from Franklin and Marshall College and her Ph.D. in child development with a minor in interpersonal relationships from the University of Minnesota.

September 5, 2012
Welcome to the first day of classes! Come meet faculty in the School of  Cognitive Science, connect with old friends, and make new ones.


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