F EATURE STORY | Teaching by Example | SPR I NG 202 2 L EH I GH UN I VERS I TY COL L EGE OF ARTS & SC I ENCES
FEATURES CONTENTS 10 NO SMALL MATTER Xiaoji Xu develops new methods and instruments for chemical measurement and imaging at the nanoscale 13 BE PRESENT IN YOUR ENVIRONMENT Student research leads to a local ordinance encouraging bird habitat 14 TEACHING BY EXAMPLE Faculty scholarship makes transitions to the classroom, creating real-world explorations 20 DIVING DEEP Biologist Nicole Pittoors travels to great depths to measure the health of the ocean 22 PEELING BACK THE COLONIAL SHELLAC Olivia Landry’s third book asks what documentary film can do to unsettle colonialist conceptions of the colonized 24 A NEW FACE FOR A SOUTHSIDE ICON Student team helps Lehigh Pizza create a new look while honoring its history 27 BREATHING HOPE WITH TECHNOLOGY Students develop an app to improve health of residents in Kazakhstan 28 LAYING THE GROUNDWORK Environmental policy student works to help preserve the local environment while developing important restoration policies 30 DIVISION! Did the trend toward majority votes over consensus in England’s 17th-century Parliament sow seeds of potential discord in future democracies? BRI EFS FEATURES 02 Observations in Wood … Cellular Communication … Gloria Naylor Archives 04 The Power of Us … Concertos Nos. 1 and 5 … Dice and Gods 06 Quark Gluon Plasma … True Story … Transformative Spaces 08 The Muslim Speaks … Natural Systems … Ethically Challenged
COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES 1 Robert A Flowers II ’91G Herbert J. and Ann L. Siegel Dean SPRING 2022 MESSAGE FROM THE DEAN A COMMITMENT TO TEACHING AND RESEARCH It is a pleasure to share with you the 2022 issue of Acumen. Students returned to campus in the fall eager and ready to return to the classroom, and even though we faced changes to our methods of teaching, our faculty met that energy with a sustained commitment to providing the deep intellectual engagement and hands-on instruction for which we take great pride. This issue comes at an important time. The return to in-person learning, research, and creative work has reaffirmed the value of faculty scholarship and its impact on students as they build the skills needed to find both professional and personal success long after leaving South Mountain. I am truly inspired by my colleagues. I see the impact that their scholarship and creative activity brings to the classroom, studio, and stage, and there is daily evidence of the impact that research and creative work has on student learning. I frequently hear of student accomplishments, and the inf luence of faculty scholarship and mentoring is a critical component of student success. The stories in this issue are a small sample of the impact of faculty research on student learning, regardless of the setting. PhD student Nicole Pittoors works in the lab of biologist Santiago Herrera studying the health of the ocean. Master’s student Christina Thomas was guided by two CAS faculty as she assessed the ecological possibility of taking a vacant Lehigh wetland and using it for educational purposes. At the undergraduate level, creation of new knowledge and ideas in concert with faculty mentors is a central component of our educational mission. A collective of students is creating a new space and logo for Lehigh Pizza, while another group is addressing air pollution in Kazakhstan. English and political science major Natalie Mojica’s research into chimney swifts led to a Bethlehem ordinance encouraging bird habitat. Student research and creative work is made possible because of the unwavering commitment to teaching and research by faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences. Whether it’s a chemist inventing new analytical techniques or a historian examining the development of majority voting in England’s 17th-century Parliament, cutting-edge faculty scholarship is a key component of the classroom experience and shapes our curricula. As an alumnus, I can attest to the important role faculty scholarship plays in shaping graduate and undergraduate education. I hope you enjoy reading about our students and faculty as much as I have. It is reaffirmation of the central role the College plays within the university. Additionally, I encourage you to remain connected to the College. Since a critical part of our student placement success is due to our strong alumni network, I would love to hear about your achievements, and the role that faculty played in your success. As Lehigh alumni, you can help shape the future of our students. Your relationship with the College of Arts and Sciences can have an impact on our students through internships, mentoring, or gifts to support scholarships and I invite you to learn more about how alumni can play a role in the College’s departments and programs. ACUMEN MAGAZINE EDITOR Robert Nichols ’17G | CAS ADVISORY BOARD Robert A. Flowers II, dean; Kelly Austin-Noble, R. Michael Burger, Dawn Keetley, Susan Szczepanski, associate deans | GRAPHIC DESIGNER Kayley LeFaiver | CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Leslie Feldman, Wendy Greenberg, Steve Neumann, Robert Nichols ’17G, Chris Quirk, Bernadette Sukley, Dawn Thren ’21P, Amy White | PHOTOGRAPHERS Douglas Benedict, Christine Kreschollek, Christa Neu | ACUMEN is published annually by the College of Arts and Sciences at Lehigh University. Acumen can also be found online at acumen.cas.lehigh.edu | COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES Lehigh University, 9 West Packer Avenue Bethlehem, PA 18015 | cas.lehigh.edu ©2022 Lehigh University Cover illustration by John S. Dykes DOUGLAS BENEDICT READER FEEDBACK: Please send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org LIKE US: facebook.com/CAS_Lehigh TWEET US: @Lehigh_CAS
2 ACUMEN • SPRING 2022 projects, either overtly or subliminally. I wanted to find a way to take these sketches and use them to make my furniture more distinctive.” One of her latest creations is an eyeglass cabinet. A blind contour drawing of herself looking for her glasses is on the door. The cabinet opens with a carved ear handle, and inside are 24 drawings of pairs of eyes gazing through eyeglasses stored in the case. The inspiration came from a recent illustration course Forsyth took through the School of Visual Arts. She began thinking about how her illustrations could transfer to her work as a sculptural furnituremaker. Her work is often on display at various venues, including one piece currently on exhibit at The Center for Art in Wood in Philadelphia, a mallet that explores the idea of croquet. The exhibition interprets the game, its history and impact on pop culture, as well as formal aspects of the croqueterie. Forsyth’s concept is her exploration of the notion of cheating. “I had these really good friends, and they were really nice to each other, but the moment they broke out a croquet mallet, they turned into deadly competitors,” she explains. “The piece is about ways you win—two sets of rules that contradict one another, a horn to honk and scare your opponent and glasses to distract the other person.” Since she produces so many sketches, Forsyth makes her own custom books. Her commitment to using sketchbooks has found its way into her classroom studios, as students go into the community and learn how to sketch quickly. “The students have to sit and absorb what’s around them,” she says. “What they observe is going on the page. Sketching is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. I don’t see it changing.” DESIGN OBSERVATIONS IN WOOD Amy Forsyth is always busy, constantly working on a new project— and chances are pretty good she will have a sketchbook with her. Forsyth, associate professor of design in the department of art, architecture and design, is searching for ways to connect her sketches with her furniture. Her latest project transitions ideas drawn on paper to designing and building furniture. “I keep a sketchbook with me wherever I go and make drawings and notes of the things I see that I want to remember or observe more closely at that moment,” she says. “Sketching is an important exercise in careful observation. Many of these sketches go on to inspire larger BIOLOGY CELLULAR COMMUNICATION Gap junctions are specialized membrane structures consisting of intercellular channels that connect adjacent cells in many tissues and organs. These structures provide chemical and electrical communication. They are assembled from connexin proteins. One protein, connexin 43 (Cx43), is universally expressed and frequently studied, and its role in cardiovascular development and function is one focus of cellular biologist Matthias Falk. Falk, professor of biological sciences, and his team have long studied cells in culture and are now collaborating with Kathy Iovine, professor of biological sciences, who studies development using the zebrafish model. Zebrafish also have Cx43 and the protein functions similarly to humans. The parallel is that connexin mutations in these fish also cause a variety of human diseases. “We found these developmental defects in zebrafish—mainly, in every organ where Cx43 is expressed in a large amount, and there’s quite a number of organs that show defects,” Falk says. “The most prominent that was quite easily detectable was heart and vasculature.” Connexins have an unusually short half-life of only one to five hours, resulting in constant endocytosis and biosynthetic replacement of gap junctions, which still puzzles researchers. The Cx43 carboxy-terminal domain serves as the regulatory hub of the protein affecting all aspects of gap junction function. The cell modifies this domain on specific amino acids, either by phosphorylation, by adding COURTESY OF AMY FORSYTH, ISTOCKPHOTO.COM Zebrafish “Four!” by Amy Forsyth THE HUMANITIES BRIEFS
COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES 3 ubiquitin moieties or by binding and releasing scaffolding proteins to close the channels and allow them to interact with the endocytic machinery. Cells use the endocytic adaptor protein AP-2 in conjunction with clathrin and other mechanisms to create pathways to internalize gap junctions. Falk and his colleagues, including former Ph.D. student Caitlin Hyland ’21, study how the loss of a specific C-terminal region known to regulate gap junction turnover, affects gap junction function. They found that the C-terminal deletion causes defective gap junction endocytosis, resulting in increased gap junction intercellular communication. Increased Cx43 protein content in zebrafish, specifically in the cardiac tissue, larger gap junction plaques and longer Cx43 protein half-life, coincides with severely impaired development. In the lab, Cx43 zebrafish show severe defects of the cardiovascular system, including malformed, elongated hearts, decreased heart rate, malformed, unorganized vasculature and impaired blood flow, indicating that undisturbed gap junction endocytosis is crucial for normal organ development. The team has demonstrated for the first time that Cx43 gap junction endocytosis is an essential aspect of gap junction function and, when impaired, gives rise to significant pathologies, including cardiovascular defects. ENGLISH GLORIA NAYLOR ARCHIVES Gloria Naylor was one of America’s most highly acclaimed contemporary authors whose work addressed social issues including poverty, racism, sexism and homophobia. She left an extensive archive of her personal papers to Sacred Heart University, and a team of Lehigh researchers are leading a collaborative effort to make her collected papers more available to scholars and the general public. Funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gloria Naylor Archive is making the papers associated with her life and works widely accessible. It is both a physical space, where visitors can view Naylor’s papers in person, and an online resource with select archival materials. The initial part of the project assessed 47 linear feet of material. “These papers really document a writer at work,” says project co-director Suzanne Edwards, associate professor of English. “Naylor kept extensive correspondence with contemporary writers, scholars and activists, drafts of her novels and nonfiction essays, research materials, information about her film production company and unpublished works.” “The archives are a treasure trove of literary history, especially Black women’s literary history in the late 20th century and into the 21st century,” adds co-director Mary Foltz, associate professor of English. “Sacred Heart University had done a fantastic job preserving the material and yet could really use collaborative support to make the archive accessible through digitization, through the creation of a finding aid, which Suzanne developed in the first year. “In addition, our team has worked on digitization of key materials related to her first four novels and creating a webpage to highlight these materials. In this way, we hope to attract greater scholarly research in the archives and support public access to Naylor’s papers,” Foltz says. To date, approximately onethird of the documents have been digitized. The NEH support allows the team to expand its efforts, focusing on academic and public-facing writing. Archives of Black women writers have historically been less accessible and sequestered for a variety of reasons, Edwards notes. “Long term, we hope that the project offers a collaborative, multi-institution model for accessoriented work with other Black women writers’ papers,” she says. With the NEH funding, Edwards and Foltz will work with Professor Maxine Lavon Montgomery of Florida State University to produce an edited volume of essays engaged with the archive. “To my knowledge, this is the first time that a group of scholars will be deeply engaging with the archives in an edited collection,” Foltz says. TRACY DEER-MIREK / SACRED HEART UNIVERSITY Gloria Naylor
4 ACUMEN • SPRING 2022 PSYCHOLOGY THE POWER OF US Researchers Dominic Packer, professor of psychology, and Jay Van Bavel, associate professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, are interested in social groups, identity, how they impact us and how they transform society. They explore the topic in a new book, The Power of Us: Harnessing Our Shared Identities to Improve Performance, Increase Cooperation, and Promote Social Harmony. The book explores how the dynamics of those shared, social identities can divide a world into “us” and “them,” produce conflict and cost lives—as well as foster cooperation, boost organizational performance and promote social harmony. It examines the power within that feeling of “us.” It’s the power of exploring the role of identity in knowing not only who you are, but understanding how that identity is shaped and transformed by the social groups in your world— and how you influence the identities of those around you. With chapters on individual and shared identities, biases, echo chambers, dissent and leadership, the researchers explore: “What causes people to develop a social identity? What happens to people when they define themselves in terms of group memberships?” Whether based on religious affiliation, sports team fandom or political ideology, people often approach identities as if they’re immutable and believe biases favoring their own group over others are inevitable. But that isn’t true, Packer says. What is hardwired as humans is our readiness to affiliate with groups and to join up with others, he says. Affiliations can be long standing and formative or arise with the slightest prompting. The idea that “we are in this together” or “we are joining for a common cause or in a shared interest” creates a common identity. Identity dynamics can also be used to address issues of bias. All biases THE HUMANITIES DANIEL HERTZBERG / THEISPOT.COM, COURTESY OF EUGENE ALBULESCU and disparities can’t be overcome through group dynamics, however, as many forms of inequity and discrimination exist on institutional and structural, not personal, levels. But the disparate voices within a group, in the form of dissent and new ideas, can mobilize an institution toward greater equity and representation. Social identities will likely play a role in addressing the most significant issues humankind faces, from COVID-19 and future pandemics to economic equality, democracy and climate change, the authors conclude. “Social identities provide lenses through which we perceive events and how they influence some of our most important beliefs,” Packer and Van Bavel say. “But, they can also misdirect our attention and bias our judgments.” Identities play a vital role in the most personal and pressing concerns of our lifetimes. For that reason, the authors say, knowing how identities work is empowering— they both do and don’t define us, and taking charge of them can change us and our groups for the better. MUSIC CONCERTOS NOS. 1 AND 5 Performing any Beethoven concerto is challenging for any seasoned artist, but pianist Eugene Albulescu has raised the bar with his latest release, a recording of the classical maestro’s BRIEFS Eugene Albulescu conducts from the keyboard during rehearsal.
COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES 5 PICTURES FROM HISTORY / GETTY IMAGES Concertos Nos. 1 and 5, Emperor, in which he is both soloist and conductor. Recorded in Zoellner Arts Center’s Baker Hall, the performance is a celebration of the composer’s 250th birthday. The dual role of performing while conducting at the keyboard was common during the classical period but largely disappeared in the 19th century with the growth of dedicated conductors and large symphonic orchestras. Concerto No. 1 was Beethoven’s first concerto, while Emperor represents the declining days of composers conducting from the keyboard. On this recording, Albulescu reprises the soloist/conductor role and leads the ensemble from the piano. The premise of the recording was to see and hear how the interpretation of these works might differ from what might be done otherwise, when subjected to the treatment of conducting from the keyboard, and what can be gleaned specifically in terms of interpretation from that experience, he says. “These two pieces bookend [Beethoven’s] career,” says Albulescu, associate professor of music. “You can trace between these two how [he] changed and how some of the ideas about conducting from the keyboard changed, which is part of my research. My background as a pianist and conductor enabled me to have experience with both of these works in these specific roles. “I have played these works since I was a teenage soloist, and these works have become some of my ‘old friends.’ I have subsequently performed them frequently as soloist while conducting from the keyboard, as is the case in this recording.” Albulescu brought together a collection of friends to make this soundtrack. The orchestra was compiled from an established association he maintains with the orchestra of the Ballet Guild of Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, which annually produces The Nutcracker. Albulescu has conducted that production and drew on members of the ensemble, together with faculty colleagues in Lehigh’s music department and professional artists who are members of such organizations as the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, MET Orchestra and New York City Ballet. “Through our time playing together, we have come to know each other quite well musically and are good friends. The pandemic was really bad for the arts. Working on this project with friends was one good thing to come out of it,” he says. MODERN LANGUAGES DICE AND GODS What do dice and gods have in common? In her latest project, Constance Cook is part of a collaborative effort to track dice divination across the Silk Road through a detailed study of the culture, poetics and ritual processes of dice divination in Chinese, Tibetan, Indian and Turkic contexts. The work traces the evolving identities of gods, dice, divination books and divination over time and space. In her book, Playing Dice with the Gods, Cook, along with colleagues at Georgetown University and New York University-Shanghai, delves into a 10th-century codex from the Dunhuang cave complex in Gansu, China, containing divination and medical texts, including one called the Divination of Mahe´svara. This text is in medieval Chinese but draws on a combined tradition of Inner Asian influences. Under the authority of a version of Indian god Siva, diviners cast four-sided oblong pa- ´saka dice to derive a numerical trigram, which, in turn, invoked a god and a fortune. The pantheon of gods was a local, perhaps Dunhuang-specific, collection of Indian and Chinese gods and spirits. Such methods place the text in a long tradition of Chinese numerical trigram divination on the one hand and within Indian dice divination traditions on the other. “It’s very complex and interwoven,” says Cook, professor of Chinese in the department of modern languages and literatures. “I had to decode all these different gods that each of these dice combinations would refer to. One level of interpretation involves figuring out where these different deities came from and how they interacted with the dice and the people who read the text. Then, there was the need to understand the cultural context of reading the manuscript itself and the history of overlapping divination, religious and cultural traditions of the medieval Dunhuang community. And so, it was a multilayered project and very fascinating.” Ultimately, the team hopes the work adds to a deeper understanding of how ancient cultures interacted and influenced each other.
6 ACUMEN • SPRING 2022 and the physics of the early universe. “In order to measure the suppression of these different states, you have to be able to measure them really well,” Knospe says. “And, that requires a very high-resolution detector.” SOCIOLOGY TRUE STORY Love it or hate it, reality television is a staple of many people’s viewing habits. Sociologist Danielle Lindemann has dissected this genre and argues that, while many people deride it, it can tell us much about our attitudes toward race, gender, class and sexuality. In her latest book, True Story: What Reality TV Says About Us, Lindemann analyzed the content found in reality programming. Many of the shows expose the major elements of power that shape our lives and the extent to which our own realities are socially constructed, she says. “I’ve always been kind of an avid viewer of reality TV,” says Lindemann, associate professor of sociology in the department of sociology and anthropology. “I think that dovetails with my interest in sociology because even before I knew what sociology was, I had a sense that reality TV could teach us about the groups in which we live, about social inequalities and about various dynamics in our social lives.” This genre of television presents viewers with distorted realities, and Lindemann’s work reveals the state of society and how strongly viewers see what is “real.” While reality television is the subject, the book underscores how sociology can help us understand these social worlds that we believe we already understand because we’re a part of them—but we really do not understand them at all. By examining these shows, we can better understand social paradigms like gender, race, class and broad social constructs including families, schools and prisons, she says. These shows demonstrate that probe quark gluon plasma that is produced in these ion collisions. Quarks have a type of charge called color charge, which is only seen by the strong nuclear interaction, the force that holds the nucleus together. If you just have two quarks sitting out in space somewhere, they can see each other’s color charge, be attracted and form a bound state, he says. But if they’re actually sitting in a quark gluon plasma medium, that medium has color charge and will effectively screen the charge of the quark from the antiquark. They won’t be able to see each other through all this other charged medium between them. “They’re going to be less likely to form a bound state. If we measure how many times we see these bound states in these heavy ion collisions, and compare that to how often we see them in collisions where we don’t expect quark gluon plasma, we can quantify how much the formation of these states was suppressed by the presence of the quark gluon plasma,” Knospe says. Bound states with different energies also have different radii, so it’s expected that loosely bound states will be screened more than tightly bound states. The strength of the screening effect also depends on the plasma’s temperature. So, by measuring the relative suppression of different types of quarkonium, it’s possible to characterize the temperature of the quark gluon plasma. Essentially, these heavy quark bound states can be used as a thermometer. The project’s goal is to learn more about the properties of this plasma, which will improve our understanding of the force that holds nuclei together PHYSICS QUARK GLUON PLASMA Relativistic heavy ion collisions ram ions traveling at speeds comparable to the speed of light, by which physicists can study the primal form of matter that occurred in the universe shortly after the Big Bang. These impacts and the properties of the matter produced in them are the focus of research by experimental physicist Anders Knospe. Knospe, assistant professor of physics, uses short-lived particles to explore quark gluon plasma, a fluid of subatomic particles produced in these heavy ion collisions. Supported by the National Science Foundation, he and his colleague at Lehigh, Professor Rosi Reed, are building a detector component to be installed at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. Knospe’s work focuses on heavy quarkonia and bound states of heavy quarks—specifically, charm or bottom quarks. He uses them to BRIEFS BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY / SCIENCE SOURCE A detector at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.
COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES 7 aberration exists in an assortment of programs and material that viewers find acceptable is malleable depending on the social situations. “By looking at people at the extremes, we can learn more about the center of social life,” she says. “To bring it to reality TV, you might think, ‘Oh, these are just like kind of wacky people.’ And obviously, these shows are curated, they’re cast, they’re manipulated. But, by looking at these people who behave in these extreme ways, we can really see these fundamental aspects of our society amplified— like our racism, our classism, our sexism, our heteronormativity. “It’s definitely not a pure mirror of social life by any means. These shows are clearly put together by producers, very specific people are cast for the shows, but at the same time, nothing is a pure mirror of our social life,” Lindemann says. “Reality TV, though distorted, can show us more about ourselves because it is ourselves, but kind of dialed up to 11.” THEATRE TRANSFORMATIVE SPACES Creating any new work for the stage is a collaborative effort involving the playwright, the director, designers and actors. Writer and director Lyam Gabel draws on this process and adds interviews with queer people who lived through the 1980s and 1990s and long-term survivors of HIV to produce their latest production, a picture of queer care from the early years of the AIDS crisis through COVID-19. Gabel, assistant professor of theatre, will tour the dance floor, the hospital room, and the kitchen table, in which a queer family navigates these environments and their relationships to each other. In the production, based on an archive of 50 oral histories, the characters interact with each other and learn from a chorus of voices during critical moments in the queer liberation movement to examine what unites and divides members of the LGBTQIA+ community and suggests an ideal landscape of the spaces between them. The play takes place in spaces where queer care happens, where the community organizes itself, they note. Those spaces are vital to ways the queer community has organized itself over time—fundraising spaces, organizing spaces and places of both treatment and transformation. “The past is impacting the present,” Gabel says. “The people who lived through that past have a lot to learn from the present. The present can vibrate backward as well and help us understand the past in different ways. There were gender-variant folks, there were trans folks, there were people we now call nonbinary living through this crisis. They were integral parts of the community. As we look back, we can understand it in a different way.” Through this production, Gabel also wants to entice people to dive deeper into the archive. “We want to give people access to that material,” they say. “We want to get people involved in the production and make it immersive. We’re creating an app that uses augmented reality during the performance. The app connects people to the archive and can be a way for people to explore the interviews in browserbased virtual reality as well.” Though Gabel did the initial research and wrote the initial script, artists brought on to the production have helped reshape the text. The production process was a truly shared effort, they add. Many performers are still part of the cast. “People get really invested, really involved in the work,” Gabel says. “This type of history work is really transformative for people personally, to be able to hear and understand yourself in a lineage as a queer person.” LISA O’CONNOR / GETTY IMAGES, LOUIS STEIN Danielle Lindemann examines reality television in her latest book. Gil Rodriguez, Simmone Joy Jones, and Miller Krapps in the dancefloor, the hospital room, and the kitchen table at Carnegie Mellon University.
8 ACUMEN • SPRING 2022 “When we do that, we have to begin from a place of radical empathy. And trying to understand complicated things, rather than seeking sort of simple answers. If you actually engage with Muslims as fellow human beings, then you have to engage with them in their full complexity. And that’s hard. It’s hard to do.” MATHEMATICS NATURAL SYSTEMS Many natural systems, such as ecosystems, are examples of complex systems comprised of a large number of connections with interactions among them. The study of such stochastic models, where uncertainty and randomness are present, and their applications are at the heart of research by mathematician Si Tang. Supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Tang’s current research focuses on three stochastic models that arise from natural systems with complex behavior, such as phase transition, selforganization and chaos. The first model is called first-passage percolation (FPP), which describes how “particles” spread in a random environment. FPP is often used to model fluid flow in porous media or the growth of tumor or bacteria cells. The second model, called the spin glasses, describes some unusual magnetic behavior of alloys such as aging. The last model uses a set of ordinary differential the West’s own peculiar historical experience as a normative ideal for evaluating all variations of religion. Culture talk sees Islam in relation to the West’s perception of modernity, concerned with identifying Islam as a culture that is then judged against an ever-changing notion of contemporary, therefore making it difficult to pin down as a theoretical ideal. Through close examination of these inhibitions, Hussain suggests that ‘depoliticization’ of Islam accurately describes the problems associated with the lived experience of Muslims in the West and elsewhere. Modernity is an amorphous concept that means many things to many people, he notes. But as with Muslims and the West, there are distinguishing aspects that separate the modern world from its predecessors. Close examination reveals that the drivers of cultural change in the modern age are actually quite common across the world. “When we share the world, we have to have a kind of a perspective that matches the enormity of the world, but also how small it has become,” says Hussain, who is also director of Lehigh’s Humanities Center. RELIGION STUDIES THE MUSLIM SPEAKS There are nearly 2 billion Muslims in the world, and they hold a variety of national, ethnic, class and political views. The countless Muslim experiences of the modern world collectively constitute a set of descriptions, expectations and evaluations of the world that are distinctively Muslim, says Khurram Hussain, and his book The Muslim Speaks reimagines Islam as an approach for investigating this modern state of affairs. Rather than viewing Islam as an issue external to an isolated West, Hussain posits that it is central to the development of the West. Hussain, assistant professor of religion studies, argues there are three broad areas that inhibit the availability of Islam as a feasible, critical participant in Western debates about moral, intellectual and political concerns, topics he labels freedom talk, reason talk and culture talk. Freedom talk identifies Islam as a way of doing politics that is judged as either parallel or contradictory with the West. Reason talk identifies Islam as a religion that is then judged against YELENA AFONINA / GETTY IMAGES, CHRISTINE KRESCHOLLEK BRIEFS Women walking together in Grozny, Russia. Si Tang
COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES 9 equations to describe the dynamics of large complex ecological networks, and the goal there is to understand the relationship between complexity and stability in large ecosystems. “With first-passage percolation, think of water drops on a stone. The water molecules pass through the pores inside the stone at a certain speed, which can be modeled mathematically by some random variables. Eventually, the shape of the wet area will displace some pattern,” says Tang, assistant professor of mathematics. “And in the other project, consider atoms in an alloy, and they each interact with other atoms that are nearby. “Generally speaking, my research focuses on how simple rules between those particles at the microscopic scale may give you dramatically different behavior, when a parameter changes only a little bit. In statistical physics, this is called phase transition,” Tang says. “For example, in the spin glass model that I am studying, temperature is a critical parameter. In this model, when temperature is low, the atoms will prefer to stay in one or a few low-energy states and the metal will display some magnetic feature. When temperature is higher, the atoms will lose such preference and may rearrange themselves arbitrarily. And eventually, the metal is no longer magnetic.” The results obtained from these projects are not only important in probability theory, but also have wide applications in other branches of sciences, such as biology, statistical physics and data sciences. POLITICAL SCIENCE ETHICALLY CHALLENGED Private equity (PE) firms have one overarching goal: provide themselves and their investors with outsized profits, usually within four to six years of buying a company, then sell. PE has pervaded all aspects of our lives, from what we eat and drink and how we communicate to the retail outlets where we purchase food, toys, clothing and office supplies. Political scientist Laura Katz Olson, distinguished professor of political science, explores this highly secretive industry and their infiltration into the American health care system. In her latest book, Ethically Challenged: Private Equity Storms US Health Care, Olson examines the industry’s history, strategies and recent penetration into health services. She probes several areas, including specialized physician practices; dentistry; home health care and hospice; substance abuse and eating disorders; autism spectrum disorders; and emergency medical transportation. She says PE firms are acquiring relatively small businesses in these sectors and consolidating them, which has led to monopoly control, higher medical costs and lower quality of care. “Private equity firms are mostly interested in highly functioning companies,” she says. “Only a few specialize in failing places. They want ones that have good revenue flow because the magic sauce for massive earnings, if I can put it that way, is leveraged buyouts. They rely on piling huge debts on their investment targets, generally 70 percent or more of the purchase price. The PE firm only puts in roughly 2 percent of the actual equity. Their limited partners, which are usually public pension funds, put in the rest.” And, even better for the PE executives, Olson says, the monetary obligations are placed on the investee establishments, which are then solely liable for repaying them. As targets pay off what is owed, the equity value for PE firms climbs. PE managers often bleed the operations of the places they own to optimize the cash flow. In consequence, the cash-strapped businesses may have insufficient funds for their labor force, equipment modernization, technical innovations, R&D and other essential needs. “They’re taking over eating disorder enterprises, hospital emergency rooms, autism treatment facilities, dialysis centers,” she says. “If you are addicted to opioids, don’t be surprised if private equity is your treatment center or if it owns the ambulance or helicopter picking you up at a crash site.” PE investment in health care has significant implications for the type and quality of medical services we receive, the nature of our health care delivery system and for competition and prices in health care markets. Olson’s book is the first one to comprehensively address the issue. MICHAEL AUSTIN / THEISPOT.COM
10 ACUMEN • SPRING 2022 Big discoveries often take place at levels too small to see with a regular microscope that has a limit on spatial resolution. Chemist Xiaoji Xu and his team invent new spectroscopic microscopy at levels better than the optical diffraction limit to study macromolecules, two-dimensional materials, and nanostructures in order to interpret their chemical, electrical, and mechanical properties, looking for advances at the nanoscale. The Xu lab develops new methods and instruments for chemical measurement and imaging with better than 10 nanometer spatial resolution. They employ two infrared nanoscale imaging methods invented by Xu—peak force infrared (PFIR) microscopy and peak force scatteringtype near-field optical microscopy (PF-SNOM). These techniques allow researchers to study previously unreachable nanoscale objects with multimodal spectroscopic information close to the lower limit of spatial scale. His group also recently invented the pulsed force Kelvin probe No Small Matter ROBERT N I CHOLS Xiaoji Xu develops new methods and instruments for chemical measurement and imaging at the nanoscale PHOTOS BY DOUGLAS BENEDICT
COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES 11 Xiaoji Xu (center) and his team employ spectroscopic microscopy at levels better than the optical diffraction limit. probing the optical near-field in three dimensions at the scale of tens of nanometers. Xu’s PF-KPFM is a robust technique based on the pulsed force method of atomic force microscopy that allows him to routinely map the electrical properties of surface potentials at less than 10 nanometers solution in the lab on a range of samples. “In addition to measuring chemical property or mechanical property of the sample, we can measure the electrical property of the sample. We have achieved very high spatial resolutions, much better than existing technologies. Before our work, others achieved similar resolutions, but not as high, about 50 nanometers to 100 nanometers. In our case, we push it to about 10 nanometers.” Using these practices, Xu’s lab demonstrated not long ago the chemical and mechanical mapping of small indoor aerosol particles. “Because COVID-19 passes through aerosols, we wanted to measure the small particles that may be involved in this transmission [of the virus]. So recently, we focused our research on demonstrating the chemical and mechanical mapping of indoor aerosol particles of less than force microscopy, (PF-KPFM), a new form of imaging tool that tolerates ~ 10 nm spatial resolution for measurement of surface potential under ambient conditions. Researchers are often limited when using optical microscopy, because regular optical microscopies are restricted by the optical diffraction limit. As objects of interest decrease in size, the smallest resolvable distance between two tiny spots using a conventional microscope may never be smaller than half the light wavelength. Nanomaterials often have features smaller than the diffraction limit. To put this nanoscale into perspective, a human hair is approximately 100 micrometers wide, and one nanometer is one thousandth of a micrometer. To overcome this limitation, Xu has developed super-resolution infrared microscopies through the combination of atomic force microscopy with infrared laser radiations. The PFIR microscopy measures the photothermal expansion of materials as needle-like probes interact with a sample. “This needle scans on this surface and follows the sample shape,” says Xu, associate professor of chemistry. “In the meantime, I have a laser shine into this tip and sample. This laser is infrared light, which will excite the sample according to its resonance according to its molecular structures. Then, the sample with absorbed light undergoes photothermal expansion, generating a force that is felt by the sharp tip. By measuring the motion of the sharp tip, I can perform chemical analysis with a high spatial resolution determined by the sharpness of the tip.” Connected to this work, Xu and his team also improved the designs and technologies surrounding scattering-type scanning nearfield optical microscopy. With Xu’s PF-SNOM technique, scattered light from the sample is detected by the metallic tip based on the sample’s optical properties. PF-SNOM permits “B efore our work, others achieved similar resolutions, but not as high, about 50 nanometers to 100 nanometers. In our case, we push it to about 10 nanometers.”
12 ACUMEN • SPRING 2022 one micron. We can measure it because we have a high spatial resolution with chemical sensitivity with the peak force infrared microscopy.” Xu says his investigations provide the tools other researchers need to facilitate their work. “I think of my work as a service to my chemistry colleagues so they can measure molecules and materials that they create, or study biological cells that are interesting to their research. My task is to provide the tools to facilitate their research, and the way that I prefer to do this is to develop instruments. I usually use components to build a new instrument with a new idea of chemical measurement and demonstrate its applicability that is suitable to polymers, biological cells, or functional materials.” His research has led him to develop a new means for teaching chemistry courses. He says he began looking at a physical chemistry laboratory course he was teaching and realized that its curriculum’s content was outdated, largely due to the lack of access to advanced modern instruments. Xu developed a virtual reality streaming tool, a 360-degree camera mounted on a camera vest with a motion stabilizer, to real-time broadcast lab demonstrations. He and his teaching assistants can stream a live experiment with instrument operations, and students can access it remotely through a web browser or goggle. “My students can sit in the classroom and watch the stream and they can interact with the team. For example, they want to see something extra, like watching a part longer or in better details. They can tell the TA, and the TA can move the VR camera to the location of interest and explain it. Once COVID hit, this tool became very useful. The course is a lab course, but the students don’t have to be in the classroom. They can stay in their dorm room or at home. They can access the lab and be somewhat participating in this experimental demonstration.” Xu’s research and teaching have been recognized with many prestigious awards. In 2021, he was named a Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. In 2020, he was named a Sloan Research Fellow. This prestigious award, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, places Xu among “the most promising scientific researchers working today.” In 2019, he received the CAREER award from the National Science Foundation. In 2018, Xu was named a Beckman Young Investigator, earning a prestigious grant awarded by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. ● “M y task is to provide the tools to facilitate their research, and the way that I prefer to do this is to develop instruments.”
COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES 13 Be Present in Your Environment BERNADETTE SUKL EY Student research leads to a local ordinance encouraging bird habitat connections at Lehigh,” Mojica says. “The major takeaway from my research and work on the ordinance is that we, as humans, need to be more present in our environment—Lehigh University. “We’re so busy focusing on classes, on surviving. We forget about other people and the birds that are here in our space,” she says. “As students, we take up housing, and that affects the people living here. If we use the resources and are cognizant of our surroundings, we become involved in the environment—and that makes it a better community.” ● make good homes also, but since the 1970s, the population of chimney swifts has dropped by 72 percent. “In our area, people are part of the reason for declining numbers. People do things like cap chimneys or destroy nests,” Mojica says. “Swifts actually need tall buildings. After habitat destruction, they’ve adapted to our ways, our structures.” Chimneys fit the bill for the swifts’ natural home. Mojica is advocating for chimney towers, styled like kiosks, typically 12 feet tall and designed for nesting and small numbers of roosting birds. These freestanding towers satisfy the birds’ natural nesting habits and can keep them out of household chimneys. Mojica, together with undergraduate student Fabian Chavez, who is an earth and environmental science major, conducted research to examine the migratory pattern of the birds and help develop a Bethlehem city ordinance that would encourage the building of chimney towers locally. She points out that there is an environmental gain achieved by protecting chimney swift habitat. “Swifts eat invasive bugs— invasive bugs that eat native bugs. There is a natural pest-control balance. Now, nothing will be eating [invasive bugs], and that ecosystem collapses,” she says. Mojica’s research was guided by Breena Holland, associate professor of political science, and Karen Beck Pooley, professor of practice in political science and director of the environmental policy program. “I absolutely couldn’t have done this without the As a third-year English and political science major, Natalie Mojica didn’t envision getting involved with birds. “Although I’m planning an internship with a focus in law, I’m now trying to decide between environmental law and civil rights law,” she says. Mojica became smitten by chimney swifts, which are under duress by urban development. “They’re just so cute,” she says. About five inches long, the birds have smudge-gray coloring, bright, dark eyes and a happy chirping call. It’s easy to see why Mojica thinks they’re cute. “Chimney swifts are around us all the time,” she says. “In general, they are quiet birds.” Comparatively speaking, swifts are inconspicuous. “Not like pigeons,” Mojica says. “I’m from New York, and pigeons are a nuisance.” Swifts are migratory birds, commonly found across the eastern United States. They overwinter in the Amazon basin, then make their way north in late spring. They are accustomed to roosting and nesting in tall tree limbs, snags and caves. Chimneys Chimney swifts have made Bethlehem home. In February 2021, Bethlehem’s council named the chimney swift the official city bird. ANTHONY MERCIECA / SCIENCE SOURCE, ISTOCKPHOTO.COM
14 ACUMEN • SPRING 2022 FALL 2018
Teaching by Example Studying an ancient tooth found in Spain to identify a path and timeline of human migration, examining the impact of state censorship in China, exploring the social movements behind protest and tracking eye movement to understand how people perceive art and space are examples of research forged by faculty members of Lehigh’s College of Arts and Sciences. These experts in the core disciplines of math and the natural sciences, the humanities, the social sciences and the arts are leading undergraduate and graduate students into new territories, inviting them to join investigations that cross disciplines, and are fostering lifelong intellectual practice. “The foundational structure of Lehigh’s liberal arts education is built around the values and scholarly and specialized expertise of the faculty that comprise the institution,” says Robert A. Flowers II ’91G, Herbert J. and Ann L. Siegel Dean, Danser Distinguished Faculty Chair of the department of chemistry, and principal investigator of the Flowers Research Group. “Whether it is in the lab, in the field or on the stage, our faculty are pioneers in discovery and creativity, and students are included in their intellectual and professional explorations along the way.” Providing an intimate setting where relationships are built one on one with faculty, the college also offers the resources of a major research university. Faculty and student funding for inquiry, travel, materials, conference fees and more is supported by institutional grants such as the Dale S. Strohl ’58 Awards for Research Excellence and the Creative Inquiry Faculty Fellowship. Highly prestigious, competitively awarded grants are also won from organizations including the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Fulbright Program. Regardless of the discipline, illustrations can be found in every department of CAS faculty making an impact through examination and professional collaboration and by bringing discussions back to where they matter most—the students. Groundbreaking Discoveries in the Babcock Lab Science has shown that almost every neurodegenerative disease, such as Parkinson’s or Lou Gehrig’s, stems from the death of neurons. Once the disease has been diagnosed, it is often too late to reverse because neuron loss is underway and considered permanent. To better understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative diseases, the Babcock Lab team, comprised of undergraduate and graduate students and a postdoctoral fellow, is making discoveries in the neuromuscular junction where a motor neuron is connecting to a muscle. “What we’re trying to do is to understand what are the very first problems that happen in those diseases before the cells even start to die,” says Daniel Babcock, assistant professor of biological sciences and principal investigator. “If we can fix those earliest problems instead of trying to fix the diseases that come later, could we just prevent them from happening in the first place?” By studying the fruit f ly, the team is examining synapse dysfunction where neurons make a connection with another cell and dopaminergic neuron loss when exposed to Parkinson’s Disease. Neuroscience Ph.D. candidate Jacinta Davis has identified neurons in the brain of the Drosophila melanogaster fruit f ly that either consistently die or thrive in models of Parkinson’s. By using RNA sequencing, the team can compare genes transcribed within individual neurons that are either vulnerable or resistant to the disease. Behavioral sciences Ph.D. candidate Jessica Sidisky published her research with a new fruit f ly, which she bred, that loses its ability to f ly as it ages because of a mutated gene. Named Drosophila mayday by Sidisky, she is studying the motor neurons in their healthy state through decline. She demonstrated that bone morphogenetic protein signaling pathways between the motor neuron and the muscle don’t suddenly become dispensable. To keep those synaptic structures healthy, DAWN THREN ’ 2 1 P Faculty scholarship makes transitions to the classroom, creating real-world explorations ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN S. DYKES COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES 15www.lehigh.edu