Whether for their research, scholarship, performance or art (and even sometimes all at once), Amherst faculty continue to be recognized every day by outside organizations. Some such endorsements can come in the form of awards, fellowships and scholarships, grants, others in the publications of book and academic papers, and still others in conference presentations. Here is a rolling roundup of recent faculty successes.
Jeeyon Jeong, associate professor of biology, has edited a new book titledPlant Iron Homeostasis: Methods and Protocols. Part of the highly cited “Methods in Molecular Biology” series, the volume contains 16 chapters submitted by 15 research groups from around the world, including one co-authored by Jeong herself and three students from her lab–Sara Omer ’23, Claire Macero ’25 and Kelly Zheng ’22. Jeong’s team’s chapter, titled “An Adapted Protocol for Quantitative Rhizosphere Acidification Assay,” reports the establishment of an assay to quantitatively measure small changes in the pH around the roots of plants and provide a better understanding of the mechanisms that regulate the micronutrient iron. Work in the Jeong Lab is currently funded by grants from two National Science Foundation initiatives: the Research at Undergraduate Institutions and Faculty Early Career Development (known as CAREER) programs.
Mathematics and Statistics
Nicholas Horton, Beitzel Professor in Technology and Society (Statistics and Data Science), has published a paper titled “Fostering better coding practices for data scientists” in the Harvard Data Science Review. Co-authored by colleagues at Calvin and Columbia universities, the article explores principled and reliable statistical coding practices and offers concrete advice to instructors seeking to improve the quality of the code their students produce.
A new book by Olufemi Vaughan, Alfred Sargent Lee ’41 and Mary Farley Ames Lee Professor of Black Studies, Letters, Kinship, and Social Mobility in Nigeria, has been published by the University of Wisconsin Press. The book explores a trove of more than 3,000 letters written by four generations of his family in Ibadan, Nigeria, between 1926 to 1994. The collection was given to Vaughan in 2003 by his nonagenarian father, Abiodun Vaughan, who had been a civil servant in the colonial administration and the patriarch of a prominent family in Ibadan with historical roots in West Africa and connections to the Americas. The men and women who wrote the letters had emerged from the religious, social and educational institutions established by the Church Missionary Society, the preeminent Anglican mission in the Atlantic Nigerian region following the imposition of British colonial rule. The author’s deep analysis of the letters enabled him to illuminate everyday life for this important segment of Nigerian society.
In a significant development in the field of quantum physics,David Hall ’91, Paula R. and David J. Avenius 1941 Professor of Physics, created in his campus lab an example of a long-theorized quantum vortex, called an “Alice ring,” which appeared in the decay of a monopole particle in an ultracold gas of atoms. An Alice ring has the remarkable property that particles passing through it flip their charges and become antiparticles, entering a mirror world that could be familiar to the eponymous Alice character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (hence the name). This groundbreaking research, which was conducted in collaboration with Amherst Research Associate Alina Blinova and their theory colleagues in Finland, was described in a paper titled “Observation of an Alice ring in a Bose-Einstein condensate” that was published by the journalNature Communications.
Art & the History of Art; Asian Languages and Civilizations
Audrey Cheng ’20; Katharine Sims, professor of economics; and Yuanyuan Yi, a research assistant professor at Peking University’s National School of Development in China, have co-authored an article that has been published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. Titled “Economic Development and Conservation Impacts of China’s Nature Reserves,” the paper studied thousands of Chinese nature reserves throughout four decades. It found that these nature reserves improved human development and maintained natural land cover as a result of conservation measures, but that formal employment rates declined. The authors conclude that these findings indicate both the promise of protected areas as a sustainable development strategy and the need for institutional mechanisms to ensure that local benefits and employment opportunities are broadly distributed. This project began as Cheng's senior economics thesis with Sims as her advisor; from then until last month, they have been working together with Yi to prepare it for publication.
Jiwon Chung ’23
Jiwon Chung ’23, former program manager in the College’s Center for Restorative Practices, was the lead author of a paper published in The Journal of Chemical Education. The article–which was co-authored by the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Sarah Bunnell and chemistry professor Jacob Olshansky–was also featured as a research highlight in the July 13, 2023, issue of the prestigious journal Science.
Leah Schmalzbauer, Karen and Brian Conway ’80, P’18 Presidential Teaching Professor of American Studies and Sociology, has published a new book titled Meanings of Mobility: Family, Education, and Immigration in the Lives of Latino Youth. The book explores the pathways to and experiences of educational mobility for Latino youth at elite colleges, and how their mobility has impacted their immigrant families. It pays special attention to Covid-19's effects on education and immigrant families, and concludes with suggestions of how colleges can better support low-income Latino students, lowering the emotional price of their educational mobility.
Robert Hayashi, professor of American studies, has authored a book titled Fields of Play: Sport, Race, and Memory in the Steel City. Centered on sports-loving Pittsburgh, Penn., Fields of Play uncovers and shares the overlooked tales of the area’s lesser-known but nevertheless very accomplished athletes, including Chinese baseball players, Black women hunters, Jewish summer campers and coal miner soccer stars. The book also chronicles how such individuals created separate spaces of play while demanding equal access to the region’s opportunities on and off the field. It will be released in late September of this year.
Ruxandra Paul, assistant professor of political science, has co-authored a new book titled Transnational Social Protection: Social Welfare Nation Borders. The book examines how migrants manage risks, try to get ahead, and provide for their families by drawing social welfare resources available in their countries and abroad. It broadly aims to inform scholarly and policy debates about the state’s evolving role in taking care of its citizens, and the appropriate burden of responsibility that individuals can bear.
Elizabeth Aries, the Clarence Francis 1910 Professor in Social Sciences (Psychology), has published a new book titled The Impact of College Diversity: Struggles and Successes at Age 30. Through interviews with 45 Black and white graduates from widely different class backgrounds from the Class of 2009, Aries explores how engagement with racially and socioeconomically diverse classmates during college impacted their lives and helped prepare them for success in the work world.
Sean Redding, Zephaniah Swift Moore Professor of History, has published a new book titled Violence in Rural South Africa: 1880-1963. Published by the University of Wisconsin Press, the book investigates how the policies of the white South African state facilitated the rise of large-scale lethal fights among men, increasingly coercive abduction marriages, violent acts resulting from domestic troubles and witchcraft accusations within families and communities, as well as political violence against state policies and officials. Using multiple court cases and documents, the book provides a richer context for the scholarly conversation about the legitimation of violence in traditions, family life and political protest.
Kiara Vigil, associate professor of American studies, has co-launched and will edit a new book series with the University Press of Kansas. Titled The Lyda Conley Series on Trailblazing Indigenous Futures, the project will promote and explore issues of gender and the contributions of women within Native American and Indigenous studies and highlight new scholarship concerning law, culture, literature, and public history.
The study, led by Guevara, examined the geologic history of the youngest exposed deep crustal rocks on Earth from the slopes of the most rapidly rising mountain in the world, Nanga Parbat in the northwestern Himalaya range of Pakistan. In comparing the geologic processes that occur at the surface of the earth at Nanga Parbat (such as weathering and erosion of rock) to those that occur tens of miles beneath our feet (the movement of Earth's tectonic plates, for example), Guevara’s work showed that the anomalously rapid geologic rise of rock that formed deep in Earth’s crust at Nanga Parbat is more likely driven by changes in the movement of tectonic plates rather than changes in Earth's climate over the past few million years, as has been previously proposed.
Religion & Asian Languages and Civilizations
Words for the Heart: A Treasury of Emotions from Classical India, by Maria Heim, George Lyman Crosby 1896 & Stanley Warfield Crosby Professor in Religion and chair of Religion, was published in August by Princeton University Press. Heim's work centers on ancient and classical India. Words for the Heart, a “treasury” or word book, explores 177 “emotion terms” in philosophy, literature, poetry, aesthetics, medical texts, and epic stories in the classical languages of Sanskrit and Pali. The book offers a landscape of emotions and reflection about them that is quite different from what is available in the modern psychology of emotions.
Ashwin Ravikumar, assistant professor of environmental studies, and Paul A. Schroeder Rodríguez, R. John Cooper ’64 Presidential Teaching Professor of Spanish, have published an English translation of the Spanish-language book titled Casa Pueblo: A Puerto Rican Model of Self-Governance by Alexis Massol González. Amherst students collaboratively translated the publication, a 40-year history of the internationally renowned community-based organization Casa Pueblo, and Ravikumar and Schroeder Rodríguez then edited the students’ versions and shepherded the book through the editing process with open access publisher Lever Press. Student translators include Abner Aldarondo ’22, Tanya A. Calvin ’20, Lucheyla Celestino ’23, Alexis Chávez Salinas ’22, Corina E. Cobb ’22E, Hubert E. Ford ’20, Molly Malczynski ’22, Joseph A. Ramesar ’20, Kyabeth Rincón ’22, Jeffrey Suliveres ’20, Augusta S. Weiss ’23, Javier F. Whitaker Castañeda ’21.
Cailin Plunkett ’23 has received the American Physical Society (APS)’s prestigious 2023 LeRoy Apker Award, which recognizes “outstanding achievements in physics by undergraduate students and provides encouragement to students who have demonstrated great potential for future scientific accomplishment.” A very rare honor, the award is given to just two students across the U.S. each year, and one of the pair must be a student from an undergraduate-only institution. (The last Amherst student to have received an Apker Award was Louis A. Bloomfield ’79, who was a recipient the same year he graduated.) Advised by Kate Follette, assistant professor of astronomy, Plunkett was honored by the APS for her undergraduate thesis work, which involved developing an important new technique for combining detection limits and theoretical models of planet growth to rigorously quantify the underlying population of still-forming planets (also called protoplanets) in the universe. “Cailin quite literally invented a new and important technique relevant to many future protoplanet surveys with ground and next-generation space telescopes,” explained Follette. But Plunkett is more than just a star in the lab and classroom, added Follette–she served as a patient, encouraging teaching assistant; a key member of the physics department’s Climate and Community Committee; a staunch advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion who educated herself about her own privilege; and a role model and mentor for other women in physics. Of Plunkett’s future, said Follette: “I have the highest confidence in this young physicist’s potential to become a key contributor to both the science and the culture of our field.”
Isabelle Caban ’23
Isabelle Caban ’23 was named this year’s recipient of an American Geosciences Institute Scholarship for Advancing Diversity in the Geoscience Profession. The one-time, merit-based scholarship supports students who are Black, Indigenous, or Persons of Color in the United States studying the geosciences. Now a graduate student at Indiana University Bloomington, Caban’s research interests include volcanoes, landslides, and the long-term consequences they pose. During her time at Amherst, she was advised by Rachel Bernard, assistant professor of geology.
Helen Leung and Mark Marshall
Chemistry department chairs Helen Leung, George H. Corey 1888 Professor of Chemistry, and Mark Marshall, Class of 1959 Professor of Chemistry, have received a National Science Foundation (NSF) award to use Fourier transform microwave spectroscopy and computational methods to study intermolecular forces operative between gas-phase heterodimers formed by protic acids and halo-olefins and to develop the chiral tagging method. Leung, Marshall and their students will generate molecular species held together solely by intermolecular interactions, and then examine their rotational spectra using two types of complementary spectrometers. With the up-to-date, relevant, modern instrumentation made possible with the NSF funding, the project will provide meaningful hands-on experience in modern, state-of-the-art physical chemistry for undergraduate students. It will also “engage the next generation of scientists in pedagogically effective ways, better prepare them to be responsible citizens in an increasingly technological world, and better position them to contribute in STEM fields,” according to Leung and Marshall.
Matteo Riondato, associate professor of computer science, has received a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The initiative supports faculty “who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.” Riondato will use the award to advance his work developing algorithms for statistically-sound knowledge discovery and machine learning, assisted by the students in his research group, the Data Mammoths
Black Studies & History
Elizabeth Herbin-Triant, associate professor of Black studies and history, has received a summer National Endowment of the Humanities award to write a book about Lowell, Mass., during the 1820s to 1860s. Focused on the community’s relationship to slavery and antislavery, the book is titled Spindles & Slavery: Grappling with Ties to the Cotton Kingdom in the Industrial North.
Nicholas J. Horton
Nicholas J. Horton, Beitzel Professor in Technology and Society (Statistics and Data Science) has been selected as the recipient of the 2023 Mosteller Statistician of the Year award by the Boston chapter of the American Statistical Association. This award honors individuals from academia, industry, and government who have made exceptional contributions to the field of statistics and who have shown outstanding service to the statistical community, including the Boston Chapter. Horton was recognized for his “numerous innovative contributions to statistics and data science education.” He will be formally celebrated at an award presentation and reception at a later date (which has not yet been decided).
The Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) has recognized Christopher Durr, assistant professor of chemistry, with a 2023 Cottrell Scholar Award. Durr was one of 26 “early career scholars” in chemistry, physics and astronomy chosen by the RCSA via a rigorous peer-review process of applications from public and private research universities and primarily undergraduate institutions across the United States and Canada. Durr’s award project, which incorporates both research and science education, is titled “Exploring the Synthesis and Mechanism of Single-Site and Cationic Group V Catalysts for the Production of Biodegradable Polymers.”
Brian House, assistant professor of art, was one of 66 artists from across the country selected by the Creative Capital Foundation for a 2023 “Wild Futures: Art, Culture, Impact” Award, which funds the creation of “experimental, risk-taking projects that push boundaries formally and thematically, venturing into wild, out-there, never-before-seen concepts, and future universes real or imagined.” Titled Macrophones, House’s project involves capturing infrasound–sound waves with frequencies so low they are inaudible to the human ear– and subsequently processing and resampling the audio upward into an acoustic range can be heard. Listeners hear infrasound spatially situated in the landscape around them as a means of perceiving distant phenomena associated with the climate crisis, such as calving glaciers and wildfires.
Solsiree del Moral
Solsiree del Moral, professor of Black studies and professor and chair of American studies, has been named the Spring 2023 Bacardi Family Eminent Scholar at the University of Florida Center for Latin American Studies. During her time at the Center, del Moral will teach the course “A History of Afro-Latin America,” a course surveying the history of Africans and their descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a special focus on gender and sexuality.
Catherine Sanderson, the Poler Family Professor of Psychology, submitted expert testimony on the psychology of group influence to the House committee investigating the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Sanderson’s statement was used to help the United States Congress understand the psychological factors that led to the attack on the Capitol.
Olufemi Vaughan, the Alfred Sargent Lee ’41 and Mary Farley Ames Lee Professor of Black Studies, was one of 180 people from around the world named a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow. His project, “Letters, Kinship, and Social Mobility in Nigeria, 1926–1994,” is based on 3,000 family letters from his late father’s library that focus on real-life family stories in colonial and postcolonial Nigeria. The fellows were appointed on the basis of “prior achievement and exceptional promise.”
Jonathan Friedman, professor of physics and chair of physics and astronomy, has been elected a fellow of the American Physical Society (APS), a professional organization for physicists in the U.S. and around the world. Friedman’s fellowship was awarded based on his “pioneering experimental research elucidating the quantum behavior of molecular nanomagnets and significant contributions to undergraduate physics research and education.”
Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty Pawan Dhingra has been appointed the Nannerl Keohane Distinguished Visiting Professor at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for 2022-2023. The Keohane Professorship brings prominent faculty to serve as visiting professors at UNC and Duke for a one-year period, during which they deliver a lecture series and engage students and faculty around areas of shared interest to both institutions. Dhingra's focus will be on anti-Asian violence and how to combat it.
Jallicia Jolly, postdoctoral fellow and visiting assistant professor of American studies and Black studies, won a Ford Foundation 2022 Postdoctoral Fellowship that will support the completion of her first book manuscript, Ill Erotics: Black Caribbean Women and Self-Making in Times of HIV/AIDS, which is under contract with University of California Press.
Poet, an original work by Yang Sun ’23, was selected in May as the fifth alternate for inclusion in the 2023 National College Dance Festival. Sun attended the three-day gathering with her thesis advisor, Visiting Assistant Professor of Theater and Dance Jungeun Kim, and performed her newest solo during an informal showing at the festival.
Photo by Paul Bloomfield
Darryl Harper, John William Ward Professor and chair of music, has released a new album titled Chamber Made. Examining the boundaries between chamber music and jazz, the album is part of a restorative tradition of Black performers upending assumptions about where they “belong” in terms of genre and cultural access.
The funding will support her work in publishing new scholarship based on a collaborative project that includes a team of Dakota linguistic and cultural experts. Together they will work closely with the issues of the rare Dakota-language newspaper Iapi Oaye, held in the College’s Archives & Special Collections, to prepare print and digital versions of an annotated English translation. Iapi Oaye was published monthly by Christian missionaries and Dakota printers from May of 1871 to March of 1939. The Word Carrier is an English-language companion to Iapi Oaye that was published by the Santee Normal Training School Press from 1884 to 1903.
The National Science Foundation has awarded Ivan Contreras, assistant professor of mathematics, a grant in support of the ninth annual “Gone Fishing” conference in Poisson geometry that the College is hosting in the spring of 2023. The event, the second-largest conference in that particular area of mathematics study worldwide and the largest in North America, will bring together more than 50 researchers from all over the world. In addition to Contreras, Chris Elliott, visiting assistant professor of mathematics, is helping organize the event, as well as several Amherst students.
Rachel Bernard, assistant professor of geology, received an NSF EArly-concept (the two capital letters in “early” is the official spelling) Grants for Exploratory Research award to fund a conference that convenes stakeholders for the 50th anniversary of the first national conversation on minority participation in Earth science and mineral engineering.
Sara Brenneis, professor and chair of Spanish, has been awarded a grant from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Center of the Humanities to support her project titled “The Stolperstein Database in Spain.” Also funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the project aims to bring wider national and international attention to Spain’s role in World War II by mapping all of the country’s Stolperstein, which are commemorative brass plaques installed in locations throughout Europe that serve as memorial sites for Jews and non-Jews deported to Nazi concentration camps. The UNH and Mellon Foundation support will enable Brenneis to contribute to the creation of an accessible, multilingual website for students, tourists, residents, family members and others to easily find, recognize and understand the significance of the Stolperstein markers in Spain, and shed more light on Spaniards who were also victims of the Nazis.
Kate Follette, assistant professor of astronomy, was named a 2022 Cottrell Scholar by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA). Her project is titled “Moving Forward: Toward Accurate Recovery and Interpretation of Accreting Protoplanets and a Socially Just Undergraduate Astronomy Curriculum.” Follette is one of 24 early-career scholars in chemistry, physics and astronomy to receive this award.
Amanda Folsom, professor of mathematics, was awarded a National Science Foundation grant for the RUI project “Harmonic Maass Forms and Quantum Modular Form” to study the theory and applications of harmonic Maass forms, their holomorphic parts called mock modular forms, quantum modular forms and related functions. Some components of the projects will be carried out by Amherst student researchers under Folsom’s guidance.
Jonathan Friedman, professor of physics and chair of physics and astronomy, received a Cottrell Plus Singular Exceptional Endeavors of Discovery (SEED) award from the RSCA for his research on spin-clock transitions in silica defects. The Cottrell SEED award is designed to support Cottrell Scholars as they launch exceptionally creative, new research or educational activities with the potential for high impact. Friedman also received a grant with Jacob Olshansky, assistant professor of chemistry, from the NSF for the project “Using Colloidal Nanoparticles to Host Photogenerated Spin Qubit Pairs.”
Victor Guevara, assistant professor of geology, was awarded two NSF grants for research projects:
Nicholas Horton, the Beitzel Professor in Technology and Society (Statistics and Data Science), received an NIH grant for research exploring the association between common eating disorders and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Sally Kim and Marc Edwards, assistant professors of biology, were awarded a Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant from the National Science Foundation for the acquisition of an integrated Zeiss 980 microscope with Airyscan 2 and FCS to create an advanced microscopy center. The advanced imaging capabilities of this instrument are expected to transform life science research at Amherst, opening new opportunities for student research and promoting interdisciplinary exploration of the microscopic world.
Art and the History of Art & Asian Languages and Civilizations
Yael Rice, associate professor of art and the history of art and of Asian languages and civilizations, received a grant from the Persian Heritage Foundation to digitize the Taza Akhbar, an Illustrated History of the Kings of Kabul. Completed in 1817, the manuscript is the only known copy of this text and includes an unusual emphasis on and rich detail about the urban topography of Afghanistan and the ethnography of its peoples.