Congratulations to Prof. Alexandra Purdy, who won a $513,187 collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation to study how gut bacteria affect the health of their host organisms. Over the next four years, the Purdy lab will shed new light on the role of the microbiome in causing organisms to thrive or decline.
Edward “Ted” Melillo, associate professor of history and environmental studies, is Amherst's latest recipient of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's New Directions Fellowship. Melillo will spend the next fifteen months learning the Hawaiian language as part of his research on the fascinating connections between Massachusetts and the Pacific World.
Assistant Professor of Physics, Ashley Carter, has won a five-year, $500,000 grant through the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development Program. Part of the award will support her research on biophysics and DNA folding. The rest will support her broader goals, to recruit and train new students in her field. For the next five summers, the NSF grant will financially support a post-baccalaureate researcher and undergraduates in Carter's lab.
The Carnegie Corporation of New York named Lawrence Douglas, James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought, and Katharine Sims, assistant professor of economics, two of among only 33 Andrew Carnegie Fellows from colleges and universities across the nation.
Douglas will use his fellowship to continue his groundbreaking exploration of the law and human rights, while Sims will use hers to better understand the intersection of economic and environmental policies in four countries.
Amity Gaige, visiting writer, was named a Guggenheim Fellow, and Lisa Brooks, associate professor of English and American studies, was awarded a Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship. Gaige is the author of three books, O My Darling, The Folded World, and Schroder. During the fellowship period, she hopes to give her writing “the kind of sustained attention that is required to metamorphose an idea into a [new] novel."
Brooks, a well-known scholar of Native American history, will use her fellowship to build a website for educators and students about King Philip’s War from 1675 to 1676. Using full-color digital maps, primary sources, a story map and other documents as curricular resources, the website will guide teachers of K-12 through the historical geography of the war.
Assistant Professor of Physics Ashley Carter and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sheila Jaswal were recently awarded funding for research that seeks to understand how biological material folds. Carter received a Cottrell College Science Award of $40,000 for her project “Optical Trapping Assay to Study Histone Replacement During Spermiogenesis,” while Jaswal received $20,000 from the Webster Foundation for her research into the “Development of Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry Methodology to Map Protein Landscapes.”
Carter studies how DNA folds in sperm cells. Usually, a strand of DNA folds around a protein called a histone, and tags on the histone determine where the folding is more compacted. However, in sperm, 85 percent of these histones are removed and replaced with protamine to make the sperm nucleus as small as possible. Incorrect histone replacement can lead to male infertility and to changes in the folding of the genetic material that gets passed on to the next generation.
“I’m really excited about the science of how DNA mechanically folds inside a sperm cell,” says Carter. “It’s such a basic, simple question, but it has so much importance in epigenetics [the way genes are expressed] and infertility that I wonder why no one’s done it before.”
Separately, Jaswal is developing a technique, called hydrogen exchange mass spectrometry, to study the folding and stability of proteins. Mass spectrometry weighs molecules, and as a protein unfolds and refolds in a solution of heavy water (deuterium), it becomes tagged and gets heavier. The rate at which the protein’s weight is changing reveals how stable the protein is. Jaswal and her students then computationally model the data collected with this technique to understand and compare different modes of protein stability.
Karen Sánchez-Eppler, Amherst’s L. Stanton Williams 1941 Professor of American Studies and English, has received a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies to conduct research for her book project, In the Archives of Childhood: Personal and Historical Pasts. For much of her 2014–2015 sabbatical year, she will be at Chicago’s Newberry Library on a long-term fellowship funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Lloyd Lewis Fellowship in American History. In the spring, she will continue with a short-term research fellowship at the Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, and additional research at the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University. Sánchez-Eppler's focus will be children’s own accounts of their everyday lives in the 19th century.
“It’s very easy to think about childhood as trivial,” Sánchez-Eppler said, “and so when the American Council of Learned Societies, which is among the most prestigious American funding sources for humanities and social science research, thinks that this is worth doing, this is exciting.” The lives and opinions of children are devalued in many of the same ways that the histories of women and nonwhites were given short shrift in generations past, she said.
Associate Professor of French Laure Katsaros has received $262,500 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through its New Directions Fellowship program, which exists to “assist faculty members in the humanities … who seek to acquire systematic training outside their own areas of special interest.” Katsaros’ award will support her in earning a master’s degree in the history and philosophy of design from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design in 2014–15, and in traveling around France to visit several distinctive architectural sites. Her goal is to produce a final project for the master’s program, and eventually a book, tentatively titled Glass Architectures: Utopian Surveillance from Fourier to the Surrealists.
The Mellon Foundation invites select colleges and universities to nominate faculty members for the New Directions Fellowship annually. Amherst’s Dean of the Faculty Gregory Call nominated Katsaros, who then spent the summer and fall of 2013 preparing a proposal with help from Foundation & Corporate Relations. After a proposal-review process by scholars in related fields, as well as some budgetary negotiations, Amherst officially received the fellowship award in March. Katsaros is one of only 12 recipients nationwide this year.
Sara J. Brenneis, assistant professor of Spanish, and Jonathan Vogel, the George Lyman Crosby 1896 Professor of Philosophy, have both won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities.The two professors were awarded more than $50,000 each to publish their research. The results will be, for Brenneis, a book about an overlooked chapter from the history of the Holocaust, and for Vogel, a philosophical exploration of some of our basic assumptions about ordinary life.
Brenneis’ NEH grant will allow her to write a book about the experiences of non-Jews from Spain who were deported to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria. Some 7,000 Spaniards were deported to Mauthausen for their opposition to the government of Francisco Franco, and almost 4,500 died there during World War II.
Vogel’s NEH grant will allow him to finish work on Skepticism and Knowledge of the External World, which is slated to be published by Oxford University Press. The book will examine the ancient question of appearance versus reality: How can you know that your life isn’t just a long, unbroken dream? Vogel’s project lies within the philosophical subfield of epistemology but crosses over into the philosophy of science and metaphysics and draws ideas from cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence and other fields.
NEH Fellowships support individuals pursuing advanced research that is of value to humanities scholars, general audiences or both. Only about 7 percent of those who submit proposals to the NEH ultimately receive fellowships. This year, 76 awards were made in response to about 1,100 proposals.