Recent Faculty Awards
Ashley Carter and Sheila Jaswal Win Grants for Research
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 Receives ACLS Fellowship
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.
Laure Katsaros Receives Mellon New Directions Fellowship to Study Architectural Design
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.
NEH Fellowships for Sara J. Brenneis, Jonathan Vogel
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.