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The O'Shea Report: March 2002

At every monthly faculty meeting during the school year, Dean of Faculty Donal O'Shea presents brief overviews of recent publications and other achievements by the Mount Holyoke faculty. Here are excerpts from his report for March 2002.

Janice Hudgings, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Physics, has received a National Science Foundation CAREER award for $375,000 for her proposal "Stability and Polarization Control of Single Mode Vertical-Cavity Surface-Emitting Lasers Exposed to Optical Feedback." These prestigious awards are granted to a select few researchers at an early stage of their career. Not only must the research be exceptionally promising, but the proposer must have the research integrated with a strong educational plan. The reviewers lauded the fact that Hudgings' work would be relevant to developing new nanoscale photonic devices and might even have a much broader impact on quantum devices. They were enthusiastic about the linkages proposed with industries and the possible commercial applications of Hudgings' work. They were absolutely ecstatic about the way in which Hudgings proposed to integrate scientific inquiry at all levels of the undergraduate curriculum and the way she has already used the web to encourage women to pursue careers in physics and engineering. (This is the third CAREER that our faculty have received. Craig Woodard, associate professor of biological sciences, and Sean Decatur, associate professor of chemistry, each received one.) Hudgings also just received word that she was awarded a 2002 Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty from Underrepresented Groups. This fellowship, awarded by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will allow her to spend all of next year away from campus. Given that only a handful of these fellowships are awarded each year, it is a coup that our faculty have won two of them in the first two years of the program (Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Jill Bubier got one last year).

Karen Hollis, professor of psychology and education, has received the James McKeen Cattell Fund Fellowship, which supports the science and application of psychology. This is a huge honor. Typically, between five and seven such awards are made per year, and the list of those who have received them reads like a "who’s who" in psychology. It's also very unusual for them to go to someone from a college; in fact, only six of the 175 awardees since 1974 have been from colleges. The award will allow Hollis to spend the whole year away next year making the transition from studying fish to studying insects.

Laurie Priest, senior lecturer in physical education and athletics, received a Community Development grant for the rowing program from Nissan/National Association of Girls and Women in Sports Development.

Melinda Darby Dyar, visiting associate professor of astronomy and geology, and a colleague from Idaho have received a grant for $417,244 for three years from the National Science Foundation for "Development of a 3-D Interactive Mineralogy Textbook." Their book will subsume some of the materials in Dyar's CD "Hands-on Mineral Identification." The idea is to produce an inexpensive ($35—$40) textbook with black-and-white illustrations. Included with the text will be two CD's whose color pictures can be rotated, animations (of scratch tests, for example), exercises, and a database that will allow identification of minerals. The Mineralogical Society of America is going to publish the text, so profits will go back into the society.

Steven Dunn, associate professor of geology, and his colleagues Al Werner, associate professor of geology; Jill Bubier, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies; Lauret Savoy, associate professor of geology; and Mark McMenamin, professor of geology, received a $56,961 award from the National Science Foundation for their project "Integrating Stable Isotope Geochemistry into the Geoscience Curriculum for 2002-2004." Elements are classified by the number of protons they have in their atoms (hydrogen always has one proton, helium two, lithium three, etc.). However, you can have different versions of the same atom, called isotopes, by having the same number of protons, but different numbers of neutrons. (So, hydrogen can have no neutrons (the ordinary stuff), one neutron (deuterium) or two neutrons (tritium)). Stable isotopes are ones that don’t change over time; ordinary hydrogen or deuterium are stable, for example, while tritium decays. In a polar ice cap (whose molecules consist of three atoms: two hydrogens and one oxygen), you can measure the ratio of deuterium (one neutron) to normal hydrogen (no neutrons) to determine the temperature at which various parts of the ice were frozen. Measurements of isotope ratios can also reveal whether minerals were formed in rainwater, in sea water, or underground. Analysis of ratios of carbons with six and seven neutrons allows you to determine whether a given graphite deposit had organic origins. In addition, there are two different mechanisms for photosynthesis, and they result in different ratios of oxygen isotopes. Analyzing these, you can determine what types of plants some fossilized animals ate. The instrument that allows one to measure such delicate ratios is a mass spectrometer. This grant enables MHC students to analyze their vials of gas samples in the mass spectrometer lab at the University of Massachusetts.

"The Tsar’s Last Armada: The Epic Voyage to the Battle of Tsushima," a new book by Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian Studies Constantine Pleshakov, has just appeared with Basic Books. Pleshakov told me that it is "almost" a beach book. If so, it is a danger: it is impossible to put down, and you will wind up with first-degree burns. It tells the story, now largely forgotten, of the largest fleet ever assembled, including the Spanish Armada, and its 18,000-mile journey to avenge Russian losses near Japan and to relieve the Russian outposts of Port Arthur and Vladivostok. The fleet traveled 18,000 miles around Europe, Africa, and India and through Indochina because Britain controlled the Suez canal and because Tsar Nicholas II willed it. It was an incredible feat of seamanship by the fleet commander Mad Dog Roshetvensky who didn’t want the role and who thought the mission folly. Numerous misadventures dogged the fleet and its progress, or lack thereof, was reported around the world. By the time the fleet entered the Sea of Japan, its officers and crew had acquired both a grim sense of foreboding and a number of large pets: crocodiles, pythons, tortoises, lemurs, chameleons, and a mischievous monkey (named Iconoclast for having tossed a pilfered icon overboard). The Japanese crossed the fleet’s T in the straits of Tsushima, and the entire fleet was annihilated in two days in what is now considered one of the top five naval engagements in history (the others are Lepanto, Midway, Trafalgar and Jutland). The book is a fabulous read.

"Visions of the Maid: Joan of Arc in American Film and Culture" by Robin Blaetz, visiting associate professor of film studies, has just appeared in the University of Virginia Press. It is a hugely readable examination of the figure of Joan of Arc in twentieth century American film. Blaetz remarks that Joan of Arc’s image has been extraordinarily labile in the 560 years since her immolation and at no time more so than the twentieth century, where her image changes not only by decade but by country. Never far from her argument is the notion that films are made for commercial reasons, and hence films about historical figures must negotiate between the demands of the story and the social context in which the film was made. So, Blaetz traces how different social events, the wars, working women, and nostalgia for a pre-industrial era created needs for, and hence films with, different Joans throughout this century. Even more amusingly, she studies how Americans remade Joan and attempted to sell the re-made image back to the French or, in some instances, edited film to accent different features of Joan’s character for different national audiences. The book also has wonderful photographs, a short biography of Joan, too many pithy epigrammatic judgments to quote, and a delightful concise history of Joan’s reputation from 1429 to 1895. The cover is also great.

Professor of Chemistry Sheila Browne has received the Faculty Mentor of the Year Award from the Institute on Teaching and Mentoring for her work on mentoring.

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