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Dean of Faculty's Report, May 2006

At every monthly faculty meeting during the school year, the Dean of Faculty presents brief overviews of recent publications and other achievements by the Mount Holyoke faculty. Here are excerpts from the May 2006 report of Donal O'Shea, Dean of Faculty.


Dorothy Mosby, assistant professor of Spanish, has been awarded $40,520 by the U.S. Department of Education’s Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad Program for her project Ethnic, Cultural, and National Identity in Contemporary Central American Writers of Afro-West Indian Descent. The grant will allow her to travel to archival collections in Panama and Nicaragua to examine newspaper editorials and articles from the Afro-West Indian communities during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She will explore the tensions these documents reveal between maintaining West Indian cultural difference while integrating into national Hispanic culture. She will calibrate these findings by interviewing contemporary writers and scholars on the subject of ethnic, cultural, and national identities. The project will explore not just the commonalities between identity formation in Afro-West Indian communities in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama, but also the differences.

Maria Gomez, assistant professor of chemistry, has been notified by the National Science Foundation that her project Understanding How Dopant Affects Preferred Proton Conduction Pathways will be recommended for funding. The grant will supply $172,000 (or thereabouts) over three years to allow Maria and her students to continue their work modeling mathematically how protons are conducted in certain mineral structures. She studies a particular class of crystals (perovskites) with a really neat geometric structure, consisting of stacked cubes with positive ions of fixed type at the vertices, oxygens in the centers of the faces (which form, therefore, octahedra), and a different, bigger set of positive ions at the centers of the cubes. These gadgets have a wide range of applications because of their conductance properties, and many superconducting ceramics have such structures. Maria and her students dope the crystals with a third type of positive ion, which has the effect of tilting the octahedral structure. They study computationally proton transfer between the oxygens, examining the conditions under which protons move from one octahedron to another, or around the faces of a single octahedron. The work is computationally intensive and involves a consortium of investigators at eight liberal arts colleges. Maria has also received $50,000 from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund for her project Thermodynamics and Kinetic Studies of Hydrogen Isotope Binding on Selective Materials. In addition to the work with proton conduction in oxide ceramics that the NSF grant will support, this grant will support her work with investigators at Los Alamos on proton conduction in materials with potential use in fuel cells, and her work with other folks in our chemistry department on understanding and modeling the growth of nanoscale metal aggregates on oxide surfaces.

Megan Nunez, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Chemistry, has been awarded $71,000 by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study for her project Needle in a Haystack: Removing Base Lesions from DNA. One of the great achievements of the last 50 years has been the understanding that sequences of bases in DNA molecules encode our genetic information. However, DNA is constantly being attacked by other chemicals, radiation, and environmental factors that can modify it and lead to mutation, cancer, and cell death. Recent work has led to the beginnings of understanding of how several proteins in the cell can fix damaged bases in the DNA molecules. Megan’s work investigates the still mysterious mechanisms by which the proteins actually identify damaged bases. DNA is a huge molecule and it is not clear how the damaged bases can be so readily identified amongst a pile of regular ones: how do they find the needle in the haystack? Megan has three separate projects aimed at elucidating this, one involving an atomic force microscope to actually “see” if one can see some lesions. Megan’s sojourn will create links between the students in her research group and those at Harvard-Radcliffe.

Darby Dyar, associate professor of astronomy and geology and chair of astronomy, has been awarded two grants from NASA. A $90,000 grant is for her project Temperature Dependence and Resolution of Fundamental Mossbauer Parameters in Mars-Analog Minerals. Another, for $375,000, will fund her project Mineral Standards and Technique Development for Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy. NASA’s April 6 press release (thanks to Kevin McCaffrey for noticing it) over PRNewswire had this to say: NASA “selected several Massachusetts institutions for grants to support the agency’s Mars Fundamental Research.… Institutions and maximum grants’ values:
- Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley: $465,000
- Boston University, Boston: $409,467
- Harvard University, Cambridge: $30,000
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge: $363,942”
Darby has also been awarded $32,000 as part of a $255,467 NASA grant to the Planetary Science Institute for Further Analysis and Characterization of Sulfates and Sulfides Using Multiple Spectral Techniques. She and her students will use their lab to conduct Mossbauer studies of different minerals involving sulfur in the hopes of providing reference spectra that will enable investigators to infer how water-related processes may have affected mineralogy of sulfur-containing minerals on Mars.


English professor Corinne Demas has a new children’s book out this week from Scholastic called Yuck! Stuck in the Muck. I haven’t seen it yet, but she reports that it nicely balances her anthology The Great American Short Story from Hawthorne to Hemingway. She is also serving as a juror for the 2007 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature.

Tom Wartenberg, professor and chair of philosophy, has coedited with Murray Smith a new book, Thinking through Cinema: Film as Philosophy, which has just appeared with Blackwell Publishing. The book resulted from a year that Tom spent with Smith at University of Kent on the Leverhulme Trust. The two have been at the forefront of seriously considering film as philosophy (as opposed to whether one can convey philosophical ideas in a film). In the course of the year, they discovered that their views differed in interesting ways, and they decided to put together a collection of essays from philosophers and film theorists that take a wide range of positions, on a wide range of films, on film as philosophy. They succeeded brilliantly. Tom’s essay in the collection is wildly provocative, arguing, for instance, that Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times updates Marx’s theorizing of alienation of workers in a capitalist society by actually suggesting, visually, a mechanism by which assembly-line procedures actually mechanize the human body.

Dean of Faculty's Report Index

Copyright © 2008 Mount Holyoke College. This page created and maintained by Office of Communications. Last modified on March 25, 2008.