Science and Mathematics Faculty Grants 2015-2016

Tom Manley (Geology) has received a grant from the Lintilhac Foundation for the second year of a project titled High-Resolution Bottom Mapping of Lake Champlain. This long term effort will update the 2005 bottom bathymetric map of Lake Champlain and provide a significant increase in the resolution of the map of the lake bottom that is important to the recreation, research, and management communities.   

Pat Manley (Geology) has been awarded a fellowship from the Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation for a project titled Reading the Rocks: A History of Modern Geology. The grant will fund travel in England and Scotland this summer to geologic locations that are key to understanding the history of modern geology and to museums and historic sites that will bring to life the geologists who founded this field. Pat’s goal is to enhance her teaching of introductory and advanced geology by adding sections on the history of geologic thought.

Stephen Abbott (Mathematics) has been awarded a one-month research fellowship from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in support of the book project, titled Mathematics as Art in Contemporary Theater, that he will be pursing during his academic leave in 2016-17. The fellowship will enable him to conduct research on the Center’s collection of Tom Stoppard materials, as well as other 20th century  theater materials.

Eilat Glikman (Physics) has been awarded a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to lead a research project titled Probing Accretion and Obscuration in Luminous Red Quasars. This one year project, involving collaborators from Yale University, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the Astronomical Observatory of Rome and the Leibniz Institute of Astrophysics in Potsdam, Germany, is based on observations of two luminous quasars with the XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory. These quasars are hypothesized to be growing at their maximally allowed rate, giving off tremendous luminosity. However, because of dust in their immediate environments, their visible light is extinguished. These X-ray observations will measure the amount of gas that is blocking visible light and probe the growth of the quasars independently for comparison with other existing estimates. The result of this work will complete the multi-wavelength study of this key population of quasars.  

Frank Winkler (Emeritus Professor, Physics) has been awarded funding from the NASA-funded Space Telescope Science Institute for his role in two collaborative research projects, both of which entail new observations using the Hubble Space Telescope. One project, entitled Thermal Equilibration and Cosmic-Ray Acceleration in Astrophysical Shocks: UV Spectra of the SN1006 Remnant, will combine forthcoming Hubble ultraviolet spectra with new data Winkler hopes to gather at the 6.5 meter Magellan telescope in Chile in April, to explore the fundamental physics of shock waves in a cosmic environment. The other project, entitled State Transitions of the Ultra-luminous X-ray Source in M83, is intended as a follow-up to better understand a highly unusual object in the "nearby" (15 million light years away) galaxy M83, where matter falling into a black hole produces so much radiation that fundamental laws of physics are close to being violated. The projects involve collaboration with colleagues at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Johns Hopkins University, and Curtin University in Australia.

Jill Mikucki (Biology) has received funding from the National Science Foundation for her expenses in a collaborative research project titled Minimally Invasive Drilling Glacial Exploration (MIDGE). Originally awarded to Jill when she was at the University of Tennessee, the grant has now been transferred to Middlebury and will support the design and testing of a minimally invasive thermoelectric probe for sample retrieval from subglacial environments in Antarctica. These dark environments provide an excellent opportunity for researching survivability and adaptability of microbial life, and they represent potential terrestrial analogues for life habitats on icy planetary bodies. This grant will support the efforts of a Ph.D.-level technician and at least one undergraduate student.

Priscilla Bremser (Mathematics) is Middlebury’s representative in a network of 61 liberal arts institutions that will benefit from a Teaching Experiences for Undergraduates (TEU) grant awarded to Vassar College by the National Science Foundation. Entitled Summer STEM Teaching Experiences for Undergraduates from Liberal Arts Institutions, this grant will provide opportunities in each of the next five summers for 24 students from the network to participate in programs that involve a pedagogy course (math or science) and a teaching practicum  with urban high school students. Co-investigators are faculty at Barnard College, Brown University,  Bryn Mawr College,  and Trinity College. Although no funds come directly to Middlebury, this grant provides an exciting opportunity for which our students are eligible to apply.  

Vermont Genetics Network grants for Research in the Biomedical Sciences
Middlebury College is one of the baccalaureate partner institutions participating in a major grant from the National Institutes of Health to the University of Vermont. This grant continues the Vermont Genetics Network support that has been an important source of funding for faculty and student research during the past decade. The following faculty members received individual grants from this program to support their research this year:

Glen Ernstrom (Biology and Neuroscience) received a renewal of his project grant titled Genetic Analysis of Neurotransmitter Release in C. Elegans. The proposed research will help to clarify nerve signaling mechanisms and potentially lead to improved drug therapies for neural disorders.The grant provides funding for summer and academic-year effort for Prof Ernstrom from June 2015-May 2016 and includes a summer stipend for one undergraduate student.

Clarissa Parker (Psychology and Neuroscience) received a project grant titled Genome-wide Association for Ethanol Sensitivity in the DO Mouse Population. The goal of this work is to use a highly recombinant mouse population to map genes associated with ethanol sensitivity. Understanding the pathways linking genetic variation and expression to neuronal function may enable targeting of specific molecules to treat alcohol use disorders in humans. The grant provides funding for summer and academic-year effort for Prof Parker from June 2015-May 2016 and includes summer stipends for two undergraduate students.

AnGayle (AJ) Vasiliou (Chemistry & Biochemistry) received a renewal of her project grant titled Thermal Composition of Biomass: Molecular Pathways for Sulfur Chemistry. The aim of this research is to elucidate the detailed chemical mechanisms and kinetics associated with the thermal decomposition of sulfur compounds found in biomass feedstock. The results of this work can be used to develop a sound strategy to suppress the formation of poisonous sulfur compounds during biomass decomposition, generating clean liquid fuels and ultimately lowering sulfur emissions. The grant provides funding for summer and academic-year effort for Prof Vasiliou from June 2015-May 2016 and includes summer stipends for two undergraduate students.

Michael Durst (Physics) received a project grant titled High-Speed 3D Multiphoton Fluorescence Imaging with Temporal Focusing Microscopy. The proposed work aims to improve the speed of 3D multiphoton microscopy through temporal focusing, with the goal of reaching video-rate 3D imaging in biological tissue. The grant provides funding for summer and academic-year effort for Prof Durst from June 2015-May 2016 and includes a summer stipend for one undergraduate student.

Jeff Munroe (Geology) has received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation through its Research in Undergraduate Institutions mechanism for a research project titled RUI: Alpine Loess, Periglacial Uplands, and Exotic Additions: Investigating Past and Present Dust Deposition in the Alpine Zone of the Uinta Mountains, Utah. At least six undergraduate students will be involved in this research, which will lead to better knowledge about modern and past dust deposition in this part of the western United States and thus has the potential to aid in land management decisions in the future.

Eilat Glikman (Physics) and colleagues at California Institute of Technology have received a grant from the National Science Foundation for a project titled New Insights from a Systematic Approach to Quasar Variability. The goal of this project is to understand the physics of supermassive black hole growth in the nuclei of galaxies by utilizing time-domain information. The grant provides support for two Middlebury undergraduates who will work with scientists at Caltech, and use cutting-edge techniques in data science, to extract meaningful results from these large data sets.

Molly Costanza-Robinson (Chemistry & Biochemistry and Environmental Studies) has been awarded a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation through its Research in Undergraduate Institutions mechanism for a project titled Elucidating Interlayer Chemistry for Design of  Novel, Nontoxic Organoclays for Contaminant Remediation. The project will involve 2-3 undergraduate researchers each year and will initially focus on elucidating how the chemistry of activated clay minerals (organoclays), specifically their interlayer crystallinity, relates to their ability to remove organic contaminants from wastewater. The second stage of the project will apply this information to the task of designing novel organoclays for more effective contaminant removal. Students in the Environmental Chemistry course will also participate in the project by testing the toxicity of the novel organoclays.

Noah Graham (Physics) has been awarded a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation for work on a project titled Casimir Forces From Scattering Theory. The project will carry out calculations of Casimir forces, which arise from quantum-mechanical fluctuations at the short distance scales relevant to nanotechnology.  The approach is based on developing broadly applicable numerical techniques for computing the reflection and transmission of light.  This work will be carried out in collaboration with a research group based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and will involve at least four Middlebury student researchers.

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