Connecticut College Magazine · Winter 2009

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Tri-captain Thomas Giblin ´10 elevates for a header in a Fall Weekend win against Colby on the Artificial Turf at Silfen Field, while Nick Maghenzani ´13 closes in on the play. Head coach Kenny Murphy´s Camels finished 8-6-1 in the program´s best record in more than a decade.

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Faculty research shines

Faculty research shines
Bruce Branchini, the Hans and Ella McCollum ´21 Vahlteich Professor of Chemistry. Photo by Bob MacDonnell.

Professors have won more than $7.4 million in grants since the start of the Campaign

By Barbara Nagy


How do robots learn?

What types of after-school activities benefit high school students most?

How does cancer metastasize?

Since the start of the Campaign for Connecticut College, faculty have won more than $7.4 million to research questions like these in the sciences, humanities and arts.

The 82 awards — including more than $1.6 million since the beginning of summer 2009 — have gone to professors in virtually every one of the College´s academic departments.

The funding has come from both public and private sources, such as the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the state of Connecticut.

“The scope of these awards speaks to the excellence of our faculty members, who are on the cutting edge of research in their fields and bring their expertise into the classroom every day,” President Lee Higdon says. “These grants also complement our long-standing practice of offering students opportunities for real, meaningful research with professors.”

Research also shapes and changes the way professors teach, says Roger Brooks, dean of the faculty. “The resonations of faculty research in the classroom affect every student on campus,” he says. “This is every bit as true in the humanities, social sciences and arts as it is in the sciences.”

Some examples of research awards:

BRUCE BRANCHINI, the Hans and Ella McCollum ´21 Vahlteich Professor of Chemistry, is studying the feasibility of using bioluminescent materials, like those found in fireflies and jellyfish, in military applications. The naturally occurring enzymes — no batteries required — could theoretically be used, for example, to temporarily mark a landing strip with biodegradable materials.

MARTHA GROSSEL, associate professor of biology, is researching unchecked cellular division that is associated with cancer. Her awards have included one from the National Institutes of Health to study a particular protein that may be a factor in the development and spread of tumors that cause brain cancer.

For the NIH grant, Grossel studied a protein that might play a role in blocking cell specialization. “It turns out this is important not only for development but also in the disease of cancer, where tumor cells are often undifferentiated,” she says.

Robots designed and built by the students of GARY PARKER, associate professor of computer science and chair of the department, are helping researchers understand how computers “learn” to adapt to their environment.

Parker´s student researchers co-authored 21 papers on robotics between 2004 and 2009. Working in the lab, said Basar Gulcu ´08, “was like a dream come true, but I hadn´t dreamed this far. … We have the opportunity to apply what we have learned in the courses to do graduate level research.”

Two history professors, EILEEN KANE and SARAH QUEEN, won National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships this summer: Queen is translating and interpreting an ancient Chinese text and Kane will be on sabbatical in 2010 to finish a book on the Russian hajj, a first-ever history of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in tsarist Russia.


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