May 4, 2004

C.U. Profs Receive Honor

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Three Cornell professors, Prof. Edwin (Todd) Cowen, Prof. Roger Gilbert, and Prof. Douglas Mao, were awarded 2004 Guggenheim Fellowships. They are among the 185 fellowships that were awarded out of over 3,200 applicants from the United States and Canada. The fellowships are sponsored by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Guggenheim Fellowships are awarded annually to artists, scientists and scholars, based on past achievements and outstanding potential for the future, according to the foundation’s press release. Most fellowships are awarded for at most one year, according to Liz Gurl, assistant secretary of the foundation.

This year’s awards totaled $6,912,000. The average grant was around $36,000, said Gurl. Fellowship recipients may use their award in any way to further their work, according to the foundation’s website.

Prof. Cowen, civil and environmental engineering and director of the Defrees Hydraulics Laboratory, plans to use the award to continue his work on the development of an experimental measuring technique, “for measuring sediment transport and turbulence in the swash zone.”

“The swash zone is the region of the beach that is alternately wet and dry,” he added.

Further research on the swash zone will be conducted in Spain when Cowen goes on sabbatical next year, he said.

Prof. Gilbert, English, said he plans on using the award while writing a book about the poet A.R. Ammons, who was a professor at Cornell from 1964 to 1998.v “I’m describing it as a critical biography. I’m not expecting it to be truly biographical. A lot of it will deal with his poetry and analyzing his poetry,” Gilbert said about the planned book. “The story of his life was the story of his poetry,” he added.

Prof. Mao, English, plans on using the award during a research leave all of next year to finish an ongoing book project. Mao’s research leave is pending approval by Cornell.

“Basically [the book project] is about late 19th and early 20th century British and U.S. literature,” Mao explained.

“It’s this field and it’s about how some writers within that field represent human development and the way that the environment inhabited by a maturing person affects that development,” he said.

Cowen applied for the fellowship in order to have financial independence to do his own research while on sabbatical.

“I’m going to be heading to Spain in the first week of August,” Cowen said. “I will use the fellowship to support my salary during that time,” he said.

While in Spain, Cowen will be working with the Environmental Flow Dynamics Research Group in the Andalusian Center of the Environment at the University of Granada, according to a Cornell press release.

Cowen currently has ongoing research on the swash zone in the hydraulics laboratory involving the use of model glass beaches. Next is determining whether the measuring technique can be used to measure an actual swash zone, Cowen said. His research will use work that was done by his group’s work as part of a large National Science Foundation Biocomplexity award.

According to Cowen, he decided to do this kind of research because the swash zone is a challenging spot to make measurements in because it is very thin.

“The kinds of measurements I make are optically based,” Cowen said, “We’re going to modify [the technique] a little bit. In the lab we use traditional digital cameras, and at the actual swash zone we’ll use a fiberoptic path to a traditional camera.”

For Gilbert, the fellowship allows him to take a whole year off.

“I have a one semester leave coming in the fall, a study leave. But I had really wanted to take the whole year off. In order to do that, I’d need an outside fellowship, and Guggenheim was one of the most obvious choices,” said Gilbert.

Most of his time off will be spent in Ithaca, conducting research for his book, he said.

Gilbert decided to write the book about A.R. Ammons a couple of years ago.

“I had already written about Ammons a few times and several people suggested that I write a biography about him. I was a little hesitant, partly because he was my colleague and a friend,” Gilbert said. “I decided that it would be an interesting and rewarding thing to do,” he added.

Gilbert said that most of his research will take place in Ithaca. “Almost all of [Ammons’s] papers are in the Cornell library. His journals, his letters, [and] manuscripts of poems. He gave all of his papers to the library, I think in 1998,” Gilbert said. “That will probably be my most important resource as I’m working on this book.”

This semester, Gilbert has been teaching a course limited to senior English majors about the poetry of A.R. Ammons.

“That’s just been incredibly useful for me. To read through all of his poetry with a group of students who are really smart and enthusiastic and have all sorts of great insights into the work,” Gilbert said. “And I’ve been very happy to have the experience this semester. It’s brought me a lot closer to Ammons’s poetry and flesh out my ideas about it,” he said.

“I’m really pleased about my colleague, [Mao] also winning a Guggenheim,” said Gilbert, “And I think it’s wonderful for the English department to have two winners in the same year.”

Mao explained that he applied for the fellowship because he needed some leave time to finish his book project.

“I first started working on [the book] around 1998,” Mao said. “I haven’t had a lot of continuous time to work on it, because I changed jobs twice and I’ve been writing these other articles,” he said.

“[The book] started out as a book on youth, and I thought I was going to be writing about youth movement and modernism and the way that the 20th century became fascinated by youth,” said Mao. “But you know, your research takes you in ways that you don’t expect,” he added.

In order to do research for the book, Mao explained that he’s been reading from Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Theodore Dreiser, Rebecca West, W.H. Auden, Richard Wright, and Anthony Burgess. Mao has also done some interdisciplinary reading in other subjects including psychology, education, interior design, social reform and architecture, he said.

Gilbert has been at Cornell since 1987; Cowen is finishing up his sixth year at Cornell; and Mao has been teaching at Cornell since Fall 2002.

The Guggenheim Fellowship was established in 1925 by United States Senator Simon Guggenheim and his wife in memory of his son, who passed away in 1922.

Archived article by Michelle Seo
Sun Staff Writer