April 22, 2008

Provost Names Five Distinguished Faculty

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Last week, five faculty members were added to the list of yearly recipients of the Provost’s Awards for Distinguished Scholarship in recognition of their outstanding research and scholarship and the hope of keeping them at the University.
The sum of $30,000 was awarded to this year’s winners: Professors Charles Brittain, classics and philosophy; Carlos Bustamante, biological statistics and computational biology; Jonathan Kirshner, government; Hod Lipson, mechanical and aerospace engineering; and Michelle Wang, physics.
According to Provost Biddy Martin, every year the deans of the academic units nominate faculty members, and the provost’s staff makes the final selections.
“The nominations are not limited to recently tenured faculty, but the deans and the provost’s staff do place a certain emphasis on faculty at that level because they are our future leaders and are at risk of being recruited [by other schools],” she stated in an e-mail.
However, there is only one criterion for being selected, and that is demonstrated excellence in their individual fields of interest.
To Brittain, the challenges of teaching in both the classics and philosophy departments, while serving as the chairperson of the former, seems like “an awful lot to do.”
He was astonished when he received a letter congratulating him on receiving the award.
“I was surprised, I was pleased … [But], I have no claim that I’m more deserving [of the award than anyone else],” said Brittain.
He speculates that his work on academic skepticism earned him the award. Brittain was pleased with the award’s monetary component, which he plans on using to further his research.
Asked what he thought the secrets of teaching are, he said: “to realize how incredibly complicated a text is, to have the right attitude to humility and realizing the complexity of the thought you are [conveying].”
Lipson works in the computer and informational science and computer science and computational biology departments, in addition to mechanical and aerospace engineering.
His interests revolve around taking new and interesting developments in the field of biology and infusing them into engineering, and vice versa, he said. By looking at biological phenomena and applying them to engineering, Lipson and his lab group are able to evaluate how robotics systems can adapt to behavioral and situational constraints.
He summarized his work as “taking ideas from biological evolution and applying them to physical synthetic systems such as robotics.”
After receiving this year’s Provost’s Award, Lipson gave credit to the hard work of all the members of his laboratory over the past six years, who have made his work a success.
According to the University, Bustamante, who has been teaching at Cornell for about six years, is known for his studies in speciation, evolutionary trends, and natural selection. Overtime, he has identified the gene associated with dog size, and to some extent the gene for human size.
Kirshner, director of the Einaudi Center’s International Political Economy Program, conducts research in the fields of International Relations, economics and national security, and the politics of money. He is also the author of Currency and Coercion: The Political Economy of International Monetary Power and Appeasing Bankers: Financial Caution on the Road to War.
According to her webpage, Wang is in charge of the LASSP’s Single Molecule Biophysics Lab. Among the different studies conducted in her lab are measuring the packing of DNA in the nucleosomes and the molecules involved in gene expression and regulation, and developing biophysical instruments for molecular manipulation. At the moment, her lab is creating a novel technique for measuring molecules called the “angular optical trapping,” a deviation from the “normal optical” trapping system.