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C A M P U S C U R R E N T Faculty Activities


It’s not fair! Or is it? How do you divide a bag of Halloween candy among a group of children in a way that feels fair to each child? That’s a fair division problem. How does society make a group choice, like an election, in a


way that best combines the preferences of all individual voters? That’s social choice theory. Such questions tend to fascinate political scientists, economists,


game theorists—and Professor of Mathematics Francis Su, who recently received a three-year $205,668 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to investigate mathematical theorems with direct bearing on voting and fairness issues. Su’s prior work, also funded by NSF, introduced methods


from the fields of combinatorial topology and discrete geometry to study fair division and social choice. The current project will enable Su to continue that inquiry and recruit the participation of undergraduates, who may already know him as creator of the popular Math Fun Facts website, www.math.hmc.edu/funfacts/app/.


Black Holes, the Big Bang and Synthetic Chemistry Two recent grants from the National Science Foundation will support student and faculty research in theoretical physics and synthetic chemistry. Associate professor of physics Vatche Sahakian will work with


students to study “Aspects of Non-Local Dynamics in String Theory.” Sahakian said students will use toy models to unravel many poorly understood yet fundamental aspects of non-local dynamics in physics, as well as black hole physics in quantum gravity. Other study topics: black hole formation and modeling the Big Bang’s primordial plasma. Associate professor of chemistry Adam Johnson’s project,


“Asymmetric Catalytic Hydroamination of Aminoallenes by Chiral Tantalum Cyclopentadienyl-amide-alkoxide Complexes,” addresses gaps in current methods of studying synthetic chemistry. Johnson’s students will have a chance to explore modern problems in the field, synthesize and purify new compounds and conduct catalytic reactions.


A Tipping Point An undergraduate research project by three young HMC alumni is highlighted in the Sept. 3, 2010 issue of DNA & Cell Biology Journal. Working under the supervision of Robert A. Drewell, associate professor of biology, the three recent grads—Diana Tran ’09, Terence Wong ’09 and Alicia Schep ’10—identified a gene region in mammals that may play an important role in


8 H a r v e y Mu d d C o l l e g e F A L L /WI N T E R 2 0 1 0


regulating telomerase action. Telomerase is an enzyme essential in maintaining specialized DNA sequences at the tips (or telomeres) of chromosomes. The loss of these sequences is associated with aging and, quite possibly, cancer. Read the group’s paper, “Characterization of an Ultra-


Conserved Putative cis-Regulatory Module at the Mammalian Telomerase Reverse Transcriptase Gene,” in DNA & Cell Biology online www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/dna.2009.0994.


“Ghosts” makes Beast’s Hot List Erika Dyson’s new course, Ghosts and the Machines, made the Daily Beast’s Hot College Courses list this fall. Dyson, assistant professor of religious studies, said she was excited that she was encouraged to teach interdisciplinary courses that combined her interests in occult religions, sciences and technologies. The class explores the interrelations between occult mediumship, modern media and technology in Europe and the United States from the 19th century through the present. “I was also eager to see how HMC students would grapple


Erika Dyson


with religions and technologies that confuse those categories to such an extent that it is difficult, if beside the point, to try to disentangle them. Not surprisingly, the students blew me away,” she said. “Their willingness to challenge themselves, me and the authors we read, as well as their creativity, smarts and enthusiasm, all made my experience teaching the course deeply gratifying. The Daily Beast mention simply added to that gratification.”


In Memoriam: Maggie Osler, humanities professor


Former HMC faculty member (1970–74) Margaret (Maggie) Osler died Sept. 15, 2010 in Calgary, Canada, of pancreatic cancer. She was 69. Osler taught at HMC during


the early 1970s. She went on to become a professor of history at the University of Calgary. Her book, “Reconfiguring the World: Nature, God and Human Understanding from the Middle Ages to Early Modern Europe,” was recently released by The Johns Hopkins University Press.


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