Archives for Honors + Awards

Taikang Ning Receives Grant to Continue Image Compression Project with Students

With a goal of applying theory to a real-world problem, Trinity College Professor of Engineering Taikang Ning has received funding from Lam Research Foundation to continue his research on the application of discrete-wavelet transform (DWT) to extract signal features and detect faults during wafer fabrication. The grant of $25,000 will support Ning’s work on image compression, which encodes an original digital image using a smaller amount of data storage. Companies in all industries are seeking to store and process data and images in more efficient and cost-effective ways, Ning said.

DSC_3870WebThe collaborative effort between Ning and his students led to the development of a data compression source code that was integrated into the Lam Research Corporation’s beta test to demonstrate the program’s effectiveness. Subsequently, Ning released a jointly published paper with Lam Research in October 2014, and has built a strong working relationship with the organization. This is the third year in which Ning has received funding from Lam Research Foundation.

Ning said that his project proposal was selected eighth out of 20 projects that were funded, from a pool of about 50 applicants. The professor is proud that a small liberal arts college like Trinity was selected by Lam, which typically works with large research universities. “The emphasis of faculty at research universities is often to seek funding to support programs and Ph.D. graduate students,” Ning said. “In our case at Trinity, we as faculty focus solely on undergraduates and we need to know every bit of the technical part before we train our students. Our strength is that we are confident of what we can accomplish before we apply for research funding.”

Ning said that the grant will help provide his students with research opportunities as undergraduates by funding research stipends and equipment needs. “It is a good learning experience for students. They become familiar with the semiconductor industry’s challenges and develop solutions to solve them,” he said. Since DWT is not included in Trinity’s engineering courses, Ning initially spends time with research assistants on a one-on-one basis explaining the theory. Once he gains confidence in a student’s understanding of the concept, he allows the student to work more independently on developing DWT-based compression programs.

This research funding also provides Trinity students with an insight into a possible career path by getting hands-on experience. “To them, it’s learning to engage an industry problem that they would never have a chance to know from class,” Ning said.

Written by Bhumika Choudhary ’18

Abigail Fisher Williamson’s Immigration Policy Survey to be Distributed to Municipal Officials in 1,000 Towns

With an eye toward informing and aiding immigration policymakers at all levels of government, Trinity College Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Policy and Law Abigail Fisher Williamson will conduct a study called “The U.S. Municipal Responses to Immigrants Survey.”


Trinity College Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Policy and Law Abigail Fisher Williamson. ​Photo by Antonio Rocha Portraits

Williamson’s work on the nationwide survey and analysis of findings, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, is designed to gather information from 1,000 towns about their formal and informal interactions with immigrants.  The project aligns with the Trust’s goals of using knowledge to inform solutions to pressing public policy issues, educating the public, and invigorating civic life.  Williamson believes that a better understanding of local responses to immigrants and the factors that produce them will aid policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels in formulating data-driven solutions that take into account how federal immigration policies affect localities.

As trends in recent decades have shown immigrants dispersing in greater numbers to suburbs and rural areas, rather than settling in traditional gateway cities such as New York and San Francisco, Williamson said that this shift has forced town governments to respond. “In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level, a lot of the impetus for change has been pushed down to the local level,” she said. “At this point, when immigrants are arriving in new places, these localities themselves are sort of re-creating the wheel. There’s not really a channel for sharing information about best practices, or about what communities can do to effectively incorporate immigrants, so that’s part of what this survey is going to be about.”

Williamson’s survey is designed to be sent to officials in a stratified random sample of 1,000 towns with populations that are greater than 5,000 and at least 5 percent foreign-born. Williamson surveyed 500 towns in 2014 and will survey an additional 500 towns in 2016. “In each town I’m surveying four different town leaders: the mayor, a randomly selected city councilor, a city manager, and the police chief,” she said. “The idea behind that is that we want to get a sense of not only what the town as a whole is doing, but we suspect there is some variation across different types of leaders.”

The mail survey will be administered by the University of Virginia’s Center for Survey Research. “The questions will be primarily ‘closed-ended,’ such as, ‘How frequently do you translate materials?’ and there will be a range of answers. There also will be some ‘open-ended’ questions, such as, ‘Have we missed any policies that you do that we haven’t asked about?’” she said. “The survey is focused on immigrants in general, but it also asks about distinctions in policies and in views toward unauthorized immigrants.”

The first wave received responses from 74 percent of towns surveyed, with 30 percent of officials responding overall. Williamson plans to launch the second wave of the survey in late January 2016. “I think it will be interesting to do it at the same time as the presidential primaries,” she said. “There’s an increasing body of research that shows that local responses to immigration are shaped by national immigration politics.”

Looking beyond the United States, Williamson said that a worldwide discussion about immigration policy is under way. “Right now we see hundreds of thousands of Syrian and other refugees coming into Europe, and those societies are also asking themselves the question, how do we effectively incorporate immigrants?” she said. “A lot of times people focus a lot on short-term growing pains, but we know that in the long term immigrants tend to bring a lot of vitality and economic development to societies, so the question becomes, how do we minimize short-term growing pains in order to maximize long-term benefits? Looking at the variety of what local governments are doing can help us understand that.”

Williamson is on leave from teaching at Trinity during this academic year while working on the survey and her related book, Beyond the Passage of Time: Local Government Response and Immigrant Incorporation, which is being supported by the Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund, a program of The Reed Foundation.

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli

Alison Draper Using NSF Grant to Fund Summer STEM Teaching Experience for Undergraduates


Alison J. Draper (center), director of the Trinity Science Center and lecturer in interdisciplinary science, conducts a field research training session last summer with (l-r) Jessica Voight ’17, Connie Ky ’17, Catherine Poirier ’17, and Cassandra Cronin ’17.

Twelve undergraduate students from around the country will come to Trinity College this summer to participate in a new Summer STEM Teaching Experiences for Undergraduates from Liberal Arts Institutions (TEU) program, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“The goal of the NSF grant is to increase the number of students from liberal arts institutions who are preparing to teach math and science,” said Trinity Science Center Director Alison J. Draper, who is also a lecturer in interdisciplinary science.

​Draper is a principal investigator on the grant, along with two mathematicians from Vassar College and Bryn Mawr College. The grant of $2,137,727 is being awarded to Vassar, with $685,445 of that going to Trinity. Brown University, Bryn Mawr, and Barnard College are also partners on the grant, which will fund the TEU program for five years.

Undergraduate students from a network of about 60 liberal arts colleges and universities, Trinity students included, are eligible to apply for the program. Twelve students will participate in a mathematics TEU program at Brown, and 12 will participate in a science TEU program at Trinity, teaching science workshops to 10th-grade students from Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy. The grant also will pay for instructors who will train the undergraduates to teach high school students and will supervise them in the classroom and in the field.

As part of Trinity and HMTCA’s ongoing education partnership, students must take a writing workshop before 9th grade and a science workshop before 10th grade to maintain a spot in the award-winning magnet school. The summer science workshop has been held at Trinity for the past four years. “Our goal for the science workshop was to model how science was done in the real world,” Draper said. With a Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority grant last summer, Draper trained eight Trinity students to teach the HMTCA workshops. “What will be different under NSF is that the undergrads won’t be necessarily from Trinity,” Draper said.

Robert Cotto, Jr.obert Cotto, Jr., director of urban educational initiatives and lecturer in educational studies at Trinity, said that one of the motivations for the HMTCA partnership is to allow high school students to have a positive, early experience on a college campus. The new TEU program will help to build that relationship and to expand its benefits to undergraduates from many other colleges. “This is a perfect example of how we’re able to be a liberal arts college and leverage our position as being in a city and having different partnerships already on the ground that not only Trinity students can take advantage of but now even a national group of students can participate in,” Cotto said.

The program also will serve as a way to develop and to test a model that can be shared and duplicated. Draper said, “We would really like other institutions in other parts of the country to be able to pick up this model and mount their own program. We think it’s a good idea, and it serves a whole bunch of purposes all at once. We’re serving the purposes of HMTCA, but we’re also serving our own students and students at partner institutions, so it’s a win-win-win.”

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli

Christopher Hager Receives Grant from National Endowment for the Humanities

ProfChrisHagerChristopher Hager, associate professor of English at Trinity College, is the recipient of a Public Scholars Program grant award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a Schaenen visiting scholar at the Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University in Indiana this semester, Hager is writing for the publication, The Prindle Post, in addition to teaching an English course, leading a book discussion group on Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration, and working on his research.

Hager’s research was featured in an Inside Higher Ed story on Public Scholars. According to the article, he “plans on using the narratives he finds in Civil War letters to translate the historical facts surrounding the war and the evolution of letter writing during the era to the general public.”

Thanks to this award, Hager will be able to focus full time on writing his manuscript next semester. “I think that finding ways I can make the kind of research that I do stimulating to undergraduates is the same kind of skill that I hope to use in making that research accessible and engaging to readers of books,” said Hager.

This is the third recognition Hager has received from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This past summer, Hager was awarded a stipend supporting his work on the epistolary culture of the U.S. Civil War. He also received a full-year fellowship in 2010.

Coming from an academic home like Trinity, where he has taught for eight years, Hager’s scholarly work is not only supported, but welcomed into the classroom as well. “What’s great about teaching at a place like Trinity is that it has always challenged me to find ways to make the research that I do engaging and accessible to my students,” said Hager, who will return to Trinity in the fall of 2016.

Written by Eleanor Worsley ’17

Timothy Curran Awarded NSF Grant to Study Protein Shapes Using New Molecule

Curran research group summer 2015

The Curran Research Group for Summer 2015. Front row: Timothy P. Curran and Joe Sanderson-Brown ’18. Back row: Paul Handali ’18, Vu Nguyen ’17, Elena-Marie Pedro ’17, and Jack Suitor (University of Edinburgh).

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $234,957 grant to Trinity College Professor of Chemistry Timothy P. Curran to examine a potential new method of creating protein shapes called beta-sheets, which may have implications for understanding amyloid diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Curran is the principal investigator of the project, “RUI: Investigations of a Novel, Bimetallic Ring System for Nucleating Beta-Sheets.”

The beta-sheet protein shape, Curran said, “is found in the protein plaques that form in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, clogging the brain’s neurons.” With this grant-funded project, Curran plans to investigate how these beta-sheets form and how they might be broken up.

Curran and his undergraduate students have discovered a cyclic, air-stable molecule that includes the metals tungsten and iron, which can position two protein chains next to each other as found in beta-sheets. “We have a model chemical system that we think might be able to generate beta-sheets, and then examine how they aggregate,” he said. “Long-range, this could help combat diseases like Alzheimer’s.”

In addition to funding Curran’s research, the grant also includes funds to support three students for three summers and allows them to travel with Curran. “This grant offers a great opportunity for students,” he said.

Curran, chair of Trinity’s Chemistry Department, spent this past summer working with Trinity students from all over the world. “They were from Trinidad, Great Britain, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Windsor, Connecticut,” said Curran, who is a resident of Wethersfield.

Curran said that his students were partly responsible for leading him to the particular line of inquiry pursued by this project. “This one came about because Allison Lawrence ’10 in my lab made a discovery about this molecule that had a particular shape,” he said. “In our lab, we make molecules that no one has ever made before. A student who makes a new molecule in my lab is the first person in the history of the planet to make that molecule. It’s one of the ways they can be unique.”

Many undergraduate students use their time in Curran’s laboratory to get a sense of what conducting scientific research is like. “They can see if they’re good at it and whether they like it or not,” Curran said. “You have to have a thick skin. Things won’t work all the time, and there are lots of unexpected problems that come up. You see quickly if they like working their way through the problems.”

Involving students in research has always been important to Curran, who hopes to inspire a new generation of scientists. “I wanted to work at a school like Trinity because I started in science by having people let me work in their labs in the summertime, and I wanted to do the same thing for other students,” he said. “I like seeing students succeed.”

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli

Henry DePhillips and Undergraduate Students Use Cutting-Edge Chemistry to Analyze Art


L-R: Henry DePhillips, Vernon K. Krieble Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus; Sara Talcott ’17, and Jacqueline Busa ’17.

Henry DePhillips, Vernon K. Krieble Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, has been retired for almost three years, but his pace has hardly slowed. He still has a lab and office on campus and still works with students in the field of conservation science. Now, with the support of the Dreyfus Foundation’s Senior Scientist Mentor Program, DePhillips is training two undergraduate students in a cutting-edge method for analyzing paint samples without excessively disturbing historic works of art.

​The technique, called direct analysis at room temperature, is the most current method available for analyzing the varnishes and binders used in easel paintings. The practice involves taking an extremely small sample from the painting, which allows conservation scientists to avoid invasive research on potentially priceless artworks.

The Dreyfus Grant will go to support Sara Talcott ’17 and Jacqueline Busa ’17, both sophomore chemistry majors spending the next two summers on campus studying and perfecting this technique. Having learned the basics, Talcott and Busa have been testing paints they mixed themselves. Next, they will work with older paint samples that they already know the composition of before moving on to analyzing unknown samples and paintings.

Conservation science is a valuable tool for art dealers and collectors attempting to confirm the authenticity of paintings, but DePhillips is not in the business of identifying forgeries. Instead, he provides people with objective information about the materials used in a piece of art. It’s a field that DePhillips has spent half of his career working in and continues to teach in his Science & Art course at Trinity’s Rome campus, which he’s done since 2005.

DePhillips looks forward to working remotely with Busa and Talcott this summer, confident that they have the talent and experience to move forward while he teaches in Italy. In the end, they hope to compile information useful to conservationists and publish a library of their findings. Working at the nexus of science and art has been incredibly rewarding for DePhillips.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” he said. “The people in the art field have incredible personalities and they’re wonderful to work with, and the people in this [chemistry] department are just the best.”

In addition to his colleagues, DePhillips is proud of his collaboration with undergraduates at the intersection of two different fields.

“That’s what a liberal arts college is supposed to foster,” he said. “I always tell students ‘Do what you’re passionate about.’ That’s why I’ve been at this for 52 years.”

David Ruskin Awarded $380K NIH Grant for Research into Ketogenic Diet


David Ruskin with Trinity students working in his lab: (back row) Ariana Adamski ’17, Hannah Reichert ’18, (front row) Livia Wyss ’16, Subrina Bisnauth ’15, and Lizzy Foley ’17.

The ketogenic diet has been around for over 100 years as a treatment for epilepsy. Susan Masino, Vernon Roosa Professor of Applied Science, recently published an article finding that the diet’s effectiveness comes from increasing levels of adenosine. Building on that research and existing theories of neuroscience, David Ruskin, research assistant professor, is testing the proposition that the ketogenic diet can also be used to relieve pain. For that work, Ruskin was recently awarded a grant of over $380,000 from the National Institute of Health.

​Masino’s research, backed by a $1.7 million grant from the NIH, supports the theory that the ketogenic diet – a low-carbohydrate diet that treats epilepsy – works by increasing levels of adenosine, and other researchers have found that adenosine relieves pain. So it stands to reason that the ketogenic diet holds the potential to be successful in relieving pain. That proposition is what Ruskin and a group of Trinity undergraduate students are exploring in their research.

The six undergraduates are involved at every step of the research, including running tests and collecting data. Their work, if it confirms their hypothesis, could have tremendous implications: this natural treatment for inflammatory pain would be welcomed by those who, for a variety of reasons, cannot use traditional pain relievers.

It is likely to be at least a year before Ruskin and the students have preliminary results, but their work is under way. This research is made possible by one of the hallmarks of a Trinity education: faculty members and undergraduate students collaborating on cutting-edge research.

“It’s been a great seven years at Trinity,” said Ruskin, who joined the faculty in 2008. “Working with students and other faculty members is very enjoyable.”

Ruskin’s colleagues are equally enthusiastic about his work at Trinity.

“Dave is an amazing collaborator, and I can’t overstate how valuable he is to the laboratory,” said Masino. “Besides being a great scientist, he is a great writer and a great mentor to the students. Students who work with him are really lucky because his time is devoted almost 100 percent to the research and they get a lot of one-on-one attention from a highly trained scientist.”

Guggenheim Fellowship Awarded to Trinity Biblical Scholar Seth Sanders

S.SandersMain2.424x250Seth L. Sanders, an associate professor of religion at Trinity College, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to support his research and writing as a biblical scholar.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation grants funding to fellows based on “prior achievement and exceptional promise.” Sanders was one of 175 scholars, artists, and scientists selected this year, from among more than 3,100 applicants, in the Guggenheim Foundation’s 91st competition. Sanders also was recently awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to support his scholarly work.

Sanders plans to use his Guggenheim Fellowship and NEH grant to finish researching and writing his third title, Why We Can’t Read the Torah: The Form of the Pentateuch and the History of Ancient Hebrew Literature. Through this book, Sanders intends to analyze the literary values of the Torah to understand its place as one of Western history’s most fruitful pieces of literature.

“Religious people have struggled with the Bible’s contradictions since they first read it, and scholars have used them as a window into how it was created. What my project can explain is why those contradictions were put in the text in the first place,” Sanders said.

“As a collection of incompatible versions of similar stories, the Torah is unlike any other major work of ancient literature,” Sanders said. “Biblical scholarship still cannot agree on how this new paradigm arose. My project draws on ancient Near Eastern evidence to explain what is new about it by placing the Torah in literary history.”

Sanders, who has experience working with sources in Hebrew, Akkadian, Aramaic, and Ugaritic, will conduct his research in Philadelphia and Ann Arbor, Michigan, both of which have major research libraries and scholarly communities in his field.

Trained in Bible, Semitic languages, and comparative religion at Harvard, Hebrew University, and Johns Hopkins, Sanders has been a Trinity College faculty member since 2007. He studies how political identities and religious experience were created in ancient Israel, and his work connects the Bible, Jewish identity, and political thought from ancient Israel to modern nationalism.

Sanders recently returned from a special session of the American Oriental Society in New Orleans, where he brought together a group of scholars to investigate the questions his project raises more broadly, across the ancient world from Egyptian and Sumerian to Babylonian and Canaanite. The results will be featured in the next issue of the Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions, for which Sanders is editor, and in a future book project.

His first book, The Invention of Hebrew (awarded the Frank Moore Cross prize from the American Schools of Oriental Research and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award) argues that Hebrew was the first successful vernacular literature, which helped create ancient Israel and the Bible as both historical and imaginative possibilities. His forthcoming second book, From Adapa to Enoch: Scribal Culture and Religious Vision in Judea and Babylonia, explores the cultures that created the Hebrew Bible and Dead Sea Scrolls via their mythical heroes.

McMahon and Elukin Deliver Remarks at United States, Connecticut Supreme Courts


Justice Antonin Scalia presents Kevin McMahon with the Griswold Prize.

Recently, two faculty members at Trinity delivered addresses to the United States and Connecticut Supreme Courts. Though their talks were just one day apart, the topics they discussed spanned almost eight centuries.

In Washington, D.C., on April 30, Kevin McMahon, John R. Reitemeyer Professor of Political Science, accepted the Griswold Prize for his 2011 book, Nixon’s Court: His Challenge to Judicial Liberalism and Its Political Consequences. After an introduction by Justice Antonin Scalia, McMahon spoke on that same topic.

The next day in Hartford, Jonathan Elukin, associate professor of history, was invited to address the justices and guests of the Connecticut Supreme Court for Law Day. His keynote address on the Magna Carta, the theme of 2015’s Law Day, marked that document’s 800th anniversary. The program was broadcast on CT-N.

McMahon’s book was selected for the Griswold Prize in October 2014, the first time since 2009 that a book merited the prestigious award. Many scholars have held that President Richard Nixon failed in his efforts to challenge the liberal approach of the Warren court. In Nixon’s Court, McMahon maintains that Nixon’s strategy was in fact a success from both a legal and political perspective. He argues that Nixon was able to earn the Supreme Court’s endorsement of his highest priorities while simultaneously laying the foundation of an electoral alliance that would dominate presidential politics for a generation. His remarks at the Supreme Court were featured by the high-profile SCOTUSblog.


Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard A. Robinson looks on as Jonathan Elukin delivers a keynote address on the Magna Carta.

​Connecticut Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers introduced Elukin and spoke of the importance of increasing access to justice. She called the Magna Carta a foundational document that shaped many of today’s legal principles. In his remarks, Elukin discussed how that came to be, originating as a relatively narrow agreement and evolving into a timeless contribution to legal and political thought.

Elukin discussed the history of the Magna Carta – or “Great Charter” – as well as its relevance today. The document originated as a 1215 peace agreement between King John of England and the barons who opposed him, but was reissued by subsequent monarchs and took on added meaning. It established that even the King himself was not above the law and put in place protections from the government for its subjects. When other kings tried to expand the power of the crown, parliament resisted, invoking the Magna Carta as a cry for liberty. The Magna Carta was elevated to such prominence by Sir Edward Coke, a former chief justice who said that the document “defends the common law of England.”

Elukin focused not only on the history of the Magna Carta, but also its relevance today, echoing remarks by Chief Justice Rogers.

“We should not be content just to celebrate this mythic Magna Carta,” Elukin said, acknowledging the document’s role in establishing the rule of law and individual liberty. “We should not be complacent. We need to be ready to defend those hard-won rights.”

Samuel Kassow ’66 Awarded Medal for Service to Polish Culture

Samuel S. Kassow ’66, Charles H. Northam Professor of History, was honored this week in Warsaw, Poland, for his service to Polish Culture. Polish Minister of Culture and National Heritage Malgorzata Omilanowka, presented a medal to Kassow in a ceremony on Monday, February 16.

Kassow served as lead historian for two of eight galleries of the new POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which opened in October 2014 on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. His 2007 book, Who Will Write Our History?, is set to be adapted for the screen by director Roberta Grossman and executive producer Nancy Spielberg. Kassow is also in the process of completing a highly anticipated book called Listen and Believe: The Ghetto Reportage of Peretz Opoczynski and Jozeph Zelkowicz, to be released this year by Yale University Press.

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