2008/2009 Annual Report
Strengthening Our Research and Scholarship
During the 2008/09 academic year, the nearly 600 Arts & Sciences faculty were highly productive in their research and scholarly accomplishments, as indicated by the record levels of grant funding and the numerous papers published, talks presented, and awards received. The total dollar amount of new grants and contracts generated in FY 2009 was $85,677,728, an increase of $8,147,497 (10.5%) over the previous year. Most notable was the Chemistry Department, which increased the total number of awards from 29 to 65 and total dollars from $6.5 million to $11.1 million.
The following illustrate the abundance of scholarly activity in the College and Graduate School:
Archaeology: The Archaeology Department completed the first year of a four-year, $450,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation's Initiative on East Asian Archaeology and Early History to support the development of an East Asian archaeology curriculum. In addition, the trustees of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded $600,000 to the International Center for East Asian Archeology to support further development of ARC/Base, a multilingual, web-based bibliography of resources for the scholarly field of East Asian archaeology. The grant will fund expansion of the international network of scholarly institutions contributing to the database, while the Center works toward a formal launch of this online resource.
Astronomy: The Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER), an instrument built by Principal Investigator Harlan Spence and his group to examine the radiation environment near the Moon, was successfully launched and is now collecting data from the lunar orbit on the fluxes of energetic particles and radiation. The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) satellite, a project led by Professor Nathan Schwadron and his group, was also successfully launched and is now measuring the properties of high-energy neutral atoms entering local space from beyond the heliopause. BU is hosting the Science Operations Centers for both these projects, providing front-row opportunities for our students to engage in this research.
Biology: One particularly newsworthy publication was a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper by Professor Richard Primack and collaborators. “Phylogenetic Patterns of Species Loss in Thoreau's Woods Are Driven by Climate Change”demonstrated that climate change is already causing the plants in Concord, Massachusetts, to change their flowering dates and their abundance. Climate change is not just something for the future; it is already affecting natural systems today and causing certain vulnerable species to go locally extinct. Because Primack and his colleagues used the observations of Henry David Thoreau from the 1850s as a starting point, the paper received widespread media attention, including National Public Radio, Associated Press, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal.
Chemistry: Department faculty are active in many areas of research. The Center for Chemical Methodology and Library Development continued to be highly successful, engaging faculty from Chemistry, Biology, and the Medical School in its program. Its National Institutes of Health P50 Center Grant was renewed for a second five years (September 30, 2008–August 3, 2013) with funding from the National Institute of General Medical Science.
Among other important accomplishments:
- Professor Karen Allen and collaborators published a paper in Nature describing the X-ray crystal structure of the enzyme acetoacetate decarboxylase. The research fills an important gap in the understanding of how certain enzymes work.
- Professor Tom Tullius and colleagues at the NIH published a paper in Science describing their development of a new algorithm that provides a clearer picture of the structure of human DNA. The algorithm led to significant discoveries about important structural features that, in turn, help expand the understanding of the biology of the human genome.
Computer Science: Computer Science faculty have established active research programs reaching from formal language theory to network security to linguistics. The department is exceptional in its interdisciplinarity, as demonstrated by the following figure showing that half of the department’s funded research involves collaborative projects with other BU units.
Economics: Economics faculty have been highly visible in this period of economic uncertainty. Among other activities, Simon Gilchrist has been advising the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System on policies to address the economic crisis. Other recognitions include Pierre Perron winning the Econometric Theory Plura Scripsit Award and Randy Ellis and his co-author winning the National Institute for Health Care Management award for the best paper on health care management.
Geography and Environment and the Pardee Center: The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a $150,000, one-year grant to professors Cutler J. Cleveland and Adil Najam of the Department of Geography and Environment to lead an interdisciplinary seminar on energy transitions—shifts in the types of energy (e.g., coal, nuclear, wind) used by societies. The research will be part of the Mellon Foundation’s John E. Sawyer Seminars on the Comparative Study of Cultures, established in 1994 to provide support for comparative research on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary developments.
Physics: The Stephen Bechtel Fund awarded Physics Professor Gene Stanley $450,000 over three years to support his research on the molecular mechanisms that may underlie Alzheimer’s disease. Stanley uses computer models derived from statistical physics to understand the toxic aggregation of peptides in the brain, and this represents his largest grant to date from the Bechtel Fund.
Psychology: The Psychology Department continues to deliver exceptional performance in all areas of research and education, as indicated by its grant funding—more than $450,000 per faculty member—and enrollment of more than 900 undergraduate majors. Highlights include National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) designation of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders a Program of Excellence in Scientifically Validated Behavioral Treatment, and the highly productive operation of the Center for Memory and Brain under an award from the NIMH Silvio O. Conte Center for Neuroscience.
Religion: The Religion Department successfully pursued a four-year Posen Foundation for Cultural Judaism grant to develop curriculum and programming in cultural/secular Judaism. Obtaining the grant was a major accomplishment and promises to bring a fresh energy to Judaic Studies. Particularly exciting is the extensive team teaching that was written into the grant, including a cycle of collaborative endeavors of Michael Zank and Adam Seligman of Religion and Abigail Gillman of Modern Languages & Comparative Literature.