2008 Janet Andersen Award Winners
Physical Sciences and Mathematics
Jeff Wilkerson, PhD
Associate Professor of Physics
Luther College, Decorah, IA
Professor Wilkerson joined the Luther College physics department in the Fall of 1997. He received his B.S. in Physics from Indiana University, and has his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley.
Jeff currently has two primary areas of research interest.
- (1) Study of the use of gaseous xenon as a detector medium for hard x-rays. Hard x-ray detectors are used to study black holes, neutron stars and active galactic nuclei. In xenon gas the energy of an incident x-ray gets converted to scintillation light, the strength of which is proportional to the energy of the x-ray absorbed. In the laboratory we have been studying this process.
- (2) Development of rapid photometric techniques for the study of stellar signal variations. We acquire hundreds or thousands of images of a rich star field in a given night. We then perform a statistical analysis of the signal (= "apparent brightness") of each star in the field over the course of the night. While this work should prove useful for the study of everything from meteors to near-earth asteroids to variable stars, we are primarily interested in searching for foreground objects that pass between us and a distant star, leading to a sudden and brief decrease or increase in the flux measured from the background star.
Concerning his approach to engaging undergraduates in research, Jeff wrote, "I don't create separate research problems for students. They join me in the lab working on the projects I am tackling at the time. It's a difficult task for the students but I think the rewards are great as well. In an ideal situation I will work with a student during the summer after the sophomore year and continue to work with the same student until graduation. This approach allows us to start with simple data acquisition or analysis, instrument construction or calibration, or software development. Over the course of time we can introduce the different aspects of the project, allowing the student to slowly grow until the project is his or hers."
His nominee wrote, "I brought Jeff into my classroom last January to make a presentation on the origin of the universe for my ‘Great Ideas in Natural Science' course for non-majors. It was the best class of the term. A very bright senior came to me afterwards and said that Jeff's talk was the most engaging intellectual experience of his four years at Luther College. Last fall Jeff made a presentation of some of his research as a visiting speaker at the University of Minnesota, Mankato. I called the organizer of the visit and asked how it went. The organizer said that it was a terrific lecture that successfully engaged the entire audience, including undergraduates, graduate students and faculty. He said, ‘it would have been impossible to go to sleep during the presentation, and no one did.' "
Jeff presented his lecture entitled "At Home in the Milky Way" on Sunday morning of the three-day Symposium. The talk began with some data and description from his own research. But he spent much of the time telling his audience the fascinating story of how our current understanding of our galaxy's size and structure came to be. The abstract from his talk is below.
Abstract: When Harlow Shapley used globular star clusters to expand the known size of the Milky Way by an order of magnitude it echoed the growth of the known universe when Kepler and Brahe moved us from geocentrism to heliocentrism. Edwin Hubble's determination that the Milky Way is just one in a sea of galaxies expanded the universe dramatically once again. We will look at our knowledge of the size and structure of the galaxy and the galaxy's place in the universe. How this knowledge grew, from Brahe through Hubble to Vera Rubin's conception of dark matter, serves as a model of what astronomy, and science more broadly, is. The fingerprint of this story can be seen in astronomical projects being carried in backyards, on small college campuses, at large research centers, at mountaintop observatories and in space.
Biological Sciences and Psychology
David J. Hall, PhD
Associate Professor of Chemistry
Lawrence University, Appleton, WI
Prof. Hall joined the chemistry department at Lawrence in the fall of 2002. After completing his Ph.D. in the Department of Biochemistry at The University of Wisconsin, Dr. Dave (as his students call him) spent three years as a visiting professor at his alma mater, Butler University. He then returned to Madison for post-doctoral research in the department of Biomolecular Chemistry in the UW Medical School. Dr. Dave's primary teaching responsibilities include Biochemistry and Advanced Biochemistry along with contributions to the teaching of introductory and organic chemistry courses.
Dr. Dave's current research interests focus on signal transduction pathways activated by viral infection. Dr. Dave's research, as he describes it, represents an effort to understand the mechanisms by which rhinovirus activation of macrophages leads to the exacerbation of asthma. His research is based on the conviction that, because virus-induced asthma has been resistant to therapy, it is important to expand our knowledge concerning the critical cellular and physiological processes involved in its development, so that new forms of intervention might be found.
According to the nomination letter, "Dave seems to me to embody all the requisites of the award. He is active in research, he is a remarkable mentor and advisor to his research students, he is a vocal proponent of both the chemistry and biochemistry areas of our department, and while his primary research area is in biochemistry, he has been willing and able to lead a variety of efforts in interdisciplinary areas, most notably our nanoscience initiatives. He is also a creative and popular teacher, an excellent and enthusiastic speaker who would represent well the undergraduate institutions of the consortium on the program of one of the research symposia."
Dr. Dave gave his lecture entitled "Understanding the mechanisms of rhinovirus-induced inflammation" on Friday evening. He spoke about the research he's done with 30 undergraduates making contributions. The abstract for his seminar is below.
Abstract: The long-range goal of our research program is to understand the mechanisms by which rhinovirus activation of macrophages leads to the exacerbation of asthma. Previous studies have implicated the macrophage as playing an important role in the elaboration of the inflammatory environment observed in exacerbation of asthma. However, the details of the role of macrophages in virus-mediated cytokine release, the signaling pathways and mechanisms that promote the release of cytokines during rhinovirus infection and asthma exacerbations are still very poorly understood. Over the last 6 years, our research program has established that there is a specific inflammatory response to different rhinovirus serotypes. This specific response is the result of differential activation of the mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways. Furthermore, we have determined that interleukin-10, gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), immunoglobulin G and 2-arachidonoylglycerol play an important role in the virus specific inflammatory response.