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Spring 2003
Volume 39, No. 3
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PCMOnline Editor
Sarah Dolinar

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New Faces for 2002-03

Ten new scholar-teachers add a range of talents to the Pomona faculty.

The 10 new teacher-scholars who joined the Pomona faculty in 2002 on continuing contracts are incredibly diverse in their interests, experience and credentials. Following are brief introductions:

Yi Chen, Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Always interested in math and computer science, Yi Chen’s interest in teaching was piqued in graduate school when she began tutoring groups of English-learners. Not only did she enjoy the personal connection to her students—who came from Vietnam, China, Yemen, Pakistan and Ethiopia, among other nations—but she was fascinated by “how different people learned better when things were explained in different ways.”

At Pomona, her goal in her introductory computer science class is “to show students that the field is amazingly broad and not just programming.” To this end, she incorporates discussions of current research fields and “hot” topics into her classes.

Her research interests lie at the intersection of mathematics and computer science, with a focus on algorithms, parallel computing and sparse matrix computing. In her work, she searches for ways to improve the efficiency of computer algorithms used to solve large linear algebra problems. Applications range from circuit simulation to 50-year climate modeling and structural engineering issues.

She earned her Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, and her S.B. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

E.J. Crane, Assistant Professor of Chemistry
E.J. Crane is fascinated by the biochemistry of organisms that live in hydrothermal vent environments, both at the ocean floor and deep underground. Among the questions he hopes to answer is how these organisms (known as hyperthermophiles) survive in environments that are both incredibly hot, with temperatures of 100 degrees Celsius or more, and highly toxic.

To find the answer, he is studying prokaryotic cells that that may be among the most ancient organisms on earth. Specifically, he and a colleague are studying an enzyme called NADH oxidase. “We know that proteins, in that kind of heat, should fry like eggs. The question is: Why doesn’t hyperthermophile protein fry?”

He and his research partner have already discovered that while “most oxidases get rid of oxygen or other electron-stealing compounds, the NADH oxidase in these organisms acts to move electrons around to where they’re needed in the cell. This was really a ‘Eureka!’ moment.” The next step, aided by Pomona students serving as lab assistants, will be to study whether the reaction they see in the test tube is actually important in the organisms.

Crane holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University and a B.S. from St. Cloud State University. He taught at Salisbury University in Maryland, where he received a 1999 Distinguished Faculty Award.

Peter Flueckiger, Assistant Professor of Asian Languages & Literature
Peter Flueckiger began his study of Japanese at a time when, he says, “a lot of interesting things were going on in Japan. By the late 1980s, Japan had come to prominence in the world as an economic powerhouse. At the same time, there were a lot of questions about the place of the U.S. in world affairs and whether Japan would take a larger role on the world stage. … There was also a sense of paranoia in the U.S. about Japan becoming too influential. Part of my interest was because I thought that that was overblown.” Today, he notices that students are drawn to Japanese language due to increasing interest in the country’s pop culture, particularly its comic books, television and music.

As a teacher, Flueckiger hopes his “students gain some level of speaking proficiency and become intrigued enough to visit Japan. Speaking the language of a foreign country is a wonderful experience,” he explains. “As a visitor, you can talk to people and understand what’s going on. It takes you beyond the textbooks and connects you to real people.”

Flueckiger recently returned from two years of research in Japan. He earned his M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. in Japanese literature from Columbia University.

Martin Hackl, Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science
Martin Hackl, who studies the formal syntax and semantics of natural language, is trying to understand how the ability to speak and understand language interacts with other cognitive systems, how children acquire language and how the brain masters the complexity of natural language. He is most intrigued by how comparative and quantificational expressions (e.g., none, many, more, fewer, most, etc.) are used to convey information and how children acquire their meaning. He notes, “Children seem to make very few mistakes when learning a language. They seem to acquire the grammar of a language based on very reduced exposure to that language and then apply it—without making almost any mistakes—to a wide range of constructions that they’ve never encountered before.”

At Pomona, Hackl is focusing his research on interactions between language and visual-scene processing. By outfitting subjects with an “eye-tracker,” a visor to which two small cameras and a small infrared light are attached, he and his student researchers can monitor the subject’s eye movement for insight into thought processes as each subject figures out answers to audio questions about a computer-screen image.

Hackl earned his doctorate in Linguistics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his M.A. in linguistics from the University of Vienna. Prior to joining Pomona’s faculty, he served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Cognitive Neuroscience Language Lab at the University of Maryland.

Jo Hardin ’95, Assistant Professor of Mathematics
Jo Hardin ’95 enjoys sharing the “cooler” aspects of statistics with her students, particularly in the PAC classes. “I like teaching the intuitive stuff, not only the mathematical details but also the ideas. For example, if two things correlate, it doesn’t mean that one thing causes another. Alcohol consumption highly correlates with lung cancer but it doesn’t mean that alcohol causes lung cancer.” To make her classes more interesting she culls examples from the news and uses examples based on a student survey she gives at the beginning of the semester.

Hardin’s own research is divided into two areas. In the area of clustering and outlier detection, she looks for patterns that don’t fit with the rest of the data. Her other field is statistical microarray analysis. Microarrays are small computer chips that can identify the activity of tens of thousands of genes on one sample simultaneously. Using these chips, she looks for differences across groups, such as a group of cancer patients versus a group of healthy samples.

Before returning to Pomona, where she graduated in 1995, Hardin was a research scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Group, where she worked primarily on multiple myeloma data. Comparing the genetics of sick people to healthy people, she says, they didn’t find a “wonder gene but they did identify a number of genes involved.” She holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in statistics from the University of California, Davis, and a B.A. in mathematics.

Konstantine Klioutchkine, Assistant Professor of Russian
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Konstantine Klioutchkine began English lessons at age five and first came to the U.S. as an exchange student while in college. “In Russia,” he explains, “knowledge of a language and other cultures was the core symbol of a well-educated person as seen by society but not necessarily by government.”

Klioutchkine can point to several reasons to study Russian. “In terms of business, economics and politics, Russia has been and will continue to be a major player in the world. Knowing the language is an important asset for any international politics or business career. Russia is also full of fascinating paradoxes. It shares Western culture so it’s largely familiar yet somehow odd. Plus, Moscow and St. Petersburg have some of the most happening culture and night life.”

When not teaching, his main focus is on the classics of Russian 19th- and 20th-century literature, especially Fyodor Dostoevsky and Anton Chekhov. The two are among his favorites, he says, “because Chekhov tells everything you need to know about relationships while Dostoevsky explains everything about the human psyche and how irrational we are.”

Klioutchkine’s broader interests include the history of the press, literary theory, and media studies. He received his Ph.D. and M.A. in Slavic languages and literatures from the University of California, Berkeley. He also attended the University of Chicago and Herzen University in St. Petersburg.

Jennifer Perry, Instructor of Anthropology
Jennifer Perry has always been interested in human behavior, a fact she attributes to the family road trips of her youth to archeological digs, dinosaur bones, dinosaur footprints or places like Mesa Verde. From those early days, archeology interested her most. “I always wanted to know more about the people who had lived where I did,” she explains.

Perry has spent the last 10 years studying prehistoric hunter-gatherer-fisher societies of the Channel Islands area near Santa Barbara. “What’s really interesting,” she says, “is that there’s an assumption that hunter-gatherer societies are very simple and very mobile. But there were lots of hunter-gatherer-fisher societies that, due to the coastal environment, had plenty of resources, providing the right circumstances for more complex societies. In the Santa Barbara Channel region, prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the Chumash were one of those. They had large permanent villages and extensive trade between the islands and the mainland, connecting groups throughout California.” Most recently, Perry has been surveying the eastern end of Santa Cruz Island to identify archeological sites.

“Over time, people have always reacted to the environment, fought with each other, had economic crashes, experienced intrigue and faced droughts and el niños. For me the value of archeology and pre-history is realizing that we’re not the only ones to deal with these problems.”

Perry earned her M.A. and is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She received her B.A. from the University of San Diego.

Sarah Raff, Instructor of English
Among her classes last fall, Sarah Raff taught the ID1 course Advice About Love which examined the development of the narrator and his relationship to the reader by looking at scenes where advice about love is exchanged.

“It was amazing,” she reports, “how students found similar concerns in Ovid and Dangerous Liaisons [Laclos].” Recognizing that some of her students might not take another English literature class, she tried to expose them to as many great works as possible, including those by Austen, Dante, Shakespeare, James and Cervantes.
“The course was also a way to introduce pop culture. The 18th century conduct books are very similar to our self-help books,” she notes.

Obsessed with literature since she “was small,” Raff’s own first favorite book was the long version of Alice in Wonderland, followed not too many years later by Pride and Prejudice, whose author, Jane Austen, is still a favorite. Her current research interests are the history of the novel, literary culture in the 18th century, psychoanalytic theory, Quixotism, and representations of the reader.

Raff earned her B.A. from and is a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature at Yale University, where she served as a teaching fellow and later instructor. Fluent in French and German, with reading knowledge of Italian and Latin, she served as the foreign fiction correspondent for Publisher’s Weekly, from 1997 to 1998.

Chuck Taylor, Assistant Professor of Chemistry
In the lab, Chuck Taylor is working at the cutting edge of materials research and combinatorial chemistry in order to develop new materials for gas sensing/environmental monitoring applications.

Building on work he began at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Taylor uses micro-hotplate arrays (microarrays designed with built-in microheaters and surface electrical contacts on each array element) to efficiently perform experiments with multiple variables, including temperature, catalyst thickness, time and pressure. This application of the micro-hotplate array to combinatorial chemistry allows him to complete in hours, experiments that previously would have taken weeks. A recent test with one micro-hotplate array allowed him to conduct more than 150 experiments. The ultimate goal is to use such arrays to improve techniques for optimizing a material’s properties.

Micro-hotplate arrays are not yet available commercially, but this summer Taylor’s research students will be able to use the cutting-edge technology in a collaborative project between Pomona, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and NIST. In that project, the scientists and students will be examining whether metal oxide sensors can be made more selective by changing the chemistry used to prepare them.

Taylor received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and his B.A. at Macalester College. He previously taught as a visiting instructor at Macalester College and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the NIST Chemical Sciences and Technology Laboratory.

David Foster Wallace, Roy Edward Disney Professor in Creative Writing
David Wallace is the author of the critically acclaimed Infinite Jest (1996), Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999), and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (1997), as well as numerous pieces of short fiction and nonfiction articles.

To Wallace, creative writing and “regular” writing are “two facets of the same jewel, interesting persuasive communication. In creative writing, it’s teaching students how to construct a complicated and emotional relationship with their reader. … You’re asking the reader to care about a certain character.”

An English professor for more than 10 years, Wallace finds that teaching provides a nice balance to his writing career. Writing, he points out, can be a pretty solitary profession.

Wallace earned his A.B. from Amherst College and his M.F.A. in fiction from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining Pomona’s faculty, he taught at Illinois State University, Amherst College and Emerson College. In 1997, he received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Grant. The Disney Professorship is a tenured permanent position, which is reflective of the record of skill, imagination and teaching ability required for the position.

—Cynthia Peters