Profs receive Guggenheim grants

by Khalil Ayvar | 5/25/01 5:00am

Two Dartmouth professors have been awarded the highly prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, which they will use to continue their projects in computer science and Holocaust history.

Bruce Randall Donald, Professor of Computer Science, will use the fellowship to study computational biology and the molecular machinery of life, which he said he hopes will aid medical research.

Marianne Hirsch, who teaches in both the French and Italian and comparative literature departments, was awarded the Guggenheim to complete her Czernowitz Album, a collaborative book following four Jewish families through their experiences before, during and after the Holocaust.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awards fellowships on the basis of notable professional achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment. This year, 183 fellowships were awarded from a pool of 2,700 applications.

Both Donald and Hirsch said they are very much looking forward to following through with their research.

Donald said he is particularly excited about the autonomy the Guggenheim fellowship will provide him. Recipients can take up to a year off to concentrate and focus on their projects. The grant allows the recipients to be "free of other obligations to advance knowledge," he said.

Donald's research "takes ideas and techniques from computer science and applies them to molecular machinery" of genes, proteins, and cells, he explained.

With new algorithms and programs, computation of biological systems can become possible, Donald said.

He explained how the field of structural proteomics is a collaboration of computer science, biology, chemistry, and biochemistry, working towards a common goal.

Donald said he hopes the results of the research help create an understanding of various biological systems, such as the molecular systems of cancer and the molecular basis of antibiotics, and will aid in developing new and progressive tools for biologists.

Among direct benefits of the new algorithms would be improved and more efficient design of medications, specifically targeted and more effective in their assigned tasks.

"We hope to be starting this year," Donald said.

Hirsch's Czernowitz Album, co-authored by Hirsch and her husband, Dartmouth history Professor Leo Spitzer, follows four Jewish families from the same eastern European town through their experiences "before, during, and after the Holocaust," she said.

She smiled as she mentioned that they had also earned a joint grant from the American Council of Learned Societies in support of her album, adding that she was "very pleased to have time off to write."

Between the Guggenheim Fellowship and the ACLS grant, she will have almost two years to focus on the project, though she said she will be co-editing other books in the meantime.

Since the conception of the project two years ago, Hirsch has collected almost 100 hours of oral testimony from survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants, while researching stories and information for the album in the Ukraine, Romania, Israel, Germany, Austria, France and the United States.

The book also includes family photos, archival records, letters and works of literature.

Hirsch said she and Spitzer were inspired to the task by traveling with her parents, Holocaust survivors, when they finally returned in 1998 to their home of Czernowitz (now Cernivsti) in Ukraine, the home they fled in 1945 at the end of World War II.

Before the war, Czernowitz was characterized by many ethnicities, including a large Jewish group that comprised over 50 percent of the local population. After the war, fewer than half of the diverse city's Jewish citizens survived, and most who had fled the city, Hirsch said.

According to Hirsch, within a few years the town's German-Jewish culture had vanished from the community, and few residents remembered the pre-war Jewish community that influenced so many aspects of the city's life.

The Czernowitz Album will remind people of "the history that was forgotten," she hopes, claiming she has "a mission to tell."

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