Distinguished Colleagues

Distinguished Colleagues

Chronicle looks at the recipients of this year's Distinguished Faculty Awards, which recognize excellence in teaching, research and service activities. This issue features the winners in the research category.

Name: Paul Davidovits
Department: Chemistry
Years at BC: 27
Is that a harpoon in his office? Yes - a gag gift given to Davidovits from students after he explained how some molecules "harpoon" others in certain chemical reactions.

Prof. Paul Davidovits has his head in the clouds, and the scientific community couldn't be happier about it.

An environmental chemist who studies the atmosphere, Davidovits specializes in the interactions of gas molecules with liquid droplets in clouds and fog that play a key role in many atmospheric processes, including the formation of acid rain and ozone depletion.

Until recently, experiments on the interactions of gases with liquids were difficult to perform. But the efforts of Davidovits and his research group, in conjunction with Aerodyne Research in Billerica, have changed all that, and in so doing advanced the field of atmospheric chemistry.

Davidovits and his team are credited with devising an important model of the interaction between liquids and gases at the molecular level within a certain temperature range. Davidovits' colleague Prof. David McFadden notes that scientists have been attempting to determine this crucial parameter for more than 75 years.

At the same time, the group developed an aerosol mass spectrometer, a device that can be used to measure the chemical composition of particles in the air.

"This has driven a large research effort to be able to size particles and measure their composition... and looks very exciting in terms of being able to provide important information," wrote Barbara Finlayson-Pitts, a chemistry professor at the University of California, Irvine, in her evaluation of Davidovits' work.

As dedicated as he is to his research, Davidovits has cultivated an equally solid reputation for his teaching. Combining these two facets, he says, is immensely fulfilling.

"The challenge for a scientist is to engage in a project with societal relevance that presents intellectual challenges within which students can learn."

Name: Lisa Feldman Barrett
Department: Psychology
Years at BC: 6
Quote of Note: "FB is willing to push her students to their maximum capacity, and then push a little more." - Eliza Bliss-Moreau '02.

As a researcher of the dynamics of emotion, Assoc. Prof. Lisa Feldman Barrett faced the same nemesis that plagued her predecessors for half a century: old information.

In past experiments, research subjects asked to describe their emotions during certain situations usually did so well after the event had occurred. Inevitably, this lag tended to influence respondents' perceptions of the experience, and thus called into question the validity of the test results.

But that was before Feldman Barrett added some high-tech wizardry to the field and changed the way emotional research is being done. Feldman Barrett - her students refer to her as "FB" - uses a computerized sampling technique with Palm Pilots and mini-computers that study participants must carry with them throughout the day. When paged, the participant must respond immediately by entering information into the device.

Feldman Barrett's husband wrote the software that has been made available for free on the Internet and is currently in use by other researchers around the country.

"This method is a significant advance over retrospective self-reports and provides valid and reliable data with which to test models of mood and emotion," wrote Prof. Ellen Winner (Psychology) in nominating Feldman Barrett for the Distinguished Research Award.

Her research focuses on both the intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of emotion, with the goal of understanding the processes associated with emotional experience and expression.

Feldman Barrett's says her findings indicate that people are in touch with their emotions on different levels, and has given her insight into the cues people use to signify those emotions.

"Some people are very complex with their understanding of their emotions," said Feldman Barrett, who is quick to praise the students assisting her in the laboratory. "The key question is: 'What are the processes associated with labeling emotional states?'"

Name: Larry Wolff
Department: History
Years at BC: 15
Research Sustenance: "Coffee, and lots of it."

This year has seen Prof. Larry Wolff earn not one but two of the most coveted accolades given to Boston College faculty.

An Enlightenment scholar lauded for bringing art and music to his classes, Wolff won the annual Teaching Award voted by students of the Boston College chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and was recognized by peers in his field by winning one of the Distinguished Research awards.

"I am particularly impressed with the wide scope of his research," wrote Prof. Antoni Maczak, chair of the Modern European History department at the University of Warsaw, in his assessment of Wolff. "Unlike most of us historians, Wolff is never satisfied with a particular area of research in both senses: geographical and as a subject."

Wolff has written extensively on the intellectual and cultural history of early modern Europe. His latest book, Venice and the Slavs: The Discovery of Dalmatia in the Age of Enlightenment, has just been released from Stanford University Press. Wolff's Previous books include The Vatican and Poland in the Age of the Partitions (1988), Postcards from the End of the World: Child Abuse in Freud's Vienna (1988), and Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (1994).

For Wolff, doing historical research is as much a passion as a profession. "I love to throw myself into my work, I get great pleasure from it," he said.

But Wolff, recently returned from summer teaching stints in Russia and Poland, stresses the importance of integrating one's research and teaching activities. He teaches courses on Rome and the Vatican and on culture and Communism, as well as a seminar on historical writing that focuses on the travel journals of Captain Cook.

"Teaching and research go hand-in-hand. The things that I'm researching always find a way to complement what I'm teaching."

-Stephen Gawlik


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