Four faculty chosen as Guggenheim Fellows

April 9, 2008

by Madeline Fisher

Four professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have received 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship Awards, which recognize artists, scholars and scientists based on distinguished past achievement and exceptional future promise.

The professors are among 190 individuals selected by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation of New York from a pool of more than 2,600 applicants. The financial awards to this year's winners total $8.2 million.

Since 1925, the foundation has granted more than $265 million in fellowships to nearly 16,500 individuals from a wide range of professions, including writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, choreographers, physical and biological scientists, social scientists and scholars in the humanities.

This year's UW-Madison winners are:

Laura L. Kiessling, Hilldale Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Laurens Anderson Professor of Biochemistry. As a Guggenheim Fellow, Kiessling proposes to expand the scope of a type of chemical synthesis, called alkene metathesis, which she believes could offer a powerful new way to monitor the condition and function of cells. Earlier, her group exploited this process to create biological molecules that reacted selectively with certain "reporter" chemicals, allowing the molecules to be followed and observed. She now plans to develop metathesis reactions that will take place on more complex molecules, such as proteins, and in more complex environments, such as the cell surface.

Laura Elise Schwendinger, composer and associate professor of music composition. Schwendinger's work during her Guggenheim year will include a new composition for the Corigliano String Quartet of Washington D.C. and another for the Cygnus Ensemble of New York. In addition, she plans to prepare recordings of some of her recent works, including Chiaroscuro Azzuro (a violin concerto) and Esprimere (a cello concerto for Matt Haimovitz), as well as to create a new work for Sole Nero, the percussion and piano duo of Anthony Di Sanza and Jessica Johnson, both UW-Madison faculty members.

Gary Shiu, associate professor of physics. With his fellowship, Shiu will expand his studies of string "phenomenology," an emerging research area that connects string theory — the leading contender for a unified "theory of everything" — to experiment. Shiu's research will help scientists understand the results of major physics experiments, including the Large Hadron Collider soon to begin operation in Switzerland, and several upcoming cosmology missions that will probe the early universe where fundamental physics leaves its fingerprint. His work may also shed light on matters such as the origin of mass, the nature of the Big Bang, and the composition of dark matter and dark energy in our universe.

Barbara (Bobbi) Wolfe, professor of economics, population health sciences and public affairs, and director of the La Follette School of Public Affairs. Wolfe, who also directed the UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty from 1994 to 2000, will study the tie between income and health. One project draws on a natural experiment tied to the state-by-state legalization of casinos for American Indian tribes, which led to increased income for some tribes as they set up casinos. Another will make use of a new data set of multiple brain scans of children that is coupled to data on income, family status and school performance. Wolfe hopes the research will lead to more effective policies for ameliorating income-based health disparities.

In addition, University of Michigan professor Sheldon Danziger, who directed the UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty from 1983 to 1988, received a Guggenheim fellowship to examine four decades of anti-poverty policies.