Dartmouth professors named to scientific society

Dartmouth professors Robert Caldwell and Kathryn Cottingham were recently named to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

HANOVER — Two Dartmouth professors are now fellows of the world’s largest general scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Robert Caldwell, a professor of physics and astronomy, and Kathryn Cottingham, the Dartmouth Professor in the Arts and Sciences and a professor of biological studies, were recently named to the prestigious organization, which also published the journal, Science.

Cottingham and Caldwell are among the 443 scholars awarded the honor of being named fellows this year, according to an announcement from the AAAS. The recognition comes for Cottingham and Caldwell’s “efforts to advance science or its applications,” according to the statement.

Dartmouth Provost Joseph Helble said the recognition for the two professors highlights their leadership in the scientific community.

“This recognition speaks not only to their outstanding contributions to science as scholars and teachers, but to their leadership in the scientific community,” Helble said.

Helble himself was named an AAAS fellow in 2007.

Caldwell is being cited for his “array of distinguished theoretical contributions to cosmology, especially in the study of dark energy,” according to the AAAS.

Caldwell is a theoretical physicist who studies the expansion of the universe. Much of his recent work focuses on the relatively new study of gravitational waves, which he describes as “a traveling disturbance in the gravitational field” created when heavy stars or black holes collide.

“If you can measure these waves, and people can measure them now, then you can detect the motions of black holes at distant locations in the universe,” Caldwell said. “I’m working with a group that’s looking ahead to the year 2030 to put a gravitational wave detector in space.”

Caldwell and his team are working with NASA, the European Space Agency, and a consortium of other scientists on the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, or LISA, project to put three triangulated satellites that will shoot laser beams at each other across distances of more than a million miles in order to detect the gravitational waves.

“Using LISA, it’s hoped that we’ll be able to detect the collision of some of the biggest black holes in the universe. So it will be really exciting,” he said.

Cottingham’s “distinguished contributions to the fields of limnology and ecosystem science, and for applications of those basic science contributions to bettering human health.” are cited as her reason for being named an AAAS fellow.

“The thrill for me is the recognition that my work matters in the broader field of science, beyond my own subfield,” Cottingham said.

Cottingham is an ecologist who specializes in lakes, in particular studying the cause of cyanobacterial blooms.

“Cyanobacteria produce toxins that can kill dogs and make people sick. These toxins may also cause cancer over long periods of time. So we’re trying to understand the ecology of cyanobacteria so we can potentially prevent the blooms, and toxins, from happening,” she said.

Cottingham and her lab team are in the 15th year of a study of blooms in Lake Sunapee, a project launched by one of Cottingham’s then-undergraduate students. Recently, Cottingham and her team have begun collaborating with Dartmouth Assistant Professor of Computer Science Alberto Quattrini Li on a new National Science Foundation-Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research-funded project to study the blooms with robots and drones.

“We’re bringing all these new tools and technologies to help with this problem that we have not been able to answer with conventional approaches,” she said.

Cottingham has also collaborated with colleagues at the Geisel School of Medicine to apply ecological models to the study of arsenic exposure in children.

Cottingham was recently named the editor-in-chief of Ecology, the Ecological Society of America’s publication.

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