New Science Faculty Win Prestigious Awards

Janet Scheel and Andrew K. Udit, both newly recruited Occidental College assistant professors, have won prestigious awards for outstanding young faculty members. Scheel, a physicist, won a Cottrell College Science Award for $43,684 to continue her groundbreaking work in the field of fluid dynamics.

Udit, a chemist who studies viruses and petrochemical conversions, won a $30,000 Camille and Henry Dreyfus Faculty Start-up Award.

The Cotrell Award made it possible for Scheel to purchase a powerful computer that is able to simulate complex lab experiments that could, one day, shed light on the puzzling recurrent reversal of Earth’s magnetic field, when north becomes south and south, north. The switches have defied prediction but occur approximately every 250,000 years, enabling paleontologists and geologists to date fossils based on their magnetism.

Scheel’s project titled "Numerical Simulations of Turbulent Thermal Convection: Investigations of the Large–Scale Circulation and its Reorientations," involves computer simulations that recreate a phenomenon called "mean wind." In a lab, the experiment would demonstrate basic principles of convection by using a fluid-filled cell with a plate on the top and bottom.  By heating the bottom plate and cooling the top, the fluid begins to circulate, as expected. However, using extreme temperature differences causes turbulence, including "mean wind" which is noisy and capable of distributing super-heated plumes of fluid throughout the cell, and can even cause reversal of flow.  It is very difficult for experimenters to detect the fluid properties without invasive methods. Hence, numerical simulations provide a "window" into what is occurring in these cells.

"You need serious computational power to simulate these type of experiments," Scheel said. "My hope is that I can gain insights into fluid turbulence and how super-heated plumes of fluid cause flow reversals."

 Professor Andrew K. UditA large part of Udit’s research involves developing synthetic heparin anticoagulants -- which prevent blot clots -- using chemically modified viruses. Derived from pigs, commercial heparin is among the most complex sugars known. Hospital personnel administering incorrect or contaminated doses of the anticoagulant have provided fodder for the news media, most notably in the case of actor Dennis Quaid’s infant twins who were given too much heparin at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in 2007.

"Heparin is a very heterogeneous mixture so each batch is different. Therefore, people can have bad reactions to it," Udit said. "Right now, there is only one approved antidote for overdose, a salmon-derived product that itself is quite toxic and easily over-administered."

Scheel, who formerly taught at California Lutheran University, lives with her husband in nearby Sierra Madre. She enjoys birding and hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains. Udit, who spent two years at the Scripps Research Institute after his first stint as a doctoral fellow at Occidental in 2005-06, loves aquariums and volunteered often at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Birch Aquarium while living in San Diego.

Single Investigator Cottrell College Science Awards support significant research that contributes to the advancement of science and to the professional and scholarly development of faculty at undergraduate institutions along with their students. The Cottrell Awards are part of the Research Corporation. Founded in 1912, the Research Corporation is an active, hands-on foundation that stimulates advances in science.

Established in 1946, the purpose of the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc., is to advance the science of chemistry, chemical engineering and related sciences as a means of improving human relations and circumstances.