Four Stanford faculty honored with Guggenheim Fellowships

Margaret Cohen, Bissera Pentcheva, Jesse Rodin and Tim Roughgarden received 2017 Guggenheim Fellowships.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded fellowships to four Stanford faculty members.

The fellowships are given annually to midcareer scholars, artists and scientists based on their prior achievement and exceptional promise.

Stanford faculty members Margaret Cohen, Bissera Pentcheva, Jesse Rodin and Tim Roughgarden were among 173 people chosen for the 2017 fellowships.

Margaret Cohen

Margaret Cohen (Image credit: Ved Chirayath)

Cohen, the Andrew B. Hammond Professor in French Language, Literature, and Civilization, and professor of comparative literature and of English, received the Guggenheim award to complete a book on people’s perception of the underwater environment and how our imagination has been shaped by innovations in science and technology.

“I’m thrilled,” Cohen said of her reaction to receiving the fellowship. “It’s a recognition of my research, and an acknowledgment of the work I’ve done during my career.”

The book, Spectacles of the Underwater Frontier, examines depictions of the ocean from the introduction of the first public aquariums to more recent technological advances, like underwater film and TV.

“When the modern aquarium was invented in 1853, it was completely mind-blowing for the general public,” Cohen said. “It really shifted how people saw underwater life. It was no longer just this dark abyss.”

Cohen said she has become all the more convinced of the project’s importance after snorkeling at – and seeing the damage to – the Great Barrier Reef caused by climate change. Cohen hopes her book will help people be more conscious of humankind’s impact on oceans, by drawing attention to remote environments that are significant to our planetary ecosystem but not easily observed.

Bissera Pentcheva

Bissera Pentcheva (Image credit: Lisa DeNeffe)

Pentcheva, professor of art and art history, was awarded the fellowship for fine arts research.

Pentcheva has focused on studying Byzantium and the medieval Mediterranean world. Her recent research explores the interconnection among acoustics, architecture and liturgical rite during that period.

Pentcheva will use her Guggenheim Fellowship to complete a project that will examine animation in medieval art seen in Byzantine, Islamic and Western medieval cultures, using digital technology tools alongside traditional textual research.

“The Guggenheim is one of the highest recognitions in the field,” Pentcheva said. “I am deeply honored.”

Rodin, associate professor of music, was awarded the fellowship for music research.

Jesse Rodin

Jesse Rodin (Image credit: Mark Nye)

The fellowship will support Rodin’s study of late-medieval music. His project, titled “Giving Form to 15th-Century Music,” explores how innovations in musical form intersect with other cultural developments, such as the rise of municipal clock towers and portable timekeeping devices.“I’m interested in examining how this music happens in time – in approaching music as a time-bound experience,” Rodin said.

Rodin was also recently awarded a Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars to work on the same project. The Burkhardt Fellowship will allow Rodin to live in Florence, Italy, during the 2017-18 academic year. He said he plans to defer his Guggenheim Fellowship to pursue the Burkhardt opportunity first.

But the Guggenheim Fellowship holds a special place in Rodin’s heart. His grandfather Harry Slochower, a scholar of German and Scandinavian literature, philosophy and psychoanalysis, was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1929.

“It’s wonderful to have one’s work recognized,” Rodin said. “And it brings recognition to early music, a field known for fruitfully integrating so-called old and new scholarly methods.”

Tim Roughgarden

Tim Roughgarden (Image credit: Emma Dickson)

Roughgarden, professor of computer science, will use his fellowship to pursue work on the connections between computer science and economics.

Roughgarden, who graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree and came back as an assistant professor in 2004, has recently focused on applications of complexity theory, a branch of theoretical computer science that studies the amount of resources required to solve different computational problems. His previous work established several unexpected connections between computational complexity and fundamental economic questions.

The Guggenheim Fellowship will help support research during a 2017-18 sabbatical, he said.

“The goal of this project is to develop these initial results into a general theory of complexity-theoretic barriers in economics,” Roughgarden said.