Williams College Geosciences Professor Wins NSF Grant

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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Phoebe Cohen, associate professor of geosciences at Williams College, has been awarded a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation.

The two-year grant totaling $79,585 will support Cohen's research about the co-evolution of life and environments throughout earth's history.

Cohen's research project, titled "Using Organic Carbon Isotopes of Single Microfossils to Illuminate Proterozoic Eukaryotic Ecosystems," will explore the relationships between biology and the rise of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere. Working in collaboration with faculty at Syracuse University and the University of California, Santa Barbara — who each received additional NSF funding — as well as undergraduate students, the project will measure organic carbon isotopes of microscopic fossils, which represent our best window into the evolution of life before the rise of animals, a time period known as the Proterozoic.

"While we have learned a significant amount about the Proterozoic Earth system in the last few decades, major questions remain," said Cohen, a paleontologist whose research utilizes a wide variety of microscopic and microchemical techniques, combined with data from field-based stratigraphy and sedimentology, to reconstruct ancient organisms and ecosystems. "Measuring organic carbon isotopes of microscopic fossils will help us figure out where in the oceans early organisms were living and if early life could thrive in waters with little or no oxygen."



In addition to illuminating persistent unknowns in the Proterozoic Earth system, Cohen's project aims to create new geochemical and paleontological educational modules for K-12 and college educators, develop innovative organic geochemistry techniques that will be shared with the broader scientific community, and add information on early fossil life to the open-access Paleobiology Database.

"Stable isotopes are a fantastic tool to illuminate ancient ecosystems," says Mea Cook, chair and associate professor of geosciences. "We're excited about the pioneering work Professor Cohen and her students will do with the support of this research grant."

Cohen joined the faculty at Williams in 2012 and received tenure in 2018. She teaches such courses as The Co-Evolution of Earth and Life, Paleobiology, and Geobiology. She also serves as a coordinator of the First3 new faculty orientation program. In 2012 Cohen received the Geological Society of America’s Subaru Outstanding Woman in Science Award. She received a B.A. from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

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No Baystate Winter Games Figure Skating in Williamstown this Year

WOBURN, Mass. -- After spending the last 35 years in the Berkshires, the Bay State Winter Games Figure Skating competition will not take place in Williamstown in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
This decision was based on the Bay State Games overriding concern to protect the health and safety of all participants, coaches, judges, volunteers, and spectators. Other factors that lead to this decision include state guidelines limiting public events, the uncertainty of whether the Williams College Lansing Chapman Rink will open in 2021, current limitations on use of Williams College facilities by outside groups and protocol requirements from national figure skating governing bodies.
 
“It is with great disappointment that we announce we will be unable to host the Bay State Games figure skating competition in Williamstown in 2021,”  Bay State Games Executive Director Kevin Cummings said. “For the last 35 years, it has been a privilege to bring skaters and their families to Berkshire County for this longtime winter tradition. While our participants have always enjoyed travelling to the region for the event which has had a positive economic impact for local hotels and restaurants, many factors related to the pandemic prevent us from returning in the Winter of 2021”.
 
Bay State Games will continue to evaluate the possibility of hosting a live skating event in Massachusetts later in 2021 or as part of the Summer Games should the impact of the pandemic and restrictions improve. Potentially hosting virtual skating events later in the year is also under consideration. Future event options for 2021 are being investigated as federal, state, and local board of health protocols continue to be monitored. Bay State Games remains hopeful it can return to Berkshire County for 2022 events and beyond.
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