Of Coptic texts and spider silk

Two COP professors were awarded important grants this summer from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation. Take a glimpse at Professor Caroline Schroeder’s KELLIA project and Professor Craig Vierra’s mass spectrometer instrument.

Caroline Schroeder: KELLIA: Koptische/Coptic Electronic Language and Literature International Alliance

GizaCTSPanoramaCaroline T. Schroeder, associate professor of religious and classical studies at University of the Pacific, has been awarded a new grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for an international project to digitize Coptic texts and make them easily available to scholars and others.

The two-year $192,500 grant was among just six nationally awarded by the NEH Office of Digital Humanities.

The project, called KELLIA, for Koptische/Coptic Electronic Language and Literature International Alliance, is a collaboration among Pacific, Georgetown University and two universities in Germany: University of Göttingen and University of Münster.

The KELLIA project will aid in creating new digital technologies to study and publish digitized texts that are important for the understanding of the Bible and the history of Christianity as well as the cultural heritage of an important religious community in the Middle East.

“The Coptic community has a rich and important history and legacy,” Schroeder said. “The Bible was translated into Coptic very early, and the Coptic Bible then influenced the literature, language, and culture of Egypt until Arabic became the primary language of daily life.”

The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, dating back to the third century. Today, the Copts are a religious minority representing an estimated 8 to 10 percent of Egypt’s population.

The new grant was the largest among the six announced this week. The other grants went to investigators at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Rhizome Communications in New York City, the University of Maryland, College Park, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.

Last year Schroeder was awarded two grants totaling $100,000 to support KELLIA. The funding has enabled scholars around the world to digitize core Coptic texts and develop the tools necessary for computer-aided study and interaction with the materials.

Craig Vierra: MRI: Acquisition of Mass Spectrometry Technology for Research and Training 

RS32391_Vierra Black Widow Lab36-lprUniversity of the Pacific Biology Professor Craig Vierra, who is internationally known for his work in the genetics of black widow spider silk, was awarded nearly $579,000 from the National Science Foundation.

The award will fund the purchase of a sophisticated mass spectrometer to be used in classes and faculty research in programs ranging from biology and engineering to pharmacy and physics.

Vierra says that the instrument, designed for high-end protein sequencing, will be more powerful than units currently used at Stanford and UC Berkeley and will be employed in scientific investigations into the molecular mechanisms that govern spider silk assembly. Vierra’s research seeks to find new strategies for synthetic fiber production in industrial and commercial applications.

“This instrument will provide a wonderful learning experience for undergraduate and graduate students, both for lab courses and research programs,” said Vierra.

He has even planned outreach activities for local high schools, in which students will collect cobwebs from the environment with glass rods, wash the fibers with water, and learn how to use mass spectrometry to identify biomolecules in real-life materials.

Vierra has been a faculty member at University of the Pacific since 1994. With the new grant, Vierra’s total support from the NSF exceeds $2.3 million dollars.

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