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Field Notes

Summer School Here is Not About Catching Up

Green Lake
Sean Linehan '10 and Elizabeth Pendery '10 studied the biological diversity of Green Lake with Associate Professor of Biology Michael McCormick (far right). Green Lake, just east of Syracuse, is a rare meromictic lake, one in which various strata of water are chemically distinct and do not mix, and the team spent days aboard the College's research vessel, the Continental Drifter, collecting deepwater samples. The layering of the lake's waters creates a deep layer that contains little or no oxygen but high levels of sulfide. "If you went swimming down there," McCormick says, "you'd be in big trouble."

"It's such a good deal," says Samuel Hincks '11. "You get paid. You learn more about professional research. You can work with great professors." The "good deal" in question is summer research, and at Hamilton, Hincks was one of more than 100 students taking advantage of the opportunity.

The season's projects covered topics ranging from the Continental Army to the Hippocratic Oath, from supernovas to peptide-lipid interactions, and from banks in the financial crisis to kindergarten readiness. Some projects built carefully on previous scholarship; others represented bold departures and new, interdisciplinary ways of thinking. What they all shared was the chance for students to collaborate closely with faculty members, tackling real research problems and ­joining the scholarly conversation in a way that few undergraduates can. Hincks, for instance, combined his computer science major and psychology minor as he worked with Stuart Hirshfield, the Stephen Harper Kirner Professor of Computer Science, to probe how measures of the brain's cognitive workload can help improve the user-interface design of digital devices.

Hincks was one of about 90 students participating in the Summer Science Collaborative Research Program. About 20 other students worked on research through Emerson Foundation grants across a wide range of disciplines, while about the same number were Levitt Research Fellows, collaborating with faculty members on issues related to public affairs. And three students were Kirkland College Summer Research Associates, working on a variety of women's issues with faculty members.

A sampling of summer research projects:

  • Kevin Graepel '11, Rem Myers '11 and Graham Hone '10, working with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Nicole Snyder, studied how vancomycin — an antibiotic known as "Mississippi mud" — might be structurally altered to make it more effective against resistant strains of bacteria.
  • Julia Pollan '11, working with Associate Professor of Sociology Jennifer Irons, studied how smaller nonprofit organizations such as Clown Care — an outreach program for hospitalized children — can have a substantial national impact.
  • Andrew Peart '10, working on an Emerson Grant with Professor of English Catherine Kodat and Associate Professor of English Stephen Yao, the associate dean of faculty for diversity initiatives, studied postmodernist forms of poetry and the ways they reflect the digital writing environment created by computers and the Web.
  • Elyse Williamson '10 combined some rather exotic travel with her research. She worked with Upson Chair for Public ­Discourse and Professor of Geosciences Barbara Tewksbury to analyze examples of deformation bands, which occur in subglacially erupted rock that they collected in Iceland.
  • Closer to home was Susan Perham '12, who researched the lives of Oneida County's African-American World War II veterans with Professor of History Esther Kanipe. In exploring the apparent contradiction between the racism such soldiers faced and their willingness to serve, Perham also touches on the value of such research projects to young scholars.

"You read in history books that these people said they wanted to fight because it was their country, but when you actually hear somebody say that — who did it — it's amazing," she says. "We read it in a textbook, but these people lived it."

Cupola