Much of the most significant research can begin with a deceptively simple question: Why, for example, do we tend to pick up a coffee cup from the side as opposed to the front? For most of us, human motion is far removed from conscious thought, but such seemingly basic questions can turn out to have exceedingly complex answers — and important real-world implications.
That was the starting point this summer for Emma Geduldig ’13, Sarah Andrews ’14 and John Wildman ’15 as they explored movement and motor control with James L. Ferguson Professor of Psychology Jonathan Vaughan, who has devoted previous research to the topic. Their study of kinematics, or mechanical motion, may eventually lead to a better understanding of how paralysis and motor movement-related diseases such as Parkinson’s affect the human body.
The Hill in midsummer may lack the electricity of a crisp fall afternoon or the intensity of finals week, but make no mistake — the learning continues. This year, more than 120 students ignored the call of beaches and boardwalks to remain on campus and take the opportunity to work closely with faculty members in doing advanced research across dozens of disciplines.
In the sciences, Geduldig, Andrews and Wildman were among more than 80 students pursuing projects in archaeology, biochemistry, biology, chemistry, computer science, geoarchaeology, geosciences, mathematics, neuroscience, physics and psychology. Many of these projects will lead to student presentations at professional meetings and papers co-authored by students.
In the social sciences and related fields, 21 students conducted research with 13 faculty members as part of the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center’s Research Fellowship Grants and Group Grants. Topics ranged from environmental justice in Brooklyn to agrarian land reform in Honduras, from domestic violence in Turkey to emergency-room profiling in low-income neighborhoods, and from the teaching of literacy to the analysis of voter behavior.
Funded by the Levitt Research Fellows Program, summer research is open to rising juniors and seniors who wish to spend the summer working in collaboration with a faculty member on an issue related to public affairs. Students receive a summer stipend and spend 10 weeks working intensively with a faculty mentor. Those selected for the program are required to provide a written assessment of their work at the completion of the summer and to participate in a poster session in the fall. Levitt Fellows are automatically eligible to participate in the Levitt Scholars Program, in which they discuss their research in local high schools.
Twenty students, meanwhile, earned Emerson Summer Grants, allowing them to receive a stipend and work collaboratively with a faculty member on areas of interest. Projects ranged from a study of South Korean foreign policy to a reinterpretation of the pastoral tradition in poetry and from excavation research in Crete to creative writing as therapy for the developmentally disabled.
Eli Bunzel ’13, whose summer research with Dominic Veconi ’15, Assistant Professor of Biology Wei-Jen Chang and May graduate Leonard Teng ’12 involved examining single nucleotide polymorphisms, found that one of the most rewarding aspects of summer research was being able to “immerse [himself] in the lab mentality by gaining confidence, thinking analytically, and making sure that all of the minute details are correct.”
For Levitt Summer Research Fellow Julian Aronowitz ’14, flexibility and the capacity to think across disciplines were crucial. Working with Elizabeth Jensen, the Christian A. Johnson Excellence in Teaching Professor of Economics, the math major crossed into economics and computer modeling to pose a question that subjects a media catch-phrase to analytical scrutiny: Exactly when does a financial institution become “too big to fail”?
His initial goal was to create a formula that would define that category; but as the project continued, he found that the sheer number of variables shaping the interconnections among financial firms was too great. He modified his research goals to learn about the 2008 financial crisis “while using and improving [his] math and computer science skills.” Aronowitz came away from his project with an appreciation for the opportunity to explore economics without the constraints of a formal classroom and to “contribute mathematical perspective to economic policy decisions.”
— Contributing: Patrick Bedard ’14