Students and Professors Publish and Present
Uncovering the Mystery of ‘Desert Eyes’
Professor of Geosciences Barbara Tewksbury, her Hamilton students, and an Egyptian colleague have been investigating a set of previously unrecognized fold structures that they discovered in the Western Desert of Egypt about 12 years ago. The researchers, who named these features “Desert Eyes” based on their unusual appearance, have mapped them in detail over an area of about 8,000 square kilometers using satellite imagery via Google Earth and data collected in the field.
In 2017, the group published a paper on their mapping in which they proposed and evaluated seven “likely-suspect” models for the formation of this unusual network. All but one had at least one fatal flaw. The model without a fatal flaw was plausible, but not compelling, and involved an uncommon model for cave generation.
Most caves are generated by the circulation of rainwater and shallow groundwater. In the last few decades, however, geologists have realized there is another way of making caves and related features that involves upward-moving fluids, completely divorced from the rainwater and groundwater that make typical caves.
For his senior thesis, Robert Welch ’20 mapped a set of features in an area not previously studied by the group. His results, combined with other critical mapping done by the project after 2017, provided convincing evidence that, somewhere in the subsurface, there are these kinds of caves and passages, even if they can’t be seen at the surface. “Inferring Hypogene Karst at Depth from the Patterns of Non-Tectonic Syncline Networks in Eocene Limestones, Western Desert, Egypt” appeared in Frontiers in Earth Science in June 2021 co-authored by Tewksbury, Welch (who is currently working on a Ph.D. at Harvard University in Earth and planetary science), Elhamy A. Tarabees, and Charlotte J. Mehrtens. Tewksbury estimates that approximately 30 students have worked on this project since its beginnings a dozen years ago.
Connections That Continue
Andrew Wei ’20 worked with Professor of Economics Ann Owen as an undergraduate, and their partnership has continued now that he’s an economist at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Their article, “Sexism, Household Decisions, and the Gender Wage Gap,” appears in the October 2021 issue of Labour Economics.
Noting that “economic outcomes for men are some of the best predictors of sexism,” Owen and Wei wrote that “areas with fewer college-educated men, a lower male labor force participation rate, and a smaller share of the male population employed all have higher levels of sexism.” Furthermore, after controlling for education, occupation, industry, and age, they found that “more sexist areas have larger gender wage gaps.”
This was not the first paper the pair published together. In 2019, their article “Inequality and Bias in the Demand for and Supply of News” appeared in Social Science Quarterly.
“The process of conducting research with a student that is eventually published starts in their very first economics class,” Owen says. “That’s where the student starts to develop questions and starts to learn the methods to answer those questions. Students who are especially engaged in these issues will often stop by outside of class to talk through their ideas, and it is in these conversations that the actual research projects start. On my part, it is a rewarding balance of guiding the students and engaging with them as coauthors who contribute their own ideas to the research.”
One Project Informs Another
In the summer of 2020, Ashley Garcia ’22 received funding from the Levitt Center to research colorism in the Latinx community. She conducted a review of the sociological literature on race and skin tone stratification, interviewed Latinx people about their experiences with identity, and analyzed how her research on colorism related to responses from her interviews.
Meanwhile, Assistant Professor of Sociology Matthew Grace, her project advisor, was working on a project of his own — he was collecting survey data on people’s experiences during the pandemic and their worries in relation to it. As he was analyzing the data, he discovered a number of salient differences among racial-ethnic groups in terms of their anxieties, and in particular, concerns that they or a member of their immediate family might die from the virus.
Given her expertise on race, Garcia seemed to be a natural collaborator for his project. “From the start, Ashley made a number of elegant contributions to the drafting of the manuscript, many of which were informed by the literature review she had conducted the previous summer for her Levitt fellowship,” Grace said.
The two presented their findings, “Racial-Ethnic Differences in COVID-19 Anticipatory Stressors,” at the American Sociology Association conference in August 2021. “Ashley provided a detailed overview of the literature and background on race-ethnicity as it relates to the pandemic — including the disproportionate representation of Black and Latinx Americans among those who have been infected, hospitalized, and died from the virus,” Grace said. “I received glowing emails from several colleagues commenting on Ashley’s poise and command of the material. Many of these colleagues assumed that she was a graduate student!”
Other recent professor-student projects:
“Late Woodland settlement ecology of the Appalachian Summit,” published in February 2022 in the journal Southeastern Archaeology, reflects the work of Assistant Professor of Anthropology Colin Quinn and Emily Walker ’22. The researchers suggest that Late Woodland communities (800-1500 AD) balanced access to arable land, copper sources, and long-distance trade routes when establishing their settlements. “Changing climatic conditions and the introduction of maize agriculture made permanent settlement in these high-elevation mountain landscapes possible for the first time,” they write. “Drawing upon geospatial analyses of legacy datasets, we document how Late Woodland communities prioritized access to different socioeconomic resources in the New River Headwaters region of northwest North Carolina.”
In a paper in the journal Animal Behaviour titled “Infection impairs problem-solving performance in American crows,” Associate Professor of Biology Andrea Townsend and co-authors Erik W. Johansson ’19, Annie C. Danielson ’22, Amelia Boyd ’20, Elizabeth Egey ’19, and Ryn C. Winner ’19 reported that American crows infected with Campylobacter, a common food-borne pathogen, did not perform problem-solving tasks as well as crows who were uninfected. The paper was published in February 2022.
Assistant Professor of Biology Natalie Nannas and student researchers Shelby McVey ’22 and Jenna Cosby ’23 published “Aurora B Tension Sensing Mechanisms in the Kinetochore Ensure Accurate Chromosome Segregation” in the August 2021 edition of International Journal of Molecular Sciences. The authors summarized current research investigating how cells ensure equal splitting of chromosomes, specifically through a mechanism called the spindle checkpoint, and proposed new combinations of current models that form a more comprehensive understanding of this surveillance mechanism.
When Assistant Professor of Biology Rhea Datta spoke at the 62nd Annual Drosophila Research Conference in 2021 organized by the Genetics Society of America, she presented data generated by her team of student researchers that included Nathaniel Spicer ’21, Meaghan Parlee ’21, Gracey Carey ’21, and Eleanor Demaree ’22. The team's findings show that gene activity in the very early stages of embryonic development is carefully controlled by DNA sequences that contain clusters of nucleotides (the molecules that make up DNA) with varying affinities for maternal and zygotic (or embryonic) proteins.
Twenty Hamilton student researchers co-published an article with Associate Professor of Chemistry Max Majireck in the September 2021 edition of The Journal of Organic Chemistry, an American Chemical Society publication. “Synthesis of Bench-Stable N-Quaternized Ketene N,O-Acetals and Preliminary Evaluation as Reagents in Organic Synthesis” is the result of four years of work involving students from the classes of 2017 to 2023.
Assistant Professor of Computer Science Darren Strash presented a paper at the SIAM Symposium on Algorithm Engineering and Experiments co-authored with Louise Thompson ’21. “Effective Data Reduction for the Vertex Clique Cover Problem” resulted from research the two conducted during the summer of 2019, as well as Thompson’s senior thesis research. Strash also worked with his former student, Benjamin Parfitt ’19, on a paper titled “Partial k-Plex Enumeration for Feature Filtering and a Novel Application in the Geosciences” that was accepted and published by the Joint Alio/Euro International Conference 2021-22 on Applied Combinatorial Optimization.
The Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference published a paper titled “PSB2: The second program synthesis benchmark suite” in July 2021 authored by Assistant Professor of Computer Science Thomas Helmuth and Peter Kelly ’21.
Jiin Jeong ’21 and Kennard Fung ’21, along with former Assistant Professor of Economics Javier Pereira, published “More to Cryptos than Bitcoin: A GARCH Modelling of Heterogeneous Cryptocurrencies” in Finance Research Letters in November 2021. The researchers investigated the risk and return characteristics of a large and diverse cross-section of 254 cryptocurrencies that differ in traded volume and main usage (e.g., blockchain, finance, technology).
“Estimating the pelagic ocean’s benefits to humanity can enhance ocean governance,” an article published in the February 2022 edition of Marine Policy, listed among its authors Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Aaron Strong and Nicholas Jickling ’19. The article, which grew out of Jickling’s senior thesis project, focused on estimating the benefits of carbon sequestration in oceans.
Erin R. Pimentel ’22 and William Bresnahan ’22 presented with Professor of Geosciences Barbara Tewksbury at the American Geophysical Union meeting in December 2021. Their presentation was titled “Enigmatic Structures in Eocene Limestones of the Dungul Formation, Southeast Western Desert, Egypt: Mass Transport Deposits and Fluid Escape Pipes?”
An article co-authored by Visiting Assistant Professor of History Rebecca Wall and Erica Ivins ’21 appeared recently in the journal Esclavages & Post-Esclavages. Titled “The Registers of Slave Liberation in Colonial Senegal: Preliminary Analysis of the Evidence from 1894 to 1903,” it is the first publication from a digital history project on the self-liberation of enslaved Africans during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The project aims to use colonial sources and digital methods to generate insights into the social history and historical agency of enslaved Africans.
Hope Medina ’21 and Jahmali Matthews ’22 joined Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology Mahala Stewart to present “Sometimes It’s Okay to Be Bored – Social Class in Mothers’ Oversight of Children’s Time During COVID-19” at the American Sociological Association in August 2021. Their paper focused on the class variation in how mothers managed their children’s free time during the period of COVID-bound home-schooling and what the implications might be.
“Schools as racialized organizations in policy and practice,” published September 2021 in the journal Sociology Compass by Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology Mahala Stewart, Hannah Petersen ’22, and Ashley Garcia ’22, was based on a 2020 paper published by Stewart based on her dissertation. The 2021 paper had its origins in Stewart’s Inequalities in Schooling course. After taking the course, the two students pursued an independent study and worked with Stewart to write and submit their paper.