Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
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Public Policy / Richard Worthington
Taking Research into Communities

For Richard Worthington, professor of politics, the intellectual disconnect between the academic world of the social sciences and the real world of communities with problems to be solved has always seemed unfortunate-and unnecessary.

 "Just solving some practical problem can be a path to insight that's very theoretical," he says. "It actually turns out that people in advocacy groups have more knowledge of many important dimensions than the so-called experts."

That's why Worthington has become both an observer of and an advocate for an academic movement that has been putting research opportunities into the hands of communities since the 1970s.

Known as Community-Based Research (CBR), this movement had its roots in the "science shop" system of the Netherlands in which universities opened their labs and resources to an engaged public, eager to have their unique social issues addressed by academics. The movement has since spread across Europe and North America, turning a Dutch social experiment into what Worthington calls a worldwide phenomenon with students especially "active in criticizing the universities, putting pressure on them to be more engaged not just with the big corporations and the military, but also with community groups."

Pomona seniors in the Public Policy Analysis Program, for instance, are required to serve 240 hours in a one-semester internship during which they put theory into practice. Students have worked for health clinics, district attorney's offices and nonprofit groups.

Worthington has served on the board of trustees of The LoKa Institute, an international foundation focused on molding scientific research to address the democratically decided concerns of the general public. With the help of a number of such international organizations, as well as many private colleges and universities sprinkled across the globe, resources for CBR have grown rapidly over the past few decades.

Particularly interested in the social ramifications of CBR, Worthington has begun a study of the growing movement in Central Europe, a region where interest in CBR coincides with a political transition towards democracy. Through his research, Worthington hopes to gain insight into the impact that community involvement has had on the region's social development since the end of the Cold War.

"A lot of the observation on this phenomenon of community-based research has been done on the fly," Worthington says of his research in England and the Netherlands. "I am trying to put it into a deeper intellectual framework that understands what social changes are giving rise to this and what social changes it is contributing to."

Physics / David Tanenbaum
One Atom Thick

Over the last 20 years, micro-mechanical devices have been creeping towards what is theoretically the minimum size possible, a single layer of atoms. Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy David Tanenbaum and Ian W. Frank '08 are part of a research team that has, for the first time ever, achieved this ultimate lower limit in thickness for a nanomechanical device. Their work was described in the Jan. 26 Science Magazine article "Electromechanical Resonators from Graphene Sheets."

 In the study, the research group created mechanical resonators made from a single atomic layer of carbon known as graphene and performed detailed studies of its properties. Findings that graphene is an electrically active material with a small mass and reasonable dynamic range indicate that graphite resonators would make excellent mass and charge sensors. "These unusual properties make it an ideal candidate for a new class of ultra-thin sensors," says Tanenbaum.

As with electronics, smaller mechanical devices are faster, operating at higher frequencies, than larger mechanical devices. "You can visualize a typical device being like a string in a musical instrument, a diving board, a tuning fork, or a membrane like on a drum or a tambourine. All of these devices resonate at some set of established frequencies," explained Tanenbaum. "Faster, high-frequency devices can be used as sensors in a variety of different systems. The most common one on the market today would be the sensor in cars that determines if you have been in a collision and starts the process of deploying an airbag."

The work was part of an ongoing collaboration between Tanenbaum and the research groups at Cornell University, supported by the National Science Foundation under grants to the Cornell Center for Materials Research, the Cornell Center for Nanoscale Systems and the National Nanofabrication Users Network.

Chemistry / David Oxtoby
AAAS Recognition

Pomona President David W. Oxtoby has been awarded the distinction of fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He was recognized by the AAAS chemistry section "for career-long contributions to understanding dynamics of liquids and gases, and for energetic leadership in strengthening undergraduate education."

 Oxtoby became president of Pomona in 2003, following a long career as a professor of chemistry and dean of physical sciences at the University of Chicago. He was elected to the board of the American Association of Colleges and Universities in 2006. A research chemist, he is the author or co-author of more than 165 scientific articles and co-author of two nationally popular textbooks in chemistry. The AAAS is the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal, Science.
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