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Summer Research in Full Swing on Pomona College's Campus

A photo of marl taken for Laura Haynes' project.

This photo is from Laura Haynes '13's project. This sequence of marl has stood in the Tule valley for around 14,000 years and has weathered into this tower, which is a testament to the dryness of the study area. Samples were taken continuously from this outcrop, and may hold a very promising record.

A photo of buckwheat from Mt. Baldy Road, taken by Molly Shallman '13 during her summer research project.

A photo of buckwheat from Mt. Baldy Road, taken by Molly Shallman '13 during her summer research project.

This summer, more than 170 students, funded through the Dean’s Office, have been conducting research projects on a wide variety of topics, ranging from the mechanisms of aging in species of the genus Hydra and a natural guide star adaptive optics instrument for Pomona’s 1-meter Table Mountain Observatory, to the politics and ideology of Occupy Los Angeles and creating online tools for the collaborative study of the Hebrew Bible.

Student research projects can be independent projects mentored by a faculty member or students can serve as research assistants to faculty members working on their own research projects. All of the students will present the results of their work at Pomona’s Summer Research Poster Conference on Thursday, September 6, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Laura Haynes ’13, a geology major from Durham, NC, spent her summer collecting samples from a deposit of biogenic sediment (or Lacustrine Marl) from the glacial Lake Bonneville in the great Basin that dates from the Last Glacial Maximum, and analyzing the geochemistry of the sediment to recreate the major climate changes during this key period.

“Reconstructing past climates from different periods in earth’s history is crucial for understanding how out climate system will respond to future perturbations and is important for informing climate models,” she explains.

To gather the samples, she and Professor Robert Gaines spent four days car camping in Utah. “The field work was absolutely incredible, and I learned so much about the process of field sedimentology and understanding the entire system, as well as the discrete deposits. I've also loved being able to go through the whole process in a short amount of time from field to lab, where we can really delve into what records the marl holds.”

Ashvin Gandhi ’13, an economics and mathematics double major form Danville, CA, has been studying the motivations for income tax over-withholding. “In 2004,” he says, “77% or people left themselves an average of $2,100 less in their pockets over the year by over-withholding on their income.”

For the project, Gandhi used digitized panel data of individual tax returns from 1979 to 1990. “Many of the equations used in constructing our dependent and independent variables were derived from IRS publications and forms…. A great deal of the fun, and frustration, came from trying to track down obscure IRS documents from three decades ago and interpret them in context of our data and hypotheses…. I really appreciate that this project has provided a constant stream of challenges that have forced me to develop my analytical and quantitative skills as well as my creativity.”

Ian Byers-Gamber ’14, a media studies major with a computer science minor from Bloomington, has been working with Machine Project, a non-profit educational art space founded by Professor Mark Allen, to create documentation of events curated by Machine, both on- and off-site. His goal, Byers-Gamber explains, “is to provide documentation that goes beyond a simple recording and instead creates a piece that captures both the spirit of the event and Machine Project's direction for web viewing.

“Most of the work I’ve done is centered around a project Machine Project did with the San Francisco gallery Southern Exposure called Southern Machine Exposure Project. SMEP was a 20-day series of events with 20 different pairings of L.A. and S.F. artists, in 20 different homes in San Francisco. I went to San Francisco for nine days, shooting video each day…. One event, ‘Closet Concerts,’ placed audience members in hallways and open rooms…while artists…were stationed behind closed doors, creating location specific concerts, only for people who pressed their ear against the door. The best part about it for me was that I got to go into the rooms and film the performers.”

Molly Shallman’s research project took her on numerous trips up Mt. Baldy Road. The Class of ’13 biology major with an environmental analysis minor, focused on whether there is a noticeable difference in the impact of paved vs. non-paved road surfaces on the plant biodiversity of chaparral habitats that are parts of well-traveled recreation areas.

After spending a few weeks taking pictures of as many different types of plants as she could find and identifying them to create a plant key, her data collection involved going to paved road or gravel turn-out sites and recording the identity and size of all plant specimens within a defined area. She is now in the analysis phase determining whether “there is any difference in impact between the two types of road using such measures as how much of the ground in each transect is covered by plants (percent cover) and how many different species make use of each area,” she explains.

“My favorite part of this project is that it was truly an independent project guided entirely by my vision for what I wanted it to be. I definitely had the support of my advisor but he allowed me to make my own decisions concerning materials, methods and data analysis. Being able to design a project entirely based on what I wanted to do was a fantastic opportunity.”

As a research assistant, Laura Vazquez ’14, a psychology major from Hollis, NH, had a different type of experience. She had joined Professor Jessica Borelli’s CARE lab in fall 2011, so this was a continuation of research the lab was already conducting.

“For our SURP project, we looked at one piece of data from a larger, long-term research project conducted by [Borelli’s] CARE lab,” says Vazquez. “We studied the relation between a participant’s attachment classification, a pattern of behavior between parent and child that is predictive of further emotional and social development in children, and a participant’s rejection sensitivity, a tendency to be sensitive to rejection, and analyzed the data to determine if rejection sensitivity, differed between different attachment classifications.

"For the larger study, we recruited a diverse sample of 9-to-14 year olds and invited them to come to the lab with one parent to complete a variety of surveys, an interview with a research assistant about the relationship between parent and child, and a task that involved solving multiple puzzles. These participants’ wore electrodes to measure physiological features such as heart rate and skin conductance during this puzzle task. For our SURP project, we analyzed data from the surveys and the interviews that the children had completed.” 

Support for the Pomona College summer research program is provided by The Berliner Holocaust Studies Fund; George Billman ’77; the Kenneth L. Cooke Memorial Fund; the Evelyn B. Craddock McVicar Memorial Fund; the Elgin Fund for Student Summer Research; the Sherman Fairchild Foundation; the Faucett Catalyst Fund; The Class of 1971 SURP; the Professors Corwin Hansch and Bruce Telzer Undergraduate Research Fund; the Hart Institute for American History Research Grants; the Hearst Foundation; donors to the History and English Department SURP; the Fletcher Jones Foundation; the Koe Family; the Linares Family SURP for Chemistry; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; NAS; NIH; NSF; the Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation; The Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund; the Dale N. Robertson Fund for Undergraduate Research; The Rose Hills Foundation; the Schulz Fund for Environmental Studies; the Aubrey H. and Eileen J. Seed Student Research Fund and the Brian Stonehill Memorial Fund for Student Research in Media Studies.

Pomona College, founded in 1887, is located in Claremont, CA, east of the City of Los Angeles. The College is known for its distinctive liberal arts education, small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and opportunities for research and involvement on campus and in the community.