More than 220 Pomona College students spent their summer on intensive research projects in science laboratories, research facilities and libraries via the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). On Thursday, September 4, from 4:15 to 6 p.m., SURP students, as well as summer internship students, will present their research findings at the annual poster conference, held on Stover Walk (north of Marston Quad).
Here are several research snapshots of students who studied topics as varied as geochemistry, Native American artists, and brain imaging. To learn more about each project, click on the link at the end of the quote.
Emma Gardner '16
Linguistics and Cognitive Science
Research: "Tip of the Tongue" Phenomenon
"We're doing research about the "tip of the tongue" (TOT) phenomenon, which is when you're trying to recall someone's name or what a word is and you think, "Oh, I know I know this, but I've completely forgotten what it is right now." You feel like it's on the tip of your tongue and on the verge of coming to mind but you can't remember the exact sounds (phonology) of the word you're looking for. Our research is about looking for the best strategy to employ once you have difficulty remembering something like a name. We're testing older adults from the community because a lot of older adults have this experience."
Bryan Gee '16
Research: Geochemistry and the Cambrian Explosion
"The big picture of what we're looking at is a geologic trigger for the Cambrian Explosion. The reason this is interesting, and why we're looking for a geologic trigger, is that we think that geologic events suddenly exposed lots of basement rocks (lots of igneous rocks) that had not been weathered and were suddenly exposed to weathering areas, then turned into the soils that we're studying. During weathering processes certain minerals and elements are retained by the soil and others are bleached out and make their way into the ocean through rivers and other runoff. The ones that we're interested in are ones like iron and nitrogen and phosphorus, because those are three limiting nutrients for primary producers: things that photosynthesize, like algae. If you have a high increase of primary productivity, which is at the base of the food chain, you can then follow it all the way up to an increase in the amount of resources available to the entire ecosystem, which would allow for greater diversity of organisms to survive."
Jun Park '16
Research: The Social Psychology of Consumer Trust
"Technology is quickly advancing and it seems like the companies know so much about us. Where do consumers fit in? How do we respond to things like advertising and branding? We're trying to gauge what sorts of judgments people make as they evaluate companies and what reactions they have when companies use their personal information. We're looking at different characteristics of a company's image and how we can manipulate these aspects so that people feel a certain way about the company."
Estela Sanchez '17
Research: Impermeable Structures in Worm Eggs
"Sara Olsen's lab studies the different membranes that are involved in forming the eggshells for nematodes (basically a fancy word for "worms"). Our project studies one of the layers that's embedded between the eggshell and the plasma membrane of nematode embryos. It's called the permeability barrier and it is one of the most impermeable structures in the animal kingdom. It's hypothesized that a very specialized sugar called ascarylose is used to make up the permeability barrier. The thing is, though, that not much is known about the ascarylose biosynthetic pathway in C. elegans, which is the type of nematode Sara Olsen's lab studies. Our research contributes to further understanding the components of the ascarylose biosynthetic pathway, which could one day help identify candidates for drugs that destroy parasitic embryos. It's really important because parasitic worms are often a major health problem in third-world countries."
Ryan Dodson '15
Research: Identifying Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia Through Chemical "Fingerprints"
"A lot of people who are on ventilators end up getting something called ventilator-associated pneumonia. It's a really big problem; it's one of the leading causes of death for people on ventilators. You want to be able to diagnose it quickly, and there aren't a lot of cost-effective ways to do that. We're trying to develop a cheap, quick way of figuring out if someone is at risk of getting ventilator-associated pneumonia. My part in this project is growing bacteria that are thought to be causes of this, and trying to figure out what compounds they produce—in particular, compounds that are easy to look at—to try to get a "fingerprint" for these bacteria. If you can see these bacteria are clearly in the patient, then you can better guess that they're going to be infected. It's important because it will help identify a disease in patients before they are too far along to undergo treatment quickly. Hopefully it will save lives."
Julia Austenfeld '15
Research: The Cultural History of Baseball From a Musical Perspective
"I'm looking at music that's played during baseball games, researching organists and bands that played in stadiums. Getting the opportunity to look at the cultural history of baseball from a musical perspective is something that we suspect not a lot of people have done. What I'm trying to do is put together a big annotated bibliography of what has already been written on this subject. We're starting a new project, so at this point I'm just running a lot of searches and trying to figure out what is already out there. This is going to turn into something bigger further down the road, probably after I've graduated."
Alex Samuels '15
Linguistics and Cognitive Science
Research: The Role of Tone in the Western Kenyan Language Maragoli
"We're working with a native speaker to analyze the way tone works in Maragoli, a tonal language spoken in Western Kenya. I'm also doing two other projects. The first one is cutting up some sound files of Maragoli that were collected in Field Methods this past semester. I have hour and a half long sessions and I'm cutting them into five-second individual words. I'm processing those sound files, which will eventually be turned into a dictionary. The other thing I'm working on is for Professor Mike Diercks, who went on a research trip to Kenya this past semester and got four hours of stories from people. I have all of these stories in Maragoli that I am translating to English. They are probably going to be turned into a book of texts, which we can then give back to the community."
Shannon Burns '15
Research: Evaluating Near-Infrared Spectrascopy Brain Imaging Technology
"We are working with a pretty new brain imaging technology called near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). The technology has only been used for about the last 10 years, so a lot of people are not really familiar with it. We're trying to replicate studies that have been done using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which is a much more frequently used imaging technology but also a lot more expensive. We're hoping that if we can localize right temporoparietal junction—an area at the back of the head—activation in response to thinking about others, reliably like fMRI can, then we can do experiments with NIRS that are a lot cheaper and a lot quicker to run. NIRS could then potentially be used as a cheaper alternative, which could accelerate the speed of research because it's more accessible than a massive fMRI machine."
Zoe Jameson '15
Research: Contemporary Native American Artists
I'm researching contemporary Native American artists to prepare for a Pomona College Museum of Art exhibition that will happen in about 3 to 5 years. A contemporary native artist will come in and show their art side-by-side with objects from the museum's Native American collection, which is really big and full of things from the late 1800s and early 1900s. This exhibition will enliven the collection and make sure it's still getting seen. I've read a bunch of books and done tons of Googling, trying to find younger artists whose work might be particularly interesting. In the last week or so, the options narrowed down to a group of about 10 people. Because I'm graduating this year, I won't be the one who's here when final decisions are being made, so I'm making sure that whoever is doing this job in the future isn't going to have to redo all my research or go digging through sloppy notes that are in six different places.
Sabrina Li '17
Research: Organic Solar Cells
I'm making organic solar cells, which I believe will eventually become one of our main sources of energy. Right now solar cells are mostly made from inorganic material like silicon, but the materials are really expensive and the solar cells themselves are fragile. I'm making solar cells with carbon, which is a more abundant element that is more inexpensive than semi-metals. If we can make more of these thin-film, organic carbon-based solar cells, we can implement them in more places and help fight the energy crisis.