A Light Goes On (Sometimes Literally): Summer Science Research at Bryn Mawr

Posted February 10th, 2011 at 3:41 pm.

From the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin

poster by Jenny Chen '13

poster by Jenny Chen ’13

“DAY 1: And It Begins!!!! — 5/20/10 — Today, we began the day with a brief light bulb tutorial. Jim McGaffin, [Bryn Mawr College] Assistant Director for Energy and Project Management, explained to us the different overhead interior light bulb types. The two bulbs that are most prevalent on our campus include the 4ft T-12 and T-8 models. From some basic calculations, we found that the T-12 requires about 48 W and the T-8 requires 32 W of power to operate. Jim proceeded to show us the benefits of LED [lightemitting diode] comparable replacements for these bulbs. Such replacements use about 1W per foot. Therefore, a 4 foot bulb would need about 4W of power, a significant decrease for the less efficient fluorescent alternative.”

The Bryn Mawr Summer Science Research Program is one of several that sponsor summer research opportunities for Bryn Mawr students. Applications for the summer science research funding are due Wednesday, Feb. 25 For more information, see the Summer Funding website.

And so begins BMC Sustainability, the blog posted by Yufan Wang ’11 and Kathryn Link ’12, which details the trials and tribulations (and calculations) of their summer science research project, “Math and Sustain-ability: GREEN Analysis of Bryn Mawr’s Campus and Beyond.”

Wang, an economics and mathematics major, and Link, a mathematics major minoring in chemistry, used applied mathematics to analyze LED lighting replacement in 11 buildings on the College’s campus. On the basis of their count of lighting fixtures and bulbs, they calculated the return on investment and carbon emission savings for each building if it were converted to LED lighting and developed an investment schedule for the conversion of all 11 buildings.

The project was among 43 in Bryn Mawr’s 2010 Summer Science Research Program. Each summer since 1989, the College has provided 35 or more students with 10-week research stipends to conduct independent research under the guidance of Bryn Mawr faculty members in the sciences and mathematics. All science majors are encouraged to conduct mentored research projects during the summer and/or academic year, and each year over half of all science majors do so.

This year’s projects represented a wide range of disciplines and topics, including:

  • Chemistry: synthesizing and modeling the molybdenum cofactor, which promotes the catalytic activities of molybdenum-containing enzymes
  • Genetics: understanding mechanisms of gene expression by studying the inherited basis for pea aphids’ development into either sexually or asexually reproductive adults;
  • Geochemistry: distribution and mobility of heavy metal contaminants in the Delaware River Estuary, which affect fish and drinking-water quality;
  • Geology: field collection in Wyoming and lab analysis of rock material to study the formation of the Rocky Mountains;
  • Mathematics: application of Fourier analysis, which simplifies complex mathematical equations, to improve telecommunications efficiency;
  • Neurobiology/Psychology: understanding the relationship between the way individuals learn, social organization, and culture to improve classroom teaching methods
  • Physics: fabricating nanostructures by using a template-based electrochemical deposition process; and
  • Robotics: building “Gort,” a humanoid robot, and simulating its movements to improve its ability to interact with made-for-human tools or environments.

The summer program is enriched by professional development workshops, the Ann Lutes Johnson ’58 Speaker Series, talks by Bryn Mawr faculty, and a poster session at which students present their research to the College community.

Gender and Knowledge

In “Examining Gender Differences,” Alexis Egan ’11, a psychology major, researched differences between men and women in general-knowledge scores.

The scientific literature suggests that men and women differ in general knowledge due to men’s higher levels of competitiveness. “My research examined whether differences exist in general knowledge scores between female participants who identify as highly competitive versus those who identify as less competitive,” she explains.

Egan used Survey Monkey, an online survey program, to create a questionnaire consisting of 100 general-knowledge questions and a scale to measure competitive traits. She analyzed the data using the software program  Statistical Package for the Social Sciences.

Only one domain—discovery and exploration, which assesses knowledge relating to topics such as explorers, inventors, and the space race—was affected by competitiveness, and the difference between the two groups of women was relatively small. “My results were a little surprising,” Egain said. She is working on another pilot study that will investigate similar goals using different methods and measures. “I’m optimistic about finding a stronger relationship between competition and general knowledge scores,” she said.

Is Digital Art “Real” Art?

Computer science major Jenny Chen ’13 created visualizations using Processing, an open-source programming language that was developed to teach fundamentals of computer programming within a visual context. Processing has evolved into a tool that enables artists and designers to create images and animation.

“I am using Processing to learn different ways of making images as well as exploring the role of algorithms in creative media,” Chen explains.

Chen is particularly interested in computer graphics and animation. “I have always enjoyed drawing and making art and I wanted to explore another way to make art while combining my interest in computer science,” she says. “Also, in recent years there has been increased controversy whether digital art is ‘real’ art in comparison to traditional art made by artists such as Van Gogh or Picasso. I am interested in exploring both ways of making and seeing art.”

So, is digital art “real” art? “Many different media are used to create traditional art,” Chen says, including paint, clay, and film. “I think that the digital medium is just another way to express your imagination.

“I discovered how much breadth there is in digital art, from television billboards to screen savers and electronic greeting cards,” Chen says. “It was amazing.”

The LED Odyssey

Meanwhile, back at Thomas Great Hall, Wang and Link were slogging through another light-bulb count.

“Dearest Athena,” they beseeched, “please grant us a speedy count, high wattage bulbs, and numerous operation hours so that we may conduct a superb building analysis. Your devoted women of Bryn Mawr, Katie and Yufan.”

With so many nooks and crannies as well as offices, classrooms, and underground passageways, this task seemed endless. T12s dimly lit the majority of the passageways.

Wang and Link decided to research campus sustainability issues when they learned of the College’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for a 10 percent decrease in overall college emissions over the next 10 years.

The Climate Action Plan was generated by the Bryn Mawr College Sustainability Committee as part of a broader plan to support and increase environmental awareness and sustainability efforts. For example, in 2008, the College began replacing low-efficiency light bulbs with LED lighting in residence halls and other major buildings to conserve energy and reduce carbon emissions.

Practical Applications

Last spring, Wang and Link calculated carbon emission, energy, and life-cycle cost savings for a proposed geothermal heating and cooling system for the Haverford Township Recreation & Environmental Center, which was unanimously approved by the township’s commissioners. The students also wrote a successful application on behalf of the township for a $300,000 Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority Grant to finance and install the system.

Undergraduate research initiatives are central to the College’s approach to science education. Working with faculty mentors on an intensive research project and “rubbing elbows” with other students at the bench puts scientific research in a whole new light.

—Dorothy E. Wright

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