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Presidents Summer Fellowship, Modeling Fluid Dynamics, Qiaoyu Yang

President’s Summer Fellow Qiaoyu Yang ’16, mathematics major, is testing a probabilistic particle model for studying fluid dynamics with Prof. Aleksandar Donev at the Courant Institute in New York City.

After finishing my study abroad program in Moscow, I flew to NYC on May 23rd. The weather is terribly hot here. It took me two days to settle down and then I went to meet my supervisor, Prof. Aleksandar Donev, in the Courant Institute.

Courant is really amazing. It’s a leading center for research and education in applied mathematical science, as well as in computational and some fields of pure math. There are researchers working on different areas of mathematical science, such as computational biology, fluid dynamics, mathematical finance, and so on. Prof. Donev is working on computational physics and chemistry, so my project is also closely related to these two subjects.

Presidents Summer Fellowship, Connecting to Armenian Artists, Knar Hovakimyan

Working on the ground in Armenia, President’s Summer Fellow Knar Hovakimyan ’16, linguistics major, seeks to introduce Armenian literature to English-speaking communities through poetry translation

 I spent a month at home panicking over how I would get in touch with poets, adjust to their schedules, and meet them each a couple times in Armenia. When I got to Armenia, I quickly realized that I was going about things the American way – here, it is not necessary to make plans weeks in advance, confirm, reschedule... You can just show up at someone's house and they'll have a table set in five minutes. My first day here I made a phone call to a poet, Tigran Paskevichyan; after introductions we arranged to meet later that same day at Artbridge, a cafe he frequents. The entire encounter felt like a scene from a movie. The waiter brought out the poet's usual Armenian coffee, which Paskevichyan enjoyed with a cigarette as we talked about my project; we discussed his influences ranging from Daniil Kharms to Saul Leiter and his intentions behind specific poems – before I left home, I was worried about how far my Armenian language skills would take me, but luckily, I managed to keep up the conversation. With a signed copy of his book in hand and some new poems to work on, I embarked on the hectic week ahead of me.

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Presidents Summer Fellowship, Supernatural Shakespearian Webseries, Liz Groombridge

President’s Summer Fellow Elizabeth Groombridge, ’16 psychology/theater major, is writing and creating a queer, supernatural webseries, “The Green’s Apartment”, based on Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It.

Presidents Summer Fellowship 2015, Orla O'Sullivan, Impressions from Saint Petersburg

Orla O'Sullivan, '16 Russian major, is diving deep into the extensive collections at the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, conducting research on visual culture and responses to controversial exhibitions for her President's Summer Fellowship. 

I was shocked to learn recently that pieces frequently go missing at the Hermitage Museum, which probably surprises no Russian person, but it did surprise me. No one is, as far as I can tell, fired (either the theft is hard to trace, or not much effort to trace it is exerted). There is media buzz for a few weeks and then that’s the end of it. I am as equally mesmerized by the Winter Palaces’ halls and the General Staff Building’s sheer scale, as I am amazed that this institution functions as well as it does. The archeological department on the fourth floor, for instance, is filled – and this is no hyperbolical statement – with at least thirty years of books. At least. There are books and quills and pens and more books and articles and stray papers and presentations and various Russian shtukis (“thingies”) all piled on the tables and floors – just everywhere. So it shouldn’t be any wonder that items go missing, although, the museum boasts both antiquated and cutting-edge conservation facilities. 

On my first day interning, I spent 2 hours (literally) trying to find the door, and then, once I found it, was asked, would I please assist a three-day conference on virtual archeology, where I met some fascinating people, including an archeaometrist (someone who applies physics to archeology), an architect specializing in computer program semantics, and the archeology department director (who happens to be the cousin of the museum director).  Since then, it has been a whirlwind: Attending an international congress on Peter the Great; planning a museum celebration of the European Union; labeling Old Russian rock fragments with quills and ink; translating documents from Russian into English; and, most recently, working on a presentation for an exhibition closing ceremony on Monday. There is no written or printed schedule – everything just seems to happen on a whim – and practically each day brings a new, completely unforeseen, project.

Presidents Summer Fellowship 2015: Nathan Martin, Rediscovery in the Desert

Part One: Water of Unknown Depth

Nate Martin '16 is a President's Summer Fellow on a trip through the American Southwest with the goal of rewriting his connection to poetry by visiting areas where he first established that connection.

I'm out here now in Green River, Utah on I-70 in the eastern side of the state. I've taken a day off from hiking and driving around and talking to people to sit down and figure out where I am.

Presidents Summer Fellowship 2015: Haley Tilt, Visual Memory and Livy

Right now I’m sitting at the kitchen table in a warm and eclectic apartment in Rome. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of travel, stilted but enthusiastic conversations, and incredible museums. Most of all, my two weeks in Rome have seen me dogging the footsteps of one of the most influential and prolific historians of the ancient world. My project is founded on the idea that Livy is doing something special with space in his histories, setting stories in places that are highly specific and would have been familiar to his contemporaries. Like the ancient rhetorical technique of the memory palace, Livy capitalizes on the visual memory of his readers. Also like the memory palace, Livy’s stories imprint themselves on the spaces they occupy. After reading a particularly grisly passage, in which Tullia drives her chariot over her father’s corpse, the location of which, Livy informs us, is “as far as the top of the Cyprius Vicus, where the temple of Diana lately stood… to the right on the Urbius Clivus, to get to the Esquiline,” a reader will thereafter recall that spot as the scene at which his anecdote took place. My goal has been to hunt these places down, to photograph them, and to plot them on a digital, interactive map, so that modern readers might better understand this aspect of Livy’s text.

What I’ve found is a city that has been profoundly altered. Of course I knew that this would be the case; many of the monuments Livy discusses are now fragmentary and some are gone entirely. Many once-open spaces are now densely packed with buildings.

I knew that this would be the case, and I even welcomed the opportunity to engage with the modern city the same way Livy did--by countering absence with remembrance. In the example above, Livy recalls that the temple of Diana “lately” was standing. Present in his readers’ memories, but absent from their physical world, the temple (and so many other spaces altered by the Augustan building program), have become another level of Rome’s historical and topographical memory.

Research: Pictures Big and Small, President's Summer Fellowship Final Reflection, John Young

There is something deeply rewarding about setting up a plan and then executing it. Thought the “heist” metaphor was perhaps a stretch, and though I would never want to implicate myself or my colleagues in “theft” (--though, my brief walk through the British Museum suggested to me that historians, archeologists, and anthropologists have perhaps done their fare share of that, under different names--), finding what I was looking for where I looked for it was a satisfying experience.

What was I looking for? And what did I find? I was looking for the correspondence of Robert Swinhoe relating to Natural History. His “day job” as it were was as a diplomat in the British Foreign Service, and he produced volumes of material related to his work in the consulate. I wasn’t incredibly interested in all of that work, however, and I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I would find in his diplomatic writings with respect to his natural historical work. I did manage to locate all of his archived diplomatic writing. The day after arriving in London I went to the National Archives and spent the morning and afternoon browsing microfilmed catalogues of Foreign Service Office material, looking for things that Swinhoe produced. I spent the whole of Saturday and Sunday at the National Archives—it was the only one open over the weekend.

I had planned to do the archival work here over my first weekend because, although of lesser importance to my overall research interests, it would give me the opportunity to “practice” doing the work of a historical researcher.

PSF Project, Campus Within Walls, Part 3

I went to where we are supposed to find society’s worst. What I found were people working to be their best.

I spent five weeks attending class with our outcasts, our pariahs, our unseen. The ones we place in shadow and in darkness, out of view, all the better to construct them as distant abstracts, faceless and certainly heartless causers of violence and tragedy and badness. Criminals. Violators. Undeserving of society, deservedly stripped of rights.

Monsters.

Escaping Eritrea: Stories of the Mass Exodus (Part 3)

In her first and second blog entries, Winta set out on the President's Summer Fellowship journey, travelling to Uganda to interview Eritrean refugees for a documentary, and reuniting with members of her family along the way. In this installment, she travels to Rome to interview more refugees.

            After leaving Uganda, my plan was to stay with my aunt in Italy and rely on her to help me connect with Eritrean refugees in the area. Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding about my arrival date and I actually landed the day she was leaving the country. Since I knew absolutely nobody else in Rome, I decided to get a hotel room in the city center. I noticed there were several Eritrean restaurants nearby and decided go in and ask the servers about where I might find Eritrean refugees in Rome. This required a lot of courage because I had no idea how they might receive me, but it turned out to be a successful endeavor. 

            The owner of the restaurant walked me to this place referred to as “The Palazzo” (which was two blocks away from my hotel room), and told me to talk to the Eritreans at the front desk. Though I couldn’t possibly describe everything that happened afterwards in this short blog, I will talk about two of the major highlights. 

The Structure of a Wind Turbine's Vortex

            A wind turbine mixes wind into chaotic vortices. These vortices limit efficiencies of the turbines that are located downstream. The tip of the turbine’s blade creates a particularly strong vortex. In the latter part of my research, I have become enthralled with how this vortex’s strength varies across space. This vortex is strongest near the middle of the vortex, and it is weaker farther away. Let us refer to the vortex’s strength as vorticity. Along a line that bisects the vortex, the plot of the vorticity versus the distance is similar to the plot of a Gaussian function, which also known as the normal distribution or the bell curve. 

            Thus, the vorticity distribution is approximately Gaussian. The reason for this Gaussian approximation is that diffusion smears the vortex out into a Gaussian shape. Diffusion often acts to spread distributions out into Gaussian curves; as you read this sentence, this process occurs around you because diffusion acts to spread heat out towards a Gaussian distribution. Gaussian distributions frequently occur under diffusion because Gaussian convolutions are mathematically simple ways of smoothing out functions. Diffusion spreads a vortex out to a stable, more uniform state by making the distribution into a progressively shorter and broader Gaussian. 

            Diffusion, however, is not the only force that acts upon a vortex; for interactions between vortices make the vorticity distribution more complicated than a simple Gaussian. A plot of vorticity along a line that bisects a vortex is similar to - yet distinctly different from - a Gaussian. Distributions across various lines differ from Gaussians in different ways. Averaging these plots together gives the graph shown below. The vorticity is normalized by the maximum vorticity of the vortex.

Slim to None: the Eritrean Exodus: Part 2

A young boy leaves his home that he helped build at the Nakivale Refugee Camp.

In her first blog entry, Winta set out on the President's Summer Fellowship journey, travelling to Uganda to interview Eritrean refugees for a documentary, and reuniting with members of her family along the way. In this installment, she travels to a nearby refugee camp for her project.

When my brother agreed to drive me to Nakivale Refugee Camp, which is five hours away from Kampala, I assumed he knew how to get there. A few hours before we were set to depart, however, I noticed his apprehension. That’s when I found out he had never actually driven there himself. As I begin to rethink my plans he assured me that there was only one road in that direction, which meant there was no possible way to get lost. 

We decided to travel through the night, so we could arrive there early in the morning. Though I expected unpaved roads and minimal traffic lights, I was completely unprepared for the overwhelming darkness that threatened to swallow us into the wilderness. For most of the ride, it was so dark that my brother and I could not see each other in the car. I couldn’t help but think about how we were completely on our own, with no way to call for help if necessary. 

Take Me Out to the Ball Game...

For the first decade of my life I was raised, shall we say, sports-agnostic. My family didn't hate sports, we just paid almost no attention to the usual lot of them—basketball, football, baseball. We were a remote island from the great continent of American sporting life, and those bits of scandal-ridden sports news that did float our way were enough to keep us distant and disinterested—even disapproving.

When I was about ten though, an unexpected bridge to a wholly different continent—and a totally different sport—opened up and my family stumbled upon badminton. The truth is my dad had a Chinese girlfriend at the time and she introduced the sport to him.

As the story goes, my dad, knowing that his girlfriend liked the sport, bought a cheap two-racket-plastic-bird-volleyball-net badminton set and presented it to her one summer day. She promptly laughed. “That's not real badminton,” she said. Wondering what she could have meant by this, my dad decided to bring her to our local junior college, knowing it offered open-gym play for just a few dollars. There my fit, well-coordinated dad proceeded to get clobbered by girlfriend and company. He took big hammer-swings at the bird, but it was no use—he looked like a fool to the delight of his more skilled opponents. But he relished the challenge, committed to playing at least once a week, improved his technique, and soon brought myself and my brother along to play as well. In no time it was our weekly tradition.

Green Molecules and Green Chemistry Labs, Part III

Picture of two people in a lab.

Johnny and Cindy.

It’s been two weeks since my last day at the lab. The time I’ve spent away has given me a different perspective on how I spent my summer.

The things I learned have made me fall in love with chemistry all over again. Solid-state synthesis, gas-phase-synthesis, ionic liquids, phase-transfer catalysis, macrocycle synthesis, these terms have gained new meaning since I had first read about them in a textbook in May (it seems so long ago).

The Aldol condensation is already a green organic chemistry reaction: it has high atom-efficiency and produces water as a byproduct.

Slim to None: the Eritrean Exodus: Part 1

Smiling baby with grandmother.

Grandma meets grandbaby for the first time!

Quoting from Winta's President's Summer Fellowship proposal: This summer, I will make a film about this tragedy and the plight of the Eritrean refugees in general. I will interview Eritrean refugees in Uganda, Italy, and the United States. Being an Eritrean immigrant myself, I will explore the diaspora within my own family and demonstrate how film can be a medium for promoting social justice.

Last October, a boat holding 350+ Eritrean refugees capsized off the coast of Italy and rocked the Eritrean community, forcing me to confront questions about who I am and where I come from. While the basic story is that conditions inside of Eritrea are so terrible (indefinite mandatory military service, extrajudicial killings, president turned dictator, etc.) that people will risk everything to flee, I wanted to hear first-hand accounts of what was actually happening. I also aimed to gather first-hand accounts of what happened in Lampedusa when that boat carrying over 350 Eritrean asylum seekers capsized. Among other specifics of the event, I wanted to know if there were Italian witness who didn’t help the drowning Eritreans (as some news outlets have reported) and what effect that has had in the Italian political scene. Most importantly, I wanted to be able to share the stories I encountered with a much broader audience to finally illuminate tales of the Eritrean exodus.

As I was preparing to go to Uganda, it occurred to me that indefinite mandatory military service, the main complaint about Eritrea, is also the reason my family has been torn apart. Because my three older siblings were older than sixteen when my mom decided to move us to the U.S., the Eritrean government refused to grant them exit visas because they hadn’t satisfied their national duty requirements. After ten years of forced service, my brother decided to flee and is now a refugee. While I originally intended for him to be only my contact for gathering others’ stories, I realized ours was just as interesting and seemed key for exploring my own relationship with these issues. As such, Uganda also became the location of a family reunion. After fifteen years, I would be reintroduced to my older siblings; my mom would see her kids again and be introduced to two of her grandchildren; and, I would capture all of this on video to humanize the effects of the current Eritrean crisis.

Old Thimi, Nepal, Potters of the Prajapati Community: #2

Beating pot.

A number of things have happened since my last blog post: I have turned 21, I have left Nepal, and managed to catch and rid myself of (as so many other Americans in Nepal have before me) a bad case of lice. But these lovely little creatures surprisingly turned into a bit of a blessing. By the time I had realized my new hair inhabitants I was in the midst of my final weeks in Nepal. At that point I was honestly quite exhausted, and I had begun to withdraw from both my host family and my project. I had arrived at a place where I knew my remaining time was limited, and I wasn’t sure if chasing new leads in my research could be adequately pursued before my departure. “Bria’s little friends” (as my host mother liked to call them) kicked me out of this slump. I spent about 3 hours a day for one week sitting in sun with my host family as they picked the bugs out of my hair. These lice-finding sessions prompted newfound bonds with the non-English speaking women in my family as well as further consideration of topics regarding my research.

Rooftop room.My rooftop room.

Aside from the lice, there were certainly many other challenges I faced during those last weeks. In an interview with a prominent Buddhist priest/scholar in the Newar community, we argued about what it means to be Buddhist or Hindu. The potters with whom I live self-identify as Hindu, however, all of their life cycle ceremonies (birth, puberty, marriage, death etc.) are conducted by Buddhist priests in the Buddhist way. My interviewee argued that therefore my potter friends were Buddhist. It is important to note that in the Newar community separating these traditions doesn’t always make sense, especially in the context of ritual. Why this is the case is perhaps too complicated to explore in this short blog post but will be addressed in my final project along with its implications on the ceramic vessels I study.

London Part 1: Getting My Bearings

Getting My Bearings or, I assure you, Prof. Virginia Hancock, I did experience London, at least a little bit.

Distance and I have an exceedingly personal and quite visceral relationship. The spring and summer of 2014 saw me spend nine hours traveling fifty miles on foot, a few days touring several hundreds of miles on a bicycle, and five days crossing the mighty North American Continent by rail, among other things. It is in this context that I write that the thirteen hour ~5,000 mile flight across The Lake to London was pleasantly quick.

Immediately after clearing customs at Heathrow I collected my bicycle from the oversized luggage bin and made my way to a Transport for London ticket counter to purchase an Oyster Card—essentially, a swipe card that would enable me to use London’s buses, overground and underground trains. From there, I hopped a Piccadilly Line Underground train, “The Tube,” and made my way to central London.Interior of train car I had arranged to rent a room in a boarding house that catered specifically to researchers staying in London and afforded ready access to the National Archives, Kew Gardens, and the Natural History Museum. I found that such establishments were surprisingly common and much more affordable than hotels and even many hostels. The more you know.

PSF Project Campus Within Walls, 2

Washington Monument, summer 2014

     It’s been an amazing last few weeks. I’ve learned and grown more than I would have thought possible in the short time I’ve been here. I’ve come to learn what a tenuous position this college program is in, and to so admire all the people behind the scenes who fight tooth and nail to keep it funded and alive to serve. I have learned that the philosophy I see embodied in the Campus Within Walls administration is one that must be practiced in whatever course my own life takes: To fight for the underserved, and to give without requiring any initial proof to pass a judgment of “worthiness.” There is a need, and they are ensuring it is met. It’s that simple.

            Undertaking this project has been scary at times. Not for the reasons one might expect from a project conducted in a prison, but from the experience of being personally challenged. I love going to the prison class, but I will admit, there have certainly been times when I’ve wished I was at home, spending a carefree summer exploring the great Northwest with family and friends. I am very aware of my own expectations for this project. I want it to be great. I want it to do justice to the inmates’ experiences, humanity, and strength. It’s terrifying to think that I might not be successful. Were I not even trying, I wouldn’t have the discomfort I do, because I would not be creating the opportunity to fail. My limits are being tested. This grant has allowed me the chance to translate my lofty words and big dreams into actions. There’s no stopping now. Not only do I have myself to answer to, and those who placed confidence in my abilities by funding me, but I now also feel obligated to all the students and administration at the Campus Within Walls program. These students have lodged themselves irremovably in my heart and in my life. Although their lives and their college experiences are restricted behind fences and razor wire, there is no way that their impact on me will remain contained. Their needs don’t disappear when I do. My experience this summer has placed in me a sense of obligation to continue to work with prison justice and inmate rehabilitation programs. In my original thinking, I believed the PSF award was granting me the opportunity to  “complete” my summer project. I am now realizing how limited that perspective was. Rather, what my PSF summer has done is awaken a passion and deep sense of loyalty and lasting obligation to this small, scrappy community college prison program. There is no way I will be able to close the door on this experience, and walk away from the dedicated students and administration. My work with Campus Within Walls is light years away from “complete.”

Green Molecules and Green Chemistry Labs, Part II

Summer snuck up behind me. Before I knew it, high school graduation was here, school was out, and with it, most of the students and teachers who normally populate the Bard Queens hallways I’ve roamed and reacquainted myself with.

One of the first things I was told to expect about the PSF project was to be ready for surprises, and to be ready to take things in stride. Even so, when the end of June approached, I panicked. I knew I couldn’t work in the lab without a supervisor, and knew that Julia would be leaving for China come the last week of school. I hadn’t begun working in the lab until the start of June, since working here required permission from the NYC DOE (bureaucracy has a funny way of stifling creativity). School duties (proctoring, chaperoning, etc.) kept Julia and Cindy busy for a few days, and migraine attacks kept me from the lab once they were back and ready to go. After working in the lab for two weeks, and a cumulative one-week absence, I found myself with a notebook full of ideas but no time left to act them out. I performed what I could and got ready to say goodbye, disappointed that June had come and gone with the wind.

Right before she left, Julia mentioned that Cindy, the lab teaching assistant, was willing to work with me over the summer. Still, she admitted that this rested on its acceptance by the powers that be. I gave her a gift, hugged her, said goodbye, and thanked her for all she had done for me. I waited. Then, ecstasy! Cindy said she would be in the lab, and that I was welcome to pass by anytime.

Chasing Bluegrass: Festival Time

The first two festivals I attend this summer are a study in contrasts. The first, the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival, is a hyper-traditional “Mecca of Bluegrass.” The countryside surrounding Bean Blossom, in Brown County, Indiana, is filled with rolling hills, big forests, and small towns. A permanent wooden stage sits in the middle of the music park, and an American flag hangs behind bands playing on the stage. People set their lawn chairs in the field in front of the stage at the start of the ten-day festival and leave them there for the entire festival; since people wouldn’t watch every act, you could take a seat in somebody else’s lawn chair until the owners came back.

People performing on a stage.

Around the stage, dirt roads with names like “Ralph Stanley Road” and “Jimmy Martin Drive” circle through the campground, which is mostly dominated by trailers and RVs. Tent camping is mostly in a back corner of the campground, in a part of the park that Bill Monroe once christened “hippy hill.” There’s a pond on the property, and mules and goats are kept back behind the pond.

Harvesting Energy from Fluids: The Beginning of a PSF Summer

My experience studying wind energy at St. Anthony Falls Laboratory began in early June. In between the end of school and the start of the laboratory experience, I spent two weeks on a WWOOF farm in Gresham, Oregon. Here, I shoveled, weeded, and relocated a variety of farm supplies. This manual labor felt refreshing and productive after spending a year completing mental labor. The intimacy that I had with nature on the farm was very meaningful. The best part, however, was the interesting philosophy of the farm. Everyone shares work as well as resources, and no money is exchanged. The farmers also advocate working slowly in order to thoroughly live and learn. They even practice a five-hour workday as opposed to the standard eight hours. This was a fascinating demonstration of how to elude stress and promote cooperation and love. This farm was both idealistic and idyllic.

After the farm, I visited the beautiful Oregon desert, and then I flew to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I settled into my summer residence - a house inhabited by Macalester College students. I found this inexpensive room through a classmate at Reed, for there is a sizable large crossover between the Reed and the Macalester communities.

I then visited the laboratory – and it is amazing. It is located where the Mississippi River runs through downtown Minneapolis. While the urban skyline is beautiful, it pales in comparison to the natural scenery. The lab is located below a magnificent 50-foot waterfall and next to roaring rapids. This setting dramatically demonstrates the power of fluids. The lab was built below a waterfall so that gravity could be harnessed in bringing the water from above the falls to the experimental facilities below the falls. As a fluid mechanics laboratory, it uses a lot of water.

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