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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.

“他们打比赛,你做步法” (“They'll play games, you do footwork.”)

Bas-relief of badminton player.

Those words more or less capture the story of my life for the past several weeks.

I am here at Beijing Sports University, staying in the international students dorm, waiting and writing as my clothes dry. I have no drying rack and the dorms have no dryers, so I've improvised a little bit with the curtain rods hanging around the window.

The room is nice. And the conspicuous absence of a dryer in these otherwise well-outfitted dorms is normal for Chinese colleges and households—where clothes hanging outside rooms is the rule and not the exception. You can bet that even if a Chinese person had a dryer, and all the money in the world to use it, many of those clothes would still be stubbornly hung up for Mother Nature to do her thing. Call it frugality mixed with convention, plus a dash of environmentalism
Dorm room and hanging clothes.for those looking for it.

Through the window I see the red-brick, white-trim facade of the adjacent student dorm block. In a way almost reminiscent of Reed, these red bricks adorn most all of BSU's buildings, giving them dignified uniformity. But unlike our Eliot Hall's Gothic crown, these buildings are garnished with everything from Greco-Roman colonnades (a nice nod to the school's Olympic enthusiasm, I thought!), to elaborate futurist super-structures, to the traditional Chinese roof, with its signature corner-curl. Gymnastics hall. Overall the campus sports a comfortable ambiance and beauty, and I've come to love it here. Huge trees and nature diversions line the university's main roads. Outside tennis, volleyball and basketball courts abound. Bronze statues of athletes in-the-act are dedicated outside training halls (although much to my chagrin, I have yet to find the badminton statue). And of course, a great white Statue of Chairman MaoChairman Mao greets all those who enter.

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.

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.”

What's Going Around Wind Turbines: Turbulent Vortices

A wind turbine.

I am researching how wind flows behind wind turbines by analyzing experimental and numerical data. The experimental data has been collected around the turbine that is pictured at right, and the numerical model is based on this turbine.

I’m specifically analyzing the structure and evolution of the vortices that are created at the blade tips. The vortices are caused by areas of low pressure around the turbine. Turbines’ blades rotate because the aerodynamic shape of the blades guides incoming wind into creating a pressure difference that, in turn, drives the blades. Another difference in pressure is due to the fact that the blades block wind, so behind the blade there are fewer air molecules and thus, there is a lower pressure. Objects feel forced to move to lower pressures. Both the blades and the wind are forced into the lower pressure. Some wind wraps around the blades in order to get to the low pressure area.

A vortex forms where the wind curls because the low pressure applies a centripetal force — like how a hurricane is a vortex where wind wraps around the hurricane’s low-pressure eye. Vorticity quantifies how much the fluid rotates around a region. In math terms, the vorticity is the curl of the wind velocity. Strong vortices are created at the blade tips because here the wind can radially bypass the blade, which provides the path of least resistance in the pursuit of lower pressure. This vortex is then pushed downstream by the wind, away from the blades’ low pressure region; the wind continues to curl due to a law of angular momentum conservation. The tip vortices are major sources of turbulence that damage downstream turbines. Consequentially, tip vortex research can lead to improvements in the longevity of turbines in wind farms.

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.

Phase 1

Robert Swinhoe

John Young '15, environmental sciences/history, was awarded a President's Summer Fellowship to "travel to and collect consular records from the British National Archives, the Royal Geographical Society, and the Natural History Museum in London, and then return to Reed in order to analyze and further chart the collecting habits and practice of natural history of the ornithologist Robert Swinhoe (1836-1877)."

Professor Douglas Fix tells me that one should have an excellent idea of what collections an archive holds long before one arrives at the archive’s reading room. A visit to collect documents, a perhaps seemingly pedestrian task, requires a large measure of pre-visit prep work. 

More than I anticipated. 

PSF project with Campus Within Walls

I glance at myself in the mirror, and anxiously scrutinize my outfit. Long khaki pants and a plain, loose-fitting black shirt. It’s my first day of school, and the dress code is quite strict. No jeans. Nothing too revealing, nothing too form-fitting. No dresses, no skirts. Long pants. Sleeved shirts. No blue tops. The possible ways I could violate the code seem endless.

I glance down. My shoes may be a problem. Only closed toed shoes are allowed, and all I brought with me are sandals and running shoes. I wear the running shoes as they are the pair with the only chance of passing inspection, but they may prove to be too informal.

I grab my bag. It contains my wallet and cell phone, though I know already these items will be staying in the car. I will bring only my photo ID into the school building.

White Net Under a Red Flag: A First Look at one of China's Most Popular Sports

If you have been watching the World Cup, or keep tabs on any other sport, it should come as no surprise that sports play a very meaningful roles in our lives in the 21st century. Here is a PSF project about a sport you may have never thought seriously about, but which is ubiquitous across Asia and especially in China.

"Everybody is crazy about badminton here," my new friend says as we sit along side East China Normal University's badminton courts. His name is Varun and he is an Indian graduate student who started playing badminton when he matriculated to ECNU two years ago. Varun plays with the Chinese regulars at the gym almost every day, and knows most everyone here. "I never played in India, although it's quite popular there," he tells me. "But now," he says with a smile on his face, "I'm addicted."

What Varun said about ECNU's badminton craze is not hard to see when we look out in front of us. It is Wednesday late afternoon and most of the gym's eight courts are full. And this isn't counting the five courts in the adjacent gym, or the school’s small indoor stadium, which features eight courts. The stadium isn't always open, and the gym isn’t always as full as it is now, but I can put it this way: I have never come here and not seen at least a handful of people playing. At peak times it can be hard to find an open court at all—players need to pay for their court time and join a queue.

Old Thimi, Nepal, Potters of the Prajapati Community

  The streets of Old Thimi hum with the sounds of spinning wheels and the shuffling of terracotta, and there is a distinct scent of ash and mud. The just-thrown planter pots, whose silver bodies mingle with sleeping dogs in the sun, dry in alleys seemingly indifferent to the motorcyclists who carefully dodge by. There is always a bustle of activity in these streets and courtyards, and more often than not it surrounds some process related to pottery. Stacks of pots, dry, wet, or fired, line the streets. Piles of hay and ash wait in courtyards to be sacrificed for the transformation of wet clay into terracotta. Massive chipped water jars sit in dusty corners, bearing witness to their own extinction. In the past 50 years the ceramics industry in Kathmandu Valley has undergone significant change. What was once a booming market demanding a diversity of clay products has since significantly dwindled. Today, one finds few potters making anything besides planter pots, rice beer distillers, and popcorn bowls, which betray Thimi’s reputation as home to the craftsmen who throw the largest pots in all of Nepal.

Successful "Sophomore Stretch" prepares students to make the most of opportunities at Reed

What. A. Summer.

I’ve been struggling to find the appropriate words to express just how profound my experience as a President’s Summer Fellow has been. After falling into a deep rut following a series of negative experiences working as a professional ballet dancer, I desperately wanted to rewire my relationship to my body, my technique, and the concert dance world in general. This was a big request for a ten week project, but I am incredibly happy with the results. Through innumerable bruises, doubts, and tears, I have come out of this adventure a very different dancer then when I began. Spending six weeks training and exploring at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance has given me new confidence, a new sense of wonder, and new joy in all things dance and movement related.

leg

Final notes from a Paris biology lab

My practicum in the philosophic aspects of scientific research is technically over today. My internship at LBPA (Laboratoire de biologie et de pharmacologie applliquée) at ENS-Cachan was an amazing experience. I want to thank Bianca Sclavi and the teams at ENS-Cachan for being so kind and flexible to my non-scientific presence in their laboratories. I hope that I opened a few minds to the idea of the benefits of integrating the humanities with the physical sciences. I also want to thank Reed College for all of the support and aid that has made my summer such a grand success.

During my time as an embedded philosopher I have tried to ask questions that people somehow ignore in the lab. These questions attempt to expose the epistemic values that are hidden within the scientific method, and show how the physical sciences represent reality just as well as other disciplines. Due to the values embedded within research projects the physical sciences do not actually uncover "truths" of reality, but in fact the knowledge produced from a lab is similar to a fictional narrative. From deciding which graphs to choose for a report, which instruments to trust, or even the simple act of pipetting, there are always values that frame the scientific research. However, before I finish my summer project I would like to reintegrate the three themes of my practicum. One of my focuses was to look at the epistemological aspects of the scientific process.

I began by looking into how the research at LBPA is funded. It became clear that the process of applying for funding is completely flawed and it is now becoming more and more of a game of luck. The number of applicants grows every year, as does the need for labs to consider what they bring to society. This brought me to the second focus of my internship: broader impacts.

It is becoming necessary for research teams to consider the impacts of their research, and it is also becoming increasingly clear that the best way to accomplish this is through interdisciplinary (ID) and transdisciplinary (TD) research. Research teams who claim that their projects are only for the sake of science are losing funding. Researchers need to learn how to engage with other academics from different disciplines and with the citizens of their society in order to be competitive for grant money. My research on broader impacts led me to the third focus to my internship. Due to the importance of ID/TD I decided to investigate the state of ID/TD education and research in Paris.

It turns out that I’ve launched myself on a set of new adventures. I visited the Centre de Researche Interdisciplinaire (CRI) in Pairs, and learned a lot about their programs for ID/TD research and education. I met with their curriculum designer to find ways that I can become involved with their courses on the philosophy of science this fall. This might be in the form of a presentation describing my practicum, or I might lead a discussion group every week on science and society studies and the philosophical questions intrinsic to scientific research. This is all still in the planning stages, but I am looking forward to working with CRI this fall.

Maya at Work

So, all in all I would have to say this summer has been a success. My final report on my experiments at LBPA contests the current understanding of the structure of a cell, and hopefully further research on this area will lead to breakthroughs on how the inner structure of the cell effects DNA replication. To learn more, visit the link below to my final report. Also, one of my hopes for this internship was to establish relationships that could potentially being me back to Paris in the future, and I believe that there is a strong possibility of that happening.

I hope you all have a wonderful month of August! I will be off reading Adieux by De Beauvior on a beach in Greece. I am looking forward to a break from reading science and STS articles….

-Maya Frodeman, Reed College ‘15

P.S. If you want to hear more about my summer internship I have an extended blog at: http://cascsid.cas.unt.edu/?author=20 I am writing under the name of Axiothea.…

P.P.S Here is a copy of my official lab report on the activity of the phage P5 promoter in E.Coli: FINAL DRAFT--Report on the activity of the P5 promoter

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