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Summer Research Program

"What I Did on My Summer Vacation"

For about 120 Holy Cross students, summer offered a chance to do research alongside their professors as part of the Summer Research Program. In a variety of disciplines-the sciences, economics, theatre and classics among them-students engaged in graduate-level work. "The research conducted by our students is in many ways cutting edge in its content and method," explains psychology Professor Daniel Bitran. "Members of our faculty engage students in their scholarly work. In many instances, the student's fresh perspective is unencumbered by assumptions that a more seasoned researcher may harbor. The synergism between the established researcher's wealth of information and wisdom with the student's enthusiasm for the discovery process yields a mutually satisfying experience." HCM spoke with three of the scholarly teams about their work.

"Spontaneous R-Symmetry Breaking at Finite Temperature"
Ben Kain, assistant professor of physics, with Collin Manning '13

What They're Researching  "We studied a theory known as supersymmetry, one of the leading candidates for new particle physics that might be discovered in the next few years. Supersymmetry must come in the form of what is called a broken symmetry. An important indicator for breaking supersymmetry is known as R-symmetry," Kain says. "Our interest was to investigate whether popular models of R-symmetry breaking predicted that the universe would end up in good, R-symmetry breaking regions. We did this by adding temperature corrections to the models and analyzing what happens as the temperature drops, the idea being that this models how the universe was very hot early on, but cooled due to expansion."

THE FACULTY PERSPECTIVE  "Introducing students to the research environment and explaining to them exciting areas of physics that they would not hear about in the classroom I find very rewarding," says Kain. "In my area of research, theoretical particle physics, it can be difficult to find research projects appropriate for undergraduates. Luckily I found a research project that avoids this pitfall and a talented student who can take part in it."

 

"Using C. Elegans to Model the Glucose Stress Response: Implications for Fertility, Mating, and Insulin Signaling"
Michelle Mondoux, assistant professor of biology with Uyen Ho '13, Mike Hoy '14 and Marjorie Liggett '13 (and Brian Ganley '13, not pictured)

What They're Researching  "My laboratory uses the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans to model the glucose stress response. Nutrition (in general) and glucose intake (in particular) affect a variety of important processes such as development, reproduction and life span in many organisms, including humans. The relationship between glucose and diseases such as Type 2 diabetes is clear, but the molecular and cellular events that result from exposure to excess glucose, or 'glucose stress' are unclear," says Mondoux. "The worm is a good model for this work. Its insulin-signaling pathway is very similar to the human insulin-signaling pathway. Marjorie Liggett '13 has explored the effects of glucose stress on males. Having found that glucose stress causes a reduction in male fertility, she is currently trying to understand which processes are affected. Her project is supported by a BD Corporation Summer Research Fellowship. Uyen Ho '13 is exploring if all sugars are toxic. She is working with galactose, an isomer of glucose, and finds that, although there are similarities in the responses to glucose stress and galactose stress, different genetic backgrounds have different sensitivities to different sugars." 

THE FACULTY PERSPECTIVE  "Having students in the lab is absolutely essential to moving our research forward! Almost all of the data that my lab has collected since I came to Holy Cross in 2010 has been from experiments that were carried out by student researchers. The students ask great questions, help keep me up to date on the recent literature in the field and bring a wonderful spark and energy to the lab," says Mondoux.

 

"Transnational Ikat:Ethnographic Fieldwork Explorations"
Susan Rodgers, professor of sociology and anthropology, with Patricia Giglio '14, Martha Walters '14 and Hana Carey '13

What They're Researching  "We are looking at the processes of commercialization and secularization of Ikat textiles in Indonesia and Malaysia. Ikat is a special ceremonial textile created by first dyeing the warp or weft threads into intricate patterns, before the cloth is woven (generally on a back-strap loom). These textiles are mainstays of rituals throughout Indonesia and Sarawak, Malaysia, but for about 30 years have also transitioned into becoming cloths of the fashion and homewares marketplaces. Our summer project entailed intensive study of the scholarship on Southeast Asian textiles followed by anthropological fieldwork with weavers and ikat cloth designers in Bali, Indonesia and Kuching, Malaysia. Finally, we worked with our videos, photographs and field notes from Southeast Asia back here on campus," says Rodgers.

THE STUDENT PERSPECTIVE  "Working in my research team was great. With our different backgrounds (I'm an anthro major with an art history minor, Martha is a double major in anthro and environmental studies, and Tricia is a bio premed major, anthro minor) we all had different things to contribute, which enhanced the experience. I really enjoyed working so closely with a professor, especially in fieldwork in Asia. Not everyone gets that opportunity, and it really is invaluable for developing as a student independent from classes. I learned a lot about our research topic, but even more about how to do research and how to self-motivate academically," says Carey, who now hopes to do more research in Bali.

—Maya Rock '13

Click here to see a gallery of images from the ikat research team's expeditions in Asia.