This summer, Lee Hayes (pictured working on the Simon's Rock organic farm) and more than a dozen other early college students collaborated with seven professors on a variety of projects across the sciences, including Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Environmental Science. With the 2014-2015 school year underway, and new students engaged in work in the sciences, we present a brief Photo Journal of the research conducted during the past few months.
Environmental Science & the Community Garden
This summer, environmental science students worked with their professor Thomas Coote on a number of on- and off-campus projects. In June, students Nate Shoobs and Sam Yarmis joined Tom in presenting at the Malacology Conference of the Americas in Mexico City the results of their research on the island of Montserrat (part of a Simon's Rock Signature Program).
Tom has also continued his work with students on Berkshire Environmental Research Center programs, including addressing water quality and weed control for a lake management project in New York, and in August acquired a grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust to engage Simon's Rock students in supporting a water quality monitoring program at Lake Mansfield, adjacent to the college campus.
Meanwhile, on campus, in the community garden, students Amber Zia, Hannahlee Ferus, Michael Shank and Lee Hayes kept their hands dirty, growing a variety of tomatoes, zucchinis, greens, and other vegetables that are used for dishes offered at the school Dining Hall. (Learn about the new Center for Food Studies at Simon's Rock.)
Amber Zia, Environmental Sciences student, works on the Simon's Rock organic farm.
David Weber, Executive Chef of the Simon's Rock Dining Hall, receives a new gross from Community Garden Manager Tess Diamond.
Shannon Igo, who stayed on campus this summer to work with Biology professor Erin McMullin:
"I decided to stay on campus this summer because I really love Erin as a teacher and wanted to work with her. I had only done it once before in my Cell Bio class, but after less than a week of my internship she was confident enough to let me work unsupervised. I've learned a lot about DNA extraction and sequencing over the summer. Also, I have been able to ask Erin about things outside the lab, such as graduate school, which has started me thinking about what I want to do after Simon's Rock."
In the Biology lab, Shannon joined Erin in finishing a project they had started in Cell Biology during the last semester: extracting DNA from fish collected by Simon's Rock students on the island of Montserrat. Shannon and Erin then used DNA sequencing to determine whether any of the fish were of a new species, and they discovered the fish represented a species previously recorded in other Caribbean islands but not in Montserrat.
Later this summer, the two focused on determining whether a specific population of large-mouthed bass was genetically robust, extracting DNA and using microsatellite markers for genetic variability. They also worked with a group of nearby salamander populations to ascertain which was most closely related to the salamanders found swimming in the Simon's Rock ponds.
In chemistry, Trixie Gomez stayed on with her professor, David Myers, who has been engaged in a study since 2005 examining indigenous, non-edible fungi for antibacterial and antioxidant activity. David and his team of students have experienced promising results, and now they are further separating and purifying the fungi to ascertain the active components.
"Our would has become a lot more lethal with 'superbugs' emerging from the most seemingly unexpected places and diseases evolving into more pernicious forms," says Trixie. "Discovering other kinds of fungi that can serve as powerful antibiotics against these superbugs and diseases provides beneficial progress to the medical world. The end goal is to find what substance within the fungi has an antibacterial trait (if there is any) and to figure out how much of it is powerful enough to kill the bacteria while sustaining the life of the person ingesting it."
Professor Eric Kramer illustrates the value of a different point of view
Plant hormones regulate every aspect of plant growth and development. By regulating the number and length of root hairs, for example, the plant hormone auxin can regulate drought tolerance. Plant biologists have been studying auxin production for years, and Eric Kramer has been collaborating with them for more than a decade, providing a different perspective based on his expertise in physics and computation. "The synthesis of these two points of view," Eric says, "has been very productive and resulted in several highly cited papers."
This summer, he was joined by Ethan Ackelsburg (pictured above), who was given the freedom to experiment and learn on his own: a trait for which Simon's Rock is well known amongst students and alumni.
Professor Michael Bergman inspires students to get inventive
As told by Jimmy Raibab:
"As Mike Bergman is a geophysicist, my work this summer involved studying the dynamics of the Earth's inner and outer cores. I worked with fellow students Harry Gao, James Yu and Max Kotov on modeling the rock deformation that goes on in the center of our planet. We did this by growing ingots that consisted of two metals -- for example, lead and tin -- and slicing them up into thinner pieces for polishing. Polishing reveals the micro-structure: essentially, the way the metal particles have melded together.
"One day, Mike tells me that he wants to anneal an ingot but wants an inexpensive oven to do it. So, he decides to buy a cheap toaster oven -- you know, the ones we usually use for heating food up, and not dangerous materials like lead. After setting it down and plugging the thing in, we realized that the ingots were too tall for what we were trying to accomplish. We needed more room, so we laid the toaster on its side. Turns out that the thermometer that was inside read a different temperature than what the toaster was set to. We were considering calling the company that makes these toasters to tell them what the problem could be, but then we would have had to explain why we wanted to put it on its side in the first place. I guess toaster ovens were not meant to be used like that."
The laboratory (Harry, Mike and Jimmy pictured)
Professor Harold Hastings demonstrates the importance of asking questions
A third project was also underway this summer in the physics department: studying the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction. Harold and his students were, as Harold puts it, "literally exploring new ground in searching for answers" to the unknown surrounding this chemical reaction.
The BZ reaction mimics biology. Unlike most chemical reactions, it can generate apparently spontaneous chemical oscillations, and even spatial patterns of traveling waves; likewise, our heart has a biochemical pacemaker, the sino-atrial node, which generates waves of activation though the atria and then the ventricles, causing the heart to contract and pump blood.
Why does the BZ reaction generate traveling waves, which appear as target patterns? When does the medium support synchronized oscillations? The BZ reaction involves the catalytic oxidation of an organic acid, so what are the effects of using mixtures of different catalysts? These were the questions Jody Leonard and Sofia Rafikova (pictured below) tried to address using chemical experiments, video image processing and computer simulation, under a Senior Scientist Mentorship provided by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation.