Must-See Talks at the Undergrad Conference

This year’s Whitman Undergraduate Conference features over 120 presentations and posters highlighting students’ original works produced in their courses and during semesters abroad, summer internships or research, among others. The Pioneer has chosen three presentations that we have found particularly interesting to attend this Tuesday, April 9.

Hunting for Recoiling Black Holes by Becky Nevin

Becky Nevin.  Photos by Halley McCormick.

Becky Nevin ’13 will present her research on black holes at Tuesday’s Undergraduate Conference. Photos by Halley McCormick.

“It’s our universe. You have a right to know what’s going on.”

Senior astronomy major Becky Nevin will be presenting on research she did over the summer through the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Using images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, Nevin studied the phenomenon of recoiling supermassive black holes.

“Most if not all massive galaxies host what’s called a supermassive black hole. It’s at the center of the galaxy, and the galaxy rotates around the supermassive black hole… During a galaxy merger what happens is the galaxies, and then the black holes, will coalesce… Because of the geometry of the merger they don’t come together just flat on. They will come together with some asymmetries. Therefore, the resultant black hole will actually shoot off in some random direction,” said Nevin.

The event of coalescing galaxies is highly likely, and Nevin suspects that our galaxy will eventually experience a merger.

“We will eventually merge with the Andromeda galaxy…according to the research that I did it’s highly likely that the resultant black hole might not stay in the center of the galaxy,” she said.

That is to say, it will recoil.

“This is definitely the highest level of research that I’ve done as an undergraduate so that’s why I wanted to present it at the Undergraduate Conference,” said Nevin. “Also it’s pretty cool science so I think people will like astronomy a little bit more if they come to my talk.”

Nevin’s presentation will be part of the ‘Heavens and Earth’ grouping at 9 a.m. in Science 100, Brattain Auditorium.

 

Biophilia by Paul Hamilton-Pennell

Paul Hamilton-Pennell

Paul Hamilton-Pennell ’13 will share the philosophy and process of fermentation.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with my academics.”

Senior Paul Hamilton-Pennell will be presenting on the non-academic process, philosophy and social practice of fermentation.

“For a long time fermentation was seen as a very magical kind of process,” said Hamilton-Pennell. “Microbes weren’t scientifically identified until relatively recently even though fermentation predates civilization.”

“I like to fantasize about the intrepid hominid that was poking around in the roots of some tree and sort of drank this first sweet, honey booze liquid like, ‘hmm this is interesting’.”

Despite the fact that he understands the science of fermentation Hamilton-Pennell prefers to think of it as a kind of alchemy.

Paul Hamilton-Pennell handling grain

“Alchemy is more about a mystical exploration of the properties of matter. Just pouring liquids together to see what happens… it’s sort of metaphorically making gold… out of mundane things,” he said. “There are all of these accounts of the community gathering together to say a prayer, pray to the yeast gods to come and bless their drink and start the fermentation.”

On his own time Hamilton-Pennell has begun fermenting as a tradition within his own community, specifically by making his own microbrew.

“It’s super involved,” said Hamilton-Pennell, “Most of the things require two sets of hands, and it takes about 8 continuous hours of work to brew a batch of beer. And a lot of that is waiting for one step to finish so that you can start the next one. The whole time you’re just waiting, talking, hanging out, drinking beer, and it’s just such a fun thing to share with other people. And so there’s this new sense of community that I think comes out of participating in those traditions that we generally lack.”

Hamilton-Pennell stirs his homemade sourdough starter.

Hamilton-Pennell stirs his homemade sourdough starter.

“I went to a potluck last night and filled a gallon jug [of apple cider] from the tap and took it with me and passed it around and it cost me literally nothing. I got the apples off of the tree next door … all you need to do is grind up the apples and stir a little bit and then it just starts bubbling. Which is why [people throughout history] thought it was magic. Life just spontaneously arose from these different ferments. They didn’t realize that [the yeast] was all airborne.”

Hamilton-Pennell said this book was his "bible."

Hamilton-Pennell said this book was his “bible.”

Blurring the lines between tradition and science, Hamilton-Pennell will also explain to audience members the philosophical significance of fermentation.

“I think that there are implications of fermentation for the way that imagination works, the way that we come up with new ideas, the way that we construct possibilities for ourselves … If you think about the Arab Spring and the guy who lit himself on fire in the square in Tunisia; we see that as this singular event that caused all of these things to happen, but what we don’t often think about is the that that change had been fermenting for a very long time. The flavor had been changing.”

“I called the talk ‘Biophilia’ because it’s inspired this profound love for living food for me. And the more I eat it the better I feel and the more I love it … I’ve become a fermentation evangelist.”

Hamilton-Pennell’s presentation will be part of the ‘Genes and Germs’ grouping at 9 a.m. in Science 151.

 

In the age of ‘Modern Family’ by Jenna Fritz

Jenna Fritz

Jenna Fritz ’13 will discuss how sexual orientation influences concepts of family formation.

Senior sociology major Jenna Fritz will be presenting next Tuesday on the impact of sexual orientation on young people’s conceptualization of family formation. In particular, Fritz will emphasize the role that media representations of LGBT people play in these conceptualizations.

“A really positive thing about … LGBT characters in media is that it’s physical; we’re seeing it in popular shows,” said Fritz. “Most TV shows tend to have a storyline that has a gay character and so the visibility aspect is really great.”

Fritz interviewed Whitman students, alumni and members of the Walla Walla community to gather young people’s conceptions of the non-heterosexual family.

“There’s a lot of stereotypical things going on with the characters, which actually came up in a few of my interviews, the role of gay characters in the media… that being a positive as well as a negative thing,” said Fritz.

“Younger generations are being socialized in a way that that’s more acceptable, but a lot of the images are really stereotypical…they are portrayed as being gay in a certain way, and I think that’s hard for some people who don’t identify with those certain characteristics.”

“I have so many friends, I have family members who’ve really struggled with having an identity that’s not heterosexual… I think all of the political and social momentum is really wonderful, but it’s still really hard for people… People still struggle with coming out and part of my thesis is paying homage to that.”

The research that Fritz will present was done for her sociology thesis.

“Not at a lot of places can undergraduates show research that they’ve done. It’s primary research; it’s original thought; it’s innovative.”

Fritz’s presentation will be part of the ‘Gender and Sexuality’ grouping at 3:45 in Olin 130.




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