Bowdoin's Luce Scholars Embark on Intensive Research

Story posted April 23, 2010

She thought she'd be an economics major, maybe take a little math. Then Alexa Staley '11 took a course in Bowdoin's physics department. She was instantly hooked. And that was before she had even learned about Einstein's equations.

She encountered Einstein's General Theory of Relativity the following semester in a 300-level course with Professor of Physics and Astronomy Thomas Baumgarte, a leading numerical relativist who is an expert in black holes.

When she began to see how computer modeling could simulate black holes, her academic fervor took off.

Now the junior has the opportunity to embark on over a year of intensive research on black holes, mentored by Baumgarte. Staley has recently been selected as one of four Clare Boothe Luce Program (CBL) research scholars. (Read about the students' projects, below.)

Bowdoin was one of only 10 institutions awarded a 2010 CBL grant, a highly coveted grant that opens pathways for women in science, mathematics and engineering. Applications are by invitation only.

The $214,000 grant will support multi-year research for eight Bowdoin women—four sophomores and juniors in 2010 and four the following academic year.

"Bowdoin has an enviable track record of producing science and mathematics graduates with a broad liberal education," notes Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd. "Over the past decade, 25 percent of Bowdoin students majored in the natural sciences and mathematics and nearly half of these students were women.

"But nationally, far fewer women go on to pursue graduate studies and careers in the physical sciences—physics and computer science in particular. Bowdoin is deeply committed to opening new pathways for women to pursue important research in these fields. This is true in the makeup of our faculty as well, which far outstrips the national average of female scientists and mathematicians in tenured and tenure-track positions."

The faculty-guided CBL research experience will span up to two academic years and three summers. The scholars will present at professional conferences and their work will culminate in an honors project.

alexa staley
Alexa Staley

Alexa Staley '11
Faculty Mentor: Thomas Baumgarte

The goal of my project is to explore a numerical solution to Einstein's equations that can be used to determine an object's effect on its surrounding spacetime. Analytical solutions to Einstein's equations are particularly helpful in describing the behavior of simple black holes. Black holes found in nature, however, are too complicated for analytical solutions, and their behavior can only be explored numerically using computer simulations. Therefore, I will be developing code that previous Physics Honors have worked on in order to improve approximate solutions to Einstein's equations. I will be working under the guidance of Professor Baumgarte.

nicole erkis
Nicole Erkis

Nicole Erkis '12
Faculty Mentor: Steve Majercik, Frank Mauceri


My research is part of a larger project of Professors Majercik (Computer Science) and Mauceri (Music). The project seeks to combine elements of computer science, the arts, and psychology to create artificial agents that model creativity and that can musically improvise with humans. The focus is on creating an artificial musician that can receive input from human performers and react in a way that a human would consider creative. I will work on the swarm intelligence system that the artificial musician uses to operate, which involves many simple individual agents that interact, self-organize, and produce complex behavior that is beyond the capabilities of any individual in the swarm.

emma chiappetta
Emma Chiappetta

Emma Chiappetta '11
Faculty Mentors: Thom Pietraho, William Barker

Mathematics is largely the study of symmetry. It is important for mathematicians to look at on object from multiple perspectives; symmetry allows us to do that. Our project focuses on Lie Groups which help mathematicians capture the word "symmetry", making studying it a precise action. There are two ways to study Lie Groups and symmetry: by using algebra and by using geometry. This project makes use of both: using algebra to play off geometry; allowing for a more comprehensive understanding. Lie theory is ubiquitous in mathematics. Our project will look in detail at a smaller branch of this very important field.

teresa arey
Teresa Arey

Teresa Arey '11
Faculty Mentor: Dharni Vasudevan

Antibiotics remain in the environment through sorption, a retention process onto solids. This accumulation allows for bacterial exposure, posing a risk of resistance developing. Currently there is no model to use to predict the extent an antibiotic molecule will interact with the soil. This product focuses on one of the functional groups on the antibiotic, the amine group. The extent of sorption will be studied for amines focusing on the determination of what mechanisms are the responsible for the process occurring and what structural features increase the extent of sorption. The results will help achieve the long term goal of finding predictive tools for antibiotics.

The CBL program was established by Clare Boothe Luce and is part of the Henry Luce Foundation. Since its inception in 1989, the program has supported more than 1,500 women students and faculty members.


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