Five Bowdoin Women Awarded Luce Research Fellowships

Story posted April 25, 2011

Five Bowdoin sophomores have been awarded multi-year research fellowships as part of the College's Clare Booth Luce Research Scholars (CBL) program. The program is dedicated to increasing the presence of women in the physical sciences and offers selected scholars a structured research experience with a faculty mentor that spans two academic years and three summers.

The 2011 CBL scholars are Phoebe Aron '13, Emma Cutler '13, Elizabeth Mamantov 13, Danielle McAvoy '13, and Helen White '13. Their research spans chemistry, computer science, mathematics, and astrophysics and will culminate in honors projects. As CBL scholars, the students will have the opportunity to present at professional conferences, attend guest lectures by outstanding women scientists, and possibly work in an off-campus lab.

During the past decade, one-quarter of all Bowdoin graduates majored in the natural sciences and mathematics. Forty-five percent of those graduates were women.

Research summaries by Bowdoin's 2011 Clare Booth Luce Research Scholars:

Phoebe Aron '13
Faculty Mentor: Dharni Vasudevan, Chemistry
The goal of this project is to continue an ongoing exploration of interaction mechanisms of organic contaminants at the soil-water interface. Specifically, the interaction mechanisms of cationic amines, a key functional group found on many antibiotics and herbicides, will be studied. A sorption experiment will look at the linearity/non-linearity of amine bonding at the soil surface. Sorption experiments examine the absorption of molecules and the bonding of molecules at the surface of a state boundary (water to soil) and are important factors that determine the fate and exposure of contaminants. In general, the soil surface maintains a negative charge, which attracts the positive cationic amines and prevents them from circulating in the environment. Additionally, the effect of interactions between molecules at the soil surface will be considered to account for the linear/nonlinear relationship between available bonding sites and the number of molecules sorbed at the soil-water interface.

Emma Cutler '13
Faculty Mentor: Mary Lou Zeeman, Mathematics
I plan to develop mathematical models of climate dynamics to learn more about the causes of abrupt changes observed in the paleoclimate record. I will be working with Professor Mary Lou Zeeman, who is a co-director of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network, a team of researchers building models to better understand the interactions between various climate processes. I will focus on modeling ice albedo feedback, changes in the earths orbit, the carbon cycle, and greenhouse gases. By concentrating on the sudden changes that are observed in the paleoclimate record, I hope to understand more about the feedback mechanisms and tipping points of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Elizabeth Mamantov '13
Faculty Mentor: Eric Chown, Computer Science
Robocup is a competition in which teams of robots are programmed to play soccer autonomously, which requires them to process and act on environmental information in ways similar to human soccer players. One aspect of playing soccer is localization, or knowing where each robot is positioned on the field. For my project, I plan to create a new localization system for the robots based on an understanding of how humans localize themselves -- rather than standard mathematical robotic-localization techniques. By relying on visual input and comparing it with stored knowledge of how the field appears from different points, the robots should be able to determine their locations and navigate the field in a manner consistent with cognitive theory.

Danielle McAvoy '13
Faculty Mentor: Eric Chown, Computer Science
The goal of my research is to build a system by which a robot can replicate human ability to build cognitive structure based upon movement in their environment. The research is based on Professor Chown's model of human spatial cognition and his previous research, which allows robots to navigate in large environments by recognizing gateways. The research will be done using Bowdoin's Northern Bites RoboCup team as the platform. In order to recognize key frames, which denote transitions between two distinct events, the robot will measure changes in movement in its environment. This will result in the creation of networks of captured images. These networks are a set of states and possible outcomes representing the robot's previous experience. The network will allow robots to anticipate what will happen next, such as where a kicked ball will end up.

Helen White '13
Faculty Mentor: Thomas Baumgarte, Physics
The goal of my project is to model a black hole-neutron star binary, i.e. a binary system in which a black hole and a neutron star orbit about each other, in general relativity. More specifically, I will adopt a coordinate system to describe the black hole that has proven very successful in simulations of binary black holes. This project analyzes the effect of this coordinate system on black hole-neutron star binaries. To do so, I will modify and extend codes developed by Professor Baumgarte’s previous honors students, and will compare models of black hole-neutron star binaries constructed with these new coordinates with models adopting coordinates that are more commonly used.

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