Published October 17, 2018 by Rebecca Goldfine

2018 Family Weekend: Symposium to Celebrate Student Research and Creativity

We have briefly described three student projects—in politics, marine biology, and theater/computer science—that will be part of the student research symposium Friday, where the full breadth of the liberal arts will be on display.
Student talking during 2017 President’s Summer Research Symposium
At the 2017 President’s Summer Research Symposium

It has become an autumn tradition for Bowdoin’s president to invite students who pursued summer research to gather together and present posters of their work on campus. The President’s Summer Research Symposium always takes place during Family Weekend, allowing relatives and friends to check out the projects and talk with students about their discoveries and creations.

Below we briefly describe three student projects—in politics, marine biology, and theater/ computer science—that will be part of the Friday symposium, where the full breadth of the liberal arts will be on display. You can read abstracts about all the student work here.

The Oct. 19 symposium will take place in Morrell Gymnasium from 1:45 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Midterms Are Becoming Safer for the President’s Party, Duncan Gans ’19

Duncan Gans ’19
Duncan Gans ’19

Duncan Gans ’19 will be presenting a poster exploring the so-called “midterm effect,” an electoral trend in which the presidential party performs poorly in the midterm polls. It’s a fairly consistent pattern but it’s starting to change, says Gans. “There have been only three elections since the Civil War when the President’s party has posted gains,” he said, “but two of them have been in the past couple of decades: 1998 and 2002.”

The 2002 election was, to some extent, influenced by the wave of patriotism that followed the 9/11 attacks, he said, “but even beyond that, there is evidence that the presidential party, while still posting a slide in the midterms, is doing better at than it used to, and I wanted to explore that.” 

During the summer, under the mentorship of government professor Michael Franz, Gans analyzed electoral data from the House of Representatives to try and figure out why midterms are becoming safer for the President’s party. Factors behind this, he said, include a greater level of incumbency and a decline in the number of electoral “swing” districts—seats that could go either way. “Electoral boundaries have changed, but also people are tending to locate themselves in areas where the party they support is strong, so opposition votes have less impact.” 

Gans has devised a model for the upcoming midterms, predicting modest gains for the Democrats, winning the House by fifteen to twenty seats. “As a computer science and government major, this project was an ideal opportunity to examine the intersection of politics and quantitative analysis.”

The Effect of Removing Rockweed from the Rocky Intertidal: Four Years Later, Katie Galletta ’21

Katie Galletta ’21 counting intertidal species in rockweed plots on Kent Island
Katie Galletta ’21 counting intertidal species in rockweed plots on Kent Island

In two decades, the amount of rockweed harvested in Maine surged from 131,000 pounds, in 2000, to nearly twenty million pounds last year. The common seaweed is used as a food additive and plant fertilizer. Though the booming industry is a source of jobs, it is also sparking worry that it is damaging coastal ecosystems. 

But so far few viable studies exist into the long-term effects of rockweed harvesting. This summer, however, a Bowdoin student had a chance to contribute new data to this area. Katie Galletta ’21 received a research fellowship from Bowdoin to return to a project begun in 2013 by Christine Walder ’15 on Kent Island. There, Walder set up small plots in the intertidal zone to study rockweed extraction. Using some plots as controls, she experimented in others by cutting down the rockweed to sixteen inches, Maine’s legal limit. Then she observed the results over the following two summers.

This summer, Galletta revisited the plots. But first she had to find them, using GPS coordinates left by Walder and turning over a lot of seaweed. Despite the survey plots being fairly overgrown, Galletta was able to locate almost all of them. To determine their ecological health, she meticulously counted all of the species—including snails, crabs, and isopods—in each of the plots to see whether their numbers had declined.

Though Galletta, who is studying in Bowdoin;s Marine Science Semester this fall, couches her findings in scientific disclaimers (hers was a small study, and other factors like climate change could be at play), she did find some intriguing results. While the number of species had not declined in the harvested plots, the cut seaweed had also not regrown to predicted lengths. “The main takeaway I took from the project is that rockweed harvesting needs to be thought about deliberately and planned out for the future, to make sure it has time to bounce back,” she said.

Performing Mixed Reality, Ian Stewart ’20

This summer, Ian Stewart ’20 was asked by two faculty in theater and computer science—Sarah Bay-Cheng and Stephen Majercik—to look for and forge links between their fields. His contributions will help them prepare a new course for next fall called Performing Mixed Reality. “There are a lot of intersections between theater and technology in all of our lives,” Stewart noted, a trend that will likely become more pronounced as augmented and virtual reality develop. Even people’s presentation of themselves on social media is a form of theater, he added.

Stewart, who is majoring in both theater and computer science, received a Bowdoin fellowship to spend the summer experimenting with different tools, such as interactive videos and 3D architecture programs, which students could use to fuse performance art with technology. In doing so, he ended up creating several original pieces for his own portfolio.

In one of these works, he made a “dynamic photo booth,” in which a computer video camera records five seconds before snapping a photo. The video responds to, and gets distorted by, any movements and noise the subject makes, like wriggles and claps. At the end, the video and still image are merged. “It highlights the process that went on behind creating the final product,” Stewart said.

And in another project, he created a virtual reality version of Pickard Theater, which will allow student set designers to move and shift set stage props on their computers to help them imagine scenes.

Stewart said he appreciated having the time this summer to be creative and follow his ideas. “The professors gave me a lot of freedom to do what I thought was meaningful and valuable, and to develop cool projects based on our initial criteria,” he said.