Campus / News / Student Research / May 7, 2009

Students present summer research projects

Knox’s McNair program, designed to encourage intellectual pursuits, offers its participants unique opportunities to engage in original research. This summer, 11 sophomores and juniors, with the help of McNair program funding, will embark on projects exploring everything from amino acids to unicorns.

The beginnings of those projects were presented to the Knox community this past Wednesday. Sophomore Sasha Murphy was first, explaining that some amino acids could inhibit certain enzymes. Murphy plans to explore methods to create these molecules artificially in a laboratory. Junior Antonina Pondo, whose research addresses the same particle, indicated the molecules are difficult to synthesize because there are multiple similar versions, potentially deadly if mixed in the wrong proportions. Both were hopeful about the potential benefits of the work, saying that, in the distant future, the molecules could block things such as cancer-causing enzymes.

Sophomore Shirley Dehn will also be studying enzymes, choosing the GrpE protein as her subject. She plans to remove increasingly larger segments of the protein to determine the minimum length it requires to function. This requires manipulating not only the protein but the DNA that codes for it. Dehn noted that this protein is similar to one found in humans and has potential for numerous practical aspects.

Sophomore Sundee Perkins’ research took a slightly more fantastical aspect, focusing on the evolution of unicorns.

“My research studies the history of unicorns through physical depictions, descriptions, and symbolism,” Perkins said. Noting that they became essentially immortal after working their way into the Bible, Perkins will look for discrepancies between written and pictorial depictions of unicorns. She feels her work will reveal more than the history of an icon, saying, “The unicorn’s evolution tends to show cultural trends.”

Junior Amelia Garcia will also explore cultural trends, studying the effects of magazine advertisements on the purchasing behavior of women.

“I explore the effects of idealized women in magazine advertisements on the purchases women make,” Garcia said. Although studies have been done on the short-term effects of advertisements, she noted that little research addresses the question of whether ads lead to the actual purchase of the product. She plans to conduct in-depth interviews with 15 women, going through magazines with them and asking things such as how they feel, what ads catch their attention, and what they would go out and purchase. Garcia acknowledged that people respond differently to ads depending on their individual characters.

“I don’t expect any black and white answers,” she said.

Junior Rachel Perez chose to examine the influence of the Disney Corporation on today’s American culture.

“We’ve been seeing Disney movies since 1937 and ever since it’s had a profound impact on American culture,” Perez said. Perez plans to explore what exactly it contributes to American culture and how this addresses the larger question of why humans have a drive towards homogeneity. Saying Disney imposes a certain morality on children, Perez will explore Disney films to see what messages they communicate and incorporate perspectives such as feminism and Marxism into her analysis.

Americans were also an area of focus for junior Alison Spataro, who chose to focus her research American stereotypes of the French. A large part of her research will be examining the portrayal of French characters in American films and determining whether the stereotypes in the media are the same ones held by the American people. She plans to look at how the relationship between America and France has changed over time and how it may have influenced stereotypes.

Sophomore Isaac Juarez kept his research closer to home, choosing to explore the cost of acquiring condoms at Knox. Noting that sexually transmitted diseases are still being spread despite access to condoms, Juarez explained that condom costs have to be measured, not merely in money, but in the effort needed to acquire them.

“People go out of their way to go with a store with more privacy,” Juarez said. But if a store is too far out of the way, they might not go at all. Juarez plans to survey Knox students about where they get their condoms and the time it takes, with the goal of discovering all factors involved in the cost.

Sophomore Jessica DeMory’s project also addresses costs of drug control. Eventually hoping to answer the larger question of whether or not drugs should be legal, DeMory commented on the uniqueness of the drug industry.

“It takes advantage of globalization,” said DeMory, noting that the industry was based entirely on trust. DeMory plans to talk to drug prevention groups who have worked with drug dealers, interview police officers and explore relevant literature. She will also look at cost benefit analysis of countries that have legalized drugs.

Sophomore Jordan Lanfair will develop methods for classrooms to encourage positive student behavior and lead to increased academic performance.

“Students have been left unable to function in the real world,” Lanfair said, explaining that he wants to find a way to emphasize positive student involvement in the classroom. He pointed out that classroom management has not often been studied in students of color and poorer demographic areas, and wants to discover the best teaching methods for these demographics. Lanfair plans to directly observe classrooms and interact with students, applying his methods and studying their effectiveness.

The Red-Eyed Vireo’s language is of interest to junior Lainey Badger, who wants to study how the bird’s life is affected by its large song repertoire. Badger wants to discover the bird’s behavior while singing and what its songs are used for. She plans to catch and band birds, recording their songs and behaviors. Because a bird’s songs change from year to year, this is only the beginning of her work.

The findings of each student’s summer research project will be presented in the fall.

Rachel Perez is the Discourse Editor for TKS.

Katy Sutcliffe

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