Science and history dominate 2019 Honors Summer Research Program

Honors students
Participants in the 2019 Honors Summer Research Program at Sweet Briar

While most of campus empties within hours of graduation, a handful of dedicated Sweet Briar students and faculty choose to spend a big chunk of their summer in the lab or library, deeply immersed in study during the annual Honors Summer Research Program. For eight weeks, students work eight hours a day with faculty mentors in various disciplines on a topic of their choice. This year, there’s a strong emphasis on science and history.

The 2019 Honors Summer Research scholars are repeats Rosa Bello ’20, Emily Wandling ’20, Theresa Carriveau ’21 and DaZané Cole ’20, as well as newcomers Julie Horton ’20, Yasmin Bekri ’20, Maggie Groetsch ’22 and Griselda Vasquez Ramirez ’22. Students introduced their projects in Mary Helen Cochran Library on Wednesday afternoon.

Rosa Bello’s project is continuing honors research she started last summer. In collaboration with Bethany Brinkman, director of the Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program, the engineering major from Leesburg, Va., is focusing on environmental monitoring. Last summer, Bello analyzed and compared water quality at Sweet Briar College and Otter Lake. She also fixed an automated water sampler that was designed previously by another Sweet Briar student. This summer, Bello will continue redesigning the automatic water sampler and adding components that will measure aspects of the water samples such as turbidity, pH, and conductivity using sensors. She’ll also add a Wi-Fi component to the device, which will allow her to turn the device on or off remotely, Bello explains. In addition to helping address a need, the project combines two of Bello’s interests: electrical and software engineering.

Rosa Bello honors engineering
Rosa Bello is continuing environmental engineering research she started last summer.

Like Bello, Emily Wandling will pick up where she left off last summer. A biochemistry and molecular biology major from Mechanicsville, Va., Wandling is working with chemistry professor Abraham Yousef and biology professor Mike Davis. Her project is all about trees — birch trees in particular. Last year, she successfully extracted and purified betulin from a birch near the Dorothy Sales Building on campus. Betulin and its derivatives are known for their anti-microbial, anti-cancer and anti-viral properties. While step one was successful, one derivative that Wandling synthesized last year appeared to be unstable, so she will try again using a different process. “Synthesis of the betulin analogue will be completed in three steps: extraction, purification and then benzylation,” Wandling explains. “The extraction and purification procedures were optimized last summer and will be used to obtain the betulin starting material.” Wandling plans to continue her research next year through her Senior Honors Thesis.

A double major in psychology and biology with a minor in chemistry, DaZané Cole also has participated in the Honors Summer Research Program before, but this time, she is focusing on biology instead of psychology. Working with Professor Davis, her project will investigate the “role and importance of O-antigen in the betulin-mediated killing of Pseudomonas aeruginosa.” Like Wandling, the Hampton, Va., native is turning to the birch trees on campus to extract betulin for her research. “Due to P. aeruginosa’s antibiotic resistance, new compounds are being investigated to test their capability to kill it,” Cole explains in her proposal. “Betulin has been previously shown to kill P. aeruginosa. In this project, I plan to test betulin and its derivatives against the LPS mutants of P. aeruginosa.”

Theresa Carriveau, of West Chicago, Ill., is also continuing with research begun last summer. Her project, “Sweet Briar Athletics: Ahead of the Game (Part II),” looks at the College’s history of lacrosse and field hockey. Carriveau’s sponsors are departing library director Katie Glaeser and history professor Lynn Laufenberg. “Due to the vast amount of information I discovered last year, I was only able to complete my research up until 1930,” Carriveau explains in her proposal. “With experience in how to conduct a project of this size and more knowledge of what material exists, this summer I would like to continue my project up until around the 1970s, ending right before Title IX in 1972. I will continue to argue that Sweet Briar was at the forefront of women’s college athletics and also a central factor in promoting women’s participation in athletics in general in the United States.”

Theresa Carriveau
Theresa Carriveau will dive back into the athletics archives for her honors research this summer.

Working with history professor Dwana Waugh, Madison Heights native and history major Julie Horton is focusing on anti-war protest music of the Vietnam era, including songs such as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” At the center of her research is a paper that claims that “the rock music industry stayed neutral during the Vietnam era and was not a propelling force of antiwar music.” The paper, however, “is only the starting point for a detailed exploration into reality, popular culture and nostalgia of the Vietnam era,” Horton says. “My research aims to determine if [this] claim … is correct. Should my research contrast with [the authors’], my aim will be to indicate how music changed socio-cultural history during the Vietnam era.” Horton’s research will include reading journal articles, listening to as much music as possible and visiting the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the Southern Life collection at the University of North Carolina Wilson Special Collections Library.

Engineering major Yasmin Bekri, who has a background in architectural design and sustainable systems, hopes her summer research will get her one step closer to graduate study in civil and environmental engineering. Her project with Brinkman focuses on the design and construction of sustainable solar-powered workstations that can be installed on the Sweet Briar campus. “The project can be described as a combination of four phases: the solar power generation, design process, simulation and testing, and lastly, construction and assembly,” Bekri explains. The Alexandria, Va., native has already done some research and completed several design sketches.

Yasmin Bekri
Yasmin Bekri plans to build sustainable solar-powered workstations that can be installed on the Sweet Briar campus.

First-years Maggie Groetsch, of Asheville, N.C., and Griselda Vasquez Ramirez, of Covesville, Va., will work with engineering professors Hank Yochum and Kaelyn Leake ’09 on “creating and investigating layer-by-layer nanostructures by using a laser to modify the thickness of each layer,” as Groetsch describes it in her proposal. “In particular, we will shine a laser at a substrate as we produce nanostructures. We will change parameters such as laser power and material properties, then analyze the structure to determine the effects of the modifications.” Groetsch hopes the project will help her gain insight into optical engineering, as well provide a head-start on future internship opportunities.

Ramirez is excited to work in a research setting and to use various lab instruments and techniques. “I will be using the UV-vis spectrometer to measure the UV absorption, which will allow me to find the effects of the laser on the optical properties,” she explains in her proposal. “Meanwhile, Maggie will be using the scanning electron microscope to measure the difference as well. After analyzing the data we have collected, Maggie will use COMSOL to create simulations of how I will make the wavelengths using the new LBL technique, which incorporates the laser modification.” The project, Ramirez hopes, will help her figure out which engineering field she’s most interested in, and whether she would like to pursue research as a career.

All HSRP participants will present their projects at the end of the eight weeks, as well as during the annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference of Undergraduate Scholarship, or MARCUS, in the fall. For more information, email Brinkman at bbrinkman@sbc.edu.