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What if you wanted to analyze the molecules of water or air samples in a remote location? On Saturday, April 1, Philadelphia area alumnae/i learned that you can use a cow magnet to make a pocket-sized NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) spectrometer, and for that matter, what a cow magnet is. Professor of Chemistry Michelle M. Francl was one of 12 Bryn Mawr faculty who talked at Back to the Future about the classes they teach that often use interdisciplinary approaches and technology applications.

Francl podcasts Chemistry 221, an introduction to quantum chemistry, as an audio file on the class website. There are also screencasts with video content where Francl writes and draws on a graph board and works through problems with interactive software. Her lectures, originally intended for students displaced by Hurricane Katrina, have listeners around the world.

Before the class, Francl’s students can watch a short lecture clip that gives more background on the assigned reading from the textbook and provides links to additional information on the web. (You can search for the link for “cow magnets” at the class website.)

In another presentation on April 1, alumnae measured the diameter of sycamore trees in the Morris Woods behind English House. This gave them a taste of the survey project that was part of this year’s senior seminar in environmental studies. The class is developing a management plan the seven-acre plot alongside New Gulph Road that is the last protected area of a 700-acre estate purchased in the 1680s and acquired by the College in the 1960s.

“We redesigned the class last year from a traditional paper reading seminar, which the students enjoyed but which was very theoretical, to focus on a tangible case study,” said lead instructor Catherine Riihimaki, Keck Postdoctoral Fellow in Geology. “We’re using the environmental issues related to this small piece of property as a jumping off point for those facing the greater Philadelphia area.”

The concentration in environmental studies is interdisciplinary, with students majoring in different departments. “This makes the senior seminar both exciting and challenging,” said Riihimaki. “Some of the students are natural scientists, some are social scientists, some are English majors. How do you make sure all of their voices are heard and push them in their own disciplines? One of the ways is to bring in other folks.”

Assistant Professor of Biology Neal Williams conducted the tree survey with seminar members and his ecology class to determine which trees to remove and which to leave to improve species diversity and adjust the canopy so that light can penetrate.

This year’s class studied the history of the Woods and its current ecological conditions. Their research topics included invasive plants, forest succession, and edge effects. The class will also set guidelines for future goals for the project in coming years. (For more information, visit the project website.)            


Return to May 2006 Highlights





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