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October 2004

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One Woman at a Time

Tracking the Development of the Brain

Understanding the Psychology of Place in Community Health

Venturing Far Afield for Summer Research

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Bryn Mawr College
A newsletter on research, teaching, management, policy making and leadership in Science and Technology

Venturing Far Afield for Summer Research
By Barbara Spector

Over the summer, several Bryn Mawr College undergraduates ventured far from campus to pursue independent research projects. Physics major Ekua Anane-Fenin ’05 was one of only two students nationwide who participated in a 10-week salaried summer internship sponsored by the American Physical Society and IBM. Anane-Fenin, a native of Ghana, worked in the department of magnetoelectronics and spintronics at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif. After her internship, she plans to begin a “3/2” dual-degree program at the California Institute of Technology, working toward a B.S. in electrical engineering from Caltech in tandem with an A.B. in physics from Bryn Mawr.

Danielle Kurin ’05, an anthropology major, traveled to Bolivia to continue work on a project she began during her junior year abroad — analysis and conservation of pre-Hispanic mummies found in museums in Cochabamba and Sucre . She also studied several mummies discovered in a crypt in the Templo de Santo Domingo in Sucre.

Andrea Cutruzzula ’06, who is majoring in geology, traveled with Arlo Weil, assistant professor of geology, and Melissa Lindholm ’06 to the Wyoming Salient, a section of the Rocky Mountains between Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Salt Lake City, Utah. The team collected several types of geologic data to better understand what controls the overall geometry of large-scale mountain ranges.

Magnetic Tunnels

Ekua Anane-Fenin  
Ekua Anane-Fenin ’05
 

Anane-Fenin, who worked in a group of about 15 people, says she had no trouble adapting to the culture at IBM’s Almaden Center. “It’s a very academic atmosphere,” she says. “Most of the workers are researchers. And there are a number of students. Some people are doing their Ph.D.s and come [to IBM] for their research; some are doing a joint program with their universities.” The group was an international one, she notes; she had colleagues from Britain, China, Germany and India as well as the United States.

Anane-Fenin’s group is developing new equipment to make fast, low-power computer circuits based on nanoscale magnetic tunnel junctions — “sandwiches” of two ferromagnetic layers separated by a thin insulating layer only a few atoms thick, which acts as tunnel barrier. She improved the “multiwafer” system used to examine the properties of the junctions, which are made on top of coin-sized silicon wafers. More specifically, she aligned the wafer-testing mechanism and upgraded the user interface from an older tester to accommodate several new features. “It’s good to know that the research is going to have some kind of application,” she says.

The manager of the department, Stuart Parkin, “drove the group on with his ideas,” Anane-Fenin says. “When I was stuck, I could come into his office, and he would suggest a number of ways I could approach the problem.” She also sought the advice of colleagues well versed in the program she was using.

The APS/IBM program is only one of several internships offered by IBM Research. The company organized special events for its interns, including panel discussions, museum trips, lunches and ice cream socials, and tours of other electronics and semiconductor companies, Anane-Fenin says.

“I had always wondered whether I should go into industry or academia,” she says. “I knew it was a choice I would have to make sometime in my life. I applied for the IBM internship because I wanted to explore industry I’ve been most surprised and excited to see that real-world researchers gain multidisciplinary skills through their work experiences. For example, a key IBM member of our group has a chemical engineering degree but is now doing leading-edge materials science, other engineering research and computer programming as well.”

Resourceful Anthropologist
Danielle Kurin
Danielle Kurin ’05

Working virtually alone in Bolivia with few resources and outdated lab equipment, Kurin had the freedom to design her own investigations. “If I had been an intern in the States,” she acknowledges, “I never would have had the opportunity to be a project director.”

Kurin says she first discovered mummies as an intern in the Museo Arqueológico of the Universidad Mayor de San Simon in Cochabamba during her junior year abroad, while she was “moving boxes from one corner of the room to another.” The mummies lay uncataloged; “they were just kind of sitting there piled up on each other,” she recalls. She created an inventory, attempting to document their age, sex and premortem status. “There was no one who specialized in physical anthropology,” she notes. “If I had a question, I had to relay it to my professors at Bryn Mawr. I also had a small collection of textbooks that I took with me.”

The museum director helped her fashion a makeshift lab in a former cafeteria by pushing café tables together. To obtain X-rays of the mummies, “I looked in the Bolivian yellow pages and found a doctor with a portable X-ray machine,” she says. When she requested a microscope from the university, “They gave me one that would magnify a sample only four times,” she recalls. Museum officials allowed her to take intestinal, brain, lung, heart and hair samples back to the United States for further study — on the condition that she return them.

Once the word spread about her Cochabamba work, Kurin was contacted by the director of the Museos Universitarios Charcas of the Universidad Mayor, Real y Pontifica de San Fransisco Xavier de Chuquisaca in Sucre. That museum had five pre-Hispanic and four Colonial mummies that had never been studied. Kurin set up a lab and stayed for about two months, investigating and preserving the mummies and analyzing the clothing. She protected herself by wearing surgical scrubs and a mask and spraying 10 percent formaldehyde solution. “It was one step away from a homemade biohazard suit,” she recalls.

Kurin notes that the mummies from the Bolivian museums were very different from those in the Templo de Santo Domingo. “They were from two different time periods and two different cultures,” she explains. The pre-Incan mummies from the museum probably date between 500 and 1100 A.D., with some perhaps from as far back as 300 A.D. “The pre-Incan mummies were found by either grave robbers or through rudimentary archaeological digs in the first half of the 20th century, and simply stored in the museums,” she says. The mummies from the Catedral, by contrast, were wealthy Spaniard colonists from 1600-1650. “They were laid out in indigo with high-heeled shoes,” Kurin says. She hopes to zero in on the dates by investigating baptismal records.

Research Risks and Rewards

Although Kurin found that “Cochabamba was a really easy city to live in,” political upheaval occasionally disrupted her work. During her junior year in October 2003, Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was overthrown by popular revolt, causing a 10-day halt to her project. Closure of the museum due to strikes by students or professors also interrupted her investigations. “In theory, I could do this research in two weeks,” Kurin says, “but it ended up taking a year.”

The Sucre phase of her research — the first study of mummies from the Colonial period (1540s-1820s) ever done in Bolivia — turned her into a celebrity. She was interviewed by the national and international press and appeared on Bolivian national television. She also gave the opening presentation at a conference in Sucre. “Everyone was like 60, and I was 21 — barely legal,” she says. But she realized she was up to the task, she notes. “It’s a topic that hasn’t been studied, so everything I talked about was going to be new.”

Learning Curves

Andrea Cutruzzula  
Andrea Cutruzzula ’06
 

Although she has always loved the outdoors, Cutruzzula had no exposure to geologic field research before embarking on her summer research project. “One of the best ways to learn something is to just get out there and do it,” she notes. Prior to the team’s departure, she and Lindholm took a structural geology course and did extensive reading on the field area and the nature of the research. Once they got to the first site, she quickly learned how to record the appropriate geologic data. “That was very important, because you can’t bring the mountain back with you,” she notes.

The section of the Rocky Mountains that Weil, Cutruzzula and Lindholm explored has an especially high degree of curvature as seen in map-view. One of the unresolved geological questions about this area is how the plate tectonic setting at the time the Rockies were formed — approximately 130 million to 60 million years ago — produced this curved uplift. The trio studied the shape of the mountains in an effort to glean insight into this question.

They assessed the curvature in the Wyoming Salient mountain belts via paleomagnetic studies, investigating evidence of the earth’s ancient magnetic field. Many rocks contain microscopic magnetic particles that record the location of the earth’s magnetic north pole at the time the rock was formed. If researchers are able to determine the age of the magnetization, they have a reference direction they can use to track the rocks’ movements through time. This enables them to track whether the rock has been moved due to continental drift, uplifted into a mountain belt or rotated to form a curved mountain chain.

Each day, the team would hike as far as 10 to 15 miles in hopes of finding an appropriate outcrop — an area of exposed rock. “A lot of our hiking didn’t take place on trails,” Cutruzzula notes. “We did a lot of bushwacking — pushing trails through the growth.”

Once they reached a site, Weil would drill the rocks using a water-cooled, gas-powered diamond-bit drill made especially for paleomagnetic research. Cutruzzula inserted a tool called an orienter into the 2.5-centimeter holes Weil drilled. She measured the orientation of the core, recorded the measurement and extracted the sample; Lindholm recorded information about the orientation and geometry of the rocks around the drill site using a special geologic compass.

Cutruzzula, Weil and Lindholm were rarely shielded from the elements during their four weeks in the Rockies. “I had a field notebook that can withstand all kinds of weather — it will survive if you drop it in the stream or if it’s pouring down raining,” Cutruzzula explains.

Fortunately, Cutruzzula says, they did not encounter a lot of rain. On a typical day, they departed between 8 and 9 a.m. and returned to camp at 6 p.m. to cook dinner. Afterward, “Sometimes we’d build a campfire and make really chocolatey s’mores,” she says. “We told a lot of stories.” They usually capped off an evening by stargazing.

The team stayed in campgrounds and at one time went 10 days without a shower. “A lot of the time we interacted only with each other,” Cutruzzula says. “You would think we would get on each other’s nerves, but you really get to know people a lot better that way.”

Next Steps

Anane-Fenin says she misses Bryn Mawr. “One of the hardest things was to leave the Christian Fellowship and the track team behind — and my friends, and some of the traditions at Bryn Mawr.” She is still developing long-term career plans and has not yet decided between academia and industry. “I want to go into electrical engineering and do some form of research,” she says. “I plan to go back to Ghana, hopefully after getting a Ph.D. and working a little bit.”

Kurin, whose lab notes are written half in Spanish and half in English, plans to develop a senior thesis from her Bolivian research. She is analyzing her mummy data to determine the deceased people’s diets and what diseases they may have suffered, as well as cultural details such as whether they chewed coca. She looks forward to analyzing samples with Bryn Mawr’s lab equipment. “I hope that this fall I can get to the nitty-gritty,” she says.

Under Weil’s direction, Cutruzzula and Lindholm will work to determine when the curvature of the mountain belt was formed and create a three-dimensional model of the mountain belt showing how it was formed — the first model of its kind. Cutruzzula says her summer experience “gave me an idea of one part of the job — the fieldwork. Arlo stressed that the rest of the year, you’re in the lab or the office. I’m still learning about that part.”

Barbara Spector writes on science and technology as well as business topics. She is the editor-in-chief of Family Business magazine and former editor of The Scientist.

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