Projects since 2003-2004

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Let's Make It Glow: Designing a Hands-On Inquiry Driven Course on Genomics at St. Olaf
Eric Cole (Biology), Sasha Dmytrenko ’16.  Our project will focus on modern techniques used in molecular biology to study gene expression. This question is pivotal in modern biology since it reveals the roles of proteins of interest in the life of a cell and consequently – the whole organism, which has been a question of interest in multiple areas varying from studying components of intracellular transport to anatomy of the cells and the control of cell growth and division. The model organism chosen for our project is  Tetrahymena thermophila, a free-living ciliate protozoan. Tetrahymena is easy and fast to grow in cultures, while each organism represents a well-organized complicated system with distinct metabolic activities, which undergoes mating and division, as well as intercellular communication. Results from the resulting research will be presented at the Midwest Protozoology Society Conference in the spring of 2015.

Using Aural Skills Training to Improve Speech Intelligibility in Cochlear Implant Users
Jeremy Loebach (Psychology), Katie Berg ’15.  This study is a spin off of a larger project in Professor Loebach’s Speech and Cognition Research Laboratory that aims to create a training program to help CI users learn how to use their implants to their fullest potential. A cochlear implant (CI) is a surgically implanted medical device designed for persons with severe-to-profound hearing loss who receive marginal to no benefit from conventional hearing aids. In the proposed study, to be conducted over the summer and into next year, we will examine the effectiveness of pitch training for both pediatric and adult CI users as well as normal-hearing control group listening to cochlear implant simulations. By focusing on increasing pitch perception, discrimination and direction identification in training, we expect to see benefits in speech intelligibility, as well as in other related areas like environmental sound identification, talker voice identification and speech perception.

New Opera Collective: A Website for Everything Related to the World of Contemporary Opera
Reinaldo Moya (Music Theory and Composition), Sophia Butler ’15, Adrian Rossing ’15.  Our project is to build a website devoted exclusively to the world of contemporary operas in the United States for the New Opera Collective. The working title for the site is The vision of the site is to be a kind of hub of information and features related to this burgeoning field. The site will include a calendar section where people can see all of the new operas being performed in the United States, as well as reviews, interviews, essays, and features. We hope to include a section containing a database of the new operas in the repertoire for easy reference. We envision this site as a place to build community and bring people together. We hope it can serve as a tool to aid scholars of opera, and show the world that it is still a thriving and vibrant art form.


Optogenetic investigation of neural circuits underlying reward seeking
Jay Demas (Physics and Biology), Shelly Dickinson (Psychology), Stefan Lemke ’14The neural underpinnings of complex psychiatric disorders, such as drug and alcohol addiction, are thought to involve maladaptive circuits in regions of the brain that mediate reward-seeking behaviors. While a basic anatomical understanding of these areas exists, what is less understood is exactly how excitement or inhibition of a specific neuron population in turn excites or inhibits other populations of neurons, and ultimately affects behavior. Investigating these relationships may provide insights into how current treatments of addiction function, as well as motivate the production of new treatments. Lemke, Dickinson, and Demas propose to use a new approach based on optogenetics, a recently developed suite of molecular tools that enables neuroscientists to turn activity on or off in specific neurons using only light, to probe the functional connectivity of the brain’s reward circuitry.

Am I From Mars? International Relations for an Afghan Child
Tony Lott (Political Science), Mirwais Wakil ’15.  International relations texts are written from a perspective that allows for a comprehensive understanding of international law, institutions, and organizations, and an analytic framework based on power, the distribution of power, and constraints on power.  However, these texts never speak to international relations through the eyes of individuals.  Wakil and Lott ask whether it is possible to re-examine international relations through the eyes of individuals affected by war, power, statecraft, and international law.  They will present the results of their investigation at a professional conference in the summer of 2014 and seek to publish the findings of this study as a book manuscript.

Multicultural LGBT Youth: An ebook Anthology
Nancy Aarsvold (Instructional Technology), Maria Kelly (Education), Josiah Mosqueda ’15.  This project aims to produce an ebook anthology based on submissions from and interviews of multicultural LGBT students aged 18-25. This anthology continues the work of an Interim independent study project that identified the need for the development and/or collection of resources for Twin Cities area schools to share with students and families, especially at the middle school level. The primary work of this project is to create a resource that will help foster greater awareness of the unique multicultural experience of the LGBT community around the Twin Cities.


Theater-Making As Therapy for Adults with Developmental Disabilities
Faculty member Dona Freeman and students Sari Abelson ’13 and Isaac Rysdahl ’14 came together in a proposal entitled “Theater-Making As Therapy for Adults with Developmental Disabilities.”  The trio has been invited to participate as theater specialists for Callan, Ireland’s annual Abhainn Ri Festival this summer.  The festival, which is run by the Callan Camphill Community, uses theater to enrich and celebrate the lives of adults with intellectual disabilities.  The Magnus The Good grant will support the trio in their preparation for the festival, and for their participation in the festival.

Full-length English adaptation of Dostoyevsky's short story 'White Nights'
This proposal, submitted by faculty members Marc Robinson of Russian Studies and Jeanne Willcoxon of Theatre, along with student Sterling Melcher ’14, will result in the adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s short story “White Nights” to a full-length English language play.  The play will then be performed at St. Olaf in the spring term of 2013.  Marc Robinson will be working with Sterling during the adaptation and translation process, while Jeanne Willcoxon and Sterling will be co-directing the resulting play.  All three will be working together throughout the project as the adaptation and performance phases each move forward.


Faith-based Commodities: Media, Ministry and the Branding of Religion
With “Faith-based Commodities: Media, Ministry and the Branding of Religion,” Bill Sonnega (Theatre, Media and Film Studies) and Emilie Bouvier ’12 (French, Individual Major-Christian Worship and the Visual Arts) investigate the relationship of media and religion from two primary and at times competing perspectives: 1) the use of media by religious organizations, utilizing the tools and strategies of visual media, and 2) representations of religion in popular culture, from films depicting the life of Christ, to novels about the evangelical experience, to blogs debating the separation of church and state.  In view of an increasingly global and heterogeneous discourse on religion, we are interested in the ways contemporary religious organizations articulate the relationship of the church to society, and in a mediated age disseminate messages about God, faith and community.

Perception and Production of Recent Japanese Loanwords in Mandarin Chinese: A case of deshoo 'probably' and zenzen 'not at all'
Rika Ito (Asian Studies and Linguistics Studies) and Yunxiang Dai ’13 (Biology and Chemistry) will conduct a sociolinguistics study of a recent development of Japanese loanwords in Mandarin Chinese among young Chinese. They plan to analyze the production and perception of recent Japanese loanwords such as the adverb zenzen ‘not at all’ and the sentence-final expression deshoo (probably’; tentative form of the copula desu ‘to be’) by Chinese college students who live in Beijing and Shanghai, the two largest urban centers in China. The study seeks to investigate estimated frequency of these loanwords used in daily spoken and written communication, and the images associated with the loanwords, as well as the users of these loans, and the awareness of the origin of these loans by young college educated Chinese.

“Place/Space/Time” is a collaboration by Mary Griep (Art and Art History) and Addie Rosenwinkel ’13 (Studio Art, Film Studies concentration) to produce a work or works of art for inclusion in an invitational art exhibition at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in January 2012. Reflections on both their process and final product will be included in a catalog to be published in conjunction with the show, which will be in MCAD’s main gallery. There will also be a panel discussion on the process of collaboration in the visual arts.

Theater Architecture
Brian Bjorklund (Theatre) and Ben Olsen ’13 (English; Individual Major-Architecture and Design) will investigate the architectural principles of theaters and other performing art venues. They plan to a) become familiar with the performance spaces at St. Olaf College, and visit college and other performance venues in Minnesota, in an effort to identify the building features unique to theaters, and then b) survey the designs and current industry standards of state-of-the-art theaters at the USITT (Association for Performing Arts and Entertainment Professionals) Conference in Long Beach, CA in March 2012. Goals are to gain firsthand experience of structural and systems options for theaters; complete the preparatory research required to design a performance venue; and understand the current state of the theatre industry in terms of facilities, systems, and space usage, in order to prepare a recommendation about options for renovation and expansion of the Speech-Theatre Building, which is slated for standard upgrades in 2016, and accrue research for improving the Theatre Department and the quality of the theatre major in preparation for re-accreditation review by the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST) in 2013.


When Obesity is a Good Thing: The Study of Microalgae for the Production of Renewable Fuels
Ben Auch ’12 and Professor Gregory Muth (Chemistry)

The dwindling of natural energy resources, combined with growing concerns over the effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on climate, are contributing to an increasing worldwide interest in the development of renewable energy resources derived from biological sources. Microalgae, that familiar green slime that appears on lakes and ponds during the summer, have been suggested as a potential source of oil for use in renewable fuels due, in part, to their rapid growth, low land use requirements and their ability to sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere [1].  Under the correct growth conditions, microalgae can sequester carbon from atmospheric CO2 and store it in the form of fat droplets essentially becoming obese in the process.  These fat droplets, once isolated and processed can be used to make biodiesel, a renewable fuel that can be integrated into the existing transportation infrastructure with no modifications.  With microalgae, it is conceivable meet our current transportation demands for fuel while simultaneously reducing the atmospheric green house gas carbon dioxide.

For microalgae to be used a viable oil source for renewable fuels, exactly how CO2 is converted to fat within each algal cell must be completely understood and optimized under mass culture conditions.  The overall goal of our work is to elucidate the chemistry and biology governing these conversions.  We feel that this work is of interest not only to the renewable fuels industry but also to more general audiences ranging from those studying the genetics and biochemistry of metabolic pathways involved in fat accumulation to those interested in ecological principles.

Going Local: Spanish and English Language Use at St. Olaf
Andrea Ohles ’11 and Professor Maggie Broner (Spanish)

This interdisciplinary study in Spanish sociolinguistics will analyze the language used in social/work interactions between Spanish-speakers residing in the United States (a linguistic minority) and their English-speaking peers (the linguistic majority). Specifically, this research project seeks to investigate the interactions between Spanish-speaking staff of St. Olaf College and the larger campus community and find out how the two groups perceive each other and how each group believes they are perceived by the other group.  The proposed project aims to discover how a person’s native language influences his or her social standing at St. Olaf and whether linguistic stereotypes inform the way in which he or she is judged by members of other linguistic groups. The project will investigate linguistic attitudes at St. Olaf and find out how language diversity and language differences on our campus impact social interactions between the target groups. In light of the sizeable (and growing) population of Spanish-speakers in the community of Northfield as well as the large number of Spanish-speaking staff members on campus, this topic is of great relevance for St. Olaf as a campus community.


The Socialization of Emtions: Exploring Parents Beliefs and Expressions of Emotions with Young Children
The overarching goal of this project undertaken by Jill Humble’ ’11 (psychology) and Professor Grace Cho (psychology) is to describe the emotional environment parents may create through their beliefs and interactions with children, and to illuminate the processes by which families might cultivate the emotional development of children. More specifically, the project investigates three related questions:

  1. What are parents’ beliefs about children’s emotions and their attitudes towards expressions of negative vs. positive emotions?
  2. Is there a relationship between emotion beliefs and the emotional expressions and behaviors of parents and children during interactions with one another?
  3. To what extent do parent gender gender and child gender influence emotion beliefs and expressions of emotion during parent-child interactions?
The Ecology of Streams in Contrasting Landscapes: Transport and Retention of Nutrients
Erin Seybold ’11 (biology, environmental studies), Brian Kantor ’10 (environmental studies, sociology & anthropology) and Professor John Schade (biology)

Streams are unique and ubiquitous. They are the architects of our natural landscapes, carving rocks and building deltas by moving materials as brute transporters of sediments. They also more subtly paint landscapes by providing the raw materials for biological activity, supplying water and nutrients to streambank vegetation and, further downstream, microscopic phytoplankton floating in coastal waters. Streams are also dynamic and biological, and do not just deliver sediments and nutrients downstream. They also keep some of this material to themselves, retaining elements through physical and biological processes, complex interactions between hydrology, chemistry, physics and communities of organisms that have adapted to a world of movement.

Our objective in this project is to study nutrient transport and retention in three streams in different physical, biological and chemical environments. In particular, we plan to investigate the effects of short-term alteration of the relative availability of Carbon, Nitrogen, and Phosphorus on nutrient transport and retention. We propose here to conduct a comparative study of streams in Minnesota, California, and the Siberian Artic using common methods to meet the above objective. We will travel to the Artic as part of The Polaris Project in July, and have a commitment from our on-campus research program for Erin and Brian to conduct research in Minnesota, but require extra funding to ensure the success of the Minnesota and California experiments.


A Novel Approach to Drug Development Using Molecular Dynamics Simulations
Student Sean Johnston ’’09 (chemistry, mathematics) and Professor Bob Hanson (chemistry) received an award to support their project “A Novel Approach to Drug Development Using Molecular Dynamics Simulations.” Johnston and Hanson will begin their process from the protein binding site, reducing the cost of developing and testing inactive compounds.

Developing Effective Support Networks for Siblings of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Students Nikki Marvin ‘’09 (biology, psychology) and Vanessa Brown ’’09 (psychology, German) and Professor Dana Gross (psychology) received an award to support their project “Developing Effective Support Networks for Siblings of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Marvin, Brown, and Gross will establish local ASD sibling support groups and host a sibling workshop based on Northfield’s needs to facilitate development and understanding of ASD siblings.

Struggling Learners and English Language Learners in the Writing Workshop
Student Bryan Runck ‘’09 (English) and Professor Elizabeth Leer (education) received an award to support their project “Struggling Learners and English Language Learners in the Writing Workshop.” Runck and Leer will conduct a research study observing variations of effectiveness with writing workshops in two diverse classrooms.

Discipline New Media Art
Student Jenni Stromer ’’09 (studio art) and Professor Dave Ryan (art and art history) received an award to support their project “Discipline New Media Art.” Stromer and Ryan will explore new ways to produce art through the culmination of computer science and 3-D animation.


Life on the Edge! Further explorations into molluscan life-histories in extreme habitats
Anna Dutke ’08 (biology) and Eric Cole (biology) received an award to support their project “Life on the Edge! Further explorations into molluscan life-histories in extreme habitats.” Dutke and Cole will explore how hurricane trauma affects the sexual development of the Scaly Pearl oyster and evaluate the causes and trajectory of salination of inland ponds on San Salvador Island.

Stereotype or New Emerging Identity?: Representation of Non-Standard Japanese Anime
Heather D’Evelyn ’09 (art, Asian Studies), Dain Thompson ’09 (Asian Studies, chemistry) and Rika Ito (Asian Studies) received an award to support their project “Stereotype of New Emerging Identity?: Representation of Non-Standard Japanese in Anime.” D’Evelyn, Thompson, and Ito will explore the use of Japanese dialects and linguistic nuances in the characterization of Japanese anime.


Battle Plan for Medieval Pedagogy
Emelie Heltsley ’07 (English, Latin, medieval studies) and Timothy Howe (history) received an award to support their project, “Battle Plan for Medieval Pedagogy”. Heltsley and Howe will look extensively at resources on medieval conflict in an effort to better explain the information to students. The project will study the strong influence of the Medieval era and warfare on the development of societies.

“. . . I found myself more and more intrigued with the finer details of medieval battles themselves; how they were planned, who planned the conflicts, who fought in them, and how long the battles lasted. While studying the general mechanics of warfare, I realized that I was unintentionally ignoring the important interactions between war and society. While the technical questions relating to warfare still pique my interest, the social impact of war poses equally fascinating issues: the mixing of social classes on the battlefield, various technologies that were invented and perfected for the purposes of war, and the influence of religious institutions on medieval conflicts.”


Life on the Edge! Two studies explore life histories of marine creature in extreme habitats
April Graves ’05 (biology) and Eric Cole (biology) and Nicole Hoft-London (mathematics) received an award to support their project “Life on the Edge! Two studies explore life histories of marine creatures in extreme habitats.”

Listening In: Digital Inter(personal)activity
Chris Schommer ’06 (Asian Studies, studio art) and Patrick Kelley (art and art history) received an award to support their project “Listening In: Digital Inter(personal)activity.”

Mary Sidney Herbert's Literacy Legacy
Nancy Simpson ’06 (English, individual major-Renaissance Studies) and Mary Trull (English) received an award to support their project “Mary Sidney Herbert’s Literary Legacy.”


Taming the Yangtze: Sustainable Development Along the Yangtze River
Xun Pomponio (economics) and Brendan Mrosak ’06 (economics, mathematics, Asian Studies) received an award to support their project, “Taming the Yangtze: Sustainable Development Along the Yangtze River.” They will travel to China in the summer of 2004.

The American Dream Uncovered: An Examination of Materialism as a Central Value
Donna McMillan (psychology) and Caitlin Mosman ’05 (psychology, women’s studies) received an award to support their project, “The American Dream Uncovered: An Examination of Materialism as a Central Value.”


Environment as Impulse: Dance Improvisation in the Rainforest
The first winners of the Magnus the Good Award were Sherry Saterstrom (dance) and Allison Lorenzen ’04 (dance). The selection committee also received excellent proposals from faculty and students in the natural sciences, social and applied sciences, fine arts, and humanities, that testify to the creativity and excellence of collaborations between students and faculty across the campus.

Saterstrom and Lorenzen’s project, “Environment As Impulse: Dance Improvisation in the Rainforest,” continues their work in collaborative dance and extends this collaboration to La Suerte Biological Station in the rainforest in Costa Rica.  In bestowing the award, the selection committee acknowledged Saterstrom and Lorenzen’s commitment to building a relationship with La Suerte, their commitment to exploring the environment through art, and their innovative use of improvisation as a way of learning.

“One of the ongoing challenges of working artistically in improvisation is stimulating a freshness of approach. The best improvisation often is sparked by the unfamiliar, the unexpected. By locating ourselves in an environment which is completely foreign to both of us, by moving outside our familiar boundaries, we hope to discover patterns and assumptions that have become a part of our improvisational process which may be worth questioning and challenging. We also imagine that the realities of this particular place with its unfamiliar landscape, language, culture, and rhythm can open us to new possibilities within dance/ movement improvisation which we have not discovered.”


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