2007 Phi Beta Kappa Citations

Wednesday, February 7, 2007 - 12:55pm
Katharine Berry '07 is a statistics major, a sociology minor, captain of the Mount Holyoke soccer team, and CAUSE Program mentor in Springfield. Kat has done invaluable work as a student assistant in statistics classes and as a statistical analyst in the Office of Institutional Research, where she has been conducting longitudinal analyses of the First-Year and Senior Surveys. For her thesis, Kat was determined to find unanalyzed data of genuine consequence. Through her initiative, she obtained data on 500 gastric bypass patients. In preparation, she has done work with logistic regression, taught herself the most sophisticated ways of dealing with missing data, and conducted a comprehensive exploratory analysis of her data base. Her analysis and write-up promise to be of great benefit to the bariatric surgery program that entrusted its data to her.

Before coming to Mount Holyoke, Josephine Giles '07 trained with the Houston Ballet Academy, the Joffrey Ballet, and the Boston Ballet, and she danced professionally. Today, she choreographs starlike cells, the dendritic cells that activate adaptive immunity in response to viral infection. Since sophomore year, she has been doing research in immunology, and that will be her discipline in graduate school. She brings energy and grace to her work as a biologist, and as a student chaplain. Her calling is to remain true to the liberal arts, especially to unite a deepening understanding of the scientific and the religious.

A double major in English and dance, Kara Johnson '07 performs brilliantly in each. As a dancer and original choreographer, Kara enacts meaning through gesture and movement and rhythm; she becomes text and interpreter. Kara's ability to distill deep meaning from gesture and voice has led to her Independent study on Henry James's novel, The Bostonians, a work that explores the meaning of theatricality in the battle between the sexes. Kara's reading of this key James novel, in all its cultural contexts and implications, is emerging as a stunning creative performance in its own right: the vision of a superb student attuned to the filiations of voice and meaning, gesture and performance, silence and stillness.

Antonina Kruppa '07 is a biochemistry major doing honors research on the regulation of gene expression. Several faculty have found her to be an intellectual force of nature, not only in science, but also modern Russian history and mathematics. Antonina is a voracious reader of the scientific literature, and she transmutes what she reads into new experiments. Her enthusiasm is supported by an admirable work ethic. Coy fruit flies or ambiguous electron micrographs have little hope in the face of her persistence. After Mount Holyoke, she will do her Ph.D. in the Department of Medicine at the Cambridge Institute of Medical Research, University of Cambridge, on a studentship from the Wellcome Trust.

Chantel Tester '07 has been an exceptional student not only in organic chemistry and the chemistry of nanoparticles, but also circuit design and Chinese. Her research on metal nanoparticles in a gel matrix brought her into a world of exotic optical, electronic, and physical properties that have potential applications in medicine and sensing and imaging technologies. Her honors thesis joins an interest in material science and engineering to her earlier work with metal nanoparticles in hydrogels. Now, her tools are dynamic light scattering, ultraviolet spectroscopy, and transmission electron microscopy. Chantel is gentle, conscientious, and willing to ask the hard questions about research projects. Her next step is graduate school in chemistry.

If the last time you met Bidita Tithi '07 was when she first arrived at Mount Holyoke, then today you would be certain that she was heading off to a Ph.D. program in physics. If you had talked to her a bit, you would have discovered that she was not only fully conversant in the physical sciences and mathematics, but that she had a deep love for and appreciation of literature and the other humanities. Nevertheless, there was no doubt that physics was her first love. But, a funny thing happened to Bidita on the way to her Nobel Prize in physics. At the end of her junior year, having just returned from a visit to her home in Bangladesh, Bidita decided that the problems arising from a lack of economic growth in her country were so severe that she wanted to devote her studies to figuring out ways to improve the standard of living in poor countries. So, in her senior year, she is completing all the requirements for an economics major and writing a senior thesis. Next year, she heads off to a Ph.D. program in economics. The loss to physics is a real gain to economics.

Helen Yetter '07 has exhausted all the logic anyone at Mount Holyoke can provide. She transcends logic as it is taught at an undergraduate college. The sequence of graduate courses in logic at the University of Massachusetts has sufficed for her, for now. Not that a philosopher can live by logic alone. There is also epistemology, the realm of her thesis. How do we know of the existence of physical objects (like the moon, or George W. Bush) and kinds of physical objects (like gold or Homo sapiens). Currently there are two answers, externalism and internalism. Externalism claims that we gain unmediated contact with individual objects and kinds of objects by being in causal contact with them. Internalism claims that such contact must be mediated by our concepts and language. Helen's thesis defends internalism against externalism. It argues that we cannot know about objects, or kinds of objects, independently of our beliefs about what they are. It defends the idea that both the content of our beliefs and the meanings of our expressions cannot be conceived from any perspective other than our own conceptual location. She analyzes what it means to occupy a conceptual location. Love of knowledge need not be merely a metaphor.

Shuting You '07 is a double major in mathematics and economics. She finds time to be a Girl Scout leader and treasurer of the Chinese Cultural Association, and even won third place in the MHC intramural badminton tournament this year. In her sophomore year, Shuting undertook an independent study in number theory. Shuting gave a lovely talk on this work at the Hudson River Undergraduate Mathematics Conference that year. (Faculty attending her talk couldn't believe she was just a sophomore!) This year Shuting is doing independent work on primality tests and primality proofs. I'm actually going to explain this to you! Natural numbers larger than 1 are either composite (can be written as the product of two smaller numbers) or they are prime. (6 is composite, 7 is prime.) Prime numbers are the building blocks of the arithmetic of the natural numbers, and very large primes underlie the security systems that protect your credit card number when you buy something online. Finding really big primes has therefore become important. Primality tests are special algorithms for evaluating whether a natural number is prime. You give them a natural number and either the algorithm terminates with: "This number is composite," or with: "This number is probably prime" (i.e., it could--with small probability-- actually be composite). Some algorithms actually give proof of primality; these are called primality-proving algorithms. Shuting learned a substantial body of mathematics in order to master an exciting new (2002) primality-proving result, the so-called AKS algorithm. It answers a long-standing question about whether such an algorithm exists. She tested the AKS algorithm using an implementation in a computer algebra system. Finally, she compared two accounts of the AKS algorithm, giving full proofs for all statements, tightening some bounds, and making certain constants in the proofs completely explicit.

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2007 Student Achievement Citations

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