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Summer Research Program

Each year, the Honors Program awards fellowships to a select group of Sweet Briar students to support them in conducting independent research projects under the supervision of a faculty member. The Honors Summer Research Program is an eight-week, on-campus program that brings together students and faculty from all disciplines. The program creates a unique academic experience for the participants by providing the opportunity for intensely focused research, a one-on-one working relationship with a faculty mentor, or mentors, and weekly meetings and presentations by both faculty and students highlighting their ongoing research as well as research methodologies across the academic disciplines. To see a listing of projects from previous years go to the previous research projects page.


The dates for the 2014 Honors Summer Research Program are May 26-July 18, 2014.

Ten students and 12 faculty members will participate in the program this summer, working on a variety of projects across and between disciplines.

Kiera Cavalleri ’15
Faculty sponsors: Prof. Bethany Brinkman (engineering); Prof. Cathy Gutierrez (religion)
Drinking water availability is a crucial problem in the developing world that must be addressed in order to improve the quality of life of individuals living within such countries. In order to best approach this problem, two aspects must be addressed: appropriate methods of filtering water and religiously determined social norms that must be observed by aid organizations when looking to implement these methods. This research will explore water storage and sand filtration methods to purify water and increase healthy mineral retention to help combat malnutrition. Then, through a religious lens, it will analyze how Protestantism has largely influenced America’s charity culture and how this has shaped the way Americans approach aid work.

Khirsten Cook ’15
Faculty sponsors: Prof. John Gregory Brown (English and creative writing); Prof. Tracy Hamilton (art history)
As an art history and English and creative writing double major, ekphrastic writing is something that I have been interested in for a number of years because it intertwines both subjects perfectly. Ekphrastic writing is a descriptive response to an artistic work that is intended to both highlight and enhance the original work, and also produce another work using the medium of language. My goal is to create a project that would explore the process of ekphrastic writing by researching similar works, while allowing me to simultaneously create a portfolio that would carry into my senior seminars at Sweet Briar.

Kathryn Drews ’16
Faculty sponsor: Prof. Hank Yochum (physics)
The goal of this project is to further develop a new technique to use the economical layer-by-layer thin film polymer assembly technique to fabricate three-dimensional structures. Three dimensional nanostructures have gained significant interest for their novel optical properties, including for their potential uses for optical cloaking. The standard layer-by-layer technique makes two-dimensional structures on essentially any shape substrate with nanoscale control and can be used in a wide range of applications, but fabricating three-dimensional structures via layer by layer is a challenge. Our novel approach to this challenge is to use a Q-switched YAG laser to alter the polymer assembly in solution in order to create a laser assisted pattern in the film. This technique allows for a variety of design choices, including varying polymer types. This research will focus on characterizing the role of laser power, beam size and shape on the polymer film pattern depth and shape.

Lydia Ethridge ’15
Faculty sponsor: Prof. Lynn Laufenberg (history)
In 1787, Louis XVI of France, his country on the threshold of revolution, promulgated the Edict of Tolerance, granting freedom of religion and legal and civil rights to religious minorities, most notably the Calvinist minority of the Huguenots.  Yet in spite of this, the French Revolution, which commenced two years later, still had distinctly anti-Catholic and pro-secular goals, among them the desacralization of the divine-right monarchy. The Edict, however, by its very nature, in fact caused the erasure of the Catholic authority of the king through the endowment of civil and legal recognition to minorities, causing the final erosion of the concept of king as sacred and ordained ruler, a process begun during the 16th-century Wars of Religion. My research will delve into the religiopolitical transitions within French society during the twilight hours of the Old Regime to better understand the role of religion in bringing about the French Revolution.

Kathryn Fanta ’15
Faculty sponsor: Prof. Scott Pierce (engineering)
Dr. Pierce and I have been working on a system to relieve phantom limb pain in amputees. The project includes using surface myoelectric sensors to track electrical currents from the muscles in the remaining section of the limb. These signals will then be used to model a life-like, interactive projection of the lost limb, with the amputee’s brain seeing and controlling the movement of a healthy image of the limb.

Verena Joerger ’15
Faculty sponsor: Prof. Tom O’Halloran (environmental science)
Atmospheric aerosols can be harmful to human health, decrease visibility, and may play an important role in determining the Earth's climate through their affects on cloud formation and precipitation. My research this summer will focus on determining how these aerosols form and what conditions may facilitate their formation. I will do this through taking aerosol, gas and meteorological measurements from instruments on a tower situated in a pine plantation on Sweet Briar’s campus.

Savanna Klein ’16
Faculty sponsors: Prof. John Gregory Brown (English and creative writing); Prof. Linda Fink (biology)
I will be combining scientific and artistic pursuits by using a specific research endeavor and the possibility of exploring new interests that develop in the field to create a collection of poems, short stories and essays that reflect the Sweet Briar landscape, both its past and present, and my connection to it. To gain familiarity with this landscape, particularly the trees, I will collect data from research plots in the Carry Nature Sanctuary and Constitution Oaks Sanctuary. Once collected, I will be able to compare this data with previously recorded data and see what changes have been occurring in this part of the Sweet Briar forest. Using trees as my starting point, I will also be exploring the rest of the campus, making observations, writing in place, reading works by environmental writers, and studying past land use to inform my own writing.

Amy Kvien ’15
Faculty sponsor: Prof. Sherry Forbes (economics)
Leverage is a ratio of debts to assets or income. It is important because when it becomes too high, it amplifies the risk of default. When this increase is on an economy-wide level, it can become very dangerous. An increase in leverage can also be a strong predictor of recessions. We are interested in considering the role leverage plays over the business cycle, particularly the most recent recession. I hope to do exploratory data analysis to contribute to joint work with Professor Sherry Forbes, where we intend to do an empirical and theoretical paper.         

Olivia Muchmore ’15
Faculty sponsor: Prof. Tony Lilly (English)
I would like to undertake a project through which I can explore past and current methods and methodology behind the teaching of Shakespeare in a high-school setting. Ideally, through research into teaching methods as well as theory, and hopefully through hands-on experience with young students, I would like to explore which methods are most engaging and beneficial to students, and why.

Marta Saul ’15
Faculty sponsor: Prof. Jessica Salvatore (psychology)
My project is directly inspired by my previous independent research in the psychology department, which in part addressed feminist self-labeling and attitudes in my sample of Sweet Briar students. The current research takes into account the impact of the Feminist Sex Wars on modern perceptions of feminism, and comprises two studies: one correlational and one experimental. Both address a basic hypothesis that perceiving sexual submissiveness as incompatible with feminism has negative consequences for feminist self-identification. An additional psychometrics component assesses the reliabilities of five existing measures of feminist ideology and their correlations with feminist self-identification.



Questions about the program may be directed to:
Professor Tony Lilly, alilly@sbc.edu
Julie Hemstreet, jhemstreet@sbc.edu