From NAFTA to nanostructures: Sweet Briar announces 2017 Honors Summer Research fellows

Posted on May 01, 2017 by Janika Carey

Professor Abraham Yousef talks chemistry Professor Abraham Yousef talks chemistry with a student in this 2012 file photo. He will advise Erica Orr ’18 on her honors research this summer.

Eight Sweet Briar students — including several first-years — have been awarded a spot in the Honors Summer Research Program this summer. In collaboration with faculty mentors, each student will delve into an area of interest for eight whole weeks, beginning May 22.

This year’s Honors Summer Research recipients are April Boyd ’18, DaZane Cole ’20, Anna Davis ’20, Chanel Friedrich ’19, Jessie Meager ’18, Erica Orr ’18, Clara Rogers ’20 and Rylee Runyon ’20. As in previous years, proposals demonstrated a wide variety of academic interests, with topics ranging from combating childhood obesity through farm-to-school programs to 14th-century English Coroner Rolls to three-dimensional nanostructures. Complete project descriptions are given below.

For more information, visit or email Julie Hemstreet at

April Boyd, Class of 2018
Faculty sponsors: Jeff Key (government and international affairs)/Leigh Ann White (economics)

Interventions that promote healthy behaviors can combat the problem of childhood obesity in the United States. Farm-to-school (F2S) programs may be successful at addressing this public health problem while improving local economies. This research will apply behavioral economic theory to identify the most effective F2S strategies on both the consumer side (i.e., schools and students) and the producer side (i.e., farms). Insights from behavioral economics can help us design interventions that include tools such as “nudging” and “changing the choice environment” versus informational approaches that do not address inherent behavioral biases relevant to healthy choices. The research will advance applications of behavioral economics to F2S programs and will result in a recommendation for strategies that can be used in small rural colleges.

DaZane Cole, Class of 2020
Faculty sponsor: Jessica Salvatore (psychology)

Stereotype threat is an experience that negatively affects the performance of members of groups stereotyped on the basis of race, gender, class, etc. Many possible interventions have been developed and tested. About a decade ago, Prof. Salvatore conducted a literature review categorizing these interventions based on the three intergroup strategies they tapped into (social mobility strategies, social creativity strategies and social competition strategies). During this project, I intend to read and organize the literature on interventions meant to combat stereotype threat from 2008 to the present. I will synthesize information about the more recent research (post-2008) with Prof. Salvatore’s earlier work, thereby updating it and making it ready for publication.

Anna Davis, Class of 2020
Faculty sponsor: Lynn Laufenberg (history)

When any person died an “unrightful death” in medieval England, governmental authorities were required to record that death and subsequently to investigate it. Since the reign of Richard the Lionheart (1189-1199), that duty has been performed by the county coroners. Their records are known as Coroner Rolls, and are one of our only sources of information about the lower classes in the medieval period. For this project, I will work with 14th-century English Coroner Rolls to examine how members of the lower classes died and to determine what that helps tell us about how they lived. This will require research in digital archives, as well as practice reading medieval English handwriting.

Chanel Friedrich, Class of 2019
Faculty sponsors: Jeff Key (government and international affairs)/Leigh Ann White (economics)

My Summer Honors Research will investigate the economic effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as it relates to the U.S. and Mexican agricultural and automotive manufacturing sectors. As I further investigate the economic effects, I will seek to understand how migrant flows under NAFTA impact agriculture production in the U.S and Mexico. Economic indicators such as GDP, consumption, income, employment, migration and prices will be used to understand the gains and losses experienced by the two countries. Should the data allow, I will analyze trends over time before and after the implementation of NAFTA. This research will provide information of the comparative advantages and disadvantages NAFTA brings to each country and what these gains and losses mean for the Mexican and American micro and macro economies.

Jessie Meager, Class of 2018
Faculty sponsor: Kimberly Morse-Jones (art history)

Today, Indiana Williams’ daughter, Daisy, gets most of the attention in the way we remember the Williams family. I wish to study artifacts from the Sweet Briar Collection that are associated with Indiana Williams herself, specifically her fascination with Japonisme. The Williams family attended the 1876 Centennial Exposition, where they purchased Japanese lacquer, Japanese dolls for Daisy, etc. An archaeological study of these artifacts will produce a more detailed understanding of Indiana Williams’ life and interests, and put the Williams family in the broader context of Japonisme among well-to-do American families of the time. I will study the fad of Japonisme among wealthy American families of the 1870s, and use the artifacts in the Sweet Briar collection to connect our local history with that of a wider societal trend. Indiana Williams’s artifacts can provide us with a case study of the influence of Japanese decorative arts in 19th-century America.

Erica Orr, Class of 2018
Faculty sponsor: Abraham Yousef (chemistry)

The goal of my proposed summer research is to complete a multi-step synthesis experiment for the sophomore organic chemistry laboratory course at Sweet Briar College. This work is a continuation of an ongoing project that began a few years ago with other undergraduate students, most recently Alexis Smith (Class of 2016), whose work on optimization of a key reaction in the synthesis was an important breakthrough in the project. This summer we hope to optimize one final reaction, so that it will be amenable to the undergraduate students and will allow the entire experiment to be completed within a few laboratory periods during the academic semester. This project aims to develop a novel, multi-step synthesis experiment that will serve as a capstone experience for undergraduate students who take second-semester organic chemistry at Sweet Briar. The synthesis involves a reaction called an aldol condensation, which is a well-known and foundational reaction covered in most organic chemistry curricula. Smith already performed much of the optimization of the aldol condensation, so the goal for this summer is to optimize the first of three steps in the synthesis, a halogenation reaction of ethyl diacetoacetate. The experiment exposes students to the concept of green chemistry, which stresses the use of biologically benign reagents and the minimization of hazardous waste products. The compounds that the students will be synthesizing are called 3(2H)-furanones, which are structurally unique and resemble some natural products with known medicinal properties. It is anticipated that the results of the project, once completed, will be published in the Journal of Chemical Education after a final trial run with the fall 2017 organic chemistry laboratory course.

Clara Rogers, Class of 2020
Faculty sponsors: Hank Yochum/Kaelyn Leake (engineering and physics)

Three-dimensional polymer films have the potential for unusual optical properties. This research will focus on using the layer-by-layer (LBL) technique for assembling nanostructures using a novel laser modified approach. In order to further understand the assembly process, a model will be developed that can be used to predict the effects of laser interaction with polymer solution and substrate. The model will include parameters such as optical properties of the solution, laser wavelength and power, and energy delivered to the substrate. The output of the model could be used to understand the modified LBL process and would be compared to experimental results from characterization of samples.

Rylee Runyon, Class of 2020
Faculty sponsors: Hank Yochum/Kaelyn Leake (engineering and physics)

The goal of this research project is to further develop the methods to using the layer-by- layer (LBL) technique of assembly for thin polymer films to fabricate three-dimensional structures. Three-dimensional nanostructures create possibilities in many areas including uses in optical cloaking. Layer-by-layer assembly is versatile and allows control on a nanoscale, however it can also be a challenge to fabricate these structures to have a full three-dimensional structure. This project will focus on a laser-based modified LBL process that can result in three-dimensional structures. In order to further understand the laser-polymer-substrate interaction that occurs during the laser-modified LBL process, we will experimentally determine the relationship between temperature and laser properties. This relationship will be investigated for a variety of experimental conditions in a simplified system involving fluid and substrate. In addition to this effort, laser-modified samples will be characterized via scanning electron microscopy and absorption spectroscopy.