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Summer school on steroids

From health and race to ancient Athenian democracy, from floods and logging dams to twin prime polynomials, Skidmore was buzzing with research this summer. Nearly 50 students and 33 pro- fessors tackled 35 intensive projects (23 in science and math, 12 in disciplines from music to sociology). From a very big, broad program, here are just four samples:

Declarative sentences

“The importance of the written word for those who hope to give birth to new na- tions” is plain to see in any declaration of independence. The document’s success in defining the realities of an emerging sov- ereign state can be far more variable. His- torian Jordana Dym and Randy Abreu ’11 analyzed about two dozen declarations of independence issued across Latin Amer-

more than 20 countries. They noted similarities to the American colonies’ 1776 declaration and others—for exam- ple, says Abreu, many authors cited grievances, posited divine or natural rights, and demanded civil and political justice—and they also described the


differences due to cultural, colonial, and other circumstances. They then prepared explanatory texts to be mounted along- side the museum objects.


ica between 1750 and 1850. Marking this fall’s bicentennial of Mexico’s Grito de Do- lores—widely regarded as its first, if not entirely effective, rejection of Spanish rule—Dym helped coordinate an aca- demic symposium with Mexico’s national archives, and enlisted Abreu to help with a related exhibition comparing proclama- tions of sovereignty from Chile to Haiti to Venezuela.

On a tight deadline to help the ar - chives’ curator plan the show and locate original or facsimile documents as well as historical artworks and other materials, the duo delved into the foundings of

10 SCOPE FALL 2010

Dym was impressed with Abreu’s lin- guistic ability to sort out nuances in, say, the mean- ing of pueblo vs. naciòn—“people” vs. “nation.” Abreu enjoyed the visual aspects of the proj- ect (he visited the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs to get ideas for ex- hibition layouts) and especially the close work with texts: “You can

really visualize history,” he says, “when you see the documents themselves.”

Embryonic inebriation

Drinking like a fish can damage human fetuses. Getting fish to drink like a human may reveal exactly how.

Biologist Jennifer Bonner led Cecie Culp ’11, Alek Krazinski ’11, and Andrew Ross ’11 in a project with zebrafish to confirm that the gene “dcc” acts on the formation of a spinal-cord neuron called CoPA and to see if ethanol disrupts dcc function in embryos. One of the first neurons to form, CoPA can’t do its job

unless its axon grows correctly to the brain.

After exposing a fish embryo to ethanol and applying a fluorescently labeled antibody, the researchers could view the glowing CoPA neuron under a microscope. Krazinski explains, “If we saw defects in the neuron’s growth path, and if we could get that same result in several embryos, then we knew neuronal development was being impaired.” Each zebrafish egg, the size of a ball- point pen nib, had to be individually dis- sected and the embryo removed, with the aid of a microscope and thin tweezers. Before that, though, the fish had to be coaxed to spawn, primarily by adjusting the tanks’ light and temperature. As Culp reports, “The fish totally ran our sched- ule.” They often spawned in the morn- ing, and 15 hours after that was when the embryos had to be dosed with ethanol, and 13 hours later it was time to chart the neuron’s progress. Bonner says, “In embryology just a few hours of develop- ment make all the difference.” They also make for a lot of late nights in the lab. But the students say the real-lab expe- rience was worth it. They read articles on related research, bred and reared fish, used immunofluorescence techniques, learned microscope imaging, docu- mented everything, and even got a feel for the intuitive side of biology. “To judge what’s abnormal and not just a variant,” says Krazinski, “we can measure against normal neurons, but there’s also some in-




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