An Academic Symposium was held on Saturday, April 29, 2023 at 10:30 a.m. in the Hall of Music in Chism Recital Hall. The symposium included three short presentations by faculty-student collaborators.
Nancy Day ’05, Assistant Professor of Psychology
- Meredith McBranch ’24, Psychology major
- Sile Surman ’24, Psychology major
Think about the last time you tried saying a new word in a foreign language, or stumbled through a sentence after mispronouncing a word. You likely tried to correct yourself immediately. We consistently use these errors (as well as our accurate pronunciations) to actively shape or maintain our speech patterns. This trial-and-error learning is required throughout life, and is controlled by genes that regulate neuron function, which in turn influence brain circuits that integrate sensory and motor signals to control complex behaviors. One essential gene for speech learning is FOXP2; individuals with a mutation in FOXP2 experience speech and language deficits. In my neuroscience research lab, we study how this gene influences speech learning by experimentally manipulating FoxP2 in the songbird brain. Similar to humans, young songbirds learn their vocalizations through social interactions with a parent. In young songbirds, dysregulation of FoxP2 impairs the ability for young birds to imitate the song they heard, possibly as a result of interrupted trial-and-error learning. Psychology majors Meredith McBranch ’24 and Sile Surman ’24 are using an operant conditioning paradigm to engage adult birds in trial-and-error learning to test whether dysregulation of FoxP2 interferes with active error correction during singing. In addition to sharing some recent findings from this project, we will also discuss how trial-and-error learning is critical to successful faculty-student research collaborations and how these immersive research opportunities can be a transformative component of the Whitman experience.
Krista Gulbransen, Associate Professor of Art History
- Amira Jain ’23, Film and Media Studies major
- Issabella Zito ’23, Art History major
The current Maxey Museum exhibition “Mapping India: Colonialism, Nationalism, and the Partition of South Asia” is the result of several years of research and collaboration between curator Krista Gulbransen, collector Mark Giordano ’88 (currently at Georgetown University), and student researchers including Amira Jain ’23 and Issabella Zito ’23. The exhibition takes the viewer from the oldest printed maps of the region, which reveal the maritime commercial interests of European trading companies in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, through maps that mark British colonial acquisition and control of territory, to maps that prefigure and document independence and Partition in 1947. Several themes emerge throughout the show, including the role of maps in both British imperial surveillance and the Indian nationalist resistance, the culturally-constructed nature of maps, how image production can be understood as a form of mapping, and the history behind the current political borders in the region.
Jon Collins, Assistant Professor of Chemistry
- Grace Newman ’23, Biochemistry, Biophysics & Molecular Biology major
- Aurora Anderson ’24, Chemistry major
The transformation of hydrocarbons by microbial enzymes represents an environmentally benign method for the production of important precursors in organic chemistry. Recent advances in understanding these reactions will be presented, along with indications for their future applications in chemical synthesis and the bioremediation of environmental pollutants.