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Summer Spotlight

Professors and students collaborate on research over summer break.

Tangled Up in Tangloids

Professor of Mathematics Carol Schumacher

The proposal for Professor of Mathematics Carol Schumacher’s summer research begins with the question, “Do you remember ever playing with Spirographs as a child?” Schumacher’s research focused on the complex symmetries created by these childhood toys. She studied the paths of particular points within a circle when the circle rolls around inside of a shape called a tangle. A tangle is a group of quarter-circle segments that form a round (but non-circular) shape. She named the resultant shapes “Tangloids,” which became central to her research. Michael Grace Fisher ’20 joined the project as a Summer Science Scholar due to her fascination with geometric forms. “It was research that was difficult but also often gave us results every two or three weeks, which was the perfect balance,” Fisher said. By the end of the summer, Schumacher was able to observe the conditions under which there are rotational and reflection symmetries for tangles, proving two theorems.

 

Traditional Tattoos in the Philippines

Associate Professor of Anthropology Sam Pack

Professor of Anthropology Sam Pack returned to the Philippines this summer with a group of students for the third time. This year, they conducted research related to Apo Whang-ud Oggay, a Butbut tribe tattoo artist. Whang-ud is “single-handedly” keeping an “ancient tradition alive,” according to a recent New York Times article. She is part of the last generation of people capable of tattooing all of her culture’s traditional designs. Pack and his group of students analyzed the effect of Whang-ud’s popularity on several factors such as tourism and urban Filipinos’ changing perceptions of indigenous people. Specifically, Pack was interested in studying what he calls “tattoo pilgrims,” or people from outside the village who come because they are interested in Whang-ud’s tattoos. Pack chose to bring five students of color with him, four of whom are first-generation college students at Kenyon. “This was a deliberate decision on my part in order to provide opportunities for those who might not otherwise have access to them,” Pack said.

 

Kenyon Researchers Investigate Effects of Climate Change

Associate Professor of Biology Andrew Kerkhoff

From the smallest microbe communities to the enormity of the biosphere, creating statistical models across entire ecosystems — including factors like climate, biodiversity and evolutionary history — is no easy feat. Associate Professor of Biology Andrew Kerkhoff and Kenyon Summer Science scholars Cecina Babich Morrow ’18 and Erin Keleske ’18 tackled part of the puzzle as an ongoing summer research project. Babich Morrow developed statistical models to analyze the life cycles of different mammals, reptiles and birds as they have evolved, while Keleske used similar models to evaluate historical climate change and its effects on biodiversity across North and South America. Enormous digital repositories of ecological and botanical data stretching back to the 1700s meant the team never needed to leave the lab, but they did travel to Colorado for one week in order to compare notes with their collaborators from the University of Arizona. Kerkhoff feels optimistic that meetings like these “can hopefully resolve one set of [research] questions and move onto the next.” The conclusions the team draws from their research could have far-reaching implications for predicting the future of ecosystems as climate change continues to accelerate. “Once we have this data, we can start to ask really large-scale questions about how organisms have evolved [due to climate change],” Kerkhoff said. He said the knowledge might help scientists figure out “this new trajectory we’re on, thanks to our fossil fuel emissions.”