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Knox Magazine

Fall 2018


Alive With Research and Collaboration

The Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center is bursting with activity even when classes aren't in session

by Megan Scott '96

The Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center—or SMC (pronounced smack) as it is affectionately called—is one of the campus’ largest buildings, made up of a central core and a series of four wings and various corridors. When terms are in session the classrooms and labs tucked within the wings burst with activity at all hours of the day. One may think that when spring term ends, such activity will cease. Yet walk into SMC on a hot July day, and you’ll quickly find that student researchers and faculty members are busy at work in labs and offices across the building. Some students are putting their research skills to work for the first time, others are utilizing their academic skills to assist—or improve upon—faculty research projects or classroom offerings, and more are collectively adding to new fields of science. Whatever the case may be, SMC is certainly alive with student research and faculty collaboration over the summer months.

Building the New & Improved

It’s not often that two undergraduate students are given an opportunity to improve upon the work of international scholars, but computer science majors Nhi Cung, a senior, and Billy Nguyen, a junior, got the chance here at Knox. They spent their summer building upon the work of Associate Professor of Computer Science Monica McGill on a game called If Memory Serves.

“This is an educational game designed to teach a concept called ‘pointers’ (which are similar to an entry in a book index) to computer science students. It was developed by a team of computer science professors (including myself) from New Zealand, England, and the U.S.,” McGill said. “The work that Nhi and Billy are doing is extremely important to let us be able to test the game with students and see if they are actually learning from it.”

“The game was already created, and we needed to improve it and make it better in terms of coding, interface, and art,” said Cung. “My project was to can understand better how to play the game.”

Nguyen, who has a passion for art and drawing, focused his work on the visuals of the game. “Anything that you will see on the outside, it’s possible that I drew it,” he said.

Once their work is done, the new and improved game will be released to the world. “Our goal is to get it out to the larger computer science education community so they know it’s there as a resource,” said McGill.

Value Added

“This project created a chance for me to better myself in coding and creating games, which is a big part of my major,” said Cung about her summer research. “Also, it gave me a better idea of how to work on a ‘real’ project, which requires much more effort.”

“Working visually on computer science, using my creativity, was huge for me,” said Nguyen.

Preparing for Life After Knox

Cung and Nguyen both recognize how is today, and their research was geared toward preparing them to enter that world. “I would love to find a job and create something on my own, using the Unity platform,” she said.

“Ideally, I’d like to get into the game industry,” said Nguyen. “It’s a very competitive field, and this experience is good preparation.”

Support for this work is brought to you by the Committee on Faculty Resources and the Paul K. Richter & Evalyn E. Cook Memorial Fund.

Students pose in chemistry lab

Changing Chemistry One Catalyst at a Time

Associate Professor of Chemistry Helen Hoyt ’01 has been exploring green chemistry—a field of chemistry motivated by environmental sustainability—since her days pursuing Cornell University. Her work continues, only help. Three students worked with her in chemical catalysts that are more environmentally sustainable and affordable.

Junior Diego Morones explored copper catalysts; junior Allen Irvine investigated iron catalysts; and junior Reshma Rajan used a server to virtually run experiments that supported the lab work being done by her colleagues.

“We were looking for the Goldilocks catalyst to ,” said Hoyt of their work.

The work each pursued over the summer has tangible applications to their educations at Knox and beyond. “It was invaluable having the opportunity to be in the lab all the time, doing constant lab work,” said Irvine. For Morones, his goal was to find a way to keep copper stable in the presence of water, a process that may ultimately contribute to ongoing research being done at Indiana University. “Building on past student research, we got some positive results, and we hope to carry that forward,” he said.

For Hoyt, her work mentoring her students is both integral to and a direct extension of her own research. “To be a liberal arts chemist means working with students as collaborators,” she said. “If I’m doing my job right, I’m teaching, training, and collaborating to the point where they are taking ownership over a piece of my ongoing research.”

More about Our Student Researchers

Morones is part of the McNair Scholars Program, which aims to increase the number of underrepresented students who successfully attain Ph.D. degrees. “If I can help move the world to a more sustainable way of living, it would be great.”

Irvine is a biochemistry major with minors in chemistry and economics. “I took Environmental Economics with Professor Steve Cohn . . . [and] it all kind of connected for me,” he explained. “I’m now on the chemistry side researching these new compounds, not just talking about it.”

Rajan, a biochemistry major and Africana studies minor, isn’t often in the lab itself, but her work is integral to the success of her colleagues’ research. “The ultimate goal of computations is to confirm a computational method where eventually we can predict the best molecules to then go back into the lab and start creating,” she explained.

Beyond C Wing

One of the unique advantages of the work being done in Hoyt’s lab is her access to necessary resources beyond her department. For example, Irvine needed a Mössbauer spectromer—a tool that is rarely found at undergraduate institutions—to study his iron catalysts. Luckily, physics professor Chuck Schulz ’72 had one right down the hall from the chemistry lab. In addition, Rajan’s ability to do multiple computations relied on equipment purchased with a grant to Professor David Bunde in computer science to teach parallel programming.

Support for this work is brought to you by: Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, , Paul K. Richter & Evalyn E. Cook Memorial Fund,  Leland Harris Undergraduate Research Fund,  Robert G. Kooser Memorial Research Fund,  National Science Foundation COAST Program, Knox College Mellon Fellowship Award, American Chemical Society.

Students pose in the telescope atop the SMC

Leaving an Interstellar Legacy

One of the first lessons of research is that plans can change pretty quickly. For example, senior a physics major with a double minor in astronomy and computer science, Physics Nathalie Haurberg ’02 to survey low mass galaxies. “We actually shifted gears and worked to upgrade our telescope (located on the roof of SMC) and on projects and new applications for the telescope,” Driscoll said. “I may be developing projects that students can work on in future astronomy classes."

In July, Driscoll was joined by senior physics major and philosophy minor Tom Trudeau, who was interested in working with a spectroscope to But he soon joined Driscoll on the telescope and its surrounding observatory. “We both took Observational Astronomy together in spring term,” said Trudeau, “and it was a really, really cool class, but we were besieged by problems with the weather not cooperating, the equipment too many people in the observatory at the same time. I wanted to take time now to do things properly.”

So Driscoll and Trudeau worked most evenings—at least when the weather cooperated— with Haurberg to ensure that the telescope and observatory not only functioned but also conducted experiments in order to help future students know the proper steps to take, as well as what issues may arise and how to fix them.

“I’m a trained astronomer, but I’m not trained to curate an observatory,” said Haurberg. “This is a co-learning experience for us, which is why I really value having students.”

Experience is Key

While spending a summer essentially playing trial and error with a telescope doesn’t necessarily sound like valuable academic experience, the opposite is true. “Upgrading the telescope has actually provided me with a lot of engineering problems, which helped me tremendously,” said Driscoll.

“Just having the experience of interacting with the instrument itself, touching it, plugging it in, having something go wrong. This is absolutely professionally applicable,” added Haurberg.

Connections Through Time and Space

Aside from helping improve astronomy courses for future students, Trudeau also found connections to the past in his work. “You feel connected to time and the world around you and the history of all these people who have been doing this for years,” he said.

Support for this work is brought to you by: *Committee on Faculty Resources, Paul K. Richter & Evalyn E. Cook Memorial Fund, Robert Mariner Research Award. 

*The Committee on Faculty Resources is a faculty committee that grants funding assistance for faculty research and other support; grants are based upon applications from individual faculty members. 

Thomas Moses and Zach Gregory

Same Hardware, New Software

Senior Zach Gregory, a physics major and computer science minor, was looking for a summer job that would put his education to work, perhaps even enable him to develop new skills that would better prepare him for graduate school. He ultimately needed to look no further than his very own department. Professor of Physics Tom Moses has long focused on the study of liquid crystals, which are rod-shaped molecules that form different phases of matter, but he needed help better regulating the temperature of those crystals during his experiments. Zach found his summer job.

“Liquid crystals have to be at different temperatures in order for us to observe the different phases of matter that they are putting out,” said Gregory. “I had to basically create a program that would control the analog input of our heating and cooling system, which would get the crystals at the right temperature so that we could run experiments and observe them.”

(For those non-physics folks, Gregory used his computer science skills to create software that more accurately controlled the heating and cooling system and, consequently, the temperature of the liquid crystal.)

"There’s some tricky issues in controlling the computer over a web interface, which we worked to solve this summer," said Professor Moses. "We used old hardware and built new software around it."

Try and Try Again

One of the ways that Gregory gained both valuable and applicable skills from his work was through simply trial and error. Moses noted that "You tend to pick up a lot of skills in a physics experiment—programming, building things in the shop, just the general troubleshooting. Because nothing works the first time."

"And when it does work the first time, those are the rare moments where you question, does this actually work the way I want it to," added Gregory. "When things work, we change our goals!" said Moses.

Building the Knox Engineers

In his free time, Gregory is the vice president of the Knox Engineers, a newly formed student organization that brings students from across STEM fields to explore engineering problems and projects. Since its formation three years ago, the organization has acquired a 3D printer and laser cutter, among other equipment. Most recently, they crowdfunded for a new metal lathe that can be used across disciplines to build equipment. The club meets regularly in a transformed storage space in the basement of SMC, and members gather for meetings, lessons, and projects.

Support for this work is brought to you by the *Committee on Faculty Resources.

Heather Hoffman and Alex Kellogg

Where the Personal Meets the Professional

Alex Kellogg, a senior psychology and music double major, spent her summer researching a subject one doesn’t read about regularly in a general-interest alumni magazine: variables that affect sexual arousal and activity in people attracted to their own gender. "Alex encountered a concept that I really didn’t know a lot about, called rejection sensitivity," explained her advisor, Professor of Psychology Heather Hoffmann. "Negative moods tend to decrease sexual arousal. There’s some literature out there, but Alex tried to expand what’s available and combine it with information on rejection sensitivity."

"My original interest in psychology was in mood disorders, and one of the best classes I’ve taken was Professor Hoffmann’s course on human sexuality," said Kellogg. "My independent research combined those two interests." Kellogg’s goal was to have a research proposal for a laboratory study based on the work she did throughout the summer. "It’s more than likely going to feed into a senior research project," she said. Having served as a lab assistant to Professor Hoffmann on her most recent research, Kellogg was familiar with the type of methodology needed to assess her research question. Her lab work, she explained, "will involve interviewing subjects who report being attracted to men about their mental health or instilling some kind of particular mood to gauge effects on their sexual arousal."

Learning How to Research

While research may sound like a relatively straightforward task, there’s much more involved, from understanding how to find the best sources to simply figuring out which information is useful. "Learning how to research... this was all new to me," said Kellogg. "I’ve learned that when reviewing existing literature and articles there’s simultaneously way too much info and nowhere near enough information."

Support for this work is brought to you by ASSET (Artists, Scholars, Scientists, and Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow) Program. 

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Knox Magazine

Fall 2018


Looking at the Landscape

Knox College students offer their visual interpretations of campus and other places, near and far, while their professor explains the annual course in landscape painting.

by Peter Bailley '74

O’er hills and plains, by lakes and lanes, our woodlands, our cornfields… As the lyrics of the Knox Hymn evoke the incomparable prairie landscape, students in Art 163 explore their landscapes and memories of landscapes. This spring, we followed some of the students and spoke with Professor Lynette Lombard about her beginning course in Landscape Painting.

For the full story (and some incredible artwork) click through to the gallery here

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Knox Magazine

Fall 2018


Major Disconnect

Knox students are required to pursue a concentration in a field beyond their major. What happens when the two are almost totally unrelated?

by Pam Chozen

When nearly 300 Knox students received their diplomas on a sunny morning last June, each had fulfilled the requirements for at least one major and at least one minor, per the curriculum. But among their ranks were a surprising number of people pursuing double majors (44), double minors (69), or, in the case of a presumably weary Ren Barkey '17, who received their diploma with the Class of 2018, a double major (in environmental studies and theatre) and a minor (studio art).*

When it comes to choosing a second—or third—field of study, there seem to be two distinct approaches. In the first group are the students we might think of as Intensifiers. Intensifiers have a clear idea of what interests them, what they’re good at, and what they want to do with their lives, and their various academic interests look like an obvious fit: financial mathematics, economics, and business and management (looking at you, Jonathan Banham '18). Chemistry and secondary education (hello, Elyssa Glenn '18*).

Then there are the students we might call Synergists. They are perhaps the purest embodiment of the liberal arts educational model—the opportunity it offers to give in to the tug of curiosity and follow wherever it leads. When students do, they often discover some surprising connections.

These are their stories.

Samantha Burgess

Samantha Burgess

Class of 2019
Majors: Music and Neuroscience

"I always knew I wanted to major in music—I’ve played the violin for 12 years now. I’ve also always wanted to pursue a second major in the sciences. Chemistry and environmental science were both quite interesting, but neuroscience blew my mind. (Pardon the pun.) There is a lot of really interesting research being done on how music interacts with the brain, which gave me a way to integrate my two majors."

How she managed her time:

"Between the foundations and key competencies—as well as two majors without a single overlapping requirement—it takes a lot of time to get everything done! Even so, I did a whole year abroad at Oxford University. If you work with your professors, they are very willing to help you figure things out! It was such a formative experience for me. I will also be able to take a few independent studies and pursue an Honors project during my senior year."

What comes next:

"After I graduate, I’d like to pursue a master’s degree in orchestral conducting and eventually a Ph.D., either in conducting or music psychology, and become a professor."

James Woolley

Class of 2018
Majors: History and Computer Science

"I had toyed with the idea of doing some combination of creative writing, history, and computer science. When I arrived at Knox, I chose history when I realized I could do the writing I wanted to do in those classes. Even though I was a sophomore transfer student changing majors, I didn’t really struggle to fulfill my academic requirements. My AP and transfer credits all transferred. I worked two terms with Professor John Dooley to create data analysis software for the football coach. I had enough flexibility to start an Honors project, but I took too large a courseload to handle it—I wish I had been able to finish."

Favorite course:

CS322: Software Engineering

What comes next:

"I was pretty busy finishing up my schoolwork and working on my Honors project, and I haven’t put too much effort into finding a job. I do hope to continue to work on my former Honors project, where I combined the skills of both of my majors to create a historical simulation."

Update: James is now an applications analyst with Northern Trust Corporation in Chicago.

Luba Liubvina

Class of 2020
Majors: Studio Art and Biology

"When I started making art, it was usually about animals or nature. Knox was one of a few schools that offered me an opportunity to pursue a double major, and they recognized my artistic talent with a significant scholarship. Getting all the credits I need has been hard. I did Green Oaks Term—one of the reasons I chose Knox!—but out of five credits, only one counted towards my majors. It is hard to negotiate which classes I want to take because I am the president of art club, and I work in the art building, do art internships, plan to start taxidermy as a hobby, and, hopefully, work for the biology department."

Why art and science are a good combination:

"My art is definitely influenced by biology—I tend to be better at organic shapes. My favorite piece is Elk Island—16 prints inspired by the conservation biology course I took with Stuart Allison and a project I did at Elk Island National Park in Moscow."

What comes next:

"I hope to combine my majors in my future job, perhaps as a museum curator, exhibit designer, scientific illustrator, or taxidermist."

Lara Braverman

Class of 2018
Majors: Chemistry and Theatre

"I knew I wanted to double major in chemistry and theatre since high school, and it was the driving force in my college search. I looked at small liberal arts schools, in part because most larger schools make it incredibly difficult to double-major in very different areas. I also made sure that the schools I looked at had a theatre minor, as I knew that if I was forced to choose one, I would go with chemistry, but I didn’t want to completely stop taking theatre."

How she managed her time:

"I doubt I would have been able to graduate in four years if I hadn’t come in with credit for gen chem. I was able to start with sophomore-level chemistry courses, which allowed me to fit all the necessary coursework in. Someone very dedicated might be able to double-major without having this (my advisor and I worked it out both ways), but having credit allowed me to take more electives in my majors as well as courses outside either department. It also gave me room to do several credits of independent research in the chemistry department. I was also a member of the Knox College Choir and Soulfege A Cappella all four years and served on both their exec boards, and have participated in student-directed theatre productions almost every term. Last fall, I played the title role in the student-directed production of Doctor Faustus and was also the production’s dramaturg—that was definitely the highlight of my Knox theatre experience."

What comes next:

"I will begin Washington University’s Ph.D. program in chemistry. I plan to become a professor, and I hope that my performance experience will help in that respect! I’ve found that many of my theatre skills are useful when presenting research-- I’m not nervous in front of a crowd, and I know how to project. I plan to continue singing and maybe doing community theatre if I have the time."

By The Numbers


Number of current students double-majoring in economics and biochemistry


of the Class of 2018 minored in a second language


Members of the Class of 2018 with a self-designed major


Members of the Class of 2018 with a self-designed minor

Tamia Phifer

Class of 2018
Major: Biology
Minor: German

"As a first-gen student, I didn’t have a lot of help available when I applied to college. After six weeks in organic chemistry, I decided to focus on biology instead. I’d also planned to minor in creative writing, but I realized Knoxies take their creative writing more seriously than a hobby writer like myself. I’d studied German since I started high school, so German at Knox was a breeze for me."

How she managed her time:

"I did lots of research with Professor Matthew Jones-Rhoades and got a summer research opportunity at Penn State because he believed in me. Working in a lab with graduate students was a completely different experience, and I ended up with a co-author credit on research published in Nature. I considered studying abroad in Germany—Professor Todd Heidt told me they’ll give money to students to come do research. I didn’t make it there as an undergraduate, but graduate school is definitely an option I’m keeping open."

What comes next:

"I’m in the process of applying to graduate programs in evolution and ecology and biotechnology. But I’m also interested in attending seminary to pursue a master’s in mission and intercultural studies."

Zachary Barnes

Class of 2019
Majors: Computer Science and Music

"I wanted a small college with a substantial jazz program—surprisingly rare! I was drawn to the immediate sense of craft that computer science provided. But I’m also a pianist. I got my start on saxophone, then picked up other instruments—trumpet, drums, guitar, bass—and started singing in various vocal groups in high school. The fields aren’t that different. Finding simple and elegant solutions are core tenets of what programmers strive for, and having that mindset is especially useful when it comes to composition and improvisation. On the flip side, music opens up creative pathways in those moments when computer science seems routine and one-dimensional."

How he managed his time:

"Honestly, I’m amazed I’ll be able to graduate in four years. Even so, I was able to study abroad in China and am about to do research in the field of music information retrieval. I’m looking forward to integrating both of my academic interests into something that is cohesive and relevant. I’ve also composed several pieces—jazz and classical—that have been performed here at Knox."

What comes next:

"Graduate school, either in data science or music technology."

Elena Iatropolou-Bannat

Class of 2019
Majors: Biology and Studio Art

"I was relatively confident I wanted to study biology and economics. Ha! With only one class remaining on an economics minor, I decided I should major in studio art as well at the end of my junior year. Thankfully, I got ahead in my biology requirements and now have the rest of my time at Knox for art. Study abroad is something I would have liked to explore, but with the new art classes I have to take, it doesn’t seem rational. But, after all, studying at Knox is already study abroad for me!"

Why art and science are a good combination:

"I’ve always wanted to learn something that I could count on—facts and rules that aren’t subject to change. However, once I get deeply into something, I feel like I’m losing perspective on it and my head isn’t as clear anymore. This is why I need to counterbalance myself by getting active with my hands, and this more physical involvement helps bring me back to a clearer mindset, expand my horizons, and widen my take on everything else."

Jessica Petersen

Class of 2019
Major: Anthropology & Sociology
Minor: Business & Management

"I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to major in before I got to Knox. Originally, I thought I wanted to study psychology or creative writing. I took an ANSO [anthropology & sociology] course and fell in love with it. The same happened with business—I took a class with Professor John Spittell, and knew I wanted to take more courses."

How she managed her time:

"I was able to complete three internships (with a fourth this summer), study abroad—I went to Denmark, Ireland, and Finland and got a credit that counted toward my major, and still graduate early. I have been able to do more than expected."

What comes next:

"This summer, I participated in Penske’s management training program and plan to start working for them fulltime in the fall. My ANSO background is really helpful—to be an effective manager, you need to be able to work with and understand different groups of people from diverse backgrounds. I think majoring in ANSO gives me an edge in the field."