Category Archives: Students

Weightless Wonders: Students Perform Experiments in NASA’s Zero-Gravity Simulator

This summer, a team of four Northwestern students got the chance to conduct experiments like they were in outer space without ever leaving Earth’s atmosphere by flying in NASA’s famous “Weightless Wonder.” The undergraduate group, assisted by David Dunand, the James N. and Margie M. Krebs Professor of Materials Science, and the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern, hopes their experiments, if successful, could lead to better solar cell production for greener power on Earth and, eventually, in Earth’s orbit and beyond. Kristen Scotti, a School of Professional Studies biology major, led the group. She recounts her long journey to microgravity flight.

“Float like an astronaut and fly like a superhero” is the tagline used by Zero G Corporation to describe the experience of parabolic flight.

I might add, “Fall like a meteorite hitting Earth,” somewhere in between floating and flying.

A microgravity flight consists of a series of parabolic maneuvers or flying in a trajectory shaped like a parabola. Each begins with 20 seconds of hypergravity, followed by approximately 25 seconds of microgravity. It ends with an additional period of hypergravity.

The final hypergravity portion is immediate. In an instant, you go from floating in the air to slamming into the floor at a rate of about 17.64 m/s2. It only takes a few parabolas before you learn to prepare yourself for the fall.

My journey goes back to 2011, when I was attending classes at William Rainey Harper College and was selected as a NASA Aerospace Scholar, earning an internship at Marshall Space Flight Center. My first NASA flight was a year later.

Visiting Marshall was one of those life-changing moments, where once you get a taste for something, there’s no going back. I was surrounded with like-minded students and NASA personnel who were motivated purely by their desire to learn.

Some of the other Aerospace Scholars and I decided to form a team and propose an experiment to NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Program. Surprisingly, our proposal was accepted. We began our experimental flight preparations. This was my first experience managing a research team.

It was then I transferred to Northwestern University with the assistance of a Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. Once at NU, I reached out to Dr. David Dunand and Dr. Bryce Tappan (Los Alamos National Laboratory) for guidance.

A few months later, a mentor at NASA advised me of an opportunity to propose a program to NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. I reached out to Dr. Dunand and Dr. Tappan again, and with their agreement to continue to offer guidance, I felt confident enough to give it a shot.

I compiled a team of NU undergraduate students, and we submitted our proposal to create titania foams as electrode materials for dye-sensitized solar cells in microgravity. Nearly a year later, our proposal was accepted by NASA as both a knowledge and a technological advancement payload.

In other words, our experiment served two purposes: to understand the effects of gravity during metal foam formation and to enhance the material properties for maximum efficiency in dye-sensitized solar cell applications.

This past July in Ellington, my experimental preparation felt very different. I had a bit more experience, so I knew what to expect; I felt I’d be better able to prepare myself for the falls.

Our team integrated students from three schools within Northwestern: Kimberly Clinch (Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences), Emily Northard (McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science), Felicia Teller (School of Professional Studies) and myself. As a team, we armed ourselves with knowledge as we immersed ourselves in literature, bounced ideas off of each other, solved problems and genuinely respected one another for our individual strengths.

When we hit a trough, we worked together to soften the fall.

Visiting NASA has always provided me with new vigor and desire to learn. NASA is the epitome of passion, commitment and the joining efforts of individuals in the pursuit of knowledge. Our team flew four flights in July; I was on three of them.

I left Houston feeling very proud of the team that I was a part of and excited to continue working with them over the next year analyzing our samples and incorporating them to improve overall efficiencies.

At Home with Death: Reflections on a Residential College Tutorial

Balberg Tutorial at Movies

Death is a difficult topic to tackle, but Mira Balberg, assistant professor of religion and Willard Faculty Fellow, found an intriguing way to make the subject accessible to students living in the Willard Residential College. With plates of cookies handy and a variety of ancient and modern texts as guides, Balberg created a powerful 21st-century academic learning experience. Modeled on the Greek symposium, the residential college tutorial brought together a small group of avid learners in a lively conversation in a non-classroom setting. In designing the tutorial, Balberg was inspired by the wisdom of the ancients, “who famously believed that an awareness of death and an ability to look death ‘in the eye’ as it were, is the key to good, meaningful living.”

As in many other things, the ancient Greeks were the first to get it right: they considered the most meaningful and enjoyable form of learning to be a conversation, which takes place not in a classroom but in a banquet hall. The Greek symposium was essentially a small gathering of friends who dined together while discussing a topic of choice, considering intellectual stimulation to be the flavor of the evening. The Greeks thought of the process of learning itself as a feast, in which, as Plato described it, “wisdom flows from one to the other like wine into glasses,” and found it only appropriate that it would be conducted as such.

Can a college class in the twenty-first century follow the model of the Greek symposium? Insofar as wine, sofas and hired musicians in the background are concerned, probably not: but insofar as genuine, lively conversation taking place in a non-classroom setting among a small group of avid participants is concerned, I discovered that the answer is a resounding yes. It’s called a Residential College Tutorial, and as a faculty fellow at Willard Residential College I had the fortune of teaching one of those in the spring of 2014.

A Residential College Tutorial is a small class, 8 to 10 students, which is offered specifically in one of Northwestern’s 11 residential colleges and is usually designated for the students living in that college. In some ways, it is no different from other college classes: tutorials count for credit and include obligations such as homework and paper writing. But it differs from a standard class in time, in place, and most of all, in feel. Tutorials take place in the late afternoon or evening, in the residential colleges themselves, and as such they generate continuity between two aspects of the college experience that are often conceived as completely disparate from one another: learning and living. A tutorial brings those two together, and therefore generates what is the key both to good learning and to good living: a sense of community. This sense of community is maintained not just during the formal part of the class, but also in going to dinner together as a group afterwards, or in going out to see a class-related movie together, as we have done. It is these seemingly inconsequential things that melt the boundary between disparate areas of college life and make it all the more meaningful – for students and professors alike.

And so it was: once a week ten students and I would gather in the Willard Library. Notable in their absence were laptops, tablets, smart phones and any other modes of distraction. Notable in their presence were cookies, which were a staple of our meetings – not just because of the usual peckishness of 5:00 p.m. in the afternoon, but also to make the point that we are, at least symbolically, partaking in a feast of learning. More notable, however, was what every student brought with him or her to each meeting: a well-crafted and pre-meditated series of thoughts and insights on the readings we were about to discuss that day, which each student wrote down and sent to me ahead of time. The students’ written responses provided the fuel for a lively and vibrant discussion, at the center of which stood a three-way encounter: between the students themselves, between them and me as an instructor, and between us and the third “participant” in our meetings – a silent participant which we have gradually started befriending – Death.

Indeed, the topic of the class was death. More accurately, it was the manner in which human beings confront death, their own or their loved ones’. In this choice of topic, too, I was inspired by the wisdom of the ancients, who famously believed that one’s entire life was essentially a preparation for death, and more importantly, that an awareness of death and an ability to look death “in the eye” as it were, is the key to good, meaningful living. In our own society, in which death is very much ignored if not entirely denied, and is removed from the realm of everyday life into the specialized care of professionals, this wisdom seems to have been forgotten. But death, as we know, remains a reality that we all, at one point or another, encounter nonetheless, now oftentimes without any conceptual or emotional tools to deal with it. As a scholar of Religion, I find the manners in which different religious and philosophical traditions confronted and explained death to be absolutely fascinating. I see death as a particularly potent and powerful prism through which we can explore the diversity of human communities and the development and change in modes of thinking and behaving across time – two issues that I consider to be at the heart of any discipline in the Humanities. However, my interest in this topic is hardly purely intellectual. I fully subscribe to Socrates’ statement that “an unexamined life is not worth living,” and since I view death as a part of life – perhaps the most definitive part of life – I believe it must be examined rigorously, honestly, and courageously. This was the purpose that I set forth for this tutorial.

“Is it really possible to discuss death so openly and forwardly with a group of 19 and 20 year olds, who are in the prime of their (allegedly) care-free youth?” I asked myself before the tutorial started. But from very early on, I was surprised by how intensely engaged and committed the students were to this examination of death (and, naturally, of life). For some students, who have suffered losses of close family members, this topic was very personal; but even for those who did not experience death in their immediate environment, the questions we discussed were poignant and, I dare say, emotionally and cognitively urgent. This was a journey on which everyone was eager to embark, and fortunately for us, we had great guides to lead us through this journey. From the Greek poet Homer to the Roman philosopher Seneca, from Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy to American journalist Mary Roach, we spent each session with the works of wonderful (and very different) writers who spent a lot of time contemplating death and who gave us much to think about, with, and against. However, as fabulous as these guides were, I believe much of the success of the journey had to do with the fellow travelers: with the fact that we explored these texts and questions together, looking at and listening to each other, sharing thoughts, fears, and doubts, and no less importantly – sharing laughter. A lot of it.

Throughout this entire quarter, one sentence kept on recurring to me in respect to this tutorial: that’s how it should be. College education, at its best, is an opportunity to examine the world audaciously from within a supportive, warm, and friendly community of like-minded examiners. Residential College Tutorials prove that in can be this way, and that putting emphasis on human contact – between students and professor, between one student and another, and between students and powerful ideas of people from other times and places – has the power to make higher education truly significant for all those involved.

Live in Purple: maeve & quinn perform “Fusion”

The Northwestern University Class of 2014 features a double dose of musical talent in the form of Bryce Quinn (violin) and Maris Maeve (piano and vocals) O’Tierney, twin sisters from Anchorage, Alaska who perform as maeve & quinn.

Before they graduated in June, the duo’s song “fusion” was selected as this year’s student-produced Niteskool music video, and the sisters were featured among Northwestern magazine’s “Senior Standouts.”

“We love making music together and we love people,” Bryce said. “The goal is always to keep finding new people to share the music with and new ways to do that.”

After graduation, Bryce, a creative writing (poetry) and violin studies double major, will pursue a master’s in creative writing at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Maris, a vocal performance, art history and political science major, will work at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington, D.C., as one of the selected interns for the Katzenberger Art History Internship Program.

Although they will soon be on separate continents, Bryce and Maris plan to continue performing whenever possible and plan to compose an album together.

Students Feed the Hungry with ‘Points for a Purpose’

Points for a Purpose

Throughout Reading Week and Finals Week, students can donate their leftover meal plan points to help feed the hungry through “Points for a Purpose.” The student group uses point donations from students to raise money to provide food for the homeless and homebound in Evanston and the Chicago area. Read more about how Weinberg sophomore Dean Meisel and McCormick sophomore Bryan Berger started the organization and how to get involved.

Points for a PurposeMy friend Rachel had just finished her last final of freshman year and was heading home early for summer break. Rachel had gone through the quarter without resorting to her meal plan, so as she headed home, she was leaving behind not only a year of memories and friends, but also $400 worth of equivalency meals and meal points. Determined to not completely waste this money, she handed me her WildCARD and suddenly I had my ticket to a freezer full of Ben & Jerry’s. But after a few days of Norris sushi, Frontera Fresco and way too much ice cream, my consciousness started to overcome my stomach.

I approached Bryan Berger, who agreed that there must be a better way to deal with the excessive amount of unused – or misused—meal points at the end of each quarter. Together we thought of the idea to connect the inevitable waste of the Northwestern meal plan with the food insecurity of the Evanston area. What if students had the ability to donate their leftover meal points to people who could use it more effectively?

Our idea’s effectiveness lies in its simplicity. To help feed the hungry, all a student needs to do is ask the cashier at any C-Store to donate ‘X’ amount of points to Points for a Purpose.  The WildCARD is swiped, and the food is later assembled and delivered.  Bryan and I spent the summer dreaming of the possibilities.

Fast forwarding to fall quarter of this year, Bryan and I e-mailed the entire list of contacts on the nuCuisine website. We were pleasantly surprised by their receptiveness to the idea, and a couple meetings later, Points for a Purpose was born.

Our quarterly drives run during Reading Week and Finals Week, and since we did not officially begin until Reading Week during Fall quarter, we had low expectations as to the success of our first drive. However, our friends helped us spread the word and the campus responded with enthusiasm. Only 11 days after our kickoff, the Northwestern community came together, sacrificed their finals week Cheetos binges and donated $1,246 to our beneficiary—Campus Kitchens at Northwestern University.

While Campus Kitchens at Northwestern provides an amazing service to the community—taking leftover food from dining halls and preparing it for many of its deserving clients including Evanston individuals, the YWCA, the Salvation Army and Connections for the Homeless—they often lack the funds to package anything other than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their clients. With the help of the Northwestern community, they are now able to provide more balanced meals for homebound seniors, homeless people and other Evanstonians who depend on these services.

Since then, Bryan and I have been working passionately with Sodexo, Campus Kitchens and other groups on campus to attack food insecurity as effectively as we can. In addition, we have officially become a chapter of Swipes for the Homeless, a non-profit based in California with a similar mission. We added eight more students to our team and are looking for ways to not only expand our efforts at Northwestern, but to other campuses as well.

Points for a Purpose has not only contributed over $2,500—the equivalent of 1,000 meals—to fighting food insecurity in the Chicagoland area, but it has united the Northwestern campus and made many students aware of the harsh realities that our neighbors face on a daily basis.

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Bollywood Beats

bollywood850

Sometimes, taking a risk and thinking in new and creative ways can lead to big things. That’s exactly what happened for Northwestern University’s A.NU.Bhav Hindi film fusion dance team. On April 19, it took home the 2014 Bollywood America championship, winning the nation’s collegiate tournament for “filmi” teams. Priyanka Mody, a sophomore in Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, chronicles her team’s risk and ultimate reward.

In less than 10 minutes onstage, more than 20 Northwestern dancers, clad inbedazzling silk shirts and sequined skirts, tell a story through leaps and turns in a marriage of music and dance. It is the essence of Bollywood — and it brings collegiate dance teams together from across the country to compete on the national stage.

Founded in 2008, Northwestern A.NU.Bhav (pronounced ah-new-bhav), the co-ed Hindi film dance — or filmi — team, is one of the best in the country. For competitions, our team prepares an eight-minute choreographed routine, mixing together styles of traditional Bollywood, Indian classical, hip-hop and lyrical dance.

Bollywood dance found its way into my college career unexpectedly. I auditioned for the team at the start of last year when I was a freshman, simply for the fun and novelty. Yet, when our team qualified for the first time this year in Northwestern history to Bollywood America, the national championships of collegiate “filmi-fusion dance,” we all felt both a sense of pride for our school and ourselves.

The dance revolves around a central theme or plot, and over the course of the show, the performers become characters, and the dance’s story comes alive. Typically, as is true in Bollywood, the themes follow the structure of a romantic comedy or drama. However this year, we wanted something different—something that would push the envelope for both Bollywood and the South Asian community. Our team decided to bring to life the story of a young man who admits to his soon-to-be wife that he loves another man — a narrative of heartbreak, love and, ultimately, acceptance.

When our captains first announced their vision to the rest of the teammates, I’ll admit we were all a bit surprised by its originality and boldness. But any feelings of hesitation quickly turned into compassion and energy as each one of us came to an understanding and appreciation for the message we would send. At each of the competitions throughout the year, audience members, judges and other dancers complimented us on both our choreography and especially our unique storyline.

It was a risk, though. And while not every judge could appreciate the theme in the same way, the outpouring of positive support and commentary both at competitions and through online forms were enough to fuel our passion and maintain the strength of our performance.

We won the ultimate award when A.NU.Bhav won Bollywood America on April 19 in San Francisco.

“Winning Bollywood America with this kind of show makes it that much more meaningful,” said Yuri Doolan ’13 MA, a co-captain on the team who won the individual award of “Best Male Dancer” at Bollywood America. “Over the course of this year, so many people in the South Asian American dance community have stood by our side, believed in usand cheered us on this year.”

Doolan, a doctoral student in Asian American studies, said he hopes that more teams will continue to address the issues relevant to his generation and the community through dancing.

The final competition brought together 11 collegiate teams from all parts of the country, and our team also won the awards for best choreography and storyline.

The Bollywood collegiate circuit is filled with talented and creative individuals with a competitive edge, and serves as an outlet that is unparalleled in any other setting. I never imagined that the intersection of college and my culture would happen in this way. But, fortunately, it did. I have gotten to represent Northwestern with my closest peers on a national stage doing what I love most.