Brian Coyle’s Jazzy Association

Jazz music may be America’s invention but like any great art form, it knows no borders. Jazz is as beloved in Tokyo as in New Orleans, as popular in Vienna as Chicago. And that’s the reason why Dr. Brian Coyle recently co-founded and now helps lead, as its vice president, the new International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers (ISJAC) of which the Hope College Jazz Studies program is a founding consortium member. Hope is one of only two liberal arts colleges on ISJAC’s directory of respected and innovative jazz schools.

Coyle is Hope’s director of jazz studies so it would seem natural for the college to quickly sign up to join such an organization. ISJAC is the first association, Coyle points out, specifically created for the service, advancement, and encouragement of jazz composers and arrangers. Numerous organizations exist for jazz performers but Coyle and his international colleagues are eager to highlight the achievements and advance the appreciation of jazz composition. The group held its first symposium — with some of the top names in jazz composition presenting and performing like 22-time Grammy winner Chick Corea — just three weeks ago in Tampa, Florida.

Dr. Brian Coyle, professor of music and director of jazz studies

“For Hope to be on the same list as some of the top jazz schools in the country and the world is exciting and quite a testament to what we have happening here,” says Coyle, a jazz composer himself who has also performed with the likes of Al Jarreau, Roberta Flack, the John Cooper Jazz Orchestra, and Ravi Coltrane, to name a few.

Coyle seeks regularly to de-mystify what improvisation within composition means. The two terms may seem diametrically opposed, but it’s something we see everyday, and not just in jazz music.

Though classically trained on trumpet but also a pianist and drummer, Coyle’s deep affection and appreciation for jazz music stems from his fascination of taking musical control of a piece while giving it up at the same time. He loves that jazz is conversive and freestyling which makes it unlike any other kind of music. Its ad-libbed call-and-response vocal elements and its polyrhythms are patent art, as “patent” as ever-evolving jazz can be, and it grew out of blues and ragtime traditions in the early 20th century. Since then, jazz music has played its way through numerous eras such as big band, bebop, free jazz and jazz-rock fusion, but all had improvisation at the center.

Yet for many, improvisation, especially when mentioned in the same breathe as composition, is a mystery. Coyle knows this and seeks regularly to de-mystify what improvisation within composition means. The two terms may seem diametrically opposed, but it’s something we see everyday, and not just in jazz music.

The freedom, individuality, and collective art of jazz is “what makes it so cool,” Coyle declares with an artist’s flourish.

“Improvisation is really the thing we’ve been doing from birth,” Coyle explains. “We improvise all the time from our everyday lives. We improvise conversations and relationships. We improvise playing sports and games. Improvisation at its core is just language; it’s communication. As long as we both understand the same language, we can improvise all we want and we can have a deep conversation. That’s what jazz is.”

And that means, then, that a jazz piece — much like a work meeting attended, a basketball game played, or a day lived — is never performed the same way twice. The freedom, individuality and collective art of jazz is “what makes it so cool,” Coyle declares with an artist’s flourish.

Even though recorded jazz sales make up less than two percent of today’s global market, jazz music still has a ubiquitous place in American culture and society. It often pops up as the underscore in numerous television commercials and shows, and in the recent multi-Academy-nominated film, LaLa Land, which placed jazz music at the center of its storyline. At live music venues, jazz music is undoubtedly alive and well.

This all bodes well for Coyle, Hope and ISJAC. The more jazz music is visible and demanded, the more Coyle and others have to compose and arrange. And that means the more Hopes students will have opportunities to learn and perform, too.

Hope Alums Help Hope Students Race To Zero

2009 Hope engineering alumni, Rachel Bakken Romero and Dr. Greg Pavlak back together again at the Race to Zero Student Design Competition in Golden, CO. Photo by Ellen Jaskol.

If they could have projected their 10-year-old futures after graduating from Hope, Rachel Bakken ’09 Romero and Greg Pavlak ’09 may have never seen another opportunity to work together again. Yet, maybe their engineering minds could have forecasted the possibility, albeit a small one. They did, after all, both graduate as mechanical engineering majors the same year, after taking multiple classes together on the same course sequence. They both had the same interest in building science, and they both ended up at the same graduate school, too — University of Colorado-Boulder — for a period of time to earn graduate degrees in the subject (Romero with a master’s; Pavlak with a doctorate).

So this past April, when they had the chance to work together again, though briefly, it was to culminate another engineering project for the sake of Hope students and energy efficient construction. Romero, as an energy engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, was helping to direct the Race to Zero Student Design Competition, a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy that challenges collegiate students to design zero energy ready homes. Pavlak, as a visiting assistant professor of engineering at Hope, was mentoring three Hope engineering majors in their year-long senior design project for that competition.

Together, two alums and three soon-to-be alums, were making known the quality of Hope’s engineering program on a national stage. Of the 50 institutions that submitted designs to the Race to Zero competition, 40 were chosen while 39 teams traveled to Golden to vie for the title. Of those 39, the Hope team was the only one from a liberal arts, undergraduate institution. Baylie Mooney, Rachel Barbutti and Tiffany Oken — all members of the Hope engineering class of 2017 — put their quality work up against other teams from the University of Vermont, Syracuse University, Vanderbilt, and Purdue, Pavlak says, and learned a great deal about building science and themselves in the process.

“Dr. Roger Veldman called it a David and Goliath story. And it was. But even to be participating and competing against those other teams that had much more experience, specialized education, and funding was a testament to the hard work that our students put in to work out their design problems.”

“Some of the other teams they (Mooney, Barbutti, and Oken) were up against had these small armies of master’s and PhD engineers,” explains Pavlak. “(Hope engineering colleague) Roger Veldman called it a David and Goliath story. And it was. But even to be participating and competing against those other teams that had much more experience, specialized education, and funding, was a testament to the hard work that our students put in to work out their design problems.”

New Cook Village housing

So, what was the Hope team’s project? Finding ways for the newest Hope housing project — Cook Village, currently under construction — to become so energy efficient that the building’s own renewable power can offset most or all its annual energy consumption. “We selected a Hope campus project partly because it was interesting and partly because of the timing,” Pavlak says. “Construction was starting on the next two buildings of the village last fall, and AMDG Architects, who did the original design, was still involved so we were able to work with them and get the detailed plans for these new buildings. We really approached it from the perspective of what can we do with this existing design to make it ready to meet the zero energy requirements for the competition. ”

Using energy modeling software to simulate, test, and derive proposed outcomes, Mooney, Barbutti, and Oken found they could take a Cook building from its base of 40% to 83% more efficient than the average home. To get there, they boosted insulation and mechanical systems quality, used strategic solar paneling, and took advantage of the relatively constant temp of the earth (roughly 50 degrees all year) to heat and cool the house with an enhanced geothermal system.

Left to right, 2017 Hope engineering alums, Baylie Mooney, Rachel Barbutti, and Tiffany Oken present their project at the Race to Zero Student Design Competition. Photo by Ellen Jaskol.

A skeptic might think that all of those energy upgrades might come at too high cost. But Mooney will be quick to tell them that it’s all not as expensive as they’d think. Especially considering the cost of energy consumption over the life of the eight-occupant, two-story home.

If they aren’t sustainability buzzwords already, “doable efficiency” just got elevated in the Hope engineering lexicon.

“We found through our updates that there was only a 2.7% pricing increase from the original bids for that building to the more energy efficient upgraded materials and systems we proposed,” says Mooney who hopes to go into building science for her career. “Considering that there was only a 2.7% cost increase, that was pretty impressive especially since we got so close to zero energy for a good size home (2800 square feet). It’s very exciting because significantly lowering energy use and cost for these already efficient (Cook Village) buildings seems doable.”

Team Renewable Hope listen to other presenters at Race to Zero. Photo by Ellen Jaskol.

If they aren’t sustainability buzzwords already, “doable efficiency” just got elevated in the Hope engineering lexicon. Though the Hope team’s findings could not change energy efficiency for these recently completed buildings, future Cook Village buildings could use some of their recommendations. Either way, from Mooney’s perspective, everything about racing to zero was worth it. “The project, the competition and the trip out to Colorado — they were the highlight of my career at Hope,” she says.

“To have Hope playing on that level was a great way to get recognition for a strong program that is growing these really unique individuals who are well-rounded and well-educated. They don’t just speak engineering. They can literally speak Spanish, or they traveled abroad, or they play a sport. They are engineers with a liberal arts background, which of course I believe in.”

As for Romero, she was excited to have the opportunity to engage with and showcase Hope College students and faculty, especially one who was a former classmate, on her home turf of NREL where she has worked for seven years. And though Pavlak has recently taken a new position at Penn State and will be leaving Hope this summer, Romero hopes a Hope team will return to Race to Zero in the future.

“It was great to have others at NREL and in the competition know about Hope,” Romero explains. “To have Hope playing on that level was a great way to get recognition for a strong program that is growing these really unique individuals who are well-rounded and well-educated. They don’t just speak engineering. They can literally speak Spanish, or they traveled abroad, or they play a sport. They are engineers with a liberal arts background, which of course I believe in. Overall, I think the Hope team did a great job showing off the quality of Hope engineering.”

The Mother of All Holidays

President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it a national holiday in 1914, and it didn’t take long thereafter for Hallmark Cards to make it a national celebration. Today, Mother’s Day is the third-leading retail holiday in the country, according to the National Retail Federation. Consumers will spend close to $24 billion on flowers, cards, jewelry and other bric-a-brac to celebrate motherhood this May.

For one Hope College professor though, acknowledgment of the sacrificial nature and special identity of mothers goes far beyond matriarchal tchotchkes and trinkets. Influenced by her own spirited maternal role models, and after becoming a mother herself, Dr. Deb Swanson, professor of sociology, delved into how women define good mothering practices in their roles as either stay-at-home or working moms. What she found was not completely unexpected. Her work has shed more light on the complicated nature of motherhood in 21st century America where 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force,75 percent of whom are employed full-time outside the home,according to recent U.S. Department of Labor stats.

Swanson’s work also confirms this: Motherhood is not for wimps.

Swanson’s research sheds more light on the complicated nature of motherhood in 21st-century America where 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent employed full-time, according to recent U.S. Department of Labor stats.

Inspired by strong women in her family — one great-grandmother who was the rare female high school graduate in the early 1900s in Iowa, another great-grandma who was the first woman to secure her own bank account in Corning, Iowa, and her own mother who was discriminated against while applying for a nursing job because she was pregnant in the 1960s — Swanson became even more fascinated about the changing identities and roles of working mothers when she became a working mom herself.

Dr. Deb Swanson, professor of sociology

“I approached motherhood like a good academic. At the time I thought, ‘Now my identity has changed, things are weird, I’ve got to figure out what to do,’” remembers Swanson. “So, I went and got some books. But I couldn’t find the book to understand how things had changed in my life due to these kids, so I decided to do research, which is the second thing academics do. If you can’t find the book, you go do the research.”

Along with colleague Dr. Dede Johnston from Hope’s Department of Communication, Swanson interviewed 100 women in the Holland area about their definitions on being a good mom, where they found support, and how children changed their identity. The women who participated in the study were employed full-time outside the home, worked part-time outside the home, or were stay-at-home moms.

After collecting all their qualitative data, this is what Swanson and Johnston found:

  • Stay-at-home moms felt a strong moral imperative to stay at home, were sure about what they did and why they did it, but they were lonely. They missed adult interaction.
  • Full-time working mothers, on the other hand, always questioned what they were doing. They constantly juggled their various identities between work and home. “Yet what they were sure about was that when they were home, they were with their kids,” says Swanson. “Their house could be a mess, supper might not be on the table but they seemed to say, ‘when I’m at work, I’m at work and when I’m home, I’m with my kids.’ And they actually spent at least as much time one-on-one with their kids as the stay-home moms who were busy with their domestic work. But what (the working moms) felt was a lot of guilt.”
  • As for the part-time working moms, you’d think they’d have the best of both worlds — work away AND stay at home. But not so much. “Part-time working moms felt like they were doing the best thing for their kids and for themselves but their marriages suffered because their partners expected them to do all the work at home,” explains Swanson. “Their spouses wanted the benefits of a stay-at-home mom but the finances of a part-time worker.”

“In the end, each situation has pitfalls and each has advantages. So, whatever choice women make, let’s support them so they can do what they feel is right for them and their families. Save your judgment, use your compassion.”

While clear roles and expectations, along with loneliness, existed for mothers in the first two groups, assumptive and nebulous expectations clouded mothers’ identities and joy in the third.

What did these outcomes tell Swanson then? What is the take-away here?

“Too often I heard how women — no matter their choice — felt compared and judged. Too often our culture is set up to pit women against each other when we really should be supporting whatever choice women make,” she concludes. “In the end, each situation has pitfalls and each has advantages. So, whatever choice women make, let’s support them so they can do what they feel is right for them and their families. Save your judgment, use your compassion.”

That may be the best Mother’s Day gift for all.

Walk This Way To Challenge Borders


See this image here above. Maybe you’ve encountered it on your way through the first floor of DeWitt, or in the first floor rotunda of Martha Miller, or by the psychology department in Schaap. Maybe you’ve looked at it and thought, “That looks interesting.”

It is. Slow down.

See the image above. Maybe you glanced at it on your way into the dining areas of Cook and Phelps, or in the lobby of DePree and Jack Miller. Maybe it caught your eye by the circulation desk in Van Wylen Library, or just inside the front door of Kruizenga. Maybe you’ve looked at it and thought, “That must have something to say.”

It does. Look closer.

See the image above. It is at all of those nine locations, providing an atypical classroom through a QR code that will teach you. Maybe you’ve looked at it and thought, “That seems like a game changer.”

It can be. Stop.

Get out your phone, scan the code, and learn. The project, “Challenging Borders: Displaced People,” has much to teach you about those whose lives have experienced disruption and disorder due to immigration, climate change, the refugee crisis and mass incarceration. And the disciplines of art and English and science and psychology and communication all converged to do so, crossing interdisciplinary boundaries in order to challenge you about the ways you view borders — domestic or international — and the people who are affected by them.

The best way to take in the “Challenging Borders” project is actually do that: challenge borders by walking the project in its entirety. Traipse to every poster on campus, cross streets, open doors, enter rooms, search hallways, and you’ll feel measures of boundaries as you do.

Funded by a $16,000 Global Crossroads Initiative grant sponsored by the Great Lakes College Association (GLCA), of which Hope is a member, “Challenging Borders: Displaced People” is an interactive, 3-5 minute audio-visual diaspora in those campus locations listed above. Nine faculty/student collaborative projects were selected from across divisions to participate so when you scan each poster’s QR code located on its lower right corner, you’ll engage in interdisciplinary sensory and factual uploading.

“The days of us living in our disciplinary silos are over,” says Dr. Heidi Kraus, co-coordinator of the project. “This project is a great example of disciplines converging. We have people from chemistry, from art, from English, from psychology, from communication all talking together. We are breaking down borders even between our own disciplines with this project.”

The best way to take in the “Challenging Borders” project is actually do that: challenge borders by walking the project in its entirety. Traipse to every poster on campus, cross streets, open doors, enter rooms, search hallways, and you’ll feel measures of boundaries as you do. And it’s a good way to get in 2,481 steps on your day, too. It’s also a good way to encounter multiple perspectives on the complex issues of migration and displacement gripping our nation and world.

“When we thought of challenging borders, we were interested in the idea of movement and bringing a physicality to this,” explains Kraus. “We wanted the feel of borders and of crossing those and walking to spaces. So the idea of a physical diaspora came to fruition.”

“It is like an image in a kaleidoscope: each piece itself is beautiful, but when you look at all of them together, you feel how all of them create something new and even more beautiful.”

“After I saw all the projects, it surprised me how different all of them were but at the same time how all of them complemented each other,” says Dr. Berta Carrasco de Miguel, co-coordinator of the project. “It is like an image in a kaleidoscope: each piece itself is beautiful, but when you look at all of them together, you feel how all of them create something new and even more beautiful.”

You can start at any one of the nine buildings shown on the map above (and identified on a list below). Then think of tackling your walk across campus borders to every project as strolling in a circle, rather than a rectangle, and you’ll begin to feel encompassed and safe inside Hope’s finely groomed green areas and well-kept buildings, a fraught juxtaposition for the images of marginalization and disenfranchisement you’ll soon encounter. As you watch and hear each project depict those who have been displaced and excluded, a needed unease settles in and with it comes the most needed emotion of all: empathy.

So, slow down, look closer and stop to challenge borders, but know this: You won’t walk away the same.

“I hope the Hope community understands the complexity and importance of these topics and gets a feeling of closeness to the main characters of these videos,” adds Carrasco de Miguel.

If walking to every poster in one fell-swoop isn’t within your end-of-the-semester time budget, then take in one project at a time when you happen to be in each building. Slow down, look closer and stop to challenge borders, but know this: You won’t walk away the same.

  1. The Complexities of the Immigration Experience — Prof. Deb Van Duinen @ Jack H. Miller Center for the Musical Arts (Lobby)
  2. A Voice to Balance the Negative Rhetoric About Refugees — Prof. Jayson Dibble@ Martha Miller Center (First Floor Rotunda)
  3. What is in a Name? Hispanic or Latino? — Prof. Berta Carrasco de Miguel @ Kruizenga Art Museum (Entry Area)
  4. Finding Truth in Fiction — Prof. Susanna Childress @ DePree Art Center (Lobby)
  5. Walking Gregory’s Neighborhood — Prof. Tori Pelz @ DeWitt Center (North Hallway)
  6. It Takes a Village, But Will There Always Be One? — Prof. Joshua Kraut @ Phelps Hall (North Dining Entrance Area)
  7. What Would You Do? — Prof. Scott VanderStoep @ Cook Hall (South Dining Entrance Area)
  8. Fitting In: Our Quixotic Endeavors in a New Home — Prof. Tatevik Gyulamiryan @ Van Wylen Library (Circulation Desk Area)
  9. Climate Change and Global Displacement — Prof. Joanne Stewart @ Schaap Science Center (First Floor, Near Psychology Offices)

Uncommon Class on Common Grounds

It’s the second-leading commodity traded in the world after oil, with a worldwide consumption of 2.2 billion cups per day. And, the United States is its leading consumer at 400 million cups daily. Yet, few people are aware of the scientific, political, historical and cultural implications swirling inside their cup of morning joe.

This is not the case for Hope students who take Dr. Tom Bultman’s new class, The Science and Culture of Coffee. They are getting a thoroughly flavorful education about everything they ever needed or wanted to know about coffee.

True scientific experiments are conducted using coffee as the vehicle to construct hypotheses, make predictions, collect data and evaluate outcomes.

Angelique Gaddy measures the acidity of coffee using a pH meter.

Offered for the first time this spring, Bultman’s two-credit coffee course is just one of two of its kind taught at colleges and universities in the U.S. as far as he can tell (the other is offered at UC-Davis). While there are dozens of barista schools in the country that teach their students how to roast, grind and brew the perfect cup of coffee, this new class for college credit goes much deeper than that. True scientific experiments are conducted using coffee as the vehicle to construct hypotheses, make predictions, collect data and evaluate outcomes. How do acidity levels change in beans due to varying roasting times? What happens to the mass transfer of water and grounds during the brewing process? What is the anatomy of a coffee cherry fruit and how are beans harvested from within?

There are history lessons, too, about the global trade of the Coffea arabica beans and bush — a plant native to Ethiopia that helped create early agricultural routes throughout the sub-tropical world.  Bultman, a professor of biology, also covers ground on the way coffee affects national economies, personal health and policies on fair trade and human rights. And knowing how much college students love their coffee for its social and caffeinated benefits, Bultman’s course is listed under Hope’s General Education Math and Science offerings which target non-science majors. It’s gives its pupils one truly eye-opening experience.

“This class has definitely increased my appreciation of coffee, especially in the roasting of it,” says sophomore Sarah Kalthoff of Carmel, Indiana. “I see all of the work and love that goes into the process. Coffee really brings people together throughout the world and I now recognized that when I go to a coffee shop here. So many people around the world — farmers, families, fair traders — are affected by the cup of coffee I’m drinking so it’s been great to see how coffee brings cultures together.”

From left to right. Sarah Lundy, Kirsten Kettler, and Savanah Stewart roast green coffee beans using a air popcorn popper, tin can, cooking thermometer, and iPhone timers. Coffee chaff from the roasting surrounds the popper.

Students in the class roast green coffee beans nine times during its half-semester schedule, using makeshift roasters that consist of an air popcorn popper, a tin can, and a small cooking thermometer. As the chaff from the beans pops like confetti from the contraptions’ tops during the roasting process, the lab becomes the best smelling classroom on campus. Students monitor the time, temperature, color and odor of the beans. Then later, they’ll brew and drink their roasted creations, experiencing the process of “cupping” to learn to how to discern and evaluate the taste of flavor notes — chocolate, butterscotch, molasses, raisin, for example — that are subtle but evident in good beans.

Gerrit Immink cools his beans.

As if getting free morning coffee isn’t benefit enough (the course is offered at 9:30 am on Tuesday and Thursdays), Bultman even sets aside a class period for his students to learn how to create their own coffee mug in Hope’s ceramics studio under the guest tutelage of art professor Billy Mayer. Field trips to area businesses that roast and retail are also on the course syllabus.

Not surprisingly, this class on coffee has grown in popularity quickly. It’s been full to the brim each time it’s been offered (twice thus far) and the buzz around campus is that more students are clamoring to get in.

In this class, because all of us drink coffee, the knowledge is applicable to us. And we’re taking a class we’d never expect to take in college. This class to me is the definition of a liberal arts education.”

“It’s been a blast,” say the middle-aged Bultman who took up drinking coffee just three years ago and now admits to being a coffee geek. “Everyone who enrolls drinks coffee so it means something to them. And so many students don’t think about where coffee comes from or how it’s grown or brewed, it’s just one of those things we easily take for granted. Now they are more appreciative of all the work that goes into coffee before they sit down and drink a cup.”

“I technically didn’t have to take this class because all of my science requirements were done but when I saw the poster about it, I knew I had to take it,” comments junior communication major Sarah Gallagher of Chicago, Illinois. “A lot of college students who are not science majors say science and math classes are impractical to their lives but in this class, because all of us drink coffee, the knowledge is applicable to us. And we’re taking a class we’d never expect to take in college. This class to me is the definition of a liberal arts education.”

Seeing Stars

Time travel, long imagined by writers and dreamers, is not as far-fetched as you might believe. Sure, it seems fantastical and improbable — the imaginings of which are only meant for postulations and movies — but astrophysicists do it all the time.

Freshmen Jeff Engle conducted summer research with Dr. Peter Gonthier before ever taking his first official Hope class. Here in a Hope lab, he worked on testing new techniques for implementing kernel density estimations in pulsar simulations.

And so did Hope College freshman Jeff Engle in the summer of 2016 at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. All it took was expensive, highly powered, one-of-a-kind stellar equipment called the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope. That and funding and guidance from the Hope College physics department and Professor Dr. Peter Gonthier.

Before ever taking one class at Hope, Engle spent his pre-freshmen summer as a member of the Hope physics department’s Research Bridge Program which operates with the belief that students should “learn physics by doing physics.”

Dr. David Thompson, far left, is the Fermi Deputy Project Scientist and LAT Instrument Multiwavelength Coordinator at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Here he instructs, from left to right, Jesse Ickes, Josiah Brouwer, and Jeff Engle.

Engle spent his pre-freshman summer in the physics department’s Research Bridge Program as part of the department’s philosophy that students should “learn physics by doing physics.” Before ever setting foot in his first Hope College class, Engle worked with two upperclassmen, Jesse Ickes ’16 and sophomore Josiah Brouwer, on pulsar star research with Gonthier at Goddard and at Hope.

Five incoming freshmen took part in the Bridge Research Program in 2016, and Dr. Stephen Remillard, chairperson of the department, hopes to expose as many 2017 freshmen to similarly strong laboratory experiences. “With the Physics Summer Bridge Program, incoming students who are seriously considering a career as a physicist have the opportunity to begin the real science that is one of the great pillars of a Hope College science education,” describes Remillard. “As they begin their first physics course, bridge students have already gained familiarity with the application of the knowledge. Ultimately, this undergraduate research will open doors for these students as they continue into industry, graduate programs, or wherever their scientific training takes them.”

Engle jumped into his first Hope research experience “kind of blindfolded because I’d never done anything like that before,” he admits. He found Gonthier and his fellow Hope students encouraging and supportive. “I was a little nervous because I was going to be working around well-known scientists (at Goddard).” But he embraced the experience nonetheless.

“Stars, such as pulsars, give off gamma and radio waves and these are filtered through the telescope which shows us the ways they were created billions of years ago,” says Gonthier. “Understanding pulsars helps us know more about our galactic center, about the beginning the universe.”

With Goddard’s Fermi (a cousin to the famed Hubble Telescope), Gonthier and crew were working with a virtual time machine. The telescope takes its users back in time and space to see the history of the entire universe written in the heavens beyond our sky. “Stars, such as pulsars, give off gamma and radio waves and these are filtered through the telescope which shows us the ways they were created billions of years ago,” says Gonthier. “Understanding pulsars helps us know more about our galactic center, about the beginning the universe.”

Dr. Peter Gonthier, professor of physics

Gonthier has conducted research at Goddard for the past 24 summers, most years taking Hope students along with support from grant funding. His work in theoretical physics is helping to develop and test realistic descriptions of pulsars’ magnetospheres, important for the understanding of how neutron stars are able to produce radio and high-energy radiation pattern. His team worked last summer in the Goddard office of Nobel Laureate John Mather.

“It was definitely humbling to meet him and work in his office,” says Engle of cosmologist Mather, recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite with George Smoot.

“One of the best things about getting to do research at Goddard was being able to see the way so many people of different nationalities come together to study one thing — our universe,” Engle says. “There were scientists there from Africa, Russia, Italy, Greece, and the Netherlands. It was cool to get to work around them.”

Engle isn’t sure what kind of scientist he wants to be at this point, but he knows one thing for sure: This early experience has helped him appreciate not only all that goes into conducting such complicated research but all that goes into this complicated universe. Ultimately, it even helped strengthen his Christian faith.

“It is so cool to see how delicate the system is, how God is at work in it all.”

“If anything were different about our solar system, if anything was off just a little bit, it would be a huge mess,” says Engle. “It is so cool to see how delicate the system is, how God is at work in it all.”

Student’s Research Adds Fuel to Fast-Food Debate

If the fast-food industry ever does away with those crinkly but potentially harmful papers that your favorite burger comes wrapped in, one of the people you can thank is a physics-turned-history-major from Hope College.

Senior Margaret Dickinson concluded research on PFAS content in fast food wrappers, such as the ones she is holding, using the Pelletron particle accelerator on Hope’s campus.

Margaret Dickinson, a senior from Grand Rapids, MI, spent two years at Hope testing hundreds of fast-food wrappers from several states in order to detect per- and polyfluoro alkyl substances (PFAS) in the packaging. Human-made with long environmental lifetimes, PFASs are toxic to humans and animals, and its bioaccumulation is troubling to scientists.

Linked to some cancers and health disorders, PFAS is used in products to repel water and retard flames, and has been found in carpet, furniture fabrics, textiles and outdoor clothing, cosmetics, fire-fighting foam, microwave popcorn bags, and, yes, fast-food wrappers.

“The best part about doing research as an undergrad is learning how to ask difficult questions and learning how to find their answers. Often we were on our own in the lab, working with expensive machinery, and we had to calmly work out problems quickly.”

“Around fifty years ago, PFAS was not found in anyone’s blood at all. It did not even exist,” explains Dickinson. “Now it is in measurable quantities in every human being, and that includes newborn babies because it passes through the bloodstream from the mother to the fetus.” PFAS has even reached the blood streams of polar bears in the North Pole.

Stockpiles of tested fast-food wrappers

Using the Pelletron particle accelerator on Hope’s campus, under the guidance of Professor Dr. Paul DeYoung and former Hope Professor Dr. Graham Peaslee, Dickinson and fellow senior David Lunderberg, along with alumnus Nick Hubley ’14, used a testing technique called PIGE, particle-induced gamma-ray emission, to detect fluorine in the wrapper samples. But because the paper is fragile and the proton beam from the accelerator is powerful, Dickinson and team had to refine their normal testing methods so as not to destroy their paper samples.

“The best part about doing research as an undergrad is learning how to ask difficult questions and learning how to find their answers,” Dickinson declares. “Often we were on our own in the lab, working with expensive machinery, and we had to calmly work out problems quickly. You learn how not to panic, when to get help, when to work independently. These are all good skills to have in life, too.”

It’s good to remember that not all fast-food wrappers have PFAS, she notes, but since you don’t know which do or don’t, the best thing to do is take your food out of their wrappers and containers as soon as possible.

The Hope crew’s efforts over two years, in collaboration with other well-known research powerhouses, found that 38% of the sandwich and burger wrappers tested, along with 20% of the paperboard and 56% of the dessert and bread wrappers had PFAS in them. However, 0% of the tested paper cups had PFAS. While skeptics note that consumers aren’t actually ingesting the wrappers themselves (so what’s the harm?), scientists argue that it is the high temperatures of the food that allows wrapper-holding PFAS to seep into your burger and fries.

Other teams contributing to the research were from Silent Spring Institute, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Green Science Policy Institute, the Environmental Working Group, and Oregon State University. News of their joint research broke in February 2017, and Dickinson reports that over 200 news outlets have since carried the story.

So what’s a consumer to do? Give up fast-food?

Not all fast-food wrappers have PFAS, Dickinson says, but since you don’t know which ones do or don’t, the best thing to do is take your food out of its wrappers and containers as soon as possible because the greater the exposure to PFAS, the higher the levels in one’s system. Still, “Everything in moderation,” Dickinson reminds.

“All along it was really important for me that my research made a difference. I needed to see that it had an effect on people.”

No longer focused on physics, Dickinson changed her major area of study to history after a personal epiphany while studying abroad in London in 2015 (she also has minors in math, classical studies, and, of course, physics.)

She hopes to eventually teach modern British history at the college level, or even go into scientific governance — the realm of looking at how scientists are affected by policies made by non-scientists. It is here where this fully formed liberal arts student knows she could best apply her experiences in sciences, skills in research, and passion for history and politics to affect others for the better.

“All along it was really important for me that my research made a difference. I needed to see that it had an effect on people,” concludes Dickinson. “I hope eventually that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) bans these chemicals. I hope that fast-food companies realize that wax paper is just as cheap. Half the time they use it anyways, so why not all the time? Why not put pressure on the companies that are supplying the paper to switch over. It’s not difficult to switch and it’s not expensive. That would be the goal.”