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.”

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.”

Saving Sands for Time and Life

Just to the east, just beyond the beach and into the dunes is a place that Suzanne DeVries-Zimmerman likes best about the Lake Michigan shore. Fewer footprints can be seen there, but life is actually more abundant. The terrain is less flat but just as sandy. And once she and the four Hope geology students with whom she conducts research step their feet off the shoreline’s beaten path, they find rolling sanctuaries of beauty and biodiversity. For it is there, in the interdunal wetlands along the big lake’s coast, that DeVries-Zimmerman and her students have plans to help conserve sands for time and life.

SDZ.shore

It’s not a bad gig if you can get it, working at a beach in the summer. DZ, as her students affectionately call her, is quick to admit that. The scenery and commute never get old even with three pounds of sand in their shoes, or when the temperatures climb into infernal degrees. Walking into the interdunal wetlands of the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area — with permission from the local municipality and Land Conservancy of West Michigan — is quite a hike when laden down with research equipment, but “who wouldn’t want to spend a day here?” asks DeVries-Zimmerman, sweeping her right arm out over the landscape. “I covet this land,” she goes on to confess. But not as her own. DeVries-Zimmerman wants to maintain these areas for generations of plants and animals, insects and birds, as well as humans, to come.

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The dune crew’s morning commute: Hiking into the interdunal wetlands of the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area.

“Our research aims to better understand how these interdunal systems work,” explains DeVries-Zimmerman, adjunct assistant professor of geological and environmental sciences. “They have not been well studied and they are ecosystems in danger in Michigan.  Where these areas can develop and thrive along the lakeshore is somewhat limited. But we find huge biodiversity in them and that is very valuable to us all, not just the plants and creatures who live there.”

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Wind scours the sand to the water table, creating a depression where an interdunal wetland can form. Rising water levels in the big lake will fill the depression with water, allowing wetland species to grow (the dark green areas) while falling levels in the big lake dries up the water, creating more sand erosion and deepening the potential wetland pool.

Put in peril by development and the drastically changing water levels of Lake Michigan, the interdunal wetlands are needed for migrating birds and butterflies, and for winter residents such as the predatory snowy owl. Western chorus frogs love to sing their songs in them and the yellow-flowered St. John’s wort favors the edge of the area’s low-lying pools to “keep their feet wet.” The wind-scoured depressions grow numerous wetland plant species such as beak rush, ferns, swamp rose, blue vervain, and steeplebush. Marram, horsemint, puccoon and Pitcher’s thistle, the latter a native plant that can only be found in Great Lakes dunes, grow in the sands away from too much water. By conducting topographical and ecological surveys, DeVries-Zimmerman, senior Jennifer Fuller, junior Dane Peterson, senior Benjamin VanGorp and senior Alexandria Watts are finding out more about the hydrology of the wetlands, how those areas are affected by the fluctuating lake levels, and how, in turn, that impacts the communities of flora and fauna uniquely therein. That is this dune crew’s interdisciplinary mission and passion.

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Senior Alex Watts, left, and Professor DeVries-Zimmerman check water levels within an interdunal pool.

“I find it fascinating how the dune species are so finely adapted to sections within the dune system,” says Watts. “Depending on the fluctuation of a couple centimeters, the plants have the ability to outline pools and ridges providing a pretty accurate picture of the topography of the area. I suppose there is almost something secretive or special that certain species can tell so much more than just being a green thing. They make me feel like a detective and you have to have a trained eye to see the clues.”

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Professor Suzanne DeVries-Zimmerman ’82 has taught in the Department of Geological and Environmental Studies at Hope, her alma mater, since 1999.

Significant funding secured from the Michigan Space Grant Consortium, the Jacob Nyenhuis Summer Faculty-Student Collaborative Development Grants, the Ver Hey Geology Summer Research Fund, and the Joyce Fund for Environmental Research has given DeVries-Zimmerman, her students, and three other Hope professors studying the dunes — Dr. Edward Hansen, Dr. Brian Bodenbender, and Dr. Brian Yurk — ample opportunities to learn more about dunes and dune management, even in England and Wales. This summer, the group spent three weeks at Liverpool-Hope University and along England’s Sefton Coast and Wale’s northern coast, learning how the British manage their dunes while initiating collaborative dune research projects in the process.

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Jenny Fuller levels a total station with Dane Peterson at the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area.

“The trip to England was a unique experience in that their dune management process has been far more involved in comparison to Michigan. There’s so many more factors at play in England’s dunes and interdunal wetlands,” Fuller points out. “Not only do they have the Atlantic Ocean seawater and weather to contend with, but a much longer history of human interactions. We met and worked with professors that have created methods of studying sand dune habitats, and their geomorphological movement throughout history using aerial imagery. They have already implemented ways of reopening dunes that have been over stabilized and established new management practices based on their findings. We left with many ideas, and perhaps even more questions about how the differences in our dune ecosystems will affect the way we need to take care of our dunes back home.”

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Senior Ben VanGorp holds a surveying pole.

Each student appreciates their research with DeVries-Zimmerman for the impact it will have on their future as well as for the fun they having now. Of their prof, they proclaim to have found a mentor full of knowledge and joy for her work.

“The most interesting thing for me this summer has been all of the new techniques and methods that I have been able to engage with and use,” declares Peterson. “I’m learning how to use different computer programs for mapping and comparison; I learned how to set up and run a surveying station; and, I’ve learned how to use pole aerial photography to obtain the information that I want.”

Adds VanGorp, “The part I love most working with DZ is how incredibly smart she is while also still having a great sense of humor. There is never a boring day in the field with her.”

“The early (dune) management thinking was to stabilize dunes.  The thinking was the only good dune is a stable dune, but that’s not the right management model anymore.  We want some dunes to continue to migrate so ecological succession can occur.”

Having researched Lake Michigan dunes with her three aforementioned professorial colleagues for over a decade now, DeVries-Zimmerman says they are still finding out “how much we don’t know” about the dunes and wetlands. They do know, though, that dunes must be allowed to move — if even a little — in order for biodiversity to thrive. “The early (dune) management thinking was to stabilize dunes. The thinking was the only good dune is a stable dune, but that’s not the right management model anymore. We want some dunes to continue to migrate so ecological succession can continue to occur.”

So, the woman who has loved the wetlands and dunes since she was a small child growing up in Holland, Michigan, will continue to keep her eyes on the sand. The winds will blow, water will rise and fall, and the finest grains of earth will grow and sustain a delicate natural order. And as it all does, DZ will remain just offshore, both at Hope and along Lake Michigan, for the sake of her students’ education and the sustainability of ecosystems made possible by wet and moving dunes.

Boston: City of History, Archives, and GLCA Research Opportunities

In unarguably America’s most historic city, Dr. Natalie Dykstra is currently flinging open archival doors, often quite literally, for the scholarship and imaginations of Midwest faculty and students. 

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Dr. Natalie Dykstra, professor of English and director of the GLCA Boston Summer Seminar (Photo provided by Natalie Dykstra)

Each June in Boston – with its wealth of recorded narratives and artifacts from the past, Dykstra – with her trademark affinity for American history and literature – welcomes researchers from Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) schools to step foot into history by working in notable archives that house a myriad of interdisciplinary stories. Once in them, participants in the GLCA Boston Summer Seminar (BSS) find that centuries-worth of artifacts and articles impact their independent thinking and learning. It’s become a win-win-win situation for all involved.

“In Boston, the GLCA faculty members win because they get to concentrate on their own work,” says Dykstra. “Students win because they get to live in this great city and do original research. And the archives we work with win, too, because they want to be part of it. They want to have their materials looked at and used.”

Dykstra, professor English, created the now-competitive and popular GLCA Boston Summer Seminar just two summers ago. Teaching at Hope in the fall and living with her husband in Waltham, Massachusetts, the remainder of the year, she wanted to expose Midwest faculty and students to the Boston institutions that changed her life when she researched and wrote her critically-acclaimed book, Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Lifea once hidden story about a fiercely intelligent and creative Boston Brahmin. “I found working in the archives to uncover Clover’s life and death to be moving and gripping… And I wanted others to have that same experience, that same feeling, too,” she confides.

After all, Dykstra’s dream was to make archive work the heartbeat of the GLCA Boston Summer Seminar experience, making available  tactile materials – diaries, ledgers, photos, letters, newspaper clippings – that make history come alive.

Helping others to use archival materials to unfold other remarkable stories would require partnering with Boston research institutions that house unique primary source materials. After all, Dykstra’s dream was to make archive work the heartbeat of the GLCA Boston Summer Seminar experience, making available for students tactile materials – diaries, ledgers, photos, letters, newspaper clippings – that make history come alive. So, with the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) as host, she and Hope alum and MHS reference librarian Anna Clutterbuck-Cook ’05 arrange a network of connections with the Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections, and three archives at Harvard University: the Countway Center for the History of Medicine, the Schlesinger Library and Houghton Library.

“You don’t create a program like this by yourself,” confesses Dykstra. “If the Boston Summer Seminar was my idea, Anna and her expertise has been absolutely crucial in getting it off the ground and making it a success. All our partner archivists are necessary for our success, and a pure pleasure to work with…. Plus, they have asked me, ‘Where do you get your students? We are so impressed.’ It’s a joy and a privilege to hear them say that.” Dykstra is also grateful to the strong support for the seminar from Greg Wegner at the GLCA and from her college colleagues.

Once participants are selected – three teams consisting of a faculty member and two students, from numerous applications each year – Dykstra and Clutterbuck-Cook connect GLCA faculty and students to the right archivist according to their interests. This year, teams from Albion College, Denison University, and Oberlin College are delving into topics on the experience of black Northerners in the era of Southern Emancipation, Boston and New England in Atlantic contexts, and occult practices and new literary traditions in 19th century America, respectively.

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Dr. Julia Randel, back right, Genevieve Janvrin ’15, front left, and Hannah Jacobsma ’16, front right, ride the Boston subway, off to a GLCA Boston Summer Seminar event. (Photo provided by Genevieve Janvrin)

Last June, though, the Hope team of Dr. Julia Randel, associate professor of music and chair of the department, and then students Hannah Jacobsma and Genevieve Janvrin, now graduates, were selected to go to Boston – receiving faculty funding and student stipends (as all participants do) – to conduct research on three separate, though related, projects:  Romanticism in 19th-century French ballet (Jacobsma); the tours by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes that brought serious ballet to the United States in 1916-17 (Janvrin); and George Balanchine’s work with Igor Stravinsky (Randel). Randel’s research in Boston informs a book she is writing about the composer and choreographer.

“Natalie’s work for us was so wonderful,” declares Randel, who earned her doctorate from Harvard and specializes in the history of European and American classical music. “We had so much support there. And for me, going to Boston was like going home, and I hadn’t been back for a while. It was like a dream come true to receive funding to be in a place I love.”

Besides the transformative experience of archive work, faculty and students are exposed to weekly guest speakers, such as Pulitzer Prize winner Megan Marshall, receive historical tours, and are hosted at Dykstra’s Waltham home. Each activity and project gives participants both a breadth and depth of experience as well as clarity of purpose, gleaned from the past and applied to the present and future.

“I got carried away with the stories and the questions,” wrote Janvrin in a BSS blog entry about her experience. “I got carried away with the quiet Houghton atmosphere and the kind souls, both living and dead, who guided me. I got carried away with Boston. My time at MHS, Houghton, and Harvard helped formulate a desire for the future: I want to be a researcher.”

Student Research and Development from Day1

It’s day 212 of Day1, the program that gives first-year students hands-on, authentic research opportunities at the very start of their Hope College education, and freshmen Ben Turner and Karey Frink are feeling as comfortable in a Schaap Center laboratory as they do in their cozy Lichty Hall dorm rooms.

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Testing Lake Mac water for E coli content

After almost a year, the two frosh have streaked a plethora of plates to isolate E. coli cultures, used a DNA sequencer to identify those E. coli strains and other bacterial populations, and analyzed the data with Hope’s supercomputer, Curie. They’ve paddled up and downstream in the Macatawa Watershed to gather water samples, in agricultural areas and residential ones throughout the Holland area. They’ve worked side-by-side with Dr. Aaron Best and Dr. Graham Peaslee, and the students worked on their own, too. In Lichty Hall, where all 13 Day1:Watershed students are housed, they’ve become part of a close-knit, residential learning community that is supportive and collaborative in their similar academic pursuits and challenges.

And through it all, Turner and Frink have experienced and developed what Hope science educators hoped the Day1 program would achieve – an early and deep-seated love and appreciation for cutting-edge research that has real-world relevance, all the while thriving in community.

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Freshman Karey Frink, foreground, works in the biochemistry lab as a member of Day 1 Watershed.  In the background is fellow Day 1 freshman Ben Turner.

“Day1 has helped me ask, ‘Do I want to do this kind of science for the rest of my life, or do I want to do something else?'” says Frink who is from Birmingham, Michigan, and plans to be a biology major and environmental science minor. “And the answer is: I love it. I love learning about this science. I’m not sure I want to continue researching forever, but I love that I’ve had this opportunity. It’s been very exciting really.”

“It’s a cool overall community,” Turner says, a native of Albion, Michigan, and also a biology major. “Living together in Lichty has been great because we are all taking the same (science) classes. So if I need help with my homework, I just go to the study lounge and there’s at least six really smart people who are willing to help. I’ve made a lot of good friends fast due to Day1.”

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Freshman Ben Turner,left, researches alongside Karey Frink, right, in the Day 1 Watershed lab.

Day1: Watershed is funded by a major grant, received in 2014 and worth $3 million, from The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation of Midland, Michigan ($1.75 million goes toward the first three years of equipment and operational expenses and the rest, $1.25 million, will be endowed to fund the future of Day1.) The program seeks to study the water quality of Lake Macatawa and its watershed in partnership with Project Clarity, a broad-based community initiative established in November 2012 to remediate some of lake’s physical and bacterial issues.

“Participation in Day1 is not making students take extra time to complete their degrees. These are experiences integrated into required courses, and, in fact, because of the support structure, Day1 helps students graduate on time.”

Dr. Catherine Mader, Day1 grant author and program director, notes that the grant from Dow primarily supports the watershed program, but five other programs – Day1: Phage, Day1: Great Lakes, Day1: Michigan Rocks, and Day1: EDGE as well as a new science peer partnership learning program in Hope’s Academic Success Center (ASC) – have been impacted by its funding, too. More than 200 Hope STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students have received help with, exposure to, and academic credit for research in their preferred fields of study.

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Dr. Cathy Mader

“This is not an extracurricular program and these are not extra courses on top of their potential major requirements,” says Mader, professor of physics. “Participation in Day1 is not making students take extra time to complete their degrees. These are experiences integrated into required courses, and in fact, because of the support structure, Day1 helps students graduate on time because they are in these solid learning communities supporting each other.”

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Dr. Aaron Best
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Dr. Graham Peaslee

Along with Mader and her guidance of this program, a good deal of support comes from dedicated science faculty, such as Best and Peaslee, who not only instruct their watershed students in the ways of becoming quality researchers but also in the ways of becoming quality college students. Watershed students also take their first-year seminar (FYS) with these two profs, participating in a bridge experience as they arrive on campus a week before the start of the official academic year to begin their intensive research and FYS experience before most other freshmen arrive.

“Day1 gives you such great community while doing some not-necessarily-easy work,” says Frink. “But that work is fun because of the people who do it with me.”

Once school starts though, Day1:Watershed-ers meet twice a week for seven hours total lab time in the first semester and three hours of lab time in the second. In the context of this required class and lab taken by choice, Best and Peaslee engendered science enthusiasm by creating an environment of serious research fun. Even though the research skills and subject are advanced and the professors’ standards high, the students appreciate the culture as much as the content.

Well, actually, maybe they appreciate the culture the most.

“Day1 gives you such great community while doing some not-necessarily-easy work,” says Frink. “But that work is fun because of the people who do it with me.” “And Dr. Best and Dr. Peaslee are awesome and hilarious,” adds Turner. “Sure, they know their stuff but they are fun to be around, too.”

Best’s positive feelings about working with Day1 Watershed students are reciprocated. He appreciates their eagerness and energy and how he gets to interact with them in several different contexts – as FYS instructor, advisor, watershed explorer, researcher – all markers of the unique cross-experiential features of the program.

Hope College - Science students during a science lab shoot

“We do authentic research with necessary local application,” says Best, the Harrison C. and Mary L. Visscher Associate Professor of Genetics and Associate Professor of Biology. “I wouldn’t do this research just to do it. I don’t want my students doing research just to do it. There are too many resources involved – time and money and relationships – to do that, right? So, it’s not just enough to learn. We’re doing this to learn with purpose.”

“Without Day1, I definitely would not have this opportunity,” says Turner. “I’m probably about a year ahead in research knowledge than I should be if I hadn’t been involved in Day1.”

Understanding links between the bacterial populations and the physical changes in the Lake Mac watershed is that purpose. Best will continue on with long-term monitoring of the watershed during summer research, in which Turner will continue to be involved. “Without Day1, I definitely would not have this opportunity,” says Turner. “I’m probably about a year ahead in research knowledge than I should be if I hadn’t been involved in Day1.”

Frink will go her separate way by taking an experiential learning trip this summer to the Bahamas with Dr. Brian Bodenbender, professor of geological and environmental sciences, to study geology, biology, and sustainability. Each student’s summer opportunity is funded by Day1.

When they return in the fall, both Turner and Frink will be back together again in Day1, but this time, each will serve as teaching assistants (TAs) in the watershed program. They’ll give back to the program that allowed them to get their proverbial “feet wet” in college-level research, continuing to step into educational and watery currents that have taught and bonded them in a science career at Hope, from day one.

Breaks Away: Jenny Hampton

sabbatical (n): a break from customary work to acquire new skills or knowledge, traditionally occurring every seventh year

Breaks Away: Sabbatical Stories of Hope

Each academic year, a number of Hope faculty take sabbatical leaves away from the college, submersing themselves for extended periods of time into their favored fields of inquiry. If viewed from above and all together, those fields would look like a calico landscape, so varied and colorful is the topography of their collective research, writing, and creative pursuits. Offering both restoration and adventure, sabbaticals are a bit like information and imagination transfusions. These breaks away from normal classroom and committee work give Hope academicians a boost to reinforce and revitalize their teaching and scholarship.

Scientists have been searching for alternative energy sources for years, ones that are more environmentally plentiful and safe. While we tend to think first of wind and solar energy as those natural and prudent ways to power our world, Dr. Jennifer Hampton’s sabbatical research reminds us that other Earth-abundant materials – such as sodium or potassium – have the potential to help with energy usage and storage, too.

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Dr. Jenny Hampton, associate professor of physics, stands beside a monitor in her lab that displays charging and discharging waves of new materials that hopefully will one day provide energy storage.

At the Energy Materials Center (EMC2) at Cornell University last year as a visiting scientist, Hampton went back home in a way to help discover new energy materials and methodology. It was at Cornell where she completed her PhD in 2002, and at EMC2 where her doctoral advisor, Hector Abruña, still conducts research. There once again, Hampton dedicated a year’s worth of her own research – interdisciplinary in nature as it combines physics, chemistry and engineering – to answering these decades-old questions: What can work as energy and how can it be stored?

“There is a lot of interesting work in the fuzzy boundaries between science disciplines,” says Hampton. “That’s where this research is at. And I very much like that cross fertilization of different mindsets that are working on the same problems.”

Hampton is hoping to find ways to optimize cheap, bountiful materials for particular applications that could affect consumer electronics, transportation and even power grids.

This interconnectedness of sciences is part of Hampton’s forte. Her work in electrochemistry for making nanoporous alloys is rife with chemical and physical knowledge, two fields in which she focused her post-doctoral program for three years at Pennsylvania State University. Hampton has involved Hope students in the intermingling of these subject matters during her summer and school year research, sharing with them the importance that “a singular training or emphasis – in chemistry or physics – doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to a broader conversation, or bigger problem or solution. It almost always takes several scientists to achieve one goal.”

The goal of Hampton and her students is to look at a new type of material that has potential for use in energy storage (batteries). The class of materials is called metal hexacyanoferrates and these materials have open pores where ions of lithium, sodium, or potassium can go in and out when charging or discharging. Hampton is hoping to find ways to optimize these cheap, bountiful materials for particular applications that could affect consumer electronics, transportation and even power grids.

So far, Hampton and her battery of three students, who will be presenting their research this Friday at Hope’s Celebration of Undergraduate Research, have found that the thicker the hexacyanoferrate, the faster the charging process occurs.  “We didn’t expect that,” admits Hampton.  “Now we want to find out why.”

Hampton has a substantial grant pending from the NSF to help answer the “why.” (She was also the recipient of two previous National Science Foundation (NSF) grants worth almost $400,00 combined.) Once the reason for faster charging with thicker hexacyanoferrate is found, Hampton foresees the energy industry taking that knowledge and continuing on with their own research to build a better battery. Who knows? Maybe the battery that one day powers your car will have its foundations in a Hope College lab.

Dr. Jenny Hampton is an associate professor in the Department of Physics at Hope College.