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Debriefing al fresco
Brilliant sunshine floods the green gardens behind the college’s Surrey-Williamson Inn, where nearly thirty student-faculty research teams gather in late June to share updates.
Among the presenters is Andrew Matusiewicz ’05, working with Skidmore computer scientist Tom O’Connell to produce a computer algorithm to play the complex and unpredictable board game Diplomacy. “How many moves might be possible in such a game?” someone asks. “Billions,” replies Matusiewicz calmly, blinking as a ladybug lands on his glasses.
Daniel Nathan and his American studies team of two tested the accuracy of Martin Scorsese’s historical movie The Gangs of New York. With a film so “historically flawed and politically charged,” says Erin Klemyk ’05, the key is to realize that it’s not a documentary but a way to “fire the imagination, to ask large questions about who we are and where we come from.”
Fiber artist Margo Mensing and Afshaan Rahman ’04 describe the nine-foot-long, scarlet and fuchsia silk screen they created for the Tang Museum show A Very Liquid Heaven. To transfer a deep-space photo of the glowing Tarantula nebula onto yards of cotton muslin, notes Rahman, “you have to mix the chemicals exactly right or you don’t get the effect you want.”
The open air hums with intensity as teams swap details on such subjects as squid enzymes, China’s post–Opium War trade with the West, and variant versions of Don Giovanni.
Just before they break for barbecue and Frisbee, the talk turns to the thrills and chills of research: Having a paper accepted for presentation at one conference and rejected by another…the ecstasy of making a big mistake in your scientific process because you learned so much from it…realizing you’re going to write five different versions of the same software program and not use any one of them. As one student happily summed it up, “We learned so much, we really needed to share it with someone.” —BAM
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