Neurally Inspired Self-Organizing Maps for Image Coding

S. Zayd Enam : Electrical Engineering & Computer Science

Mentor: Bruno Olshausen, Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience

In this project we plan on using parallelized computation to build realistic sparse coding models for neurons in the primary visual cortex (V1). Sparse coding is a stimulus encoding technique used by V1 neurons that aims to minimize the number active neurons required in encoding any input image. Due to computational constraints, previous sparse coding models have been limited in their ability to match the biology of lateral geniculate nucleus projections to V1. Our models will allow us to better describe recorded biological data and provide further evidence that V1 relies upon sparse coding of input images.

This has been a fantastic summer. There is no other way I could describe a summer spent working on projects that excite me. As an added bonus I got to work with lab mates and researchers who are just as excited about the same stuff.
At the beginning of the summer I began with some project ideas I wanted to explore. Over the course of the summer I got the opportunity to take a stab at these projects and got feedback from some smart people.  Alongside this, I went back and read some of the early literature in my field. I would not have read as much of the early papers if I was not setting my own research agenda. Feedback from colleagues and reading as much as I could opened up a lot of interesting avenues to explore. It has become clear to me that there still are a lot of questions in my field with only hand-wavy answers.
Regardless, my summer and my projects continued along. I faced some interesting hurdles and learned some valuable lessons. One of the most valuable lessons was learning to manage time between discussing ideas and implementing ideas. There's a lot of value in getting feedback and collaborating on ideas but at some point you need to just build your model.
This program has helped me focus on the sort of problems I want to tackle in my career. Over the summer I have become increasingly excited about the challenge of attempting to reduce complex systems - like vision - to a set of fundamental principles. 

Migrating Minors – Uncovering the Myths, the Facts, and the Figures: What Is Driving Central American Children to Travel Alone to the U.S.?

Judy Schafer : Interdisciplinary Studies Field Major

Mentor: Leti Volpp, Berkeley Law

My research will investigate the reported phenomenon of increasing numbers of unaccompanied Central American youth migrating to the United States from May 2011 to July 2013. I will examine these questions: Why are these children migrating alone? Will this overall trend continue? Or is there a push/pull factor that is influencing this recent surge? What can be done to make this journey safer for these children? My study begins in the detention facilities and immigration courts of Arizona and Texas, then continues as I travel southbound through Mexico and by bus into Guatemala. Through participant observation and interviews with adults who regularly interact with the children, I will take the reverse route of the children migrating northbound atop freight trains. My project will culminate in an ISF senior honors thesis.

Haas Scholars has opened up doors I never would have even known existed, both literally, and also in my heart and soul. The people I have met, the scholars I converse with, and the opportunities to give back are exponentially more than I ever dreamed of.

A mantra among Haas Scholars, “Everything is research,” became my guiding light. While I had prearranged key interviews with governmental agencies and NGO’s before leaving Cal, it was the people I chatted up on the bus, the friends of friends, and networking every connection that provided the bulk of my data. Here is just one example:

July 19, 2013 – Two days ago I located an agency in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala that repatriates youth who have been detained in Mexico, some of them who were attempting to migrate to the US, others who were trying to find work across the border. 

As luck would have it, on my visit a busload of children had just arrived. I scheduled an interview with the director for the following morning and began talking to some of the family members waiting outside who had come to see their kids. I learned that many had come from distant parts of Guatemala to collect the youth & most had very little resources so would be spending the night on a nearby church floor.

The following morning, I arrived with hot coffee & pancakes to distribute to the waiting families prior to my scheduled interview. The gratitude was overwhelming & many of the parents offered to give interviews, as well.

Though my heart was heavy as I listened to the desperation of their situations, I gained a much deeper understanding of why many youth migrate north and it became very personal. This is more than just a research project now. My job is to give a voice to these families, to these youth and the thousands of others just like them.


Automation of Carbon Flux Explorers for the Study of the Ocean Biological Carbon Pump

Christina at Sea!

Christina Marie Hamilton : Earth and Planetary Science; Marine Science

Mentor: Jim Bishop, Earth and Planetary Science, Professor of Marine Geochemistry

Marine-atmosphere gas exchange plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. A key parameter of oceanic CO2 uptake and sequestration is the biological carbon pump (BCP). The BCP is composed of planktonic organisms that fix CO2 in photosynthesis, converting it to food and tissue. The biomass of these organisms turns over about once every week, exporting the carbon they contain away from the ocean-atmospheric interface to greater oceanic depths as they are consumed and expelled in the form of particulate organic carbon aggregates. This process, known as sedimentation, is currently a large mystery to oceanographers and climate modelers. To parameterize the BCP sedimentation process in ocean and climate modeling, the Bishop research group has designed Carbon Flux Explorers (CFEs)--relatively small but powerful robots-- to study this rapidly changing system on biologically significant time scales. My research project will design, code, and implement data processing algorithms onto CFEs, thus completing total automation of the float robots and contributing to our knowledge of the sedimentation.

Stories from the Heart: Biosocial Narratives of Adults with Complex Congenital Heart Disease

Kaitlin Kimmel : Interdisciplinary Studies; Concentration: Medical Anthropology and Disability Studies

Mentor: Susan Schweik, English and Disability Studies

In the 1980s, newborns with complex congenital heart disease (CCHD) began to survive into adulthood in larger numbers than ever before due to advances in cardiothoracic surgery and cardiovascular medicine. Growing up, many were told they would either be “fixed,” once they reached adulthood, they would die in childhood, or that their prognoses were unknown. Now that the first generation of CCHD children has survived into adulthood, there is a gray area between cure and death. Kaitlin will conduct ethnographic interviews with CCHD adults who have undergone major cardiac hospitalizations, procedures, and/or surgeries within the past year, along with adult congenital heart disease medical specialists. Using disability studies and medical anthropology lenses, Kaitlin’s research will explore what being “fixed” actually means for adults with CCHD and the implications of life with a prognosis unknown.

Midwifery Practices in Afghanistan: The Influence of Purdah on Maternal Health

Muska Fazilat : Public Health

Mentor: Malcolm Potts, Public Health

Every thirty minutes an Afghan woman dies due to birth complications. Skilled providers attend only 5% of births. My research compares traditional cultural practices of midwifery with Western medical practices. I will explore the role that the cultural practice of Purdah—separation of women from men—plays in shaping maternal health. Since the U.S. occupation, USAID has funded midwifery schools. However, current political tension between the Taliban and the U.S. military generates a concern for the future of maternal health care. I will investigate how midwifery practices have evolved from the Taliban regime to the current U.S. occupation and have impacted midwives, medical practitioners and women. I will conduct case studies in the city of Kabul and Kunduz. My methodology consists of participant observations and oral histories. My purpose is to contribute to research on medical training and cultural practices that can positively affect child and maternal health.

             This summer has been a life changing experience. At the beginning of the summer I was nervous about embarking on a very dangerous journey on my own—not only as an independent researcher, but as a young woman returning to Afghanistan. I have always wanted to go back to my beloved country that my family and I fled when I was two months old, due to the war against the Soviet Union. I am glad that I chose to go back even though my life was at risk due to the current war inside the country. I am never going to forget the sounds of the loud blasts from suicide bombers and gunfire right around me, or seeing vivid images of injured and dead civilians on live television just two hours after arriving in Kabul. I remember crying, being scared, and wanting to escape the first day I got there. But, then I realized that the things I was having a difficulty enduring are the norm for the people that live there. I was humbled by the fact that my people live their entire lives with these conditions so I could not just pack my bags and leave. I was there for a bigger purpose, my research on maternal health, so I decided to be strong and to stay until I finished my research. Since men are not allowed in maternal hospitals, as a woman I knew that I had access to the hospitals and to Afghan women to conduct my research. As a result, I felt that it was my duty and responsibility to stay and to use my research to help Afghan women who have suffered through so many years of oppression and war. Thus, I believe doing research in a war zone was my biggest challenge, even in spite of the difficulties of being a woman in Afghanistan and facing daily challenges working in a maternity hospital.

                 Within the first week I realized the challenges of being a woman in Afghanistan, which confirmed the fact that it is one of the most dangerous places in the world to live as a woman. Initially, I assumed that I would be easily accepted by everyone since I am an Afghan woman, I know the cultural norms, and I speak Dari and Pashto fluently. However, this was not the case.  I was viewed as a foreigner by my own people, and it took a long time to build up trust and develop a relationship with some of my participants in order to talk to them about deep and personal issues like reproduction and maternal health. I also went with the assumption that, as an educated Afghan woman, I would have some type of “presence” or “voice” amongst the men there—but unfortunately, this was not the case most of the time. Experiencing these challenges helped me better understand my research and learn that there are so many factors that play a role in Afghanistan having some of the highest maternal mortality rates anywhere in the world.

                An unforgettable memory from my trip was when I was asked to deliver a baby due to a lack of doctors in the hospital; it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I cannot describe how amazing that moment was when I was finally able to help the mother make her last push after being in labor for hours, and then within seconds see the baby come right into my hands. One of the most powerful experiences in life is to witness a child being born. This is a memory that I am never going to forget from my trip to my beloved country, Afghanistan. I was also able to assist during a C-Section surgery. It was the first time I had witnessed any type of surgery, but it was heartbreaking to see under what terrifying and horrible conditions the surgery was being performed.  Despite the conditions, being able to witness this surgery there has greatly increased my respect for all our women, especially mothers. Lastly, one of the most devastating experiences I had was witnessing newborn babies and a mother pass away due to doctors neglecting their responsibilities and a lack of resources.  I took away from these experiences a renewed passion for my research and for achieving my dream of becoming a physician in order to help others. 

                I have realized that two months is not enough time to collect all the data I need for my research. It was extraordinarily hard to conduct research in a war zone and especially during the holy month of Ramadan when I had to fast. War, poverty, loss, and violence plays a critical role in almost every Afghan’s life on a daily bases. Thus, shaping their culture and how the Afghan people experience freedom and love in a completely new way. My research led me to realize that there are so many other problems that still exist in Afghanistan, many of which are interconnected with maternal health. Being able to fix these problems is going to take a lot of hard work and time—but nothing is impossible because I still have a great amount of hope for change. This eye-opening journey has allowed me to see Afghanistan in a new light, and has forced me to rethink the definition of “help.” I am eager to continue my research and raise awareness on maternal health in Afghanistan, and I hope that my work will bring positive change to my country.  My summer was truly a life-changing experience, and I am so grateful to Bob and Colleen Haas for giving me this opportunity. 


Income Tax Reform, the Evolution of Inequality, and the Boost of Domestic Demand -- In Search of a Sustainable Economic Growth Model

Yanyue (Adelina) Wang : Economics; Applied Mathematics

Mentor: Emmanuel Saez, Department of Economics

As Chinese economic reform deepens and widens its scope, finding a model for sustainable growth is of paramount importance. In this research, I will investigate how changes in the personal income tax structure would boost domestic demand as a stable driving force for economic development, focusing mainly on a flat tax structure. I will analyze past income tax reforms, collect and analyze empirical data and personal stories, build and extensively test models, develop a policy proposal, and analyze its international impacts. Since income tax directly affects the disposable income of the majority of the residents in China and thus directly influences domestic demand and social equity, my research results may expand our understanding of the precise economic reforms that lead to sustainable and stable economic growth for China and abroad.

As said by Marcel Proust, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Although I have been to many different places, it was the trip back to China this summer, the place where I was born and have lived for the first eighteen years of my life, that first felt like a real voyage of discovery to me. The land that had always seemed so familiar to me would never be the same again. The people, the language, and the culture all seemed so different through the lenses of a scholar’s eyes. Things I had taken for granted and went unnoticed have finally started to emerge from below the surface.

My research is on how to reform the personal income tax system in China to boost income equality and domestic demand. As a first step, I needed to find out about the real income distribution and personal income tax collection situation in China in order to evaluate distributional effects of different policy changes. Yet the search for data turned out to be quite an odyssey which led me to a mix of bitter disappointments and sweet surprises. But just like any research process, the joy of each big and small discovery and the help and encouragement of so many amazing people along the endless journey made all the efforts worth it.  

Analyzing household survey data or tax administration data are generally the two ways of estimating income distribution, the latter being more accurate especially at the top end of the distribution while not fully covering the entire population (especially those below the exemption threshold). Both may differ from the real situation due to misreporting or tax evasion, but each could present a picture very close to the real one with scientific methods and careful conduction. What I have been doing this summer was to search for access to such detailed data from the government and research institutions to perform statistical analysis. Although data resources from the government was generally extremely limited, I was glad to see that many universities have started conducting their own income surveys and publishing micro-file data sets to researchers around the world. I was able to get data from the China Household Finance Survey (CHFS), the China Household Income Project (CHIPS), China General Social Survey (CGSS), and am waiting to hear back from the Tsinghua-Citi China Household Consumption and Finance Survey. These surveys generally cover a wide range of parameters and each has distinct characteristics and advantages. However, since such projects have just got started several years ago in China, there was no dataset available that has consistently covered consecutive years for a long enough period of time. Hence I am considering re-exploring publicly released government data while making up for their lack of details with econometrics methods as developed by earlier scholars. It would require more techniques and critical thinking, and I am embracing the coming challenges.

While I was in China, I was also able to speak to the people behind those silent numbers. The conversations really shed new lights on the implications of the data and the stories untold by the data, and were of great aid for my understanding of the administration of tax policies. I got to hear renowned Chinese fiscal policy expert reflecting on changes of personal income distribution and tax structure through the years. I got to hear officials at local bureau of taxation going over their current reform tasks and showing me their tax colleting and tracking system. I learned not only about progress on the reinforced tax collection of high income earners, but also the inherent difficulties in implementation. I got to know the administrators’ expectations, hopes, concerns, and experiences, which are usually not widely publicized. Meanwhile, I have also been reading extensively on research papers in the field of income distributions, taxable income elasticity, optimal taxation theory, and especially China's income distribution regarding the large scale of hidden income and the lack of transparent data. By reading these works of established researchers, I have learned so much about theoretical background and analysis methods, as well as how carefully they control for any possible disputes and test for robustness before reaching a conclusion, which will be a great guidance in how I would conduct my own research.

As I was diving deeper into the research, the level of inequality as witnessed and experienced by myself and the scale of hidden income as estimated by scholars was shocking and even disheartening. The problem of rising inequality and unfair income distribution has been drawing attention from scholars and the government and I was glad to find out that new institutions and new surveys about income of households and individuals have been providing precious building stones for research in this field. Although my research would not deliver the silver bullet for all the problems, it would at least be a first step on the pursuit of a more equal society and sustainable economy.

To be honest, there were times when I got tired of rejected requests and broken expectations and started to question the entire summer plan. There were even times when I seriously considered switching entirely to other countries where tax data were readily available for anyone to look into. Yet later I realized that it was precisely because of the lack of detailed data and previous work that my work would have a significant meaning not just to the academic inquiries but to the well-being for the billions of people living in the second largest economy in the world. It was also precisely because of such obstacles and challenges that I was constantly pushed outside of my comfort zone to cope with hard circumstances with persistence and creativeness. And that might just as well be the nature of research and the purpose of the Haas Scholars Program.



Conceptual Metaphors in Describing Transgender Identities

Ayden Parish : Linguistics (minor: LGBTQ Studies)

Mentor: Eve Sweetser, Linguistics

Ayden is exploring the metaphors used to describe transgender identities and experiences. Cognitive linguistics understands metaphor as central to language and human cognition, allowing us to grasp abstract concepts via physical sensations and everyday experiences. There has, however, been very little put forward for a cognitive linguistics of gender: How are the meanings of gender expressed and perceived? What are the effects of particular linguistic structures on how gender is thought about and performed? How are identities in general rendered meaningful? Ayden will collect data from public sources such as newspaper articles and analyze their underlying structures and assumptions, as well as how they impact the real lived experiences of transgender individuals.

I find it difficult to clearly differentiate between research and not-research. Both my week at the International Cognitive Linguistics Conference and the day of San Francisco Pride can be considers aspects of my overall project. I idly slip into thinking about my research at almost any moment—it’s inevitable, really, when dealing with a topic so central to society and my own identity as gender. With the Haas Scholarship, however, I was able to do more than muse idly about the language describing transgender individuals; I was able to collect data from a wide range of sources and compare them to theories in the various books I read. I’ll enter Fall semester already able to begin sketching an outline for my thesis.

My summer began with a flight to Edmonton, Canada for the International Cognitive Linguistics Conference. Last year, my mentor Eve Sweetser suggested that I submit a term essay to be presented—a short paper analyzing how many phrases related to transgender people utilize a mind-body dichotomy. This same paper would inspire my current research project. I was elated, amazed, and somewhat anxious when my submission was accepted. Upon arriving at the conference, though, I realized my anxiety was baseless. I was not, as I worried, clearly out of my league and lost in a crowd of graduates and professors. I was treated as an equal; in fact, some UC Berkeley graduate students claimed to forget I was an undergraduate at all. The simple  act of preparing my presentation honed my understanding of the topic, but being able to receive feedback and suggestions was irreplaceable. The conference also made me consider much broader questions about the political implications of my methodological preferences, as well as my future role in the discipline of cognitive linguistics.

After the conference came the main segment of my summer research. This was a relatively unorganized (but certainly not disorganized) combination of scouring public materials for linguistically interesting descriptions of transgender identities and reading theory-heavy books and articles. Depending on the day, I would look through newspaper articles, a myriad of LGBTQ-focused educational websites, and—when I felt up for it—anti-transgender diatribes. I archived entire pages using digital software, so that I could later highlight the most illuminating examples. When I wasn’t searching for data, I was reading texts from both queer studies and cognitive linguistics. There are many books, like Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble or George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Philosophy in the Flesh, which serve as important cornerstones for their respective fields, but which I never had the opportunity to read in full. It is certainly less stressful to do my necessary reading over the summer than to try to cram even more reading into a schedule full of lectures and homework.

What surprised me the most is how social of an activity research has been. Compared to those conducting interviews or those working with others in labs, I thought I would be the very image of the lonesome academic with their nose in their books; however, I found others more than eager to talk to me about their take on my research project. A number of acquaintances are constantly on the lookout for mentions of transgender individuals in news articles, and I have had in-depth conversations with non-academic transgender friends about the problems with current research about transgender people. While the majority of my time is still spent thinking thoughts to myself, I certainly appreciate those moments like at the San Francisco Pride, talking to my parents about the various ways people mix and match pronouns when telling narratives about transgender people’s lives.

With how pervasive my research topic is, I really can’t quantify how much progress I made over the summer. All I can say is that I believe I now have a more nuanced, deliberate, and holistic understanding of my research, both as a specific instance of analysis of how transgender individuals are described metaphorically, and as a small piece of a complex system of disciplines and human beings. I hope to, bit by bit, help fellow transgender people gain more of a voice in this system. I’m eager to get to work on my thesis, which will be just the first step in my academic career.

Spoken Word as Figure: Visual iconographies of Nenbutsu in Medieval Japan

Jess Genevieve Bailey : History of Art

Mentor: Gregory Levine, History of Art

Enshrined in a Kyoto temple, the 13th century Portrait of the Holy Man K̄̄ūya sculpturally visualizes the verbal practice of nenbutsu or chanting the buddha’s name. Six small sculptural buddhas emerge on a wire extension from the icon’s mouth, embodying the chanted syllables. Icons are understood in Japanese Buddhism as animate objects, informing and guiding devotional practice. What does it mean to see the voice of an icon? Jess will examine this icon’s materiality, viewership, and history in order to negotiate the representation of sound in the visual culture of Pure Land Buddhism. She will travel to Japan studying relevant rituals and sculptures, while compiling a catalogue of visualized nenbutsu iconography since the Kamakura period. The broader implications of her research will center on the relationship between spoken word and visual signifiers.




Should There Be A T? The Silencing of the “T” in the LGBT Movement

Thatcher Combs : Sociology

Mentor: Raka Ray, Sociology

Thatcher’s research explores the relationship between the increasing social legitimacy of the LGBT movement in the U.S. and their marginalization of transgender voices. He will examine the historical reasons for the fracturing of the "T" from the LGBT community and its effects on the transgender community. Thatcher will examine the archives at the GLBT Historical Society beginning in 1973 and ending with current national debates on marriage equality, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and conduct in-depth interviews with transgender people. While this project will add to the burgeoning field of LGBT history, the aim is to disentangle various factors that marginalize the "T" of the LGBT movement in the hopes that this will contribute to a more genuinely inclusive movement.

Austin in June is HOT! Adjusting to climate and culture was challenging. Thank goodness for air conditioning! While I consider myself a Texan having been raised there since the age of nine,  the lack of resident status proved a barrier in obtaining interviewees due to my move to San Francisco 4 years ago. Things in the field were frustrating, confusing, and rewarding all at the same time. Going “home” as a researcher definitely changed the way I saw myself and my relationship to “home.”

It was more difficult to get interviews in Austin than I had anticipated. The political and social climate did impact the ease with which I could obtain interviews, but everyday logistical things such as scheduling provided some obstacles as well. However, the interviews I had were great! I was humbled and honored to be able to meet with and hear people’s stories and lives. It was also amazing that so many of those who have spoken with me have said how excited they are about my research. 

I had originally intended to come back after three weeks, but I had to extend my stay for a week in order to get all of the interviews I wanted. It was nice to get back to the Bay Area after being in Austin during the month of June. While Austin is a fun and great city, the heat and I have never been great friends, so I was ready to be greeted by San Francisco’s fog. Being in the field was exhausting. However, I was happy to leave on such a high note with what happened at the capitol building with the Texas Democrats fighting back against an abortion bill--It was exciting!

I had obligations with another research program this summer, the McNair Scholars program, which I ended up devoting July to. It allowed me to begin some preliminary data analysis for the interviews from Austin. It was a great opportunity to present some preliminary findings at the Berkeley McNair Symposium, which allowed me to have a practice run for the Haas presentation next January. 

I’ve completed the majority of the interviews in San Francisco and it’s been interesting to hear differences and similarities between responses from the interviews from Austin. I’m excited to begin the process of regional analysis in the fall and look at the broader picture of this project. While I initially looked into incorporating archival material, the richness of the interviews and the time I’ve taken to really ingest the data has persuaded me to narrow my focus further and prioritize the more contemporary issues that the mainstream LGBT movement is facing. I ended the summer feeling blessed to have had the opportunity to speak with these wonderful people who have entrusted me with intimate and insightful details of their lives and their perspectives.

Collapsing the Frame: The Moving Body as a Site for Social (De)construction

Sara Sol Linck-Frenz : Comparative Literature (minor: Dance and Performance Studies)

Mentor: SanSan Kwan, Theater, Dance and, Performance Studies

Collapsing the Frame delves into the space between two categories – “contemporary” and “commercial” dance  – to ask how the moving body functions as a site both for composing and deconstructing normative conceptions of embodiment, physicality, identity, and sociality. By researching the particular case of commercially produced choreographies, the project not only problematizes the categorical divide between “high culture” and “popular/commercial culture”, but intends to ask how dance productions that cross this boundary function as corporeal and public experimentations with collective identities. Through a comparative analysis of three sites of dance practice and performance (Los Angeles, Brussels and Vienna), the intent is to provide a platform for understanding the ways in which contemporary dance affects and is affected by the burgeoning commercial industry.


Learning Trisha Brown’s early repertory over these last few days has begun to give me some sense (an embodied one that I don’t know if I’ll be able to articulate yet in words) of the motivating “purpose” or curiosity that exists in postmodern and contemporary dance. Initially I’d chosen to take the Trisha Brown workshop as a way of setting this present moment of contemporary dance within its historical context, hoping to be able to better define the parameters of what this so far indeterminate category of “contemporary” might be in relation to its past. But in the last few days other connections and differences between “contemporary” and “commercial” have been arising that were really unanticipated.  Almost immediately in the workshop the most apparent connection between Trisha Brown and other contemporary work I’ve done here at the intensive was this notion that the movement choreography is not motivated by aesthetic choices but rather by experiential and physical ones that occur at an anatomical level in the body of the dancer. That is, rather than develop movement in order to create a certain visual aesthetic for the audience, choreographers in these classes talk of developing movement from the dancer’s kinesthetic, anatomical, mechanical, and internal experience of the movement. I knew beforehand that Trisha Brown was one of the first choreographers to use dance as physical exploration of the body rather than an aesthetic or virtuosic display, but I didn’t know that my doing the movement would trigger such an internal understanding in my own body of what this post-modern (and, I would argue, contemporary) “project” is.

The instructor, Michelle Flourine, began the class by explaining that in this particular piece we must move not from our center but, instead, from our distal ends, which she called the “hole-version” of our dance. She asked us to picture ourselves as donut-shaped bodies, moving with an empty, hollow space at our center with all the mass and volition of our bodies pushed out into furthest end-points. This instruction, besides being incredibly unusual in a dance class, where for the most part movers are asked to move from the center and never to be center-less, was also not aimed at producing a certain visual quality, but instead at having us gain access to a specific physical experience within the body. However, this differentiation that I made between internal/visceral and external/visual choreography on the first day of class was challenged over the next few days as I realized how many of the movements we learned were defined only as a relation of the body to the space it occupied. All of the gestures were set at 45 or 90 degree angles to the space, and the instructor constantly reminded us not to “drop back” into ourselves, but to stay constantly aware of the space and our relation to it (thus extending the dancers internal experience out into an external appearance and a specific visual impact). This meant that I couldn’t simplify the difference between commercial and contemporary to an internal/external one, for even those choreographies whose intention is to explore something internally inevitably produce an external and visual effect, and in fact are very conscious of it – for in the end, they are being made for the stage, not just for the studio. Essentially, what I’ve realized is that the “natural”, “mechanical”, and “pedestrian” movement we explored in the workshop, event though not driven by a particular aesthetic, is not as aesthetically neutral as is presumed when talking about “postmodern” dance. The movement inevitable produces a certain aesthetic, regardless of its motivating principle of internal exploration.

But this leaves me with another question – does this difference in the intentions of postmodern or contemporary choreographies change somehow change what kind of movement is being made? That is, does the intent to explore internal physiological experience in contemporary lead allow for a kind of movement that cannot be made when only thinking about the external visage of the performance?

Geographies of Justice: Reconciliation, and the Role of Transitional Justice in Brazil

Rachel Gottfried-Clancy : Geography

Mentor: Kathryn Abrams, Berkeley Law

On November 18, 2011 federal law #12,528 created the National Truth Commission (Commisão Nacional da Verdade, CNV) in Brazil. The truth commission was created to examine the events carried out by the government, Forças Armadas, during the country’s military dictatorship and produce an official, truthful account of the period. The hope was that by embarking on a collective search for truth, the Brazilian population would work towards national reconciliation, and in the process strengthen their democracy. However, one year after the commission began, criticisms flood the process: many argue that the structure created prevents any reconciliation. By analyzing the rhetoric used in government documents and interviewing those involved in the truth process, I hope to answer the question how does the structure of Brazil's truth commission affect the peoples' sense of reconciliation, and broader conceptions of state and public power?

As my summer ends, I realize everything—the dozens of books and countless articles I used in my literature review, the hours of interview audio, the pages of observations and field notes, the data sets from various governments and community organizations, the small phrases scribbled on folds of paper and business cards as I talked with people on the metro, and the all that I’ve brought back but have yet to recognize-- will inform my “research”. I spent my time collecting stories, perspectives and opinions that allow me to understand why this project is important and how I can work with the communities involved to produce analysis that has impact (both in Brazil and abroad).  A few examples of the different types of data I will be working with are below:

June 15, 2013

I’ve been examining these maps given to me by one of the state truth commissions. It’s an excellent data set that uses social-networking software to map the relationships between those in the military regime and those persecuted. The commissions have tracked how military operatives infiltrated “militant” groups and selected whom to pursue. The information produced by this mapping is vital to creating a clear understanding of the events of dictatorship (a necessary step for any potential judicial process). While this technology impresses me, I hope to use it in all together different fashion. Relationship networks not included in this map peak my interest: who is being obscured from this process? I hope to compare the people included on the list to those who were persecuted by regime but not included in the official accounts. This will at the very least give me an idea who to try to reach out to for interviews and a deeper understanding of the politics of the “truth-seeking” process.

June 21, 2013

I interviewed A today. Before the interview I was quite nervous because I had not interviewed someone of her position before. The interview provided a lot of valuable information but one part stands out: when I brought up the question of reconciliation she became hostile and a bit angry. I asked her what she thought about the inclusion of “reconciliation” as an official “objective” and she responded by telling me that reconciliation means “trying to put two people in the same boat” and in Brazil “we will never be in the same boat”.  This struck me as an important definition of reconciliation. She continued, explaining that she was tired of people using the discourse of reconciliation, and enacting South Africa as a model, to explain what “should” happen in Brazils process, because Brazil was “different”. This idea that “Brazil is different” has been repeated to me multiple times but is something that has eluded further clarification. I know there is a piece of the process that I am not understanding and something I will need to have explained if I am going to be able to contextualize the interviews.

July 11, 2013

The protests continue: in the middle of the street blockade I got into a conversation with a middle-aged woman about corruption, the current political climate and Brazil’s past. When I asked her what she thought the legacy of Brazil’s dictatorship was, she responded by telling me the scar tissue in her uterus was the personal legacy. She then spoke of her imprisonment and torture and their lasting physical and emotional effects. In the process, she articulated very clearly how the violence of the state (as enacted by the military police) was the legacy of the military regime playing out before our eyes. As I looked around the protest I saw dozens of military police units; marching through the streets, taking photos from rooftops, attempting to control protesters. The protesters, she continued, can also be seen as a legacy—a history of resistance and mobilization that extends throughout the country. 

The World in the Globe of the Eye: Reading Housekeeping Through a Thoreauvian Lens

Zoë Pollak : English (minor: Creative Writing)

Mentor: Robert Hass, English

More than once, Marilynne Robinson has invoked Henry Thoreau’s Walden (1854) as an influence on her novel Housekeeping (1980). Zoë’s project investigates the philosophical resonances between these two texts written in the tradition of American Romanticism. Rather than wed Walden to history and read Housekeeping as a modern-day (and specifically feminist) response, Zoë develops a more fluid relation between the two testaments to spiritual solitude. By placing the books in conversation, Zoë explores the relationship between the invention of audience and inwardness. She also asks how the depiction of place can inform a writer’s persona on the page—and vice versa. Zoë’s thesis derives its larger metaphysical context from 19th-century articulations of nature and the sublime, and considers the influence of English Romantics like Wordsworth and Keats on Walden and Housekeeping.

Instead of trying to capture everything about my trip to Concord, I’ll reference the highlights. Without question, my favorite part was the walk around Walden itself. I heard that the pond would be swamped with tourists and swimmers and that its size is much smaller than a Walden reader might be led to believe based solely on the time Thoreau spent crafting the water in elaborate conceits and analogies. As it turned out, Walden was almost bare the day I visited, as it was overcast and drizzling—the best atmosphere in my opinion, as gray skies bring out the green in the leaves. Some images I plan on taking with me: the rain dimpling the surface of the water, the difference in color between the darker water in the middle of the pond and the reflections of the trees on Walden’s edge (the lashes bordering the eye of the pond, Thoreau wrote), and the way the trees on the trail filtered the sun like stained glass.

At the end of the trip I had a brief chance to visit Salem.  I took a tour of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birth-house and the House of the Seven Gables (the latter inspired his eponymous novel). Surprisingly, I think seeing the House of the Seven Gables was the most intellectually fulfilling part of my time in Massachusetts because it allowed me to begin synthesizing the ideas I’d been developing over the course of my time in Concord.

The House of the Seven Gables has a different history than the Concord homes I visited, a much more self-consciously literary one. Unlike the Alcotts’ Orchard House and the Emerson family home—both of which, from the furniture to the portraits on the walls, are presented as relatively preserved—the House of the Seven Gables’ history of renovations is an important part of the tour. Our guide explained that while the time Hawthorne spent visiting his cousin in the house clearly informed the way he portrayed it in his novel, the literary version of the structure’s architecture is embellished. After Hawthorne died, a wealthy woman purchased the property and added to it—a wing in the kitchen for one of the characters, a secret staircase for another—to conform to the house Hawthorne presents in the novel.

Given its multiple renovations, most of the House of the Seven Gables’ interior is from more recent centuries. There are a few areas, however, where you can see its 1668 foundation. In one room, the rafters that jut toward the ceiling have supported the roof for over three hundred years. And upstairs, a large part of the wall has eroded to reveal its core: weathered bricks sustained by a series of planks—the house’s ribs. The wall’s bareness made me think of a diagram in an anatomy textbook in which the body is peeled into layers of skin and tendon and bone. It seemed vulnerable and intimate. Yet the interior, however worn, is the house’s most enduring structure.

I have been thinking about layers ever since I walked Walden. Since Thoreau’s day the woodland has been leveled, probably more than once. Crops of trees have been cut and burned down and new ones have sprung up in their place. I couldn’t find one trunk with the thickness of a century. And then there are the smaller, inevitable cycles: the rains and evaporations, the scattering of leaves as the seasons revolve.

I may have walked Walden, but it wasn’t the one in Thoreau’s book. The skins of Concord’s houses have been stripped and re-layered; the pond and its woods have shed and grown. The nearer I feel to the past the more boundaries I find. In Walden, Thoreau writes that the farther conversants sit from one another, the deeper their communication. Reading him has made me realize that I, too, have to get farther from something to feel closer to it. Writing affords that intimate expanse. To determine the life of a tree, you’d have to cut through the center and count the rings. Better to let it live in books, and not measure the distance.

The Material Language of Elizabethan Artificers

Trevor Hadden : History of Art (minor: Rhetoric)

Mentor: Elizabeth Honig, History of Art

Although historians have studied Elizabethan England’s social and aesthetic transformations of the built environment, little attention has been paid to the labor of its craftspeople. Scholarship on Elizabethan architecture and decorative arts has privileged the study of stylistic trends, written records of patronage, and named surveyor-architects. This approach fails to register the ways in which artificers participated in the visuality of the early modern period. To understand the production practices of Elizabethan artificers and to recognize how these workers shaped material culture, Trevor is pursuing a close examination of select furniture and woodwork at London's Victoria and Albert Museum. He aims to develop a methodology—a delicate and precise way of seeing, interpreting, and questioning—that prioritizes the expressive but latent language of the sixteenth century wood carver and joiner.

MiCodes: Enabling Library Screens with Microscopy by Connecting Genotypes to Observable Phenotypes

Robert Chen : Bioengineering and Materials Science and Engineering

Mentor: John Dueber, Bioengineering

In the burgeoning field of genetic engineering, living systems are engineered to perform desired functions such as fighting cancer, sensing harmful chemicals, or producing useful compounds. However, cellular processes are unpredictable and genes do not always act as expected. In order to find a gene's optimal setting, scientists currently need to search through "libraries"--large numbers of genetic variants--which is labor and time-intensive. Robert's research centers on developing a new technology called MiCodes, or Microscopy Codes, which will speed up our ability to perform library screening under the microscope by “barcoding” cells with fluorescent tags. If successful and adopted by the scientific community, MiCodes would fundamentally change the way library screening is done for many applications, including cancer research, cell culture studies, and biofuels production.

This summer, I learned what independent research entails. Truly being “on your own” and having your entire project depend on you alone was both a daunting and exciting experience. I enjoyed setting my own schedule around my experiments, having the freedom to choose the direction of the project, and having the responsibility of presenting progress to my professor by certain deadlines. Having the flexibility to set my schedule allowed me to could go into lab and leave any time and arrange my day around my experiments. At first, being the sole driving force behind my idea was incredibly intimidating, but I came to enjoy the responsibility. From speaking to other undergraduates doing laboratory-based research, I came to realize that very few have the opportunity to do this self-lead graduate level work and that the Haas Scholars Program has given me an immense privilege.

I have come to realize that time is the most important resource in research. Pushing a project along faster is often worth doing experiments in duplicate to make sure that something will have grown up and be ready for the next step. For example, I spent two weeks troubleshooting a DNA assembly reaction that was just not working and had been testing problematic steps a few at a time, waiting for the results of each test before continuing on. As a result of this, I ended up wasting a week when in retrospect, I should have just initially tested all potential issues at once. Coupled with the slow growth of cells, every mistake I made was heavily punished in wasted time.

The most important knowledge I learned this summer was a greater understanding of myself. The been a combination of independence, time for introspection, and research tasks have encouraged me to learn about myself.  I have learned about when I am most productive, my work ethic, aspects I need to improve at, and what makes me stand out.

I have accomplished much this summer and in the process learned about the realistic pace for research. I was able to replicate the results of the laboratory from MIT I am in collaboration with and demonstrated that my assay matches their prediction. With those results, the lab computationally designed a new set of material for me to test with MiCodes. Additionally, I tested out an improved MiCode based on issues I have been having. In the past few weeks of summer, I began a significant experiment that will likely take the next month to accomplish. In summary, I am satisfied with the work I was able to accomplish his summer and am excited for this upcoming experimental work!

An Archaeology of Food, Race, and Gender at Fort Davis, Texas

Leah Grant : Anthropology; History

Mentor: Laurie Wilkie, Anthropology

My project will investigate the foodways of three distinct populations who occupied Fort Davis, Texas, during the second phase of the fort’s active period from 1867-1891. While permitting issues will not allow for excavation this summer, there are alternatives to excavation. One collection of artifacts was previously excavated from the enlisted men’s barracks; I will examine the food related artifacts from this excavation. Additionally there is a set of artifacts that were collected while digging a drainage ditch at the fort. These artifacts come from several distinct areas of the fort and were carefully boxed and given provenience. There has been no analysis of this collection. I will also be contributing to the mapping of the laundress quarters at the fort. In the process of mapping, a “catch and release” of the surface scatter of artifacts will take place.

My research will include comparing records of military rations to other food-related items that will be excavated; I will examine the overlaps and intersections that occurred in food practices among the white officers, black enlisted and multi-ethnic laundresses. By examining the artifactual and documentary evidence at the archives of Fort Davis, I hope to answer the question of how race, ethnicity, and gender collectively played a role in the foodways of the different groups who populated Fort Davis in the later half of the 19th century.


June 10, 2013

Hi everyone! My computer crashed the night I arrived at my site. I am working on a solution. I do have everything backed up to a hard drive. I hadn't put my files on drive though. I recommend doing so. On a positive note, Fort Davis is a beautiful place. The research team met with the park rangers today; they are so excited to help us. They are also very excited about my project. Nobody has looked at foodways in particular. This week will involve setting up lab space and meeting with a local historian. I will also start some lab analysis and archive work. This is such a remote part of Texas, nothing but mountains and big blue skies. I can truly appreciate the journey that the pioneers and military personnel made to get here.

June 11, 2013

I am staying in Alpine, which is about 30 miles from the park and town of Fort Davis. It is like Mayberry, but more rural. I have an old computer at home. My saint of a roommate is shipping it out tomorrow. The closest Apple store is in El Paso, which is a four-hour drive. I am working 5.5 days a week with my time spread between lab analysis, meetings with the park rangers, field survey and mapping. Repair on the crashed computer just can't happen now. I am so excited about how well things are going in the field I am trying to see the crash as just an almost cliché example of Murphy’s Law. The Fort is so beautiful and the staff is so willing to share their passion for it's rich history. I am feeling so privileged to be able to contribute to the archeology of the park.

I was in the field for a total of seven weeks this field season. I spent one week in Tucson at the Western Archaeological and Conservation Center (WACC) for training on the National Park Service’s data base system. Part of my contribution to Fort Davis Historical Site and the NPS is to contribute to the database of artifacts. There is one set of artifacts that were excavated in the 1990’s during the digging of a drainage ditch. This group of artifacts has very datable deposits from several locations of the fort including the officer’s quarters and commissary. These items have not been cataloged or analyzed yet. I currently am working on this aspect of my research.

At Fort Davis I worked on collecting as much data related to my project as possible. In the lab, I looked at a set of artifacts that were previously excavated from the men’s enlisted barracks area. While much of this collection had been previously identified, I was able to add to the analysis and also use these artifacts as a set of comparative artifacts for use in identifying other items. I spent a great deal of time mapping the laundress quarters. While there have been no excavations at this area of the fort, there were obvious signs of building foundations and very rich amounts of surface scatter. Permitting issues didn’t allow for excavation or actual collection, I worked on mapping in the artifacts on the surface of the ground. It was a “catch and release” style collection. Every artifact in the area was photographed and described. Historical Archaeology uses artifactual and documentary evidence to take a closer look at research questions. I spent at least one full day a week in the archives at Fort Davis looking at commissary records, journals, and census data.

Now that I am back in Berkeley, I still have lab work to do for my project, and I am also working on my theoretical framework for my senior thesis. I will also be looking at the similarities and differences in the different sets of artifacts. I look forward to starting the semester and meeting with the other Haas scholars.

Indigenous Knowledge and Bio-efficacy of Medicinal Plant Use: An Ethnobotancial Study of Sindhupalchok, Nepal

Sikai Song : Integrative Biology; Public Health

Mentor: Thomas Carlson, Integrative Biology

Ethnobotany is defined as “the scientific study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their medical, religious, and other uses.” Given that many active compounds used in pharmaceutical drugs today are extracted from plants, understanding indigenous knowledge regarding medicinal plant use is invaluable to deepen existing knowledge regarding various pharmacological uses of high-value medicinal plants, conservation, and sustainable resource management. My research seeks to document and catalogue the high-value medicinal plants used by the Tamang people in remote villages in rural Sindhupalchok, Nepal, as well as assess the bio-efficacy of the medicinal plants by comparing indigenous use with reported phytochemical and pharmacological properties in literature. 


June 7th, 2013

The first thing I notice about any place is the smell.

Nepal smells like earth. Inside, outside, it doesn’t matter. It is monsoon season right now, so it will rain almost every day for the next three months. It’s warm and humid, and if you don’t mind being a little wet, a jacket is not necessary.

The thought of starting my research terrifies and excites me all at once. As a budding-reseacher, I am hungry to start and to find out new things, to uncover and document knowledge- but as a silly American girl, I am scared of failure. I am afraid I will sooner discover my limits than my potential. 

June 15th, 2013

The past week has mostly been reading, putting together a brief-literature review of the ethnobotany that’s already been documented of the Tamang people in Nepal. In two days, I leave to the rural village in Sindhupalchok where I will finally begin my research: nearly 6-9 hours of interviews every day, field observations, and focus group discussions everyday for about 2 weeks, and then back to Kathmandu for a few weeks to re-collect and organize my data, and then back to Sindhupalchok.

I wonder if life is fast or slow, how different it will be out in the country side than in the city. I wonder if the people laugh easily or if they are too tired to smile by the end of the day.

July 2nd, 2013

The past two weeks in Bhotang VDC, Sindhupalchok was incredible. I was able to meet and interview with so many local healers, collectors, health workers, and local villagers, with probably at least 25+ hours of interviews to transcribe, organize, and analyze. Living with the villagers, eating the food, and trying to adjust myself to the every day lifestyle helps because I think it helps make the others around me feel more comfortable with my presence and more willing to share their knowledge with me. I have been very conscious and wary of not imposing myself upon people, to be as respectful as I can. I’m meeting up with one of the professors from the local university tomorrow to figure out what to do next. The most frustrating thing has been this uncertainty period of not knowing which step to take next- like waiting for other people to reply back to your emails.

July 26th, 2013

I’ve been cafe-hopping all day today because I realize that I can’t work at all when I’m at home. Still in Kathmandu, and trying to enjoy the last few weeks I have left here in Nepal. I’m sitting in The Bakery Café, one of my favorite places to eat here. I’ve been communicating with a local professor who is absolutely amazing and extremely helpful with guiding me through the next steps of my research. I have less than a week left before I head back to Bhotang village (4 hour bus ride + 7 hour intense trekking/hiking up the mountain) next week, and this time, I am determined to do this the best that I can, to do it better than I did the first time. Having already gone and experienced life in the village, I am much better prepared physically, mentally, and intellectually for this.

August 17th, 2013

My research is nearly complete (at least, for the time being)! After spending another 10 days in Sindhupalchok again re-collecting all the plants from near the village in Bhotang VDC, dutifully pressing the plants every night for about a week, painstakingly conducting 6-7 hours of interviews for about 5 days- my advisor here says it’s enough and I can submit my collection to the local herbarium. I think around 60% of the plants are identified, while the rest are unsure/unknown.

More than anything, the past 3 months have been a roller-coaster ride. I came here to conduct research, and ended up discovering more about myself than anything. All of my experiences have given me a new outlook on life, research, education, and goals in life.

I’m going to miss Nepal.

Tortoises, Sunflowers, and Subsidies: Large-Scale Solar Energy Policy in California and Andalucía

Patrick Donnelly-Shores : Conservation and Resource Studies

Mentor: Alastair Iles, Environmental Science, Policy and Management

Solar energy is often proclaimed a solution to climate change, and perhaps its most visible incarnation has been the worldwide development of large-scale solar energy facilities in arid lands. These projects entail significant environmental and social externalities: endangered species loss, such as the desert tortoise in the California desert, and land use transformation, as on the sunflower farms of Andalucía, Spain, being two examples. State-led energy policy facilitates the rise of this industry, though subsidies, expedited review processes, and legislation. This paper seeks to understand compare U.S. and Spanish policy in this arena, using analyses of policy, law, economic data, environmental impact statements, field interviews, and surveys. A critical evaluation of these policy regimes, and their outcomes on the ground, may suggest a more environmentally and socially sustainable way forward.

June 26, 2013

I’m driving across the rolling plains of the Guadalquivir River Valley, the agricultural heartland of Andalucía, Spain’s enormous southernmost autonomous community (similar to states in the U.S.).  I’ve just left the Morón Thermosolar Power Station, outside of the small city of Morón de la Frontera.  My goal in visiting the site is twofold: I’m interested in assessing the level of landscape integration or disturbance caused by the solar plant, and I’m also interested in ground-truthing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which the developer wrote prior to construction.  Did the Assessment provide a thorough and accurate inventory of the impacts that this plant causes on the local environment?  How does the presence of this plant affect the landscape surrounding it?

EIA is extremely different in Spain than in the United States, and it’s taken me some time to understand and work through those differences.  I considered myself an expert on EIA in the U.S. but in Spain, I’m a rank novice.  Extensive literature review and discussions with professors and environmental professionals has helped me better understand how to navigate the world of EIA in Spain.  One of the chief differences is that the actual Assessment documents, which are in the public domain in the U.S., are private property in Spain, owned by the developers.  This has made my task more difficult.  But through a series of coincidences and connections, I managed to obtain a number of EIA documents, which has allowed me to conduct my research as described above.

After driving around the plant, photographing it, inventorying the local ecosystem, and assessing the impacts particularly to hydrology, I’m exhausted.  It’s almost the weekend, so I’m going to take some R&R in the Sierra de Grazalema, a local Parque Natural in the mountains of the Cádiz Province.  I stop off in Zahara de la Sierra, a small village tucked into the craggy foothills of the Sierra de Grazalema.  Towns like Zahara, known as pueblos blancos, or white villages, are ancient, heavily fortified, and absolutely stunning. They date back to the repeated wars that were fought between the Christian castellanos and the Islamic Moors during the 10th-14th centuries here. 

It’s as hot as blazes, around 40°C (104°F), but I’m enchanted by this place and I scale the rugged trail up to the ancient castle, perched above the village.  The old saying, of course, is that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, and it’s true: I’m the only person out at this time.  The siesta culture is still alive and well in Andalucía, particularly in rural areas such as this one, which makes sense: who wants to be out when it’s a hundred degrees?  As I peer down from the top of the castle’s tower, I can see other white villages, tucked into craggy hills in the distance.  And Zahara, with its clay tiled roofs and winding cobblestone streets (meant for horses and pedestrians only- car access is extremely restricted), seems ancient in a way that I've never experienced in the U.S.

I’m struck by the juxtaposition of this culture: a  culture which holds on to old traditions, which inhabits ancient places, and yet which has embraced the idea of utility-scale solar technology with such reckless abandon that, at times, very serious environmental and social externalities have been overlooked in the face of expedient development.  And I’m grateful for the opportunity to sit in the noonday sun, embracing my English ancestry as it were, to ponder such thoughts.

July 6, 2013

Heat waves ripple up from the stony black hamada.  It’s so hot I can barely think.  The sweat that drips off my forehead stains my glasses, clouds my vision.  I’m staggering about the site of a proposed solar development in the Sahara Desert of central Morocco.  It would be the first utility-scale solar plant in Africa, and at a whopping 500MW, would be one of the largest such installations in the world. 

Sweat soaks through my shirt- I’ve drunk over 2 gallons of water today, and it’s still not enough.  This area regularly reaches today’s astounding temperature of 48°C (118°F), and is largely considered a barren wasteland.  The EIA documents, freely available from the various transnational institutions (the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the IMF, et al.) which are funding this project, glossed over the potential environmental impacts of this plant.  And yet, I’m finding abundant life here: a gazelle horn, lizard tracks in the sand, vibrant riparian ecosystems in the dry washes, and an extensive pasture-land utilized by local inhabitants for grazing their sheep and goats.

Heat, yes.  But there are animals and people uniquely adapted to the desert.  The Berber inhabitants of this area, with their full-length clothing, seem perfectly content with the high temperatures.  They move about slowly in the heat, to be sure, but they maintain the daily processes of life just as people do all over the planet.  They are an open, gregarious lot, which I found out as I regularly gave rides to people beckoning from the side of the road, trying to get to and fro town.  I even gave a ride to somebody with a chicken in tow, which he was going to sell at the market!  In doing so, I was able to glimpse into this culture, to glean some idea of the relationship that the people have to landscape.  While some Spaniards bemoan the loss of agricultural landscapes to large-scale solar, people in Morocco take a more utilitarian approach: will it bring money into the area?  Then fine.  They want it.  Just as their goats and sheep utilize the land, just as the vibrant palm-filled canyons are utilized for intensive agriculture, so the stony hamada can make money out of sunlight.  A fascinating difference worth exploring in the future.

July 27, 2013

Home.  What is home?  The answer for me is so complicated that I can rarely give a cogent response to a simple inquiry of, “Where are you from?”  And yet, when it comes down to it, the California desert is home.  I spent much of my adult life before coming to Berkeley in the desert around the little town of Joshua Tree, working in the outdoors doing ecological restoration projects and outdoor education.  To be able to come back here for my research is an honor and a privilege.  I first got interested in this topic precisely because of proposals to build utility-scale solar plants in my “backyard,” so to speak, in the desert southeast of Joshua Tree.

Out on the desert highway, a hundred miles from the nearest town, I keep my eyes peeled for a promising looking dirt road. Just a small break in the creosote scrub, the more rutted and gnarly looking the better, as it’ll keep away unwanted visitors. It’s an hour before dusk, and the sun is hanging low over the faint-on-the-horizon silhouette of Mt. San Gorgonio to the west. This is the hottest part of the day, really, as the bone dry air here just heats and heats and heats throughout the day until the sun disappears, at which point the temperature drops about 20 degrees in a matter of minutes. When a suitable candidate appears, I veer off the highway, throw the truck into four-wheel-drive, and get to bumping along. I’m searching for some shade, frankly, which is hard to come by in these parts. The best tactic is to head for the deepest wash you can find, and hope that enough water trickles down it each winter, and enough has pooled in subterranean aquifers, to support a scrubby but shade-providing Cat’s Claw Acacia or Desert Willow, or if I’m extremely lucky a Desert Ironwood, whose toxic but relatively large leaves (ok, only about ¾”x¼”, but large by desert standards) afford lush, delectable shade.

After some poking around, a few dead-end turns and one or two spin-outs in the sand, I find what I’m looking for: a proud, gnarled, probably thousand-year-old ironwood, whose twenty foot tall branches make it the tallest thing in any direction up to the base of the crumbling mesoquartz mountains on either horizon. Just as I pull up under its overhanging branches, the sun goes down and the shade becomes moot. Nonetheless, I’ll be grateful I found it tomorrow when the furnace starts heating up again.  And I think of the many ironwoods that I’ve camped under over the past decade; the many desert dirt roads I’ve clunked along in myriad trucks, jeeps, cars, bicycles, and best, on foot; the many places that I’ve called home, if only for a night or two.

I acknowledge the many ways that I’ve changed, but the desert too is changing.  Because filling half of my field of view is an immense construction project, truly dwarfing any of the previous ways that humanity has sought to alter the desert to meet its needs.  Thousands of acres of mirrors, covering the desert floor, which has been retooled into a perfectly flat, completely barren surface; all of the creosote scrub and ironwood ripped up, all of the desert tortoises and kit foxes and coyotes and hummingbirds evicted; the pervasive quiet of the desert replaced with a consistent faint hum from the cooling towers for the steam engines, as big rig trucks roll in with yet more mirrors; and the emptiness of the desert, with only distant headlights on the far-off interstate to interrupt it, replaced with floodlights, security guards, and paved access roads.  And perhaps if this was just the one, it would be different.  But on my 200 mile drive from Joshua Tree, I passed three such facilities, as well as the proposed sites for another half dozen.

At this point, visiting the plants has become a bit of a rote exercise: the impacts tend to be very similar between plants of similar technologies, and I’ve seen literally two dozen of them so far this summer.  Instead, I’m focusing on landscape integration: what are the effects of putting a 4,000 acre solar facility in the middle of a desert valley.  Will the bighorn still make their traditional migratory routes between mountainside watering holes?  Will aquatic birds mistake the glistening solar panels for an inviting looking pond?  What of the effects on these lands which are traditionally sacred to local Indian tribes?

And so I sit here under an ironwood tree, in my home.  And I contemplate how the desert is changing, and how I’m changing.  And how the people and places I’ve encountered this summer have changed me, have challenged my beliefs and what I think is important.  And I’m simply content to know that in the year ahead of me, I’ll have some space in which I can wrestle with these ideas, and put together my data, and hopefully put together a thesis which will positively influence the future of utility-scale solar development.



Curses, Invocations? An Investigation into the Medical Ethnobotany of the Kosovo Roma

Sina Akhavan : Integrative Biology

Mentor: Professor Thomas Carlson, Integrative Biology

In remote Kosovo camps and villages, Roma are isolated from government-run medicine, relying on their own traditions for common sickness. Conversations with Kosovo Roma and field experts indicate some Roma are practicing traditional medicine undocumented in scientific literature. Sina will travel to Kosovo, distributing questionnaires and engaging in interviews with Roma folk to understand which plants are used in healing, and how they are used. There is little academic literature on Roma - mostly on history and music - and less in scientific journals. Sina's hope is that this project will bring to the surface centuries of old medical modality and will also widen the scope of research done on Roma, in part by creating links of trust between Roma and science. With permission, a paper will be submitted for publication.


Handedness and Happiness: The Interaction Between Hand Dominance and Emotion Processing

Geoffrey Brookshire : Psychology

Mentor: Professor Richard Ivry, Psychology

There is a wealth of literature documenting the asymmetric role of the two cerebral hemispheres in different aspects of cognition. Although this has been most exhaustively studied with respect to language and spatial cognition, robust laterality effects are also present in emotion. Experiments performed on right-handed subjects associate the left hemisphere with approach-based behavior and positive emotional states and the right hemisphere with withdrawal and negative emotions. Right-handers, along similar lines, are quicker to respond to stimuli of positive valence when they are presented on the right side of space and to negative stimuli when on the left. Left-handers, however, show the opposite pattern. Geoff will compare the neurophysiology of affective processing in right- and left-handers in order to determine whether or not this behavioral result is neurologically substantiated.

Reading Colonial Overtones in British Orientalist Art of Cairo via Arabic Text and Islamic Design

Jaimee Comstock-Skipp : Near Eastern Studies/History of Art

Mentor: Professor Margaret Larkin, Near Eastern Studies

While Orientalism in French art has been extensively studied, its relevance to British art has received less attention. Jaimee seeks to fill this void by analyzing British paintings of Egypt during the colonial age. Her study involves face-to-face visits to the actual Cairene monuments and to their illustrated counterparts in English institutions. It will investigate the inclusion of Arabic script and details of Islamic art within select paintings as to determine cultural sensitivity or ignorance given the political climate. She anticipates that as time and cultural contacts progress, the art signals a shift in social relations that hybridizes “East” and “West”, with increased attention to understanding the “Other”. The result will combine Orientalism, Islamic art and architecture, and the Arabic language by evaluating their confluence within British Orientalist paintings.

Engineering Escherichia coli for Production of Alternative Fuels

Kyle Dunbar : Chemical Biology

Mentor: Professor Michelle Chang, Chemistry

A renewable energy source is becoming a necessity as fossil fuel reserves dwindle. Using microbial fermentation processes, it is possible to harvest plant biomass and convert it into second-generation fuels. Current industrial focus has been placed on ethanol production. However, this compound is not ideally suited for a liquid fuel replacement. A biochemical pathway has been expressed in Escherichia coli that produces 1-butanol, a much more suitable fuel source in terms of both transportation ease and energy density. Experiments have shown that the pathway is active, but there is a bottleneck in the last enzymatic step. Kyle's project centers on elucidating the molecular aspects of this bottleneck in biochemical detail and resolving it to increase 1-butanol production.

Painting the Present as History: Gustave Courbet's ‘Burial at Ornans’ and the Revolution of 1848

Sonia Fleury : History of Art/History

Mentor: Professor Darcy Grigsby, History of Art

Sonia Fleury’s project will primarily address notions of history and its construction in art and contemporary cultural media--newspapers, magazines, and political/popular prints--during the 1848 revolution in France. Receiving special attention will be the artwork of the 19th century realist painter Gustave Courbet, whose Burial at Ornans challenged traditional notions of history painting in its depiction of provincial bourgeois at a funeral. Does Courbet’s assertion that history painting is by its very nature contemporary parallel broader shifts in conceptions of history during this radical revolutionary moment, whereby history was seen as residing in the present? Sonia will travel to France to visit archives in Paris; to the Musée de l’Image in Epinal; and to Montpellier, where the largest retrospective exhibit of Courbet’s work in thirty years is currently displayed.

Characterization of DNA Damage Repair in Myogenic Precursors

Say Tar Goh : Molecular and Cell Biology

Mentor: Professor Irina Conboy, Bioengineering

Muscle stem cells, or satellite cells, are located in muscle fibers and are responsible for muscle repair in mammals throughout adult life. As individuals age, the capability of satellite cells to repair muscle dramatically declines. The loss of such capabilities can be related to the host environment, in that extracellular niches provided by old hosts hamper their ability to regenerate muscle, regardless of the origin of the cells themselves. Say Tar hypothesizes that this can, at least in part, be linked to their reduced ability to repair DNA in an unfavorable extracellular environment generated by the host. He will try to draw this potential link by characterizing DNA damage repair ability in muscle stem cells, subjecting them to various culture environments, derived from differently aged animals and different stress conditions

Youth Reintegration in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone

Evarosa Holt-Rusmore : Interdisciplinary Field Studies, Global Poverty and Practice (minor)

Mentor: Professor Mariane Ferme, Anthropology

Throughout the Sierra Leone conflict, many girls and young women are abducted and sexually abused. The result of the abuse and suffering is often pregnancy. Especially after the end of civil war in 2002, young mothers who return to their communities confront social stigmatization. This has had marginalizing effects for both mothers and their children. Eva Holt-Rusmore's research will address the effects of community stigmatization on the children of young mothers. Ethnographic observation of these children's lives through participation in a Freetown school, as well as informal interviews with individuals and their mothers will provide insight into the construction of post-conflict community and peace reconciliation. Additionally, various development workers and field experts will be consulted in order to bridge information gaps between policy, academia and the reality of childhood in Sierra Leone.

Steric Constraints on Anthrax Toxin Translocation

Allen Kwong : Molecular and Cell Biology

Mentor: Professor Bryan Krantz, Molecular and Cell Biology and Chemistry

Although protein translocations across cellular membranes are vitally significant, the biophysical mechanisms underlying such processes remain obscure. Nevertheless, methods exist for studying translocation processes. In particular, anthrax toxin’s movement across cellular membranes provides a model for studying general translocation mechanisms. Allen’s specific interest lies in elucidating the steric effects that particularly bulky, hydrophobic amino acid side-chains have on anthrax toxin’s translocation. By investigating translocation rates of anthrax toxin, Allen hopes to provide a deeper understanding of the toxin’s mechanism for cell entry. In addition, this study may provide implications for our overall understanding of the mechanisms that hinder protein translocation across membranes, perhaps leading to insight into the synthesis of effective counter-toxin drugs.

Development of Time-Resolving Magnetometers with Single-Spin Sensitivity

James Jung Lee : Engineering Physics

Mentor: Professor Irfan Siddiqi, Physics

The field of quantum mechanics has produced many technological breakthroughs including the MRI scanner and Scanning Tunneling Microscope. However, probing the dynamics of particles such as electrons, which are best described by quantum mechanics, on a reasonable time scale has been a long term challenge. James Lee’s project aims to manipulate and measure the spin of electrons on a microsecond timescale. This will be accomplished through the Single Bohr Magneton Detector (SBD) project, under development in the Quantum Nano Lab at UC Berkeley. The SBD is a superconducting device that aims to efficiently couple to the magnetic field from a single spin. The ability to quickly measure small numbers of spins will enhance physicists’ understanding of quantum systems, and perhaps be a foundation for the building of novel quantum systems.

Development of a Memory Selection Device for Engineering Bacteria

Samantha Liang : Bioengineering

Mentor: Professor J. Christopher Anderson, Bioengineering

In order for synthetic biology to overcome the limitations of using only naturally-derived biological activities, tools for developing and identifying engineered genetic components with desired biochemical, enzymatic, or regulatory properties are greatly needed. Samantha is building a genetic threshold-gated memory selection circuit incorporating positive/negative selections and an irreversible Cre recombinase excision circuit in the E.coli genome. With this device, bacteria will exist in one of two mutually exclusive antibiotic-resistant states depending on whether or not they exhibit a desired activity, and Cre recombinase expression will serve as the switch between the positive and negative states. Linking desired activities to Cre expression will allow for efficient selection of new promoters and proteins, making this genetic selection device a valuable foundational technology with a wide variety of applications in genetic engineering.

Object Recognition by Contour Extraction

Joseph J. Lim : Computer Science/Applied Mathematics

Mentor: Professor Jitendra Malik, EECS

Object recognition is a major unsolved problem in Computer Vision. The main goal is for computers to detect and to recognize objects in the given images and videos. In this project, contours will be used as a new descriptor. "Contours" are defined as sets of segments that can provide more information than just a single segment or a random set of segments. In the past, not much work has been done using contours, because extracting contours from images was a difficult task. However, with a much improved contour extraction method developed in the Berkeley Vision Group, Joseph Lim and his mentor expect to contribute to a new method that will benefit the entire field of Computer Vision.

Development of New Genetic Techniques for Studying Photosynthesis in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii

Mingen (Jason) Liu : Plant and Microbial Biology

Mentor: Professor Krishna Niyogi, Plant and Microbial Biology

In his project, Jason intends to examine the possibility of site-targeting or HR in the PSY gene of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii – a unicellular alga and a model organism for studying photosynthesis. He will generate mutant populations through transformations with a plasmid containing a defective copy of the PSY gene and will then screen for successful gene-disruption by selecting for a white phenotype and antibiotic resistance. Further experiments will examine the locus of recombination, enabling design of new plasmids to target mutagenesis of other genes for an efficient and cost-effective method of identifying new genes involved in photosynthesis. Successful targeting of the PSY gene as a test case can lead to development of a new screening strategy for Chlamydomonas – a major advance that creates new possibilities for genetics research on photosynthesis.

Using Markov Chain Monte Carlo with People to Classify Facial Affect

Jay Martin : Cognitive Science/Statistics

Mentor: Professor Tom Griffiths, Psychology

Cognitive science aims to understand how people represent the structure of the world around them. Faces are thought to be windows to some of these representations, namely emotions, which are related to facial expressions biologically and culturally. Labeling expressions is a seemingly effortless task for people, but explaining the subtleties is much more complicated. Jay’s study will help develop a method to systematically explore the scope of different categories of affect, and to explore the correlation between subtle facial movements and the perception of emotion. With sophisticated facial animation software and an algorithm from statistical physics, he hopes to learn to categorize different facial affects through a subject-driven variation of the Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithm. The results of this study will be compared to other contemporary visual categorization techniques.

Families and Frontier Boys: An Archaeology of Consumerism and Identity Construction in a mid-20th Century California Community

Jessica Merizan : Anthropology

Mentor: Professor Laurie Wilkie, Anthropology

Through archaeological analysis of a dump in Northern California used by the wealthy, Anglo-American ranch family of Joe Coney and related households in the 1940s-60s, Jessica will investigate how patterns of consumerism, as shown by artifacts, negotiate with class, gender, and race, along with regional consumer styles. She plans to spend her summer researching curated documentary records, archival data, and museum collections, as well as working with a site informant who lived on the ranch and is now, interestingly, an archaeologist. Jessica believes that through an analysis of the Coneys’ material culture, she may connect their lives to period popular culture that affected the construction of household identity and further understand the relationship between national marketing strategies and regional consumer behavior.

8-Bit Teardrops: A History of Melodrama in Video Games

Kyle Rentschler : Film Studies

Mentor: Professor Linda Williams, Rhetoric

Often understood as a film genre, melodrama is more accurately understood as a particular mode of expression which is actually highly prevalent in most forms of Western mass media. In his paper, Kyle will be addressing melodrama’s existence in video games. Focusing on narrative, design, and gameplay, Kyle will be taking an historical approach at analyzing how melodrama’s varying forms of integration in video games have changed over time and why this is important to how games are played. Through reading video game literature, interviewing game theorists and developers, and playing an exorbitant amount of games, Kyle hopes to unite film genre and video game studies and explore how a misunderstood mode of expression and an overlooked medium transform one another.

Rejection Sensitivity and Gratitude

A. Nicholas Santascoy : Psychology

Mentor: Professor Ozlem Ayduk, Psychology

Research on rejection sensitivity, the anxious expectation of and hostility to perceived rejection, has focused on mapping its possible causes and negative consequences. Positive emotion research, though, has revealed gratitude's tendency to foster positive affect and pro-social behavior. Nicholas plans to examine the efficacy of gratitude in reducing negative aspects of rejection sensitivity while increasing positive emotions and behaviors within close relationships. In study 1, high rejection sensitive people will daily express gratitude in writing for the behavior of loved ones for two weeks. In study 2, high rejection sensitive people will be tested to see if gratitude reduces rejection-primed anxiety.

The Scarves of Choice: Headscarf Discrimination and Economic Development in Turkey

Mehmet Seflek : Economics and Arabic

Mentor: David Roland-Holst, Adjunct Professor, Agriculture and Resource Economics

Legislation banning the Islamic headscarf in Turkish universities has caused a political and social uproar over the last two decades, but the effect of the spillover of politics into women's private lives has often been overlooked. Mehmet will research the extent of the discrimination against women who wear the Islamic headscarf in the Turkish labor-market and, if it exists, the effect of this discrimination on the career choices of female university graduates. Mehmet will examine the class and religious inequality that discrimination may be creating, how the headscarf affects the Turkish economy, and the effects of this legislation on educational outcomes. For this project, Mehmet will survey university students in Istanbul, and will use created identities to experimentally apply for jobs to test for discrimination.

The MeKong River (Song Me Kong)

Seryna Thai : Film Studies

Mentor: Professor Kristen Whissel, Film Studies

The most valuable possession is a person's life.” This is a statement in Dang Thùy Trâm’s memoir, Last Night I Dreamed of Peace. Seryna Hanh Thai will be creating a documentary on the Vietnam War and her direct relation to it. Having two brothers who fought on different sides of the conflict gives Seryna a unique and untold perspective of a national conflict that shaped the history of her family and her native country. However, instead of creating a standard documentary-style approach, the lasting impression of works by Rea Tajiri, Dorothea Lange, and Chris Marker have convinced Seryna to tackle her subject with an avant-garde visual style. Interviews with immediate family members, the narrative of Dang’s diary and historical images will be woven together to better understand the inevitable trauma of warfare.