Watch: Inaugural AgoraTalks Event Showcases Senior Thesis Projects

by Zach Epstein
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Jonathan Molloy '14 (left) introduces AgoraTalks, during which a group of seniors representing a mix of majors presented their thesis projects in an event geared toward interdisciplinary discussion.

AgoraTalks, named after the Ancient Greek meeting place where Socrates and interlocutors uttered their famous lines, is dedicated to the celebration and exposure of senior thesis projects. Recently, select seniors had the opportunity to present their work in short presentations to a general audience of current and prospective students, faculty, and staff. Organizers saw the event as both a way to showcase some of the academic work that takes place on campus, as well as to enhance the senior thesis process.

"Above all else, the goal of the AgoraTalks was to create a forum for interdisciplinary discourse through the original thinking and research happening on campus," says Jonathan Molloy '14, who organized the event with Kieran Reichert '13.

Building on the popularity of last year's TEDxSwarthmore event, the organizers decided to adopt a similar model.

"We saw senior thesis projects as the ideal avenue for this exchange, as few people besides the authors, their advisors, and the occasional friend ever read the finished product," says Molloy, an architectural studies major from Nyack, N.Y. "Given the original and compelling nature of some of these projects, we wanted to give them the opportunity to present their work to the greater Swarthmore community at an annual event."

Students participating were faced with the challenge of broadening their presentation to reach a general audience. "Ultimately, we wanted AgoraTalks to be an event from which the audience and presenters would leave stimulated anew by material that might have grown old in a professor's desk drawer," Molloy says.

The seniors that participated in AgoraTalks include:

  • Steven Barrett: Biochemistry
    "Normally, the structure of DNA is thought of as a double helix (or two-stranded duplex), which is the most commonly observed form in cells and the most prevalent depiction in the media. But, depending on its specific sequence, DNA can adopt several non-duplex forms. G-quadruplex DNA is a four-stranded alternative structure of DNA that forms at the ends of human chromosomes. These G-quadruplexes are speculated to play a large role in cancer and their interactions with small molecules is of great interest, as these molecules may function as anticancer drugs. My research aims to understand the molecular basis and themes of these interactions."
  • Josh Bloom: Computer Science / Educational Studies
    "My senior thesis aims to explore how/if students can be introduced to computer science earlier on in their educational careers. Scratch, a programming environment created by the MIT Media Lab, seemed like an appropriate medium through which elementary school-aged kids are first exposed to computer programming concepts. But what facets of Scratch support computational thinking? What are other benefits of programming in Scratch? How can teachers support students to begin programming in Scratch? For answers, I reviewed literature surrounding the Scratch programming environment, observed four elementary school classrooms in which students are using Scratch, and participated in an online course, Learning Creative Learning, offered by its creators."

     

  • Rebecca Hammond: Chemistry
    "There are peptides in semen that aggregate to form stable fibers called amyloid. These fibers enhance the infectivity of HIV, which on its own is a pretty nasty virus. I work with two of the peptides that enhance HIV transmission, SEM1 and SEM2, and try to break them down with three different chemicals."
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  • Soomin Kim: Studio Art
    "My thesis exhibit, which I have been preparing for a year and was up in the List Gallery from May 2-6, is about multimedia installations with wood, hand-blown glass, fabric, and video projections."
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  • Alejandro Sills: History
    "The subject of this inquiry is Saint John of Damascus, an eighth-century Syrian monk who wrote against Byzantine Iconoclasm. Through a study of his writings and the worksthat he cited, together with an investigation into modern scholarship, this thesis argues that his claim for the custom of image veneration as a legitimate part of Christian worship from its earliest days is sound. In the process, the paper looks into the evolution of historiography surrounding the subject, with implications for how to approach ancient sources."
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  • Sam Sussman: Political Science
    "The use of racially charged language is a 45-year Republican project that runs from Richard Nixon's promise of 'law and order' to Ronald Reagan's 'welfare queen' to George Bush Sr.'s shameful (yet successful) attempt to define Michael Dukakis '55 by convicted murderer Willie Horton's mug shot. Racially charged language has been the prime mechanism by which the GOP has built its case for 'small government.'"
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  • Eric Verhasselt: Engineering
    "I designed, constructed, and tested an operational fuel-cell car."