Advanced Math/Science Research Update

by Dr. April Burch, Director of the AMSR program

January 15, 2013

Since our last update, Berkshire School hosted student researchers from Belmont Hill, and all-boys prep school outside of Boston, for a 1-day mini-symposium on Student Biomedical Research. The goal was to foster collaboration, communication and community outreach with our students.  AMSR students Liza Bernstein '13, Sissi Wang '13, Lars Robinson '13, Elsie Guevara '13, Ernest Yue '13, and Nate MacKenzie '14, gave short talks about their work in the new Bellas/Dixon Math and Science lecture hall. The talks were followed up by break-out sessions where Belmont Hill students described their research projects and students discussed commonalities between the projects and future goals.

The second semester of AMSR started with some terrific news. The AMSR program was awarded a grant from The Chinchester Dupont Foundation for the purchase of an EVOS fluorescence microscope.  This piece of equipment will expand the types of experiments and analyses that can be done by AMSR students this and future years.  The microscope should arrive shortly, and Dr. Burch has invited everyone to stop in for a look next time they are on campus. 

One new, exciting project that is underway in the winter season of AMSR in the afternoons is being spearheaded by Elif Kesaf '14.  Elif is from Turkey and seeks to identify novel viruses of non-pathogenic strains of Legionella bacterium from travertines in Pamukkale. In collaboration with Dr. Sunny Shin at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, she will be working to isolate viruses of this bacterium with the hope of identifying new agents to combat Legionnaires' disease caused by a pathogenic form of Legionella.

Look for more news from Dr. Burch in the next issue!

Advanced Geometry Tours Lewitt Exhibit
Posted 04/20/2013 11:58AM


Advanced Geometry Tours Sol Lewitt Exhibit

The placard next to wall drawing #852 reads, “A wall divided from the upper left to the lower right by a curvy line; left: glossy yellow; right: glossy purple.”  On Monday, April 15th, Mr. Turner’s Advanced Geometry classes explored the intersection of art and math at Mass MoCA’s Sol Lewitt exhibit. 

Before immersing ourselves in Lewitt’s work, Karen, our tour guide, took us to building #5 to introduce two crucial concepts of contemporary art: its temporal existence and each installation’s inimitability.  Xu Bing’s modern interpretation of a pastoral scene from an ancient Chinese scroll was a perfect example.  Using material found near North Adams, MA, Bing strategically placed these objects behind a semi-opaque piece of glass to recreate the scene.  Viewed from the front, it appeared as though he’d used a black brush to paint a replica of the scroll onto a large piece of paper.  However, visible behind the installation were the pine branches, trash, and plastic bags he’d transformed to become the hut, trees, and clouds in the scene.  This iteration of the piece will only exist as long as Bing’s exhibit is on display at Mass MoCA. 

Bing, one of the most renowned Chinese contemporary artists, derived some of his inspiration from Lewitt.  With that segue, we headed into the 27,000 square-foot building housing the museum’s Lewitt collection until 2033.  Renowned for separating the concept behind his art and the work itself, Lewitt’s instructions described different geometric forms to be interpreted and drawn by draftsmen.  Fourth former Austin Hovey was impressed by his focus on the idea of his art rather than the implementation.  “He made the directions for his work but let others draw the actual art.”  As we traversed the three floors divided into Lewitt’s early, mid, and late career work, Karen asked students to identify the patterns in each piece.  Third former Max Hofman was “surprised that he used math to create formulas to describe pieces of art that seem very complex.  He was very creative.”  Most impressive, his instructions were often only two to three sentences in length. 

“My favorite piece was the one with two cubes.  They were both shaded grey…At first it seemed as if the small cube sunk into the larger one but as I shifted my eyes across the drawing, the small cube popped out at me.  He created an optical illusion,” stated third former Josiah Tolvo.  Karen pointed out Lewitt’s impressive understanding of how our brain interprets images and how he liked to trick the viewer’s mind.  Third former Savanna Fortgang said, “As you looked longer at his work, you would observe more and more details.” 

As we progressed through the museum, third former Sophie Needles “was surprised by how much his minimalist style changed throughout his career.  It went from very mathematically inspired diagrams to brightly colored images with no pattern.”  Karen used this observation to provide some brief insight into color theory and we spent our time on the third floor shielding our eyes from some eye-popping pieces.  We finished the day with a visit to Xu Bing’s 2 twenty-eight meter long and twelve ton phoenixes suspended from the ceiling. 

It was exciting for students to see math outside the geometry classroom and think of art in terms of formulas.  Math department chair and guest chaperone Kurt Schleunes was especially excited about Lewitt’s use of sine curves and his exploration of topology.  Students returned to Berkshire ready to create their own Sol Lewitt inspired artwork and these will be on display around campus shortly.

-- Jasper Turner, Math teacher and Pro Vita Director

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