Category: Research

A Look at Undergraduate Research: The Robot Revolution

December 4th, 2018 in Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, News and Events, Research, Students 0 comments

When a woman took a nap on her floor and her robot vacuum cleaner sucked up her hair, the media response was predictably sensational: “A robot vacuum cleaner has fired the opening salvo in the impending war between man and machine” and “Woman is attacked as she sleeps by her ROBOT vacuum cleaner!”

It’s perhaps an overreaction when you consider the robot was just doing its job. This sensationalism is one trend College of General Studies Lecturer Joelle Renstrom is trying to counter in a new book she’s writing about robotics and artificial intelligence. With the assistance of undergraduate researcher Sofia Zalaquett (CGS’19, CAS’21), Renstrom is diving into topics such as technological unemployment, love and sex with robots, artist robots, and the always-intriguing question of robot consciousness.

Renstrom is trying to translate the science for a general audience and answer how the AI revolution will affect ordinary people. She says, “I don’t own a company, I don’t represent a lab, I don’t have a vested interest in this other than curiosity and wanting readers to … think about where the future is going so they potentially have some say in whether they’re pulled along or not.”

Joelle Renstrom and Sofia Zalaquett looking at videos for their research

Watching robot videos is just part of the job. The two sometimes swap breaking news stories, Zalaquett says: “We are usually sending emails to one another like, ‘Look at this, this is so cool!’”

Thanks to funding from the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning’s Undergraduate Research Experience, Zalaquett is receiving a stipend for her research work. She got a head start on the topic when she took Renstrom’s RH 102 class, which delves into robotics and artificial intelligence. Zalaquett is giving input into the table of contents and chapter outlines, finding news stories and interviewees, and helping to organize the research. She also pointed Renstrom to an online collaboration platform, AirTable, that has streamlined and organized their work. And she’s learning how to analyze the methodology and accuracy of the studies she’s looking at.

An international relations major, Zalaquett says the subject touches her own studies in a lot of ways: Technology has decentralized power, global leaders will have to decide how to deal with technological unemployment, and drones are a major issue when it comes to cybersecurity.

“It impacts economics. It impacts art. It impacts whatever major you can think of,” Zalaquett says. “I think everyone should be studying this at BU because it’s like a little peek and analysis of the future.” It has helped her connect her history classes to what happens next: “What can we do with what we’ve learned from the past?”

Renstrom says it’s helpful to have the perspective of someone who’s grown up as a digital native and can be a sounding board for the audience she’s trying to reach: “I’m not a Luddite but I have some real concerns about technology and I find it very useful to talk to somebody who grew up with way more tech than I did. .. If she’s less concerned about something I really want to know why.”

And in a field dominated by white men, it’s great to see two women collaborating on a STEM topic, Renstrom says: “I would just like to say that it’s awesome that a female professor and a female research student are working on a book about robots. Just saying, I think that’s awesome.”

— By Alisa Harris

This article is part of a series featuring undergraduate research at Boston University College of General Studies. The Undergraduate Research Experience is a unique opportunity for students to work directly with CGS faculty members on current research projects while earning a stipend for their research work.  

2018 Capstone Award Winners

October 26th, 2018 in Alumni, News and Events, Of Special Interest, Research, Students 0 comments

On October 19, Boston University College of General Studies celebrated the outstanding students who received awards for the Capstone projects they completed last May. The Capstone project is a 50-page research term paper that CGS students complete in their sophomore year. Students draw on two years of interdisciplinary studies, working together as a team to synthesize data into a meaningful whole. The Capstone award is given annually to the team of students who present the best overall Capstone paper and defense. It is the highest honor bestowed upon a College of General Studies student for an academic project.

Team R: Creating A Sustainable Boston Public Transportation System: An Examination of the MBTA System and a Plan to Make it Work Now and in the Future

Team R’s winning Capstone group–Nicole Bourke, Elena Desanti, Kevin Ho, Jacquie Jakimowicz, Justin Lee, and Coco Ocker–constructed a thorough plan of action for the MBTA to improve its service and plan for the future. The project focused on both short-term and long-term solutions for a transit system currently experiencing severe economic and technological challenges. To make their case for what might and might not work in Boston, they examined subway systems in London, San Francisco, and Hong Kong. Drawing on these comparative studies, they outlined a well-conceived plan of action that stretches 50 years into the future. Team R faculty wrote that the winning group “combined a passionate commitment to a sustainable future with a keen understanding of the economic and environmental costs that accrue from poor transit planning.”

Team S: The Joint Committee Report on the STEM Act (Screen Time Exposure and Mitigation Act)

Team S’s winning Capstone group–Sofia Chavez, Sydney Christianson, Grace Golder, Jeanne Ilano, Yiyuan Li, Junfeng Liu, Yingjie Zhang, and Yichen Zhou–created The STEM Act, an imaginary and imaginative bill which aims to limit screen time for the young but to do so in accord with American constitutional and cultural norms. The project had its source in a comparison between Chinese and American approaches to the issue of overexposure of the young to computers, the internet, and screens in general.



Team T: Project H.E.A.L (Healthy Eating Active Living)

Team T’s winning Capstone group– Deziray De Sousa, Max Enholm, Tommy Hagerty, Jen Margolis, Ciarra Nafus, Saeros Oskarsdottir, and Abigail Parsons–worked towards improving the overall health and wellness of students in public high schools in the Boston Area. Through an interactive mentor program partnering with Division One Boston University athletes and top ranked Sargent College Nutrition majors, they carefully plotted out how they’d improve the health of students in Somerville and Brookline High School. Team T faculty wrote of this group, “Well-researched, pragmatic, thoughtful and clear, their Capstone soared above the rest.”



Team U: Sustainable Green Spaces: A Reality for Boston University and Wheelock College?

Team U’s winning Capstone group–Pablo Jimenez, Vivian Kim, Chase Madden, Kristyn Mize, Aqsa Momin, Karen Muraoka,Chiara Rolland, and Lena Washington–conducted a fine-grained analysis of existing green spaces in the two institutions. Considering such things as plant density, biodiversity and sustainability, the students provided photos, maps, and information from student surveys. Team U faculty wrote, “They were so thorough that they even identified individual plants by taking pictures with their phones and using a special app.”



Team V: Pay for Play Controversy: Addressing the Issue of Compensation for Collegiate Athletes

Team V’s winning Capstone group–Emma Bianculli, Amanda Boucourt, Devin Collins, Maggie Kartsonis, Mark Pogue, Jianan Wang, and Zeyi Wang–decided to tackle a difficult question: should college athletes be paid? This group tackled this challenge by writing in the challenging adversary format, presenting the most compelling claims from each side. The group proposed a novel solution to the problem that is modest without seeming timid: a “laundry fund” that would make need-based stipends available to some student athletes. Team V faculty wrote, “For all these reasons and more, this group is an exceedingly deserving winner of the Team V Capstone Award.”


Team W: The South China Sea Dispute: De-escalation Via Collaboration

Team W’s winning Capstone group–Caolan Disini, Alexis Doreste, Richard Duncan, William Estrada, Janice He, Jack Valentine, and Sam Weiner–created both short-term and long-term solutions while also providing an impressive balance between direct American diplomacy with their Chinese counterparts and the construction of a multi-pronged Asian-Pacific alliance system that encompasses the host of countries fearful of China’s rising power in the region. In sum, said Team W faculty, one of the best projects they’ve seen in years: “Their research is thorough, their prose clear and precise, and the policy a rare and welcome combination of breadth and depth.”


Team Y: Meltdown In The Middle East: An Analysis And Policy Recommendation For The U.S.-Iran Nuclear Deal

Team Y’s winning Capstone group– Rahim Barrie, Christina Bissereth, Melissa Chan, David McCarthy, Matthew Schaffner, Maria Teresa Talbott, and Alec Vaughn– created a sophisticated policy paper designed “to prevent, at all costs, Iran from developing nuclear weapons.” The team focused on the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal of 2015  (also known as the JCPOA), and argued the U.S.should “follow the JCPO whenever it has to while increasing economic and occasionally military pressure everywhere else.” Team Y faculty wrote,  “This Capstone paper is thorough, penetrating, sober, very well-written, and, as a whole, highly commendable.”



Team Y: CRISPR: A Revolutionary Technology

Team Y’s winning Capstone group–Samuel Agate, Charlotte Bacon, Allyson Buehler, Josh Nam, Emmanuel Reid, John Wetzel, and Maura Woods–argued for new regulations and legislation regarding the use of CRISPR, the novel and revolutionary gene-editing technique. A review and thorough understanding of current legislation, both here in the USA and abroad, leads the reader to the important need for more regulation and oversight by our own DHHS. Team Y faculty wrote, “To go with their all-encompassing introduction to and understanding of the the problem, the authors’ thoughtful, well reasoned, and extensive solution would end up benefiting all Americans concerned about the future of biotechnology.”


A Look at Undergraduate Research: A Philosopher-Director from Hollywood’s Golden Age

September 12th, 2018 in Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, News and Events, Research, Students 0 comments

You’ve probably seen his movies, but you may not know his name. King Vidor directed some of the boundary-breaking films of the Golden Age of Hollywood. From the silent era classic The Big Parade to the Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz to the sweeping epic, War and Peace, Vidor moved with Hollywood from the silent era to sound—mastering the craft of filmmaking as it evolved and changed. He directed Gregory Peck, Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Yul Brynner, and Judy Garland, yet he’s not as well-known as his Hollywood contemporaries such as John Ford or Frank Capra.

In 1989, The Crowd (1928) was preserved by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”

College of General Studies Associate Professor of Humanities Kevin Stoehr is writing a book on King Vidor with some research assistance from Luke Bonzani (CGS’18, COM’20, CAS’20), funded by the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning Undergraduate Research Experience. Thanks to donations from generous alumni and parents, CITL funds a semester-long stipend for students to collaborate with professors on research projects. Bonzani and Stoehr connected, with an assist from another professor, because Luke is majoring in both film and philosophy and interested in how the two subjects intersect.

Vidor shared that interest. Raised as a Christian Scientist, Vidor’s interest in spirituality and philosophy intertwined much of his work. “He loved to philosophize about filmmaking as an art form, and he loved to philosophize in general about life and reality and human nature,” said Stoehr.

Bonzani started off by reading three dozen interviews and articles, combing them for quotes from Vidor on the craft and art of filmmaking. Stoehr freed Bonzani to use his own judgment on this part of the project, telling him, “If you were going to read a book on this director, what would you like to learn from a chapter?” and letting him take it from there.

For his second assignment, Bonzani watched and analyzed Vidor’s adaption of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, making notes on the production and the philosophy of the movie. Bonzani had already studied Nietzsche in-depth thanks to a directed study he did in his freshman year, so the film’s Nietzschean themes dovetailed well with Bonzani’s CGS studies and Stoehr’s own research in Nietzsche.

“By looking at The Fountainhead, Luke was able to connect philosophy – especially political philosophy – with film studies,” Stoehr said. Bonzani said it’s become his favorite Vidor film, and one he enjoys more every time he watches it.

Bonzani and Stoehr look at stills from a Vidor film

Bonzani analyzed another one of Vidor’s later, philosophical films, Truth and Illusion: An Introduction to Metaphysics—essentially a film-essay on the nature of reality. Bonzani did a philosophical analysis of the film and related it back to Vidor’s Christian Science background.  He’s also researched Vidor’s role in the anti-communist group, Committee on the Preservation of American Ideals in Motion Pictures.

Bonzani and Stoehr began their collaboration in the summer of 2018 and will continue through the fall, with more support from the CITL Undergraduate Research Experience. Their next phase of research will focus on Vidor’s adaption of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and the Biblical epic, Solomon and Sheba.  “I expect that we’ll be having some great conversations this coming semester,” said Stoehr.

This post is part of a series that profiles the faculty-undergraduate research partnerships offered through the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning’s Undergraduate Research Experience. To learn more, please contact the Center at To donate to the Undergraduate Research Experience, designate the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning in the box that asks for specifics about your gift designation. 

Bulletin of Marine Science Shares Research From Lobster Conference

August 27th, 2018 in Faculty, Natural Sciences, News and Events, Research 0 comments

Kari Lavalli and Ehud Spanier, a professor at the University of Haifa in Israel, conducted morphological studies on slipper lobsters at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of Kari Lavalli

The Bulletin of Marine Science has devoted its July 2018 issue to the research presented at an international conference on lobster biology and management. The conference was co-organized by College of General Studies Senior Lecturer Kari Lavalli.

The 40th International Conference and Workshop on Lobster Biology and Management took place in July 2017. It brought together 200-plus researchers who discussed their findings on topics such as: how temperature affects diseases in lobsters, how changing environmental conditions affect chemosensory abilities, how thermal stress affects season movements, climate-related shifts in the distribution of American lobsters, and more. One central concern of the attendees and researchers: how climate change will affect the lobster population, an important industry in the New England economy.

The Bulletin of Marine Science (Vol. 94, No. 3) continues to get that message out. The issue publishes a range of research presented at the conference: the chemosensory world of the lobster, avoiding disease and predation, how temperature affects the lobster shell, and emerging diseases. Kari Lavalli’s research—featured in a recent Collegian article—also appears in the issue.

Many of the articles in the issue are open access and available to the public. Readers can learn more here.

A Look at Undergraduate Research: Women Writers, Food, and Wartime

May 4th, 2018 in Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, Faculty, News and Events, Research, Students 0 comments

When a computer engineering student and an English major help a rhetoric professor with a book about British women writers and food, you’re seeing the interdisciplinary synergy of undergraduate research in action.

College of General Studies Lecturer Kate Nash is writing a book on how twentieth-century writers—among them Virginia Woolf, Betty Miller, and Muriel Spark—incorporated wartime food ephemera into their fiction. During the austere years of World War I and World War II, governments aimed to manage food consumption through mass-media campaigns. Nash looks at how women writers incorporate these propaganda materials—from posters to infant feeding manuals to domestic pamphlets—into their writing as they confront how the state regulates femininity and the female body in service of the nation. In the books that Nash studies, young women use chocolate as a form of currency during the hungry years of wartime London, and a restaurant meal becomes a symbol of racial assimilation.

This may not sound like the kind of project a computer engineering student would sign up to work on, but Rene Colato (CGS’18, ENG’20) was up for the challenge. After the topic of political propaganda came up in his rhetoric class with Nash, he became interested in helping with her research. The CGS Undergraduate Research Experience program, funded and administered through the Center of Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, provided Colato a stipend for his work.


Coleen Ilano and Kate Nash. Photo by Steven Silvio

Nash says that talking with a non-humanities student gave her a new perspective on one of her key concepts—rationing—and that Colato’s technical experience was useful as she expanded the digital humanities side of her project. Colato built a website Nash can use to showcase her own materials and her students’ work. When she teaches in London for the Boston-London Program, Nash assigns her students to find and describe a propaganda poster from the Imperial War Museum. Now the students can create a digital showcase of those posters for their class.

After Colato’s and Nash’s project concluded at the end of the fall 2017 semester, Nash started a new collaboration with Coleen Ilano (CGS’18, CAS’20), an English and psychology major. Ilano was interested in doing research related to literature, psychology, or gender studies, and she loved her classes with Nash—so the project was a perfect fit. Ilano says, “I am able to learn more about the subjects I love while also being able to assist a professor who I greatly admire and respect.”

Ilano is helping Nash collect materials for a book chapter on Muriel Spark’s 1963 novel, The Girls of Slender Means, set in England in 1945. Ilano said one of the most interesting things she’s learned this semester is “the ways that women in fiction can exercise agency and maintain autonomy over their bodies” even when those acts might also conform to “restrictive social standards.” Analyzing a book written decades ago has helped her to place herself in the mindset of another time while integrating her own contemporary understanding of the themes.

“Keeping an open but critical mindset … has allowed me to enjoy the book more fully and enrich my own experience,” she said. She’s found that mindset is something she can apply to other areas of her life, too. She says it’s helped her mature in her studies and in her understanding of others.

Colato says he’s glad he could work in “a one-on-one work environment that encouraged exploration, academic growth, and innovative thinking to create something unique and profound.”

For her part, Nash says these collaborations have helped her refine her project, organize it into manageable steps, and communicate her work to different audiences in a way that anyone can understand– whether they’re studying computer engineering or English.

For more on Nash’s research, read her article, “Fixing the Interwar Meal: Positive Eugenics and Jewish Assimilation in Betty Miller’s Farewell Leicester Square,” in Modernism/modernity (Volume 2, Cycle 4). Her book manuscript is provisionally titled Consuming War: Modernism and the Rhetoric of Austerity

Do Probiotics Work?

November 28th, 2017 in Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, Faculty, Natural Sciences, News and Events, Research 0 comments

sandra-buerger-alexander-smith-17-1946-PROBIOTICS-024Manufacturers are always promoting their newest probiotic by promising it will get rid of the bad bacteria in your body by bringing in the good bacteria. But are these probiotics doing what they are supposed to be doing? Professor Sandra Buerger,  a lecturer in natural science and mathematics at the College of General Studies, and Alexander Smith (CGS’19) wanted to find out if these probiotics were the real deal.

With a grant from the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, Buerger and Smith went to the drugstore and got samples of different probiotics. After going back to the lab, Buerger and Smith ran their experiment by putting the pill’s diluted bacterial powder onto petri dishes. Buerger also decided to test the probiotics against naturally fermented foods like miso soup and apple-cider vinegar.  According to Buerger, “The numbers from our methods have been a little lower than what’s claimed on the box, but there are definitely living bacteria” in the probiotic pills. 

According to BU Research, the next step for Buerger is finding out whether all those bacteria actually make it through the digestive system to the small intestine. To do this, Buerger and Smith plan on building an artificial stomach that will actually be able to digest the probiotics. After a few hours, Buerger says that she will check, “Are they still alive? Are there more of them ready to grow? Is there enough to still make a difference to the digestive system?”

Read  the full story on Buerger’s and Smith’s research at BU Research.

2017 Capstone Award Winners

October 17th, 2017 in News and Events, Research, Students 0 comments

Winning Capstone Projects Investigate GMOs, Gene Editing, Making Boston Green

On October 13, Boston University College of General Studies celebrated the outstanding students who received awards for the Capstone projects they completed last May. The Capstone project is a 50-page research term paper that CGS students complete in their sophomore year. Students draw on two years of interdisciplinary studies, working together as a team to synthesize data into a meaningful whole. The Capstone award is given annually to the team of students who present the best overall Capstone paper and defense. It is the highest honor bestowed upon a College of General Studies student for an academic project.

Team R: OMG GMOs

Team RTeam R’s winning Capstone groupBryce Ashton, Katherine Fuller, Ixchel Lemus-Bromley, Surina Mehta, Kiera Stolecki, and Carleen Wenneraddressed a global issue:  Genetically Modified Organisms and their use in food products. The team took a unique approach by focusing on the food offered in Boston University’s own dining halls. Team R faculty wrote, “Using creativity and innovation, they conducted student surveys, interviewed GMO scientists from Monsanto Corporation, interviewed Boston University dining hall administrators and conducted their own laboratory analyses of dining hall foods. The final paper was solidly founded on the most current scientific understanding … and connected the ethical, social and political issues involved.”

Team S: Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee: Subcommittee on Human Gene Editing

Team STeam S’s winning Capstone group Samantha Calaguas, Daniel Flesch, Rebecca Hering, Taymi Herrera-Pujols, Yemi Osayame, Justin Santinelli, and Elizabeth Wimberly—explored the CRISPR-Cas technology as a way to edit harmful genes from the human genome, eradicate genetically inherited diseases, and fight diseases like cancer. Although the National Institutes of Health has a strong stance on human editing, the United States currently lacks legislation that regulates how this technology can be used. The team proposed legislation to codify the NIH guidelines into law. Team S faculty wrote, “Faculty were impressed with their thoroughness in covering a wide range of arguments.”

Team T: Re-Seeing Recidivism 

Team W Winner 1Team T’s winning Capstone group— Morgan Ashurian, Eli Elman, Ann Fu, Surya Katamoto-Vazirani, Claire Linden, and Angel Wu— designed a nine-point plan to reduce the number of repeat offenders re-entering prison. The students thoroughly reviewed the current state of the problem and the literature of prison reform. Team S faculty wrote: “Their plan was measured, reasonable, comprehensive, and even optimistic for the future of our prison systems, both nationally and locally.  … A crucial piece for the success of their plan was their economic argument for their implementation, which convinced us that their plan was both a great idea and also an example of cost-effective government.”

Team T: A Proposal to Address Sexual Violence on College Campuses: The Boston Intercollegiate Sexual Violence Alliance 

Team W Winner 2Team T’s winning Capstone group Spencer Bloomer, Isabel Donohoe, Brooke Hayman, William Jacob, James Krolewski, Justin Shapiro, and Danielle Wasserman advocated for an alliance of five Boston and Cambridge universities to combat the problem of sexual violence on campuses. The students summarized how the federal government has addressed this problem, showed the current state of sexual violence on campus, and provided comprehensive background information that made their case convincing. Team T faculty wrote, “To go with their all-encompassing introduction to the problem, the students proposed a thoughtful, well-reasoned, and extensive solution.”

Team U: The Boston Green Concourse

Team UTeam U’s winning Capstone group Sabrina Charania, Mercedes Cisneros, Cole Kerrigan, Christopher Ramey, Isabella Siskin, Skylar Ungerman, and Nicholas Yaitanes proposed the establishment of the Boston Green Concourse, which they describe as “a centralized semi-self-sustainable green space.” It would have three main features: an outdoor park partly resembling London’s Hyde Park, a botanical bubble “filled with plants and gardens” and intended to be “awe-inspiring,” and a very productive and visually appealing vertical farm. Team U faculty wrote: “Two aspects of this Capstone paper in particular stand out: its unusual degree of literary elegance and its comprehensiveness. … Their beautiful creation could indeed serve as ‘a catalyst’ for the development of similar projects elsewhere.”

Team V: Human Genetic Engineering and the Recommendations for its Regulation

Team VTeam V’s winning Capstone group Hannah Giffune, Carolina Gomez, Paulina Goossens, Sydney Maes, Justin Montes, Paula Uribe, and Joseph Yeb submitted a policy recommendation about the complex issue of human gene editing. The group carefully distinguished between editing of specific sequences of DNA in somatic cells and editing of a germline. The group also delved into the science, technology and ethics of using CRISPR/Cas9 as a tool for the genetic engineering. Team V faculty wrote, “Their recommendation skillfully combined the continuation of effective current policies with some well-considered changes…. Their professors commend them for this fine piece of work.”

Team W: Overflow Yield from Storm-Water: Tactics for Reduction (OYS:TR)

Team T

Team W’s winning Capstone group Yanira DePina, Salam Hasaba, Gloria Ihenetu, Alexis Kenney, Colleen Kim, Lesa Nan, and Paulina Stanczak examined the issue of sewage overflow and contaminated runoff that threatens the Charles River and Boston Harbor. The team conducted their own lab experiments– even traveling out to the Charles River to collect water samples during a rainstorm.  Their solution was to establish oyster populations that would act as a natural filter. Their solution looked not only at the practical and environmental impacts of establishing oyster populations, but also focused on getting the local community involved. Team W faculty wrote that by looking at many different angles, the team came up with a unique, thoroughly thought out solution to a clearly defined problem.”

Team Y: College Students Accepting Mental Illness

Team YTeam Y’s winning Capstone group Edgar Gonzalez, Sean Kargman, Chandler Lane, Jillian Lattimore, David Lu, Amy Rivera, and Belecia Villafan created a project that “expanded the boundaries of classroom education,” according to their faculty members. The group created, choreographed, and performed an dance performance based on the story of one young woman’s struggles with mental illness. Team Y faculty wrote, “Their Capstone project was artistically sophisticated and intellectually rigorous. Everything from the choice of performance venue to choreography to narrative structure was carefully chosen and brilliantly executed.” 






Hansen Co-Edits Journal Issue on Stephen King as Science Fiction Writer

August 10th, 2017 in Faculty, News and Events, Publications, Research 0 comments

Regina Hansen

Regina Hansen

Novelist Stephen King has a 70th birthday coming up on September 21. College of General Studies Master Lecturer of Rhetoric Regina Hansen has co-edited a special issue of the journal Science Fiction Film and Television to celebrate King’s work as a science fiction writer and as “a significant force in mainstream popular culture in the twenty-first century.”

King is known as a writer of horror—the author of timeless classics like The Shining, Carrie, It and The Dark Tower in theaters now —but Hansen and her co-editor Simon Brown point to an anecdote King tells about when he first understood that the world was a scary place.  As a child, he first understood the world’s darkness at a screening of Earth vs. The Flying Saucers when he learned that Russians had launched Sputnik.

“The journey of the man whose name would become synonymous with horror began not with Lovecraft or Poe, but with Sputnik,” Hansen and Brown write in the introduction to the issue. “For all King is usually discussed primarily as a gothic or horror author, we must not overlook the importance of science fiction in his work.” The issue offers “a series of new perspectives” on King, the science fiction writer.

Hansen’s article focuses on King’s “nostalgia for underdog boyhood” and the way the male underdog heroes in King’s It and Dreamcatcher challenge, in some ways, “traditional concepts of hegemonic masculinity.” On the other hand, they assume “hegemonic masculinity” themselves by standing up to bullies. But King’s white, straight, male “loser hero” characters achieve their hero status “in part through the marginalisation of female characters, black characters, gay characters and characters with disabilities.” King’s male characters may modify the cultural ideal of hegemonic masculinity, Hansen writes, but they don’t transcend it.

Read the issue and Hansen’s essay.

International Conference Examines Threats to Lobster Population

July 20th, 2017 in Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, Faculty, News and Events, Of Special Interest, Research 0 comments

CGS IWCL Logo brand-approvedWhen people think about the effects of climate change, they’re probably not immediately wondering how the world’s warming will affect the sea crustacean we know as the lobster. But that was a central concern for the keynote speakers and the researchers who presented at the 11th International Conference and Workshop on Lobster Biology and Management, held June 4-9 in Portland, Maine. CGS Senior Lecturer Kari Lavalli co-chaired the conference with Rick Wahle, research professor at the University of Maine’s School of Marine Sciences.

U.S. Senator Angus King (I– Maine) opened the conference with a keynote speech, warning against proposed cuts in federal science funding and telling the audience that data is key to safeguarding Maine’s $533.1 million a year fishery.  “This is not an abstract problem or something about environmentalists versus non-environmentalists,” King said. “This is  very practical.”

The conference’s 200-plus researchers attended talks on topics such as: how temperature affects diseases in lobsters, how changing environmental conditions affect chemosensory abilities, how thermal stress affects season movements, climate-related shifts in the distribution of American lobsters, and more.

Researchers probed a question troubling both biologists and lobstermen: the number of baby lobsters in the Gulf of Maine is falling even though fishermen are still seeing high value and volume in their catches. The Portland Press Herald covered the “great disconnect” between these two facts: “Researcher after researcher at last week’s International Conference and Workshop on Lobster Biology & Management in Portland talked about work underway to explore the disconnect, ranging from an examination of how rising ocean temperatures might have forced the larvae to ‘settle’ in new spots where surveyors aren’t counting, to whether new predators are eating them or gobbling up all their food supply.” 

Kari Lavalli

Kari Lavalli

Lavalli spoke to the radio station WCAI about another trouble facing New England lobsters. Warming waters can increase the incidence of shell disease and bring new predators to the lobster’s waters. In one of her panels, Lavalli spoke on the slipper lobster, a species that is commercially fished but understudied, and why it is less susceptible to shell disease even though it lives in waters that are much warmer than our New England lobsters. Understanding why some species are susceptible to disease and some are not could be key to protecting the lobster population from the effects of climate change.

In fact, one workshop focused on three diseases seen in lobsters and how rising temperatures and increased ocean acidification affects the lobster’s shell and immune system response. “The take-home message from this workshop was that we still have much to learn about diseases in the marine realm and there is a real need to train a new generation of pathologists who will recognize, report, and study these diseases,” said Lavalli. “Attendees warned that the U.S. lobster fishery is at particular danger of having a major disease outbreak in the near future.”

A threat to the lobster fishery would be a major blow to Maine’s economy. University of Maine Professor Robert Steneck noted that lobster represents almost the entirety of Maine’s fishing industry, and he urged the state to diversify and plan for an uncertain future.

The conference received press coverage from Portland Press Herald,  Maine Public, Maine Biz, Fox 23, WCSH6, and the Boston Globe. The Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning at BU College of General Studies was among the conference’s sponsors.


International Conference Focuses on Dickens’ Interdisciplinary Thinking

July 20th, 2017 in Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, News and Events, Of Special Interest, Research 0 comments

On July 14-16, Boston University College of General Studies hosted the 22nd Annual Dickens Symposium: Interdisciplinary Dickens, a gathering for scholars from across the world to present their research on the nineteenth century writer Charles Dickens. Over 70 scholars attended from nine countries.

Charles Dickens  (1812-1870) was not just a spinner of dramas and writer of comedies. He was someone with a concern for social justice, an interest in people from all walks of life, and an interdisciplinary thinker who dealt with the themes of science, disease, linguistics, religion, music, and more. A sampling of conference panels reflects the depth and breadth of Dickens’ interests: Dickens and the Arts; Urban Dickens; Dickens, Disease and Death; Storytelling, Chance, and Melodrama; Dickens, Gender, and Economics.

“Dickens is someone, like Shakespeare, who has encyclopedic knowledge and chronicles people from all walks of life and all parts of society,” Natalie McKnight, dean of CGS and Dickens scholar, told BU Today. “There isn’t much you could be interested in, in terms of a discipline, that you couldn’t find some angle on in Dickens.”

“As is always the case with this conference, the program is testimony to the extraordinary multitudes that Dickens contains,” Iain Crawford, a University of Delaware associate professor of English and Dickens Society president, told BU Today.

A conference report from the  Dickens Society said the Interdisciplinary Dickens theme “led to an impressive, diverse collection of methodologies and approaches to Dicken’s work and life.” The report summarizes each panels’ discussions and concludes, “The conference was interdisciplinary in every sense of the word” as participants approached Dickens and his work from a number of different angles—religious, scientific, philosophical, pedagogical and even digital. “The end result is a multi-faceted picture of an author who seemed to have written a bit about everything, whose opinions are inexhaustible as much as his work is inimitable.”

The symposium was co-sponsored by the Dickens Society and the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning.