Johns Hopkins University

Fall 2008
Vol. 6, No.1


>Student Research from the Field

Worth A Surf


Expert Opinion

Research Briefs

Classroom Encounters

Techno Roots of Urban Edens

Student Playwright Finds Success in Failure

Music from the Material World

Research Rewarded

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Student Research: from the Field

The Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program awards grants of up to $10,000 to incoming freshmen and up to $7,500 to rising sophomores for original, independent research projects in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. Students use the grants throughout their undergraduate careers to pay for equipment, travel, or other research expenses. Here's what some of the fellows have been doing:

A Fluent Mind

Hooked on Yiddish: Alex Traum
Photo by Will Kirk

The synagogue teems with people from distant origins. They've come here this Saturday morning in Vilnius, Lithuania, in search of their Jewish heritage. Among them is Hopkins senior Alex Traum '09, who listens for words he has traveled half a world to hear and understand. To his delight, among the travelers and Russian-speaking Lithuanians, he hears conversations in a common tongue: Yiddish.

"It was an amazing moment—exciting, but also sad," says Traum, of his sophomore-year summer experience. He explains that, for various reasons, Yiddish has declined in use since World War II. That summer, Traum traveled to Tel Aviv, Israel, and Vilnius to study the 1,000-year-old Jewish vernacular, a blend of Middle High German, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Slavic elements. Now a senior history major, Traum's study of Yiddish has been necessary for his research into the Jewish labor movement and Abraham Liesin. The early 20th-century Jewish socialist was remarkable, among other things, for his attempts to form a distinctly Jewish socialist tradition.

"Liesin's writings will provide me a window into the world of Jewish immigrant intellectuals and their political and cultural milieu," says Traum, who is working with assistant professor of history Kenneth Moss.

Traum says the immersion in Yiddish he began in Lithuania won't end with his project.

"At the very least," he says, "I will be reading Yiddish literature for the rest of my life."

Friendship Without Borders

A small world after all? Irene Pang aims
to find out.

The student searches for the right words: "I think friends…it's when you can have…um…comfortable silences." Irene Pang '09 waits patiently. She knows there is no simple—or right—answer to the question she posed to the 16-year-old: What is friendship?

Before she came to Hopkins, Pang spent two years at this school in Wales. It's part of the United World Colleges (UWC), international high schools designed to foster cultural understanding. The friendships Pang formed here with peers from more than 70 countries inspired her Woodrow Wilson project.

"I want to understand how friendships work within such a diverse student population," says Pang, a senior sociology major. "Do they really cross borders? Along what dimensions are friendships formed?" With guidance from sociology professors Karl Alexander and Stephen Plank, Pang has developed research techniques, interviewed students, and lugged 10-pound stacks of surveys on multiple trips to Wales. She hopes her research will help reveal whether the UWC's ideals are being realized.

Pang is also conducting research—supported by the William F. Clinger Award, a Provost Undergraduate Research Award, and the Institute for Global Studies Summer Fellowship—that explores the effects of microfinance on practices of informal finance among market women in Ghana. She says her interests are too diverse to settle on any one yet.

"My next initiative," she says, "would be to get down to what it means to be human."

Adventures in Neurosurgery

Gaurav Srivastava documented neurosurgery
in 17 countries around the world.

In Japan, Gaurav Srivastava '09 talked with neurosurgeons so dedicated that they only saw their families one day a week. In India, he witnessed successful surgery to repair brain hemorrhaging—carried out with a hand drill and barbed wire. In Australia, he noted surgeons joking with their patients, lightening the atmosphere before delicate procedures. From Germany to Qatar to Singapore, Srivastava toted his video camera and a bold vision: to create a global portrait of a constantly evolving medical profession.

Utilizing the connections of Hopkins Medicine neurosurgeon George Jallo—and the help of a hardworking travel agent—Srivastava spent this past summer on a 17-country journey to gather material for his Woodrow Wilson project, a documentary titled Neurosurgery Around the World. He filmed in operating rooms and interviewed leading neurosurgeons about their lives in and out of the hospital. From 42 tapes he recorded, Srivastava plans to create multiple versions of his documentary: one for the general public, one with a more scientific slant, and a collection of shorter pieces focusing on neurosurgery in individual countries.

"Everybody thought the idea was ambitious, but I love challenges," says the senior neuroscience major. "I had the opportunity to learn a lot, and now I can share that knowledge with an audience."

Srivastava is deep in the process of editing his footage, but the buzz about the documentary is already building: Neurosurgeons around the world are expressing interest in presenting the project at various conferences.