Summer 2021 Weekly Seminars

Starting on May 28, 2021, we will be having invited speakers to host weekly seminars throughout the summer. We have a great group of scholars that will discuss their specific research interests and/or the scholarship they have produced. Seminars will begin at 12 p.m. (PDT) every week. We encourage our HMC community to join us in these informative and fun seminars!

May 28 | Chris Clark, Professor of Engineering, Harvey Mudd College

Seminar Topic: Responsible Conduct of Research

Project Abstract: The responsible and ethical conduct of research (RCR) is critical for excellence, as well as public trust, in science and engineering. Education in RCR is considered essential in the preparation of future scientists and engineers.

Speaker Bio: Christopher Clark, professor of engineering, is a Fulbright Scholar, and, for the 2011–2012 academic year, he held the William R. Kenan, Jr. Visiting Professorship for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton University. He has been a professor at the University of Waterloo and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. In 2004, he was the first hire at the startup company Kiva Systems (now Amazon Robotics), which revolutionized warehouse management with multi-robot systems. He earned his undergraduate degree in engineering physics from Queen’s University, Canada, a master’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Toronto and a PhD in aeronautics and astronautics with a minor in computer science from Stanford University. Clark’s research areas include multi-robot systems, underwater robot systems, applied control theory, intelligent vehicles, state estimation and motion planning.

June 4 | Xanda Schofield, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Harvey Mudd College

Seminar Topic: Text Analysis Isn’t a Piece of Cake

Project Abstract: In recent years, experts across a variety of social science and humanistic disciplines have adopted natural language processing technologies to help assist their analyses of large text collections. However, these new projects in computational text analysis are often stymied by obstacles in the critical human work of applying these models: obtaining access to data in a useful format, implementing a processing workflow that attends to things the expert cares about, and analyzing the limited information that a model of text can reflect. In this talk, I’ll discuss how it can be hard for text analysis novices to navigate the underspecified “recipes” of the text analysis process, focusing specifically on LDA topic models. My talk will touch on research I’ve done with students in understanding how text analysis practitioners make meaning from LDA models and how we can build software to better support their work. Expect many baking analogies.

Speaker Bio: Xanda Schofield is an Assistant Professor in Computer Science at Harvey Mudd College. She completed her B.S. in Computer Science and Mathematics at Harvey Mudd in 2013, and her Ph.D. in Computer Science at Cornell University in 2019. Her work focuses on practical applications of unsupervised models of text, particularly topic models, to research in the humanities and social sciences. Outside of research, she is an organizer of the Widening NLP workshop, whose aim is to improve representation and inclusive practices in the natural language processing community. She enjoys baking and solving crosswords, and tweets @XandaSchofield.

June 18 | Leah Mendelson, Assistant Professor of Engineering, Harvey Mudd College

Seminar Topic: Fish Out of Water: Jumping Fish and their Bioinspired Applications

Project Abstract: Jumping for aerial prey from an aquatic environment requires both propulsive power and precise aim to succeed. Archer fish, better known for their spitting abilities, will jump multiple body lengths out of the water to feed, especially in competitive foraging scenarios. Prior to jumping, archer fish aim from a stationary position located directly below the water’s surface. Rapid acceleration to a ballistic velocity sufficient for reaching the prey height occurs with a mere body length to travel before the fish leaves the water completely. This seminar examines the fluid dynamics underlying the archer fish’s jumping abilities. I will discuss the use of high- speed imaging, three-dimensional flow field measurements, and computational fluid dynamics to characterize relationships between fin motions, hydrodynamic structures, and the fish’s trajectory throughout the course of a jumping maneuver and over a range of jump heights. I will also discuss mechanisms developed by my lab that recreate aspects of these jumping behaviors for further study.

Speaker Bio: Leah Mendelson is an assistant professor of engineering at Harvey Mudd College. She holds her B.S. from Olin College (2011) and her M.S. (2013) and Ph.D. (2017) from MIT, all in mechanical engineering. Her research interests include unsteady aquatic locomotion, bio-inspired mechanism design, and low-cost techniques for fluid flow measurement in both research and educational settings. Her work on jumping archer fish has been featured by AIP Scilight, MIT News, MIT Technology Review, Inside JEB,, and At Harvey Mudd College, Prof. Mendelson directs the Flow Imaging Lab at Mudd (FILM) and teaches classes in solid and fluid mechanics and engineering design. Outside of the lab, she enjoys running, hiking, and swimming.

June 25 | Catherine McFadden, Professor of Biology, Harvey Mudd College

Seminar Topic: Hidden in plain sight? The cryptic biodiversity of coral reefs

Project Abstract: Coral reefs are the world’s most diverse marine habitats, often referred to as “the rainforests of the sea.” But how many species live on coral reefs? In truth, we simply don’t know: it’s estimated that as many as 90% of the species inhabiting our oceans are still “unknown to science.” Most of these are small organisms that are difficult to detect and collect, but many of the largest, most conspicuous animals on shallow-water coral reefs—including the corals themselves—also remain undescribed and unnamed. My research focuses on “the species problem” in corals, and in this talk I will discuss what a species is, how we distinguish species from one another, why it’s a difficult problem in corals, and why it matters. By using the latest technologies in DNA sequencing and microscopy to distinguish species, we’re learning that corals and many of the other organisms that live with and depend on them are far more unique than previously realized.

Speaker Bio: Catherine McFadden is the Vivian and D. Kenneth Baker Professor of Biology at Harvey Mudd College. She received her B.S. in Biology from Yale University in 1982 and Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Washington in 1988. She came to HMC in 1991 as a founding member of the Biology Department. She is currently a Research Associate of the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution) and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, and has held past Research Associate positions at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (Australia) and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Netherlands). Her work focuses on the biodiversity and evolutionary relationships of marine invertebrates, primarily soft corals and sea fans. When not in the lab or field working on corals she enjoys international travel, hiking and birding, and has combined those pursuits to see >4700 species of birds (so far).

July 9 | Carine Nemr, Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Harvey Mudd College

Seminar Topic: New Tools for Diagnosis of Bacterial Infections

Project Abstract: The excessive and inappropriate use of antibiotics has contributed to the spread of antibiotic resistance, a serious challenge the global health industry is facing. To help preserve the effectiveness of current commercially available therapies, timely, accurate and user-friendly diagnostic tools are needed; advances in biosensing and microfluidics aim to address these limitations in conventional testing. First, we will explore a diagnostic device for the rapid detection of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the most common cause of hospital- and community-acquired bacterial infections. The approach relies on nanoparticle-mediated microfluidic capture and electrochemical detection of clinically relevant concentrations of bacteria directly from patient nasal swab specimens. Next, we will investigate an integrated and automated digital microfluidics platform for simultaneous real-time antibiotic susceptibility testing and bacterial identification via fluorescence detection. This versatile all-in-one instrument with a small footprint allows automation of assay steps for simple sample handling, which can be easily customized for the desired application, without device redesign. Altogether, these studies present novel tools to better diagnose bacterial infections.

Speaker Bio: Carine Nemr is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Chemistry at Harvey Mudd College. She completed her B.Sc in Chemical Biology at McMaster University in 2015 and her Ph.D in Chemistry at the University of Toronto in 2021. Her graduate research focused on the development of novel approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of bacterial infections. Beyond research, Carine enjoys teaching, mentoring and participating in science outreach initiatives to educate students of all ages on concepts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and to provide inspiration to aspiring future leaders in the field. In her spare time, Carine enjoys exploring new cities, hot yoga and biking.

July 16 | Heather Zinn Brooks, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Harvey Mudd College

Seminar Topic: Mathematical models of opinion dynamics on networks

Project Abstract: Given the large audience and the ease of sharing content, the shifts in opinion driven by online interaction have important implications for interpersonal interactions, public opinion, voting, and policy. There is a critical and growing demand to understand the mechanisms behind the spread of content online. While the majority of the research on online content focuses on these phenomena from an empirical or computational perspective, mechanistic mathematical modeling also has an important role to play. Mathematical models can help develop a theory to understand the mechanisms underpinning the spread of content and diffusion of information. These models provide an excellent framework because they are often relatively simple models with surprisingly rich dynamics. In this talk, I’ll introduce you to a variety of mathematical models for opinion dynamics, and I’ll highlight some particular problems that we study in my research group.

Speaker Bio: Heather Zinn Brooks is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics, specializing in mathematical modeling of complex systems. Brooks earned both her Bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Utah. Before joining the faculty at Harvey Mudd, she held a CAM postdoctoral position in the Mathematics department at UCLA. In her work, Brooks uses a combination of analytical and computational techniques to study phenomena in social and biological applications. She pairs tools from dynamical systems, differential equations, network theory, and stochastic processes with numerical simulation and data-driven computational techniques. She is especially enthusiastic about problems that involve the interplay of dynamics and structure. A few examples of this from her work include voltage fluctuations in ion channels, pattern formation of intracellular proteins, parasite spreading in animal grooming networks, and media impact on ideology in online social networks.

July 23 | Mark Ilton, Assistant Professor of Physics, Harvey Mudd College

Seminar Topic: Physical Principles of Fast Elastic Movements

Project Abstract: Some animals such as mantis shrimp can use elastic energy to actuate astonishingly fast movements. These natural movements exceed current engineering capabilities for repeatable motion, which suggests we can learn important design principles by studying these organisms. The Physics of Soft Matter Lab (posmlab) at Harvey Mudd College investigates the physical principles of fast elastic movements, and in this talk I will summarize our recent work. To understand the benefits and limitations of using latches and springs, we have developed a simplified mathematical model of latch-spring systems. Using this model, we find that latch-spring systems are an effective way to circumvent typical power and activation limitations of muscles in small animals. Going beyond the limitations of muscles (in animals) and motors (in engineered systems), we explore the physical principles dictating the upper limits of fast elastic energy release. Using a combination of theory and experiments, we find that the upper limit on the maximum power output of a latch-spring system depends on both materials and size.

Speaker Bio: Mark Ilton is an Assistant Professor of Physics at Harvey Mudd College. He joined Harvey Mudd after a postdoctoral position at the Conte Polymer Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He received his PhD in physics from McMaster University and M.S. and B.S. degrees in physics from the University of Waterloo. His work focuses on the dynamics of soft materials at extreme rates.

July 30 | David Seitz, Assistant Professor of Cultural Geography, Harvey Mudd College

Seminar Topic:“Migration is Not a Crime”: Migrant Justice and the Creative Uses of Paddington Bear

Project Abstract: Created in 1956, the well-known English children’s book character Paddington bear is the product of numerous geographical displacements. Author Michael Bond (1926-2017) was inspired to make Paddington an undocumented migrant by WWII and Cold War mass evacuations within Europe, but he relocated Paddington’s fictive origins to Africa, then to Peru. Fleeing earthquake for England, Paddington assumes the name of the London train station where he is “found.” The story’s literary and film critics have demonstrated that Bond’s work draws on colonial geographical ideas, and that it idealizes Paddington as a non-threatening, assimilated immigrant. Drawing on archival work in Bond’s papers and interviews with his contacts, including migrant justice activists, my research complicates those claims. Tracing the character’s uptake as an icon of migrant justice movements in the U.K. and Europe, it sheds light on Paddington’s emotional appeal and creative, unexpected use by activists to imagine more just futures.

Speaker Bio: David K. Seitz is Assistant Professor of Cultural Geography at Harvey Mudd College and affiliated faculty in the Cultural Studies Department at Claremont Graduate University. His work examines how people repurpose the artifacts of mainstream, middlebrow, and liberal cultures to more emancipatory ends. He is author of A House of Prayer for All People: Contesting Citizenship in a Queer Church (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) and a forthcoming book with the University of Nebraska Press tentatively titled, A Different Trek: Radical Geographies of Deep Space Nine. Outside of work, he enjoys working out, eating, and shopping.