Science Workshop May 3 – Ethnomedicine of Latino and Caribbean Immigrants in New York City

Dr. Ina Vandebroek is a research specialist at the New York Botanical Garden where she is directing several research projects, including “Improving Healthcare for Underserved Immigrant Latino Communities in New York City” funded by The Aetna Founation and The Cigna Foundation and “Dominican Traditional Medicine for Urban Community Health” funded by the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Ina investigates the use of medicinal plants and cultural beliefs about illnesses in New York City’s immigrant communities of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Mexicans, addressing questions about the shift in medicinal plant use and knowledge with immigration from rural to urban environments. Her research results are used to develop curricula materials for health care professionals to improve cultural sensitivity during the clinical encounter.

Dr. Vandebroek was featured on the PBS program “The Secret Life of Scientists” where her passion for science and salsa dancing are featured. She has also collaborated with artist Jef Geys on an installation at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

She will be speaking in Dickinson 225 at 1pm on May 3 .



A Bit of History

Owing to a conflict with the all-student session with one of the Bennington College presidential search finalists, there will be no Science Workshop this Friday, April 26. To alleviate the inevitable anxiety amongst some students and faculty that such disruption to our weekly routine may cause, we offer an intriguing nugget of Bennington history to hold you over until next week’s Workshop.


Catherine Murley (’15) unearthed the fascinating article Teaching Science at Bennington, from a 1941 issue of The Journal of Higher Education. In it, Robert Woodworth, for whom our annual lecture series is named, describes the very earliest renditions of Science Workshop – it’s a great way of learning some our own history. Read it and discover what’s changed – and what hasn’t – in the Bennington approach to teaching science.

Science Workshop, 19 April – Forest invasions of Eastern North America: a case of pre-adaptation?

Jason Fridley

Dr. Jason Fridley (Bennington class of ’97), Associate Prof. in the Biology Department at Syracuse University, has quickly established himself as an influential researcher on several of the ‘hot’ questions in ecological science, including the effects of biodiversity on ecosystem function, interactions between successional dynamics and climate change, and the ecology and biogeography of invasive species.  He’ll be presenting recent work on this last theme in his workshop talk at 1:00 pm, 19 April, in Dickinson 225.  You can find background material  here in an about-to-be-published article for the Annals of the New York Academy of Science.

Common garden experiment, with native and invasive shrubs, at Syracuse University — photo by Jason Fridley

Jason is a 2012 recipient of the Academy’s Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists). He also has the  unusual distinction of having papers published in both Nature and Science in 2012.  Also in 2012, two graduate students in Jason’s lab received prestigious National Science Foundation fellowships.  It was a good year.  (Another of Jason’s grad students, Catherine Ravenscroft, is also a Bennington alum.)

Scenes from Make Me Dangerous

This spring, I’m teaching an intensive introductory computer science class called “Make Me Dangerous,” where students learn computational thinking skills, Python programming, how to use Unix, and a variety of topics from the various nooks and crannies of the discipline.

Today was “hands-on hardware day (part I)” for the class, where students disassembled and explored a variety of computers and computing equipment.  Through this exercise, students became familiar with the various hardware components in a computer, and formulated some great questions on how computers work at a more fundamental level (for example, how the quartz crystal in the system clock oscillates at a given frequency, forming the main ‘heartbeat’ of the computer as it fetches and executes instructions for programs and the operating system).  We also looked at memory hierarchy, talked about how operating systems manage hardware resources, and discussed various evolutions in the hardware space.

Hardware we dissected included:  a Sun SPARCstation 5, a raspberry pi, a 300 baud modem, 3 dell desktops of various configurations, and an older dell laptop.

In addition, last week, the class went over to one of the the video studios in VAPA to take pictures in front of a green screen.  They then wrote Python programs to remove the green pixels, and replace them with an alternate background.  The class has been learning programming and computing using an approach called media computation, where students write programs to create and manipulate images, sounds and video while learning core concepts of programming.  It has been an interesting approach and has allowed for a lot of fun projects like green screen day!