When Bryn Mawr’s Office of Residential Life made room assignments to first-year students in the fall of 2007, it had no way of knowing how much scientific talent it was concentrating in room 411 of Brecon Hall.
Now the two former occupants of that room, Samantha Wood and Sarah Christian, are the winner and an honorable mention, respectively, in the competition for the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, awarded annually to undergraduates “who have outstanding potential and intend to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering.”
Neither of the juniors knew the other planned to apply for the scholarship until the College announced that it would nominate both for the award. They study different scientific disciplines: Wood, who has been awarded a $7,500 scholarship for her undergraduate study, majors in computer science, while Christian is a geology major with an interest in planetary science.
You Can’t Take the Computer Science Out of the Woods
Wood, who hails from Bethlehem, Conn., arrived at Bryn Mawr with plans to major in mathematics. Her father, mother, and older brother all work in computer science or related fields, she says, “and I was adamant that I would never go into CS.”
But her family persuaded her to take an introductory course, and Wood was ineluctably drawn to programming. Having changed her mind, she was fully committed; she enthusiastically immersed herself in computer science and already has a couple of publication credits to show for it. She is one of nine computer-science majors out of the total 278 Goldwater Scholars selected this year.
Wood has taken full advantage of the collegial relationship among the computer science departments in the Tri-College consortium of Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore, taking her first computer course at Bryn Mawr, doing research in a Swarthmore professor’s lab, and majoring at Haverford. She plays the French horn in the Swarthmore Wind Ensemble as well.
Last summer, Wood took part in a research project sponsored by the Computer Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research. One of the professors working on the project was a Swarthmore computer engineer, Assistant Professor Tali Moreshet, and Wood continued working in Moreshet’s lab last fall.
Their research focused on embedded systems-Wood gives the iPhone, MP3 players, and digital cameras as examples of this technology-that employ more than one processor. Conflicts can occur in such systems when two or more parallel computing processes require access to the same areas of shared memory. Moreshet’s research group has examined hardware transactional memory, a mechanism for handling conflicts that ensures consistent states of memory and correct process execution.
Wood is listed as a co-author on a paper published in the proceedings of the International Conference on High-Performance Embedded Architectures and Compilers in January 2010 and on an article for the Journal of Parallel and Distributed Computing, currently in press.
Wood plans to pursue a graduate degree in computer science.
Geology with an Eye on the Skies
Like Wood, Christian discovered an academic calling that wasn’t exactly what she expected to find.
“I wanted to be a biological oceanographer,” Christian says.
During Customs Week, Bryn Mawr’s orientation period for incoming students, she met a couple of geology professors.
“Since I would have needed some background in geology for a career in oceanography, I was easily persuaded to take the introductory geo course,” she says. “Within three weeks, I was hooked.”
An opportunity to use ground-penetrating radar during that first course sealed the deal, she says. “I was fascinated. It became one of my favorite things to do.”
A native of Austin, Texas, Christian found a summer-research opportunity at the University of Texas, Austin. She spent the summers after her freshman and sophomore years using radar to gauge the thickness of ice deposits on Mars.
Christian credits both her professors and her fellow students for a deeply engaging academic experience at Bryn Mawr.
“My professors are really invested in my academic and professional development. They take an interest in how involved their students are in class activities, they’re critical in helping me find questions and issues that spark my interest, and they’re very supportive of my research efforts. They’re always enthusiastic.”
“But being in a school with like-minded students-sitting in the student lounge discussing the papers we are presenting in seminar-is crucial. And I’ve really enjoyed seeing people’s academic interests develop in different directions.”
Christian plans to pursue graduate study in planetary science.