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Honors for Outstanding Undergraduate Researchers

Projects on French violinist, memory function and a Jewish blessing

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December 6, 2013 | by Matt Paolelli
Award recipients
Lillian Chen (center left) and Natalie Bergner (center right) are honored with Fletcher Undergraduate Research Grant Awards.

At a luncheon at the James L. Allen Center Dec. 3, the Office of Undergraduate Research honored the winners of the second annual Fletcher Undergraduate Research Grant Awards.

Their wide-ranging independent research looked at the life and compositions of a famous French violinist, how the brain turns newly learned tasks into consolidated memories and various interpretations of a challenging line from a Jewish Orthodox morning blessing.

“It’s a great opportunity to see what it’s possible for undergraduates to do and to see how faculty can assist,” said Peter Civetta, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research. “We’re seeing students achieve things that they wouldn’t be able to achieve just through the traditional curriculum.”

Funded by the Fletcher Family Foundation, the $250 Fletcher Undergraduate Research Grant Awards were presented to three undergraduates and two alumni for research they did this past summer with support from Northwestern Undergraduate Research Grants (URG). Their faculty advisers also received $250 awards in recognition of their work with the students and joined them at the celebratory luncheon.

“Whether the end results are great or not great, it doesn’t make any difference,” Civetta said. “What is consistent is that all three students learned the process and learned how to think in a new way, problem solve and adapt.”

About the Honorees

Michael Gandlmayr, a senior studying violin performance and musicology, focused on famed French classical violinist Ginette Neveu, who was killed in a plane crash at age 30. Gandlmayr sought to find, study and ultimately perform compositions that Neveu wrote for violin. After spending two months living and researching in Paris, Gandlmayr studied Neveu’s personal handwritten correspondence and located her living relatives. Unfortunately, he discovered that her mother had burned all of Neveu’s compositions after her death. He is now pursuing compositions written by Neveu’s older bother, which might have been written with her in mind.

Lillian Chen, a senior studying biological sciences, spent the summer studying structures within the brain that determine memory acquisition and consolidation. Chen gathered data by teaching conditioned responses to rabbits and studying their retention abilities and the activity within various areas of their brains. According to faculty advisor John Disterhoft, Chen accomplished more during her 10-week project than typical graduate students complete in a full rotation in his lab.

Natalie Bergner, a senior majoring in Jewish studies, examined the interpretation of the Jewish Orthodox morning blessing that reads “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.” After researching historical background and interpretations of the prayer, Bergner conducted interviews with Jews across the orthodoxy spectrum to hear their interpretations of the potentially sexist line. Her findings showed an acceptance of the blessing, but a call for more leadership positions for women within the Orthodoxy.