Independent spirits

Caroline Cuse: Physics and photography

By Michelle Youzefzadeh

Caroline Cuse stood in front of a panel of six faculty members all waiting to judge her proposal for a study in Optics: Physics and Photography.

As she toured the committee around Feldman-Horn Gallery she explained that through this study, she aimed to increase her knowledge of four principles of physics: reflection, refraction, diffraction, and interference and how they related to photography. 

“I wanted to explore the relationship between the two disciplines further, so I created an interdisciplinary study that would lead me to a greater understanding of light through art and science,” Cuse said.

She spent the semester photographing the four principles, creating calculations and diagrams, and writing a paper containing detailed explanations of the physical phenomena, Cuse said.

“Through my independent study, I discovered the interrelatedness of vision and physical laws, and supported visual representations with concrete calculations.”


Oliver Doublet: French film and war

By Emily Friedman

An independent study had been a part of Oliver Doublet’s ’09 high school plan since he was a sophomore.  After taking cinema studies as a junior, Doublet used first semester of senior year to complete his independent study paper in which he studied how the Algerian War for Independence was portrayed through French language film.

Using the films “Battle of Algiers” by Gillo Ponticorvo, “Le Petit Soldat” by Jean-Luc Godard, “L’Honneur D’un Captaine”, and “Wild Reeds” by André Téchiné, as well as some research books, Doublet completed a 25-page paper.

“Since I dropped French this year, my independent study was supposed to be a language and film study,” Doublet said.

For about 20 minutes once a week, Doublet met with his adviser, Cinema Studies teacher Ted Walch, to make sure that he was making progress. The bulk of the work was done in watching the films, Doublet said.

“I probably spent around 50 hours writing in the last week of winter break and the first week back because it was due that Friday,” he said.


Nick Merrill: The Manx Language

By Allegra Tepper

Nick Merrill ’09 had traveled over 5,000 miles to the Isle of Man to explore his passion: linguistics. For that opportunity, Merrill said he would have traveled farther.

But Merrill’s three-week trip was a small portion of the five month journey he was embarking on with the Junior Summer Fellowship grant he received. Merrill finished his 130 page novel, “The Voice of Man,” on the extinction of Manx, a language now spoken by a mere 56 people. Until Merrill’s project, no publications about the Manx language or Manx speakers existed in the United States.

“The focus of my book was to study a curiosity,” Merrill said. “The more important purpose of the book is that Manx’s history tells an important story about the future: many languages may go extinct by the end of the century in favor of ‘international’ languages.”

Using Lulu, Inc., Merrill created everything from cover art to manuscript format for the book. He learned skills in typography and graphic design along the way. “I didn’t know why languages went extinct, but it was one of those things that scared me,” Merrill said. “The way not being remembered when I die scares me. The only way to conquer a fear is to dive into it and figure it out yourself.”

Avery Rosin: Religion versus science

By Julie Barzilay

As Avery Rosin ’09 toured colleges last year, guides emphasized how easy it was to pursue passions in college.

On the same trip, Rosin saw a report about Americans explaining to kids that dinosaurs were fictitious and “challenging everything in the museum with conservative religious beliefs,” Rosin said.

Rosin wanted to explore how these beliefs were cultivated in different environments.

He rushed the paperwork for his SIR, and paired up with Director of Studies Deborah Dowling.  His project was called “When Does Religion Trump Science?: An Inquiry Into the Debate between Creationism and Biological Evolution.”

“What I liked so much about this project was how it stretched into biology, theology, philosophy, and sociology,” Rosin said.

The social surveying and video were put on hold when Rosin was sick with meningitis in November, but his paper combined findings about the science of evolution with reflective conclusions about belief systems of religious Americans.

Lindsey Ward: Writer Vladimir Nabokov

By Candice Navi

After her junior English class, Lindsey Ward ’09 knew that she would do an independent study with English teacher Jeremy Michaelson. Originally, Ward signed up for the class to improve her writing. Michaelson recommended some books for her to read over the summer, and of the ten books, Ward chose “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov in 1955.

“I’m discussing and forming commentary on Nabokov’s philosophies of writing in the second part of my paper,” Ward said. Although her paper probably won’t be published soon, she will present it to the SISC.

“Doing this independent study allowed me to take something like a second English class, except I was allowed to focus completely on something that I chose and was interested in,” Ward said. “It was great having the liberty to really dig deep and fall into a work.”

Jason Byun: Minorities and France

By Marni Barta

In his search to understand modern-day France, Jason Byun ’09 looked past antiquated icons such as the Eiffel Tower, Marie-Antoinette and Edith Piaf, and focused on race relations in contemporary France in his independent study project. 

History teacher Francine Werner mentored Byun as he explored interrelations between the three major French ethnic groups: the Arabs, Africans and Asians. 

He is studying their respective relationships with the Caucasian French of Gallic ancestry. Through a 40 to 50-page research paper Byun plans to address why French Asians have been able to successfully assimilate into French society with relatively little discrimination while Arabs and Africans have faced much more resistance.

“The modern France of the 21st century is as racially rich and diverse as the United States – it’s a country where vibrant Arab, African and Asian cultures have had serious influence on the development of contemporary French culture and language,” Byun said.


Justin Levine: Film documentaries

By Nicki Resnikoff

 Justin Levine’s  ’09 independent study explored genres in filmmaking by filming a documentary and a comedy.

He had planned to do an independent study since his junior year and was inspired by a former senior who made a film as part of his independent study. Last summer, Levine and Jack Heston ’09 traveled to India to film the documentary “Untouchable” about the Dalit people.

“It was very hard to make because we had to cut 20 hours of footage to make a 10 minute film,” Levine said.

Levine also filmed a comedy as part of his independent study called “Semiformal.”