Senior Thesis

The Senior Thesis represents the culmination of a Haverford student’s academic experience, and is one of the most important and rewarding ways that Haverford realizes its educational mission. It is an opportunity to do original research at levels usually reserved for graduate students, in partnership with faculty mentors. Haverford College is one of a very few institutions in the country that includes a Senior Thesis project as part of every student’s academic program.

Students become true scholars, and come to understand at a deep and practical level what it takes to create knowledge and to seek answers to challenging questions. In turn, they become more effective and influential agents for change in whatever field they choose.

These Class of 2013 projects represent the depth of intellect and diversity of interests that define the liberal arts at Haverford.


  • Catherine Sheline, Chemistry

    I’m interested in environmental chemistry and I chose my thesis project, Investigating the Impact of Oil on the Deep-water Coral Lophelia pertusa (Scleractinia), because it is relevant in today’s world. I wanted to do something that was useful and applicable outside of a laboratory setting. Deep-sea coral communities in the Gulf of Mexico have been found in close proximity to areas of natural hydrocarbon seepage. Because of this coexistence, it is possible that these corals are able to tolerate low levels of oil, but this is not well understood. In light of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which released 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2012, it became important to understand the ability of corals to tolerate oil. This study examines the relationships between the quantity of oil, storage lipid composition, and source of lipids in the deep-sea coral L. pertusa to assess the overall impact of oil on coral health.

  • Andrew McComas, East Asian Studies

    During the summer of 2010, I received a grant from Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship to teach English in China. This internship exposed me to a migrant primary school where students studied in poor conditions and with dated materials. Despite China’s national emphasis on education and the central government’s strict implementation of a 9-year compulsory education law, millions of Chinese migrant children are still excluded from the state-run education system. My thesis examines the nature and history of this discriminatory education situation facing China’s migrants. After exploring the institutional barriers and policies that created this situation, I use the results of previous studies and two interviews to shed light on the poor schooling conditions found in many of China’s community migrant schools.

  • Pauline Dunoyer, Religion

    In my thesis, Soul Food: The Condemnation of Fatness and Apotheosis of Thin Bodies in Christian Diet Books, I argue that some religious dieting guides place spiritual wellbeing harmfully at odds with mental and physical health. The Christian diet books I studied follow a formulaic concept that losing weight means gaining spirituality, strengthening the correlation between a small body mass and a spiritual zenith. My position is that the promoted salvific experience of weight loss becomes paradoxically oppressive and submissive, as a duality of virtue and sin is aligned with thinness and fatness, respectively. This paradox becomes especially harsh for females who lose weight through loss of agency and control over food consumption. Through a close reading, I navigate the same arguments about oppression and submission with regard to food consumption through the narratives of Christian women recovering from eating disorders.

  • Sam Rodriques, Physics

    Quantum computers promise to revolutionize the field of computation, allowing us to solve problems that, using current technology, would take longer than the lifetime of the universe to solve. Quantum entanglement is the basic resource used in quantum computation, and it distinguishes quantum computation from classical communication. In order to evaluate the performance of a quantum computer, one must be able to determine how much entanglement, if any, is present within the computer. This thesis, which is the result of 2.5 years of work developing algorithms for calculating quantum entanglement in mixed quantum systems, moves us one step closer to the goal of being able to evaluate and study entanglement in quantum computers and also in natural systems. With these tools, we can begin to understand what role entanglement plays in nature, and what role it may play in the technologies of the future.

  • Victoria Sobocinski, Sociology

    My thesis explores the strategic use of campaign surrogates in presidential campaigns. I was compelled to study this topic because of my broad interests in political marketing, social movement theory, and network theory. My investigation of election newspaper coverage revealed a restriction of the spousal image within the confines of conventional femininity discourse. Engaging sociological theory on collective representations and collective memory, I argue that the ingrained collective sentiments of the American electorate compels the media to frame Michelle Obama, Ann Romney, and even Bill Clinton positively only if they portray traditional feminine characteristics. I examine both the sacred and profane narratives of Michelle Obama, Ann Romney, and Bill Clinton to conclude that the expectation of feminine performance restricts the capacity of these spouses to bring new meaning to their highly public position. I explore the influence and importance of the candidate-spouse’s image (as traditional as it may remain) on the candidate’s image as well as how the non-expanding role of the spouse discredits speculation about future “co-presidencies” in the White House.

  • Jixi Teng, Economics

    My paper explores the relationship between video game sales and same week crimes in the United States. This study further focuses on violent video game sales and violent crime with additional investigation into various subsets of the criminal population according to age, gender, and race. Using an Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) model, I analyzed the years 2005 through 2010 using the top 30 video games sold alongside the National Incident-Based Reporting System. I found that while there is a positive relationship between violent video games and crime, as well as a negative relationship between non-violent video games and crime, the effects are small and generally economically inconsequential. I am an avid video game player and there has been media scrutiny over the influence of violent media, particularly video games, on the behavior of individuals who commit horrific crimes. There has not been much in terms of empirical studies in this field, so I thought it would be a stimulating topic that is very much in the interest of the public.

  • Susanna Sacks, English & Sociology

    My academic interests lie at the intersection of literature and sociolinguistics, examining the interactions between literary language use and the socio-political positioning of both reader and author. I aim to situate my studies within a cross-cultural framework that recognizes the increasingly complex social underpinnings of literary expression. My work grew out of my interest in the use of non-standard forms of English by traditionally marginalized voices in literature. In my thesis, A Carnival of One’s Own: Contemporary Rap and the Commercial Appropriation of the Neoliberal Carnivalesque, I aim to examine how artists use socially-constituted forms of expression in order to negotiate their role as both representative of and in conversation with their community. I argue that the performance of deviant black masculinity as articulated through images of bodily violence, criminal activity, and exaggerated sexuality represents a carnivalesque space, in which neoliberal life goals of individual competition and material success are glorified and, ultimately, reified.

  • Nabeel Ahktar, Biology

    Huntington’s disease, a late-onset neurodegenerative disease, develops when the protein Huntingtin has a mutated expansion of at least 36 polyglutamine repeats. This causes Huntingtin proteins to aggregate with one another into amyloid fibrils. These aggregates are strongly correlated with the toxicity that leads to neurodegeneration in humans. My thesis aims to establish Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies) as a suitable model organism to evaluate the effects that two chaperone proteins, Hsp104 and Hsp70, might have on Huntingtin aggregation. Using fluorescence microscopy, my work focused on the analysis of aggregation present in the 3rd instar larvae stage. Overall, aggregates from a Huntingtin construct with a long polyglutamine length were intensely concentrated and seen throughout the 3rd instar larvae; in contrast, aggregates from a Huntingtin construct with a short polyglutamine length were not seen.