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Double majors lend luster to student research

Even on a campus where many students lead double lives, where engineers play in the orchestra and physics students also major in computer science, Margaret Thomas’s knack for seizing opportunities stands out.

Thomas, a senior who is double majoring in international relations and Russian Studies, completed two study-abroad tours on two different continents last year.

She spent the summer of 2004 in China through the Lehigh in Shanghai faculty-led internship program. She spent last fall in Moscow on a fellowship from the American Council of Teachers of Russian, working for a financial consulting firm and taking private Russian language lessons from a tutor.

On April 27, at Lehigh’s first annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, Thomas and her peers transformed Room 308 of the University Center into a crowded intellectual bazaar.

The symposium featured posters, demonstrations and presentations on 50 research projects. Visitors navigating four cramped rows of displays learned from chemistry students about anti-cancer agents and from biology students about the connection between food deprivation and sexual motivation.

They learned from a civil engineering major (Edward Regnier ’05) about the challenge to Swedish identity posed by the European Union’s neutrality, and from a marketing major (Adam Ressner ’06) about the cipher codes that the Union Army used during America’s Civil War.

Visitors stopping to talk with Jatin Gupta ’06, bioengineering major and president of Lehigh’s Biomedical Engineering Society, found out that 250,000 Americans die each year from congestive heart failure, and that the U.S. spends $56 billion annually to treat the disease.

Gupta, who is advised by Neal Simon, professor and chair of biological sciences, created a poster titled, “Treating Congestive Heart Failure with Vasopressin 1a Antagonists.”

Across the room, Jill Harrison ’05, a theatre major who hopes one day to direct professional theatre, described the challenges of directing the musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which was staged in April.

Harrison managed 20 actors and 10 musicians and oversaw the construction onstage of an orchestra pit while also doing choreography and concept development.

“I think the 20 actors represented 20 different majors,” Harrison said. “The whole collaborative process is a symbol of what Lehigh is trying to do in liberal arts education.”

Investigating the relationship between two major countries

Stepping behind a makeshift curtain into a small anteroom, visitors listened to Margaret Thomas give a talk on the status of the relationship between the two countries she visited last year.

Four decades after military clashes along their 2,700-mile-long border threatened to turn into full-blown war, said Thomas, Russia and China are developing a relationship based on mutual interests and growing interdependence.

“Russia has so many natural resources and China has so many people,” Thomas said. “Russia supports China’s territorial claims to Taiwan, and China supports Russia in Chechnya. China lacks long-range nuclear capabilities, while Russia has this ability. Both oppose the nuclear missile defense system the U.S. is working on.”

And both countries, Thomas added, are growing more resentful of the United States’ status as sole world superpower.

In Oct. 2004, Russia and China signed a treaty settling the last outstanding disagreements over islands in the Amur and Ussuri Rivers, where a series of border clashes in 1969 took the lives of several hundred soldiers and threatened to turn into a full-blown war.

Meanwhile, Sino-Russian trade has almost tripled in recent years, from $5.7 billion in 1999 to $15.7 billion in 2003, Thomas said.

Amidst the evidence of greater cooperation, however, are worrisome signs. Russia’s population is declining by .5 percent annually and has fallen to 143 million, Thomas said. The population of Siberia is dwindling even more rapidly as Russians are leaving the east and moving to Moscow and other large cities.

Hundreds of thousands of illegal Chinese immigrants, and perhaps more, have moved into Siberia to fill this vacuum, said Thomas, who titled her presentation “The Future Security Implications of Increased Chinese Migration into Russia.”

Thomas was advised on her presentation by Chaim Kaufmann, associate professor of international relations, and Mary Nicholas, associate professor of Russian and director of the Russian Studies program.

Thomas began studying Russian in seventh grade when a scheduling mistake placed her in Russian class. In doing her research, she read original Russian-language source materials pertaining to the border dispute and treaties.

This summer, Thomas is doing an internship at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Friday, July 22, 2005

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