Classic Union research
INTELLECTUAL. CREATIVE. INSPIRING.
Hands-on faculty-mentored undergraduate research is at the heart of a Union education. All year round, students work closely with their professors in classrooms, studios, archives and in the field - delving into topics that intrigue and challenge them. And for one day each May, the College suspends classes so that students can share their scholarly and creative interests and talents at the Steinmetz Symposium, a campus-wide celebration with peers, professors and families
Arundhati Gore '24 spent part of her sophomore year doing faculty-mentored research in a subject she found fascinating, one that combined archaeology and geology.
She worked with Angela Commito, senior lecturer in classical archaeology, and Kurt Hollocher, professor of geosciences, as part of an effort to use cultural artifacts to shed light on the socioeconomic dynamics of an Albany, N.Y., neighborhood during the turn of the 20th century.
This involved conducting a heavy-metal analysis of soil samples, painted plaster pieces and ceramics found in an excavated household privy that belonged to the working-class Nicholas Oliver family from 1888 to 1900.
“As a double major in biochemistry and history, with a minor in music, I’m very interested in interdisciplinary research,” Gore said. “The intersection between historical objects and scientific analysis was a perfect fit for me.”
The joint humanities-STEM project aimed to discover whether heavy metals detected in the privy could have come from discarded objects rather than patent medicines used by the Olivers, as had traditionally been assumed. To perform her research, Gore used Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry, a technique performed by a state-of-the-art instrument that enables Union undergraduates to do advanced analytical work.
“This experiment allows us to see the dramatic change in the quality of urban life, and more importantly, the awareness of heavy metals and their environmental hazards,” Gore said. “It is just the beginning of many other projects that could use this technology for new and exciting discoveries, including future identification of other 19th-century household contaminants.”