Undergraduate Honors Theses


Intersubjectivity and Coping with Absurdity
Per Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, existentialism is the profound truth that the world lacks inherent meaning and thus, we are radically free to choose, to live life as we please. While these assertions are both true and liberating and the theoretical level, these axioms leave individuals disoriented. They never answer the question: how does one live within an absurd world? Thus, these authors never give us a way of coping with the harsh repercussions of absurdity. To answer this question, this project turns to intersubjectivity and the work of Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas’s theory of the other demonstrates that we are not merely beings in a vacuum; the world is conditioned by the interpersonal. Relating to the Other allows us to see that we are not alone in our suffering, for the Other and the individual mutually witness one another. Such connections provide a means of coping with absurdity, allowing us both solidarity and insight into the truly absurd nature of the world. Thus, the application of Levinas’s intersubjectivity to existentialism serves to save Camus’s notion of absurdity from its more nihilistic tendencies, allowing us to accept and apprehend absurdity without falling into despair or ignorance.
Investigations of pond metabolism in temperate salt marshes of Massachusetts
Salt marshes provide important ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration. Permanently inundated ponds are prominent features in the marsh landscape, encompassing up to 60% of the total marsh area, but they are rarely considered in biogeochemical assessments. I investigated two ponds in Plum Island Estuary, MA to measure and analyze their metabolism. The ponds varied in size and vegetation cover. Oxygen concentrations and pH values were recorded in 15-minute intervals during the entire study period. The ponds regularly become hypoxic or anoxic during night. This is a problem for the estimation of respiration rates which are based on nighttime measurements. To investigate this potential underestimation, several approaches to estimate respiration were used. First, additional measurements of surface water concentrations of dissolved inorganic carbon were made. A comparison of respiration estimates based on oxygen and DIC changes during tidal isolation revealed a reasonable agreement for the most time but not during periods of high productivity during the day or late at night. At this point, oxygen concentrations are so depleted that a change in concentration – the indicator of respiration – is barely detectable. However, DIC based respiration rates indicate that respiration is occurring under these hypoxic/anoxic conditions. This saturation changes during periods of tidal inundation, when a nighttime peak in oxygen concentrations indicates that the flood water is relatively enriched in oxygen compared to the pond water. On three days, it was tested whether under these conditions the oxygen-based respiration rate was higher than under hypoxic conditions (i.e., during tidal isolation). The rates were indeed higher than those under tidal isolation but still not in the range of DIC-based rates. Overall, metabolic rates differed between the two ponds in magnitude, which is likely caused by different vegetation cover, but may be influenced by size, sampling period, and duration as well.
Kashmir and the Shadow of Nuclear War
Since 1947, India and Pakistan have gone to war four times and faced several other regional crises over the disputed status of Kashmir. Since 1998, the Kashmir conflict has been characterized by increasingly aggressive nuclear rhetoric and signaling. Nuclear use by either India and Pakistan, even for counterforce targeting, would result in the deaths of millions on the continent and forever damage the taboo surrounding nuclear first-use. This paper will explore the ways in which the ongoing Indo-Pakistan conflict in Kashmir may escalate to the nuclear level. I will argue that a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, in reference to the Kashmir conflict, is within the realm of plausibility and therefore deserves careful consideration. I will map out four plausible pathways to nuclear first-use to draw conclusions about what aspects of the Indo-Pakistani relationship are most threatening to regional stability.
Le Morte d'Americana
The timelessness of the Arthurian tradition lends itself to adaptability: hundreds of authors over the centuries have inherited the tales and adjusted them to his or her society’s needs. Sir Thomas Malory lived during the War of Roses, a period of upheaval and violence. While imprisoned, he wrote Le Morte d’Arthur, which was inspired from the French romances. He emphasized the ideals of chivalry, brotherhood, loyalty, and order, which had been eroded in contemporary society. From Malory’s stories, Tennyson created Idylls of the King, resurrecting a medieval world to edify Victorian society. Through Guinevere’s affair, Tennyson attempted to revive the idea of courtly love and the importance of pursuing the purest form of love, which he juxtaposed against King Arthur who was the model gentleman for Victorian society. My novel, Le Morte d'Americana carries on the tradition of taking the most important pieces of the Arthurian tradition and weaving them together with the most pressing issues of modern American society. I have mainly focused on Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, using characters and themes from these texts to craft Le Morte d’Americana. Arthur and his knights and the violence that surrounds them translate into the issues of police brutality, gun violence, and toxic masculinity. This novel is a bridge between the past and present.
Levels of Perineuronal Nets in the Basolateral Amygdala Are Correlated with Sex Differences in Fear Learning
Trauma and exposure to extreme stressors greatly increases a person’s vulnerability to developing mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Patients with PTSD often have impaired fear and safety learning, and despite the fact that women are more than twice as likely to develop PTSD, much of the research on this disorder has relied on the use of male subjects. This paper will review potential contributors to the sex differences seen in PTSD and fear-related learning. Our group has found that female rats show greater fear discrimination abilities than their male counterparts, but show no difference in levels of safety learning. Analysis of specialized extracellular matrix structures called perineuronal nets (PNNs) revealed that females displayed a much higher density of PNNs in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) than males, but not in the prefrontal cortex (PFC).
Local Governments Taking on Climate Change: Situating City Actions in the Global Climate Regime
Given the current political environment in the US, there is great doubt about the future of American policy on climate change. Still, the optimistic future of American climate policy relies on the new group of leaders that have emerged from municipal government. Although local government is traditionally ignored in favor of the publicity of international negotiations between countries, cities have established a role at the forefront of climate policy over the past ten years. These local governments serve half of the world’s population and often are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, making their contributions more important than ever. Although they face a unique set of difficulties, cities are able to take a range of actions impossible at higher levels of government, reaching communities in unprecedented ways and innovating new policies. This project aims to analyze how local governments fit into the global political regime on climate change, testing the theoretical framework of multilevel governance against reallife examples in Boston and New York City. Further, this paper finds that cities compensate for their relatively small size and limited jurisdiction through a unique set of actions and collaborative relationships, enabling these local actors to become international leaders on this complex global issue..
Mental health stigma and barriers to seeking help
The issue of mental health awareness has been a familiar topic of concern in recent years, due to increasing incidence of suicide, PTSD, anxiety disorders, and other behavioral illnesses. Patient populations impacted by mental illness are diverse and research has focused on the recognition of symptoms and the treatment. Less research has investigated the barriers that hinder access to mental health services and the early identification of individuals who need mental health assistance. The specific aim of this study is to evaluate how the stigma of mental illness, both perceived and personal, may affect the willingness of college students to obtain behavioral health care. Based upon the findings, recommendations for improving access to mental health services on a college campus will be proposed.
Microtubule Dynamics During Sperm Aster Centration in Fertilized Sea Urchin Cells
Centration of the nucleus after fertilization is an essential step for setting-up cell division and proper embryonic development in many proliferating cells such as the sea urchin. The sperm aster must capture the female pronucleus for fusion as well as the nucleus becoming positioned at the center of the cell. Microtubules (MTs) are known to play a role in this centration but the exact mechanism remains unknown. This begins to investigate current models of nuclear centration and the role of various interactions. Three phases of migration were observed as the male aster migrated with support in independent movements of the male and female pronuclei. Dimpling affects present that altered the morphology of the cell were observed when engagement occurred between the male and female pronuclei. It was discovered that this dimpling effect was a result of an interaction between MTs and the cortex, as confirmed by visualization of sheared cells in which only the cortex remained. Stemming from previous and current research in the lab, the role of post-translational modifications (PMTs) in nuclear centration was investigated for the different forces exerted due to various factors. Tyrosinated and detyrosinated populations were observed with and without the presence of parthenolide (PTL), an agent that inhibits detyrosination. PTL was observed to not only prevent the proper migration, but also that it expanded tyrosination of tubulin – which would further disrupt the force vectors created through the PMTs promotion of dyneins and kinesins. The results have lead to a new hypothesis to be furthered in order to gain an in-depth understanding in the mechanism(s) for pronuclear migration.
Millennial Women and Madam President
This thesis examines the ways in which millennial women are prone to gender bias in their evaluations of female presidential candidates and the factors that contribute to millennial women’s gendered expectations for female presidential candidates. In order to respond to these areas of inquiry, the researcher applied social role theory and system- justification theory to survey and interview data collected from a population of Boston College undergraduate women. Ultimately, it was found that millennial women are prone to gender bias when evaluating female presidential candidates and that the gender beliefs that prompt this bias are so deeply ingrained that they appear almost inevitable.


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