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Posted 06/04/03, by James Donnelly
Ask Tracey Hughes '04 and Valerie Gerry '03 why Dartmouth is special and they'll tell you a big part of it is because they were able to enhance their learning experience by spearheading projects of their own choosing.
Hughes, for example, brought to campus two of the most important figures in Germany's reunification in an effort to explore the politics and personalities that shaped history. The joint lecture and classroom visits by Wolfgang Ischinger, German ambassador to the U.S., and
Robert Kimmitt, former U.S. ambassador to Germany, were both initiated and organized by Hughes last April. She says her desire to create the event was sparked by her personal connection to Germany, and tensions between Germany and the United States over the war in Iraq.
"Students of our generation take it as a given that Germany is reunified," she says. "They do not realize what a feat it was to settle the Cold War, German reunification, and the post-World War II territorial and political issues peacefully." She credits Bruce Duncan, professor of German, with helping her make the project a reality.
Hughes has tackled similar challenges before. Last October, she brought Academy Award-winning film The Restless Conscience, about the anti-Nazi resistance in Germany between 1933 and 1945, and its director, Hava Kohav Beller, to Dartmouth. This led her to do a film symposium to honor Martin Luther King in January. "I truly believe that only at Dartmouth would I have had such opportunities," she says.
Gerry echoes Hughes's appreciation of the unique opportunities for research available to Dartmouth undergraduates. As her senior thesis, she is exploring ethical issues in neuroscience, especially the rapidly expanding sciences of brain imaging and psychoactive drugs. Gerry was able to draw on the expertise of renowned researchers Michael Gazzaniga '61, professor of psychological and brain sciences and dean of the faculty, and Ron Green, professor and chair of religion, in crafting her research project.
"They're both so experienced in their fields," she notes. "They were able to help me most by directing me to the resources and individuals I needed in developing my project."
Though ethics in genetics have received a great deal of media attention, Gerry says ethics in brain sciences have not been as well reported. She believes new developments in the field pose potentially greater ethical dilemmas than genetics. "Brain imaging techniques could someday allow scientists to publicly display an individual's private beliefs or thoughts, raising privacy issues," she says.
Lest this sound like science fiction, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines can already detect differences in individuals' reactions to race, possibly revealing hidden prejudice.
Gerry has interviewed leaders in the field of neuroethics and produced a video to distribute to neurology departments around the country. Her goal, she says, is "to raise awareness of neuroethical issues among scientists, politicians, and the general public."
- James Donnelly
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