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BY JACQUE E. DAY AND JANE DUNBAR
The Norwich Record | Winter 2018

Architecture Professor Eleanor D’Aponte is on a mission to help revitalize the use of poured concrete in American building design. And, she’s doing so using fabric.

Just inside Architecture Professor Eleanor D’Aponte’s office in Chaplin Hall, a sculpture catches the eye. It is a table with bulging legs, like balloons filled with water, but made of solid concrete. “A group of students in a seminar created this table, which was formed with fabric,” she explained. The students sewed polyester fabric into the shape of the legs as they envisioned them. They built a supporting rig, hung the fabric, poured in the concrete, and let gravity do its job. “The weight causes the fabric to bulge,” she concluded. “For design students this technique is incredible because it requires them to build a negative of what they’re envisioning.”

The cover of the 2017 book, The Family Cabin, features a house with inner and outer solid-concrete walls that bulge in controlled, horizontal rows. The house, located in nearby Waitsfield, Vt., was “formed with fabric” using a more sophisticated version of the method D’Aponte’s students employed to create the table. D’Aponte co-designed the house with ArroDesign, a local architecture firm that also experiments with fabric.

A small but growing architecture paradigm is emerging around this principle. The technique found its U.S. origins with Mark West, who introduced the idea to D’Aponte when he spoke at Norwich University a decade ago. Since then, she has written several papers on the subject and recently received a Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation grant to study poured-concrete buildings in Europe.

It was standing room only last Homecoming weekend in the Todd Multipurpose Room when the veil fell away from a life-size c. 1827 painting of a Norwich cadet. Now, the discovery of the painting’s story has grown into an interdisciplinary effort involving the Sullivan Museum and History Center and Norwich Physics Professor Art Pallone.

Sullivan Museum and History Center registrar John Hart discovered the painting when it was listed for sale by New York City’s Hirschl & Adler Galleries, where for decades it had been mislabeled as a portrait of a West Point cadet. Through painstaking research and documentation, the museum staff correctly identified the cadet as one from Captain Partridge’s Academy in Middletown, Conn. But the cadet’s identity eluded them.

There was something else: a shadowy figure in the lower right corner, known in the art world as a pentimento, the presence or emergence of earlier images that have been changed and painted over—in other words, a painting beneath the painting. While they could make out what appeared to be the figure of a small child, they couldn’t see details. What Hart needed was a camera that could reveal the detail without harming the artwork.

The answer lay just a few hundred paces away in Tompkins Hall with physics Professor Art Pallone, an expert in multi-spectral imaging.

In the basement of the Sullivan Museum, using a near-infrared camera, Pallone took pictures that peeled back another layer of the mystery. The boy appears to have a piece of fabric draped over his arm containing symbols consistent with a Masonic Apron. The museum staff had already traced the possible identity of the cadet to the Starr family. This discovery revealed another link to the theory, as Jehoshaphat Starr was the founder and inaugural Grand Master of the Middletown Masonic Lodge, which in 1825 sent a contingent to the cornerstone-laying ceremony for Partridge’s Academy in Middletown, Conn.

Among the many looming questions: Why was the child removed from the original painting?

For Pallone, who will continue to work with the museum to uncover the painting’s story, a foray into the world of fine art has been a rewarding one, not to mention a natural offshoot from physics. “Leonardo da Vinci understood what we, in modern times, sometimes need to rediscover,” he says. “Art is scientific, and science is artistic.”  – Jacque E. Day

BY JACQUE E. DAY AND JANE DUNBAR
The Norwich Record | Winter 2018

“Have you heard of Luis Barragán?”

That was the first question Cara Armstrong, director of NU’s School of Architecture + Art, asked Armando Barragán ’19 when he entered her Fundamentals of Architecture I class as a freshman.

He hadn’t.

In the two years since discovering he shares a surname with renowned Mexican architect Luis Barragán, Armando Barragán has immersed himself in research that he ultimately hopes to parlay into a master’s thesis.

Growing up as a first-generation Mexican-American in Boston with a father who helped construct dozens of prominent buildings there, Armando had always been intrigued by structural design. But it wasn’t until he worked as a community organizer in high school—and observed what he felt to be the intrusive effects of generic architecture on neighborhood identity—that he decided to pursue a degree in it. Now, under Armstrong’s mentorship, he has discovered resonances with Barragán that extend far beyond their shared name or heritage.

“When I first saw photos of Barragán’s work, I could see he avoided the International Style,” Armando says—an approach he describes as a “cut-and-paste aesthetic” that strips all sense of place or cultural context from a building: exactly what had bristled him back in Boston. “But I didn’t know how he did it; how he created modern structures that evoked Mexico’s past without being cliché.”

Structures, in other words, that fit.

This past summer, funded by a coveted NU summer research fellowship, Armando spent four weeks exploring Mexico City to understand the how. Armed with British architect and historian Kenneth Frampton’s Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance, Armando observed that Barragán’s own resistance to contemporary norms comprised natural, locally available materials and colors, as well as the use of texture and light.

“Barragán said, ‘Don’t ask me about this or that building; don’t try to do what I do: see what I saw,’” Armando explains. “I saw the history, culture, and natural environment that drove his designs.”

Looking forward, Armando hopes his research into Barragán will inform his own designs, and those of his peers, “to better reflect individualism and local culture, and help us replicate those strategies around the world.”

“Plus, every architecture professor I’ve had asks the same question Professor Armstrong did,” he laughs. “I had to find out more about this guy.”

BY JACQUE E. DAY AND JANE DUNBAR
The Norwich Record | Winter 2018

Mathematics Professor Jocelyn “Joe” Latulippe is passionate about solving difficult biological problems. And now, he stands at the vanguard of research into a universally devastating disease.

A mathematical neuroscientist, Professor Joe Latulippe uses computational models to advance the understanding of the human nervous system and the mechanisms of neuronal activity. Such models are useful in simulating long-term conditions, as well as in vivo-like environments, and carry clear research benefits.

“Because of the limitations of experimental procedures, quantitative tools can provide critical information that human trials can’t,” Latulippe explains. “Freed from the constraints of time or bureaucracy, such simulations provide reams of data in the few short minutes—or seconds—it takes to run them.”

Latulippe recently developed one such tool himself. Called a synaptic transmission model, he originally intended it to help researchers better understand the concept of “plasticity”: what variables might strengthen or weaken a synapse over time. But he has now broadened his investigation into how neurons communicate under the influence of specific organic diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“Alzheimer’s is the manifestation of breakdowns in memory, learning, and cognition,” Latulippe says. “In other words, patients experience a progressive loss of synaptic plasticity. We know that one of the hallmarks of the disease is the development of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles; what we don’t know is what triggers their development in the first place.”

Latulippe’s model simulates exactly what happens to neural pathways and synaptic transmission at the very onset of Alzheimer’s disease—before the imminent proliferation of plaques and fibrils occurs. Now, researchers can change the conditions of an experiment by controlling for individual mechanisms—such as the effect of amyloid-beta on calcium—at will.

“Although the literature on Alzheimer’s is vast, we have yet to find a cure,” Latulippe says. “Because examining individual neurons at the molecular level is exceptionally difficult, mathematical models enable us to approximate the environmental conditions of an Alzheimer’s brain—which can then help us more clearly understand how it develops, and how we can treat it.”

BY JACQUE E. DAY AND JANE DUNBAR
The Norwich Record | Winter 2018

There is a passage in the famous book by Dr. Seuss, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” that describes fish like this: “Some are sad. Some are glad. And some are very, very bad. Why are they sad and glad and bad? I do not know. Go ask your dad.” Or, ask biology Professor Simon Pearish.

Pearish, behavioral ecologist and assistant professor of biology, is Norwich University’s resident expert on the personalities of fish.

In the classroom, Pearish and his students study the personality traits of the brook stickleback.

The study of fish personalities sounds more like play than work, a question formed in a young mind on a leisurely Saturday afternoon, ambling along a brook, looking down into the water, noticing how a school of fish interacts with its environment. In fact “school” is derived from the Greek scholē, meaning leisure.

The word has since evolved to denote a group moving together in unison. Imagine a school of fish, its elegant dance, how it seems to manifest as one body. Outwardly, the motion could appear leisurely. But we know that within—from abstracts like schools of thought to institutions like Norwich — schools involve complex mechanisms, a diverse range of roles and, yes, personalities.

Pearish is involved in an ongoing collaboration with Alison Bell of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and Bronwyn Bleakley of Stonehill College. Their question: why individual animals behave differently from one another. In their study of the Gasterosteus aculeatus, commonly known as the three-spined stickleback, they have observed that the “bold” sticklebacks — those more apt to take risks — tend to be more social. Conversely, the “shy” sticklebacks tend to be loners, more likely to go off on their own. Moreover, the alternative social preferences of both bold and shy fish appear to be adaptive, leading to increased survival in the wild.

A Darwinian question, “What role has evolution played in generating personality?,” lies at the crux of Pearish’s inquiry.

“I study fish personality because I want to uncover clues about human behavior that are buried deep in our evolutionary past,” he said.

Norwich News

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  • Amrutaa Vibho is literally shooting for the stars

    Amrutaa Vibho is literally shooting for the stars

    • Norwich In The News
  • Cadet Gabriel Gaetz wins at the OCR World Championship

    Cadet Gabriel Gaetz wins at the OCR World Championship

    • Student Success
  • Cadet Joseph Marsh learns from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Walla Walla, Washington.

    Cadet Joseph Marsh learns from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Walla Walla, Washington.

    • Norwich In The News
  • Norwich to hold 28th Annual Military Writers’ Symposium

    Norwich to hold 28th Annual Military Writers’ Symposium

    • Special Events
  • Norwich welcomes 650 new students to begin the 22–23 school year

    Norwich welcomes 650 new students to begin the 22–23 school year

    • Campus Life
  • NU dedicates Senator Patrick Leahy School of Cybersecurity and Advanced Computing

    NU dedicates Senator Patrick Leahy School of Cybersecurity and Advanced Computing

    • Breaking News
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