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Three Theses Win Radcliffe’s Fay Prize

Robotics, mangroves and the mind were the topics of this year’s winning theses for the Captain Jonathan Fay Prize yesterday.

Andrew E. Carlson ’03, Gabriella S. Rosen ’03 and Stephanie A. Stuart ’03 were honored at last Friday’s Strawberry Tea for winning the prize, which is awarded yearly by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Historically, there has been only one recipient of the prize.

This year’s expanded number of recipients continues a trend that began last year, when the prize was awarded to two seniors, after being given to one senior the year before.

Three years ago, the prize was not given because the wording of the prize required that Radcliffe award it to a woman. The newly-formed Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study has since removed the gender restriction, comply with the College’s non-discrimination policy.

Speaking in a crowded white tent on the rainy evening, University President Lawrence H. Summers commented playfully, “If there’s anyone in this room who’s capable of understanding the depth and detail of these three theses, I’m prepared to move over and give them my job.”

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For his thesis, Carlson, an engineering concentrator in Lowell House, designed a small computer chip, which, he said, could “give the precision of a human hand” to any small motorized device.

Carlson says he did most of the 600 hours of work for the thesis last fall, incorporating the latest developments in power control with new computer intelligence, before he sent his design off for fabrication.

“Then I had to sit back and wait, and hope the design would work,” Carlson said.

Carlson said his design improved upon motor chip controls that are commonly used in many electric devices, giving them a more sophisticated ability to “learn” specific motions.

Carlson said he plans to attend a five-year graduate program at the University of California, Berkeley in the fall.

Stephanie A. Stuart, a biology concentrator in Dunster House, travelled to Florida and Australia to conduct research for her thesis, titled, “What Sets the Latitudinal Limit of the Mangrove Habit?”

Stuart collected data from the two hemispheres, examining why some mangrove species are restricted to tropical and subtropical latitudes, paying special attention to the relationship between saline substrate and freezing tolerance in the tree tissue.

Stuart was away at her brother’s graduation, and was unable to attend the event.

Her thesis adviser, biology professor Noel M. Holbrook ’83, accepted the award on her behalf.

“I would guess there are few theses that answer such a fundamental question and provide such an explanation,” Holbrook said of Stuart’s work.

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