Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Knowledge Adds Up

  • Schwartz and Crannell

“The gigantic science building.”

That is what first attracted Gregory Schwartz to F&M. “As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to be here,” the Mathematics and Biology double major says of F&M’s Barshinger Life Sciences & Philosophy Building.

Schwartz also knew what he wanted to pursue as an independent project—the study of fractal methods of genome identification. Fractals are patterns in which components of a whole resemble the whole itself—think broccoli, where each separate branch is a miniature bunch of broccoli. These patterns occur in genomes, in both coding and noncoding DNA, the parts of DNA that often are thought to have no known biological function.

By devising a computer model to synthesize the data he collected, Schwartz was able to determine that noncoding DNA is not as random as he previously thought. He presented his findings at the College’s spring Research Fair. Working with him on the project as mentor and sounding board was Professor of Mathematics Annalisa Crannell, who, by her own admission, learned a great deal about genomes from Schwartz’s research, while she guided him through some mathematical challenges.

“He would come to me and tell me what he’d found or read and he relied on me to explain various things to him,” Crannell says. “At the beginning of the semester, we worked three times a week.” But by the end of the semester, he was confident on his own, a pattern Crannell has observed in other student research projects. Students take ideas and run with them, while faculty are always ready to help when needed.

Says Schwartz of his experience: “You’re making up your own questions to answer, as opposed to teachers posing the questions.”