William and Mary Digest: Oct. 25

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Nonprofit makes major donation to college project

A research lab located within the College of William and Mary has received a grant from a California-based foundation that will be used to help further college students’ efforts to aid policymakers in their work.

AidData works with organizations around the world to better implement data and evidence into their decisions. Thirty-five students are part of the effort, which the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation bolstered with $1.5 million.

“The Hewlett Foundation’s willingness to provide predictable and flexible support has significantly expanded our global reach and influence,” AidData executive director Brad Parks said. “This type of core funding is crucial because it allows us to invest time and effort into ahead-of-the-market innovations that have the potential to be scaled globally.”

The research gives college students an autonomy many of them have never experienced before.

“AidData gave me an opportunity to work with first-rate faculty and students on projects that were both academically rigorous and policy relevant,” said Austin Strange, who developed a first-of-its-kind method for tracking China’s global development footprint with Brad Parks. “One thing I have done at AidData that I could not do anywhere else, is design a research project with the guidance of faculty, and then assemble a team of over a dozen researchers to begin work on that project.”

Scholarship plays part in student’s research

Sophomore Samantha Boateng spent part of the summer in Ghana researching her grandfather’s life, thanks to the Concord Traveling Scholarship for Creative Writers. Boateng’s grandfather, Francis Yeboah, made the bulk of his fortune in the timber business along the Gold Coast of Ghana.

“He made a lot of money, and it grew even bigger,” Boateng said. “I was told that he’d have rows of cars just filled with huge (amounts of) timber going into town to sell. Timber helped him become wealthy then do a bunch of other things.”

Boateng’s research revealed that her grandfather built a village where his workers lived.

“As he got money, he didn’t forget where he came from,” Boateng said. “Even to this day, his workers are loyal to our family. My grandfather didn't believe he was above anybody. In Ghana, people eat together out of one pot. If someone works for you, usually you don’t eat with him. But he would eat with his workers. They were like his family, his brothers and sisters.”

The wealth of business information available was in stark contrast to what Boateng could find on Yeboah’s personal affairs. Since his wife was unable to have children, he fathered 16 children with six concubines.

“That makes it such a deeper story,” she said. “I’m not really sure his mindset behind it; in my writing I try to come up with why he wanted to ... Was the first time unfaithfulness? Next time, did he just decide that he wanted children to give his wealth to? … It’s crazy that she was there and all of this happened,” Boateng said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Physics professor joins American Physical Society

Physics professor Chris Carone has a new, prestigious distinction: He is now a fellow at the American Physical Society. Nine others in the college’s physics department have been fellows in years past. Part of Carone’s research is centered around the happenings with dark matter and dark energy.

“Dark energy is known through its gravitational effects on the evolution of the universe, while dark matter is known through its gravitational effects on the rotations of galaxies,” he said. “Although we’re not certain about the nature of either dark matter or dark energy, we are certain of their existence due to their gravitational interactions."

Part of expanding the field of physics is tied to knowledge about gravity, Carone said.

“Of all the forces of nature, we have quantum theories that describe all of them. But the only one we’re not certain of is gravity,” he said. “If we were certain about what the quantum theory of gravity was, we would get some insight about a lot of other questions.”

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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