Sarah Foster '10 is the national winner of the 2010 Cum Laude Society Paper competition.
Each year the Cum Laude Society invites each of its 360 member school to submit a copy of a single outstanding example of original work, either creative or research based, for consideration. Papers are first judged at the local level then district winners are selected. Those winners are then judged with a national winner selected from the eight Cum Laude districts.
"I am extremely honored and pleased to have won this award," Foster said. "I am also very grateful for all of the excellent teachers at Reserve who helped me improve my writing, and especially for Mr. Gough's encouragement and many useful comments on my drafts."
Foster's paper, A Faustian Bargain: Werner Heisenberg's Conflict and Compromise with the Nazi Regime, was written for her Senior Seminar class, led by former English teacher Jason Gough.
"Sarah's paper is remarkable for its originality of vision, its synthesis of source materials and its cogent analysis," Gough said. "What is most impressive, however, is Sarah's skill as a writer. In this respect, she is without match. Indeed, her prose is at once filigreed and well-wrought, elegant and lucid, powerful and evocative. Quite simply, reading Sarah's writing is a cherished experience.
"Without making recourse to hyperbole, Sarah's sophistication as a writer and a thinker is akin to that of a doctoral candidate developing her dissertation's prospectus. It leaves one in awe and I count myself very fortunate for having the privilege to work with Sarah."
Foster selected her topic after reading David Cassidy's biography of physicist Werner Heisenberg, Beyond Uncertainty: Heisenberg, Quantum Physics, and the Bomb.
"I found both the science and the complex political issues described in the book fascinating," Foster explained, "and writing my Senior Seminar paper about Heisenberg seemed like a great way to further explore this topic."
According to Foster, the paper examines how, in early 20th-century Europe, a revolution of sorts took place in terms of understanding the nature of the atom. As the Nazi party took control in Germany, where much of the study of the atom was taking place, Johannes Stark and Phillip Lenard, both Nobel Prize-winning experimental physicists, used the opportunity to battle theoretical physics, labeling the discipline "Jewish physics."
The physicists who suffered the most were Jewish, including Albert Einstein, who was outspokenly anti-Nazi. While Heisenberg was not Jewish, he witnessed the dismissal and resignation of many dear colleagues, the denigration of his subject in unscientific propaganda papers and was himself subject to a Secret Service investigation. The suffering of his Jewish colleagues created labyrinthine moral dilemmas for Heisenberg, which escalated when Nazi officials began to ask for nuclear weapons.
Some scientists emigrated in solidarity with their Jewish colleagues, or out of unwillingness to work under such a corrupt regime. Heisenberg, however, had an intense loyalty to his country, if not the Nazi party, and could not leave. He also could not bear to see his country's once world-class science program diminished and saw it as his personal mission to preserve the prestige of German physics. Furthermore, he clung to an idealistic conception of science as apolitical.
"My paper explores the moral dilemmas that Heisenberg confronted and his response to them," Foster said, "and argues that, in the compromises he made in order to remain in Germany, Heisenberg was forced to betray his own philosophy of science."
Foster, currently a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, is studying under the Roy and Diana Vagelos Scholars Program in the Molecular Life Sciences. The program offers Penn's most motivated young scientists an opportunity to begin focused course work and research in their first year. Vagelos Scholars major in chemistry or biochemistry and complete a second major in any other natural science, with the option of earning a concurrent master's degree.
"I will most likely be biochemistry major, and am considering attempting a second major in either physics or math," Foster said. "I do hope to continue writing and, in fact, am currently taking a writing seminar. I hope to continue developing my writing by either choosing a minor in a humanities subject or participating in writing-related extracurricular activities."
Copyright © 2011 Western Reserve Academy
All Rights Reserved