Experimenting Everywhere at the 2023 Projects Assembly

The word "experimentation" has a certain set of connotations: goggles, bubbling test tubes, and calculations abound. But student speakers at our assembly for Project Week—Commonwealth's annual week devoted to student-designed endeavors—invited us to consider otherwise. Why should that kind of inquisitiveness be limited to the hard sciences? What if it took place in, say, the kitchen? 

Commonwealth's kitchen, in fact, was where Henry ’24 developed an eight-course meal inspired by Jewish cuisine for his project. With help from Chef Dethie Faye and our kitchen crew, he determined how to render regional dishes as kosher and played with cross-continental flavors. The result: a spread of dishes like cod and kimchi gefilte (Lithuania), pumpkin and duck tortellini (Italy), and shakshuka (Tunisia). Another cook, Auren ’26, found a kindred spirit in the chefs at Sofra, a cafe in Cambridge specializing in Turkish desserts—though their schedule required an adjustment period. "Most of the chefs got there at 4:00 a.m., but they took pity on me," he says. "I arrived at seven-thirty!" Over the course of the week, Auren tried his hand at making simit (rolled bread rings) and cookies, learning how each step of the baking process is optimized so that the freshest treats are served. 

For Katie ’25, experimentation meant toying with the stylization of an ongoing graphic project: a comic narrative called "The Machine." Accustomed to drawing in pencil, Katie tried outlining her sketches in marker, creating a hybrid of lines that she opted to use throughout the comic's art. Over the course of the week, she scrapped old storyboards that no longer inspired her as she resequenced frames and adjusted page sizing. She plans to continue developing "The Machine" using the techniques she tested.

Given the number of science enthusiasts at Commonwealth, there was no shortage of experimenters in the traditional sense, too. Hanna ’25, after searching for a mentor using a database of Massachusetts women in STEM, worked with a Ph.D. student at Boston College to study a peculiar parasite: Toxoplasma gondii, which lives in humans but reproduces in cats. Hanna harvested the parasites in the lab and isolated fragments of their DNA to study what sorts of proteins they utilize. And composer Charlie ’25, curious about the effects of music perception on the human brain, designed a test with a researcher from Northeastern's Music, Imagining, and Neural Dynamics (MIND) Lab: what kinds of compositions would a group of listeners judge as "most creative"? Playing the test tones for his audience at the Projects Assembly yielded similar results: pieces using the unfamiliar tritave scale felt more original. 

Govind ’25 and Sophia ’24, on the other hand, were more attracted to back-end mathematics. Govind's project emerged from curiosity about everyday algorithms: how do companies like Amazon predict what shoppers will want to buy next after a purchase? Mentored by computer science teacher Matthew Singer, Govind accessed a data cluster of grocery purchases, and, through trial and error, developed an algorithm that would sift through products to pair those with tighter associations (like "whole milk" and "coffee"). Sophia applied math to epigenetics, working alongside scholars at Harvard Medical School's Gurdawardena Lab. Rather than shadowing scientists in the "wet lab" with hands-on microbe work, Sophia spent her week in the "dry lab," assisting with the calculations involved in genetic engineering processes. 

Projects Coordinator Anna Moss assures students that "when you're just testing [a project] out for a week, it's okay if it's boring. And it's actually okay if it's bad!" "Boring" may not be the word this year's presenters would apply to their compelling projects, though. They all spoke to following a passion at a level they hadn't before, even if they were unsure where it would lead. That makes any Project Week plan a true experiment. 

Explore Project Week at Commonwealth