Villanova Match Research Program for Freshmen

The Villanova Match Research program provides opportunities for motivated First Year students to pursue undergraduate research in the Spring semester. Applicants do not need substantial experience and will serve as research assistants to faculty mentors. If selected for the Match program, students will conduct research for 10 hours per week for 10 weeks for which they will receive a $1000 stipend. In addition to conducting undergraduate research, Match grantees participate in professional development seminars on resumes, cover letters, oral presentations, and grant writing throughout the Spring semester.


Application Instructions

To apply for the Villanova Match program, please complete the following steps:


1. Submit a resume and cover letter directly to the Faculty Research Mentor via the e-mail address provided in the table by Monday, November 23, 2015.

Please include your high school GPA, and SAT/ACT scores in addition to your academic and professional experiences and skills. In the cover letter, include your motivations and qualifications for this research assistantship.

2. The Faculty Research Mentor will review your application materials and will contact you to interview for the position in early December.


To formulate a plan for becoming involved in undergraduate research at Villanova, please make an appointment with Catherine Stecyk (




Project title



Faculty Mentor




Exploring the Animal Mind

In my laboratory, we do experiments to examine fundamental psychological processes by studying simple behaviors in rats and bees.   These include learning, memory, spatial cognition and social cognition.   Currently our experiments with rats are focused on how information about where to find food is transferred socially between two rats searching and competing for the same hidden food.   Our experiments have shown that rats learning about the places where another rat is searching for food, remember those places, and use these social memories to search more efficiently for food.    Current and future experiments are designed to explore the details of social memory.    Our work with honey bees and bumblebees is also concerned with social and spatial memory, as well as with the question of whether bees learn abstract concepts (in particular, the concept of “sameness”).   Bees are tested in behavioral experiments, in which they make choices based on visual displays that are identical or different.  Their choices reveal the extent to which they recognize the abstract properties of the displays.

Freshman research assistants would assist with conducting experimental procedures with rats and/or bees.   This would include observing animals in the laboratory and recording their behavior.  In addition, assistants would attend weekly laboratory meetings with Professor Brown, graduate assistants and other undergraduate research assistants in the laboratory at which experiments are planned and the results from experiments are discussed.   Research assistants would have an opportunity to participate in the analysis, interpretation and dissemination of results from the experiments in which they participate. (Note: participation in experiments with live animals requires completion of an institutional health form and online training program required of anyone who handles live research animals at Villanova)

Michael Brown


Human Resource Development

Personality-Oriented Work Analysis Assessment Validation

This study is intended to further our understanding of the role that personality plays in the workplace,  through  the  development  of  a  Personality-Oriented  Work  Analysis  form  that can  be  used  by  researchers  and  practitioners  who  study  personality  at  work.  This assessment will help scholars to identify ideal job candidates by describing the personality requirements of work.

Responsibilities Conducting  literature  reviews,  collect  and  analyze  data,  prepare  materials  for  submission to  related  journals  and  conferences,  report  to  and  work  with  graduate  students  on personality/work  analysis  project,  research  assistant  will be  responsible   for  writing personality items and applying them in the context of the workplace (i.e. what personality traits are related to certain jobs or aspects of that job. Must be available a min. of 3 hours per week. Qualifications: Strong interest in the study of personality, ability to work well in teams and individually as needed, be an undergraduate psychology major, ability to work between 3-9 hours a week. Prior research experience a plus, but not necessary. 

Christopher Castille









Chemical Engineering

Cross-linking earthworm hemoglobin with glutaraldehyde to produce an ultra-stable blood substitute

Transfusions of donated blood save millions of lives each year in hospitals, but many lives are lost each year in situations where donated blood is not available (e.g. battlefields, remote areas, developing countries, etc.).  Donated blood is unavailable in these locations because it is a cell-based product that must be constantly refrigerated.  This limitation has motivated the development of blood substitutes that are just as effective as blood, but do not require refrigeration.  We have previously shown that earthworm hemoglobin is a particularly effective and safe blood substitute in hamsters, but now we need to show that it can be stored at high temperatures for long periods of time (e.g. Can it be deployed with a soldier for 1-2 weeks in Afghanistan at 100-120F without going bad?).  One way to increase protein stability is to introduce covalent bonds with cross-linkers like glutaraldehyde.  This strategy has previously been employed to make ultra-stable blood substitutes from human hemoglobin, so we believe it will work with earthworm hemoglobin as well.  In addition to increasing the stability of single molecules of earthworm hemoglobin, this cross-linking strategy may also increase the half-life of earthworm hemoglobin in circulation, thereby extending its usefulness in vivo.

The freshman research assistant (FRA) involved in this project will be responsible for the following activities and experiments: 1.Purification of hemoglobin from earthworms using tangential flow filtration (handling of live worms would be encouraged, but not absolutely necessary) 2.Characterization of the earthworm hemoglobin – analyzing purity, concentration, and the oxidation state of the heme iron (Fe2+ vs. Fe3+)3.Optimization of glutaraldehyde cross-linking conditions – adjusting the molar ratio of glutaraldehyde to hemoglobin, reaction time and temperature 4.Characterization of cross-linked earthworm hemoglobin – measuring the effects of glutaraldehyde on oxygen binding and release, determining the size of the cross-linked product, and measuring its thermal stability with a thermal shift assay The time commitment for these activities is fairly flexible: Purification is an all-day process, but a graduate student will be mostly responsible for this step and the FRA would just be asked to attend as often as possible that day Glutaraldehyde cross-linking will require the following commitments: ot = 0:  30 minutes for reaction set up in the morning ot = 2-6 hrs later:  30 minutes to terminate the reaction Characterization experiments typically require a 1-2 hour block of free time and can be done at any time.

Jacob Elmer


Mechanical Engineering

Graphene synthesis for graphene polymer nanocomposite of increased thermal conductivity

Graphene is one of the most promising materials recently for its exceptional mechanical, electrical, and thermal properties. Graphene as a single monolayer of carbon atoms can be incorporated into various polymers to create a polymer nanocomposite that enhances these properties. To create graphene, an improved exfoliation method is conducted to synthesize graphite to create graphene oxide then reduce it to create graphene. Analyzing methods are then used to characterize the structure of graphene oxide and graphene at the nanoscale. Then, observations and summaries are made to hypothesize the relative advantages adding graphene as a filler to polyurethane would have to increase the thermal conductivity over the base polymer for use in small scale thermal management.

Responsibilities: Synthesis of Graphene Oxide; Clean and Purify Graphene Oxide; Characterization of Graphene Oxide; Thermally Reduce Graphene Oxide to create Graphene; Potential extension of responsibilities: Characterization of Graphene; Calibration of Cut Bar Apparatus; Measuring the Thermal Conductivity of Graphene/Polymer Composite Materials.

Calvin Li


Mechanical Engineering

Models for improving the energy efficiency of data centers

Data centers are facilities that house the infrastructure for cloud computing, cloud storage, and web-based applications.  These buildings contain large quantities of computer servers, switches, power equipment, and cooling equipment.  Data centers consume large amounts of energy (around 2-3% of annual U.S. energy consumption per some estimates), especially by cooling equipment that are used to keep computer servers from overheating.  Therefore, models have been created that compute the energy efficiency of data centers based on data center size, equipment characteristics, and cooling solutions.  The tool, called the Villanova Thermodynamic Analysis of Systems (VTAS), can (1) pinpoint the points within cooling systems that are most inefficient, and (2) compare the energy efficiency of various cooling solutions.  VTAS has been developed in collaboration with industrial partners (e.g., Comcast, Verizon, IBM, and Facebook) in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) in Energy-Smart Electronic Systems (ES2).

The industry partners in the ES2 center have provided many ideas to improve VTAS, yet the project does not contain the staff to handle all requests.  One important aspect of the software lies in the VTAS graphical user interface (GUI), which is currently not meeting industry needs and therefore requires substantial reorganization.  The freshman research assistant would work to reorganize the GUI per the industrial mentors’ needs.  The GUI, written using the MATLAB programing language, is developed using the MATLAB-based GUIDE tool.  The research project will require the freshman research assistant to independently learn GUIDE features, think about how to use them to accomplish the GUI upgrade, and then apply them into the VTAS GUI.  The freshman research assistant will then present the completed GUI to industrial partners at the end of the semester.

Aaron Wemhoff


Mechanical Engineering

Developing nanostructured energy storage materials

The development of high capacity, light-weight, high efficiency, highly durable, and mechanically robust energy storage materials can have critical environmental and economic impacts. Phase change materials (PCMs), e.g., paraffin, have a high energy density and store thermal energy through phase change (melting). However, paraffin’s intrinsic low t herma l conductivity results in a low thermal efficiency, and the flow and leakage of liquid paraffin can lower the system reliability. In this project, we will design and develop a new type of nanostructured PCM composites by embedding a 3-dimensional network of nanomaterials into PCM, where the nanomaterial-network thermally as fast thermal transfer path and mechanically as a nanofiller to reinforce the paraffin matrix. We will study the effect of various nanomaterials on the energy storage efficiency of PCM, and the nanomaterials will include metallic and carbon nanomaterials. The thermal and mechanical properties of the nanostructured PCM composites will be characterized.

The freshman researcher will conduct literature review on the current research of 3-dimensional nanomaterials network of metallic and carbon nanomaterials. Then, with the guidance from the mentor (Dr. Gang Feng), the student will synthesize the promising candidates of the nanomaterial network and develop the nanostructured paraffin composites. Furthermore, the student will be trained to use a Hitachi S4800 Scanning Electronic Microscope (SEM)to  study the sample s ’ morphology as well as Differential Scanning Calorimetry and a TPS 2500S Thermal Instrument to  study the samples ’ t her ma l properties.

Gang Feng










Trauma Normalization” in a population of children living in homeless of domestic violence shelters

Children who live with their families in domestic violence or homeless shelters are more likely to be exposed to violence and other traumatic stressors. Each child and situation is different, but exposure to these traumatic stressors—including violence—can overwhelm children at any age and lead to problems in their daily lives. Some children may have an emotional or physical reaction while others may find it harder to recover from a frightening experience. Exposure to violence, especially when it is ongoing and intense, can harm children’s natural, healthy development unless they receive support to help them cope and heal.

The first step of this project is to develop the concept of “Trauma Normalization” in a population of children living in homeless or domestic violence shelters.  Focusing on the identification of behaviors or symptoms of how children process trauma, violence, while living in a shelter.  Once defined, the second step of this project will be an exploration of existing tools that have measureable attributes that describe this phenomena in children and how these overlap with symptom or behaviors of trauma stress.   The final step will be tool development and then testing.

Seeking a freshman student who possesses high personal motivation, self-management, and detail-orientation to perform the following duties that include: To conduct literature and database searches, To contribute to the planning and production of an IRB and grant applications. To be a strong member of the current research team. Assist professor in design of a manuscript and grant application which will include preparing print documents, and other graphics using Word and Excel.

Elizabeth Dowdell



Pilot testing the COPE intervention with family caregivers of frail older adults

Across America, one in five adults provides care to an older relative or friend. While essential to the health and wellbeing of older adults, family caregivers experience high levels of burden and low quality of life which may lead to caregiver burn-out.  Providing support to caregivers can enable them to continue to provide care with optimum quality of life. This is a mixed methods pilot study examining caregiver stress and burden among caregivers of frail older adults. Caregivers completed quantitative instruments before and after engaging in three 1-hour audio recorded sessions with the intervention nurse. Study goals include: 1) examining caregivers’ perceptions of caregiving, stress and burden and 2) examining the relationships between caregiver stress and burden and demographic (age, race, educational level) and clinical (patient diagnosis) variables, 3) examining the impact of a psychoeducational intervention on caregiver stress and burden.

The freshman research assistant would be engaged in transcribing and coding the interviews with caregivers, with assistance and mentoring from the faculty mentor. The research assistant would then be coached in the process of literature review, comparison of the themes from this data to those found in previous literature and the process of scientific writing for publication. 

Meredith MacKenzie











The proteasome is an ATP-dependent machine in all eukaryotic cells responsible for unfolding and degrading substrate proteins. In the Kraut lab we study the processivity of the proteasome – that is, its ability to unfold and degrade substrates containing multiple folded domains without falling off the substrate. Substrates to be degraded are polyubiquitinated, meaning a chain of small proteins called ubiquitin are attached to lysines within the substrate. In addition to targeting the substrate to the proteasome, ubiquitin seems to activate the proteasome for better unfolding of its substrates. The entire ubiquitin chain is removed "en bloc" during degradation, and can also be trimmed one ubiquitin at a time prior to substrate engagement. To this point we have focused on the fate of the substrate in degradation assays, but we now want to examine what happens to the ubiquitin during the reaction – to what extent is it trimmed and to what extent is it fully removed from the substrate during degradation, and does it stay associated with the proteasome at all after being removed from the substrate. To answer these questions we will use fluorescently or radioactively labeled ubiquitin and substrates in proteasomal degradation assays.

The research assistant will learn how to make substrate proteins for use in degradation assays, how to purify proteins, how to do degradation assays (enzyme kinetics), run and dry protein gels, quantify and analyze data from the degradation assays, and ultimately how to design new experiments based on the results of previous experiments. Research is a significant time commitment. Early on the research assistant will work alongside me, but as he or she masters various techniques, will become increasingly independent. My hope is that the student who fills this position will continue working in the lab in the summer and throughout his or her time at Villanova.

Dan Kraut



Flipping the switch: Identifying molecules that activate the DAF-16 transcription factor during aging in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans

Increasing evidence suggests that the aging process is under genetic control. Experiments in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans (a common human surrogate for aging studies) demonstrated that mutations that enhance activity of DAF-16, an evolutionarily conserved transcription factor that is part of the insulin signaling pathway, can double or triple the lifespan of those animals. While normally inactive, acute stress triggers DAF-16 to upregulate genes important for immunity, stress resistance, and metabolism.  My lab has shown that during aging in normal healthy worms DAF-16 becomes activated, as if a switch is flipped to turn it on at some point in adulthood. However, the nature of the switch is unknown. The purpose of this project is to identify molecules that regulate the age-dependent increase in DAF-16 activity to influence lifespan and stress resistance. Using a strain of worms that express GFP whenever DAF-16 is active, we will generate random mutations in the worm genome by chemical mutagenesis. We will use fluorescence microscopy to screen for mutations that cause normally bright green adult worms to go dark, suggesting that the mutation impairs DAF-16 activity. Next generation sequencing (NGS) will be used to determine where mutations were made and thus identify putative DAF-16 regulators.

By its nature, this project will provide a student with experience in diverse experimental techniques, including animal husbandry, fluorescence microscopy, and sample preparation for next generation sequencing. The primary responsibilities of the research assistant in this project are twofold. First, they will be directly involved in helping with the fluorescence microscopy-based visual screen for “dark” worms. This task involves examining collections of mutants under the microscope and physically removing candidates of interest from a population of animals to allow for further analysis. The total collection of worms to be screened will be split between the research assistant and the principal investigator. Second, the research assistant will work with the principal investigator to prepare genomic DNA from mutants of interest to be analyzed by next generation sequencing using the MiSeq instrument that was recently acquired by the Department of Biology through an NSF grant. This procedure involves standard molecular biology techniques including isolating DNA from C. elegans, fragmenting DNA molecules by sonication, and PCR to ligate adaptor sequences. Participating in this project will pave the way for a research assistant to continue characterizing mutants isolated in the screen as part of a VURF project or senior thesis.

Matt Youngman


Computing Science

Persuasive human computer interaction in support of sustainability

Persuasive Human Computer Interaction is a subarea of HCI research focused on changing human behavior.  Investigators are conducting experiments and observations to discover effective strategies.  For example, does winning virtual badges at ever increasing levels of involvement promote lasting behavior changes?  This project is investigating ways to use persuasive HCI to promote the use of the bottle-filling water fountains installed on campus.  These fountains are a good source of sustainability data because they have built-in counters that record the use of the fountains. The project is part of a larger study of computing and sustainability, where in this context sustainability means making the planet safe for life into the foreseeable future.   The literature suggests a number of strategies involving aspects of computing and HCI including Informative and normative social influences: the desire to be right and the desire to be liked and socially accepted.  Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: appealing to one’s sense of public good or providing rewards for acceptable behavior. Extrinsic motivation and group coherence:  promoting team success and social reward for actions. The quest is to find which computing based strategies are best for promoting sustainability.

The research assistant will perform a variety of tasks associated with the project including Periodically collecting use data from the bottle filling fountains, entering these data into the visualization system, and then examining the visualizations for trends, anomalies, indications of significant changes in use, equipment failure, etc. Observing, recording, and analyzing traffic flow past the fountains.   Adjusting the mathematical models of fountain use to accommodate to the observed data and then developing long-term sustainability predictions. Developing strategies for mobile apps that promote bottle refilling by awarding badges, staging team competitions, applying “fun theory” to make the task less boring, and in general building on the outline given in the project description. These tasks build on the work of previous assistants, who have conducted a literature search and built the initial visualization tool.  It is not necessary to be able to create the mobile app software.  Having the interface design will be sufficient at this stage of the project

Robert Beck



Exploring galactic magnetic fields with planck data

The Planck satellite has provided full sky data at several frequencies in the submillimeter part of the spectrum. These data contain both intensity and polarization and are publicly available. The primary purpose of the mission was to study the Big Bang; however, the data set is extremely rich and can be applied to exploring diverse Galactic phenomena in astrophysics. We are in the process of utilizing these data to explore the role of magnetic field in the formation of stars. The first step is to explore the correlation between the large scale data provided by Planck (which corresponds to the Galactic field) and the magnetic fields in the dense small scale structures where stars form. If a strong correlation exists, it is possible to test and extend the work done with more limited data sets. For example, is there a correlation between pattern of flows in star-forming clouds and the magnetic field that threads them.  If such a connection is established, a greater understanding of how magnetic fields regulate the star forming process will be achieved. 

The student will learn data mining techniques using NASA data archives, and develop techniques to analyze relevant data. This directly enables the student to solidify their understanding of computational techniques taught in the first semester Computational Physics Lab by applying the acquired knowledge to real-world problems. Under faculty guidance and collaboration, the student will compare disparate data sets found in the literature and acquire an understanding of state-of-the-art scientific techniques and methods for analyzing astronomical data. The student will also interact with faculty and other collaborators outside of Villanova. We anticipate that the student will earn co-authorship on refereed publications and conference presentations.

David Chuss/Javad Siah /










The liability of being foreign: do regulators treat foreign firms differently

The goal of this project is to examine if regulators treat domestic firms differently from foreign firms. Theidea is motivated by news reports which seem to suggest that domestic firms are fined less severely for violations than similar violations by foreign firms. The example which makes this point is the differential treatment meted out to Toyota and G.M. Toyota’s sudden acceleration “problem” resulted in a $1.2 billion settlement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2014. Yet, an earlier 10-month study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and NASA had concluded that the reported incidents were mostly caused by "pedal misapplication" --that is, a driver mistakenly slamming on the gas instead of the brake or by floor mat entanglement. Contrast the government’s response in that case to that involving General Motors (G.M.). G.M.’s faulty ignition switches that could shut off the engine during driving and thereby prevent airbags from inflating were linked to at least 124 deaths. However, G.M.’s settlement with the DOJ was relatively modest at $900 million. The goal is to examine if these differences are systematic or if the observation involving Toyota and G.M. is a one-offisolatedexample.

To assist me with the data acquisition process and in basic analysis. This project will involve collecting data on fines that have been imposed on domestic and foreign firms by various U.S. regulators. To start off, my goal is to look at fines imposed on firms in the automotive and pharma sectors –sectors where there are a large number of prominent domestic and foreign firms. For these sectors, the research assistant would have to download the data that are available on the webpages of U.S. regulators such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)and the Department of Justice (DOJ), clean them up for use in analysis, and with my help, reach out to these agencies as necessary for data that are not posted on their webpage

Sutirtha Bagchi



Creative destruction in the music industry

Research how the music industry has changed and evolved from the 1950’s to the present with all the various technological advancements. How has the industry creatively destroyed itself by evolving from the record to 8-track to cassette to CD to online download and currently streaming music? How has this affected the way we purchase music and what effect on the physical online record stores diminishing in the industry?  The research could show how technology has affected the way we purchase music and the decline of the number of physical record stores has created a niche boutique market for the few who continue to drive to a store to purchase a CD and or LP (record).  Each level of technology will be analyzed as their popularity in numbers before the new technology has arrived onto the market to replace the older technology.

Freshman research assistant will track the sales of: Records 8-Tracks Cassettes  CD’sDownloads Streaming Freshman research assistant will analyze how the creative destruction has been good for the consumer but not for the musical artist and their respective record companies as song downloads, and now currently streaming, is dominating how the consumer listens to and purchases music. Freshman research assistant will also track the increase in the number of records released and increase in their sales since the year 2000.

David Fiorenza



Are female executive teams targeted differently in corporate takeover battles?

A Feb 9 2015 New York Times article argues that there may be a subconscious gender bias among activist investors. Namely, women may be expected to be more likely to compromise and less likely to fight, which, for an activist seeking a role on the board, may make it a more attractive target. A 2013 PricewaterhouseCoopers study also finds that among CEOs leaving once over the past 10 years, a higher share of women have been forced out than men.  The proposed research project aims to employ rigorous empirical methods to analyze whether activist investors target female executive teams in proxy battles and the consequences.

The responsibilities include collecting data and literature review.

Tina Yang