The Villanova Match Research Program for First Year Students provides opportunities for motivated first-year undergraduates 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 are paid $1000. In addition to conducting undergraduate research, Match grantees participate in professional development seminars on resumes, cover letters, oral presentations, and proposal writing during the Spring semester.
To apply for the Villanova Match Research Program for First Year Students, please complete the following steps:
If you would like to discuss undergraduate research and formulate a plan for becoming involved in undergraduate research at Villanova, you are welcome, though not required, to make an appointment with the CRF team via Handshake.
|Dr. Vaswati Chatterjeeemail@example.com||Public Administration||Disaster Preparedness in Small Town Pennsylvania|
|Dr. Jerusha Conner
||firstname.lastname@example.org||Education & Counseling||The Effect of Contemporary Youth Movements on Business, Politics, and the Media|
|Professor Noel Dolanemail@example.com||ACS Program||Down on Lenox Avenue: Langston Hughes and the Blues|
|Dr. Jaira Harringtonfirstname.lastname@example.org||Global Interdisciplinary Studies||Political Change at the Intersections of Race, Gender and Generations: Domestic Workers in Brazil
|Dr. Vincent Lloydemail@example.com||Global Interdisciplinary Studies||Black Power and Black Theology at Villanova|
|Professor François Massonnatfirstname.lastname@example.org||Romance Languages & Literatures||Deciphering the Algerian War|
|Dr. Krista Malott & Dr. Stacey Havlikemail@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org||Education & Counseling||Assessing the Longitudinal Impacts of First Generation College Goers|
|Dr. Lauren Miltenbergeremail@example.com||Public Administration/The Career Center||A Higher Purpose: A Study on the Hiring & Retention Practices of Philadelphia Nonprofits|
|Dr. Laura V. Sándezfirstname.lastname@example.org||Romance Languages & Literatures||Social Media and Latinx Philly|
|Dr. Amy Wayemail@example.com||Communication||Organizing locally to address inequity in the reproductive healthcare of marginalized populations in Philadelphia|
|Dr. Lucy Chen||Lucy.firstname.lastname@example.org||Accountancy and Information Systems||The Magic of U.S. GAAP: Why European Firms Choose to Report under U.S. GAAP|
|Dr. Yoon-Na Choemail@example.com||Marketing||Countering unintended consequences of green aesthetics|
|Dr. Quinetta Robersonfirstname.lastname@example.org||Management & Operations||"Special" Leadership: Understanding Leadership Behavior Among People with Intellectual Disabilities|
|Dr. Jacob Elmeremail@example.com||Chemical Engineering||Improving Gene Therapy by Inhibiting Cytokine-Stimulated Genes|
|Dr. Xun Jiaofirstname.lastname@example.org||Electrical and Computer Engineering||Predicting Computer Systems Failure using Brain-Inspired Hyperdimensional Computing|
|Dr. Chengyu Liemail@example.com||Mechanical Engineering||Odor-tracking behavior of flying insects: A computational fluid dynamics examination|
|Dr. Deeksha Sethfirstname.lastname@example.org||Mechanical Engineering||Evaluating design in engineering education|
|Professor Mike Simardemail@example.com||Mechanical Engineering||Thermal analysis of thick-walled bee hive|
|Dr. Wenqing Xufirstname.lastname@example.org||Civil and Environmental Engineering||Optimizing Carbon Amendments that Simultaneously Adsorb and Transform Legacy and Insensitive High Explosives|
|Dr. Angela DiBenedetto; Dr. Jens Karlssonemail@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org||Biology & Mechanical Engineering||Cryopreservation of Zebrafish Eggs|
|Professor Sue Ellen Aldermanemail@example.com||Nursing||Using a Needs Assessment Inquiry to Identify Compassion Fatigue in Nurses Caring for Those Addicted to Opioids|
|Dr. Elizabeth Dowdellfirstname.lastname@example.org||Nursing||Internet risk behaviors : Examining responses from a sample of minority high school students|
|Dr. James Mendezemail@example.com||Nursing||Resilience as a Mitigating Factor in Determining Outcomes after Lung Transplantation|
|Dr. Tracy Oliverfirstname.lastname@example.org||Nursing||Sensitivity Training Programming in Nursing Students|
|Dr. Elizabeth Petit de Mangeemail@example.com||Nursing||A review of literature: The psychological and emotional impact of "watchful waiting" on persons with lymphoma.|
|Dr. Anil Bamezaifirstname.lastname@example.org||Biology||Investigate the role of mouse Ly-6A as immune checkpoint inhibitor in immunity against adenocarcinoma type of solid tumors.|
|Dr. Robert Beckemail@example.com||Computing Sciences||Computational Sustainability for All (CS4All)|
|Dr. Michael Brownfirstname.lastname@example.org||Psychological and Brain Sciences||Archer Fish Behavior and Cognition|
|Dr. Robert Curryemail@example.com||Biology||Inter-individual variation in dawn singing and social dominance among hybridizing chickadees|
|Dr. Angela DiBenedetto; Dr. Jens Karlssonfirstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com||Biology & Mechanical Engineering||Cryopreservation of Zebrafish Eggs|
|Dr. Scott Dietrichfirstname.lastname@example.org||Physics||Understanding the performance of graphene-based electronics|
|Dr. Steven T. Goldsmithemail@example.com||Geography and the Environment
||Use of real-time water quality sensors to monitor pollutant loading to nearshore coral reefs|
|Dr. Peter Mullerfirstname.lastname@example.org||Mathematics and Statistics||Mathematical Modeling of Zombie Outbreaks: How a Fictional Disease has Evolved Over the Years|
|Dr. Joey Neilsenemail@example.com||Physics||Peering Towards the Supermassive Black Hole in the Galaxy M87|
|Dr. Lisa J. Rodriguesfirstname.lastname@example.org||Geography and the Environment||Do corals use photosynthetically- or heterotrophically-acquired carbon and nitrogen after a bleaching event to build skeleton?|
|Dr. Benjamin Sachsemail@example.com||Psychological and Brain Sciences||Examining sex differences in antidepressant-like responses to acute and chronic ketamine administration|
|Dr. John Schmidtfirstname.lastname@example.org||Biology||Quantification of Graphene Quantum Dots cytotoxicity in cultured cells|
|Dr. Barry Selinsky; Dr. Janessa Wehremail@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org||Chemistry||Mutation, expression, and purification of an enzyme from Nitrosomonas bacteria|
|Dr. Kabindra Shakya; Dr. Peleg Kremeremail@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org||Geography and the Environment||Analysis of fine scale air pollution data collected at Philadelphia|
|Dr. Amber Stuveremail@example.com||Physics||Improving the Confidence of Gravitational Wave Detections with LIGO|
|Dr. Joe Toscanofirstname.lastname@example.org||Psychological and Brain Sciences||Using neural network models to study language processing from sounds to meaning|
|Dr. Deena Weisbergemail@example.com||Psychological and Brain Sciences||How do children learn from fictional stories?|
Disaster Preparedness in Small Town Pennsylvania
The primary objective of this research is to measure disaster preparedness levels among small towns in Pennsylvania. Measuring level of disaster preparedness is essential for local governments to evaluate current resources available in communities to withstand extreme events, and accordingly plan mitigation activities that can minimize loss of lives and property in the event of a disaster (Simpson, 2008). While scholars have focused on emergency management capacities in larger urban areas, our understanding of how small towns with limited resources prepare for disasters is limited. Based upon the Stafford Act, local governments are primarily responsible for responding to extreme events. Smaller communities, however, face additional challenges in disaster response because of lack of infrastructure including emergency medical care, hazard warning systems, disaster relief from external sources because lack of media coverage, and concentration of marginal population (Cross, 2001). Pennsylvania is vulnerable to a wide range of natural hazards that include flooding, winter storm, hurricane, wildfire, landslides, and tornado (Pennsylvania State Hazard Mitigation Plan, 2018). While mitigation plans exist at the state and county level, and for larger metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, these plans are not enough to accommodate regional variations that exists in the type of natural hazards, local government capacities, and socioeconomic factors across communities in Pennsylvania. An assessment of threat of different categories of hazards, along with capacities of individual communities is necessary to prepare a plan that is more suitable for adoption in each community.
The study will employ a mixed-method approach integrating survey research, spatial analysis, and review of existing hazard mitigation plans in Pennsylvania. The survey will be directed to emergency managers or public officials responsible for disaster planning in communities with less than 20,000 population, and collect information on disaster experience, risk perception, and preparedness level based upon Simpson’s Index, and FEMA’s National Preparedness Goal. Data collected will be mapped using ArcGIS to examine spatial patterns in distribution of hazards and level of disaster preparedness of communities across Pennsylvania. Statistical methods will be used to test the impact of numerous variables on disaster preparedness, including disaster experience, risk perception, and demographics. The results of the research is expected to contribute towards our understanding of community-level disaster preparedness of understudied small towns in Pennsylvania. The findings are also expected to offer valuable insight to public officials responsible for preparing their communities for natural disasters.
The Match research assistant will contribute towards the project in three ways. First, the student will be tasked with collecting publicly available contact information of officials to whom the survey is to be targeted. The student will be provided with list of communities in Pennsylvania to whom the survey needs to be sent. Estimated time for completing this task is 3-4 weeks. Second, the student will be responsible for administering distribution of online survey forms using Qualtrics. Specifically the student is expected to complete the task of distributing the survey link via email, sending survey completion reminders at a pre-defined schedule, and monitoring the responses. Expected time for the survey to be kept active is 5 weeks. The survey questionnaire, along with the IRB approval process will be completed before the research assistant joins the project. During the initial briefing process, the student will also be introduced to how surveys are developed using Qualtrics, and eventually how data is collected through online responses.
The Effect of Contemporary Youth Movements on Business, Politics, and the Media
This project will investigate how and why targeted business leaders, politicians, and media executives have changed their practices in the wake of the March for Our Lives student movement and the Global Climate Strikes. It will explore both whether adults in positions of power to effect change make symbolic or substantive change and whether they credit youth activism with shifting their approach to their work in a demonstrable way. Building on prior studies that analyze the influence of youth organizing on the perspectives of adult decision-makers, this project will contribute to our understanding of the role of youth activism in a neoliberal capitalist democracy.
The Match research assistant will help create a database of relevant articles and videos, synthesize information from across sources, and lay the groundwork for a mixed methods study to take up the central research questions.
Down on Lenox Avenue: Langston Hughes and the Blues
I have been working on a project to contextualize blues poetry for students through the use of virtual reality technology in the CAVE on campus. Currently, I have linked three blues poems and oral performances with a selection of performances of blues music, acoustic and electric, and some context of geographic information. The potential is there to deepen and broaden the context by researching more about geographic influence on the development of the blues; details of musicological development; and the impact on poets other than the three I have included (Langston Hughes is central to the project). Further research could be done to study the influence of African music and instrumentation; the role of Black women on blues music, particularly in developing bios and song lists of female lead singers; and the effect on and appropriation of Black culture by White audiences.
The student research assistant would look for biographical information for key blues musicians, especially noting key Black female performers I will list; seek out other blues poems that would add to the VR experience (and prepare text for recording sessions); research indicated regional and urban centers critical to the development of the blues as it spread (with the potential to situate artists within a map of these areas); find journal articles on the impact of both the blues and blues poetry on White audiences as culture spread and/or was appropriated; and help develop a related map feature centered on the Mississippi River that we could incorporate into the CAVE.
Political Change at the Intersections of Race, Gender and Generations: Domestic Workers in Brazil
As a category of racialized, gendered and intimate labor of care in the home, domestic work is an essential part of the economic, political and social life of Brazil. Constituted mainly by impoverished women of African descent, Brazilian domestic workers have maintained an organized union to push forward a political agenda for nearly a century. Not until constitutional amendment 72 (2013) and regulatory law 150 (2015) did domestic workers gain labor rights equal to those enjoyed by all other categories of workers for generations. Against incredible odds, they collectively pursued their rights. My research investigates the paradox of continued organizing by domestic workers in Brasília, São Paulo and Salvador despite their politically marginalized status.
The student will conduct library research using JSTOR and other search engines for the latest academic articles and books on the subject. The student will also help to develop a literature review based on the collected sources.
Black Power and Black Theology at Villanova
When protests against racial injustice captured the US public consciousness, how did the understanding of theology at Villanova change?
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Black students at Villanova demanded that the university change its curriculum and culture so as to seriously engage with African American experience. The demands at Villanova followed the demands of students around the country to establish Black Studies departments, but at Villanova, the student protests were inflected by the Augustinian Catholic mission of the institution. For example, students successfully asked for the establishment of a course in Black liberation theology. While previous research has described the history of Black student protest at Villanova against the background of national and ecclesial cultures, this research project will focus particularly on the intersection of political claims connected to Black power and religious claims connected to Black theology – the claims from students, the claims from the Augustinian Catholic community at Villanova, and the claims from Theology instructors in the classroom.
Black theology is usually understood as a Protestant movement, based at liberal Protestant seminaries. But Catholic universities around the country were responding to Black protests by teaching material from Black theologians in their required theology courses, by offering courses focused on Black theology, and by hiring Black theologians. Did these changes have an effect on Catholic theology, Catholic university cultures, or student experience? Or was this a momentary blip, relegated to the corners of largely traditional departments and curricula? Villanova will be a case study used to examine these broader questions.
Research may involve searching through archived copies of Villanova student publications and university records such as syllabi, discussions with alumni and retired faculty, canvassing existing scholarship, and searching local, national, and ecclesial newspaper records.The student will conduct library research using JSTOR and other search engines for the latest academic articles and books on the subject. The student will also help to develop a literature review based on the collected sources.
The Match Research Program student will work with Dr. Lloyd to identify, search through, and summarize relevant archival material, including in digital and physical archives (on campus). The student will also work with Dr. Lloyd to identify, search through, and summarize relevant scholarly literature in academic journals and books. The student may work with Dr. Lloyd to reach out to relevant individuals (alumni and former faculty members) to find information they have relevant to the research project.
Deciphering the Algerian War
This research project aims to introduce a student to research on the Algerian war, a war of independence that tore Algerian and French communities on both sides of the Mediterranean between 1954 and 1962. Using the historical novel Meurtres pour mémoire as a blueprint for the research, the student will produce a website whose purpose will be to provide historical background, iconographic material (maps, photographs), and archival material (newspaper clips, radio soundbites and television footage) that will serve as an appendix to the novel, which the student will have read in FFS 1131. The website will then be used in all sections of FFS 1131 as an educational tool to increase students' understanding of the novel. The student will be credited as the creator of the website on all FFS 1131 syllabi.
The Match student research assistant will be responsible for identifying cultural references in the novel Meurtres pour mémoire that may be opaque to an American reader and to create footnotes on a website that will serve as a companion to the novel. The student and I will meet on a weekly basis to decide what cultural references will be the most important to facilitate students' reading, and how to identify reliable sources to create meaningful content on the website. After the research part is done and all the material is gathered, the student will populate the website chapter by chapter.
Assessing the Longitudinal Impacts of First Generation College Goers
We have developed an 8-session group counseling intervention for first-generation college goers, with focus on preparing students of color who are first in their family to attend college. Much of the curriculum we have implemented (and continue to implement) the session in a Philadelphia high school, and are assessing the impacts of the group.
We would like a student passionate about social justice issues who could track down and interview students (likely via phone or in person, if they are close by) who are now at various colleges, to ask how they feel the intervention has (or has not) helped them succeed in college. We also need someone to transcribe (type up) the interviews, as well as possibly to help in analyzing data as a team and writing some parts of the manuscript (these final tasks are negotiable, depending on their time and interest).
A Higher Purpose: A Study on the Hiring & Retention Practices of Philadelphia Nonprofits
At its core, nonprofit hiring and retention practices are about nonprofit employees. How are nonprofits using hiring practices to recruit and select talented individuals to work with them to achieve their missions? What talent management practices are in place to engage and retain nonprofit staff in their purpose driven work? This study aims to answer these questions by identifying the types of hiring and retention practices that exist at Philadelphia nonprofits. Nonprofits in Philadelphia provide a vast array of mission-based services to our community. In turn, many nonprofit employees are attracted to the higher purpose of their organization. This research study will delve into the ways that Philadelphia nonprofits hire and sustain their employees, their organization's most important assets.
The major goals of this study include:
- Understand the ways that hiring and retention strategies impact talent management strategies of Philadelphia nonprofits
- Assess and identify workplace competencies specific to the needs of nonprofits in Philadelphia
- Identify workforce hiring and HR trends specific to the Philadelphia nonprofit sector
- Identify best practices in Philadelphia nonprofit hiring and retention practices
The project is a unique collaboration between the Villanova University Career Center and the Department of Public Administration. This study uses a mixed methods approach. The first phase of the research design includes a survey and analysis of this data and the second phase includes a follow up interview from survey respondents who volunteer in the survey to participate. The sample population will be Executive Directors or Human Resource (HR) Managers – more specifically the individual in the nonprofit organization who is primarily responsible for the hiring of employees. The survey will also ask respondents if they can be interviewed in order for the researchers to collect qualitatively information in addition to the quantitative information.
During the spring 2020 semester, the focus of this research project will be on analyzing the results from the survey, identifying and connecting with nonprofit leaders to participate in interviews, and reporting on the results from both phase one and two of the project. The Research Assistant will work closely with the research team to analyze survey data, transcribe interviews, prepare graphs and visual tools to portray the results, and write research reports.
Duties and Responsibilities include the following: Responsible to model the University Mission through respectful job performance and service excellence to all members of the team and research participants; Collect and analyze data; Contact interview participants to schedule interviews; Maintain accurate records; Create visual tools to represent findings; Contribute to the writing of research reports; Review and assist in the creation of presentations on the research study's major findings
Social Media and Latinx Philly
This project focuses on the diversity of the Latinx community in Philadelphia and on social media as a tool of communication. Its purpose is twofold. On the one hand to bring to the attention of the Villanovan community the multiplicity of cultural sources related to Latin Americans living in the area. On the other, to explore the tools social media offers to enhance efforts geared to support the Latinx community in Philadelphia.
The research assistant will report on events happening at one or more selected institutions via a website and other platforms. The research assistant will test different social media tools and evaluate its effectiveness in conveying information about different types of events. The candidates will be able to pursue avenues of their own interest while gaining knowledge on the Latinx community in Philadelphia.
Organizing locally to address inequity in the reproductive healthcare of marginalized populations in Philadelphia
A 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control shows that black women are at least three times more likely to die during and after pregnancy than white women. Queer and transgender folks often delay or avoid seeking medical care for fear of negative treatment by health care providers. With the knowledge of these disparities in health care, scholars like myself are eager to take action and eliminate inequitable treatment in the health care system. Over the course of the next year I will be partnering with the Philadelphia Midwife Collective (PMC) to consider how to best meet the needs of traditionally marginalized folks in need of care during and after pregnancy. The Midwife Collective, located in nearby Germantown, is committed to serving comprehensive reproductive health care for marginalized communities including people of color, LGBT/Queer clients, low-income individuals, and Medicaid recipients. PMC is currently working to open a birthing clinic to empower community members to envision and enact reproductive health care that best serves their unique needs and position those community members who have been marginalized to take the lead in serving as experts for reproductive care. Therefore, this project, developed in partnership with the PMC, will be to help the organization gather data about the needs of the community, through interviews and focus groups, that will inform the creation of the new birthing center. Drawing on the practice of Participatory Action Research, members of the PMC as well as local community members will serve as collaborators in the process of research, working together to define the questions of interest, methods of data collection and analysis and interpretation of findings.
A research assistant is needed to help in the early process of data analysis, primarily by transcribing audio recordings from interviews and focus groups. Such a project is well suited for a new research assistant who wants to exposure to qualitative methods and is interested in the topics of community engagement, and access to health care. Depending on how the project progresses and the proficiency of the student, a research assistant may be trained to use qualitative analysis software to assist in the early analysis of these transcripts by working with me to generate descriptive codes to categorize and sort the data. The research assistant would be expected to work independently (with necessary guidance) to code articles for further analysis.
The Magic of U.S. GAAP: Why European Firms Choose to Report under U.S. GAAP
As a step towards globally accepted accounting principles, European Union (EU) required all public traded companies to report their financial statements under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) in 2005. As these EU public traded companies also list their stocks in the U.S., they were required to report under either U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or provide a reconciliation to U.S. GAAP. In November 2007, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) removed the reconciliation requirement for foreign firms listed in the U.S. that report financial statements under IFRS. For example, Nokia is cross-listed in the U.S. and its financial statements are prepared under IFRS alone. However, other EU companies such as Koninklijke Philips NV, choose to report under U.S. GAAP for U.S. SEC filings and report simultaneously under IFRS when also listing in the Europe. Both IFRS and U.S. GAAP are perceived to be high-quality accounting standards. This research project aims to unveil the incentives surrounding EU companies to report under U.S. GAAP rather than IFRS with the U.S. SEC. What drives companies’ decisions to report under U.S. GAAP even if it is more costly to dual report its financial statements? For example, does the stringent U.S. litigation environment causes firm reporting choice for U.S. GAAP which follows more rules than principles? Also, could EU firms want to achieve more financial statement comparability in the U.S. markets when listing in the U.S.? This project should be useful to the U.S. SEC as it deliberates whether and how to incorporate IFRS information for U.S. domestic firms, as U.S. is one of the few countries that has not adopted IFRS for domestic firms. This project is also informative to corporate executives and auditors to understand the reporting incentives and implications of using U.S. GAAP for EU companies.
Depending upon the interest of research assistant, he/she can collect data from the SEC website. He/she can also review the literature and conduct analytical/statistical work to test the hypotheses. I will meet with my RA weekly to review and modify our plan for research. He/she can also provide feedback and discussions on research ideas. I will guide my RA step by step on how to conduct an accounting research. My research topic is in the area of accounting. I have couple of other ideas to choose from. I would love to work with anyone who is interested in understanding more in accounting. Accounting is the common language of the business. By the end of the program, I hope to develop my RA to better understand financial reporting and improve his/her data analytics and communication skills.
Countering unintended consequences of green aesthetics
Product design is an important tool for marketers as well as consumers making purchase decisions. Specifically, product aesthetics is an overall level measure of the significance that visual aesthetics hold for a consumer in relationship to the product. Using lay theories and beauty literature, this study focuses on the aesthetics of green products. The green products may be perceived less processed and refined; therefore; less aesthetically pleasing. Potential underlying factors and boundary conditions are offered.
The student will be responsible for a various stages of research project, including the literature review and data collection/analysis.
"Special" Leadership: Understanding Leadership Behavior Among People with Intellectual Disabilities
Given that people with intellectual disabilities face stigma, discrimination, and social exclusion, the Special Olympics strives to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities and provide them with opportunities to meaningful contribute to organizations. Specifically, they encourage people with disabilities to seek leadership roles and work to develop their leadership skills. Despite the capabilities of people with intellectual disabilities to serve as leaders, they have been absent from most research, datasets, and case studies on the topic. This study is to examine leadership among people with intellectual disabilities to understand how their approaches and behavior may differ from those of traditional leaders and what can be learned from them to enhance overall leadership in organizations.
Most research on leadership among people with disabilities has focused primary on individuals with physical disabilities, or impairments that significantly impact physical performance and daily life activities, and learning disabilities, or impairments that affect how people receive and process information. People with intellectual disabilities have impairments that influence their intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior, which incorporates many everyday social and practical skills. This research project is to explore how an intellectual disability might influence individuals’ functioning and behavior as leaders – in particular, their effectiveness in terms of attitudes and skills as well as their influence on others.
For this position, the student will serve as a research assistant, responsible for assisting with a variety of non-administrative research tasks, including:
• Conducting and preparing a scholarly literature review
• Developing a familiarity with library resources
• Reading and synthesizing theory and empirical findings from journal articles
• Meeting regularly with faculty to learn and gain feedback on appropriate research procedures
• Collaborating with a graduate student on the assigned research project
• Preparing and editing a manuscript
Improving Gene Therapy by Inhibiting Cytokine-Stimulated Genes
Gene therapy could potentially be used to cure a variety of genetic disorders (e.g., cancer), but its success has been limited by generally low transfection efficiency (i.e., the percentage of cells that take up and express the therapeutic gene). Since many highly effective gene delivery vehicles have been developed in the past few decades (e.g., viruses, Lipofectamine, etc.) that deliver large amounts of DNA to cells, our hypothesis is that transfection efficiency is due to active inhibition of transgene expression by the host cell. When a cell is transfected with a therapeutic transgene, the DNA cargo is usually delivered to the cytoplasm of the cell. The cell interprets this introduction of DNA into the cytoplasm as a sign of viral/bacterial infection, since eukaryotic DNA is usually sequestered in the nucleus. Consequently, most cells express one or more “cytosolic DNA sensor” proteins, which patrol the cytoplasm for DNA. Upon binding to DNA, these proteins trigger a signaling cascade that culminates in the expression of anti-viral restriction proteins that are designed to limit viral replication by reducing transcription/translation or killing the host cell via apoptosis. While this “innate immune response” is a highly efficient means to protein the host from viruses, it can also significantly limit gene therapy treatments, since it can trigger apoptosis or prevent translation of the transgene in transfected cells. We have recently used next-generation sequencing to identify many host cell genes that are upregulated in cells following transfection, including a few that are of particular interest: IFNL1-3, IFI16, and ISG15. Our preliminary data have shown that transgene expression can be partially enhanced with drugs (e.g., curcumin or H-151) that inhibit these targets or parts of their up/downstream signaling pathways, but we have reason to believe that these drugs do not completely inhibit the innate immune response.
The main goal of this project will be to use CRISPR/Cas9 to completely knockout these gene targets in 2 or 3 cell lines (PC-3, MCF7, and Jurkat) to conclusively determine the role of these host cell genes in repressing transgene expression. The student on this project will be responsible for designing plasmids that express Cas9 and gRNAs that can be transfected into the host cell to make multiple “loss-of-function” mutations in the target gene to create mutant cell lines. After these mutations are confirmed with next-generation sequencing, the student will then compare the transfection efficiencies of the mutant cell line to the wild type cell line to determine if the mutants exhibit higher transgene expression. Since Cas9 KO experiments take months to complete and involve long stretches of down time, the secondary goal of this project will be to discover and evaluate novel small molecule inhibitors for these targets. Specifically, we will collaborate with Dr. Zuyi Huang’s lab to perform an in silico screen of known drugs to identify compounds which may inhibit the target genes, then we will co-deliver those drugs with the transgene to determine if they are able to enhance transgene expression.
Predicting Computer Systems Failure using Brain-Inspired Hyperdimensional Computing
With the continuous scaling of transistor technology, microelectronic circuits are even more susceptible to soft errors caused by environmental variations such as temperature fluctuations and radiation, making them a notable threat to computer systems reliability. However, it is unclear what factors will cause errors and how they will impact system reliability. Manual analysis is difficult because the space of potential factors is large. Therefore, in this project, we propose an automatic analysis framework powered by brain-inspired hyperdimensional computing (HD). HD is an emerging artificial intelligence (AI) method and is founded on the mathematical properties of high-dimensional spaces which show remarkable agreement with behaviors controlled by the brain. It has been demonstrated effective in various fields including DNA sequencing, voice recognition, and text classification. To apply HD on our task, we will collect failure data and potential factors using simulation experiments. Then, we will fit the data using HD methods and develop optimized HD models for our purpose. The final HD model can identify key factors that can affect system reliability and predict the failure based on a given environmental condition.
The Match student will perform simulation experiments to collect data using existing commercial simulators and implement different HD models using Python language.
Odor-tracking behavior of flying insects: A computational fluid dynamics examination
In nature, many insects rely on their olfactory system for detecting food sources, prey, and mates. They can sense odorant plumes emitting from sources of their interest, use the highly-efficient flapping-wing mechanism to follow odor plumes, and track down odor sources. This process is commonly called odor-guided navigation. However, over the past decade, studies in understanding insect flight have primarily focused on the aerodynamic function of the insect wings, which is undoubtedly the primary function of the wings. While insect wings are evolutionally remarkable, they are known to serve multiple roles besides flying. During an odor-guided flight, the flapping motion of the wings will induce a strong flow over insect’s body. This flow influences the sensory biology and physiology of a flying insect. The current project aims to apply a fully-validated computational fluid dynamics (CFD) solver to simulate odor-tracking flight of insects. The intellectual merit of the proposed work lies in transformative and fundamental contributions to the understanding of odor-tracking behavior of freely flying animals in nature. This work constitutes a shift away from traditional global predefined aeronautic navigation, which is not reliable for positioning and navigation in unstructured and uncertain environments that may lack access to satellite signals. Through utilizing a state-of-the-art CFD tool, simulations of odor-guided flights will help to reveal the underlying flow physics of odor-guided navigation, and to understand how the flying insects achieve the precise aeronautics navigation based on the local chemical cues. Ultimately, this scientific basis will promote the design of bio-inspired flyers with superior aerodynamic performance and olfactory sensations.
Involvement in an inspiring research practice can be one of the most valuable educational experiences for undergraduate students. By engaging in research firsthand, students can better conceptualize course material, learn to balance individual and collaborative work, and discover an area of their passion. Additionally, undergraduate research assistant opportunity can provide students with a one-on-one mentorship that is otherwise inaccessible in the undergraduate curriculum. The research topics of the project include using Autodesk Maya to reconstruct biological locomotion, running numerical simulations in Linux system, post-processing of the collected simulation data, and writing the weekly report.
Evaluating design in engineering education
The goal of this research is to understand how design can be effectively integrated into the engineering curriculum. Engineering design has gained popularity in curricula but there is a large variation in the way it is executed and therefore there is a lack of validated data to provide insight on "best practices". The objective of this on-going study is to better understand design pedagogy in engineering curriculum. The student research assistant (RA) will primarily process data collected through surveys to extract trends and relations between various design activities and students' self-efficacy. To do so, the RA will use Microsoft Excel to visualize and process the data. The RA will also review qualitative responses and use emergent coding techniques to extract trends in the data.
Thermal analysis of thick-walled bee hive
Honey bees are typically hived in standard Langstroth hives, which consist of stacked wooden boxes that are build with ¾” thick wood. Honey bee colonies survive the winter by clustering around their queen and vibrating to produce heat. Typically the outer layer of bees die-off due to cold, gradually reducing the size of the cluster. The colony survives if the queen and a sufficient number of worker bees subsist until spring. As a hobbyist beekeeper, I have focused on successfully overwintering colonies and have designed & built thicker hive boxes with 1½” lumber, providing a more insulated hive. This is also more representative of a natural tree-cavity hive, for example. These thicker boxes have anecdotally led to better success in overwintering colonies. The hypothesis is that a more insulated hive leads to higher internal temperatures and higher survival rate. This project consists of applying heat transfer principles to calculate the impact of the thicker hive boxes on temperature inside the hive. The student will:
Build the SolidWorks models of the bee hives based on their actual measurements of the equipment; Organize and analyze the temperature data recovered from the field instrumentation; Perform thermal analysis using the tools in SolidWorks.
Note: at no time will the student need to handle or come in contact with the bees.
Optimizing Carbon Amendments that Simultaneously Adsorb and Transform Legacy and Insensitive High Explosives
High concentrations of munitions constituent residues, including legacy and insensitive high explosives (IHE), are commonly found in soil at military testing and training ranges, posing a significant safety threat to personnel. Many IHE are highly water-soluble and can easily migrate from soil to water. Consequently, IHEs represent a significant source of contamination to ground and surface waters at military ranges. Further, many legacy explosives have been placed on the EPA’s Contaminant Candidate List and some are possible human carcinogens. Therefore, there is a pressing need to maximize the sorption of legacy explosives and IHE, minimize their transport from military sites, and promote their decay whenever possible. This project will address this urgent need by developing technologies using carbon amendments for simultaneously adsorbing and destroying MC residues.
Maturity, independence, commitment, and dedication are desired qualities for this position. The selected student will assist a postdoc researcher with sample preparation and chemical analysis using various analytical instruments, such as high-pressure liquid chromatography and gas chromatograph with mass spectrometer. The student will meet with the faculty on a biweekly basis to discuss the research progress. The selected individual is expected to work 8-10 hours per week.
Note: Applicants for this project must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident due to restrictions on the chemicals used in the research.
Using a Needs Assessment Inquiry to Identify Compassion Fatigue in Nurses Caring for Those Addicted to Opioids
The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—has become a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare. In 2017, 1,217 people died of overdoses in Philadelphia and more than three-fourths of the deaths involved opioids. The city’s Department of Health estimates that 75,000 residents are addicted to heroin and other opioids, and each day, many of them commute to Kensington to buy drugs. Across the city, healthcare professionals are delivering and providing care to individuals who have health problems related to drug abuse, such as overdoses, damaged organs, neurological damage, skin infections, and pneumonia. Hardest hit clinical areas include the emergency department, critical care units, and maternity/neonatal units. The themes of medical futility, patients who are addicted or under the influence of a substance, as well as intense and stressful work environments are repeatedly cited in the literature as contributing to compassion fatigue (burnout) and moral distress. Compassion fatigue is a major contributing factor in nurses’ decision to change jobs or to leave the nursing profession entirely. Registered nurses (RNs) who are working in the acute care setting and dealing with the opiate crisis in addition to substance use must manage the complexities of providing care to a demanding patient population. Working with advances in technology that have the capability to extend life and a patient population that is multifaceted ensure that decisions and treatments regarding healthcare options are necessarily more complex. Research about the relationship between nurses delivering care to patients with opiate addiction, the unique clinical practice experience and compassion fatigue in the literature represents a gap in the science. This project, funded by the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, will use focus groups to talk with nurses working in one urban Emergency Department about their perceptions and feelings about providing care to patients addicted to opiates and other types of drugs. The overall goal of this research study is to contribute to the body of knowledge about compassion fatigue, compassion satisfaction, or burnout, experienced by Emergency Department nurses. A secondary purpose is to identify how these nurses are effectively managing their feelings related to their providing care to patients addicted to opiates or other substances.
The research assistant will continue with an existing literature review. The RA will review relevant articles and then summarize each with an annotated bibliography. The RA will assist with analysis of the data for the quantitative socio-demographic survey and the Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQOL) which will have been administered to ED nurses participating in our fall focus groups. The RA will be available for anything else that might arise and will work closely with the co-investigators. The RA will display confidence and willingness to learn research techniques.
Internet risk behaviors : Examining responses from a sample of minority high school students
The Internet with its unlimited access to technology has changed the way we live, work and learn. For high school students the use of technology is heavily incorporated into daily life with an estimated 92% of adolescents in the United States aged 13-17 years old going online daily. Accompanying this widespread online use and accessibility, are behaviors and actions of electronic aggression, bullying, sexting, and other risk taking behaviors. Most studies of Internet risk have samples that are made up of predominately Caucasian adolescents. Using a preexisting data set this project seeks to pool the sample of youth of color in the data set to compare to the white sample as a way to extend the results and account for potential differences based on race. Evaluation of how oppression related to race constructs intersects with social determinants, mental health, electronic aggression, and Internet risk behavior is understudied and would heighten providers' sensitivity to address health needs from a policy and resource perspective.
Seeking a first year student who possesses high personal motivation, self-management, and detail-orientation to perform the following duties that include conducting literature and database searches in addition to assisting in the design of a manuscript. Will also include preparing print documents, and other graphics using Word and Excel.
Resilience as a Mitigating Factor in Determining Outcomes after Lung Transplantation
Transitions Theory proposes that various psychosocial and demographic factors will impact expected outcomes after lung transplantation. Resilience has been proposed as a factor that might mitigate the effect that other psychosocial and demographic factors have in influencing outcomes. The purpose of this research is to evaluate the effect of resilience on expected outcomes after lung transplantation. Social workers will evaluate transplant candidates with the Stanford Integrated Psychosocial Assessment Tool (SIPAT) prior to placement on the waitlist. Participants will also complete a demographic questionnaire and the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale-25 (CD-RISC-25). Expected outcomes will be assessed at 6, 12, 18 and 24 months after transplantation. These outcomes include survival, length of hospital stay, hospital re-admissions, occurrence of acute rejection, and adherence to self-care measures (provider and lab visits, immunosuppressant use, home monitoring, exercise, substance use). Multivariate linear and logistic regression will be utilized to determine the effect of demographic factors, lung allocation score, SIPAT score, and measured resilience on the specified outcomes.
The student research assistant will work with the faculty mentor to:
1. Examine the study protocol and the study instruments.
2. Understand the structure and function of the SPSS database utilized for the study.
3. Prospectively update the existing literature review with any new studies that have utilized the SIPAT and CD-RISC instruments.
4. Interface with personnel at the academic medical center by email and telephone to obtain new data.
5. Abstract the instrument sub-scales to the electronic database from information that has been previously collected and exists on paper forms.
6. Add data to the database prospectively for new transplant recipients.
7. Maintain a schedule of upcoming follow-up appointments for each participant and contact participants to complete follow-up activities as they come due.
The faculty mentor is involved in several longitudinal studies evaluating outcomes after lung transplantation. This presents the possibility for continued research mentorship with the research assistant in future years, should this be desired.
Sensitivity Training Programming in Nursing Students
Obesity is one of the leading public health concerns in America today with more than 66% of the US adult population reported as being overweight or obese (Ogden et al., 2006). Discrimination and weight stigmatization are unfortunate experiences obese individuals encounter in the healthcare setting (Puhl & Brownell, 2001). Healthcare providers such as physicians and nurses may harbor biased attitudes about weight, which can contribute to discrimination (Budd, Mariotti, Graff & Falkenstein, 2009). Weight bias may directly affect a patient’s involvement in healthcare therefore, it is essential to identify and to alleviate weight stigma among future healthcare professionals. Since nursing professionals are often the frontline of care, they must first identify if they are unknowingly harboring any personal stigma or bias against overweight or obese patients. Thereby, targeting nursing students to receive weight sensitivity training may be imperative to not only teach students about the complexities of obesity but to provide a skill-set to combat stigma in their future nursing practice. Overall, the goal of this project is to implement a weight sensitivity training program during the fall semester of 2019. This project is presently underway and is implementing and evaluating a teaching strategy to promote sensitivity training and prepare undergraduate nursing students to provide nondiscriminatory patient care for patients who are overweight or obese during their NUR 3115 Practicum in Nursing Care of Adults and Older Adults course. Clinical groups have been randomized either to intervention or control groups and receive varying intensities of the training intervention. It is expected that the overall sensitivity training will increase the nursing students’ awareness of personal biases and provide a foundation to alleviate weight bias and there will be an even greater reduction in weight bias within the intervention cohorts.
The student will be involved in the following: literature reviews, qualitative data entry related to student journal reflections, data analysis in SPSS, and manuscript preparation assistance (check references, literature searches etc.).
A review of literature: The psychological and emotional impact of "watchful waiting" on persons with lymphoma.
The purpose of this project is to explore the state of the science regarding the psychological and emotional impact of a treatment strategy known as "watchful waiting" for persons diagnosed with indolent or slow growing Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL). This blood cancer is the eighth leading cause of death in the US and represents 4.2% of all cancers. It is most often diagnosed in persons between 64 and 75 years of age but can be diagnosed in younger persons as well. During this "watchful waiting" period the disease is not treated. There is ample literature regarding the rationale regarding this strategy for very specific categories of NHL but the emotional and psychological impact on the person at the center of this decision is often minimized. The culmination of this project is the development of a manuscript for presentation and publication of findings to inform the nursing literature regarding the impact of this treatment strategy and the implications for nursing. This project is the first step in the development of a future study 1)a qualitative study of the impact of "watchful waiting" on persons diagnosed with NHL.
The student will conduct a review of literature under faculty guidance to retrieve and categorize literature related to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and treatment strategies with a specific focus on "watchful waiting" and the psychological and emotional effects on the person treated. The student will meet with the faculty throughout the process to review the discovered literature and revise the search as needed, outline the findings, and ultimately develop an outline for a manuscript or presentation of findings.
Investigate the role of mouse Ly-6A as immune checkpoint inhibitor in immunity against adenocarcinoma type of solid tumors.
T lymphocytes play a vital role in immunity to pathogens and cancer. These cells recognize foreign proteins through their antigen receptor (also called as T cell receptor), and mount an immune response for body’s defense. While pathogens trigger robust immune response, cancer cells, which are mostly self-tissues do not. Aiding helper and cytotoxic T lymphocytes to generate strong adaptive response against all types of tumors will aid in cure for cancer. Lymphocytes, after sensing a foreign protein, undergo cell division and expand in numbers to generate billions of clones for immune defense. Many of these lymphocytes travel inside the tumor (tumor infiltrating lymphocytes - TILs) to fight the tumor. The tumor micro-environment incapacitates these TILs resulting in their exhaustion and inactivity. Our laboratory is currently studying the role of Ly-6A protein and its contribution to T cell activity/inactivity. We plan to transplant adenocarcinoma cells in genetically defined mouse strains to induce tumors. Solid tumors from Ly-6A deficient and sufficient mice will be examined for their response to the tumor tissues. These studies will provide insights into the role of Ly-6A protein expressed on T cells to fight and eliminate the transplanted adenocarcinoma. The student will be involved in the following:
1. Handling mice, dissecting immune tissues, isolating immune cells
2. Transplanting tumors in mice and isolating tumor tissues
3. Tissue culture techniques – culturing cells under sterile conditions
4. Use of flow cytometer (FACS)
5. Quantitative analysis of immune proteins, signaling molecules by variety of methods
Computational Sustainability for All (CS4All)
Computational sustainability uses the big four areas of computing—algorithms and programming; data storage, retrieval, and analysis; networks and communication; human-computer interaction—to address sustainability issues. To make the planet safe for humans for generations to come, computer scientists use techniques from persuasive human-computer interaction (HCI) and systems modeling to prod us to address sustainability problems. This research will build on past work by my research team to increase the usage of the water-bottle filling fountains on campus, thus decreasing the use of disposable plastic bottles. The cover article of the September 2019 issue of the Communications of the ACM outlines efforts of the 33 authors to use “computing for a better world and a sustainable future.” The student researchers will combine the current campus-wide sustainability actions with computing techniques to develop robust systems promoting sustainability and a deeper understanding through process modeling of the barriers to success. Because the success of sustainability efforts depends on humans, ideas from HCI are at the core of the solution.
The HCI literature suggests strategies 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. These strategies change as the technology changes: smart water bottles, Wi-Fi enabled watches, ubiquitous computing approaches are some possibilities. The project blends sophisticated technology with common actions of humans to help them tread more lightly on their environment. Previous project results show that changing behaviors is difficult without active rewards or prompts. The next step is to experiment with the design of “smart” systems.
The research assistant will perform a variety of tasks associated with the project including
• Developing models to show the relationships among the many sustainability efforts on campus, paying particular attention to computer-supported communication pathways connecting these efforts.
• Developing strategies for mobile apps that promote specific sustainability actions (such as bottle filling) 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. This work is based on the recent work on social badge systems analysis by Zhang, Kong, and Yu, as a component of persuasive human-computer interaction.
• Matching ideas from the CACM paper to Villanova's setting.
• 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. to provide assessment of success.
Archer Fish Behavior and Cognition
In the Villanova Comparative Cognition Laboratory, we use behavioral observation and experimentation to explore the animal mind. The current project involves archerfish, a group of fish known for their ability to hunt prey by shooting jets of water at insects perched (or flying) above the water. We have been developing behavioral tests for studying this behavior and related behavioral processes in archerfish, including perceptual, learning, and memory abilities, as well as social influences. Our archerfish are tested in visual discrimination procedures, in which they are presented with various kinds of images that predict the occurrence of food reinforcement. Their behavior in response to these images is measured. In other experiments, robot fish are used to examine social influences on behavior. More information about the Villanova Comparative Cognition Laboratory can be found here: https://vucomparativecognition.weebly.com/
Student research assistants code, measure, and record fish behavior, either by observing the behavior of the fish live in the test tanks or from video recordings. Assistants are also involved in developing the behavioral codes, processing the coded data, discussing and helping interpret the results at lab meetings with Dr. Brown and graduate student researchers.
Note: participation in research with live animals requires completion of an institutional online training program required of anyone who works with live research animals at Villanova.
Inter-individual variation in dawn singing and social dominance among hybridizing chickadees
Our research program has focused for two decades on the causes and consequences of hybridization between Carolina and Black-capped chickadees in southeastern Pennsylvania. Current efforts add to long-term study of breeding biology by focusing on behavioral variation of individual chickadees as both the result of, and as an influence on, hybridization. Chickadee males use singing during the “dawn chorus” (two hours around sunrise) in spring to influence mating choices by females. Social dominance relationships in both spring and fall/winter also influence mating. Understanding both—and connections between the two—is therefore central to our work concerning causes of interbreeding, but the behaviors may also reflect previous hybridization, because the genotype of each bird may determine to varying degrees its expression of song or social dominance. We study singing behavior through daytime playback experiments during egg-laying but also by use of Autonomous Recording Units (ARUs) to sample dawn chorus participation when we are not out at the field sites. We investigate dominance relationships by video recording interactions among marked individuals through the fall and winter at birdfeeders, aided by Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) methods that detect the identity of the different tagged birds as they interact. We also determine the genotype of each bird by examining single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers using DNA taken from blood samples we obtain when we catch the birds for banding. These methods in combination allow us to investigate associations between genotypes and behavioral variation among individual chickadees at the mixed hybrid-zone population at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary (Berks/Schuylkill Counties, PA). This work integrates with simultaneous research by graduate students in the Curry lab on variation in cognition (spatial memory and problem-solving) of the same birds.
The Match student research assistant will focus on three things during Spring 2020. First, they will score dawn chorus ARU samples obtained at active chickadee nests over the previous five spring breeding seasons. This work involves listening to recordings while observing graphical representation (a sonogram) on a computer screen to categorize chickadee songs by species and then to enter this and temporal information into a sophisticated relational database. The student will later learn how to estimate singing rates and repertoire size/structure from the raw data. Second, the assistant will help score video recordings of dominance interactions. Members of the Curry lab will obtain these recordings during fall 2019 and winter 2020 at sets of feeders at Hawk Mountain. The assistant will serve as a member of the team matching up the RFID data stream identifying individual chickadees with the ways that they interacted (displacement, chases, threat displays, etc.) to construct dominance hierarchies. Third, the assistant will help with molecular genetics laboratory methods for extracting DNA from blood samples, amplifying DNA by PCR, and then running gels of enzyme-digested products to score genotype results. The assistant will also have opportunities to assist with fieldwork (netting & banding chickadees; quantifying cognitive performance).
Cryopreservation of Zebrafish Eggs
The potential of the zebrafish as a vertebrate animal model to study genetics and development is hampered by the inability to cryogenically store as germ cells the many thousands of fish strains that have been developed for research. Thus, the goal of the project is to develop successful techniques for freezing the eggs of the zebrafish, which could then be thawed and fertilized to obtain living spawn. Such knowledge could also make possible the conservation of endangered fish species by cryopreserving egg clutches for future fertilization. The challenge standing in the way of this solution is that fish eggs in general, and zebrafish eggs in particular, are very sensitive to the stresses that occur during the process of freezing to cryogenic temperatures (negative 320 degrees Fahrenheit!), resulting in non-viable eggs. The specific aims of the project are to discover exactly how the zebrafish egg is injured when the temperature drops (which would open the door to development of cryopreservation techniques that prevent egg damage). The research investigation will initially focus on the mechanisms and consequences of chilling-related injury processes that occur in the early stages of freezing (before ice crystal formation), by systematically testing the effects of varying the temperature and duration of chilling exposure; the resulting changes to egg structure, viability, and function will be evaluated using microscopy and in vitro fertilization assays, respectively.
The project will be jointly advised by faculty from Biology and Mechanical Engineering, who are seeking a highly motivated Match student research assistant from any discipline in the Sciences or Engineering (especially Biology, Chemistry, Mechanical Engineering, or Chemical and Biological Engineering). The specific responsibilities of the Match student research assistant will be: to read background material relevant to the project as intellectual preparation; to master experimental techniques such as cryomicroscopy and egg collection from adult zebrafish; to design and perform chilling exposure experiments as well as control experiments, and conduct in vitro fertilization tests to evaluate viability and function of eggs; and to contribute to the analysis of data. At the end of the Match year, the student will present their data at a joint lab meeting, and write a final report describing the project outcome and significance. Applicants are encouraged to describe in the application cover letter their potential interest in continuing involvement with this research project after the end of the Freshman year. A student who wishes to continue their Match research project after the end of the Spring 2020 semester will have the opportunity to learn more advanced experimental skills, publish their research results, and even pursue a Senior Undergraduate Thesis under the joint mentorship of Drs. DiBenedetto and Karlsson.
Understanding the performance of graphene-based electronics
It may come as a bit of a surprise that the most efficient conductor of electric current is one particular allotrope of carbon that is composed of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice. This material, known as graphene, has been the center of 15 years of intense research and industrial interest since its discovery. Its remarkable current-carrying ability promises a major revolution in energy-efficient electronics. Understanding and improving the performance of graphene-based electronics requires a knowledge of how charges move in graphene as well as the effect of materials placed nearby. Choosing the wrong environment for graphene can easily destroy its extraordinary properties by introducing too many sources for current-carrying charges to scatter, drastically reducing its conductivity. Encapsulating graphene with its insulating sister-material, hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), produces the optimum quality devices. However, even the cleanest crystals have remnant impurities that can still scatter charges. This project aims to systematically study the effect of material impurities on the transport of electricity in graphene-based devices by studying structures made with intentionally-doped hBN crystals. We will measure the intrinsic properties of these devices by observing the transport of electric current in the presence of a large magnetic field at very low temperatures. From this data, the average time between scattering events will be extracted and compared to theoretical models that explain the effects of impurities located a certain distance away from the graphene layer. The information gained from this study will guide future improvements in graphene technology.
Students begin by exfoliating bulk graphite and hexagonal boron nitride crystals to obtain single and few-layer flakes. The thickness and quality of these flakes will be studied using an atomic force microscope and then stacked using a dry transfer technique to form heterostructures (layered stacks of different materials). Students will process these heterostructures into graphene devices at cleanroom facilities at both Villanova University and the Singh Center for Nanotechnology at the University of Pennsylvania. Several graphene devices will be constructed with varying degrees of hBN impurities. Students will perform initial characterization measurements at low-temperatures in the 2D Materials Laboratory of the faculty mentor. Students will then travel with the faculty mentor to the Property Measurement Facilities at the University of Pennsylvania for experiments at low temperatures and strong magnetic fields. The faculty mentor will instruct the students on how to fit data to known theoretical equations. In this way, these measurements will provide insight into the effect of intentionally-doped hBN on the conductivity in graphene.
Use of real-time water quality sensors to monitor pollutant loading to nearshore coral reefs
Rivers transport sediments and pollutants from land to the coast causing stress to coral reef ecosystems. Yet, the inability to trace surface water contamination to non-point sources within a watershed can hinder the initiation of meaningful conservation measures. This study centers on the Rio Loco watershed (175 km2) located in southwestern Puerto Rico, which contains extensive agricultural practices in nearly two thirds of its catchment area. The Rio Loco ultimately discharges into Guánica Bay whose waters and adjacent coral reefs have been designated a “management priority area by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Coral Reef Conservation Program. In January 2019, a total of six wireless, real-time water quality monitoring stations were installed throughout the watershed as part of a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funded project. Measurements of water quality (pH, temperature, turbidity and conductivity) and quantity will be compared to localized agricultural practices (i.e, rice farming, coffee, pineapple/guava, etc.) to determine which activities are primarily responsible for contaminant loading and ultimately guide conservation measures.
The Match student would be required to meet with the faculty mentor on a weekly basis to discuss all aspects of the project. In particular, the student should set aside a 2-3 block of time to work with the mentor on data analysis techniques. It is anticipated that the student would gain more independence with the data analysis techniques over the course of the semester. In addition, the student will be involved in measuring metal/nutrient concentrations in archived water samples from the watershed.
Mathematical Modeling of Zombie Outbreaks: How a Fictional Disease has Evolved Over the Years
Zombie outbreaks have been the subject of numerous films, novels, TV shows, and other forms of entertainment for decades. Over the years, the portrayal of this fictional epidemic has changed in many ways, while always representing a threat to humanity. Even though zombie outbreaks are fictional, they provide insight into the epidemiology of actual diseases. This project seeks to understand how various films portray a zombie outbreak and see how the “disease” has evolved over time. Ordinary differential equations will be used to model zombie outbreaks in Night of the Living Dead (1968), Warm Bodies (2013), and one other film chosen later in the project timeline. Each film has different dynamics when it comes to how the outbreak spreads. The models used in this project will build off and extend existing models. In addition to examining the epidemiology of a fictional disease, this project will examine social implications made in each film. In particular, one aspect of zombie models that is sometimes overlooked is interactions between surviving humans. Through this lens, the project will examine how events may turn out differently under different survivor societal norms.
The research assistant will be responsible for collecting data, which entails watching the movies in question and looking up relevant population data from specific years and locations. The research assistant will also read existing literature on zombie models, epidemiology, and sociology. The assistant will help develop math models for each film and run computer simulations for estimating parameters.
Peering Towards the Supermassive Black Hole in the Galaxy M87
In April 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration stunned the world with the very first image of a black hole: a bright ring of light surrounding a circular “shadow” in a high-resolution image of the center of the nearby galaxy M87. This shadow was cast by a black hole with a mass of 6.5 billion suns, roughly the size of our solar system. But despite its incredible mass and size, M87* does not swallow everything that comes near it. On the contrary, this galaxy is famous for its jet of relativistic particles, which originates in the immediate vicinity of the event horizon and stretches to thousands of light years from the black hole. X-ray telescopes are ideal for studying the energetic particles in jets like this one, and M87 has long been a target for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Villanova’s analysis of the X-ray emission from the jet was incorporated into the original EHT papers on M87, but we also discovered a mystery. In brief, we found that the innermost regions of the jet and M87 (the “core”) in 2017 appeared to be more absorbed than the outer jet, as though there was cold gas or dust obscuring the center of the galaxy that was not visible at its outskirts. This had not been mentioned in ~20 years of papers on M87, but was it really a new phenomenon? To understand the X-ray jet and support EHT science, we need to look back at the historical data to find out.
The research assistant will be responsible for downloading and processing historical X-ray observations of the nearby galaxy M87. S/he will align the observations to produce a clean image of the X-ray jet and then extract X-ray spectra of the core and a bright spot in the jet called HST-1. The next step will be to fit models to these spectra to determine if the difference between the core and the jet has always been present or if it is a new phenomenon; either result will be exciting and informative. To complement this analysis, the research assistant will start a literature review to familiarize him/herself with the topic of black holes and M87, as well as the methods they will use and the context for the project. If time permits, s/he will begin preparing a paper on the results to be submitted for publication.
Do corals use photosynthetically- or heterotrophically-acquired carbon and nitrogen after a bleaching event to build skeleton?
Research in my laboratory is focused on the physiological mechanisms that corals use to survive bleaching or elevated temperature events. Bleaching is a stress response exhibited by corals that results in the loss of their algal symbionts, and ultimately the loss of their primary source of nutrients from photosynthesis. My prior research has shown that not all coral species are negatively affected when bleached, some are able to supplement their limited photosynthesis by increasing rates of heterotrophy (feeding) on zooplankton. We are discovering how this strategy affects the different components of the coral tissue, algal symbionts, and egg-sperm bundles. The next step is to address the impact on the calcium carbonate skeleton. Although coral species slow their rates of calcification as a result of bleaching, the independent influences of photosynthesis and heterotrophy on calcification occurring in the months after bleaching is not yet known. Using pulse-chase experiments, we can follow the products of the photosynthetic pathway with labelled dissolved inorganic carbon (DI13C) and nitrogen (DI15N) and the heterotrophic pathway with labelled zooplankton through the tissue and ultimately into the coral skeleton. The scientific value of this study is two-fold: First, we can better estimate coral metabolic budgets after bleaching events by quantifying the energetic contribution of both photosynthesis and heterotrophy to the skeleton. This will help predict the impact of future bleaching events at the scale of the whole reef. Second, our record of historic bleaching events begins in 1979. Detecting the chemical signature of earlier events in coral skeletal records has remained elusive, yet this is needed to fully understand the longer-term consequences of current bleaching. This study may help identify unique signatures in the isotopic composition of the coral skeleton associated with bleaching that can be used to detect past events.
My laboratory has coral samples that were bleached in September 2017 and corresponding non-bleached control samples that all underwent pulse-chase experiments in March and June 2018, at six and nine months after bleaching. The Match student research assistant will be responsible for (1) preparing the samples by removing the coral tissue with an airbrush; (2) using a handheld Dremel tool to obtain calcium carbonate from each coral colony; (3) weighing appropriate amounts of ground skeleton with a microbalance; and (4) packing samples in vials or tins for analyses of stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes, respectively. The student will work closely with the faculty mentor at each step to learn techniques and protocols. Once packaged, samples will be analyzed at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia on an isotope ratio mass spectrometer (IRMS). The student will have the opportunity to visit the Academy to see the instrumentation and learn about the operation of the IRMS and the analytical procedures used to obtain their data. The student will also participate in graphing the data and statistical analyses. The student will be encouraged to attend weekly lab group meetings and to also present their findings to our lab group.
Examining sex differences in antidepressant-like responses to acute and chronic ketamine administration
A form of ketamine (esketamine) has recently been approved for the treatment of severe depression by the Food and Drug Administration. While esketamine was shown to significantly outperform placebo in one of the two published clinical trials examining its efficacy, in the other published trial, it was not significantly better than placebo. Even in the more successful of the two published trials, esketamine only led to a stable antidepressant response in less than two-thirds of patients, thus suggesting that a sizable population of individuals remain clinically depressed even with this novel therapy. Understanding that factors that govern therapeutic responses to antidepressants has the potential to provide new insight into the mechanisms underlying treatment responses and could facilitate the selection of optimal pharmacotherapies for individuals suffering from mental illness. Two factors that have been shown to impact therapeutic responses to many classes of drugs, including traditional antidepressants, are gender and stress history. However, relatively little research has investigated potential sex differences in ketamine responses, and studies examining the effects of stress on ketamine responses are also limited. The proposed work will use a combination of behavioral neuroscience methods and biochemical techniques in animal models to evaluate potential sex differences in behavioral and molecular responses to acute and chronic ketamine administration in control mice and in mice exposed to chronic restraint stress. The results of this study have the potential to shine new light on the factors that influence therapeutic outcomes after ketamine treatment, which could ultimately help provide a rationale for selecting more appropriate antidepressant treatment regimens.
The Match research student would be responsible for conducting behavioral pharmacology experiments with mice, including drug administration and behavioral testing. Following the end of behavioral testing, the student would perform a series of molecular experiments examining the combined effects of stress and ketamine on signal transduction and gene expression in the brains of males and females. The position would likely include some weekend hours.
Quantification of Graphene Quantum Dots cytotoxicity in cultured cells
In collaboration with the College of Engineering, this project’s aim is to determine if graphene quantum dots (GQDs), or chemical residues in the synthesis thereof, are potentially toxic to cells grown in culture. GQDs are stable and fluorescent synthetic molecules that may have applications in biology research and medicine, but first need to be shown safe in living cells. If proved to have low cytotoxicity, GQDs have many applications including fluorescent microscopy and biomolecular labeling.
Student is expected to learn cell culture techniques and practice aseptic methods to maintain uncontaminated cell lines. These cell lines must them be treated with different concentrations of graphene quantum dots (GQDs) and/or incubated for different periods of time followed by cell viability assays and measurements. Data will need to be accurately recorded in a lab notebook and presented at lab meetings. Results must be analyzed for presentation in table/graphical format.
Mutation, expression, and purification of an enzyme from Nitrosomonas bacteria
One way mammalian cells respond to external stress, is to up regulate pro-inflammatory molecules, such as prostanoids. Prostanoids are lipid signaling molecules that are crucial to a variety of normal cellular processes, and play a role in many diseases including inflammation, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. After receiving an external stimuli, the first step in the formation of prostanoids is the conversion of a fatty acid present in the cellar membrane, arachidonic acid, to second order messengers. This initial step is catalyzed by prostaglandin H2 synthase (PGHS), which is an enzyme with both cyclooxygenase and peroxidase activity. When PGHS enzymes are inhibited, it results in the reduction in the inflammatory response, which is the mechanism of action by which aspirin operates. Due to their clinical importance, PGHS enzymes have been thoroughly characterized in mammalian systems. However little is currently known about the specific characteristics of PGHS enzymes from bacteria, algae, and fungi. Recently, our lab has expressed, purified, and characterized the PGHS enzyme from the Nitrosomonas bacteria. We seek to gain more insight about the enzyme by making specific mutations to the protein to investigate how/if the enzymatic activity is altered.
The student research assistant will perform site-directed mutagenesis of the Nitrosomonas protein and utilize molecular cloning to insert the mutated DNA into the plasmid of interest. Then, the student will express the mutated protein in E. coli, purify it, and potentially run enzymatic assays to asses the change in enzymatic activity.
Analysis of fine scale air pollution data collected at Philadelphia
Fine scale air pollution data was collected using mobile monitoring technique during summer 2019. Particulate matter, ozone, and environmental noise were collected from large area of Philadelphia neighborhoods. The project involves analyzing the datasets to identify various patterns and association with various health indicators. The freshman match student will closely work with faculty mentors and other research team to learn and develop the techniques to analyze the data. Student will gain important data analysis skills and data visualization skills by participating in this project.
Freshman student will learn data analysis techniques and utilize elementary data analysis (e.g. excel) to investigate various data patterns. Student will also gain hand-on-experience in operation and calibration of air quality instruments.
Improving the Confidence of Gravitational Wave Detections with LIGO
The LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) observatories in Hanford, WA and Livingston, LA are in the in middle of a year-long observing run, referred to as O3, seeking small changes in gravity propagating though the universe known as gravitational waves. These gravitational waves are produced by some of the most violent and energetic events in the universe, like black holes or neutron stars colliding. Observing gravitational waves has opened a new way to observe the universe that does not depend on electromagnetic (EM) radiation (i.e. light). We can now “feel” when massive objects like black holes and neutron stars collide. These observations provide us with new information about black holes and neutron stars and, when paired with EM observations, give us a more complete picture of the universe than we’ve ever had before. In order to make detections of gravitational waves, the LIGO observatories must make the smallest length measurements ever made by humans – less than 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a proton. Besides being sensitive to gravitational waves, the observatories are also extremely sensitive to environmental and instrumental disturbances which produce a constant noise background in the data. Detailed studies of this noise are required to maximize confidence estimates of candidate gravitational wave detections and to improve future data by identifying and mitigating sources of noise. This project will focus on data quality studies of live gravitational wave data and the effect of noise of the search for gravitational waves. The results of this will produce lists of times of confirmed data contamination to be excluded (vetoed) from the search for gravitational waves which will directly improve the resulting confidence of candidate detections. Results may also identify previously unknown sources of gravitational wave and potential mitigation leading to improved quality of future data.
Research assistants will become members of the international LIGO Scientific Collaboration and work with actively acquired gravitational wave data from their two observatories (in Louisiana and Washington state). Investigations will involve the use of existing analysis tools with the possibility of adapting or developing new tools; assistants will be trained on the use of tools and mentored if any modifications are required. Assistants will also be trained in how to run “Data Quality Shifts” where we become the scientists responsible for monitoring the overall impact of the environment and instrumental disturbances on the quality of the data. These will be done under the mentorship of Dr. Stuver with the possibility of running independent shifts by the end of the semester. Regular progress reports will be made in research group meetings. The assistant will also be expected to attend regular collaboration meetings as their schedules allow. Presentation of results at professional meetings is also encouraged.
Using neural network models to study language processing from sounds to meaning
Our lab studies how the mind understands language, starting from the raw acoustic signal all the way up to the meaning of words, sentences, and conversations. The traditional way of studying language processing is to break the system down into these basic parts and study how lower-level information is combined to form more complex representations (e.g., combining speech sounds to form words, and combining words to form sentences). However, research has begun to show that these separate levels are far more connected than previously thought and that this way of studying language does not capture the full picture. For example, high-level information, such as word meaning, can feed back down to influence low-level processing, such as which sounds were heard. For example, after the word "teddy", the next most likely word to hear is "bear". As a result, listeners are more likely to process an ambiguous sound at the beginning of the next word as "b". One current issue is that models of language processing do not demonstrate the same degree of interactivity between these levels of processing. The goal of the current project is to create a new computational model that incorporates these effects and provides a better account of human language comprehension. To accomplish this, we use neural networks and tools from artificial intelligence to build models that can read in raw acoustic signals and infer the meaning of what was heard. We are beginning the development of this model by training it to read in real speech signals and infer what was said, comparing the response of the model to data from human listeners. Ultimately, we hope the model will help resolve debates surrounding the inter-connectivity of the language processing system, from the level of the speech signal to the meaning of words and sentences.
The student will assist in programming and running simulations with the neural network models we are developing. The student is expected to learn and write code in Python, the computer language used for this project, as well as learn to use Python libraries for machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) research, such as TensorFlow. In addition to an interest in Psychology or Neuroscience, a background in Python, MATLAB, or a similar programming language is desired, but substantial previous experience is not required. The student will generate ideas and write code for the model, meeting regularly with the principal investigator and graduate student working on the project to discuss progress, issues, and determine the next steps. They will also attend weekly group meetings with the rest of the lab, where other researchers will provide updates on their projects. The student may also assist with creating and editing stimuli (i.e., audio recordings) for use in training and testing the model, and assist with analyzing the results of the simulations. While an extensive background in computational modeling, AI, or machine learning is not expected, the student’s responsibilities require them to be ready and excited to learn about these techniques in the lab.
How do children learn from fictional stories?
Stories are important teaching tools in childhood. Even though the events depicted in them are fictional, stories nevertheless present some information that is true in reality, which children should learn. For example, the Berenstain Bears books are meant to teach children about the value of sharing or not eating too much junk food, not that bears live in houses or wear clothes. But how do children know which pieces of information are only true in the story, and which should be exported into reality? To answer this question, this project presents preschool-aged children with fictional stories and asks whether they will apply information presented in these stories to real life. These stories vary in their degree of fantasy, with some being entirely realistic and others containing many fantasy elements. Children are asked whether the information presented in these stories could possibly be true, and we will test how the type of story they hear might change their answer to that question. Learning more about children’s imaginations and their interactions with stories can help us to create better educational media and to understand more about how their critical-thinking capacities develop.
The student will assist the professor in all aspects of conducting and running psychological studies on this topic. Duties will include reading the scientific literature, creating stimuli, recruiting subjects, interviewing subjects, compiling subjects’ responses, and managing and analyzing data. Applicants should have completed some coursework in psychology, cognitive science, and/or neuroscience. Previous experience with children is desirable but not required.