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Journal Highlights Villanova Student Research

Veritas: Villanova Research Journal Volume II cover image

Research authored by Villanova undergraduate students and recent alumni was recently published in Volume II of Veritas: Villanova Research Journal (VVRJ). This open-source journal, sponsored by the University’s Center for Research and Fellowships and Falvey Memorial Library, promotes scholarly investigation and discovery; introduces student researchers to the peer review process as contributors and student editors; and highlights the work of Villanova students and their faculty mentors across all fields of study.

The journal’s second volume, which is available online and in print, contains 16 submissions in disciplines including Biology, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Computing Sciences, Geography and the Environment, Mathematics and Statistics, Philosophy and Psychological and Brain Sciences.

This year's VVRJ cover is a student-sourced collage of what research looked like to the Summer 2020 VURF cohort: their "view from here" as they confronted unexpected challenges and conducted research from living rooms, bedrooms, backyards and rooftops.

Due to COVID-19 the annual Symposium has been postponed until spring 2021.

VVRJ Contributors

Simon Blanchard ’22 COE
Polymeric Gels As A Means Of Controlling Local Skin Delivery

Hugh D.C. Smyth, Professor, Molecular Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery, University of Texas at Austin (Mentor)


Skin cancer is the most common cancer. While most forms of skin cancer have high survival rates if they are caught  early, some can metastasize and become very difficult to treat. Inhibition of Matrix Metallopeptidases (MMPs) can be effective in preventing growth and metastasis of existing tumors. For this reason, they may be especially useful  in the treatment of skin cancers. Systemic delivery of MMP inhibitors can cause unwanted side effects, so localized delivery is preferable. By incorporating MMP inhibitors into polymer gels, the drug can be administered topically and its distribution within the skin and into the systemic circulation may be controlled. Polymers were formulated to contain a model MMP inhibitor and applied to human skin samples using a high throughput skin permeation screening method. After the permeation study was run, samples were removed and the concentration of the drug that crossed the skin was quantified using High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). Analysis showed that all of the tested formulations permeated across or were retained in the skin at varying degrees. Further, some differences between the polymers, as well as between the same polymers with altered concentrations of cross-linking agents, were statistically significant. Polymeric gels are shown to be a viable method of delivering MMP inhibitors topically. Due to the permeation enhancing effects of different polymers and the effects of various concentrations of cross-linking agents, formulations could be customized to penetrate the entire tumor without entering the blood stream and causing systemic effects.

Lily Bui ’21 CLAS
(Uterus) Wanted: Dead or Alive: Ethical Organ Procurement from Living and Deceased Donors for Uterine Transplantation

Sarah-Vaughan Brakman, Professor, Philosophy (Mentor)


This article explores the novel uterine transplantation procedure and the procurement of uteri from living and deceased donors. The procedure allows women lacking a functional uterus to experience gestation and give birth to genetically related children.  At the time the article was written, clinical trials had been conducted in several places globally, including the United States. Donations from both living and deceased donors had resulted in successful pregnancies and live births, but the ethics associated with each method had not been evaluated thoroughly. Kantian principles, natural law, natural rights, and utiliarianism were employed to evaluate the ethicality of procuring uteri from living and deceased donors for the elective uterine transplantation. Despite the possibility and benefits of live donations, uteri for the elective uterine transplantation procedure should not be obtained from living donors, in both clinical trials and practice. Utilitarianism and natural rights ethical frameworks bolster the argument for live donations; however, the merits of such an argument are outweighed by the merits of the Kantian and natural law ethical frameworks when applied to the novel medical procedure. If uterine transplantation becomes available to the public as a fertility treatment, uteri should only be procured from deceased donors.

Madison Cabagua ’23 CLAS, Margaret Cavanaugh ’23 CLAS
Media Portrayal of the COVID-19 Outbreak in Philadelphia

Public Administration
Vaswati Chatterjee, Assistant Professor, Public Administration (Mentor)


We investigated the media during the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania to see what we could discover about news reporting on the pandemic. We conducted content analysis of articles published during the dates of March 6-7, 2020 from the Philadelphia Inquirer and suburban newspapers surrounding the Philadelphia area. The articles were analyzed using four frames: “conflict frame”, “economic impact frame”, “morality frame”, and “human interest frame”. The results indicated that 51.4% of the coded articles mentioned human interest, 71.4% of the coded articles mentioned urgency, and 94.3% of articles mentioned at least one form of protective action to be taken against the virus. We concluded that a sense of urgency and need for protective actions dominated the media conversation.

Agnes Cho ’18 FCN
Beholding and Upholding Human Dignity in the Nursing Profession

Thomas W. Smith, Former Anne Quinn Welsh Endowed Chair and Director of the Honors Program (Mentor)


This work highlights the absence and need for a nursing conceptualization of dignity, including how gaps in the nursing literature inadequately equip the profession to articulate and defend dignity. Essays by the President’s Council for Bioethics show how Ruth Macklin’s claims of the uselessness of dignity can be compellingly contested with the position that human dignity is greater than, and certainly not interchangeable with, the principle of respect for autonomy. Of these essays, Daniel P. Sulmasy’s, Leon R. Kass’s, and Edmund D. Pellegrino’s theories present a conceptualization of dignity that is truthful, substantive, and defensible for nursing. Sulmasy offers a practical guide which can facilitate the upholding of dignity by nurses at the bedside. This guide aligns with Kass’s insight into upholding dignity in the form of reverence in the face of vulnerability, as well as admiration in the face of excellence. Sulmasy’s guide supports the intersubjective notion of dignity presented by Pellegrino by listing the guide as moral imperatives, or duties. Pellegrino’s understanding of dignity as a lived, intersubjective experience fully encompasses the nursing profession’s idea of human dignity by showing the fullness of human nature, the reverence owed to vulnerability as well as excellence, and the recognition of dignity in the realities of daily life. This work situates the intersubjectivity of the nurse-patient interaction in a highly technical setting in light of this conception of dignity, arguing that the more intensively technological the medical setting, the more imperative it is to respond to the dignity that is discussed.

Meghan Conway ’20 CLAS
Mapping Social Vulnerability to Air Pollution in Philadelphia, Pa.

Geography and the Environment
Kabindra Shakya, Assistant Professor, Geography and the Environment
Peleg Kremer, Assistant Professor, Geography and the Environment (Mentors)


Environmental stresses borne of population growth, consumerism and industrialization have subjected many populations worldwide to elevated air pollution. Philadelphia, a historically industrial city in Northeastern United States, is ranked in the top 25 cities in the country for harmful air pollutants (PM2.5, ozone). Philadelphia also experiences great financial stratification and environmental racism, which often unfairly asserts the pains of environmental pollution & associated health effects on socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. This study seeks to succinctly quantify which populations may be at risk for health effects associated with air pollution (specifically asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) through a suite of census-derived attributes. Using ArcMap Geographical Information System software (ESRI), attributes, categorized as promoting vulnerability or adaptability, are combined with air pollution data collected in summer 2019 to form a non-weighted ‘Social Vulnerability Index’ (SVI) at a census-tract level for Philadelphia. SVI demonstrated several clusters of neighborhoods with great disparities in socioeconomic factors. The census tracts with higher SVI tended to have higher levels of asthma and COPD (and vice versa). With improvements and acknowledgement of Philadelphia’s uniqueness, SVI of this kind may be used to inform policymakers on city planning (e.g.  placement of future highways, industrial centers, etc.) to alleviate compounded respiratory/pulmonary-related stresses on disadvantaged communities. Future analysis including green space coverage, other forms of air pollution, and/or a quantification of social connectivity may help to improve further understanding of the intersection between socioeconomic factors, air pollution, and health in Philadelphia, PA.

Lily Day ’22 CLAS 
Comparison of Flower Feeding Behavior of Two Neotropical Hummingbird Species

Robert Curry, Professor, Biology
Dovid Kozlovsky, MSE Post-Doctoral Fellow, Biology (Mentors)


Hummingbirds, which are largely nectarivorous, often compete for food sources with other pollinators, leading to the establishment of different foraging strategies and social dominance hierarchies. I studied hummingbird feeding behavior at Camaquiri Conservation Initiative in the Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica. The most abundant hummingbirds at this site were Blue-chested and Rufous-tailed hummingbirds; all data I collected were from these two species. Both species frequent porterweed shrubs but have different feeding strategies—traplining and territoriality, respectively. Hummingbirds made 1,300 stops at a flower or cluster of flowers, for which I recorded 1. the duration of the stop and 2. the flower position on the plant (upper half or lower half). Feeding time varied by species: on average, Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds fed at a flower cluster for 19% longer than Blue-chested Hummingbirds. Both species of hummingbirds preferred feeding at higher flowers, and flower height did not affect feeding time for Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, although Blue-chested Hummingbirds displayed longer feeding times at the less-visited lower flowers. These results suggest that Rufous-tailed individuals exhibit social dominance as the larger and more territorial species. Such dominance relationships may influence outcomes of interspecific competition, place species into unique ecological niches, and have broader implications for species diversity and structure in ecological communities.

Lucas Deane ’23 CLAS, Nicole Keane ’23 CLAS, Eric Lavin ’23 CLAS
Promoting Water Bottle Use by Using Persuasive Human Computer Interaction

Computing Sciences
Robert E. Beck, Professor, Computing Sciences (Mentor)


Every year, tons of plastic water bottles are disposed of by Americans, affecting entire ecosystems and further contributing to greenhouse gas emissions through the plastic bottle manufacturing process. Since Americans today, and likewise, Villanovans, spend significant time on their phones, is there a way to utilize these devices to get people to act against the harmful disposal of plastic bottles? The concept of persuasive human-computer interaction (HCI) can help to address this issue. Persuasive HCI involves studying how humans interact with computers and implementing persuasive methods into the technology to promote a particular action from the human. Because humans interact with technology now more than ever, utilizing persuasive technology could increase environmental awareness and safe practices. An app that could reward people for filling up their water bottles would potentially prove effective in this way. Additionally, installing additional public water bottle fountains and providing reusable water bottles to people can allow more convenience in sustainability. At Villanova University, to help more students use on-campus, public fountains, an environmental HCI application could apply incentives to encourage an increase in fountain users. With additional reusable water bottle filling stations and a rewarding sustainability app, Villanova students would use reusable bottles more frequently than disposables, therefore diminishing disposable water bottle use on campus.

Megan Fitzpatrick ’23 COE 
Using Graphite in Degradation of Explosives

Civil and Environmental Engineering
Wenqing Xu, Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering (Mentor)


Graphite powder can promote the degradation of DNAN, an insensitive but toxic explosive widely deployed at Department of Defense military training sites. High pressure liquid chromotography was used to determine the efficiency of graphite powder in the extraction of DNAN from a solution. A standard curve was calculated as well as extraction efficiency from numerous trials. This investigation will continue due to the inconsistency of the initial stock solution used.

Victoria Martin ’19 CLAS
An Analysis of Racial Trends and Segregation in the Upper Darby School District

Education and Counseling
Edward Garcia Fierros, Associate Professor, Education and Counseling, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (Mentor)


Almost two-thirds of U.S. public school students currently attend schools where more than half of students are of their own race or ethnicity (1). While the famed Brown v. Board of Education looked to create an integrated school system, many studies report evidence of the policy’s failure. Scholars note that resegregation trends, in urban and suburban school districts, are worsening. This segregation crisis has attracted attention from media and policymakers as many citizens languish in low-resourced communities that feed into low-resourced schools. Much of the existing research examines segregation trends by looking between school districts for outcome differences. With that focus, there is a lack of comprehensive research that examines within-district school segregation. The purpose of this study is to contextualize Upper Darby School District’s diversification using historical information that can provide guidance for school district efforts that seek to continue the legacy of Brown and alleviate racial tensions in suburbs experiencing racial and economic change. This research found a high segregation index within the district that stems from patterns of residential segregation and results in stark outcome differences between attendance zones. The study also assesses district efforts to mend this segregation and provides policy recommendations. Gaining knowledge of historical trends in this Philadelphia suburb provides valuable information that informs the current state of school segregation experienced by districts across the United States.

Grace McGowan ’21 CLAS
Revolution, Reflection and Memory, and the Interactions Between History and Literature in Lydie Salvayre's Pas pleurer and Oliver Rolin's Tigre en papier

French and Francophone Studies
François Massonnat, Instructor, Romance Languages & Literature (Mentor)


How do reflection and memory function in novels about historical events? How do literature and history influence one another? To answer these guiding questions, this research investigates memory, reflection, and the interactions between literature and history in two 21st century French novels about historical revolutions. At first glance, Lydie Salvayre’s Pas pleurer and Olivier Rolin’s Tigre en papier are very similar. In both, one older character tells stories to a younger character about the revolution that took place when the older character was young. Salvayre discusses the Spanish Revolution of 1936, and Rolin discusses the leftist political and social movement of the late 1960s in France. In both novels, the author is represented by one of these two main characters, and the plot is heavily influenced by the real lives of the author or their family members. Despite all these similarities, the two novels take very different approaches to the function of memory, and they differ in their general mode of depicting a revolution through literature. Both approaches are unconventional, and both offer insight into the ways that literature and the historical record inform one another.

Grace McGowan ’21 CLAS
21st Century Françfrique in Côte d'Ivoire

Political Science
Olukunle Owolabi, Associate Professor, Political Science, Graduate Program Director (Mentor)


After the fall of France’s second colonial empire in 1960, France retained many of the economic, political, and cultural benefits of colonialism. This French sphere of influence was known as Françafrique and lasted from 1960 through the 1990s. During the 1990s, Françafrique ostensibly declined due to scandals and growing international criticism. The extent of Françafrique’s decline, and whether any decline was meaningful or ceremonial, is debated. In what ways is Françafrique still relevant as a label today? This research examines the extent to which Françafrique exists in the 21st century by using Côte d’Ivoire as a case study. First, three schools of thought are presented on Françafrique’s robustness: the ideological school, the regime theory school, and the Afrocentric school. Then, Françafrique’s five concrete observable implications are analyzed during the Françafrique period and again in the 21st century. Then, overall trends and takeaways are evaluated, considering all implications and their changes over time. The extent to which Françafrique exists today is best understood through a combination of all three hypotheses, and possibly more. More recent attitudes of French officials, for example, might not fit any proposed hypothesis. While no one hypothesis emerged as an encompassing explanation of modern Françafrique, these results show that Françafrique is still robust and an appropriate label to use when discussing Franco-Ivorian relations. While no implication studied here looks exactly the same in the 21st century as it did from 1960 to the 1990s, each demonstrated some continuation of Françafrique, whether concrete or ideological.

Brett Schratz ’20 CLAS
Rawls on the "Hard Question" for LGBTQ Rights in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

Sally J. Scholz, Professor and Department Chair, Philosophy, Social and Political Philosophy (Mentor)


In his dissent in Obergefell v.  Hodges, Chief Justice John Roberts warned of a “hard question” concerning the tension between LGBTQ equality and religious liberty. In 2018, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia posed this question: Are religious exemptions just? I apply John Rawls’ theory of justice to determine if exemptions are just in a constitutional democracy when applied to LGBTQ people. First, I argue exemptions create an inequality for LGBTQ people based on Rawls’ first principle of justice, which asserts equal entitlement to basic liberties. Second, I analyze if this inequality can be justified under the second principle, which considers equal opportunity and the impact on society’s worst-off. I conclude exemptions fail to meet Rawls’ criteria and are unjust.

Amira Temple ’20 CLAS
Spatial and Temporal Analysis of Farmers Markets and Their Regional Farms in Philadelphia, Pa.

Geography and the Environment
Peleg Kremer, Assistant Professor, Geography and the Environment (Mentor)


Local food systems often reflect the larger food system’s dependency on farms to create a sustainable system. Understanding the distance traveled by farms to farmers markets is important for understanding how the local food system has shaped areas like Philadelphia. The purpose of the study is to evaluate the relationship between regional farms and urban farmers markets over the past decade in Philadelphia. This study focuses on the spatial distribution of urban farmers markets, regional farm suppliers, the distance regional farmers have traveled, and how that has changed between 2009 and 2019. A 2009 dataset obtained from Dr. Peleg Kremer was used as a baseline and was updated over the summer and fall of 2019. The distances between farms and farmers markets were calculated using proximity tools in ArcGIS, a mapping-based software. These distances were placed into categories based on farm products sold like fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein, oils/sweets, and miscellaneous. Results show there has been a change in distance traveled by farms to farmers markets. However, there is no direct connection between farm products and mileage. This study may not show a product influence, but it has uncovered factors like product preferences and Pennsylvania counties trends that influence regional farm supply in Philadelphia’s local food system.

Siyan (Nicole) Xiong ’23 CLAS, Griffin Richards ’21 CLAS, Isabella McIlvaine ’22 CLAS, Eleanore Woodruff ’22 CLAS
Developing an Archerfish (Toxotes jaculatrix) Ethogram to Examine Self-Recognition and Mirror-Image Discrimination

Psychological and Brain Sciences
Michael Brown, Professor and Chair, Psychology (Mentor)


Self-recognition is a definitive aspect of consciousness, leading to several experiments testing it in a range of animal taxa. The most famous of these has been the mark test, which measures a subject’s ability to self-recognize by its engagement with a visual marker placed on its body and perceived through a handheld mirror. This study used a mirror exposure task to test self-recognition, due to archerfish’s lack of forearm dexterity, thus preventing the fish from being able to touch a visual marker. During eight days of observations, four archerfish were monitored for possible mirror-directed behaviors, based on previous mark and mirror exposure research on cleaner wrasses and manta rays, respectively. This behavioral data was then organized into an ethogram, from which we found that the archerfish most frequently hover, whereas they chase each other or swim backward least often. After noting the number of fish on each side of the tank, the mirror’s position in each trial, and applying the Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test, we discovered that the fish had no preference for either the mirror or non-mirror side. Thus, it is inconclusive if the fish display any mirror self-recognition (MSR) and requires further research.

Joseph Zinno ’22 COE
Small Group Optimization: Creating Balanced Environments for Villanova Buddies

Mathematics and Statistic
Bruce Pollack-Johnson, Associate Professor, Mathematics and Statistics (Mentor)


Villanova Buddies is a student organization at Villanova University with a mission of inclusion of individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities. A focus of Villanova Buddies is creating Small Groups comprised of students and individuals with disabilities. Groups convene throughout the semester to create a space for friendship and social interaction. To create well-rounded spaces, the formation process of Small Groups aims to evenly distribute participants by gender and class year throughout all Small Group time slots. This is important to create diverse groups, as participating Buddies come from all different backgrounds. It is crucial that all feel comfortable, no matter their age, gender identity, or interests. This paper explores the formulation of a mathematical model using linear programming and how the results of this formulation translate into Small Groups. Multiple models are used to analyze the tradeoffs between satisfying student preferences and balancing the groups.