Notre Dame Science 2019 - Science Excellence

Notre Dame and Chilean Catholic university solidify partnership

Summer undergraduate research meaningful for several who conducted research work on campus

Undergraduate research highlight at 12th annual COS-JAM


Notre Dame and Chilean Catholic university solidify partnership

By Deanna Csomo McCool

Universities can work independently to advance new discoveries through scientific research. Collaborating with other institutions, however, sparks greater advancements and innovations by tapping into the unique opportunities each academy holds.

Tour of Chilean science facility

The College of Science at the University of Notre Dame has cemented a partnership with the five schools of science within the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC), as part of the Chilean government’s new initiative, “Science and Innovation for 2030.” The partnership was made official in October 2018 with a letter from the funding agency, which outlined details of the collaborative exchange between the two institutions’ science programs.

“We are pleased to have forged this partnership between the two universities,” said Mary Galvin, William K. Warren Family Foundation Dean of the College of Science. “Not only does this collaboration solidify a relationship that began with the exchange of professors, students, and ideas, but it will advance science by harnessing each institution’s strengths.”

A delegation from Notre Dame visited colleagues at PUC in April 2018. The trip was led by Galvin, Peter Kilpatrick, the former Matthew H. McCloskey Dean of the College of Engineering, and included faculty and advisory council members. The two universities have collaborated for several years, with a formal agreement in place with the College of Engineering since 2015. There had, however, never been a formal agreement with the College of Science.

Notre Dame and Católica hold a similar world view despite being in different hemispheres, and can offer varied research opportunities, according to Michael Hildreth, associate dean of research and graduate studies for the College of Science. For instance, Notre Dame students and faculty will have access to the world’s top telescopes and astrophysics opportunities because of the partnership with Católica. “When their next round of telescopes comes online, Chile will have 70 percent of all observing hours on earth for optical telescopes,” Hildreth said.

“Also, Chile has every environmental climate known to mankind, from oceans and high mountains and arid deserts and tropics,” he added. “So from an ecological research standpoint, it’s also a great partnership.”

Cos Puc Group

Notre Dame researchers, who have strong skills in computational astrophysics, will be able to assist Católica within that field. And Notre Dame’s history of working closely with industry, based on research findings, will be a boon for scientists at Católica. Previously, industry and government in Chile did not recognize scientific research as a way to lead an economy through commercialization, Hildreth said. “But to us, it’s a very natural thing, trying to figure out how to capitalize on intellectual input and forge more academy-industry partnerships,” Hildreth said.

Notre Dame already sends students and professors to Chile for research. In August 2017, two doctoral astrophysics students witnessed the merger of two neutron stars during their observation time on the 2.5-meter Irénée du Pont Telescope in Las Campanas, for instance. But this formal partnership may lead to Chile being named the official study-abroad program for astrophysics, or possibly an official study-abroad destination for other College of Science programs of study, Hildreth said. Students and professors from Chile also visit Notre Dame for their research.

“The official partnership will fund their ability to send people up here, and the ability to host our people when we send them to Chile,” said Hildreth, who credited the College of Science’s Advisory Council with assisting in the brainstorming of ways both institutions can help each other. The college will make funds available to support new directions within the partnership as well.

Hildreth described the partnership as a win-win for both institutions, fitting into the Catholic mission of both and fostering a spirit of diversity and discovery from which all levels of researchers can learn and grow.

“Scientific discovery doesn’t happen through the work of just one institution,” Galvin noted. “Science is a global endeavor.”

Summer undergraduate research meaningful for several who conducted research work on campus

By Alexandra Park

Several undergraduate students from the University of Notre Dame's College of Science spent their summers on campus conducting research on topics including medicine, ecology, physics and mathematics. Their enthusiasm and dedication toward their projects embodied the spirit of using scholarship and creative endeavor to advance scientific understanding of the world.

The openness unique to the summer schedule, which allowed them to focus and delve deeper into their research, was a top reason they enjoyed their experiences.

Nicholas Lohr

“I enjoy the freedom of thought that working in the summer brings about,” said Nicholas Lohr, an honors mathematics senior in the lab of Jeffrey Diller, professor and chair of the mathematics department. “Instead of being pulled in four different directions from classes, I can instead focus on just one thing, which is liberating for me.”

For Lohr, the lack of distractions was crucial. His project aimed to understand the Riemann mapping theory using circle packings, which meant he was trying to find out how to mathematically deform irregular shapes into circles. To do this, Lohr had to learn new types of geometry, a process he enjoyed despite the challenge it posed.

“Instead of doing high school geometry on a flat surface, I learned geometry all over again on, say, a sphere,” he said.

Emma Sheedy

Emma Sheedy, a junior majoring in mathematics and preprofessional studies, said the summer allowed her to do work she did not get a chance to do during the school year.

“I’m mostly enjoying the experimental design aspect of this summer,” she said. “When I did research in the school year… I was rarely given the responsibility to help plan experiments. Working full-time this summer, I was able to help design experiments and I learned about the trial-and-error aspect of true scientific discovery.”

Sheedy worked under the direction of graduate student Elizabeth Harper in the laboratory of Sharon Stack, professor and director of the Harper Cancer Research Institute. Those in the Stack lab study the effects of aging on the metastasis of ovarian cancer. In the hopes of gaining insight on age-related success of the cancer, Sheedy’s research focused on finding the structural and functional differences that arise in collagen due to age.

Like Sheedy, Vy Sanders, a junior studying neuroscience and behavior, also enjoyed the increased research exposure the summer offered her.

Vy Sanders

“Through this summer research, I was exposed to the multiple stages of research, learning and mastering new scientific techniques and data analysis,” she said. “[I also] gained experience working with research animals.”

Sanders worked at the lab of Kasturi Haldar, the Rev. Julius A. Nieuwland, C.S.C., Professor and the Parsons-Quinn Director of he Boler-Parseghian Center for Rare and Neglected Diseases. Sanders’ work involved developing experimental treatments for a multisystem disease called Kabuki syndrome. The treatment stimulates stem cell growth in the hippocampi of mice affected by the disease.

Other students enjoyed the spending time with their research teams, which provided a friendly and supportive learning environment for research to take place.

Jocelyn Gaona, a senior majoring in neuroscience and behavior, said, “I really enjoy the lab environment because it fosters my learning and gives me the opportunity to expand my knowledge on a daily basis.”

Jocelyn Gaona

She credits two graduate students in her lab, Alyssa Lesko and Casey Stefanski, with showing her that research is an opportunity to gain knowledge while also making a difference for others.

Gaona worked in the Harper Cancer Research Institute in the lab of Jenifer Prosperi, adjunct assistant professor of biological science at Notre Dame and assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Indiana University School of Medicine-South Bend. Gaona’s research focused on a tumor suppressor called Adenomatous Polyposis Coli (APC) and a tetraspan protein called Epithelial Membrane Protein 2, both of which mediate cellular polarity and are upregulated in several epithelial cancers. 

Christina Dulal, a sophomore studying physics, enjoyed learning new skills from her research team. She worked in the Nuclear Physics Lab under the direction of Ani Aprahamian, the Friemann Professor of Physics on a project known as ICEBall/fIREball. The research uses an Internal Conversion Electron (ICE) array to better understand the nature of nuclear states.

“[My team members] were very helpful in teaching me how to use the accelerators,” she said. “They were also extremely supportive, friendly, and always willing to answer any questions I had.”

Nathan Hermann

Nathan Hermann, a senior biology and sociology major, said he enjoyed “discussing possibilities of future directions, questions, and explanations with other members of the lab.”

He worked with Dominic Chaloner, associate teaching professor, in the lab of Gary Lamberti, professor of biology. Those in the Lamberti lab investigate how Pacific Salmon migration interacts with the feeding ecology of brook and brown trout in the migratory streams, as well as any health implications arising from those interactions.

Finally, for junior Peter Koszuta, who studies music theory and preprofessional studies, the applicability of his research to the future of healthcare was one of the most appealing aspects of his summer work.

His project in the lab of Jon Camden, associate professor of chemistry, was about the characterization and detection of various potentially counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs. He utilized a technique called surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy. He aims to use the data and spectra from his research in the development of portable devices to assist in checking potential counterfeit drugs for active ingredients.

“The lab experience was very enjoyable, as was the chance to do some interesting chemistry which ultimately could help patients,” he said.

To explore what it’s like to do undergraduate research, visit the Fall Undergraduate Research Fair (FURF) from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25 in the Jordan Hall of Science galleria.

Undergraduate research highlight at 12th annual COS-JAM

By Deanna Csomo McCool

From poster sessions to presentations, the College of Science Joint Annual Meeting (COS-JAM) on May 4, 2018, showcased the depth of undergraduate research completed by students within the fields of science and engineering.

Cos Jam Students In Jordan Hall 1200

Eighty-nine students presented posters and 23 gave oral presentations during sessions held in the Jordan Hall of Science. Hundreds of students, professors and others met with the presenters to learn more about their work.

Presenting to peers at COS-JAM is a low-stakes way for students to develop experience sharing their research. It is a skill they will use as they advance to graduate school and the workplace. “Scientific communication, like presentations at COS-JAM, is an integral part of research,” said Xuemin Lu, undergraduate research director for the College of Science and assistant teaching professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. “The quality of the research and the professionalism of the students was amazing.”

Research topics ranged from the study of the tiniest building blocks of life to the expanses of the universe, and a variety of topics in between.

Elise Paietta Presenting At Cos JamElise Paietta

Elise Paietta, a rising junior majoring in biological sciences, researched the effect of parasite burdens on the survival of yellow baboons. Her work was guided by Elizabeth Archie, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, as well as Archie laboratory manager David Jensen.

Paietta studied parasite samples taken during a drought in the area of the Ambolesi National Park in Kenya from 2016 to 2017, and evaluated whether the parasite load correlated with higher mortality rates in baboons. Paietta, who plans to attend graduate school and study zoology, hopes to continue work on the project.

“I really enjoy working with all the data and learning about the baboons, and this project helped me solidify what I really want to do,” she said.

Esther Huang Presenting At Cos JamEsther Huang

Researching the environment during the middle Jurassic period using fossils from an extinct order of cephalopods called belemnites, Esther Huang ’18, biochemistry, analyzed isotopes to determine the seawater temperature in the former Sundance Sea, which once covered much of Western North America. She worked in the laboratory of the Museum of Biodiversity with the guidance of Ronald Hellenthal, director of the museum and professor emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences.

The project opened Lee’s eyes to different ways he can use his future degree, and was the first time he explored the possibility of doing academic research instead of industry work.Rising senior Eric Lee, who is majoring in Applied Computational Mathematics and Statistics (ACMS), used mathematical formulas to attempt to predict dust storms in Saudi Arabia. The research will help pinpoint the best locations to build wind farms. He worked with Stefano Castruccio, assistant professor of ACMS.

Eric Lee Presenting At Cos JamEric Lee

“Oh man, this is everything,” Lee said, his voice building with enthusiasm after being asked about the benefit of completing undergraduate research. “I’ve always been interested in sustainability, in energy services, and this has led me to take a couple of classes next year in sustainability. There is a lot you can do with just numbers.”

Six students earned awards for their research work during a reception after the event. Dominic Acri ‘18, Ian Kelly ‘18, and rising senior Erin Nguyen were recognized for best poster presentations. Gabrielle Mungcal ‘18, rising senior Patrick Shields, and Audrey Thellman ‘18 were recognized for best oral presentations.