Loyola University Chicago

The Graduate School

2018 RMP Projects

Note about the Biomedical projects at the Maywood campus: It is typically expected that you will spend 7-8 hours most days in the lab with your mentor. There is public transportation to Maywood via the Blue line of the El and bus -  please see the CTA website for more information.

Project Description: Since roughly 1970, the philosophical study of religion has followed a steady critique of the notion of sovereign power: if God is good, the argument goes, God cannot also be imagined as powerful, and vice versa. Many developments in “radical theology” have proceeded along this logic, focusing on political reinterpretations of religious concepts. My interest is in contemporary literature after this “weakening” of God: how has literature internalized these critiques—of sovereignty, of transcendence, of the God/world relationship? How it has responded? Specifically, my focus is on confessionally religious authors (such as Mary Gordon, Denise Levertov, Marilynn Robinson and Wendell Berry) who have mined their religious traditions for ways of responding to these developments. Theologian Sarah Coakley says that our times call for "the recovery of lost and neglected materials from the [religious] tradition" which will "re-animate doctrinal reflection both imaginatively and spiritually." This project explores authors who are doing exactly this sort of work through the mediums of narrative and poetry, opening up a new space for dialogue between politics and religion in the 21st Century. 

Undergraduate Work: Once the student is familiar with the project, the following crucial questions will be explored: 1) How might one best define the problem of “sovereignty” as it relates to modern politics, theories of the person, and religion? 2) How has divine power been defined/understood theologically in ways that both fall to and resist the critique of sovereign power? 3) Is there potential for an aesthetic reappraisal of divine power which is conversant with political concerns, a reappraisal which literature is uniquely equipped to provide? 4) What impacts on the spheres of religion, politics, and self-identity might be anticipated/encouraged through further work in this area of study? Given the interdisciplinary nature of this project, there is ample opportunity for students to pursue a particular vector of interest that will contribute to the overall quality of this dissertation; the main set of questions may be addressed from the perspectives of political philosophy, theology, modern/contemporary literary studies, or any combination thereof. The student will be exposed to several humanistic research methods, including literary analysis and genealogical historical criticism. Loyola’s library services will be extensively utilized, and my hope is that the student will also have the opportunity to discuss these issues in a conference setting. By the end of this study, we should come to a better understanding of what exactly the philosophical critique of sovereignty is, its stakes for the future of religion and politics, and the ways in which contemporary literary imaginations are offering alternative vocabularies for addressing the problem. We should also be able to give an account of which counter-arguments and alternatives seem most promising for further study. 

Explanation of Research: Unhealthy eating is linked to the development and maintenance of obesity, and the food environment plays a key role in poor dietary intake. High-calorie, low nutrient food is highly available in our society, and the marketing of such food only adds to the problem. Evidence suggests that exposure to food marketing may impact the choices that we make.  Research has shown that completing a task that requires self-control (like resisting the urge to buy unhealthy, but delicious-looking food advertised on TV) may actually make it more difficult to exert self-control on a subsequent task (like maintaining a healthy diet).  The primary goal of the current study is to assess whether watching food commercials is associated with subsequent failure in self-control, as measured by performance on several tasks (both food-related and non-food related). This study will use electroencephalography (EEG) to determine whether neural response looks different after viewing and responding to food commercials.  We will also be testing whether individuals with disordered eating concerns respond differently to food commercials than individuals who do not.

Description of undergraduate work: The research mentee will help with data cleaning, learn about data analysis, and gain knowledge of how the research in the current study fits into the larger literature on food marketing, self-control, and disordered eating.  The schedule of expectations will be as follows: The research mentee will first be provided with a group of research articles to become familiar with the project and to existing research in the field.  The mentee will then begin assisting with cleaning and analyzing the data collected for the project in Spring 2018. During the summer, the mentee will become more familiar with software programs such as SPSS and, to a lesser extent, Excel.  In addition to learning data analysis skills and becoming more familiar with the research process, the undergraduate mentee will also be trained to use EEG to collect data for the study for any study participants available during the summer. Research mentees will be expected to spend approximately 15 hours per week working in the lab, but scheduling is flexible. A portion of the research findings will be turned into a poster to be presented at the LUROP Research Symposium in the Spring.

Research: Emerging adults (individuals between the ages of 18-25) with chronic pain represent a unique population who face challenging transitions in a college environment. This age range is a critical window to optimize positive health behaviors in order to prevent long-term trajectories of severe pain and disability. It is also a distinct developmental period characterized by ongoing maturation of executive functions (EFs) that enable individuals to navigate daily experiences. Previous research suggests that pain symptoms are associated with EF impairments. Co-occurring psychological symptoms, including depression, worry, and anxious arousal (or somatic symptoms) may also exacerbate pain symptoms, as well as EF impairments. Importantly, mindfulness training has been increasingly used as an intervention technique for chronic pain, particularly due to its ability to improve executive dysfunction.

Specifically, it has been shown to help individuals attend to and engage with the current external environment and spend less time shifting their attention to past or future experiences, which could result in rumination or anxiety. However, the practice is often limited due to cost and availability. Internet-based applications have been considered as a more cost-effective and widely available alternative, though research on its efficacy is limited. Thus, for my dissertation, I plan to examine the associations between EFs (inhibition and shifting), psychological symptoms, and pain symptoms in order to identify psychological and cognitive factors associated with pain outcomes in emerging adults. Further, my project will seek to understand the effectiveness of Headspace, an online/mobile application delivering accessible mindfulness content, in reducing the psychological and cognitive factors found to be associated with ongoing pain symptoms in this population. Additionally, these findings may provide a greater understanding of the important of mindfulness practice on student emotional health.

Undergraduate Work: During the summer, my undergraduate mentee will become better acquainted with the process of data collection and analysis from multiple platforms, as well as how to integrate these processes to understand the mechanisms of mindfulness on pain through cognitive, psychological, and physical symptomatology. More specifically, I will work closely with my undergraduate student mentee to design data analysis paths to reduce data yielded from a range of sources, including the Headspace app, online questionnaires, behavioral responses, and high-density electroencephalography (EEG). Over the course of the summer, the mentee will develop specific skills working with large databases in statistical software packages (R and SPSS). The student will also gain experience with EEG related research tools, such as E-Prime (used for computer-based behavioral data collection), Brain Electrical Source Analysis (BESA) and Matlab. The mentee will also participate in weekly team meetings and participate in summer journal club readings. Prior to beginning research activities with the data set, we will review ethical considerations in research with human participants. My mentee will be required to complete Loyola’s CITI Training Course.  Until the mentee has received IRB approval, basic project materials (i.e., study protocol, etc.) will be introduced to the mentee and some reading materials will be provided for any background literature that they may be interested in reading. By the end of our work together, my mentee will learn how to integrate findings and disseminate them in a meaningful way to others, such that a subset of the findings from the project will be presented at the undergraduate LUROP Research Symposium in the Spring through a poster.  

Research: Why do individuals take the extraordinary risk of traveling abroad to take part, and potentially die, in another country’s conflict? This is a question that has gained increased media and academic attention since the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began recruiting tens of thousands of foreign fighters (individuals who have citizenship in a different country) to Syria and Iraq. However, this is not the first time a large contingency of foreign fighters has mobilized in this way. This project will conduct a comparative analysis of two of the largest and most surprising mobilizations in history, the 3,000 Americans who fought on behalf of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and the 6,000 Tunisians who fought on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Syrian Civil War (2011-present), in an effort to reveal the common motivations beyond foreign fighters that potentially transcends time and cultural context. This dissertation project will utilize a combination of archival research to collect the necessary data on the American foreign fighters and field interviews with former Tunisian foreign fighters to analyze what has become known as the “foreign fighter phenomenon.” This project will introduce a new theoretical framework for explaining individual participation in foreign conflicts that is based on a value-driven theory that emphasizes (1) an individual’s commitment to “sacred values"; (2) collective identity; and (3) social network theory. And finally, this project will be one of the first to provide an in-depth, individual-level analysis of the foreign fighter phenomenon which will contribute to a sparse but growing literature on foreign fighting.

Undergraduate Work: For 8 weeks, the undergraduate research mentee will play an active role in the data collection process of the project by finding, analyzing, and transcribing primary source documents relating to the historical portion of the project, namely, on American foreign fighters who fought in the Spanish Civil War. Together, during the first week of work, the mentee and I will conduct a broad search for relevant documents, namely, memoirs, correspondences, journals, biographies, and autobiographies from the American volunteers who fought for the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, that can be accessed either online, ordered from Loyola University Chicago’s Cudahy Library, or delivered to the library from interlibrary loan services. Once we have together established the extent of the documentation available to us to analyze in Chicago, we will begin, over the next 6 weeks, the process of transcribing any hand written material (such as photocopies of the journals and letters written by American members of the International Brigade available digitally from online archives) and converting any text into searchable word files. The final week will be spent coding these documents using NVivo, which is sophisticated text analysis software available for free at Loyola that the research mentee will learn to use. This software will help us reveal trends and themes across all inputted material. In all, the mentee will be involved in each step of the research process, including identifying sources, collecting data, coding data, and then analyzing data.

Explanation of research: All organisms model their behavior based on cues from the environment. For example, if you’re cold, you might put on a sweater. If you’re tired, you might drink some coffee. Like humans, bacteria respond to signals, and we can use these signals such as nutrients or metals to study natural processes in the lab. One such process is bacterial formation of communities called biofilms. These biofilms are attached to surfaces and encased in a protective matrix that promotes survival and can shield the bacteria from outside stressors like immune cells in a human host. Many bacterial species form biofilms, and one such model species is Vibrio fischeri, which forms a biofilm in response to a calcium signal. Although calcium exposure results in biofilm formation, it is not known how the bacteria detect and then respond to the signal. Ultimately, understanding how bacteria respond to environmental cues can help to prevent bacterial biofilms in humans to treat disease.
Description of work: Throughout the course of this program, the summer research student will perform hands-on laboratory experiments out at the Maywood Campusa. The goal of the project is to identify how the bacterium Vibrio fischeri is able to sense the calcium in the environment and respond to form a biofilm. To accomplish this, the student will perform a genetic screen looking for mutant bacteria that are unable to sense calcium. This experience includes the opportunity to learn a wide variety of experimental techniques, as well as general laboratory skills like troubleshooting, data interpretation, and critical thinking. In addition to bench work, the student will develop background knowledge on the model system by reading scientific literature and attending lab meetings. A full day of work is required to accomplish these goals. Ultimately, the student will further scientific knowledge as well as develop skills that are critical for success in the biological sciences.

My Research: Nearly 90% of all manufactured products rely on heterogeneous catalysis at some point during production and processing.  One commonly used catalyst is silver (Ag) which is widely used in the production of ethylene oxide, a key chemical precursor for several materials, such as polyethylene or ethylene glycol.  While Ag is known to be a powerful catalyst, the exact reaction mechanism for oxidation reactions on Ag remain elusive.  Ag undergoes surface wide reconstructions upon exposure to O2, resulting in a variety of coexisting phases on the surface.  As a result, the chemical significance of the various phases is difficult to determine.  A further complication is the presence of subsurface oxygen (Osub), or oxygen atoms dissolved into the near surface of the metal.  Osub is believed to form under actual catalytic conditions and thought to alter the surface chemistry and structure.  However, these effects have yet to be well characterized due to the difficulty in recreating catalytically relevant Ag oxide surfaces under the ultra-high vacuum (UHV) conditions needed for precise analysis.  Our group has studied oxidized Ag(111) surfaces after exposure to gas-phase atomic oxygen (AO) using a combination of UHV surface science techniques and determined a way to selectively form various oxide phases.  In addition, we have explored the factors which may favor the formation of subsurface oxygen (Osub).  To determine the reactivity of the various oxide phases, the oxidation reaction of carbon monoxide (CO) to CO2 on oxidized Ag(111) will be utilized as a probe reaction.  By selecting for specific oxide phases and amounts of Osub, I will be able to determine the chemical significance of various oxygen phases on Ag(111).  Studying CO oxidation on Ag(111) will provide atomic level information regarding oxidation reactions on Ag(111), progressing the understanding of various surface phases relevant to many Ag catalyzed processes.

Undergraduate Work: Over the summer, the undergraduate research assistant will learn proper cleaning procedures for Ag(111) in ultra-high vacuum (UHV), ), how to prepare oxidized Ag(111) surfaces, as well as how to use Low Electron Energy Diffraction (LEED), Temperature Programmed Desorption (TPD), and Scanning Tunneling Microscopy (STM) to characterize the Ag(111) surface.  The experimental procedure includes repeated cycles of sputtering and annealing to thoroughly clean the metal surface, confirming cleanliness with LEED imaging, oxidizing the metal surface using an Iridium (Ir) filament and O2, operating TPD measurements, and imaging the prepared metal surface using the low temperature UHV STM.  As data is collected, the undergraduate research assistant will help me process and analyze spectra and images.  Depending on the results collected, they will help adjust experimental protocol as needed.  Due to the nature of the experiments, the undergraduate research assistant will be expected to be in lab for the full day.  By the end of the summer, the undergraduate research assistant will have learned basic UHV cleaning procedures, how to prepare an oxidized Ag(111) surface, and proper methods for collecting TPD spectra, LEED data, and STM images.  They will be trained on how to conduct lab procedures and will be able to run them independently with supervision.  The undergraduate research assistant will leave with an understanding of how physical chemistry principals are used to research relevant and compelling scientific questions applicable to academia and industrial processes, as well as basic knowledge on how to operate UHV equipment and machinery.

Abstract: My dissertation research examines the roles and experiences of local businesses in Logan Square and Pilsen, two Chicago neighborhoods undergoing gentrification. I ask how local businesses may be understood as political, economic, and social actors in the context of gentrification, how businesses might contribute to racial segregation or diversity, and if differences exist due to how long a business has been open in the neighborhood. I speculate that relationships between local businesses and the neighborhoods in which they reside vary widely. Long-term businesses are more tightly bound to neighborhood communities and newer businesses, arriving during the first or second wave of gentrification, will be more connected to early or later gentrifiers, or extra-local customers. By examining what local businesses do and why, we may better understand the role of businesses in urban communities, the effects and experiences of urban changes on local entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship, and the role of local businesses as local actors in contemporary social life more generally.

Description of Summer Undergraduate Work: The mentee will assist the mentor in the transcription of qualitative, in-depth interviews using transcription hardware and software, in the collection of supplemental news media materials, and in field observation. The mentee will receive instruction and gain firsthand experience in several aspects of the qualitative sociology research process, including research ethics training, IRB approval, interview and observation methodology, and interview transcription and the use of transcription tools and software.  

Explanation of Research: My dissertation project is an ethnographic case study of the Lathrop Preservation Campaign (LPC). The campaign consists of a coalition of people who are fighting to protect Chicago’s Lathrop Homes public housing development from demolition and redevelopment into a mixed-income community. Through this case, I am gaining insight into the way that people navigate race, class, and status differences within a multiracial group of people organizing to preserve their community. I also explore how black, Latino, and white residents, living in one of the most demographically diverse public housing developments in Chicago perceive each other. Participant observations are a central component of my research, where I attend meetings related to the LPC and between residents living in the Lathrop development to gain insight into the interactions between different groups of people. Interviews with Lathrop residents, organizers, and allies volunteering in the campaign are also underway to help me better understand my case. I also analyze documents related to the LPC, Lathrop Homes, and the city of Chicago. Examining these records provides me with information on broader local and national social-historical happenings, which also helps to contextualize my case. Learning about issues of race and space, and how people within and outside of the campaign interpret claims that Lathrop should be redeveloped into a mixed-income community are also an aim of this project.

Description of Undergraduate Work: During the summer, I look forward to working with an undergraduate mentee on the collection of data for my dissertation. The undergraduate and I will work in three stages over the course of the summer to complete the project. In phase one, the student will spend time becoming familiar with the background literature related to the project, my interview guide, and the project analysis plan. Then, they will assist me in interviewing Spanish-speaking residents and in the transcription of one of those interviews. I would like for the student to conduct five interviews in total over the course of the summer. In the last phase, the student and I will code our data using Nvivo coding software, which enables us to categorize themes and to aid in the analysis of the project. The mentee will also have the opportunity to code previously conducted interviews that took place with current and displaced public housing residents, organizers, allies, neighbors, and preservationists. We will start preparing our findings for a poster to present at the LUROP Research Symposium in the spring of 2018. Fluency in reading and speaking Spanish is a requirement.