Research News

Student Research 

Posters Under the Dome


Faculty Research

Graduate Psychology Department professors Dr. Farzin Irani,  Dr. Marie McGrath and Dr. Julie Guay are participating in a small grant project internally funded through the Office of Academic Affairs.  The project focuses on establishing a framework for utilization of near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS).

Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) is an emerging functional neuroimaging technology that, in some cases, is being used as an alternative to functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).    It offers a relatively non-invasive, portable, and low-cost method of indirect and direct monitoring of brain activity.  It works by recording the activation/deactivation of blood flow in certain parts of the brain while performing certain tasks or being exposed to certain stimuli.

While functional MRI remains the gold-standard for functional neuroimaging, the technology is prohibitively expensive and its use for applied psychological research is generally limited to only large, well-funded institutions.   In addition to its cost advantage, functional NIRS technology has many benefits that make it ideal for use in applied psychological research:

  • Its design does not unduly interfere with the standardized administration of psychometric instruments. 
  • The device itself, which is secured to individual’s foreheads with the use of a soft headband during imaging, is lightweight, compact, and portable. 
  • It allows research participants to speak, write, move, and assume a variety of positions while data collection is taking place. 
  • It is safe for a wide variety of participants, including those who could not be imaged with the FMRI; those with phobias or movement disorders like Parkinson’s, and infants.

The current project is geared towards establishing a framework for conducting studies using NIRS at Immaculata.  There are five phases to the project: 

  1. Increase the investigators’ expertise with NIRS.
  2. Plan for a pilot project implementing NIRS using  tasks with which the Immaculata investigators have experience.
  3. Implement the pilot project with healthy volunteer subjects.
  4. Communicate findings from pilot project with peers at local conferences and peer-reviewed journals.
  5. Consolidate findings from pilot project and begin planning for an external grant submission which, if funded would provide Immaculata the opportunity to obtain the necessary technology and have it available for future studies and cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Over the past year, Dr. McGrath and Dr. Irani have collaborated to pursue a number of activities designed to increase their competence in this area of study and their capacity to pursue further fNIRS-related research opportunities.  In Fall 2012, they collaborated with colleagues at Drexel University to analyze data on activation patterns in resting state networks in the prefrontal cortex.They presented the results of their analyses  Examining Resting State Functional Activity in the Medial Prefontal Cortex Using fNIRS: A “Proof-of-Concept” Study in a poster presentation at the second biennial international fNIRS Conference in London, England, in October 2012 (supported with Academic Affairs and Faculty Development funds). At the conference, they attended a two-day fNIRS training, followed by 2 days of presentations by other researchers in this area. They made connections with those researchers, as well as with companies that manufacture and support the technology.

Currently, the researchers’ main area of interest is an extension of the work that they presented in London: examination of resting state networks in the human brain. Resting state networks, also referred to as the default mode network, comprise neurological pathways that are activated when the brain is not actively responding to sensory input or otherwise engaged in purposeful, task-directed activity. These pathways have previously been studied using fMRI technology; within the past few years, several researchers have begun to explore the application of fNIRS to resting state network research. Though the resting state data that they analyzed in conjunction with their Drexel colleagues were obtained from prefrontal areas of the brain only, more advanced fNIRS equipment permits whole-head sampling, enabling data to be obtained from other cortical areas. They have been seeking out opportunities to access this technology to gather their own data for analysis.

Dr. McGrath and Dr. Irani are working with a core group of three doctoral students, Erin Hyland, Christopher Lawless, and Jesse Main, to review and analyze the current literature base in this area. These three students organized the literature review, have conducted all research database searches, and have been summarizing the literature in this area for the past six months. They presented on this work at Posters under the Dome in April 2013. Currently, under Dr. McGrath’s and Dr. Irani's supervision, the students are conducting a meta-analysis using previous default mode network/resting state fNIRS studies; they have searched for all relevant articles and are currently extracting the necessary information from those manuscripts for analysis. They plan to complete this analysis during the Fall 2013 semester, and to submit a proposal to present the results of the analysis in poster form at the third biennial fNIRS Conference in Montreal in 2014.

Dr. McGrath and the three students have applied to, and been accepted to participate in, this year's fNIRS course at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital.  In this two-day training course, the participants will receive advanced training in the physics of fNIRS; gain exposure to new and established fNIRS instruments, as well as other imaging technologies; receive training in the safe use of the technology; and have the opportunity to design and pilot brief experiments using the fNIRS device for data colection. The team will have the opportunity to design and implement protocols consistent with their research agenda that will allow them to observe the brain at rest (and therefore to gather data on resting state/default mode network activation). This training opportunity will give them the opportunity to interact with some of the nation's leading fNIRS researchers in the context of a course that is "geared toward end users in application areas such as clinical monitoring and psychology research”.



Student Research

IU Biology Department Student Conducts Research on Campus 

In contrast to many of his fellow biology majors who are interested in medicine as a career path, junior Biology student, Dennis Alverez’s career goal is to engage in pure scientific research.  His passion is plants, botanical research – in particular plant genetics, but also the environment on a macro scale.

Aware of Dr. Carl Pratt’s similar interests in botanical and environmental research, Dennis approached Dr. Pratt to see if he could work with him.  Under Dr. Pratt’s mentorship a project was designed to investigate the trees on the Immaculata University campus and to develop Dennis’s research skills.   

The trees that held the most interested for the researchers were the ones planted in parking lot “islands” or on the perimeter of the expansive asphalt parking lot.  Do these “Urban Trees” suffer more stress than similar trees planted in the grassy or wooded areas on campus and do they need special care to maintain their optimal health and avoid disease and insect infestation?

They hypothesized that these “urban trees” would suffer more stress because the asphalt would inhibit the rainfall reaching their roots, and also increase the ground temperature around the trees.  They also hypothesized that the surface temperature of the leaves on the “urban trees” would be higher.  Over seven weeks this summer, Dennis set out to prove the hypotheses by observing the trees and taking a number of measurements.  In addition to air temperature and relative humidity, Dennis measured ground temperature and the temperature at five unique points on the trees using an infrared thermometer.    He also used a “pressure bomb” with a nitrogen gas canister to determine the moisture stress of the trees.  The pressure bomb device applies air pressure to a leaf, where most of the leaf is inside a chamber but a small part of the leaf stem (the petiole) is exposed to the outside of the chamber through a seal. The amount of pressure that it takes to cause water to appear at the petiole tells how much tension the leaf is experiencing on its water: a high value of pressure means a high value of tension and a high degree of water stress. 

The data Dennis collected was statistically significant to confirm the hypothesis that the “urban trees” were suffering more stress, even though this summer was unusually wet.  The second part of the hypothesis, that the temperature of the leaves on the urban trees, however, was inconclusive.  A possible next step in the investigation would be to manipulate the “urban trees” by watering them to see if intervention can help alleviate some of the stress.

Dennis has found this to be a very rewarding experience and feels grateful that he has developed a good rapport with a professor who shares his area of interest.  His goal is to intern at Longwood Gardens next summer and after graduation, attend graduate school to earn his PhD.


IU Student Participates in Summer Research Internship 

Undergraduate Psychology department student, Catherine Wright participated in a Summer 2013 Research Internship for Ethnic Minority Undergraduates at a lab under the mentorship of Temple University Psychology faculty.   In addition to research experience critical for applying to graduate school, she also received a stipend.  IU undergraduate psychology professor, Dr. Dawn Kriebel nominated Catherine for the opportunity because of her interest in psychological research and her strong GPA.

During the six week internship, Catherine worked with mentors, Dr. Jason Chein and Dr. Laurence Steinberg on a project involving decision making for two populations, adults and adolescents.  While the adolescent study was primarily concerned with peer influence in decision making, the adult study examined the influence of alcohol and social context on decision making.  As part of the study, Catherine administered and collected data from a training protocol with the goal of improving the participants’ short term memory and decision making skills.  Catherine was also given the opportunity to be involved in the resulting data analysis and to continue working with the lab during this school year.  In addition, she was also introduced to fMRI scanning technique.

Catherine is a senior and excited about the possibility of being involved in further research experiences, particularly projects involving fMRI scanning.  Her goal is to attend graduate school to earn a PhD and to direct psychological research as a principal investigator.



Immaculata Students Present Research at Conferences

Candice McCarthy, Rachel Ruger and Brianna Ott, along with their faculty mentor Dr. Dawn Kriebel, presented “Cumulative Risk and Caregiver Behavior During Two Learning Tasks” at the Eastern Psychological Association Meeting in New York City on March 1-4, 2013. 

Two Chemistry Department students traveled to the American Chemical Society Conference held in New Orleans, Louisiana, April 7-11, 2013, to present their research findings. Brandi Santaniello presented “Potential Antioxides.” Her faculty mentor is Dr. James K. Murray, Jr.  Tom Padlo, mentored by Dr. Luna Zhang, presented “Engineering an in-house Raman spectroscopy instrument: Applications in an undergraduate program.”

Rebecca Hermann, Bernadette Whitmore, and Brittanie Maccarone, along with their professor, Dr. Melanie Kisthardt, attended The English Association of Pennsylvania State Universities (EAPSU) Undergraduate Conference “Texts, Texting, and Technology” at Shippensburg University on Saturday, April 16, 2013.   


Undergraduate Research at the Capitol Pennsylvania poster conferenceUndergraduate Research at the Capitol

CUS student Courtney Gambrell represented Immaculata University at the Undergraduate Research at the Capitol Pennsylvania poster conference in Harrisburg, on March 19, 2013.

Courtney‘s project, “Demystifying Charles Chesnutt's Tales of Conjure” was mentored by Dr. Melanie Kisthardt, chair of the English/Communication Department. 

Courtney was accompanied to the event, held in the East Wing Rotunda located in the Capitol Complex of Harrisburg, by Dr. Kisthardt and Sister Susan Cronin, director of the Office of Sponsored Research. 

During the opening session, special guest speaker Dr. Richard Alley, Nobel Prize Laureate, and an Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University, addressed the attendees.  Courtney also met and discussed her research with her Pennsylvania legislative district representative Duane Milne.   The program ended with group recognition in the Senate Gallery for the participating students during the Senate session.



Posters Under the Dome 2013              

On Thursday, April 18, 2013, the Office of Sponsored Research again hosted Posters Under the Dome, an annual event showcasing student research.   The Villa Maria first floor Rotunda, Hall, and Green Room were filled with students, faculty, and other Immaculata community members celebrating the continuing tradition of research at Immaculata University. Featured were a number of entries funded under the Immaculata University mini-grants program, as well as others that are the culmination of student independent study.


This year’s event was particularly noteworthy; 42 students presented 25 posters, representing a diverse collection of academic research projects involved with fine art, computer science, education, literature, mathematics, behavioral sciences, biological and physical sciences, exercise science, and nutrition.   In addition to undergraduate research, this year’s entries also included the work of graduate-level students from the Psychology Department.   Many of the participants will again be presenting their research at other academic symposia and professional society meetings.



The following projects were presented: View Abstracts


Project Name

Student Presenter(s)

Faculty Mentor(s)

Factors that Influence Collegiate Athletes when Choosing to Use Nutritional Supplements

Megan Chacosky
Amanda Geary
Samantha Gross
Tracy L. Oliver, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N.,Nutrition and Dietetics
The Role of Emotion in College Students’ Food Choices
Elyse Kusma
Courtney McCullough Ashley Oister
Tracy L. Oliver, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N.,Nutrition and Dietetics
Nurturing Awareness to Sprout Participation at Immaculata University’s Community Garden
Holley Bungo
Amanda Buehler
Kelly Marshall
Tracy L. Oliver Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N.,Nutrition and Dietetics
Does Taste Influence Food Choices Among the Student Body?
Johann Evans
Melody Cox
Jonathan Delp
Tracy L. Oliver, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N.,Nutrition and Dietetics
Reducing Stress in College Students Using Animal-Assisted Therapy
Gabrielle LaGace
Shannon Jenkins
Carolyn Albright, Ph.D.
Human Movement Sciences
Behavioral Intervention Treatment for Depression Among Older Adults in Long-Term Care
Christine Etzrodt
Farzin Irani, Ph.D.
Graduate Psychology 
Accuracy and Speed for Recognition of Familiar and Unfamiliar Faces and Hands
Joe Haughey
Jessica Snell
Farzin Irani, Ph.D.
Graduate Psychology 
Utilizing Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) to Examine Resting State Functional Connectivity Patterns
Erin Hyland
Christopher Lawless
Jesse Main
Marie McGrath, Ph.D.
Farzin Irani, Ph.D.
Graduate Psychology
Yalom's Therapeutic Factors in Support Groups for Siblings of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: An Advanced Review
Kristin Jackson
Jed Yalof, Psy.D., ABPP 
Graduate Psychology
Demystifying Charles Chesnutt's Tales of Conjure
Courtney Gambrell
Melanie Kisthardt, Ph.D.  English/Communication
Cumulative Risk and Caregiver Behavior During Two Learning Tasks
Candice McCarthy
Rachel Ruger
Briana Ott
Dawn Kriebel, Ph.D.
They Already Know You
Tayler Acree
M. E. Jones, Ph.D.
Math/Comp Sci/Physics
Closing the Gap: Gender Differences in Mathematics
Mackenzie DeSeve
M. E. Jones, Ph.D.
Math/Comp Sci/Physics    
Where is the Internet? Can Mobile Technology Leapfrog Africa’s Developing Economies into the Global Information Society?
Gerry Dumani
M. E. Jones, Ph.D.              
Math/Comp Sci/Physics
Information Technology and Social Responsibility
Tyler Horan
M. E. Jones, Ph.D.
Math/Comp Sci/Physics   
Managing a Help Desk for Higher Education
Simba Kanyangarara
M. E. Jones, Ph.D.
Math/Comp Sci/Physics
En la Aula de las Matemáticas: A Summary of Teaching Strategies for Narrowing the Anglo-Latino Achievement Gap in Mathematics in American Schools
Alex Onderdonk
M. E. Jones, Ph.D.
Math/Comp Sci/Physics  
Metrics: Improving Software Quality
T.J. Warner
M. E. Jones, Ph.D.     
Math/Comp Sci/Physics   
Introduce Non-Euclidean Geometry Concepts to High School Students through the Taxicab Geometry  
Jake Tischler  
Ileana Ionascu, Ph.D. 
Math/Comp Sci/Physics
Where Linear Algebra and Calculus Come Together
Bing Zhuang
Ileana Ionascu, Ph.D.
Math/Comp Sci/Physics
Determining the Enzymatic Activity of Naturally Occurring Cellobiase in Mushroom  Extracts
Diana West
Sister Susan Cronin, Ph.D.
The Antimicrobial Effects of Bupleurum Chinese Oil  
Katemarie Gale
Danielle Senn
James K. Murray, Jr., Ph.D.
Jean Shingle, Ph.D. 
Synthesis, Characterization, and Evaluation of Various 7-benzyloxy, 7-heteroalkyloxy, and 7-heteroaryloxy-4-methyl-2H-chromen-2-ones as Potential  Antioxidants
Brandi Santaniello
Kerry Smallacombe
James K. Murray, Jr., Ph.D.
An In-House Raman Spectrometer, Phase II
Tom Padlo
Jiangyue (Luna) Zhang, Ph.D.  Chemistry
DIGITAL STORYTELLING: Using Applications on iPad or iPhone
Danielle Palmisano
Taylor Rosen
Diane F. Grimes, M.F.A.



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