2017 Faculty Research Projects:


Dr. Preston Aldrich, Professor, Biological Sciences:
paldrich@ben.edu
My research lab deals with systems biology, specifically with the analysis of complex biological networks. I have ongoing projects in the following areas:
  • Invasive plants - analysis and modeling of invasive plant spread using networks
  • Genomics - study of promoter, gene and protein networks in bacteria
  • Curricular dynamics - the use of networks to understand and revise academic curricula
  • Linguistics of natural languages – using networks to understand the structure and evolution of natural systems of communication.
Typically a student will work in two of these areas over the summer with a primary and a secondary project. Which projects are active depend on my interests and the interests and aptitude of the student. Students use a variety of software packages allowing the visualization and analysis of networks. Students also learn to write computer programs in Python allowing more refined analyses and modeling of networks. No prior programming experience is required.
View Dr. Aldrich's home page.


Dr. Darya Aleinikava, Assistant Professor, Physics
daleinikava@ben.edu
  • The dynamical complexities of small-size systems.
    The project I am working on is related to the most fundamental properties of nanoclusters. We will be looking for new ways to describe the dynamics of such small systems, come up with novel dynamical and statistical descriptors, and look into unanswered questions in the field of small-sized systems. The research topic, although rather fundamental in nature, is of great interest in the field of chemical kinetics since it helps to answer the questions about the rates of chemical reactions.

    Students’ responsibilities/tasks: The project is computational in nature, hence the students will learn the basics of C++ programming language, and will get familiar with Linux environment which is a rather common operating system for computer clusters used for big-scale computing jobs. The students will learn how to perform Molecular Dynamics simulations, and how to extract the information about system’s properties from these simulations.  The computer cluster at Benedictine University will be used for the majority of computations. By the end of the project, the students will gain appreciation and an enhanced level of comprehension of the role the computer simulations play in the fields of physics and chemistry.  
    View Dr. Aleinikava's home page.


Dr. Tim Comar, Professor, Mathematics:
tcomar@ben.edu
  • Dynamics and stochastic behavior of Integrated Pest Management Model.  This involves looking at several different models for integrated pest management using impulsive differential equations and agent based models.  We may consider systems with varying environmental or climatic conditions.  Stochastic effects are also incorporated into the models.  Questions involve finding conditions which lead to pest eradication or permanent solutions and also involve the impact of changing the timing of the impulsive pest control events.  Related to the permanence issue is that of finding optimal conditions for managing the pest populations with minimal economic and minimal negative environmental impacts.  We are also interested in selecting optimal models using stochastic and evolutionary computing techniques.
  • Dynamics of Gene Regulatory Networks.  This involves the study of the dynamics of small gene regulatory networks through discrete and stochastic models.  One of the big issues is to understand when the Boolean models sufficiently capture the behavior of the continuous models.  Another interesting issue is to understand how the continuous dynamics depends on particular parameters that influence the behavior of the systems.  A third issue is to understand how the configuration of the network (the description of which genes affect which other genes) influences the dynamical behavior in the Boolean case. We are also interested in studying stochastic versions of these models and the determination of selecting models using evolutionary computing techniques. We are also interested in the relationship between the dynamics in Boolean models using synchronous versus asynchronous update.  Finally, we would like to continue the study of the relationships between Boolean dynamics and continuous dynamics these networks.
  • Dynamics of Pulse vaccination models. A pulse vaccination strategy is method of controlling the spread of a disease by periodically vaccinating a fraction of the population. The central mathematical questions here are very similar to those of IPM: (1) Under what conditions will an epidemic die out? (2) Under what conditions will an epidemic persist? The big question is that how can an effective and efficient vaccination strategy be implemented to limit the spread of a disease.  We are interested in using modifications of impulsive differential equations systems that incorporate time delays for an exposed individual to become infective and stochasticity, particularly in the incidence rates.
    View Dr. Comar's home page.

Dr. Pedro Del Corral, Associate Professor and Academic Program Director, Clinical Exercise Physiology:
pdelcorral@ben.edu
  • During graded exercise, systolic blood pressure increases as exercise intensity increases.  An exaggerated systolic blood pressure response to exercise is a predictor of masked and future hypertension. To date, little is known about the role of  glucocorticoids (stress hormones) on systolic blood pressure regulation during exercise. Previous studies (at rest) in hypertensive patients have shown increased sensitivity of the skin microcirculation to topical glucocorticoids (Vasoconstrictor Assay), compared to controls. The proposed study will test the hypothesis that increased sensitivity to topical glucocorticoids is associated to higher systolic blood pressure during exercise. We plan to recruit volunteers across the normotensive, prehypertensive, and stage-I hypertensive range to undergo the Vasoconstrictor Assay and a graded submaximal exercise test to measure the systolic blood pressure response. Saliva samples will be obtained to prior to exercise to measure markers glucocorticoid metabolism.

    High blood pressure affects ten's of millions of people, and many more people are pre-hypertensive. We believe that subjects with increased glucocorticoid sensitivity at rest will predict the systolic blood pressure response to exercise. If the study confirms this, the practical approach of the proposed study design will bring us a step closer to understanding the biology of high blood pressure, and will likely open novel venues for clinical research in cardiology, clinical exercise physiology, sports medicine, and further encourage drug development targeting glucocorticoid biology. 
    View Dr. Del Corral's home page.


Dr. Anthony DeLegge, Associate Professor, Mathematics:
adelegge@ben.edu
  • "When is Closing a School Effective for Stopping a Disease Spread?"
    Abstract:  Occasionally, an elementary or high school may be faced with an outbreak of a disease such as influenza, MRSA, or measles.  Because of the potential to spread these diseases quickly among healthy students and staff members, the school may consider closing for a period of time to limit the spread of the infection.

    While this may be an effective strategy to help stop the spread of the disease, this comes at a cost, both in time (parents having to take time off work to watch their kids, lost class time) and money (lost wages for school staff, extra money for daycare, disinfection measures for the school).  Thus, it is not a strategy to be taken lightly.  However, waiting too long may render the strategy ineffective for stopping the spread of the disease.

    The goal of this project is to build a mathematical model for the spread of a disease through a school population and incorporate the effects of school closure into that model to try and answer the question:  Under what circumstances should a school consider a closing as an effective strategy, and when should it be done for the maximum effect with minimal burden on parents, students, and staff?
    View Dr. DeLegge's home page


Dr. Ian Hall, Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences:
ihall@ben.edu
  • How does the brain generate social behavior?
    Successful social interaction requires the brain to receive and process sensory signals that communicate complex information and generate motor behavior fitting to the social context. Using African clawed frogs, Xenopus laevis, as a model system, my research examines social behavior from sensation to action, examining links between sensory and motor regions through the forebrain, and the role of these pathways in generating socially appropriate vocal behavior. Students involved in summer research could address one or more of the following questions using combinations of behavioral, histological, and/or electrophysiological techniques.
  • How do hormones influence sensory processing?
    Previous research has demonstrated that steroid hormones influence the function of the frog ear. How? This project will investigate the mechanisms that cause changes in auditory perception.
  • How are social cues processed?
    The brain identifies socially relevant auditory cues and generates the vocal responses required to orchestrate complex interactions. How does this circuitry differ between males and females? What hormones and neuromodulators influence this processing? What specific regions of the brain are involved in reproductive vs. antagonistic interactions?
  • How is a socially appropriate behavioral response generated?
    Once perceived and processed, the brain must tell the rest of the body how to generate an appropriate response. How are different responses generated? What brain regions and transmitters are involved?
    View Dr. Hall's home page


Dr. Leigh Anne Harden, Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences:
lharden@ben.edu
  • My lab’s central research questions revolve around of how organisms function and interact with their environment, both natural and urbanized, by studying them on a physiological, behavioral, and spatial/temporal level. In particular, we are interested in how abiotic factors (e.g. temperature, oxygen, soil substrate) influence the physiology, behavior, and habitat preferences of ectothermic vertebrates, with applications to their conservation and management. The research in my lab is primarily field based; however, we utilize a number of computer-based and laboratory techniques, such as remote sensing with dataloggers, biochemical assays of animal tissues, microscope slide preparation and analysis, and stable isotope analysis. My lab is also building an educational outreach component, as reptiles and amphibians make great outreach animals and their populations are in peril and in need of protection and increased awareness.
  • All field-based projects involve intensive field work outside 4-6 days a week trapping turtles in local or regional wetlands in order to investigate the population structure and demography of various endangered and common turtle species.
  • Effects of captive rearing on an endangered turtle: This project investigates the success of captive rearing endangered Blanding’s Turtles and includes collaborating with grad and undergrad students at Loyola University Chicago and biologists with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Students would have ability to develop their own independent side projects as a part of this mandatory trapping effort and there are some funds available for this.
  • Long term effects of an oil spill on Kalamazoo River turtle populations: This potential project would be stationed for 10 weeks and work on a US Fish and Wildlife Project assisting, quantifying and predicting recruitment, demography and health of turtle species in the Kalamazoo River in response to an oil spill. This project is still TBD!!
  • Developing an educational outreach curriculum on wetland conservation: This potential project would allow a student to be a part of an educational outreach program to develop, implement and assess a wetland ecology and turtle conservation curriculum program for high school students in collaboration with a local zoo. This project is still TBD!!
  • View Dr. Harden's home page


Dr. Cheryl Heinz, Associate Professor, Biological Sciences:
cheinz@ben.edu
  • The China Pollination Project.; A team of students and two faculty will again travel to China for 5.5 weeks in May/June 2017 to study pollinators in the Shenyang and Beijing areas. Much of the research consists of observing, recording, and identifying pollinators. We will also try to elucidate the basic biology of some of the common pollinators in these areas, based on observations from 2014-2016. Upon return to Benedictine, data and image analyses will occur, with additional local observations. More information about the China Pollination Project can be found here: http://bucpp.wordpress.com
    View Dr. Heinz's home page.


Dr. Manu Kaur, Professor, Mathematics:
mkaur@ben.edu
  • Fractals, Chaos and dynamical Systems: Fractals are self-similar images that follow a simple rule infinitely. In nature they can be observed in ferns, coastlines, etc. Dynamical Systems are systems that change with time, for example population. Chaos Theory is a branch of mathematics that studies the behavior of dynamical systems. These topics have applications to finance, life sciences, meteorology and other fields. In this project we will further our understanding of these topics through an investigation of Iterated Function systems using tools of mathematics and technology.
  • Quantum Information Systems: This topic is at the intersection of quantum information systems, analysis and linear algebra.
  • Cryptology: Methods of cryptology allow secure message transfer, key exchange, digital signatures, and more. In the current day setting of high speed internet and fast computations, these methods have revolutionized communications through email, ecommerce, etc.
  • Real Analysis: I am interested in the study of limit processes, and other ground breaking concepts such as zero, infinity, fractals, Fibonacci numbers, golden ratio, etc., that have changed the course of history.
    View Dr. Kaur's home page


Dr. Grace Mirsky, Assistant Professor, Computer Science:
gmirsky@ben.edu
  • Prediction of Acute Hypotensive Episodes:  Patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) are under constant monitoring, using a variety of physiological signals.  An Acute Hypotensive Episode (AHE) is a rapid, sudden decrease in blood pressure, which typically indicates that a life-threatening event is imminent.  Accurate prediction of an AHE can ensure that interventions are in place prior to the event, in order to minimize or prevent severe organ damage or death.  While techniques do currently exist to make these predictions, they are often either computationally intensive and require a relatively long training period, or are relatively simple but restrict the prediction to a relatively short time window.  In either case, practical clinical utility is reduced or eliminated.  In this project, we will investigate machine learning techniques to make accurate, real-time predictions of future AHE. 
  • Reconstruction of Absent or Corrupt Physiologic Signals: Signal corruption or dropout can cause issues in continuous patient monitoring in the ICU.  As a result, the ability to accurately reconstruct absent or corrupt signals as well the ability to detect if a signal is becoming corrupt as a result of noise, drift, etc. can greatly enhance critical patient care.  Continuous monitoring is important because in the ICU, patient condition can quickly degrade, and continuous monitoring is necessary in order to detect problems and administer treatment immediately.  In this project, we will work with a variety of different signals (electrocardiogram (ECG), respiratory rate, blood pressure, etc.) to determine how to best reconstruct the lost signal data.  An important application of this work, in addition to providing robust, continuous patient monitoring, is the continuous estimation of heart rate, even when the ECG signal is missing.  This project will be accomplished using predictive analytics techniques from machine learning. 
  • Reduction of False Arrhythmia Alarms: Frequent false cardiac arrhythmia alarms in the ICU have been shown to result in reduced patient care by diminishing attentiveness of the staff, due to the so-called “crying wolf” effect.  In addition, these alarms often negatively affect the patient’s ability to sleep, thus also interfering with the patient’s recovery.  As such, reduction of false alarms could potentially greatly improve care, but the criterion of not removing any true alarms creates a difficult constraint.  In this project, we will work with the electrocardiograms and their associated alarms to develop robust algorithms to reduce the frequency of false alarms, while ensuring that no true alarms are removed.  This project will use Matlab to develop and test appropriate machine learning algorithms.
  • Educational Robots in Computer Science: Robots have the potential to facilitate learning a wide range of Computer Science concepts including: programming fundamentals, operating systems, networking, systems architecture, and much more.  Nevertheless, making robots accessible at a variety of educational levels requires overcoming a number of hurdles.  In this study, we will look at how robots can be used most effectively to teach a variety of concepts while maintaining cost effectiveness to keep the lessons accessible to a wide variety of institutions. 
    View Dr. Mirsky's home page


Dr. David Rubush, Assistant Professor, Chemistry:
drubush@ben.edu
My research group explores new organic chemistry reactions and catalysts which are in turn used to create novel biologically active molecules. Students will learn techniques in organic synthesis, purification and molecule characterization (HPLC, NMR and IR spectroscopy).

  • Project 1: Artemisinin, an endo-peroxide containing molecule, is currently the frontline treatment for malaria; however, high production costs have limited its availability in underdeveloped countries. Additionally, artemisinin resistant parasites have been found in Southeast Asia. Synthetic endo-peroxides could potentially offer advantages over artemisinin. In addition to treating malaria, artemisinin has also shown potential as a chemotherapeutic. My group has recently developed a reaction to synthesize new endo-peroxides called 1,2,4-dioxazinanes.
    Project goals:
    1. Expand the scope of this reaction to make new endo-peroxides
    2. Synthesize endo-peroxides on a larger scale and send them to collaborators at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital who will screen them for antimalarial activity.

  • Project 2: The ability to synthesize organic molecules in high optical purity using sustainable methods is a significant yet challenging goal for chemists. The use of organocatalysts has eliminated stoichiometric reagents and expensive or toxic metals in many instances. However, there is much room for improvement and further applications of these technologies. This project investigates polymer bound chiral organcatalysts that will allow for the rapid and economical synthesis of complicated organic molecules.
    Project goals:
    1. Develop novel chiral acid catalysts with improved reactivity and selectivity
    2. Create a library of reusable solid-supported acid catalysts
    3. Apply newly developed catalysts to unsolved reaction methodologies and synthesize biologically important molecules

    View Dr. Rubush's home page


Dr. Jayashree Sarathy, Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences:
jsarathy@ben.edu
  • Project 1: An increase in epithelial permeability has been repeatedly demonstrated in patients with active inflammatory bowel disease and we have shown a possible role for bile acids and IL-8 in this process. The exact pathway on how bile acids stimulate the release of IL-8 is not known. Increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) production is associated with inflammatory conditions as seen  in Crohn's disease. Further, ROS has been suggested to stimulate the release of cytokines from epithelial cells. Thus, student(s) goal this summer is to investigate if bile acids can modulate ROS production by colonic epithelial T-84 cells, by using fluorescein and calcein as cell-permeant indicators for ROS and a hydrogen peroxide colorimetric detection kit. The student will detect ROS production or hydrogen peroxide release in the presence or absence of CDCA, LCA or both by monitoring the increase in fluorescence with a flow cytometer.  Further, since T84 cells can be stimulated to release mucus, the effect of ROS release on mucin (Muc-2) expression will also be assessed using fluorescence and Western blotting. 
  • Project 2: This project will focus on delineating the effects of bile acids on tight junction function and integrity of intestinal epithelial barriers. Barrier function is compromised in pathological conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases, potentially resulting in bile acid-diarrhea.  Our studies have identified a potential role for cytokine, IL-8 in bile acid induced barrier dysfunction. However, cytokines are not the only mediators that alter barrier integrity. Inflammatory cytokines and other luminal agents could stimulate the release of nitric oxide (NO) which could be cytotoxic in high, but protective in small quantities.   Further, a role for another local mediator, reactive oxygen species generation (which interact with NO to release peroxynitrates), has also been indicated in the inflammatory process and alterations in tight junctions. Thus, the student will involve identify the role, if any, for nitric oxide and nitrates/nitrites in bile acid-induced regulation of barrier function.
    View Dr. Sarathy's home page


Dr. Sarah Shaner, Assistant Professor, Chemistry:
sshaner@ben.edu
    Research in my lab applies the techniques and strategies of inorganic and electrochemistry to develop materials with interesting properties and functionalities. Student researchers in my lab will learn to perform electrochemical experiments and gain experience in the synthesis and characterization of molecules, metal complexes, and materials.  
  • Electrografting of molecules and metal complexes onto conductive surfaces. The development of high-yield routes to attach organic molecules and metal complexes to surfaces is important in many areas of science, such as electrode protection, attachment of catalysts and biomolecules, dye-sensitized solar cells, sensors, and the formation of single-molecule junctions. Covalent bonds provide robust, well-defined linkages between substrate surfaces and organic or inorganic moieties. One method for introducing molecules onto surfaces is electrografting, which typically involves the electrochemical generation of a relatively stable radical with subsequent bond formation with the surface. Our efforts will focus on: (1) identifying and developing new classes of molecules that are suitable electrografting precursors, and (2) exploring post-surface-attachment functionalization reactions.
  • Earth-abundant metal oxide catalysts for the water oxidation reaction. There is much interest in harnessing solar energy to produce chemical fuels, such as hydrogen, which can serve as environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuels. One approach to this challenge is the optimization of the water splitting reaction, which splits water molecules into H2 and O2. Catalysts are necessary to facilitate this reaction, but the best catalysts often are made of very expensive and rare metals. Our research will focus on identifying and developing alternative catalysts that are made from combinations of earth-abundant metals that can compete with their expensive counterparts.
    View Dr. Shaner's home page


Dr. Kari Stone, Associate Professor, Chemistry:
kstone@ben.edu
  • Protein project: Utilizing the potential of metal-replaced hemoproteins in order to promote new types of reactivity and catalysis.:  The design of metalloenzymes in order to produce new types of biocatalysts has received ongoing attention in the industrial community.  The major aim of this project is to utilize hemoproteins as protein scaffolds to introduce new active sites that are produced by synthetic methods in order to improve functionality.  Many of these types of proteins have robust protein structures and their heme cofactors can easily be replaced.  This proposal has two main themes: (1) replacement of metal ions in the porphyrins of hemoproteins and (2) the incorporation of porphyrin derivatives into the protein matrix with the goal of promoting new reactivity and catalysis in order to make new oxygen-containing molecules.
  • Synthesis project: Exploring metal complexes with redox-active ligands to promote new types of reactivity and catalysis.:  Transition metal complexes that perform small molecule transformations utilize multi-electron processes.  Two-electron oxidations include C-H bond oxidation and reduction of protons to dihydrogen, while oxidation of water is a four electron process and reduction of dinitrogen is a six electron process. To perform multi-electron transformations many times one or more transition metals are implicated invoking a change in oxidation states of the metal or metals.  Redox-active ligands containing oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur have gained considerable attention recently as ligands for transition metals to become involved in electron donation that is typically assigned to metal redox processes.  This research project seeks to employ an alternative to a many-electron process involving transition metals by including redox active ligands coordinated to the metal center to supply the necessary oxidative or reducing equivalents to perform desirable chemical transformations.
    View Dr. Stone's home page

Dr. Monica Tischler, Professor, Biological Sciences:
mtischler@ben.edu
  • Microbiome analyses aim to identify and characterize composition of the microorganisms in a particular environment.
    In association with classroom-based research in the BIOL 208 (microbiology lab) which is part of a national crowd-sourcing endeavor to find new antibiotic producing microbes, we have been partnering with scientists at the Morton Arboretum to identify the microbial components of the soils surrounding their various tree collections.  Students would be involved in laboratory aspects of this project including DNA isolation, PCR, and DNA sequencing of the soil samples collected by the microbiology class during the year.  Students would analyze microbiome sequencing data to address questions related to the microbes and their interactions with the environment.
    View Dr. Tischler's home page


Dr. Ellen Ziliak, Associate Professor, Mathematics:
eziliak@ben.edu
  • Computing the Structure of Generalized Symmetric Spaces
    For over 100 years symmetric spaces have been of interest to geometers, group theorists, physicists and topologists.  These spaces have been generalized and many open questions exist concerning the characterization and classification of various symmetric spaces.  In this project we will choose one of the open groups and classify the involutions, compute the fixed point group, generalized symmetric space and extended symmetric space.  We will determine if our group follows the patterns that have been found for other groups.  Finally we can study the orbit decomposition of the generalized symmetric space by various subgroups.  The project will be computational by nature, using the software GAP to investigate and classify these groups. 
  • Cayley Graphs and Colored Graphs:
    A Cayley graph is a directed graph that encodes the multiplication table for an algebraic structure.  These graphs can be used to study many interesting problems including constructing group extensions and cryptosystems based on algebraic structures.  In this project I would like to study a related graph called a Colored graph which is a graph that generalizes the notion of distance.  It was first introduced in the paper “Groups of graphs of groups” by Sibley, Byrne, and Donner.  In this project we will investigate properties of these two graphs.  Interesting questions include which Cayley graphs have the same Colored graph, and how this classification is related to the algebraic structure encoded by the graphs.
  • Cryptography in Group Theory:
    Public key cryptosystems have been used for secure communication between two parties.  This system is used most often when the two individuals who wish to communicate have not met prior to the communication.  It is used often in online transactions.  Most of the algorithms currently used rely on modular arithmetic in Zp however the need to ensure security has led to explorations in the field of noncommutative groups.  In this project we will study how noncommutative groups are used for developing new approaches and study several of the open questions associated with their use. 
  • The Algebra of Rewriting:
    In mathematics, one method of defining a group is by a presentation.  Every group has a presentation.  A presentation is often the most compact way of describing the structure of the group.  However there are also some difficulties that arise when working with groups in this form.  One of the problems is called the word problem which is an algorithmic problem of deciding whether two words represent the same element.  I want to study the word problem on group extensions.   Currently there is a procedure called coset enumeration which can be used to address this problem, however it has difficulties with memory when the groups reach a certain size.  In this project we will continue the work of a former student to compute in the group extension using a modified coset enumeration technique.  This method is derived using the Cayley graphs for the two smaller groups.
    View Dr. Ziliak's home page


Updated 1/31/17
   
Dr. Ziliak 

 Student researcher 


 Dr. Rubush and summer research students with NMR 

  Summer Research 

 BenU Pollination Project at Tiananmen



     College of Science

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Robin Rylaarsdam, Ph.D
Acting Dean of the College of Science

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