Undergraduate Research

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Undergraduate Research

The College of Arts and Sciences empowers and encourages undergraduate students from all disciplines to conduct innovative, in-depth, and collaborative research under the guidance and encouragement of faculty experts and staff. Each year, more than 300 faculty-student research projects are conducted in the areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), the humanities, arts, and social sciences, more than half of which are presented at national scholarly meetings and/or published in professional journals and manuscripts.

The research conducted within the College of Arts and Sciences provides undergraduate students the opportunity for faculty mentorship, active learning, and the ability to discover new knowledge while being challenged in new ways. With research being conducted across multiple disciplines, students have the ability to engage in or develop original research projects that allow them to explore their passions while developing important industry connections and making invaluable contributions to their field of study.

Current & Past Research Projects

Analysis of Microplastics in Biological Samples

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Analysis of Microplastics in Biological Samples

Biology major Gabriel Rodrigues ’22 and professor of biology Brian G. Walker, PhD are working on setting up the analysis protocols (i.e., technical lab activities) for analysis of microplastics in biological samples, initially focusing on penguin feces. Dr. Walker and Rodrigues have developed partnerships with Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn. and the Central Park Zoo in New York City, and they are currently conducting research at both organizations.

“The idea is to be able to compare incidence of this potentially detrimental pollution between captive animals in zoos and aquariums and those in the wild in Argentina, where I have been working for over 25 years,” Dr. Walker said. “As microplastics are now understood to be prevalent in every ecosystem, we are only beginning to examine the potential negative effects of having these very small plastic particles all around us, as well as inside us.”

“It has been a pleasure and privilege to start a research project with Dr. Walker,” said Rodrigues. “I am quite fortunate to have been included at the start of a major research project.”

Protecting Hawaii’s Coral Reefs

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Protecting Hawaii’s Coral Reefs

Chelsie Counsell, PhD, assistant professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been researching coral reefs and marine communities for over a decade. She explained that because reefs are so vulnerable to the effects of “human activities,” scientific study of at-risk environments has never been more vital.

Dr. Counsell’s research asks questions about how marine ecosystems vary through space and over time. Much of her work has focused on human inputs on reef ecosystem health.

Dr. Counsell enlisted two undergraduate student research assistants: Rebecca Buonopane ’22 and Jillian Ryan ’22. Both seniors applied for University-funded grants to support their trip to Hawaii, during which they stayed in dormitories on Coconut Island — a private research lab only accessible by boat — for a month this past summer.

“It’s rigorous and admirable,” Ryan said of the research that Dr. Counsell and her colleagues embarked on in the field, in the lab, and “behind the scenes.” An environmental studies major, Ryan hopes to build a career in marine biology.

New Narratives About Race, Citizenship, and Belonging

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New Narratives About Race, Citizenship, and Belonging

Through the Humanities Institute, Claudia Calhoun, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts, is working on research that considers “how the disruptions in the postwar creative industries produce new narratives about race, citizenship, and belonging.”

Specifically, Dr. Calhoun’s project aims to show how film and television narratives sought to shift audiences’ emotional terrain during this postwar era. She will be working with and mentoring student fellow, Eula Valdez ’22.

Created by an NEH Challenge grant in 1983, the Humanities Institute in the College of Arts and Sciences is an endowed initiative established to "ensure that the humanities will flourish at the heart of a Fairfield University education." Since its inception, the endowment has funded hundreds of lectures, events, film series, workshops, and seminars.

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RIZE (Research, Internships, and Zoo Education) Service Learning Partnership with Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo

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RIZE (Research, Internships, and Zoo Education) Service Learning Partnership with Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo

As part of Fairfield University’s RIZE (Research, Internships, and Zoo Education) service learning program in partnership with Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, Biology Professor Ashley Byun, PhD, and vertebrae zoology students Meghan Kirkpatrick ’17, Sean Thomas ’17, and Izabela Horzempa ’19, have been tracking the underground activities of the zoo’s black-tailed prairie dog population to learn as much as they can about the dynamic rodents’ complex maze of underground burrows.

Demonstrating innovative thinking and cutting-edge technology, Dr. Byun and her students used ground-penetrating radar, a non-invasive geophysical method that uses the reflection of electromagnetic energy to produce subsurface images, to map-out the animals’ underground habitat. After analyzing the data, they found that the once cohesive colony of prairie dogs had actually separated into two different coteries - an important discovery that not only explained recent episodes of aggression exhibited by the animals, but helped zoo officials modify their animal husbandry to enhance the prairie dogs’ welfare and behavior.

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Quantitative Microscopy for Cancer Cell Growth and Aggressiveness

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Quantitative Microscopy for Cancer Cell Growth and Aggressiveness

With the support of a $238,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Biology Department Chair Shelley Phelan, PhD, is leading undergraduate research students in an interdisciplinary, three-year study on the growth and aggressiveness of cancer cells.

The innovative study uses microscopic imaging to determine whether or not it is possible to identify specific cell properties (e.g. nuclear structure or cellular metabolism) that control the rate of a cancer cell’s growth. If these factors can be identified, scientists will be able to predict cancer aggressiveness directly from cell imaging, which would provide breakthrough advances in cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment.

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Green Village Initiative

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Green Village Initiative

As part of her senior capstone project, environmental studies major Julia Nojeim ’19, spent months observing and collecting data from nine different urban gardens located throughout the city of Bridgeport to measure the gardens’ effect on social cohesion, their fiscal impact on the community, and the role they play in improving residents’ health, well-being, and engagement.

From documentation of the gardens’ week-to-week growth and yield to committed volunteer hours, the data collected from Nojeim’s research study will be used by the Green Village Initiative, a nonprofit committed to expanding food justice through urban agriculture, to refine its program strategies and bolster the case for future urban farm and garden projects as part of the Bridgeport Urban Agriculture Master Plan.

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Egg Effects on the Immunomodulatory Properties of HDL

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Egg Effects on the Immunomodulatory Properties of HDL

Fairfield University Assistant Biology Professor Catherine J. Anderson, PhD, and Assistant Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Aaron Van Dyke, PhD, have been awarded a $149,000 research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support a ground-breaking, faculty-student research study in the area of nutritional science.

The two-year project will involve six undergraduate research students each semester, and aims to investigate the effects of dietary intake on markers of cholesterol, metabolism, inflammation, and immune function. Using healthy adults, the study will determine if whole eggs, egg whites, or an egg free diet can alter the beneficial properties of HDL - carriers of the good cholesterol - in the bloodstream. Fairfield’s researchers hope to determine if the bioactive components in the egg yolks will alter the composition and function of HDL, leading to beneficial changes in immune cell activity and inflammation. Their findings could have important implications for the role of nutrition in health and human disease.

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Fairfield Slavery Project: The Vincent J. Rosivach Register for Slaves

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Fairfield Slavery Project: The Vincent J. Rosivach Register for Slaves

Since 2017, College of Arts and Sciences students Olivia McEvoy ’19 and Alec Lurie ’19 have dedicated their research to continuing the work of late Fairfield classics professor, Vince J. Rosivach, PhD, who had spent more than a quarter century identifying the slaves of colonial-era Fairfield.

After years of studying probate court documents, church records, and existing genealogy, they learned that the region had more slaves prior to the Revolution than most have thought – potentially thousands more. Today, their research has been complied in the online Digital Humanities archive of the University’s DiMenna-Nyselius Library and shared with the Fairfield Museum and History Center.

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How Empathy for Other’s Emotions Impacts Social Relationships

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How Empathy for Other’s Emotions Impacts Social Relationships

Taking an integrative approach to understanding human social relations, Fairfield University Psychology Professor Michael Andreychik, PhD, and his undergraduate students are conducting research that examines how two distinct “types” of empathy—empathy for others’ negative emotions and empathy for others’ positive emotions—relate to various aspects of human behavior, including helping behavior, close relationships, and motivation.

As part of the project, 175 men and women were invited to answer questions about their romantic relationships. The volunteers reported how strongly they felt their partner connected to both their negative emotions (e.g., sadness, anxiety) and their positive emotions (e.g., joy, excitement). They also rated how satisfied they were with their relationships. The results of the study showed that people’s perceptions of how strongly their partner connected with their negative emotions were an important predictor of how satisfied they were in their relationships. Importantly, however, perceptions of how strongly their partner connected with their positive emotions were associated nearly five times as strongly with relationship satisfaction. These results lead the Fairfield researchers to believe that while it is beneficial to be there for your partner when they are sad, anxious, or angry, it is perhaps even more important to share in their positive emotions.

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Global Impact of Mixing in Submarine Canyons

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Global Impact of Mixing in Submarine Canyons

Physics majors Christian Burns ’20 and Jordan Hamilton ’22 participated in a summer long research study alongside Assistant Physics Professor Robert Nazarian, PhD, on the global impacts of ocean mixing in submarine canyons. Often tens of miles long, submarine canyons are suggested to be regions of intense ocean mixing, a process that is responsible for sustaining the ocean’s circulation, as well as the global climate system.

Utilizing a high-resolution ocean topography map and computational model for energy fluxes to calculate the total amount of ocean mixing occurring in submarine canyons located along the continental shelf, the researches set out to determine the total amount of energy that is lost in marine canyons as a result of this mixing.

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Chaotic Dynamical Systems Out of Equilibrium

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Chaotic Dynamical Systems Out of Equilibrium

For eight weeks over three summers, two undergraduate students from Fairfield University’s Mathematics Department will participate in an innovative research study alongside Professor Mark Demers, PhD, on the chaotic properties of dynamical systems.

The study, which received funding from a National Science Foundation grant, seeks to understand and quantify the chaotic properties of a variety of dynamical systems, a branch of mathematics with close connections to physics that studies models of physical processes (eg. planetary motion, weather systems, and stock market fluctuations) and how these systems evolve over time. The study will focus on the long-term stability and predictability of these types of systems, which are intimately linked to the development of Chaos Theory.

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Jefferson Laboratory Study: The Distribution Quarks in Protons and Neutrons

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Jefferson Laboratory Study: The Distribution Quarks in Protons and Neutrons

Physics professor Angela Biselli, PhD, was awarded a $148,413 grant for a three-year research study on the internal structure of protons and neutrons, an area of nuclear physics that is still vastly unknown. The study, conducted in collaboration with the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia, examines how quarks, the fundamental components of protons and neutrons, are directly affect the particles’ macroscopic properties.

Throughout the study, Dr. Biselli’s undergraduate students will participate in weekly virtual meetings with the research collaborators at Jefferson Lab, as well as travel to the facility during the summer, affording them the unique opportunity to gain knowledge in nuclear and particle physics, obtain practical experience in data analysis, and develop broader skills such as coding and statistics.

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The Arts & Sciences Guarantee

The Arts & Sciences Guarantee is a distinctive fellowship offered to all College of Arts and Sciences undergraduate students, beginning with the Class of 2026. Designed to provide access to students who want to gain important hands-on industry experience, the Arts & Sciences Guarantee provides funding of up to $2,500 to support undergraduates who obtain an approved unpaid internship, research, or fieldwork experience while studying at Fairfield.

For more information, please contact the College of Arts and Sciences Office of Career and Professional Development at CASCareers@fairfield.edu.

Research & Creative Accomplishments Symposium

Every April, groundbreaking student research, innovative thinking, and fresh ideas are celebrated at Fairfield University’s Annual Research and Creative Accomplishments Symposium. Featuring the scholarly work of nearly 500 undergraduate and graduate students from almost every discipline on campus, the annual event showcases an impressive range of student research projects from scientific discoveries to inventive art exhibitions. Students present research posters, interactive performances, and other creative works that celebrate the vibrant spirit and intellectual vitality of Fairfield University’s student body.

Fredrickson Family Innovation Lab

Established through the generosity of Fairfield alumni Scott and Susan Fredrickson ’82, the Fredrickson Family Innovation Lab provides College of Arts and Sciences students and faculty with a physical and digital gathering space for interdisciplinary research, instruction, and cross-pollination. The state-of-the-art facility offers ample space for hosting interdisciplinary workshops and classes, highlighting faculty and student digital research, and facilitating the exploration of digital solutions to global issues whether qualitative, quantitative, scientific, creative, or at the intersection of diverse fields.

Digital Humanities Hub

Fairfield University’s Humanities Hub showcases digital scholarship completed by University faculty and students across the humanities. The goal of the hub is to contribute to the enduring vitality of the humanities and encourage other faculty members and students to participate in digital scholarship. All of the innovative research featured on the website employs digital tools to analyze complex information and represent it in novel ways.

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