Capping off the summer in the chemistry lab

Capping off the summer in the chemistry lab

Posted by: on August 11, 2016   |Comments (0)|Walsh Fellows

Welcome back, guys!

Well, the biologists won the wiffle ball game 11–10. I, however, think that the chemists had a better spirit, and we should have gotten bonus points for having professors participating on our team.

The last week of research consisted of finishing up summer trials and preparing for research in the fall semester. For many of the researchers, that also included preparing a poster to present at the 9th Annual RI SURF Conference. SURF, or the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, helps undergraduate researchers in Rhode Island fund their summer research, and most research students in Rhode Island come together with faculty and guests to share their work at the end of the summer. I presented my research last year and had a complete blast.

brianna-lastThis year, however, I did not make a poster for the conference (we’re saving our findings for the American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco!), but I still made an appearance and learned what everyone was up to in Al Mag this summer. Here’s a picture of the chemistry kids wearing something other than sweatpants for the first time in two months.

I also learned about what the other departments were up to – from tracking circadian rhythms in rats to isolating predatory bacteria, Providence College researchers sure got a lot done!

To celebrate the success of the SURF Conference, Dr. Mulcahy invited the undergraduate research chemists, the professors, and their families to his house for a barbecue/potluck! Even though I made a poor showing by just bringing some lemonade, the day was filled with burgers, homemade guacamole, hot-pockets, and Oreo-themed dessert! We also managed to play a few rounds of Spike-Ball despite our incapacitated stomachs.

Then, unfortunately, it was time to say goodbye to the summer crew; but a goodbye for scientists usually never lasts more than a few weeks! Unlike other fields of study where research occurs primarily in the summertime, research in Albertus Magnus continues year-round. I’ll continue my research with Dr. Breen as well; you won’t be able to kick me out of that lab until I graduate. Looking forward, I’m going to be researching how cell membranes interact with plastic nanoparticles, keeping in line with my ocean-themed research.

To cap off the summer, I’m going to leave you with an insight from one of our chemistry professors that I think captures the essences of what goes on in Friartown when the rest of campus has gone home: “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be research” – Dr. Overly

Research is all about reaching out into uncharted territory in creative and practical ways. You hardly ever know the answer or if there is going to be an answer; and sometimes that can get frustrating, but it’s a small price to pay for being a part of the community set to solve the world’s problems and uncover mysteries that the Earth has left buried for us to find.

Thanks to everyone who kept up with my adventures in and out of the lab in the summer. If you need to find me, I’ll be reading science-y books and lounging by my pool until they let me back in the Fall!


Welcome back, guys! Well, the biologists won the wiffle ball game 11–10. I, however, think that the chemists had a... MORE

Moving into Meaning

Posted by: on July 25, 2016   |Comments (0)|Veritas Grant

laurameaghanHi everyone!

I think that it’s time to update you on the progress that has been made this summer! Dr. Hauerwas and I have been busy looking into the 1,500 sentences that we coded. The important thing to look into is what patterns you notice. Little things such as tone of voice, point of view, and word choice are very important in this step! We separately come up with what we think is meaningful and then have meetings where we will discuss what stood out to us and why. After we talk, we create a paragraph that summarizes what we have found, which will help us be able to write the paper that summarizes the research that has been carried out!

The Italian students reaction to the study abroad program Providence College offers has been positive. The Italian elementary-aged students stated, “I’ve learned that there are many people all over the world; we can communicate even if we’re from different countries,” and “The world is made of different cultures, which must be respected” — among many other meaningful sentences. Through these two responses you can see that the Italian students gained global competence and awareness. It is important to respect those who live outside your home country’s borders, and the Italian students are showing that they understand that more due to having an American pre-service teacher in their classroom.

slavinOverall, this experience had been very educational, as I have learned what it means to carry out qualitative analysis. As I look into graduate programs for next year, I am keeping in mind how beneficial this experience has been and am looking at places where I can apply the knowledge I gained from it. This opportunity has helped me learn various skills that I will use in the future — whether it be teaching in a classroom or looking into new teaching programs and strategies!

Where is my favorite research spot you may ask? Well, the Slavin Overlook lounge never does me wrong. It has a great atmosphere, perfect lighting, and Dunkin just happens to be nearby!

Hope everyone’s summer is going well!


Hi everyone! I think that it’s time to update you on the progress that has been made this summer! Dr.... MORE

Life in the lab: Back at home (and missing Max)

Posted by: on July 15, 2016   |Comments (0)|Walsh Fellows

Hi guys!

After more than a month of wandering around Al Mag, I’m finally moving into my renovated lab! That means I’m going to spend the majority of the day carting chemicals back and forth and attacking things with a label maker. Unpacking boxes also means finding objects that have been hiding in a lab for 20 years and attempting to find a spot for them. How am I supposed to categorize an old computer mouse, a pink geode crystal that looks like it was purchased from an aquarium, and a mysterious wooden box labeled ‘government property?’

Max is not having nearly as much fun as I am this summer — he suddenly entered a coma during one of our trials. He refused to respond and is currently in New Jersey seeking treatment.

Although this tragedy set us back quite a bit, Roger Williams University down the road in Bristol, R.I., offered for us to come down and use their fluorometer while Max is recovering. We’ve also spent some time at URI this summer — proving that science really is about collaboration. That chemistry collaboration also exists within the Providence College Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. There’s actually so much collaboration that I convinced my fellow researchers in the department to star in a little video that I decided to make one afternoon as a spoof of The Office.

Despite taking group trips to the grocery store, going on coffee runs to several different places, and hanging out with friends and seeing Finding Dory (in addition to shooting and editing that entire video), I promise I do actually get work done in lab. We just finished collecting all of the data for the Extended Lipid Hypothesis project last week and are slowly chipping away at writing the paper. I consolidated all of the data into graphs for the easiest display and wrote the “experimental,” or the procedure, so far. Hopefully it’ll be published in time for me to apply to graduate school!

Since I’m done collecting data for that project, I’m focusing more heavily on my second project while the paper is coming together. The second project I’m working on consists of radiating different plastics, specifically polystyrene and PMMA (polymethyl methacrylate) with UV light and observing how their chemical structure changes as a result. When plastics come in contact with UV light for an extended period of time, the UV light breaks weaker bonds in the structure of the plastics and creates substances with odd-numbered electrons known as free radicals. These free radicals then react with the other particles of plastic and with each other — altering the chemistry of the plastic.

We monitor the plastics, furthermore, in water, and eventually hope to study this degradation of plastic in a mock-ocean environment. That way we can hope to better understand how plastics in our ocean affect the environment so we can work on preventing those effects!

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more information on my summer research in Friartown (and the much more important Chemistry vs. Biology wiffle ball game rumored to happen this weekend)!


Hi guys! After more than a month of wandering around Al Mag, I’m finally moving into my renovated lab! That... MORE

Looking toward the stars

Posted by: on July 12, 2016   |Comments (0)|Veritas Grant


My name is Cecelia Lahiff, and I am a humanities/art history major with a classics minor. I am from Goshen in Orange County New York.

This summer, under the guidance of my mentor Dr. Fred Drogula, I will be writing a research paper entitled “Wet Stars: Ancient Conceptions of Stars in the Golden Age Latin Poetry.” This project will include an in-depth look into the writings of Vergil (Virgil) and how he understood astronomy in his time.

Since this is not an already well-researched topic, I am excited to add some insight into the field of classics! Stay tuned for more updates as I try to be as eloquent as possible, while keeping my head in the stars!

Vale! (or farewell in Latin)

Hi! My name is Cecelia Lahiff, and I am a humanities/art history major with a classics minor. I am from... MORE

Understanding the beginnings of Russian chant

Posted by: on July 5, 2016   |Comments (0)|Veritas Grant

music-pieceSometimes, opportunities arise from the most unlikely occasions. When I applied for this grant back in February, I was visiting Ireland with the Providence College Liberal Arts Honors Program. One morning at the hotel — surrounded by books on choral masterworks and 20th century musicians and typing away furiously on an iPad Word document that I would eventually polish up into my grant application — I was approached by one of the theology professors who had accompanied us on the trip and who was curious as to what I was working on during vacation.

I explained the premises of my project to her and what I hoped to accomplish if I was awarded a grant. Before breakfast was over, she had told me she knew of a Russian hymnographer with whom I could get in touch if I received the grant. Grant-in-hand a few weeks later, I began reaching out to Mr. Nicholas Kotar — a fantasy author, Russian translator, musician, and hymnographer with a seemingly bottomless wealth of knowledge on Russian chant history and characteristics. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Kotar while in upstate New York and speaking with him about my research.

We met in Cooperstown, a quaint little village about five hours southwest of Rochester, where I was conducting more research at the Sibley Library at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. Outside a local café and market, Mr. Kotar gave me a rundown of the history of Russian chant music — detailing for me when and how it developed. Unlike most other traditions, the Russian Orthodox liturgical practices stemmed solely from Russian folk music and the influences of the Byzantine church presence in the area. This is because the pagan religions, which dominated the area prior to Christianization, had no musical tradition of their own. This explains why some of the Russian chant music still sounds vaguely familiar to more Western ears — it is essentially Byzantine chant with a characteristically Russian spin on it.

Znamenny chant, the first truly Russian liturgical music, developed soon after and is strikingly similar to Stravinsky’s works. Its characteristic elements include melismas (long lines sung on one syllable of text) and thetas (added syllables), both of which elongate important words in the chant. This focus on words would remain central to the compositional style of Russian chant, which always emphasized a conveyance of the text over melodic beauty. As such, sonorities that were unacceptable in the Roman Catholic liturgical tradition were allowed in the Russian canon, including open fourths and fifths, parallel seconds, and closed voicing with frequent voice crossing. When polyphony was introduced into the chant repertoire, Znamenny chant developed into Strochnoe chant, which translates to “line” or “horizontal” singing. This is an extremely appropriate descriptor, since these pieces involve a middle voice singing the original Znamenny chant surrounded by two outer voices that ornament the melody line but have no clear cut relation to it — creating a three-part piece in which each voice is independent. Similar tendencies can be seen in Stravinsky, especially in the interactions between his vocal and instrumental lines, which often are remarkably independent of each other. The included image is one such example. While the vocal lines in rehearsal three are clearly informed by each other, the accompanying instrumental line is largely independent of the vocal movement and either part could be easily taken out of the texture without destroying the other.

Supplied with these, and several other characteristics of Russian chant, thanks to the knowledge of Mr. Kotar, I have begun to create a spreadsheet analysis of the pieces — going through each measure with a fine tooth comb to look for patterns and characteristics that will be helpful in pinpointing how and when Stravinsky’s writing is influenced by Russian Orthodox chant.

The information I’m gathering ranges from the seemingly obvious, like what instruments are used and when, to the less conspicuous harmonic structure over the course of an entire movement or even the entire piece. Ultimately, this type of analysis will allow for the evaluation of Stravinsky’s composition in a way that will highlight the abundant similarities between Russian liturgical chant and the works of Stravinsky.


Sometimes, opportunities arise from the most unlikely occasions. When I applied for this grant back in February, I was visiting... MORE