Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Site Navigation Skip to Main Content

Academic Research

As a Loyola student, you have the opportunity to work alongside our talented professors to partner in collaborative research. Learn more about some recent research and projects currently underway.

Conservation of imperiled Okaloosa Darters

Since 1992, Professor Frank Jordan and students from the Department of Biological Sciences and the Environment Program have been collaborating with stakeholders from the US Geological Survey, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the US Air Force to study the biology, ecology, and conservation of imperiled Okaloosa Darters. This species of small fish is geographically limited to six small streams that are located primarily on Eglin Air Force Base in northwestern Florida. These studies included annual population monitoring surveys at a network of about 20 sites; periodic range-wide surveys at over 50 sites; development of sampling statistics and evaluation of visual sampling methods; characterization of microhabitat abundance and use; restoration of impounded stream sections; analysis of population genetic structure; analysis of movement and longevity; and most recently quantifying effects of canopy removal. Collectively, results of these studies largely informed the decision to “downlist” the species from Endangered to Threatened status in 2011 and more recently to the proposal by the USFWS to remove Okaloosa Darters from the Endangered Species List altogether. This will be a significant conservation milestone because – once listed – few species are recovered enough to come off the List. Read more about this study here.

Biology Research Seminar Series

The Department of Biological Sciences holds a series of seminars each Fall and Spring semester in which Loyola faculty and guest speakers from around the country present their latest research findings. A list of this semester's lineup and an archive of past research seminars is provided here. Seminars are at 12:30 in Monroe Hall 610 unless noted otherwise.

Effects of Rouseau Cane on Coastal Wetlands

For almost a quarter century, Loyola University New Orleans biologists and ecologists Donald Hauber, Ph.D., Craig Hood, Ph.D, David White, Ph.D., and numerous undergraduate honors students, have studied the origination and effects of the common reed known locally as Rouseau Cane on the marshes and coastal wetlands of southeast Louisiana.

“Rouseau Cane has dramatically increased in the coastal wetlands along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts during the past century,” White said. “The species’ spread is mainly due to the introduction of new gene types from Europe. These invasive types are becoming more common in the interior marshes of the Mississippi River Delta, land that is extremely rich in nutrients.”

The Mississippi River Delta covers an area roughly 521,000 acres, but during the last 40 years, it has been significantly reduced due to lack of river sediment coupled with high natural subsidence.

P. australis is the dominant emergent vegetation in the Delta’s outer two-thirds and is believed to play a major role in stabilizing these extensive marshes by breaking wave action and storm surges from the open Gulf while also capturing and retaining river sediment. “This stabilizing role protects the diverse interior marsh communities that provide food and breeding habitat for wildlife, particularly birds,” said White.

In recent years however, the new European gene types of P. australis, have begun to expand into the interior marshes displacing food and habitat resources for wildlife. This new invasion into these inner marshes is thought to have negative impacts on sustaining the migratory and local wildlife.

The researchers have been monitoring the spread of the Rouseau Cane through aerial views of the wetlands to study the impact from above. Flights have confirmed that the invasive types of P. australis is spreading throughout their research sites in the inner marshes of the delta. In a similar flight during the spring of 2006, White observed small areas of the invasive P. australis that are now much larger and spreading to other areas outside the delta. The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill caused some coastal wetlands loss along the very margins of the delta’s shoreline, according to the researchers. "The total wetland loss in the delta is remarkably low as a result of the spill, though any loss is very troublesome,” White said. “The small amount of loss is partly due to the freshwater sheet flow that kept oil away from the delta freshwater wetlands, and partly because of the peripheral stands of the P. australis which became the frontline physical barrier to oil invasion inland.”

Materials for Spintronic Devices

Spintronics (spin+electronics) is a multidisciplinary research field that uses the magnetic (spin) and electronic properties of magnetic materials to develop devices. Spintronic devices are used in magnetic memories and sensors such as hard disk drive, STT-MRAM, and digital compass (used in navigation systems). Physicists work with engineers (electrical, mechanical, mechanical, chemical engineers) and material scientists in designing and developing such devices and improving their performance. Moreover, the demand for smaller, faster, more reliable, and more energy-efficient devices is only increasing, emphasizing the importance of this research. 
Dr. Beik Mohammadi and her research group use numerical and experimental techniques to investigate magnetic systems for spintronics applications. Currently, a GPU accelerated simulation package (called Mumax) is used to perform micromagnetic simulations. In addition, experimental research is performed in collaboration with the University of New Orleans. These studies aim to understand the interplay of magnetic properties and how they affect the performance, speed, and energy consumption of spintronic devices.

Current student researchers working on this project:

Elliott Clay, 2019-present

Former student researchers working on this project:

Jonathan Andino, 2020

Related publications:

J. Beik Mohammadi and A. D. Kent: Spin-torque switching mechanisms of perpendicular magnetic tunnel junction nanopillars, Applied Physics Letters 118, 132407 (2021)

N Statuto, J Beik  Mohammadi, AD Kent: Micromagnetic instabilities in spin-transfer switching of perpendicular magnetic tunnel junctions, Physical Review B 103 (1), 014409 (2021)

Reduced Exchange Interactions in Magnetic Tunnel Junction Free Layers with Insertion Layers, ACS Applied Electronic Materials 1 (10), 2025-2029 (2019)

J. Beik Mohammadi, K. Cole, T. Mewes, C. K. A. Mewes: Inhomogeneous perpendicular magnetic anisotropy as a source of higher-order quasistatic and dynamic anisotropies, Physical Review B 97 (1), 014434 (2018)

Virtual Reality Simulations for Physics Education

When studying physics, we can study large systems (such as free fall under gravity or even galaxies) or small systems such as atoms in a crystal. For many technological applications, it is essential to study the property of matter rooted in the arrangement of atoms in solids. Solid-state physics is a branch of physics that focuses on how the arrangement of atoms can lead to different (electrical, magnetic, mechanical, etc) properties of materials. This is critical when looking for materials to advance the current technologies or to propose new solutions. In real life, physicists and engineers investigate small-scale physics (for example, using advanced transmission electron microscopy techniques). They measure properties of that same system and try to come up with theories that build the bridge between the arrangement of atoms and the properties that we can measure in the lab (for example, electrical resistance). One challenge that all of us face when doing this kind of research is the three-dimensional visualization of atomic structures. Our books, our notes, even monitors provide two-dimensional visuals... 
Dr. Beik Mohammadi and her research team use virtual reality (VR) simulations to developed interactive three-dimensional structures to enhance solid-state physics education. Using such models helps us dive deeper into the three-dimensional word of atoms in a fun interactive way! The hope is to teach solid-state physics to physics and even non-physics majors!  

Current student researchers working on this project:

Joshua Leaney, 2021-present

Former student researchers working on this project:

Justin Chang

Related publications:

J Beik Mohammadi, J Seefeldt: Virtual Reality Simulations for Solid State Physics Education, Bulletin of the American Physical Society 65 (2020)

Quantum Optics

Experiments using light quanta – photons – have proven to be very effective probes of a large range of phenomena, including quantum entanglement. This phenomenon has long fascinated scientists, and exemplifies the mystery and ‘weirdness’ of quantum physics. It also points the way towards the possibility in the future of extremely powerful quantum computers.

In the Quantum Optics Lab in the Physics Department at Loyola University we have done a successful version of a test of Bell's Theorem using entangled photons.  Our results violate an inequality -- known as the Clauser, Horne, Shimony, Holt (CHSH) inequality -- to a high degree of confidence. These results are in agreement with the laws of quantum mechanics, but inconsistent with any 'hidden variable' extension which attempts to impose locality.

Students are involved in all aspects of the work, from putting together and aligning optical components, to building electronics, to using computers to acquire, analyze and model the data. We have automated most aspects of the experiment and are currently pursuing a variation of the initial experiment.

Current students:

Brad Kerkhof (Phys '22)

Former students:

Spencer Stingley (Phys '21)

Grace Heath (Phys '21)

Nicholas Neal (Phys '20)

Sandrine Ferrans (Phys '19)

John Whyte (PHYE '18)

Andrew Eddins (Phys '18)

Kyra Woods (Phys '17)

Cody Smith (Phys '17)

Joseph Hyde (Econ '17)

Richard Bustos (Phys '16)

 

Biophysics

All living cells in order to survive and to perform their physiological functions continuously exchange various atoms and molecules with the extracellular medium. Of particular importance are ions such as sodium, potassium, or calcium. Their controlled exchange with the extracellular medium is crucial to action potentials in neurons, muscle contraction, etc. Since the cellular membrane is normally impermeable to ions, their exchange is facilitated by special proteins called the ion channels, which are embedded in the membrane and form gated microscopic pores.

The focus of our research is to better understand the function of these proteins and their nonequilibrium properties. We know they can detect certain environmental factors, such as changes in electric field, presence of cer

tain ligands or even mechanical stress, and can open or close in response to these factors (ion channel gating). This way they can control and regulate various physiological processes. We use the experimental technique of patch-clamping and recent advances in mathematics and statistical physics to better characterize and control the process of channel gating. We also look at the interaction of inorganic nanoparticles, e.g. multiferroic nanoparticles, with biological cells.

Current Projects:

  • Remote control of voltage-sensing biological macromolecules using multiferroic nanoparticles - with L. Malkinski (University of New Orleans)
  • Conductance hysteresis in ion channels
  • Experimental detection of nonequilibrium kinetic focusing in voltage-gated ion channels
  • Optimization of wavelet-based voltage protocols for ion channel electrophysiology
  • Quantum biology - modeling photosynthesizing complexes in plants - with L. Celardo (University of Puebla, MX)

Undergraduate Research:

Biophysics research combines experiments, computations, and theoretical analysis. Student researchers in the Biophysics lab can choose between doing experiments (preparing biological samples, performing patch-clamping experiments) and computational work (analysis of raw experimental data generated from patch-clamping experiments, simulation of ionic currents, and building models of channel gating kinetics). Our experiments use modern ion channel electrophysiology methods, such as the patch clamping technique. The lab is equipped with two patch-clamping stations, one of which is devoted to student training. Most of the numerical simulations are done using MATLAB.

Current student members of the lab:

  • Ariel Hall (Physics'20)
  • Cole Green (Physics'20)
  • Megan Adamson (Physics'21)
  • Kimiasadat Mirlohi (Physics'22)

Former lab members include:​​

  • Kaough Baggett (Physics'18)
  • Ilyes Benslimane (Physics'17)
  • Antonio Ayala (Physics'17)
  • Dustin Lindberg (Physics'14)
  • Douglas Alexander (Physics'14)
  • Michael Kammer (Physics'12)
  • David Vumbaco (Physics'12)
  • Warner Sevin (Physics'11)
  • Stella von Meer (Physics'09)
  • Meagan Relle (Biology'08)

Recent publications from the Lab:

  • A. Kargol: "Introduction to Cellular Biophysics. Vol. II. From membrane transport to neural signaling". IOP Concise Physics, Morgan & Claypool Publishers 2019
  • A. Kargol: "Introduction to Cellular Biophysics. Vol. I. Membrane transport mechanisms". IOP Concise Physics, Morgan & Claypool Publishers 2018
  • A. Kargol, L. Malkinski, R. Eskandari, M. Carter, D. Livingston: “Cellular Defibrillation”: Interaction of Microscale Electric Field with Voltage Gated Ion Channels. J. Biol. Phys. (2015)
  • A. Ayala, J.D. Alexander, A.U. Kargol, L. Malkinski, A. Kargol: Piezoelectric micro- and nanoparticles do not affect growth rates of mammalian cells in vitro. J. Bionanosci. 8 (2014) 309-312
  • L. Ponzoni, G.L. Celardo, F. Borgonovi, L. Kaplan, A. Kargol: Focusing in Multiwell Potentials: Applications to Ion Channels. Phys. Rev. E 87 (2013) 852137
  • A. Kargol: Wavelet-based protocols for ion channel electrophysiology. BMC Biophysics 6:3 (2013)
  • A. Kargol, L. Malkinski, G. Caruntu: Biomedical applications of multiferroic particles. In: Advanced Magnetic Materials, InTech (2012)
  • A. Kargol, M. Kargol: Passive transport processes in cellular membranes. In: Porous media: Applications in biological systems and biotechnology, Taylor and Francis Group, LLC (2011)

Gravitational Physics

 

 

There is a long history in gravitational physics at Loyola. Professor Emeritus Carl Brans is world-renowned for his development of the scalar-tensor theory of gravity. Known as the Brans-Dicke theory, this modification/extension of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity is still very relevant, and generates a lot of interest, particularly in cosmology, even today.  Carl’s collaboration with the Torsten Asselmeyer-Maluga resulted in their book, Exotic Smoothness and Physics, which surveys extensively exotic differentiable structures on 4-dimensional manifolds and their potential impact on physical theories involving spacetime models.

Former Loyola faculty member Tirthabir Biswas also worked in the area of gravitation and cosmology. He collaborated with a number of Loyola students over the years on theoretical ideas in gravitation with implications for cosmology.

Professor Martin McHugh worked for many years on the experimental side of gravitation. First in tests of the equivalence principle, then in the effort to detect gravitational waves. He worked on resonant mass gravitational wave detectors, then with interferometers when he joined the LIGO Science Collaboration. After being part of that group for nearly 10 years he left to pursue other research interests. However, he was quite gratified when LIGO made the first direct detection of gravitational waves, reported in 2016. That work led to the Nobel prize for the leaders and founders of the project, and gravitational waves have become a tool to study astrophysics, cosmology, and as a probe to a better understanding of the gravitational interaction.

Finally, Professor McHugh has done some work in the history of gravitational physics, in particular the pioneering work of Robert H. Dicke. Dicke made significant contributions in many areas of physics over the second half of the twentieth century. A short list of his accomplishments include the invention of the microwave radiometer, work in atomic physics on the narrowing of spectral lines by use of a buffer gas (sometimes referred to as ‘Dicke narrowing’), and foundational work on the theory of superradiance. But Dicke is best known for his work in gravitational physics – both his pioneering experiments, and his role in the development of the Brans-Dicke theory. The latter, as noted above, done with Loyola Professor Emeritus Carl Brans when he was a graduate student at Princeton. Dicke also played a pivotal role in the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background.

Behavioral Neuroendocrinology Research

Dr. Grissom's research focuses on understanding sex differences in stress and anxiety across the lifespan, and how these differences impact learning and memory.  Elevations in stress hormones at different critical developmental timepoints impact learning and memory in males and females differently.  Increased anxiety resulting from stress exposure impacts learning style in a sex-specific manner as well. Dr. Grissom's current work uses rodent models to examine how elevations in stress hormones at different critical developmental periods impact measures of anxiety, and how this, in turn, alters learning and memory in males and females via changes in cell structure and function in related brain areas.

Mental Health Risk and Resilience in Service Members Deployed to Combat Zones

Kate Yurgil, Assistant Professor of Psychology, pursues multidisciplinary research that integrates measures of human behavior, cognition, and neurophysiology. Her most recent work, to be funded through a Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research (CDMR) Program Neurosensory and Rehabilitation Research Award, focuses on tinnitus (i.e. ringing of the ears) and hearing loss in relation to blast injuries, which have been deemed the signature wounds of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. An estimated 12-23% of returning service members attest to a traumatic brain injury, and among those exposed to explosions, up to 77% sustain permanent hearing loss and 60-75% report tinnitus. Dr. Yurgil will collaborate with Dr. Dewleen Baker, Research Director at Veterans Affairs Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health in San Diego, CA and Professor of Psychiatry at University of California San Diego, the PI, who directs multiple research programs on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Drs. Yurgil and Baker, together with a team of physicians, scientists, and clinicians, integrate biological, physiological, psycho-social, and neuroimaging techniques to investigate predictors of mental health risk and resilience in service members deployed to combat zones.

Pages