Undergraduate Research

Nationally-recognized research opportunities.

Student doing research

Top-Tier Research

Creighton University has been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as a Top University for Undergraduate Research/Creative Projects multiple years in a row. This recognition comes from peer institutions who recognize the first-rate undergraduate research that is conducted at Creighton.

For more than a decade, Creighton has been the top Goldwater Scholars producer among Catholic universities, and among the top 25 private universities producing such scholars — joining the ranks with Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and MIT. The Goldwater Scholarship is among the most prestigious awards for budding researchers. In 2019, three undergraduate students (Mason Rhodes, Siddharth Venkatraman, and Spencer Thompson) were honored by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program.

Additionally, two students (Sahil Sandhu and Mary Kate Wolken) were selected for the Fulbright Teaching Assistant award. This year-long overseas program includes teaching, research, and serving as a cultural ambassador.

What Differentiates Our Undergraduate Research

At Creighton University, much of our research is done by undergraduate students. Our university structure lends itself to undergraduate students participating in first-hand research experience with full-time faculty, starting as early as freshman year. (Read Kelsey’s student spotlight below to learn how she actually started research before she moved onto campus freshman year.)

Finding a research opportunity can be as easy as talking to your professor after class. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1, students build relationships with their professors from day one. The Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (CURAS) also provides remarkable support in both finding a research project and providing grants to faculty and undergraduate students to facilitate research projects and travel to conferences.

Our students are producing significant research, with 200+ students presenting their findings at national and regional scholarly conferences each year. Frequently, they are mistaken for talented graduate students at these presentations; people are shocked that they have the experience, skills, and access to research that they have so early on. Undergraduates are published, sometimes as the first author, in scholarly journals — something that is unheard of at most institutions.

From studying the role of bridesmaids in a societal context to how neuron communication may play a role in schizophrenia, there is no limit on what you can research as an undergraduate student at Creighton. Students in the humanities, natural sciences, and business do research each year. What will you study?


Student Researcher Spotlights

 

Name:  Kelsey
Hometown:  Sioux City, IA
Year:  Class of 2021
Major:  Physics (Data Science Minor)

Give us an overview of your current research project:
My research is in biophysical optics and my lab group is developing a harmless, non-invasive way to diagnose skin cancer using lasers. Normally, skin cancer is diagnosed by cutting out and testing the part of the skin that looks like it might be cancerous. This works but leaves scars and is prone to inaccurate results especially in the early stages of tumor development. Our method shows signs of being more sensitive even to very early-stage cancer. Scientifically, our laser strikes the sample we want to test and excites or energizes the molecules in the cells. The excited molecules are unstable, so they must quickly release this energy in some way to return to their stable forms. The molecules we study, NAD(P)H and flavoproteins, tend to release this energy by emitting their own light called fluorescence. We collect this light and by scanning the laser across the sample carefully, we can form a 2D image of the cells in our sample and see whether they appear cancerous based on their fluorescence.

Why did you choose Creighton?
It was the school visit that made my mind up. I visited Creighton just before my senior year of high school and set up a meeting with someone in the Physics Department just to ask a few questions. They ended up sending me to see Dr. Nichols and a quick Q&A session turned into an hour of sitting around and talking with him about why I loved physics, a tour of the labs, and a job offer! I knew that what I really wanted out of undergrad was experience as a researcher so that convinced me to choose Creighton. I started the summer before my freshman year, which was helpful.


Name:  Brady
Hometown:  Papillion, NE
Year:  Class of 2020
Major:  Neuroscience (Science and Medicine in Society Minor)

Give us an overview of your current research project:
PTSD has been extensively studied in adults and treatments have come a long way. However, the effects that experiencing traumatic events has on children’s brains has remained largely a mystery. Dr. Amy Badura-Brack and our team has found that children who have experienced traumatic events have altered brain development in their lambic region, the area of the brain that processes emotion. This was done by comparing the volumes of MRI scans of children who had experienced trauma versus children who had not experienced trauma. We hope this provides some groundwork for specializing treatment to children’s neural development rather than generalizing their situation with adults.

Why did you choose Creighton?
Creighton immediately stood out among the schools that I visited for their commitment not only to academics and research but to the pride they holds in their values. As someone who wanted to actively work in the sciences, Creighton’s abundant research resources was a clear draw.

How did you get involved in research?
I went to a faculty member’s talk on undergraduate research and was offered a position in their lab over the summer. Since then, I have been involved on a couple of projects in different fields of science.

Have you presented your research?
I have presented my poster the Global Health Conference Midwest in February of 2018 and at the APS National Convention in San Francisco.


Name:  Braden
Hometown:  Lee’s Summit, MO
Year:  Class of 2020
Major:  Neuroscience (Minor in Classical and Near Eastern Civilizations)

Give us an overview of your current research project:
Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) is the leading cause of autism in males. This is caused by mutation in the Fragile Mental Retardation gene (fmr1) leading to a dysfunctional Fragile Mental Retardation Protein (FMRP). The cause of this mutation has been widely studied in neurons, but not in astrocytes, a supportive cell in the brain. In my work, we have taken a novel approach to studying the differences between FXS affected human astrocytes by implanting human stem cell, differentiated into astrocytes, into the cortex of mice, and we observe the development, migration, and physiological differences between FXS and control cells.

What has been your most gratifying moment so far as a researcher?
There are two gratifying moments. The first was when I was able to talk with a family friend, whose son has autism, and discuss the work we are doing to understand his disorder. Knowing that my work has direct impact on human lives around me is amazing. The second thrilling moment was presenting my work to fellow researchers. This is something that never gets old, because the dialogue and interest continues to grow as you discuss more and more ideas of innovation and success.

Have you presented your research?
I have presented at the Global Health Conference 2018, and Society of Neuroscience Meeting Fall 2018.


Name:  Chisom
Hometown:  Marshall, MN
Year:  Class of 2021
Major:  Chemistry (Minors in Mathematics and Philosophy)

Give us an overview of your current research project:
More than 90% of cancer related deaths are caused by the metastasis of cancer, the spreading of cancer from one source of origin to another source of origin. My research focuses on using Microfluidic Microcirculation Mimetic (MMM) to imitate the metastasis of cancer cells in the body.

How did you get involved in research?
I got involved in research the Fall semester of my freshmen year. At that time, I was taking an Introduction to Undergraduate Research course with Dr. Soukup, and she was telling the class how research opens many doors and the easiest way to get involved is by putting yourself out there. So, I did that by emailing Dr. Ekpenyong about research. We met, and he gave me a tour of his lab, and I started working after that. I honestly can say that research is one of the best experiences that I have had during my time at Creighton.

Why did you choose Creighton?
I chose Creighton because I was looking for a home. I wanted to go to a college that not only had good academics, but also made me feel like I was an important part of it as well. I love the community that Creighton provides and how friendly the faculty are. Creighton is like a second home to me, and I am glad that I am here.


Name:  Katherine
Hometown:  Sherman Oaks, CA
Year:  Class of 2019
Majors:  History and Classical Languages

Give us an overview of your current research project:
My research focused on the origin and uses of the Cypriot Egyptianizing limestone votive statue type in Cyprus. “Egyptianizing” means that the piece in question was made locally, but it uses symbolism, colors, style, or other attributes that are meant to evoke the art of ancient Egypt. The Cypriot Egyptianizing type has significant similarities to Phoenician Egyptianizing art, which suggests that the type was inspired by Phoenician settlers in Cyprus into the Cypro-Archaic Period (700-480 BCE). Judging by the relative wealth and power held by the Phoenician population in Cyprus, as well as the likely god worshipped at the specific find sites of this statuary type, I argue that the Cypriot Egyptianizing limestone votive type was dedicated on behalf of Cypriot royalty within their respective city-kingdoms (of which there were between seven and eleven in Cyprus at the time). With a focus on the sanctuary I dug at – Athienou, Malloura, situated in the southeast quadrant of the island – based on the conclusions I drew regarding the more general patterns around the island, I argue that the Egyptianizing type dedicated at Malloura is indicative of a significant role within its city-kingdom, as well as worship of a powerful male god, perhaps Apollo.

How did you get involved in research?
During my sophomore year in my Greek Art and Archaeology course, Dr. Averett mentioned that she went to Cyprus every summer to conduct archaeological fieldwork, and that she sometimes took students. I already loved her class, and the idea of traveling to the Mediterranean to take part in fieldwork was very exciting. I approached Dr. Averett after class to ask how I could get involved, and she suggested applying for a CURAS research grant. That was a defining moment in my life.

Why did you choose Creighton?
My parents always spoke very highly of the Jesuits and their philosophy of “question everything.” Creighton made me feel at home when I visited, and I was drawn to the clear care and dedication the professors have for their students, made possible in part by the smaller class sizes. All of this in combination with the lovely professors at the History department with whom I spoke about the History major at Creighton made it clear there wasn’t another option.

Have you presented your research?
I presented my research at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at the University of Central Oklahoma in April 2018.


Name:  Siddharth
Hometown:  San Jose, CA
Year:  Class of 2020
Majors:  Biochemistry (Minor in Philosophy)

Give us an overview of your current research project:
I work in Dr. Soukup’s lab, which studies noncoding portions of RNA called riboswitches. These riboswitches bind to certain molecules and influence gene expression. In particular, I am investigating the structural changes when a riboswitch from the mushroom Agaricus bisporus interacts with a class of molecules called polyamines, which are found in all living organisms and help the cell grow. To do this, I am determining which polyamines have the greatest affinity for the riboswitch RNA and if structural changes occur upon binding to a polyamine. Ultimately, we hope to target riboswitches as a regulatory element to control polyamine synthesis, which has great potential to yield novel antibiological and anticancer agents.

How did you get involved in research?
Like many students, I knew I wanted to perform research but I was not entirely sure about the process as a freshman. Luckily, I took an Introduction to Research course with Dr. Soukup during my freshman fall semester. We were exposed to different research topics, read famous scientific papers, and designed and presented a simple research project. From this experience, I knew how to get more involved in undergraduate research. Reaching out to mentors at Creighton was very straightforward, as most faculty members are eager to explain their research and mentor underclassmen who express their interest in their work. Before I joined Dr. Soukup’s lab, I spent 8 months working in an immunology lab within the Creighton medical school. Afterward, I decided to join Dr. Soukup’s lab to learn more biochemistry techniques and pursue research in nucleic acids, a topic that I was very interested in.

Why did you choose Creighton?
I knew Creighton was the right school for me when I visited the campus over the summer and saw the amazing and welcoming environment that the students and staff foster on this campus. I wanted to attend a university that provided greater access to opportunities on campus and allow me to develop my interests and my relationships with faculty. The past three years studying at Creighton have only proven to me that Creighton is all of these things and more. I am so glad I chose Creighton because it has given me the platform and the support to be an effective student and leader.

Have you presented or published your research?
I have presented my research at several Creighton poster symposiums. I presented at the Summer Creighton Undergraduate Research Poster Symposium, as well as the Ferlic Scholars Poster Symposium. I hope to continue presenting at Creighton and attend the West Coast Biological Undergraduate Research Conference this semester.

Sid was also a 2019 Goldwater Scholar.


Name:  Tyler
Hometown:  Salt Lake City, UT
Year:  Class of 2020
Major:  Biology (Minor in Theology)

Give us an overview of your current research project:
My current project explores an understudied mechanism of viral mutation and how it relates to persistence in vectors. Many viruses undergo mutations that create defective interfering particles. These are normal viruses that have defective genomes that leave them unable to replicate. A defective interfering particle can infect a host cell but cannot replicate unless another virus also infects that cell. These types of mutations are often associated with persistent infections in the host, but little research has been done investigating their persistence in vectors. As a model, I currently use Buggy Creek virus to investigate defective interfering particle-caused persistence in an insect vector, the swallow bug.

What has been your most gratifying moment so far as a researcher?
My most thrilling and gratifying moment was at the 2018 American Society for Virology National Conference this past summer. During my poster session, I had several scientists seek me out because they had read my abstract and wanted to talk about the research methods I used so that they may use them in their research. We talk about academic collaboration and the scientific community a lot in Creighton courses, but this was the first time I experienced it for myself and it was so exciting to feel included in something so large.

Have you presented or published your research?
I have presented at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research (Oklahoma City, OK in April 2018), American Society for Virology Annual National Meeting (College Park, MD in July 2018), Nebraska INBRE Annual Conference (Nebraska City, NE in August 2018), and Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology Annual National Meeting (Tampa, FL in January 2019).

I have a publication in preparation and am looking to publish in The Journal of Vector-borne and Zoonotic Diseases. Additionally, I am planning on presenting at three other conferences this year.


Name:  Nathan
Hometown:  Pella, IA
Year:  Class of 2019
Majors:  History and Theology

Give us an overview of your current research project:
For my current project, I have focused on the relationship between gender and filibustering. Filibusters were essentially American pirates during the 1850’s, who attempted to overthrow various governments in the Caribbean and Latin America. I argue that women were actually quite involved in these filibustering movements, in an attempt to reconsider the importance of women in American politics.

How did you get involved in research?
I took a class with Dr. Eastman, and we read a book called Insurgent Cuba. The book talked a little about reconcentration camps, which were the first concentration camps in Cuba, but I wanted to learn more. I talked to Eastman about potentially doing research on the subject, and then I applied for a CURAS grant.

What role does your research play in your life as an undergrad?
Research has played a large role in my undergraduate life. Through my research, I have been able to discern my future career path. I have also been able to travel around the country and overseas, to present at conferences and study at various archives.

Have you presented or published your research?
I presented my previous research at the University of Texas-Arlington and the University of South Dakota. I was also published in Creighton’s Quest Journal. For my current research, I am presenting at the European Association of American Studies in Odense, Denmark.