Undergraduate Research

We've introduced research opportunities in the STV minor program only one year ago, but already there have been four exciting projects completed. 

Senior Thesis Projects:


Helen Streff, Class of 2020

Systematic Review: Cutting the Complexities out of the CRISPR Ethical Debate

Our fascination with the limits and applications of genetic technologies has pervaded pop culture and bioethicists alike for nearly half a century. In particular, the ethical questions surrounding permanent changes to the human genome have drawn attention with increasing urgency due to new technologies that promise more efficient, easier, and safer ways to change our DNA. Specifically, the CRISPR-Cas9 system, explored in humans over the past decade, indicates unique promise for use in editing human somatic and germline cells. Today, this system is commonplace as a lab technique and is beginning to be used in various adult clinical trials. Recently, it has been used without proper ethical oversight in China resulting in the first supposed live human birth of twins with CRISPR editing. In this thesis, I articulate a systematic review of ethical issues about the use of CRISPR technique for germline editing. The systematic review will be conducted with a literature search in PhilPapers. From this, the various ethical concerns that arise from each relevant paper will be categorized in light of the four core ethical principles often discussed in the biomedical ethics literature: beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice. In particular, I aim to determine how the principles are addressed and which need more attention in future ethical analyses. The overall goal of this work is to make a complex topic comprehensible for scientists and non-scientists alike with an emphasis on distilling current scholarly opinions on the use of the technology.  


Christina Del Greco, Class of 2019
The Role of Genetic Data Management in Shaping the Future Directions of Genetic Data Usages

We are generating a staggering amount of data from our own DNA.  While we are still learning quite a bit about how to interpret it all, the fact is that we already have a vast number of ways to use our genetic data.  On the surface level, we can use our data specifically for what it is designed for, which is to tell us about our history and our health risks—our past and our future.  However, the information we can obtain about ourselves can also be co-opted by third parties as more and more of the data becomes accessible to individuals other than the subject.  Once it’s accessible, it can be used for scientific development, for cold-case solving, for discriminatory purposes.  It can be used for identification and for prediction.  It can be used by law enforcement, by pharmaceutical firms, by mortgage companies, by individual hackers.  As we generate more and more data, we also generate more ways to use the data. While we do, in fact, have some genetic data management structures in place, it is important to note that the structures that do exist to manage genetic data usage, as well as the gaps in said structures, are starting to define what aspects of our genetic profile holds significance in the public eye.    


Senior Essay Projects

Andrea Lebron Figueroa

Andrea Lebron Figueroa, Class of 2021

Why are we HERE? Analytical study and comparison of Notre Dame's Response to the COVID-19 Disaster

Disasters are always occurring, and we must learn how to use the tools we have available to work together in managing the different obstacles that arise from them. The key to recovery is trust – this is what keeps us united and makes our recovery efforts stronger. As of December 2020, we have been battling a virus that has killed millions and has changed the lives of everyone on the planet. The SARS-CoV-2 virus has changed how we act and interact as a community, and it has made us rethink how we live our day-to-day lives. Despite our common understanding of a disaster, the COVID-19 pandemic is a disaster and should be considered as such. The University of Notre Dame was one of a few universities that decided to reopen their campus despite the public health disaster everyone around the world faced. In this paper, I consider how the University of Notre Dame managed the COVID-19 disaster, and what factors weakened the efficiency of the University’s reopening plan. The University of Notre Dame prided itself on its tight-knit community, but this has changed with the COVID-19 pandemic. Trust had initially been a core value of the Notre Dame community but after ten months, the Notre Dame community is no longer the same. With 1 in 5 students having contracted the virus and what made us a community no longer in place, the question that remains is: why are HERE? 


Samantha Martinez, Class of 2021

Chronic Disease Care and Health Disparity Outcomes: A Comparison of Health Systems in the United States and the United Kingdom

Chronic diseases are currently the leading cause of death globally, responsible for over half of all deaths.  The prevalence of chronic disease and the economic burden that results has exponentially increased in recent years, yet the issue remains largely unaddressed by healthcare systems of even the most developed countries. Analyzing the components of the United States healthcare system, which includes private health insurance and public health coverage through Medicare and Medicaid, and the United Kingdom’s National Healthcare System reveals shortcomings in both approaches to healthcare.  To compare these systems, library research was conducted, consulting academic journals, articles, government documents and websites, and books.  The United States is suggested to have more accessible care for some at higher efficiency, but vulnerable populations are left at a disadvantage due to their inability to buy into these profit driven insurance companies, subsequently limiting their access to healthcare resources.  This results in major gaps and disparities in health based on ethnicity, race, economic, and social status, with disadvantaged groups exhibiting higher rates of chronic illness, exacerbated by the absence of an adequate primary healthcare system and chronic disease prevention efforts. Conversely, The United Kingdom takes the approach of a universal healthcare system, reducing the financial burden of healthcare on individuals of the population. However, chronic disease care remains a prevalent obstacle due to the overwhelming number of patients that physicians are required to care for, and short patient visits and long wait lists for appointment availability results, potentially compromising the quality of care for all.  Ultimately, these disparate approaches contain antithetical strengths and weaknesses which have the potential to serve as a guide for policymakers and health professionals when addressing healthcare shortcomings. Findings suggest that cross-national collaboration will be beneficial in evaluating which aspects of each healthcare system should be retained and which should be eliminated or refined to address the cost, quality, and access to care, a necessary realization to adequately reduce the prevalence of chronic disease.

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Meghan Conroy, Class of 2020

Public Health and Gun Violence: A Complex Problem in a Polarized Age 

Firearm violence is a large issue in this country and kills around 40,000 Americans per year. In recent years, individuals from academia and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have advocated for a public health approach to gun violence. This essay examines and evaluates the effectiveness of current public health approaches. Gun violence is a complex problem that stems from three main sources: suicide, homicide, and mass-shootings. However, the issue has not received adequate research due to lack of congressional funding. Furthermore, research conducted by academia is constricted by access to data sources such as a gun-ownership registry. Federal and state-level responses to instances of mass-shooting highlight the need for additional research while simultaneously illustrating detrimental effects of polarization. Despite a lack of research, there are organizations applying a targeted public health approach on the ground. Cure Violence works to reduce homicide and violence in inner cities. The Cure Violence model has been replicated in many cities, but its impact has been debated. However, the organization is a good example of a public health approach that targets one type of gun violence, as opposed to broadly addressing many. The complexity of the firearm problem, paired with the hostile political environment, has made public health approaches difficult to implement.

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John (Juwang) Lee, Class of 2020

Cultural Barriers Against Healthcare Utilization for Korean Americans


This paper identifies and explains the significance of cultural barriers for help-seeking behavior among Korean Americans managing mental illness. I closely analyze South Korea’s cultural history, values, norms, and perspectives on mental illness and argue that Korean Americans’ distinctive health needs are too easily ignored through generalized approaches to Asian American care. This culturally insensitive approach to medicine poses an issue as culturally-specific beliefs about mental health, interpersonal harmony, and self-sacrifice persist and may reduce quality of care and lower utilization rates of health services.

Margaret Meserve, Class of 2019

The Role of Parent Advocacy in the Medical, Scientific, and Social Understandings of Autism Spectrum Disorder

This essay investigates the medical, scientific and social understandings of Autism Spectrum Disorder through the lens of parent advocacy networks, the large organizations dedicated to creating a voice for parents in a world of scientific jargon and opposing theories. Autism is one of the most complex disorders to discuss from a conceptual stance as it spans symptomatology, demographics and science, in a tangled web of power dynamics and historical inaccuracies. In this essay, I first present the history of autism from its original recording with special attention to how the lack of early causative theories led many scientists to place blame on parents for the maladaptive behavior of their children. I will then argue that this negative perception of parents, while harmful in its own right, provided the contexts for the inclusion of parents in discussion of the disorder. As a result, I will describe how parents found new ways to challenge the orthodoxy, in part due to the emergence of these well-funded parent advocacy organizations. The remainder of this paper will examine how the vacuum of knowledge and resources in the late twentieth century left room for the actions of these networks to exact immense transformations in expert understandings of ASD, across medical, scientific, and social concepts. Finally, I will raise arguments for several potential problems that are a result of a single imagery of ASD presented by these networks.