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Biologist, Philosopher, Researcher, Falvey Scholar: Meet Elizabeth “Libby” O’Brien

Elizabeth O'Brien award

Elizabeth “Libby” O’Brien receives the Falvey Scholar Award from Associate University Librarian for Collections and Stewardship Jeehyun “Jee” Davis.

 

BY SHAWN PROCTOR

This is part 2 of a 6-part series featuring the 2019 Falvey Scholars. Read more about them every Tuesday and in the upcoming issue of Mosaic: the library’s bi-annual publication.

 

Scholarly Stats:

Elizabeth “Libby” O’Brien ’19 CLAS

Hometown: Portland, Maine

Faculty Mentor: Samantha Chapman, PhD, associate professor of Biology

Research: Foliar water uptake in ecotonal mangroves which are expanding with climate change

Other Honors: Fulbright U.S. Student Program award winner, will continue her thesis work analyzing mangrove ecology and environmental ethics in the Philippines.

 

In her own words:

Libby’s Research:

While working with Drs. Chapman and Matthew Hayes in a Florida saltmarsh on their research analyzing mangrove ecology in the face of climate change, I began to ponder about an idea that would become my thesis question: “What if mangroves supplement their water needs not from their roots, where they are competing with the marsh species, but through their leaves?”

At Villanova in the fall, the three of us sat down and revisited that question. In our preliminary literature review, we found evidence that a number of plant species use foliar water uptake across ecosystems, particularly where water availability can be limited such as high, mountainous elevations and dry, arid environments.

Mangroves are specialized plants that live in salty water. Due to the high salinity concentration of their soils, they are often under water stress as they need to extract, and filter water out of this salty environment to meet their physiological demands. In short, mangroves are living under pseudo-drought conditions. However, coastal mangroves sometimes encounter sea mist and fog, leading us to believe that they may utilize foliar water uptake in a similar way to other plants living under drought conditions.

Our second research question was “Do different mangrove species exhibit varying degrees of foliar water uptake?”

Elizabeth O'Brien PresentingWe aimed to answer this second question to provide evidence for existing geographic distributions of specific mangroves species and their projected future encroachment patterns.

To test our hypotheses, we built airtight chambers and placed the three different species of mangroves inside of them. We used humidifiers to mimic morning fog enriched with a tracer that could be detected by a machine in the lab after the experiment. Since we sealed off the soil from the rest of the plant, (meaning that the soil was not moistened by the fog), any tracer detected in the leaves of the mangroves would indicate foliar water uptake.

Using statistical analyses, we could identify trends in the data to answer both of our research questions. Once in the lab, we did detect the tracer in all of the species, pointing to some foliar water uptake, but we also discovered problems in our experimentation methods. This meant that while our results were promising, there were a few possibilities as to why they were what they were.

However, the three of us do not take this as a failure. If we had not done the experiment, we would not have known that mangroves exhibit some foliar water uptake; and even if it is impossible to parse out the differences in foliar water uptake across species at this time, we have a solid research process on which to build on moving forward.

Setbacks like this are not only common, they are inevitable. We are currently in the process of re-examining our methods to produce more reliable results. Moreover, I come away with a confidence in my ability as a woman in science moving on to answer the next questions.

 

Libby’s “Falvey Experience”:

In order to begin the development of my research questions, and throughout every subsequent step of my thesis, I needed to be a sponge for information. At first, it was overwhelming to experience a total information overload, but three things kept my project focused and achievable.

The access that Falvey’s online resources provided proved invaluable. The access that I was able to have to high profile academic journals and niche, often international journals, as well as published theses exposed me to the diverse and interdisciplinary research within the realm of mangrove ecology.Libby O'Brien

For the articles that were not immediately available to me, I used interlibrary loan. I was able to develop my experimental design from one article that I got through the interlibrary loan system, a resource that then-research librarian Robin Bowles (now the director of Libraries at Montgomery County Community College) pointed me towards—she was instrumental in my successful thesis completion.

Her knowledge and experience for sifting through endless articles and culling searches gave me papers that addressed my specific questions. I live-chatted with her in one instance which enabled me to get help from the library and keep working.

Finally, Falvey Memorial Library provided me with the space to work and collaborate with my mentors, a contribution that I cannot ignore. The 24-hour access to workspaces, printers, and online resources eliminated many of the obstacles a commuter student like myself might have faced in order to finish my thesis on a deadline.

Over this past year, at the back left square table of the library Holy Grounds, Dr. Chapman, Dr. Hayes, and myself drank endless cups of coffee and discussed how our mangrove foliar water uptake results fit into the larger conversation of coastal climate change.

 

The Impact on Her:

From Florida saltmarshes to Mendel Science Center, climate change challenges our status quo. As a soon to be graduate from a rigorous Augustinian institution, I am equipped with the skills to analyze, engage with, and speak about the processes behind the issues that affect our everyday lives.

My thesis, an investigation into foliar water uptake as a potential water acquisition strategy in mangrove species, offers a contribution to the scientific community in the context of coastal ecosystem ecology, as well as to Villanova University as an example of what a student committed to conducting research can achieve.

From the completion of my thesis, I have learned that the hardest part about research is narrowing the focus of your questions because analyzing the implications in the larger scheme of things comes later. I have learned that I respond well to a mentorship style that gives me the space to try and fail and re-try lab techniques, and that it is essential to take advantage to the resources available.

Falvey Memorial Library facilitated so much of my research success; from that, I have grown to have a passion for asking and answering research questions.

What’s Next:

After my Fulbright U.S. Student experience, I am planning to attend graduate school. I aim to continue this work but also integrate my research in philosophy in the coming years as I pursue a doctorate that blends ecological research with ethical considerations in a project that explores mangrove productivity and success through a lens of anthropogenic influence.

My mentors’ attention to both of these interests throughout this year motivated me to pursue a career that combines science and policy advocacy.


Shawn Proctor

Shawn Proctor, MFA, is communications and marketing program manager at Falvey Memorial Library.


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How Well Do You Know ’Nova?

When University of Chicago academic librarian Emma Boettcher dethroned James Holzhauer we just had to salute her accomplishment. (Especially when we discovered she attended nearby Conestoga High School!)

Now that Boettcher’s run has concluded after three defenses, we’re honoring her achievement with a category of Villanova-themed Jeopardy! questions.

Think you got the smarts to run our board? See if you can answer them without peeking at the answer sheet at the bottom. The questions were created with the help of the book Villanova University: Ever Ancient, Ever New 1842-1992, by David R. Contosta, PhD, and the Rev. Dennis J. Gallagher, OSA, PhD.

 

 

 

Answer key:

1. What is “Tolle Lege”?
2. Who is Martin Luther King Jr.?
3. What is Austin Hall?
4. Who was William Howard Taft?
5. What is Phi Beta Kappa?

Shawn Proctor

Shawn Proctor, MFA, is communications and marketing program manager at Falvey Memorial Library. When not playing Trivial Pursuit, he enjoys challenging himself with Jeopardy! on Amazon Alexa.


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After a Time of War, a Time to Heal: Get to Know Erin Donnelly, 2019 Falvey Scholar

 

 

Erin Donnelly receives the Falvey Scholar Award from Associate University Librarian for Collections and Stewardship Jeehyun "Jee" Davis.

Erin Donnelly receives the Falvey Scholar Award from Associate University Librarian for Collections and Stewardship Jeehyun “Jee” Davis.

 

BY SHAWN PROCTOR

This is part 1 of a 6-part series featuring the 2019 Falvey Scholars. Read more about them every Tuesday and in the upcoming issue of Mosaic: the library’s bi-annual publication.

 

Scholarly Stats:

Erin Donnelly ’19 FCN

Hometown: Havertown, Pa.

Faculty Mentor: Helene J. Moriarty, PhD, ’77 BSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC, FAAN, Diane L. & Robert F. Moritz Endowed Chair in Nursing Research

Research: Wounds of War: Understanding the Dimensions of Moral Injury from a Health Care Perspective, also presented at Ethics of War and Peace Conference in April, 2019.

Other Honors: Presidential Scholar

In her own words:

Erin’s research:

In the nursing and health care community, there is a lack of literature related to the experience of moral injury in veterans—my project seeks to address this knowledge gap.

Moral injury is a psychological injury that results from “transgressions of deeply held moral and ethical beliefs and expectations” and has been documented in history as early as the warrior culture of Ancient Greece.

Through my literature review, I was able to identify prevalence, risk factors, conceptual models, new theoretical frameworks, and interventions that existed around moral injury. However, after meeting with Dr. Mark Wilson, I realized I would be remiss if I did not expand my knowledge of the pastoral, spiritual, philosophical, and ethical discussions surrounding moral injury to understand it more fully from diverse perspectives.

Part of this process involved seeking evidence on the efficacy of interventions designed to support active service members and veterans struggling with moral injury.

 

Erin’s “Falvey Experience”:

The database access provided by Falvey Memorial Library was essential for my complete review of the literature.

Headshot of Erin DonnellySince research on moral injury is in its infancy, I had to search in many disciplines to find emerging literature. I used CINAHL, PubMed, and ProQuest to find the majority of my scholarly sources. I was also able to cite these sources easily by exporting to RefWorks and using the citation links provided by ProQuest. Villanova gave me access to articles from the journals.

On a more personal note, the fourth floor of the library was a quiet and enjoyable location to read articles and review the books I found.

 

The Impact on Her:

I learned more about the care of our U.S. servicemen and women. Moral injury is an experience that requires care from a variety of disciplines, and I was able to explore multidisciplinary literature throughout this process. I have also learned how to take the primary role of responsibility for a project, while consulting regularly with a mentor.

Using this research, I have been able to apply my findings to my practice and assessment during my leadership clinical at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center in Philadelphia. While taking care of veterans in the ICU, I recognized the importance of holistic care and a comprehensive psychological assessment that incorporates moral injury.

 

What’s Next:

I have accepted a position as a Nurse Resident at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. But, in the long term, this research experience reaffirmed my goal of returning to school for a doctoral degree.


Shawn Proctor

Shawn Proctor, MFA, is communications and marketing program manager at Falvey Memorial Library.


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#TBT: Commencement in Convention Hall

Photo courtesy of University Archives.


Throwback Thursday

Villanova graduates gathered in Convention Hall in Philadelphia on May 12, 1969, for commencement. The ceremony featured remarks from University President the Reverend Robert J. Welsh, OSA, and commencement speaker the Honorable A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. of the United States District Court.


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Last Modified: May 16, 2019