Archive for January, 2015

Student Spotlight: Benjamin Fouch

Posted on January 27, 2015 in Students
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Benjamin Fouch in Valencia, spring break 2014

The evidence is mounting: receiving a grant from the Nanovic Institute can lead to exciting opportunities! Benjamin Fouch (’17) is living proof. We awarded him an FYS Spring Break Travel and Research Grant in the spring of 2014 to conduct independent research on the Jardín del Túria in Valencia, Spain. The following summer, he was accepted into the Fulbright Summer Institute in Belfast, Ireland. Here is what he has to say about the connection between the two experiences:

Benjamin Fouch in Ireland, summer 2014

The Nanovic Institute’s Spring Break research grant was a catalyst that has enabled me to explore my interests in Europe to a greater extent than I would have ever anticipated. Thanks to the gracious funding from Nanovic, I was able to travel to Valencia, Spain to study unique solutions to urban development. The trip opened my eyes to the huge potential that the structuring of a community has on its development. Building off my work in Valencia, I applied to the Fulbright Summer Institute in Belfast, Northern Ireland where I further studied the theme of urban space and its affect on community identity. This upcoming summer I will travel to Europe again for research. Without the Institute’s help, I would have never had the eye-opening experience in Valencia that enabled me to articulate my interests to the Fulbright Commission and pursue further study in the region. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Congrats to Benjamin on all of his success! Where will your Nanovic grant take you?

Alumni Spotlight: Catherine Reidy

Posted on January 26, 2015 in Students
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Catherine Reidy in Croatia in the spring of 2013.

Here at the Nanovic Institute, we award a lot of undergraduate grants, and we trust that our efforts bear fruit in the personal, academic, and professional lives of the students. It’s always nice, though, to receive the sort of confirmation that we received the other day from Catherine Reidy (’13, Major in Psychology). We awarded Reidy a Senior Travel and Research Grant for spring break 2013 to travel to Zugreb and Vukovar, Croatia to conduct research on her project entitled “Political Socialization and Reconciliation:  Croatia.” Thanks in part to our grant, Catherine has a first-author publication in the upcoming International Journal of Intercultural Relations!  Congratulations to Catherine!

Click here to read the full article, entitled “The political socialization of youth in a post-conflict community.”

Nanovic alumni, do you have a story to share? Email Jen Fulton, Student Coordinator at the Nanovic Institute, at


Student Spotlight: Peter Fink

Posted on January 23, 2015 in Students

Fink, Peter 14-15 (3)Peter Fink (’17) is an American Studies and Arts & Letters Pre-Health major who also happens to have Celiac Disease. Shortly after his diagnosis, Peter discovered that Ireland has one of the highest rates of Celiac Disease in the world, and that it is the current leader in tax relief programs available to those affected by the disease. Curious about the political, social, and economic factors in Ireland that impact its accomodation to Celiacs, he wrote a proposal for a research trip over winter break. The Nanovic Institute awarded him a Break Travel and Research Grant for Sophomores and Juniors, and away he went! He recently wrote to us about his experience.

My Nanovic Winter Break Grant in Ireland was an absolutely eye-opening experience in which I had the chance to study Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that affects me as well as thousands of others.  The disease is most common in Ireland and is thus dealt with differently than it is in the United States, and for this reason I spent a week in Ireland researching the medical, political, and social implications of the disease in Ireland.

One of the first things I did once in Dublin was meet with Professor Whelan from the University of Notre Dame Keough Naughton Institute.  Professor Whelan kindly acquainted me with the city and provided me with detailed information about where I could access the best resources for my research.  In addition, he was able to explain to me, as a resident of Dublin, how Celiac Disease is known along with Cystic Fibrosis as a “Celtic disease” among people in Ireland, as it affects people of Celtic ancestry more than any other background.  Throughout the week, I would come to see how this adoption and recognition of the disease as a component of the peoples’ heritage was largely responsible for a significant awareness of the disease in Irish society.

After visiting with Professor Whelan, I followed his advice and made my way to the National Library of Ireland (NLI), where, because of my grant from the Nanovic Institute and studentship at the University of Notre Dame, I was given a guest research pass that allowed me to access the library’s countless resources.  It was here that I was able to obtain valuable information and details about the nation’s health system and involvement in the European Union—two things that significantly impact policy regarding Celiac Disease. 

The next day, I met with Dr. Patrick O’Mahoney from the Food Safety Authority in Ireland (FSAI) to learn more about the process of food regulation that is so crucial to properly confronting Celiac Disease.  Dr. O’Mahoney was not only incredibly kind but also extremely informative; as Chief Specialist of Food Technology of the FSAI, he took the time to have a thorough discussion with me about Ireland’s allergy regulations, explaining that a new law passed only a month previous to my visit was responsible for the displaying of allergens on even non-packaged food.  From my experience in the country, this law seemed to single-handedly make the biggest positive difference for someone with Celiac Disease or any other nutritional illness, and demonstrated to me the power that a country’s legislation can have on its citizens’ health.

After having the opportunity to meet and consult a number of academic resources, I wanted to examine how Celiac Disease was dealt with and perceived in the context of “everyday” society.  To do this, I traveled to Killiney, a suburb of Dublin.  I made it my goal to engage in dialogue with locals, and as a result gained a new perspective of Celiac in Ireland: not only did everyone I talked with know about the Disease and what it entailed, but a number of individuals actually told me that they believed they had the disease themselves and were waiting to be screened.  This confirmed to me that Celiac Disease is very much in the current conscience of Ireland’s society. 

Fink, Peter 14-15 (2)Another aspect about Celiac Disease in its “epicenter” I wanted to learn about was its anthropological and biological history.  Given that it is a genetic disease, I believe understanding its scientific mechanisms as well as its evolutionary history is absolutely crucial to its effective treatment.  Thus, I visited Trinity College’s state-of-the-art Berkely Library, and once again, thanks to my funding from the Nanovic Institute at the University of Notre Dame, was granted access to their incredible network of books, articles, and scientific journals that are normally open exclusively to only students at the school.  Reading about the science behind Celiac Disease was an incredibly neat and gratifying way in which I was able to apply my pre-medical studies at the University of Notre Dame.  Only because of my biology, chemistry, and anthropology classes during my past academic semesters at Notre Dame was I able to read through and interpret the professional material I had been given access to in a comprehensive and well-informed manner.

I also had the privilege to meet with Grainne Denning, the CEO of the Coeliac Society of Ireland, and just like the previous meetings on my trip, I was both warmly received and thoroughly educated.  Ms. Denning was able to explain to me in detail the political atmosphere and regard of Celiac Disease in Ireland, including the government’s tax relief program and the Coeliac Society’s renewed and increased efforts to provide education and easier screening resources to medical professionals.  She also illuminated areas in which improvement was needed, highlighting to me the fact that despite what I may read about online and perceive as a foreigner, there are major gaps between the planning and execution of regulations aiding those with Coeliac Disease.

Lastly, I traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland to visit Mr. Derek Thompson and his wife Mrs. Tina Thompson, founders of Gluten Free Ireland, a website database that lists celiac-friendly restaurants and venders on the island by location and provides education and awareness about Celiac Disease to the public.  I learned how the Internet and social media can be powerful tools in treating a disease.  Also, in one day in this new location, it became immediately evident that disease and health are largely affected by culture—although just a short train ride away, this region had different regulations that changed the way Celiac Disease was confronted and treated.

Fink, Peter 14-15In providing me with the opportunity to travel to Ireland over winter break, the Nanovic Institute gave me the chance to study first-hand a disease that impacts not only my own life but also the lives of thousands of others.  I was able to meet with some of the top professors, doctors, and directors who deal with Celiac Disease in the region of the world where it is most prominent as well as access a vast amount of resources from renown institutions in order to begin to develop a comprehensive and intricate understanding of the disease.  Not only did I learn so much more than I ever could have from home or on the internet, but I have also returned with many new questions that I am excited about exploring in my studies at Notre Dame and beyond.  In addition, researching Celiac Disease through the Nanovic Institute’s winter break grant has inspired me to continue my career aspirations in medicine with a new energy and focus and a more informed and worldly viewpoint. All of the academic, cultural, or experiential knowledge I gained is thanks to the Nanovic Instute at the University of Notre Dame’s generosity, and for that I want to say go raibh maith agat, or many thanks, and Go Irish!  

Student Spotlight: Ryan Schools

Posted on January 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

Schools, Ryan 14-15 (3)What can an engineer learn by traveling to Europe? Ryan Schools (’17), a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering major, thought that he had a lot to learn from Icelandic models of sustainability and renewable energy, and he was right! As humanity strives to untangle and address global environmental change, Ryan recognized that doing so requires experiencing and learning from other cultural and national models of sustainable practice and industry. We agreed, and gave him a Break Travel and Research Grant for Sophomores and Juniors to travel to Reykjavik, Iceland. He recently wrote to us about his experience, and sent us some stunning photos!

It’s not often that one is faced with the opportunity to travel to the actual ends of the Earth in the name of research, adventure, and personal growth, but that’s exactly the kind of circumstance I was presented with over this past winter break. Thanks in part to the support of Notre Dame’s Nanovic Institute for European Studies, I was able to travel to remote Iceland for 8 days as a part of the “Global Renewable Energy Educational Network”, otherwise known as the GREEN Program. The GREEN Program is an award-winning, experiential education and professional development program that strives to provide student leaders from around the world with an immersive and comprehensive look at the cutting edge of global sustainable practice and industry—a goal which tends to necessitate travel to some of the most unique destinations in the world.

Schools, Ryan 14-15 (6)The GREEN Program in Iceland partners with the innovative Reykjavik University School of Energy as well as leading Icelandic energy companies to deliver world-class education on renewable energy, first-hand. Whether it’s taking classes taught by actual Reykjavik University professors, touring some of Iceland’s state-of-the-art hydro and geothermal power plants, or even chatting with one of the humble Icelandic farmers that are pushing the envelope on sustainable agricultural practice, the GREEN program truly offers something for everyone and provides a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience a way-of-life seemingly born of the future. The program also prides itself on a strong commitment to adventure, cultural immersion, and unconventional education, and thus includes opportunities to participate in a series of unforgettable and “uniquely Icelandic” activities ranging from glacier hiking to hot spring swimming.

I first became interested in the GREEN program because it represented a way to pursue my interests in the energy sector while also experiencing a part of the world that faces challenges very different from our own. As a chemical engineering major interested not only in the intersection of novel technologies with responsible and sustainable practice, but also in the idea of adventuring to the far corners of the world, GREEN was a perfect fit for me, and it lended itself wonderfully to the spirit of the Nanovic Institute’s break research and travel grants.

Schools, Ryan 14-15 (5)One of the major components of the GREEN Program is a “green” capstone project that sees participants form teams to develop an idea or model incorporating the lessons learned throughout the program into a final presentation given at Reykjavik University. Knowing from the beginning that the capstone project would make up the majority of the research and application-based thinking I would do during my time in Iceland, I thought a lot before the trip began about how I might be able to shape the project to address some of my most fundamental questions about sustainability. Beyond simple thoughts I had about how geothermal power plants work or how the Icelandic public feels about hydrogen cars, I was interested more than anything else in exploring the factors that contribute to making renewable technologies feasible and preferable over other types of conventional solutions. In effect, I wanted to take from Iceland a better knowledge of how its renewable success story might be extended to other sites around the world, and of how that story might need to be adjusted and even overturned to meet the unique constraints and issues of those locales.

Schools, Ryan 14-15 (7)Despite being somewhat limited by time and resources, each and every group on my GREEN program produced a capstone that targeted a meaningful and significant issue and proposed an innovative plan to move toward its solution. To use my own group’s capstone as an example, my groupmates and I chose to work with the relatively underappreciated problem surrounding lithium-ion battery recycling. Right now, there are approximately 2 billion lithium-ion batteries discarded every year by consumers of phones, computers, electric vehicles, and other devices around the world, and that number will only continue to grow in the coming years. Due to the expenses surrounding the delicate process of actually breaking down and recycling these batteries, it turns out there is virtually zero infrastructure currently available for their efficient and safe disposal, which leaves the vast majority of them to pile up in the hands of consumers, electronics retailers, and, regrettably, landfills.

In an attempt to remedy this problem or to at least control it before it grows to become an even more pressing environmental threat, our group produced a business model for a series of automated and versatile lithium-ion battery recycling centers that could feasibly overcome the current economic barriers to the U.S. market in the very near future. Bringing together knowledge on the finances and other nuances of renewable technologies, operations, and systems that we learned about through GREEN with my own, original intention to spread Icelandic-inspired sustainable solutions, the project was a huge success, and, to me, represented the culmination of what the GREEN program is all about: recognizing that the world really can be changed despite the status quo.

Schools, Ryan 14-15Overall, my experience in Iceland with GREEN was nothing short of unbelievable from start to finish. Not only was I given access to brilliant minds, world-class operations, and unforgettable excursions, but I was able to learn more about myself, my passions, and the world around me while working toward a very real piece of the renewable solution. Even beyond the academics of GREEN, the program truly encompassed so much more than words can describe. Participants in GREEN come from all kinds of backgrounds, cultures, and upbringings, but are intrinsically united by their curiosity and their care for our planet and society. As such, in only 8 short days, I was bestowed with 42 amazing new friends who compose a network reaching to the far corners of the world, and who all share in my hopes and passions for a greener tomorrow. All of these things—the memories, the experiences, the knowledge, the accomplishments, the friends, and more—I owe to the Nanovic Institute and to Notre Dame, and for that I’d like to say “þakka þér.”

Student Spotlight: Bry Martin

Posted on January 12, 2015 in Students

Martin, Bry 14-15Ever wonder what a bit of funding can do for a graduate student conducting research in Europe? Bry Martin, a doctoral candidate in the History department, knows exactly what it can do! Here he presents to us a tale of two research trips: one self-funded, and another funded by a Graduate Travel and Research Grant from the Nanovic Institute. The difference is striking!

I returned again to Dorset, and the manorial estate of the family I have spent the last year-and-a-half thinking and reading about, but this time as a fully funded researcher, thanks in large part to the Nanovic Institute.  The financial assistance makes all the difference. Let me describe why that is. The year before I had eked out a six-month research trip to the United Kingdom on my stipend and the sale of my Jeep Wrangler, a snarling chewer of Southern California asphalt reduced to a shivering, whining ice box by the cruel Northwest Indiana winters.  All that had funded, first of all, a few months of photographing manuscripts in archives in London. Researching in London, a city by, of and for archives, is like having history read to you by a court page while you recline on your ottoman with archivists waving palm fronds and dropping freshly-plucked grapes in your mouth. But the trip had also entailed three months in the country and the smaller cities of England, and things get a little more rugged for historians out there. Living for a month-and-a-half in Downton, Wiltshire (a charming village, but a sinkhole of disappointment for American costume drama fans who visit only to find there’s no Abbey there after all), I perched myself an even distance between four major archival deposits, and was just able to swing the public transportation on my meager resources. Accessing any of the archives meant five hours’ travel a day, by uncertain buses traveling congested two-lane roads, perceiving the actual land of England unfold out of dimly tinted windows on the same straight path. The job got done, but it was slow going, and the contribution to my historical knowledge of my time period almost wholly happened in the archives.

This year, with Nanovic’s research grant in hand, research sped up and branched outside of the walls of the archives when I left London. For one thing, I was no longer a researcher with a bus pass; I was a researcher with a zippy little Vauxhall, terrorizing the locals by going the wrong way on roundabouts. The five hour commute became an hour, and on weekends the compact car meant I could ride around the proximity of the Dorset estate of the family, dropping into the churches they had maintained, charting the landscape and distances between the parcels of land that came in and out of their possession over the centuries.  Driven on solely and exclusively by the thirst for knowledge, I frequented the local village pubs and teahouses. People opened up. An employee of a local museum confessed she had a picture of Robert E. Lee on her mantle, because she blamed the American Civil War for the depression in the cotton-hungry late nineteenth-century English textile industry. It helped me reconcile my own research subject’s sympathies with the South despite his abiding hatred of slavery. An elderly man sweeping the entrance of a church in a small village turned out to be a retired archeologist, familiar with my advisor’s work, and who brought me up to date on the land swaps and purchases in the area by the two great landed families residing there. I found out that the proprietor of a chicken farm where I was living was actually the tenant of a family of no small importance to my dissertation. I would have made none of these encounters if I had been, as I would have been, bottled up in five-hour commutes.

Even while staying in London, the Nanovic grant made the research trip better. Having realized that I had probably overbooked my time in London given how much I had already found in their archives the previous summer, I was able to use the Nanovic money for train rides to record offices in Kent, Hertfordshire, and West Sussex, counties close enough to London, but with inconvenient hours by bus. The Record Offices contain invaluable, and often less-used materials, and they often get neglected because they are out of the way. But what I found in them gave me a much better window into the lives of some of the less well-known members of the family I’m researching.In all, the Nanovic grant made the difference between a true research trip and a simple document retrieval expedition. I was free to think about and ask more questions about England, and to follow up on my curiosity in a way that I couldn’t have without the financial support with which the Nanovic Institute provided me. And as you might have gathered, there was a lot more fun mixed in with the business as well. I am grateful for the Nanovic Institute’s assistance. A better dissertation drawing from a greater depth of experience will follow because of it.