ASU students conduct research to solve real-world challenges

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ASU students conduct research to solve real-world challenges

Above: Biomedical engineering major Kristin Huber conducts research as part of the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative program, known as FURI. Students in FURI and two other signature Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering research programs at Arizona State University provide access to research with a faculty member that investigates innovative solutions to real-world challenges. In November, more than 160 students will present their research findings at the Fall 2020 FURI/MORE Virtual Symposium. Photographer: Connor McKee/ASU

Use-inspired research is a core value of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. Undergraduate and graduate students can participate in several signature research programs to spend a semester with a faculty mentor to investigate innovative solutions to real-world challenges in data, education, energy, health, security and sustainability. 

Students who participated in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, known as FURI, the Master’s Opportunity for Research in Engineering, known as MORE, and the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, or GCSP, come together for a virtual symposium to present their research findings. 

FURI and MORE task students with conceptualizing an idea, developing a plan and investigating a research question under the guidance of a faculty member. Through this experience, they develop and hone skills in innovative, independent thinking, problem-solving and defending their findings.

GCSP students conduct research or a creative project relating to one of the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges of the 21st century. Their research project fits into the five competencies GCSP students must achieve to be named a Grand Challenges Scholar: talent, multidisciplinary coursework, viable business/entrepreneurship, multicultural studies and social consciousness.

Learn about six Fulton Schools students participating in the Fall 2020 FURI/MORE Virtual Symposium, and meet with more than 160 student researchers at the virtual event open to the public November 20, 1–3 p.m. MST.

Ruyu “Fish” Wang and Zion Basque work in a computer lab.

Computer science major Zion Basque (right) works with his mentor, Assistant Professor Ruoyu “Fish” Wang on a project to better automate software security analysis. Photographer: Connor McKee/ASU

Emma Bonham works in the Keep Phoenix Beautiful Community Garden

Environmental engineering major Emma Bonham works in the Keep Phoenix Beautiful Community Garden. Bonham worked with her mentor, Assistant Professor Rebecca Muenich, to assess urban farming’s environmental sustainability. Photographer: Connor McKee/ASU

Read more about Zion Basque

Zion Basque is a computer science major in the FURI program. His research is increasing the accuracy and soundness of the backbone processes of automated software analysis to help find vulnerabilities before hackers do.

Why did you choose the project you’re working on?

Since my freshman year, I’ve been involved in research highly related to the research project I am doing now. Once after a hacking competition, my current research advisor asked me what I thought about the state of my field in regard to the competition. After a long discussion, and a sandwich at Ike’s Sandwiches, he introduced me to the idea of fixing some of the long-running issues in our field. Since then, I’ve been dedicated to fixing those issues and pushing the state of my field forward. 

What has been your most memorable experience as a student researcher in FURI?

The most memorable moment from my research would have to be presenting my work to some individuals in the National Security Agency in regard to a major grant in which my research lab was involved. It was really exciting to see experts in my field acknowledge my work and find it impressive. It was also very exciting to see them interested in the results as soon as they were available. 

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

The research I am doing now is related to the future of the security of all computing devices, regardless of the operating system. At the end of this research project, I will have implemented a new method to improve the accuracy of many tools related to the automatic vulnerability analysis of software. To summarize, the additions I make to my field from this research will improve the rate at which we find bugs that malicious hackers use to break into computers — allowing us to fix bugs before hackers can exploit them. This research will make the world a safer place. 

What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your faculty mentor?

The best advice that my mentor gave me was that research is not something you do overnight. It is a long and tedious process that requires a copious amount of work. Progress in research does not mean you made your implementation work better. Often, progress is just a better understanding of how a problem works. Any increase in knowledge, implementation or thought is progress. As long as I keep making progress, my research will be valuable and legitimate. 

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

Other students should get involved in this program because it is the easiest entry to the research world that is usually locked behind the doors of graduate school. In this program, you will learn a lot about your field and how you work on projects that take longer than a single weekend. Long projects that are taxing and thought inducing are a part of life, so doing this program will give you more experience and insight into the world. Taking the time to do this program may also end in job offers if you make well-crafted research. Find a good mentor and do it! 

Learn more about Zion Basque’s FURI project

Read more about Emma Bonham

Emma Bonham is an environmental engineering major in the FURI program. She wants to help urban farmers meet their sustainability goals. As part of the effort, Bonham is assessing how urban farmers perceive the environmental sustainability of their farms and how those perceptions align with the actual environmental impact of their farming.

What made you want to get involved in FURI? 

With sustainability being a big selling point for any product these days, I’m interested to see if people — specifically urban farmers — are holding true to their sustainability values and I knew that FURI could help me get there.

What has been your most memorable experience as a student researcher in FURI?

The most memorable part of being a student researcher has definitely been the interviewing process and getting to know the local farmers and what they are passionate about.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

I think my project could provide some helpful insight as to understanding not everything is what it seems and just because something is labeled as “sustainable” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. It is also important to realize that there are varying definitions and degrees of sustainability.

What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your faculty mentor?

The best advice I’ve received is to be patient and don’t be too hard on yourself. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but just try your best and keep going!

Why should other students get involved in this program?

Other students should get involved because this is a great opportunity to go your own route and learn about something you are interested in and also get valuable experience along the way.

Learn more about Emma Bonham’s FURI project.

Other students should get involved in this program because it is the easiest entry to the research world that is usually locked behind the doors of graduate school.
Zion Basque, computer science FURI student

Sabrina Cervantes Villa works on a laptop outside.

Human systems engineering major Sabrina Cervantes Villa conducted research with her mentor, Associate Professor Scotty Craig, to better understand how various types of questions affect student comprehension. Photographer: Connor McKee/ASU

Kristin Huber works in a lab.

Biomedical engineering major Kristin Huber conducts data-related research to characterize traumatic brain injury in tissue samples in the lab of her mentor, Associate Professor Sarah Stabenfeldt. Photographer: Connor McKee/ASU

Read more about Sabrina Cervantes Villa

Sabrina Cervantes Villa is a human systems engineering major in the FURI program. Her research contributes to understanding the way that various question types affect student comprehension for better organization of digital resources.

What made you want to get involved in FURI?

FURI drew my attention with the concept of offering university-funded research experience. I chose my project after exploring the previous work of my mentor to find an area that seemed interesting to me as well.

What has been your most memorable experience as a student research in this program?

My most memorable experience as a student researcher in this program has to be the very concept of meeting with my mentor weekly, and having most meetings that were scheduled for only 30 minutes turn into well over an hour because there were so many relevant related topics to get into.

How will your engineering research project change the world?

My project is specifically focused on digital learning environments. I think that findings related to this topic will only become more important as technology advances and/or remote work continues to stand as the primary format for productivity — particularly for students.

How do you see this experience helping with your career?

I hope to lead several research projects following this one, whether that is strictly in academia or in industry settings. This experience has definitely contributed to my understanding of appropriate timelines and procedures to follow for a given research project.

What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your faculty mentor?

The best advice I have gotten from my mentor, Scotty Craig, was anything related to becoming more involved with my program. He is the one who introduced me to the idea of FURI as well as applying for my program’s 4+1 [accelerated master’s degree] route. His advice and guidance has led me to become much more involved and to pursue opportunities that will benefit me long-term.

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

FURI offers students the ability to become involved in a project they might feel personally passionate about, have it be fully funded and get paid for it as well — making it very much worth it.

Learn more about Sabrina Cervantes Villa’s FURI project.

Read more about Kristin Huber

Kristin Huber is a biomedical engineering major in the FURI program. She is creating and optimizing a Java program that allows for characterization of traumatic brain injury in tissue samples to improve laboratory analysis efficiency.

Why did you choose the project you’re working on?

I chose to create and complete analysis using my Java based program because of user need. I was previously involved in other modes of data and image analysis, and this work was far too time-consuming and error-prone. Especially in a time like now, during COVID-19, researchers should not have to use their valuable time clicking more buttons than they need to, reperforming analysis due to error and sorting through a multitude of features they cannot use. My program decreases the time of analysis while maintaining accurate results. This can help researchers gain back some of the time they may have lost to analysis to spend elsewhere. 

Have there been any surprises in your research?

As biomedical engineering only requires one semester of Java programming, I was expecting my FURI project to be a challenge. However, once I learned more about Java’s Swing library, which allows set up of the user interface, it surprised me how easily I could compound on my basic code to add more features. Once I put work into getting the outline of my project coded, adding more and more was easy! 

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

My research project will decrease the time taken to analyze tissue samples that could be revolutionizing medicine in the future. The Java project will help researchers and professionals finish tasks in shorter periods of time without sacrificing accuracy or precision in their work. Features can easily be added to the project to support continued growth or increase the scope of research it is usable in.

What has been your most memorable experience as a student researcher in FURI?

My most memorable experience as a student researcher during this program was definitely the response my project received. As the use of my project would require researchers to spend a bit of time learning how it works, I expected some push back from people hesitant to stop use of their usual analysis programs. While the project is still being perfected and features are continually added, most people I have gotten feedback from are eager to use my program. This was truly more than I could have hoped for, and I am glad that the work I put in can have the chance to help researchers in their future studies. 

How do you see this experience helping with your career?

I believe this project aids in diversifying my skill set and may open up many different avenues for me in the future. Generally, biomedical engineering does not involve entire project creation, so the creation of this Java project could allow me to complete jobs strictly in programming or jobs within biomedical engineering. 

What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your faculty mentor?

My faculty mentor, Dr. Sarah Stabenfeldt, helped encourage me to pursue a project that wasn’t necessarily my area of expertise. While it is advantageous to play to your strengths, it can be useful to go out of your comfort zone — learning new things in the process! 

Learn more about Kristin Huber’s FURI project.

I am currently co-authoring my first journal submission, but it would have been much more difficult for me to do this without the financial support provided by these programs.
Connor Phillips, mechanical engineering GCSP student

onnor Phillips tests a robotic device with Hyunglae Lee.

Mechanical engineering major Connor Phillips (left) tests robotic device with his mentor, Assistant Professor Hyunglae Lee. Together they are studying user interaction and effort to develop more efficient exoskeletons. Photographer: Connor McKee/ASU

Anand Sengar examines small, colorful wires in a lab.

Electrical engineering graduate student Anand Sengar is developing an efficient and reconfigurable large intelligent surface antenna system for 5G wireless communication with his mentor, Assistant Professor Georgios Trichopoulos. Photographer: Connor McKee/ASU

Read more about Connor Phillips

Connor Phillips is a mechanical engineering major in GCSP. He is studying user interaction and effort with a variable damping-controlled robot to inform the development of more efficient exoskeletons.

Why did you choose the project you’re working on?

My interest in research stems from my personal experience with neuromuscular disease. Current research shows tremendous potential for robots to help in rehabilitation with conditions like stroke and cerebral palsy. Furthermore, the field of assistive robotics is greatly expanding and the opportunity to participate is one worth taking advantage of! 

What has been your most memorable experience as a student researcher in GCSP?

My most memorable experience as a student researcher has been the discussions I’ve had with other lab members about mutual interests in research. One of the graduate students in our lab was a subject in my experiment and we spent all the downtime discussing brain-computer interfaces. It turns out we will be sharing a neural engineering class next semester!

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

I hope that my project will help further the field of assistive robotics so that they may be more widely used to improve people’s quality of life in the future. 

How do you see this experience helping with your career and advanced degree goals?

I think that it is a tremendous opportunity to run a funded research study during my undergraduate studies. I plan on pursuing a doctoral degree after graduation, and I am sure that my participation in GCSP and FURI will provide a boost to my applications. I’ve been able to author two conference papers and I am currently co-authoring my first journal submission, but it would have been much more difficult for me to do this without the financial support provided by these programs. 

Why should other students get involved in this program?

Students should get involved because it gives them an opportunity to apply the concepts they are learning from their classes to problems that will make a positive impact on the world. The MATLAB coding I’ve done for my research has really improved my ability to write in this language and serves as a really great resume booster.

Learn more about Connor Phillips’ GCSP project.

Read more about Anand Sengar

Anand Sengar is an electrical engineering graduate student in the MORE program. He is creating an efficient and reconfigurable large intelligent surface antenna system for 5G wireless communication to increase speed and bandwidth.

What made you want to get involved in MORE?

Research has always been one thing that intrigued me and is the key reason that I got involved in this program. It offers an excellent opportunity for a budding engineer to implement ideas and turn these ideas into reality. The world of radiofrequency and electromagnetics has fascinated me and is something I really wanted to focus on since my early undergraduate studies. And now in the master’s program, I got an opportunity to work hands-on through the MORE program.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

My research project aims to develop efficient reflective surfaces that can be controlled electronically for wireless communication applications. With the remarkable growing need of the wireless industry, the demand for developing future wireless networks for 5G and beyond is paving the way. These wireless networks are predicted to connect billions of wireless devices via dense deployments of multi-antenna systems. It has heightened the motivation for making the antennas more efficient with minimal losses. This reconfigurable reflectarray can be a viable solution.

How do you see this experience helping with your career goals?

This experience has helped me in developing my technical skills in the field of electromagnetics, antennas and wireless communication. Moreover, it has strengthened my work ethic and made me carry an extra sense of responsibility. This learning experience has also taught me that failure is a part of learning and we should not be afraid of failing. For the long run, these things will be one of the key factors for the growth of my career.

How has your mentor helped you be successful?

My mentor has always been supportive throughout my research. He has been exceptional in giving valuable feedback and also to help me whenever I needed when I got struck. His feedback has always improved my way of approaching the problem.

Why should other students get involved in MORE?

It is a great opportunity to make your ideas into reality. Here, you get a chance to work on your ideas and also get an opportunity to show the world about the amazing work that you are doing and how such a small step can be the next big thing. It is a way to start small and then lead the way.

Learn more about Anand Sengar’s MORE project.

Computer science junior Lucy Song is developing a way to add smell to virtual reality in FURI project with Assistant Professor Robert LiKamWa. Adding olfactory abilities to VR will create a more immersive environment for occupational training and more. Watch the video to learn more about her project.

 

About The Author

Monique Clement

Monique Clement is a communications specialist for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. She earned her B.A. degree from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. For seven years before joining the Fulton Schools’ Engineering Communications team, she worked as an editor and journalist in engineering trade media covering the embedded systems space. Media contact monique.clement@asu.edu | 480-727-1958 Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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