Engineering beyond the classroom: ASU students conduct use-inspired research in robotics, 3D printing and virtual reality

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Engineering beyond the classroom: ASU students conduct use-inspired research in robotics, 3D printing and virtual reality

Lily Baye-Wallace works on a soft robotic hip exosuit.

Above: Arizona State University robotics and autonomous systems graduate student Lily Baye-Wallace demonstrates a soft robotic hip exosuit. Baye-Wallace has conducted research as both an undergraduate and graduate student in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative and Master’s Opportunity for Research in Engineering programs, two unique opportunities for students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

This article is part two of a two-part series highlighting student researchers and faculty mentors presenting at the Fall 2021 FURI Symposium on November 19 on the ASU Tempe campus. Read part one. Learn more about the symposium.

A rehabilitative hip exosuit, new engineered materials and 3D printing techniques, and virtual reality therapy for children with autism are several more ways students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University are using their skills to impact the world.

Engineering and technology students can enhance their education by applying classroom knowledge and learning new skills through hands-on research. They’re also profoundly affecting their communities — both local and global — by pursuing research topics that interest them.

Undergraduate and graduate students can take advantage of multiple opportunities in the Fulton Schools to engage in research that addresses real-world challenges in data science, education, energy, health, security and sustainability. 

The Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, or FURI, and the Master’s Opportunity for Research in Engineering, or MORE, programs challenge students to spend a semester conceptualizing an idea, developing a plan and investigating their research question with a faculty mentor. 

Students in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, or GCSP, can choose to take on a research project as part of the program’s required competencies that uniquely prepare them to solve challenges we face as a global society. 

These three opportunities promote growth in students’ ability to innovate, think independently and solve problems they see in their communities. They also help students gain skills that will support their careers or pursuits to earn advanced degrees.

Students who participate in FURI, MORE and GCSP are invited to present their research findings at the biannual FURI Symposium.

Learn about five Fulton Schools students and a faculty mentor participating in the Fall 2021 FURI Symposium. Meet these students and more than 80 other student investigators at the event, open to the public, held on Friday, November 19, 1–3 p.m. on the ASU Tempe campus.

Lily Baye-Wallace demonstrates a soft robotic hip exosuit.

Robotics and autonomous systems graduate student Lily Baye-Wallace is developing a soft robotic hip exosuit for rehabilitative assistance with Hyunglae Lee, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Materials science and engineering student Richmond Kusi (right) works with Assistant Professor Sui Yang (left)

Richmond Kusi (right), a materials science and engineering graduate student in the 4+1 accelerated master’s degree program, is researching hyperbolic metamaterials and their unique properties for use in optical applications with Sui Yang, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Read more about Lily Baye-Wallace

Lily Baye-Wallace, a robotics and autonomous systems graduate student focusing on mechanical and aerospace engineering, is working on a MORE project with Associate Professor Hyunglae Lee to develop a soft robotic hip exosuit that can provide rehabilitative assistance. Baye-Wallace has even submitted a provisional patent from her research with support from ASU.

What made you want to get involved in MORE?

I met two students who had worked on soft robotic orthoses with Dr. Lee through the Society of Women Engineers ASU section and they absolutely loved the research. When I was beginning my search for an advisor for my master’s thesis, I met then-PhD candidate and now Dr. Carly Thalman while salsa dancing and learned that the next project she was going to start coincidentally needed an additional graduate student. I started working with her later that week.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

This is the lightest robotic hip exosuit on the market and it’s incredibly affordable to manufacture, which could be groundbreaking in the realm of assistive and rehabilitative devices for hemiparesis patients (those experiencing partial loss of strength on one side of the body) from the perspective of cost. I’m excited to test the limits of its rehabilitative potential in our next internal study and hopefully clinical trials.

Did you have a particular “aha!” moment during your project?

Most hip-based robotics utilize either motor-driven rigid limbs or Bowden cables. Our pneumatic muscles for the exosuit are uniquely lightweight, but they also don’t automatically change their own amount of tension, which is pre-set in the fitting and can be adjusted between uses but not while a participant is actively walking. Orienting the actuators in an “X” shape was a big game-changer — it achieves a low-profile look and hugs the leg for maximum force transmission without getting in the way of natural hip motion.

How do you see this experience helping with your career?

It’s my desire to develop medical devices for a living, ideally wearables for rehabilitation — like this suit — but I would also love to try my hand at robotic prostheses and minimally invasive surgical robots. I’ve obtained an institutional review board clearance and have practiced the development and running of human suit studies, I’ve learned more about gait biomechanics and I’ve obtained straightforward practical skills like collecting surface electromyography data and motion capture. This has also been submitted for a provisional patent, which is a great credential to have while working for product design and test positions. I think of all these skills will be directly applicable to work in the design and testing of other wearable consumer devices.

Why should other students get involved in these Fulton Schools research programs?

FURI, MORE and GCSP are simple, straightforward ways to obtain funding to work on almost any engineering project of any scope. It makes paid research really accessible and gives you the opportunity to try new things out and see what you’re interested in. At this point, I’ve worked in three labs at ASU and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to obtain such a breadth of research experience.

Learn more about Baye-Wallace’s Summer 2021 MORE project

Read more about Richmond Kusi

Richmond Kusi, a materials science and engineering graduate student in the 4+1 accelerated master’s degree program, is exploring the exciting world of hyperbolic metamaterials — engineered materials with unique properties not observed in nature that make them excellent for optical applications — with Assistant Professor Sui Yang. Kusi says he is grateful to be able to explore materials science as a FURI researcher.

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

I have always had an interest in developing artificially engineered materials that can have widespread applications across areas such as energy, health and sustainability. Working on hyperbolic metamaterials was the best because these materials have unprecedented properties that can be explored and engineered to suit the kind of application I want.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

Technological improvement in areas such as energy and health require materials with extraordinary properties. The success of the research can open doors for the development of new optoelectronic and photonic devices that have applications in these areas. For example, hyperbolic metamaterials have the potential to be used for developing biosensors that can be used for drug delivery.

How do you see this experience helping with your career?

As a materials engineer who desires a career in the optoelectronic or semiconductor industry, the project will help me learn more about my field of interest. Gaining hands-on experience in the fabrication of metamaterials increases my chances of being employed in such industries. I have networked with experts in these fields and improved my research and presentation skills.

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

Professor Yang said, “Be aggressive on your projects, but be nice to people.” The quote means that I should be persistent in doing projects that are novel and have an impact in this quickly advancing technological world. I work hard to always refine my experiment results and remember to network.

Learn more about Kusi’s Fall 2021 FURI project

Materials science and engineering graduate student Mounika Kakarla

Materials science and engineering graduate student Mounika Kakarla is researching a new composite 3D-printing method for use in biomedical scaffolds and soft robotics with Kenan Song, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Engineering student Gil E. Ruiz and his son.

Engineering senior Gil E. Ruiz is researching a virtual-reality-based therapy method for children with autism spectrum disorder with his son and Maria Elena Chavez-Echeagaray, a computer science lecturer. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Read more about Mounika Kakarla

Materials science and engineering graduate student Mounika Kakarla is developing a new method of 3D printing that can be used for biomedical scaffolds and soft robotics in a MORE research project with Assistant Professor Kenan Song. She is thankful for the opportunity to work with her mentor and labmates, and says research helped her get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

What made you want to get involved in MORE and the project you’re working on?

My mentor suggested I apply for the MORE program to share about our research. The idea of modifying material in every way possible is interesting and it challenged my skills.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

We are expecting to change the 3D printing world by introducing a composite printing concept. I think now we can say we did, as we successfully demonstrated our concept.

Did you have a particular “aha!” moment during your research?

Yes! Our research is all about those tiny “aha!” moments, from selecting the right polymer to getting the properties we wanted them to exhibit. But when we had a paper published in a reputable journal, it was a memorable moment for me.

How do you see this experience helping with your career?

I learned many material properties, how they behave and change and also how to operate complicated machines. Due in part to the experiences I’ve gained conducting MORE research, I successfully landed internship opportunities at ON Semiconductor and Intel Corporation.

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

Challenge and disappointment are the things I have to remember while doing research. They keep my feet on the ground while aiming for the sky.

Why should other students get involved in MORE?

It gives students confidence to do hands-on research and the funding will help provide materials to experiment with. I wish more students knew about it.

Learn more about Kakarla’s Summer 2021 MORE project

Read more about Gil E. Ruiz

Gil E. Ruiz is an engineering senior exploring the use of virtual reality and biosensors for comprehensive therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder with chemical engineering senior Ignazio Macaluso and Lecturer Maria Elena Chavez-Echeagaray. It’s a challenging research topic that involves diverse disciplines, from computer science to health-related areas. Finding the right people to cover the different points of view and expertise needed for this project has represented one of the major challenges, in particular finding a Board Certified Behavior Analyst to work with, but Ruiz says taking on a personally rewarding project has made the experience worth dealing with such interesting challenges.

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

My son is autistic, and over time I have realized that neuro-atypical individuals do not have the same opportunities as neurotypical individuals. This is due to the lack of tools they possess to make the choice and pursue the opportunity. My goal is to provide the right tools for neuro-atypical individuals for them to have the freedom of making a very important choice: Do I pursue this opportunity or not?

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

We want to prove that Applied Behavior Analysis therapy and many other methodologies can be applied through virtual reality and biometric sensors to create more immersive and natural experiences that improve the experience of the children.

How do you see this experience helping with your career?

This experience will help me improve my technical skills by creating a solution that impacts the community, it will help provide the opportunity to create a competitive and diverse team, and it will provide the opportunity to collaborate and efficiently communicate with professionals from diverse backgrounds.

What stands out to you about your FURI experience?

This is by far the most difficult and demanding task I have ever had to accomplish academically. I welcome it with open arms.

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

Take it one step at a time — it always works.

Learn more about Ruiz’s Fall 2021 FURI project

Computer systems engineering student Tina Sindwani

Computer systems engineering sophomore Tina Sindwani is researching how gamification can improve student motivation and success in engineering courses with Senior Lecturer Haolin Zhu and Lecturer Alicia Baumann. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Assistant Professor Kenan Song works with graduate student Mounika Kakarla

Assistant Professor Kenan Song works with MORE graduate student Mounika Kakarla. Song mentors student researchers in the MORE and FURI programs to provide an inclusive research experience to prepare students for their careers or to pursue advanced degrees. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Read more about Tina Sindwani

Computer systems engineering sophomore Tina Sindwani is investigating how gamifying engineering courses impacts student motivation and success in her FURI project with Senior Lecturer Haolin Zhu and Lecturer Alicia Baumann. Sindwani is interested in improving how instructors teach technical science, technology, engineering and math concepts for her FURI project as well as her work in GCSP and honors thesis in ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College and her own nonprofit organization called The Scientific Teen.

What made you want to get involved in FURI and the project you’re working on?

I wanted to get involved with FURI and this project because I wanted to explore how we can make the educational experience more engaging and enlightening for students. I love learning and teaching others, and I want to make sure that as educators we are as prepared and knowledgeable as we can be about the learning needs of our students. Our project explores gamification in engineering education and how it affects student motivation. The results of this research can help us find what gamification techniques, if any, can help improve student engagement and performance.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

STEM education really has the power to change the world. People can learn to engineer themselves out of their own problems. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, it’s not taught well, or at all. Engineering is often seen as a set of difficult subjects that can only be learned by the “smartest” people or by rote memorization, and that is the opposite of reality. In reality, we are all curious and inquisitive in our own ways. We may not realize it, but we use science and technology in nearly every aspect of our lives. Knowing how the forces of nature work and how we can manipulate them can help empower people to make things better for themselves by using those skills and knowledge.

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

My most memorable experience was realizing that so many students had found gamification useful. As someone interested in improving education, this was an exciting find for me.

How has this experience helped you in other areas of your life?

I am a computer systems engineering student myself, and learning what techniques help or don’t help educate students can help me as a student as well. It can give me new perspectives as a learner.

I also run an international STEM communication nonprofit called The Scientific Teen with the goal to educate people on STEM topics and to encourage STEM career pathways. This project can help me apply the techniques that help students learn to my own nonprofit work as well as international education work I see myself doing in the future.

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

Take it patiently — research is a long but rewarding process!

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

FURI is a great way to get research experience and explore your interests while being mentored by an expert. It’s the perfect way to explore research while you are still in college. I am extremely glad I took on the challenge of this experience.

Learn more about Sindwani’s Fall 2021 FURI project

Read more about Assistant Professor Kenan Song

Kenan Song, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, has been a faculty mentor in the FURI and MORE programs for five years. Song’s research interests include advanced composite materials and advanced manufacturing. He enjoys including students from a variety of backgrounds in his research and encourages other faculty members to be open to undergraduate and graduate students who may end up being excellent doctoral candidates.

What made you want to get involved as a FURI and MORE mentor?

Education and inclusion. Undergraduate and master’s students should get resources for research experience, especially those students from underrepresented groups.

What is your favorite part about seeing your students conduct research?

I enjoy our weekly meetings when our research is not going as expected and we brainstorm for a plan B.

How have your student researchers had an effect on your research? Have they come up with any research surprises or proposed new directions for your lab?

Yes, some of the FURI and MORE students support our doctoral research. And some master’s students are self-initiated and do research relevant to their work or family business, which can be inspiring for us to collaborate with local businesses.

What have you gained from being a FURI and MORE mentor? How has the experience been rewarding for you?

I understand more about how diverse students’ backgrounds can be and it helps me be considerate of my students in class and improve my teaching skills. Seeing more and more students find jobs based on their research experience makes me have a sense of achievement.

What advice would you give to students who might be interested in participating in FURI or MORE?

My advice is to slow down. Many students are ambitious, but considering the short term of one or two semesters, we will start with small projects.

Learn more about the student projects for which Song is a mentor

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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