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Meet student researchers advancing health, education and data solutions

by | Apr 15, 2024 | Features, Fulton Schools

Jenna Jae Eun Lee, a computer science major in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is applying her skills to create a system that can help stop impaired drivers. Lee, who is conducting research in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, is one of many student researchers helping to solve real-world problems with hands-on research. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

This article is part two of a two-part series highlighting student researchers presenting at the Spring 2024 Fulton Forge Student Research Expo on Friday, April 19. Read part one. Learn more about the expo.

Creating a gel that can repair bones, making space education more accessible, using computer science to stop impaired driving, controlling autonomous offroad vehicles with 5G and using machine learning for semiconductor material discovery are just some of the ways Arizona State University students are addressing real-world challenges through hands-on research.

At the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, undergraduate and graduate students have several opportunities to conduct use-inspired research in which they can apply their classroom knowledge and build new skills. Through individual projects mentored by Fulton Schools faculty members, students deliver innovation that matters in the research themes of data science, education, energy, health, security, semiconductor manufacturing and sustainability.

The Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, or FURI, and the Master’s Opportunity for Research in Engineering, or MORE, programs give participants valuable experiences in which they conceptualize ideas, develop plans and investigate their research questions over a semester.

Students participating in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, or GCSP, can apply for additional funding to conduct research through the GCSP research stipend program. Conducting research is part of a GCSP student’s rigorous competency requirements designed to prepare them to solve complex global societal challenges.

These three programs enhance students’ ability to innovate, think independently and solve problems in their communities. They also benefit from the technical and soft skills they gain, which prepare them for their careers and the pursuit of advanced degrees.

Each semester, students who participate in FURI, MORE and the GCSP research stipend program are invited to present their findings at a poster session. The Fulton Forge Student Research Expo is the culmination of the students’ hard work to forge meaningful research paths and connections to make an impact.

Learn about five students who are participating in the Spring 2024 Fulton Forge Student Research Expo. Meet them and more than 100 other student investigators at the event, which is open to the public, on Friday, April 19, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Student Pavilion on the ASU Tempe campus.

FURI student researcher Emily Mahadevan works with a pipette in the lab.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Emily Mahadevan

Emily Mahadevan, a biomedical engineering senior and honors student in ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College, has always been interested in biology and engineering. In high school, Mahadevan learned about aortic valve replacement. After learning about the procedure, she knew that she wanted to work in a related field for her career and decided to study biomedical engineering. As part of FURI, Mahadevan is working with Julianne Holloway, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, to create a hydrogel, or water-based gel, with properties to help build bone for medical applications.

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What made you want to get involved in FURI? 

I had heard about FURI, but I never thought I would be involved in it. When I joined Dr. Holloway’s lab, she suggested I apply. Once I learned more about the program, I thought it was a great opportunity. I had only been in her lab for a couple of months, so applying for FURI was a really good kick-starter to dive deep into my project. Plus, I wanted the opportunity to meet other undergraduate researchers and see what sorts of things they were working on.

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

I chose Dr. Holloway’s lab because I really liked her research. I like the biomaterials side of things, so it was a perfect fit for me. For the specific project I am working on, Dr. Holloway had a grant that didn’t have anyone working on it. She gave me the grant and asked me to read it to see if it was something I was interested in. I thought it was really interesting and super innovative, so I joined the project. I started working on it by myself initially, but now I work with a doctoral student, which I love because it gives me another brain to think with and a lot more hands-on support.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

My project has a medical application, so it has the possibility to impact and improve a lot of lives. The overarching goal of my project is to create a hydrogel to treat bone loss. In the U.S. alone there are about  1.6 million surgeries performed per year to treat bone loss. The current treatment methods pose a lot of complications and have many limitations. It is for this reason that there is a need for a novel solution to treat bone loss.

My project bridges this gap by creating a hydrogel that can be implanted into the body to stimulate bone growth as the hydrogel degrades. The novel aspect of the hydrogel that aims to help promote bone regeneration is a metabolite called alpha-ketoglutarate, or AKG. It has been shown to stimulate cell metabolism and modulate bone-degrading cells. The release of AKG into the tissue needs to be controlled, which we aim to do by forming AKG polymer microparticles. Much of the work I have done over the past two semesters has been on characterizing the material properties and release kinetics of AKG from the hydrogels.

A solution like this will provide a treatment option for bone loss patients that is fast and effective, so they can heal as quickly as possible.

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

Research has allowed me to explore and experience things that have helped me determine what I want to do in the future. I have learned a lot of skills applicable to my field that I didn’t learn in my classes. I have learned proper sterile techniques, different test methods and collaborative lab work. Recently, I used my knowledge of the biosafety cabinet for my capstone project. Research is something that I am really passionate about, and working in the lab and being able to talk to other undergrads in research has been a vital part of learning that about myself. I aspire to continue research in the future, but most likely in an industry setting.

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

It is a wonderful opportunity to meet other students in research and to show off your own work. I feel like being able to talk to your peers and present your work is part of research, so being able to do that as an undergrad is fun.

Learn more about Emily Mahadevan’s spring 2024 FURI project.

Ritwik Sharma works with a foil covered structure used to help teach astronomy to K-12 students as part of a Grand Challenges Scholars Program research stipend project.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Ritwik Sharma

Aerospace engineering sophomore Ritwik Sharma has been fascinated by rockets and aircraft since he was a child. The GCSP student is working on a cross-disciplinary project with Daniel C. Jacobs, an assistant professor in the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration, to share his passion for space. His work, funded by the GCSP research stipend opportunity, involves developing a wayfinding method for the Completely Hackable Amateur Radio Telescope, known as CHART, an inexpensive and simple way to use radio waves to see features in outer space not visible to the human eye. His work aims to make the system more accessible for individuals and K-12 classroom instruction.

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What made you want to get involved in this program? Why did you choose the project you’re working on?

I wanted to get involved with the GCSP research stipend because it felt much more applicable to my situation than FURI or MORE. My lab, the Low Frequency Cosmology Lab, is affiliated with the School of Earth and Space Exploration, which meant that I would be unable to get funding for a project through FURI. The GCSP research stipend, meanwhile, is open to all students participating in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, so I knew that this program was right for me.

I specifically chose this project because I have had a strong interest in amateur astronomy since elementary school, as well as an interest in amateur radio.

How will your research project impact the world?

The guidance system I am designing for CHART will give K-12 students a way to understand how astronomers observe different parts of the universe with radio telescopes. This will improve their understanding of astronomy as a field by teaching them how astronomers locate objects in the sky, and why they have to rely on coordinates as opposed to general directions. Since the Earth is constantly revolving around the sun, our frame of reference is constantly changing, which makes coordinate systems like right ascension and declination and galactic an important part of the subject because they make tracking objects like galaxies and nebulae easier.

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

I plan to pursue a doctorate after I graduate from ASU, and I see this experience helping me by showing my future supervisors that I am capable of pursuing a project on my own, under the instruction of a mentor. This arrangement is common in graduate school where students work under the direction of their advisor on projects like their theses, dissertations or other items necessary to complete their doctoral or master’s degree. By showing my ability to work efficiently on a project like this, I can also show my future thesis advisor that I will be perfectly capable of completing something like a doctoral thesis, which will give me an advantage over other applicants.

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

Some of the best advice that I have gotten from my mentor is to create a document to put all your ideas in for a project. Taking down notes on the approaches that you take and explaining why you took those approaches is really helpful because you can use those notes to explain your project to other people who are not as knowledgeable about your field. At the same time, taking notes can also improve your own understanding of your procedure by forcing you to think about whether or not you are approaching the project in the most efficient way possible.

Why should other students get involved in GCSP and research?

Other students should get involved in this program because of how valuable the experience can be to your resume. A lot of companies like seeing students who have completed projects during their time in college, and the GCSP research stipend is a good way to do that. While senior capstone projects also fill the same niche, this program is special because it gives students a way to learn more about how research works at a university like ASU in ways that a capstone project wouldn’t tell you. Even if you don’t want to pursue a graduate degree, having a fully funded project under your belt is always a plus no matter where you go after college.

Learn more about Ritwik Sharma’s spring 2024 project supported by the GCSP research stipend.

FURI student Jenna Jae Eun Lee works in a lab space with a remote control car and camera.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Jenna Jae Eun Lee

Computer science sophomore Jenna Jae Eun Lee knew ASU and the Fulton Schools were the right place for her to follow her dreams after seeing the opportunities her oldest brother had while earning his engineering degree. In the FURI program, Lee is working on a passion project with David Claveau, an associate teaching professor whose focus is computer systems engineering, to design SwerveStopper, a motion-detection camera that can detect and capture images of swerving vehicles to help prevent injuries and deaths caused by impaired drivers.

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What made you want to get involved in FURI? 

I wanted to get involved with FURI because I personally had a lot of innovative ideas that I wanted to bring to life and FURI supplied me with the means to do so. FURI has allowed to me work hands-on with hardware and software that I have never worked with before. I feel like I am learning so much beyond the classroom setting as a result of the FURI program.

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

I chose the SwerveStopper camera because it was an idea that I came up with after noticing that drunk driving is still as prominent as ever, and there needs to be more steps taken to stop this issue that takes thousands of lives each year.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

My project will impact the world by serving as a preventive measure for any individuals who plan to get behind the wheel inebriated. In the same way a red-light or speeding camera prevents people from running red lights and speeding because they don’t want to get captured by the camera and face the consequences, my hope for the SwerveStopper camera is that its existence would stop people from drunk driving in the first place. Even if individuals still choose to go out and drive inebriated, the SwerveStopper camera would capture their vehicle information and hold them accountable.

Have there been any surprises in your research?

In my research, I have been surprised by how versatile the Python programming language is. Python is a language I haven’t worked with yet in any of my courses but now I understand all the hype. Getting to master Python in this hands-on setting when I have mainly been working with C++, C and Java has definitely been humbling, but I am pleasantly surprised that my previous programming knowledge does transfer over to some extent as I play around with Python scripts.

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

The best advice I have received from my faculty mentor, David Claveau, is that with all new technology there is a learning curve. Professor Claveau encouraged me to give myself grace and time when I am trying to learn the new programming languages, operating systems and hardware that this project requires of me. He understands how passionate I am to just make this project a reality, but, at the same time, he encourages me by letting me know that I cannot and should not rush the learning process if I want to make this project great.

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

I think other students should definitely get involved with FURI because it has given me exposure to technologies and hardware that I likely would not have been taught in a classroom setting. Knowing that I have to fiddle around with a Raspberry Pi and different operating systems in order to accomplish my goal of making this outlandish idea I had a reality has been motivating. I genuinely don’t know if, without this FURI project, I would’ve ever pushed myself to learn Python or MotioneyeOS this early in my career and I know for a fact that I would’ve never thought to work with a Raspberry Pi.

Knowing that I’m working to create something great thanks to the FURI program has forced me to expand my knowledge base and get creative!

Learn more about Jenna Lee’s spring 2024 FURI project.

Graduate student Rohit Menon sits in an autonomous car while his mentor Yan Chen looks in.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Rohit Menon

Robotics and autonomous systems graduate student Rohit Menon (pictured in foreground) was drawn to ASU in part because of the opportunity to work on groundbreaking research, particularly in the field of robotics. His degree program at ASU and the MORE program have given him a unique opportunity to apply his passion for robotics in hands-on robotics projects. In his research with faculty mentor Yan Chen (pictured in background), an assistant professor of engineering, Menon is using the 5G communication network to create a system that can control an off-road vehicle, a drive-by-wire Jeep Grand Cherokee donated by Kubota North America, remotely with high precision.

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What made you want to get involved in MORE? 

My motivation for getting involved in the MORE program stems from a deep-seated passion for engineering and a desire to contribute to cutting-edge research. The opportunity to work closely with esteemed faculty members and engage in hands-on lab experiences presents a unique chance to apply my academic knowledge to solving real-world problems.

I am particularly drawn to the program’s emphasis on innovation and its supportive environment for exploring novel ideas and solutions. Additionally, the prospect of enhancing my technical skills, while also gaining valuable research experience, aligns perfectly with my career goals. The MORE program not only offers a pathway to achieving academic excellence but also prepares me for a future of impactful contributions to the engineering field.

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

I chose this project because it aligns perfectly with my passion for pushing the boundaries of vehicle control systems and leveraging cutting-edge technology to solve complex challenges. The opportunity to work on creating a control system for a Jeep Grand Cherokee that integrates various advanced components like the drive-by-wire system, MicroAutoBox II, and global navigation satellite system via CAN communication is both exciting and intellectually stimulating.

Moreover, the prospect of developing a comprehensive human-machine interface that provides real-time data and status updates to both onboard drivers and remote operators adds another layer of innovation to the project. By incorporating dual-display functionality and leveraging the power of 5G network connectivity, we can ensure efficient decision-making and seamless communication in diverse operational scenarios.

The integration of multiple cameras on the vehicle for precise maneuvering is a key innovation, enabling enhanced situational awareness and control accuracy. This capability is crucial for the precise maneuvering of the vehicle using a joystick connected to a laptop for remote teleoperation, highlighting the project’s commitment to high-level performance in remote vehicle control. The aspect of remote vehicle control through a laptop-connected joystick, enabled by the instantaneous response of the 5G network, opens up a myriad of possibilities for applications in remote exploration, emergency response and autonomous missions. The incorporation of these cameras for real-time monitoring further enhances precision control and situational awareness, demonstrating the project’s holistic approach to integrating technology for advanced vehicle management.

On the software front, the combination of MATLAB and Simulink, the Robot Operating System, and the Embedded C-based control framework, along with specialized software tools, provides a robust foundation for seamless integration and communication between the vehicle’s components.

Overall, this project not only allows me to contribute to advancing the field of remote vehicle control but also presents opportunities to explore new avenues for application and further innovation. I am excited about the potential impact this project can have and look forward to extending this technology to more vehicle types and scenarios, thereby driving significant advancements in remote vehicle operations.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

My engineering research project aims to revolutionize off-road transportation by enhancing safety, efficiency and accessibility through the integration of 5G technology with autonomous vehicle systems.

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

This experience will provide me with a strong foundation in cutting-edge technology and research methodologies. It will significantly enhance my technical skills and innovation capabilities, which are crucial for advancing my career in engineering and supporting my pursuit of an advanced degree.

Why should other students get involved in MORE?

Other students should get involved in this program to gain hands-on research experience, work closely with faculty and develop skills that are critical for success in both the job market and academia.

Learn more about Rohit Menon’s spring 2024 MORE project.

Graduate student Aishwarya Katkar works on a laptop.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Aishwarya Katkar

Mechanical engineering graduate student Aishwarya Katkar wanted to attend ASU because of its dynamic research atmosphere and environment of rich cross-disciplinary collaboration. Mechanical engineering provides a versatile foundation that can be applied to make meaningful impacts in many industries, including semiconductor manufacturing. In her research with the MORE program under the guidance of Masoud Yekani Fard, an assistant teaching professor specializing in mechanical and aerospace engineering, Katkar is using machine learning to help expedite material analysis to develop semiconductor device components.

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

Since my formative years, I’ve been deeply passionate about research, a trait passed down from my father who dedicated his career to the research and development sector. As I pursued mechanical engineering, I envisioned seamlessly blending my research interests with my growing skill set.

It was during this quest that I connected with Dr. Fard, whose expertise closely aligned with my interests, and his recognition of my research background presented me with an enticing project centered on integrating machine learning into material analysis. Understanding the game-changing potential of using machine learning to speed up material analysis, I eagerly committed to working on this project. This innovative approach has the power to revolutionize scientific research in the fields of material characterization and nanoscience.

As my journey progressed, Dr. Fard recognized my dedication and progress, ultimately inviting me to participate in the MORE program, further solidifying my commitment to research and academic growth. This serendipitous sequence of events underscores my passion for research and my unwavering dedication to pushing the boundaries of knowledge in pursuit of innovation and progress.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

One of the primary challenges in materials testing and analysis is the significant time investment required. We aim to implement machine learning techniques to expedite the process. Our goal is to automate the identification of novel materials with specific properties by analyzing nanoparticles and the spaces between them. This approach will enable us to understand various material characteristics, such as electrical conductivity, more efficiently.

By streamlining the material analysis process, we can enhance the quality of materials used in semiconductor manufacturing. This innovative method will save time by eliminating the need for manual analysis, resulting in a smoother and more efficient process overall.

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

This experience holds immense significance for my career trajectory, particularly as a mechanical engineer with a background primarily rooted in design software. While my expertise in design software is undoubtedly valuable, this research opportunity has helped me broaden my horizons, particularly in the realm of material science. Integrating machine learning into material analysis has not only deepened my understanding of this critical aspect of engineering but has also expanded my skill set in the emerging field of machine learning.

This experience has made me confident in my ability to learn independently and has better equipped me to tackle multifaceted engineering challenges and make meaningful contributions to innovative projects in the field. Furthermore, this experience enhances my qualifications for a master’s degree program and diverse career opportunities, bridging the gap between my existing skills and the broader knowledge essential for success in mechanical engineering.

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

The best advice I’ve received from Dr. Fard is to follow what truly interests me and aligns with my goals. He’s not just a mentor; he’s someone who sees potential in every individual and helps them find their path. Dr. Fard follows distinctive research methodologies, emphasizing the importance of thorough investigation and critical thinking.

One unique aspect of his mentoring approach is his encouragement to print out research information and physically write down key notes. This tactile approach not only helps in problem-solving but also promotes deeper understanding and retention of concepts. This advice came in the early stages of my work and set a strong foundation for my approach to research and problem-solving.

With Dr. Fard’s support, I’ve gained confidence and clarity in my academic and professional pursuits, knowing that I’m on a path that’s right for me.

Why should other students get involved in MORE?

Getting involved in programs like MORE and FURI offers students an unparalleled platform to showcase their work and gain invaluable confidence. Beyond enhancing technical skills, these programs foster the importance of networking and personal development. While traditional coursework provides a solid foundation, engaging in research demonstrates a student’s ability to excel beyond standard activities and showcases a genuine passion for their field.

I believe hands-on experiences like this also demonstrate your commitment to doing excellent work and your proactive approach to learning. Overall, being part of these programs enriches your educational experience and sets you up for success in the future.

Learn more about Aishwarya Katkar’s spring 2024 MORE project.

About The Author

Monique Clement

Monique Clement is a lead communications specialist for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. She earned her BA in journalism from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. For seven years before joining the Fulton Schools communications team, she worked as an editor and journalist in engineering trade media covering the embedded systems industry. Media contact: [email protected] | 480-727-1958 | Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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