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Meet student researchers impacting data science and manufacturing

Radhika Ganapathy (right) looks at Mars rover image data with Arizona State University Meteor Studio colleague Kaycee Nienhuis, a software engineering major, as part of a research project in the Master’s Opportunity for Research in Engineering, or MORE, program. The project will help visualize data for space exploration mission planning and other applications. Ganapathy is one of many student researchers in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU helping to solve real-world problems through hands-on research. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

This article is the first in a two-part series highlighting student researchers and faculty mentors presenting at the Fall 2022 FURI Symposium on Friday, Nov. 18. Read part two. Learn more about the symposium.

Displaying data from Mars in virtual reality, using machine learning and computer vision to analyze traffic speeds, brain-inspired computing and using Japanese paper-cutting techniques to improve manufacturing are just some of the ways Arizona State University students are engaging in creative problem-solving through hands-on research.

Students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU have a variety of opportunities to apply their classroom knowledge in diverse research pursuits. Their work is making a difference in their communities by addressing 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 give students valuable experiences in which they 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, have the option of conducting research as part of the program’s rigorous competency requirements that uniquely prepare them to solve complex global societal challenges.

Through these three programs, students enhance their ability to innovate, think independently and solve problems in their communities. The technical and soft skills they gain support their career and pursuits of advanced degrees.

Twice per year, students who participate in FURI, MORE and GCSP are invited to present their research findings at the FURI Symposium.

Learn about four Fulton Schools students participating in the Fall 2022 FURI Symposium. Meet them and more than 60 other student investigators at the event, which is open to the public, on Friday, Nov. 18, 1–3 p.m. at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex on the ASU Tempe campus.

Computer science graduate student Radhika Ganapathy demonstrates the use of virtual reality to visualize data in the ASU Meteor Studio as part of her MORE research project in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Radhika Ganapathy pictured at right. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Radhika Ganapathy

Computer science graduate student Radhika Ganapathy is building a pipeline for Mars image data to be processed and viewed in extended reality applications like virtual reality. Images taken by Mars rovers are not viewable in their original format, so Ganapathy is working with Robert LiKamWa, an associate professor of electrical engineering in the Fulton Schools with a dual appointment in the ASU School of Arts, Media and Engineering, and LiKamWa’s Meteor Studio extended reality research lab to create a new open-source tool to view Mars rover images for a variety of applications.

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

My interests lie in solving real-world problems related to data and human visual perception. In particular, I am inclined toward understanding the way people look at and interact with visual data. I got an opportunity to work under Dr. Robert LiKamWa and [Graduate Research Assistant] Lauren Gold at Meteor Studios on their Mars Data Explore team. The project entailed scraping and processing planetary data to make it usable in an extended reality environment. I chose to work on this project because it was riveting and would serve as a great asset to the mixed-reality planetary projects that are in the works at ASU.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

There are very few open-source tools available to scrape and access planetary data, mainly images, that are being recorded by rovers on Mars. The data that NASA publishes through the Planetary Data System is not in a viewable format. They use their native image format that requires processing before it can be used for any application.

Through the pipeline I am building, one can download and view Martian images that are being captured by the Perseverance Rover during the Mars 2020 mission. This open-source project can be used by the world to scrape Mars data and use it for various applications. Currently, the data is going to be used for the project “Mars on the Field,” a pilot project undertaken by the ASU Interplanetary Initiative. This will also be crucial for planetary scientists to conduct rover planning and prototype pilot missions in virtual reality before executing them on Mars.

What has your research experience been like as a MORE student? Did you have a particular “aha!” moment during your project?

My time as a student researcher in this program has been fulfilling. There have been times when I have found myself frustrated with a bug or an error, but that same frustration turns into an “aha!” moment when you crack the code. A particular example was when I was trying to decode white images and get them to show correctly.

Have there been any surprises in your research?

Every day throws a surprise in the form of a bug or a new problem statement. But we also get good surprises in the form of good-looking Martian images.

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

This project has challenged me as a software engineer. It has equipped me with skills that are valuable to my career. This opportunity has also helped me step foot into research. I learned how to use new web scraping frameworks and image processing techniques. I referred to available research in this field and implemented it in my project. I got to read about Mars and the way data is captured through the rovers. This project is a beautiful amalgamation of space exploration and technology and shows how technology can solve real-world problems.

Why should other students get involved in MORE?

This program is a golden opportunity for students to get a taste of research and decide if they do want to pursue research as a career. The flexibility this program offers with respect to research topics and problem statements is great and can thereby inspire students to work in their area of interest.

Learn more about Radhika Ganapathy’s Fall 2022 MORE project.

Robotics and autonomous systems graduate student Manthan Chelenahalli Satish is using traffic cameras and computer vision to estimate vehicle speed with Associate Professor Yezhou Yang and Mohammad Farhadi as part of MORE research in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

Manthan Chelenahalli Satish pictured at left. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Manthan Chelenahalli Satish

Robotics and autonomous systems graduate student Manthan Chelenahalli Satish is conducting research in the MORE program to use traffic cameras to estimate vehicle speed in a 3D perspective for increased accuracy when analyzing traffic patterns. He is working with Yezhou “YZ” Yang, an associate professor of computer science and engineering, whose research expertise is in computer vision, natural language processing and artificial intelligence reasoning for the purpose of robotic visual learning.

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

I chose to get involved in this program because I wanted to learn about engineering research and develop important research skills. I also wanted to explore potential career paths and learn about the field of computer vision.

I chose my research project because I was interested in the topic of object detection. Also, Dr. Yezhou Yang is one of the best mentors you could work with and learn from.

Have you had a particular “aha!” moment during your research?

I had an “aha!” moment when I realized I could tackle the problem of 3D object detection from traffic cameras by training a model from simulation data obtained from CARLA (an open-source autonomous driving simulator for researchers). This was never attempted before and will be a unique method I am proud of.

Have there been any surprises in your research?

I have been surprised by how much I have learned about computer vision and how much I have enjoyed working on my research project. I have also been surprised by the amount of support and guidance I have received from my faculty mentor.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

It will enable data processing using edge computing for traffic systems, making computing faster and more efficient.

How do you see this experience helping with your career?

This experience has helped me to understand the research process and to develop important research skills. I have also had the opportunity to learn about the field of traffic autonomy and to explore potential career paths.

What is the best advice you’ve gotten from Associate Professor Yezhou Yang?

My faculty mentor has advised me to be patient and to take the time to learn as much as possible about my research topic. He has encouraged me to ask questions and to seek out resources that can help me to better understand my research. Also, he has advised me to be persistent and to never give up on my research goals.

Why should other students get involved in MORE?

It provides an opportunity to learn about research and to develop important research skills. It is also a great way to interact with the highly knowledgeable ASU professors and hone your skills for your future.

I am thankful to MORE as it is giving me the opportunity to explore my favorite research areas with top experts in the field.

Learn more about Manthan Chelenahalli Satish’s Fall 2022 MORE project.

Electrical engineering student Sritharini Radhakrishnan is researching memristors through FURI in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Sritharini Radhakrishnan

Electrical engineering senior Sritharini Radhakrishnan is working to improve brain-inspired, or neuromorphic, computing through her FURI project with Ivan Sanchez Esqueda, an assistant professor of electrical engineering. Her work focuses on testing a certain type of memristor, a new type of electric circuit component that retains memory even without power. 

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What made you want to get involved in FURI?

I wanted to participate in FURI for the unique opportunity it provides students to explore state-of-the-art engineering research under the guidance of distinguished faculty members. Before being part of this program, my idea of research was primarily informed by the wet-lab chemistry experiments I had performed in my life sciences classes. As a third-year electrical engineering student, I thought it was long overdue to figure out what research could be in the context of engineering.

Why did you choose the project you’re working on with Assistant Professor Ivan Sanchez Esqueda?

I chose to work with Dr. Ivan Sanchez Esqueda because the project he offered was truly cutting-edge. The field of neuromorphic computing is of ever-increasing interest because it promises to support artificial intelligence, cloud computing and Internet of Things applications energy-efficiently even as the amount of data produced outgrows the computing power of conventional circuits.

Memristor devices are crucial to bringing this possibility to fruition because they act as synaptic devices to enable a neuromorphic computing scheme. Dr. Sanchez Esqueda’s research explores 2D memristors to dramatically increase the performance and efficiency of the devices while making them scalable to use in next-generation integrated electronic systems. By working with him, especially as an undergrad, I felt I could get a head start in gaining the technical know-how and experience to significantly contribute to any engineering research in my career.

What was it like getting started in FURI?

After I reached out to Dr. Sanchez Esqueda, he explained his ongoing projects very clearly and answered all my questions with a lot of patience. After our first meeting, he sent me helpful research reviews to read and answered even more of my questions via email. He worked with me to write my FURI application and come up with milestones I felt confident in achieving. During the lab tour he set up with [Graduate Research Associate] Sahra Afshari, a brilliant and hardworking PhD student, and my graduate research mentor, I realized how inclusive and nurturing his lab environment was. I am beyond grateful for starting my engineering research career with his group.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

This project will make a difference in the field by providing more substantial evidence of 2D memristor array capabilities and the potential of neuromorphic computing systems.

Everyone in the field aims to advance neuromorphic computing to the point that any device using the current von Neumann computing architecture can be replaced with a neuromorphic one. To achieve such a goal, it is vital to show that the neuromorphic computing scheme is competitive with the von Neumann one by demonstrating that neuromorphic circuits can carry out complex operations faster and with greater efficiency.

My FURI project will show how an array of 2D hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) memristor devices can perform the dot-product operation, a function common to all machine learning algorithms. To further the demonstration, the project will show that the h-BN memristor array can perform linear and logistic regression.

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

My “aha!” moment happened recently. I was reading a paper about new advances in neuromorphic computing and was surprised to see that I followed along without having to backtrack and read the text twice. I noticed that graphs of device characteristics made sense at first glance and that I was asking myself good follow-up questions as I read along. I have to say that all the time spent in the lab working with Sahra and Dr. Sanchez Esqueda has really paid off! Without their constant support and involvement in my professional growth, I wouldn’t be where I am.

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

This experience has opened my mind to pursuing a graduate degree in engineering. Both industry and academic research are great places to practice clever thinking in the face of complex challenges. But I think the latter is better suited to me because of the space I’ll have to figure out how all the electrical engineering tools I’ve gained so far can help me become a better problem-solver. I learn best through trial and error. As there’s flexibility and room for mistakes in academic research, I look forward to that freedom!

Having a great faculty mentor like Dr. Sanchez Esqueda and a graduate research mentor like Sahra has also proven to me that academia will always go the extra mile to prioritize your learning.

The knowledge I gained working with h-BN memristors as a resistive random-access memory device helped me to land a memory validation internship with Intel and a research aide position working with memristor technology developed by Sandia National Laboratories with electrical engineering Associate Professor Matthew Marinella.

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

Even in the face of a device physics issue that we couldn’t do much to change, Dr. Sanchez Esqueda made the most of the situation by explaining the reason behind it and brainstorming ways to create demonstrations with what we had so we could highlight important trends in memristor devices.

The lesson I took away is that although the majority of research is dealing with things that don’t go as planned, it is important to find value in the result either way. In seeing how Dr. Sanchez Esqueda handles the unexpected in his lab, I see that having a long history of “failures” can lead to inventing alternative, equally enlightening paths to answering a research question.

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

I think all engineering students should participate in FURI because it’s a great way to witness and participate in the top-tier research happening across the university. Being in the program is another way to broaden your network within the Fulton Schools. FURI students can develop critical technical skills to utilize in their next class or job while building long-lasting relationships with professors and graduate students.

Learn more about Sritharini Radhakrishnan’s Fall 2022 FURI project.

Mechanical engineering student Katherine Alcazar holds an electronic component that has been manufactured in the style of kirigami, a Japanese art technique meaning cut paper, that she is researching in the FURI program at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Katherine Alcazar

Katherine Alcazar is a mechanical engineering junior in the FURI program investigating a new manufacturing method with her faculty advisor Qiong Nian, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. She is exploring how the properties of “kirigami” — a Japanese art technique of folding and cutting paper — can improve the fields of manufacturing and energy.

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What made you want to get involved in FURI?

What made me get involved in FURI was the ability to perform and present hands-on research. It’s also a great chance to make connections and gain knowledge and experience to best prepare for my academic endeavors. 

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

My first research position was with my FURI mentor, Dr. Nian, making my most memorable experience when we initially discussed potential research projects and I was able to tour the lab I would be working in. 

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

My engineering research project through FURI focuses on the 3D printing of kirigami electrical conductors. Researching the correlation between the tensile properties and the deformation of kirigami conductors will allow for more accessibility and versatility in the fields of manufacturing and energy. In addition to realizing the properties of the kirigami conductors, there are many applications for conductors that are able to elongate, such as wearable electronics. 

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

FURI has given me experience in technical writing that I will apply to my career goal of being a patent attorney.

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

FURI enables ASU undergraduates to gain valuable research experience to better prepare for their academic and career endeavors. 

Learn more about Katherine Alcazar’s Fall 2022 FURI 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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