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Meet student researchers impacting security and sustainability

by | Nov 14, 2022 | Features, Fulton Schools

Dominic Varda (right) is exploring sustainable water disinfection methods as part of the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, or FURI, program. He is one of many student researchers in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University helping to solve real-world problems through hands-on research. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

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

Investigating electric vehicle cybersecurity, developing a durable and recyclable plastic, exploring sustainable antibiotic production in space and sustainably decontaminating water are a few of the ways Arizona State University students are improving the world we live in 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.

Engineering student Saif Elsaady works with Assistant Professor Ayan Mallik to explore electric vehicle cybersecurity as part of the FURI program in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

Saif Elsaady pictured at right. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Saif Elsaady

Saif Elsaady, a sophomore in the engineering program’s electrical systems concentration, is interested in electric vehicles, or EVs. Elsaady is conducting research on the cybersecurity of electric vehicles to help owners guard against potential cyberattacks with Ayan Mallik, an assistant professor of engineering, as part of the FURI program. He says he was surprised by the simplicity of electric vehicles and he has been excited to explore how they work.

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What made you want to get involved in FURI and the project you chose?

The idea of learning more and expanding my network has always been of interest to me. I’ve always wanted to learn more about electric cars and the specific differences they have from internal combustion engine vehicles. I chose this project because it is an opportunity to do that.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

Cyberattacks are a major threat to electric vehicles and chargers. This engineering research project will help impact the world in that it will help people better prepare against cyberattacks on electric cars.

Plugging an electric vehicle into a charging station allows it to draw power from the grid. Chargers power an electric motor, which rotates the wheels, by storing the electricity in rechargeable batteries, which then provide power for the motor as needed. The microcontroller and charging system within the car are the main targets of cyberattacks in electric cars.

Attackers can use different methods to overcharge or undercharge a car’s battery, as well as obtain information regarding the owner of the vehicle from the charging station. The biggest issue I seek to address is limiting cyberattacks and ensuring EV safety and preparedness with software modifications.

Have there been any surprises in your research?

The simplicity of electric cars has been a surprise to me. The power of electric motors is frequently limited by the EV’s battery rather than the motor itself because they are lightweight, dependable and have significantly fewer mechanical components than a gasoline engine. 

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

My most memorable experience was being selected for the program. It was a great moment filled with lots of excitement. 

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

FURI has helped in learning more about engineering, and it can be a potential opportunity to learn different types of skills to utilize in the real world. 

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

His best advice was to expand my network and have the willingness within me to learn more. 

Learn more about Saif Elsaady’s Fall 2022 FURI project.

Chemical engineering student Micayla Corker works with equipment in a lab as part of the FURI program at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Micayla Corker

Micayla Corker is a chemical engineering junior in the FURI program working with Kailong Jin, an assistant professor of chemical engineering. She wants to reduce the proliferation of single-use plastics by modifying a recyclable polymer — a material like plastic or proteins made of very large molecules — to improve its durability for use in 3D printing and other applications where single-use plastics are the norm. Corker’s work was also sponsored by W. L. Gore & Associates, which provides extra funding for outstanding FURI and MORE projects for one semester.

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What made you want to get involved in FURI?

Before starting my research, I wasn’t sure which field I wanted to pursue. Getting involved in FURI was a very easy way to get practical experience in a topic that interested me. I also wanted to develop better relationships with faculty and graduate students.

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

I chose this project, which focuses on sustainable polymers for improved circularity, because I’ve always had a passion for sustainability and was interested in learning more about polymers. This project was a very hands-on way for me to combine both of those principles.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

Today, plastics have a wide variety of uses such as fabrics in fashion, IV tubes in medicine and steering wheels in the automotive industry. However, most plastics that are produced are single-use and discarded, making up the majority of human waste per year. My research project will help combat this issue by making a recyclable polymer with the thermal and mechanical properties necessary to replace single-use plastics in various applications.

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

My involvement in FURI and other extracurriculars will help me establish myself as someone who is excited to learn, is a dedicated student and a hard worker. I am currently looking for internships and having experience to talk about during interviews is very helpful. Also, because I am interested in pursuing a career in materials manufacturing, my experience with polymers shows that I have a unique perspective to offer.

What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your faculty mentor, Assistant Professor Kailong Jin?

Helping other people is good, but always make sure your input is documented so that you receive the credit you deserve.

Why should other students get involved in this program?

I believe FURI is a great way for students who are interested in a particular subject to gain experience not only in that subject, but also working with others in a more professional setting than school. It’s hard to go from school straight to a corporate job, so I think this is a great middle ground.

Learn more about Micayla Corker’s Fall 2022 FURI project.

Biomedical engineering student Joy Agus stands in front of a model of a Mars rover with a vial of red liquid, demonstrating her research in the FURI program at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Joy Agus

Biomedical engineering junior Joy Agus is helping to make antibiotic production sustainable during space travel. Her FURI research with Apollo Arquiza, a biomedical engineering lecturer, involves modifying polymers for penicillin growth in bioreactors.

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

I wanted to get involved in FURI because it’s a way to explore the field of biomedical engineering outside of my classes. I chose the project I’m working on because it allowed me to gain a better sense of what goes into making an efficient bioreactor using an innovative fermentation method.

Have there been any surprises in your research?

Yes! I did not expect that so much work went into ensuring the safety of the researchers when it comes to dealing with certain materials like bacteria or fungi. I was also surprised by how much heat is generated by fungi to produce penicillin. This is important because the best bioreactor would have the best aeration and agitation mechanisms to be able to regulate that heat and prevent malfunction.

How will your engineering research project impact the world?

Creating a functional solid-state fermentation bioreactor for spacecraft that produces penicillin will help make space travel more sustainable. A resource-efficient way of keeping medicine on hand can only make sustainable space travel a more attainable reality.

A bioreactor is simply any system/apparatus that supports the growth of microorganisms under controlled conditions. For this FURI project, we are designing multiple laboratory-scale bioreactor prototypes. The operation volume of laboratory-scale (or small scale, not commercial or industrial) bioreactors is in grams.

Solid-state fermentation, or SSF, is a type of fermentation process that has been regaining popularity for many reasons over its counterpart, submerged fermentation, or SmF. Solid-state fermentation is defined as the growth of microorganisms in moist, insoluble substrates with low water content. A low water requirement means lower consumption and less wastewater generation, which means this method of fermentation requires less energy and resources to keep bioconversion processes up and running in addition to a higher yield of products. The substrate in an SSF system is a solid matrix that serves as the structural support and supplier of nutrients to encourage microbial growth.

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

Other students should get involved in this program so they can get a more accurate or more informed sense of what research is like. If a student is considering multiple career paths, and research is one of them, FURI is definitely a good way to get introduced to the whole process so they can figure out what they want to do and where their interests lie.

Is there anything else you want to mention about your experience?

There have been so many surprises, but I’m glad I get a chance to be involved in a research project that is interesting to me and learn more about a certain topic — which in this case is bioreactors — that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise in my regular classes.

Learn more about Joy Agus’s Fall 2022 FURI project.

Dominic Varda works in the lab of Assistant Professor Sergi Garcia-Segura as part of the FURI program in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

Dominic Varda

Dominic Varda is an environmental engineering senior and FURI researcher studying electrochlorination with Sergi Garcia-Segura, an assistant professor of environmental engineering. This water disinfection method can be used on-site for long-term use in residential areas that lack access to fresh water. Varda is investigating how different materials affect decontamination performance.

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What made you want to get involved in FURI?

I took a class, EVE 304 Environmental Engineering Processes Lab, with Dr. Sergi Garcia-Segura and really enjoyed it. It was a course heavily focused on lab work and I found myself enjoying the experiments. The class was very chemistry-focused, which I liked, so I reached out to Dr. Garcia-Segura about doing some research with him outside of class. He was happy to support my project and has been helpful every step of the way.

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

The first few days and weeks were very exciting and new to me. I had little to no real research or lab experience before this, so everything was a learning curve. Once I became comfortable enough to do experiments on my own, research became much more enjoyable and exciting.

Have there been any surprises in your research?

There have been surprises during every step of the way. There were times when I was confident to reach a certain result and my experiments didn’t pan out at all. On the other hand, there were times where I felt confused and lost but ended up having good breakthroughs in my research.

What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your faculty mentor, Assistant Professor Sergi Garcia-Segura?

Some of the best advice I have received from my mentor would have to be that if you don’t love the journey and the process, the destination is not going to be worth it. He made it clear to me from day one that I have to enjoy what I’m doing, because passion and joy in your work will take you a lot further and produce much higher-quality work than if you dislike what you’re doing. He also told me that if at any time I would like to try something new or go a different route, that was perfectly fine with him as long as I had a plan.

Why should other students get involved in FURI?

Other students should consider this program because it is a great way to test the waters and see if you like research. FURI is not a huge time commitment and I think it offers the right balance of flexibility and opportunity so you can really have fun and enjoy the work you do.

Learn more about Dominic Varda’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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