Posts Tagged: undergraduate research

Alumna named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list

Deb Raji

 

Recent EngSci graduate Inioluwa Deborah Raji (1T9) is among the leading innovators on the Forbes 30 Under 30 2021 list.  She was recognized in the category of Enterprise Technology for her impactful research on racial and gender bias in AI, and for holding to account companies that use biased technology.

Her work, which she began while still an undergraduate student, has made international headlines and has already helped set new for accountability standards within the AI industry.

Raji was recently also named to MIT Technology Review’s Top Innovators Under 35.


EngSci thesis project selected as 2020 INFORMS Undergraduate Operations Research Prize Finalist

Anna Deza

 

Congratulations to recent graduate Anna Deza (EngSci 2T0)!  Her fourth year thesis work has been selected as one of 10 finalists for the 2020 INFORMS Undergraduate Operations Research Prize.  Deza conducted this research–titled A Multistage Stochastic Integer Programming Approach to Distributed Operating Room Scheduling–under the supervision of Professor Merve Bodur (MIE).

Deza’s gained extensive research experience during her undergraduate studies in EngSci.  She completed three summer research placements, including two through the Engineering Science Research Opportunities Program (ESROP): first with Université Paris-Saclay after her first year, and at Technion in Israel after her third year.  She is now a PhD student at the University of California at Berkeley, specializing in industrial engineering and operations research.

“EngSci is a program that really fosters undergraduate research,” says Deza.  “I’m grateful to the thesis course coordinator, Professor Alan Chong, for some very helpful workshops he provided that contributed to the quality of my work.”

The final competition of research presentations will take place in the second week of November at the virtual INFORMS Annual Meeting.  Good luck, Anna!


Student research: smart UV lamp to fight COVID-19

smart UV lamp

This prototype UV lamp, designed by a team including undergraduate student Bipasha Goyal (Year 3 EngSci), is part of a smart robotic assembly that is designed to sterilize surfaces in hospitals, schools and even residential buildings. (Image: Junho (Dave) Jeong)

 

Bipasha Goyal (Year 3 EngSci) is working on a new tool to help defend against COVID-19.  The smart UV lamp she is designing under the supervision of Professor Joyce Poon (ECE, EngSci 0T2) will use sensors for optimal disinfection in health care settings.

The innovative system, called LumineSense, is one of dozens of student-led projects funded through Mitacs Research Training Awards.

To learn how Goyal plans to integrate smart sensors and algorithms into the device, read the full story in the U of T Engineering News.


Student-designed tool to help cancer patients wins John W. Senders Award

EPICSpeech team photo

The members of the EPICSpeech team, from left to right: Betty Liu, Charlie Yang, Sulagshan Raveendrakumar, Jacob Smith and Netra Unni Rajesh (Photo courtesy EPICSpeech team)

 

A flexible plastic plate dotted with electrodes may not seem like something that belongs in a human mouth, but this student-developed device could help give some cancer patients back the ability to speak or swallow.

The innovative team behind the device are recent graduates Betty Bingruo Liu, Netra Unni Rajesh, Sulagshan Raveendrakumar, Jacob Smith, and Seung Doo (Charlie) Yang (all EngSci 1T9 PEY). Now their work has been recognized with the prestigious John W. Senders Award for Imaginative Design, which is presented to Year 4 University of Toronto engineering students for imaginative and successful application of engineering to the design of a medical device. The award is named after human factors and ergonomics pioneer Professor John W. Senders.

The team took on a challenge presented to them in EngSci’s biomedical systems capstone course by doctors from the Toronto General Hospital (TGH) Department of Head and Neck Cancer Surgery. For 17,000 Canadians diagnosed with tongue cancer every year, treatment often includes surgery to remove part of their tongue. This can leave patients with significant speech and swallowing impairment.

In rehabilitation, speech pathologists use electropalatography (EPG) devices to detect abnormalities in tongue motion and prescribe specific exercises to help restore functionality. Existing EPG devices are custom-made for each patient with 62 hand-wired electrodes, making them expensive and out of reach for many. The many electrodes also create a tangle of wires that impedes natural tongue movement and causes discomfort during exercises.

To address these limitations, the students created the EPICSpeech device (Electropalatography with Programmable Integrated Circuits for Speech Rehabilitation).

EPICSpeech device schematic

Overview of the EPICSpeech device. (Image courtesy of EPICSpeech team)

The team was inspired by the use of flexible printed circuit boards (PCBs) in medical applications such as diagnostic catheters and blood glucose monitors. Instead of a hard custom-fitted mouthpiece, EPICSpeech uses a flexible PCB that can be easily and cheaply mass produced. It allows the device to conform to the shape of a patient’s palate comfortably.

By embedding an internal processor and half as many electrodes as existing devices, the team also reduced the number of wires exiting from the patient’s mouth from 62 to just 8. “The key design feature was optimizing the number electrodes while giving users enough information to understand where their tongue is moving,” says capstone course instructor Professor Chris Bouwmeester. The smaller number of wires allows patients to move their tongue more naturally during exercises.

In collaboration with Dr. Douglas Chepeha, Dr. Majd Al-Mardini, and James Kelley from the TECHNA Institute, and Carly Barbone from Toronto Rehab at the University Health Network, the team also worked to meet the tough performance and safety requirements of medical devices. “The hardest part was integrating complex electrical components with a biocompatible base to fit safely in the mouth,” says Smith. “Many materials used in circuits are not biocompatible. We learned quickly how much work it is to combine electrical and biomedical components so they work within the mouth when covered with saliva.”

The project drew on knowledge the students had gained throughout their studies, Including engineering design, hardware circuits, programming, prototyping, biomaterials and biological assays. “This project is a great example of the power of multidisciplinary collaboration,” says Bouwmeester. “With a mix of students from EngSci’s electrical & computer engineering and biomedical systems engineering majors this team was able to achieve more advanced electrical hardware design and biological testing than a single discipline team would have.”

The resulting design is easier and cheaper to manufacture, can help speed up patient recovery, and can even help guide surgeons to better reconstructions. “This device has the potential to revolutionize rehabilitation of oral cavity patients,” says Dr. Chepeha. “It will help patients speak and eat after cancer treatment so they can go back to work and interact in society.”

Dr. Chepeha and his colleagues plan to continue working with EngSci students to test the device in patients and develop a wireless blue tooth interface to eliminate wires protruding from the mouth. They hope ultimately to license the device for distribution and support a speech and language pathologist to continue research on this innovative technology.


Inioluwa Deborah Raji (EngSci 1T9) named to MIT Technology Review’s Top Innovators Under 35

Deborah Raji photo

EngSci alumna Deborah Raji (1T9) has investigated racial and gender bias in facial recognition services. (Photo courtesy of Deborah Raji)

 

EngSci alumna Inioluwa Deborah Raji (EngSci 1T9) has been named to this year’s list of Top Innovators Under 35 by MIT Technology Review, an impressive achievement for such a recent graduate.

Raji was recognized for her impactful research on racial and gender bias in facial recognition services, such as those used by law enforcement agencies.  Her work, which she began while still an undergraduate student, made international headlines and has already helped set standards for accountability within the AI industry.

Read the full story of how Raji’s research and advocacy are having an impact in the U of T Engineering News.


What undergraduate summer research looks like in the time of COVID-19

By Tyler Irving

KMUTT virtual research meeting

 

Lauren Streitmatter (Year 2 EngSci) thought she’d be heading to Imperial College London this summer, but the pandemic had other plans.

“I was really looking forward to the hands-on experience working in a research lab, as well as going to Europe for the first time,” she says. “After that fell through, I didn’t have many ideas for a new summer position.”

But a few days after the cancellation, Streitmatter got an email about a new research opportunity, this one at Carnegie Mellon University. The project involved pandemic modelling, so it could be completed remotely, and the supervisor was U of T Engineering alumnus Professor Peter Zhang (EngSci 1T1, MIE MASc 1T3).

“I thought it looked really interesting,” says Streitmatter. “I got an interview and was accepted in early May to start the remote placement. We hope to uncover fundamental physical laws of epidemic processes by designing novel Explainable AI (XAI) methods.”

Lauren Streitmatter

Lauren Streitmatter is completing her summer research project remotely with Peter Zhang (EngSci 1T1, MIE MASc 1T3), a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. (Photo courtesy Lauren Streitmatter)

Streitmatter is one of dozens of U of T Engineering students who are forging ahead with summer research placements, despite the physical distancing restrictions in place throughout much of the world.

More than 50 of these projects are supported through the Engineering Science Research Opportunities Program (ESROP), which provides fellowships that are matched by project supervisors. ESROP is made possible by philanthropic donations from many benefactors, including Engineering Science alumni and industry partners.

“We’ve had an absolutely tremendous response from our partners both here at U of T and abroad, many of whom are our alumni,” says Scott Sleeth, Curriculum Officer in the Division of Engineering Science, who coordinates summer research placements.

“Summer is a perfect time to explore and learn in these open-ended projects,” says Zhang. “My mentors — including Dean Emerita Cristina Amon (MIE), David Romero, professors Chris Beck (MIE), Tim Chan (MIE), and Yu-Ling Cheng (ChemE) — lit the entrance for me, and I hope I can do something similar for future generations of students.”

All of the placements are being completed online. Many of them focus on topics such as data science, artificial intelligence, or bioinformatics, which naturally lend themselves to remote collaboration.

Like Streitmatter, some of the students have shifted their placements from one supervisor to another, including many within U of T. But others are going ahead with their original placements abroad, albeit virtually.

These include eight students studying with Professor Jonathan Chan (EngSci 8T4, ChemE MASc 8T7, PhD 9T5) another EngSci alumnus who is now a professor at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi.

“We all have biweekly meetings with Professor Chan and each other to keep updated on relevant online events, such as seminars and conferences, and to check-in on the progress everyone is making,” says Dunja Matic (Year 3 EngSci).

Matic is working on two projects: one which uses physiological data from EEGs or ECGs to train algorithms to classify emotions, and another that uses deep learning (a form of artificial intelligence) to predict the effects of genetic variations.

“I am being challenged to learn about topics that are out of my comfort zone, such as artificial intelligence,” says Matic. “The new plan for this placement is still very exciting, despite not being able to work in person.”

“Everything is going as expected,” says Chan. “There are ups-and-downs as usual and the team is learning to work with one another and their mentors and research collaborators. In some ways, I’d say this batch of students is able to produce even more as they able to focus on the projects that they selected. But we may distract them with some other events so they do not overexert themselves.”

The high number of placements is another example of the way that U of T Engineering is adapting to the new normal.

“I’m quite pleased with how this all turned out,” says Sleeth. “It’s been rewarding to see the lengths to which professors are willing to go to ensure that these students can still have meaningful research experiences, and to support them in their professional development.”


EngSci student named Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford University

EngSci student Netra Unni Rajesh (1T9 + PEY) will pursue graduate studies at Stanford University with a focus on cancer treatment. (Photo: Knight-Hennessy Scholars Stanford)

 

Graduating student Netra Unni Rajesh (1T9 + PEY) has been selected from over 6,000 international applicants for a prestigious scholarship at Stanford University. She will join a cohort of students from around the world as a 2020 Knight-Hennessy Scholar as she pursues a PhD in bioengineering.

Rajesh will focus her PhD research on designing new cancer technologies to help expedite patients’ recovery. She was initially drawn to cancer research after completing a high school science fair project. When she later met a patient undergoing chemotherapy, she learned how physically arduous treatments were. Her hope is to integrate the experience she gained with biomaterials engineering, cancer technology development and immunoengineering during her time in EngSci to design novel tools that can help cancer patients in the clinic.

“Netra is a wonderful example of an EngSci student who took full advantage of the opportunities available to all of our students,” says EngSci Chair Professor Will Cluett. “She illustrates the value of investing in our students at an early stage in their academic careers.”

About half of EngSci students pursue graduate studies or enrol in professional schools in medicine, business, law or architecture after completing their undergraduate degrees. Rajesh is among the many EngSci students who take advantage of the wide range of opportunities offered during their undergraduate program to build their research skills. As a Year 1 student she secured a summer research position at the National University of Singapore, with support from the Engineering Science Summer Research Opportunities Program (ESROP). She spent her summer after Year 3 at Caltech, through an ESROP – Global fellowship, and her PEY Co-op placement at MIT, working on technologies for cancer drug delivery and vaccine production, respectively.

“My time in EngSci has been a life-changing experience,” says Rajesh. “I am especially grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue cutting-edge research abroad, and be surrounded by hardworking students that constantly push the boundaries.”

Learn more about EngSci students gaining research experience.


FLATTEN: EngSci students’ COVID-19 project makes national headlines

FLATTEN.ca is an online tool developed by a team of volunteers, including EngSci students. It uses self-reporting to create a heatmap of potential COVID-19 cases across the Greater Toronto Area. (Image courtesy FLATTEN.ca)

As governments around the world work hard to contain the coronavirus, a key ingredient is in short supply: detailed data on the presence of the virus in our communities. Without this information, public health agencies cannot accurately identify where localized efforts are needed most.

This is the gap that Year 1 EngSci student Shrey Jain and his colleagues are trying to fill. Jain leads a team of over 25 volunteer collaborators who sprang into action two weeks ago to create an online tool that develops a real-time heatmap of potential and confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Called FLATTEN.ca, the platform uses data analytics and information crowdsourced from users who anonymously self-report how they are feeling. The goal is to identify local outbreaks so that officials can see areas where resources will be in high demand.

The current goal is to gather data from 600,000 Toronto area residents—about ten percent of the population—to provide a more accurate picture of virus spread than is currently available. Google has offered to scale the project up to other regions across the country, if they succeed.

The FLATTEN team includes engineering, computer science and molecular genetics students from U of T, the University of Waterloo, the University of New Brunswick and McMaster University. Several U of T professors in fields from public health to computer science are among its advisors.

“The EngSci program and my friends in EngSci taught me what it really means to work hard on a daily basis,” says Jain, as the team continues their efforts in addition to their regular course work.  Joining Jain on the team are EngSci students Martin Staadecker, Arthur Allshire, Rassam Yazdi (all Year 1), Hongyu (Charlie) Chen and Siyan Zhao (both Year 3 Machine Intelligence), and Jianing (Robert) Li and Lingkai Shen (both Year 4 Machine Intelligence).

“To all EngSci students who are involved in this project, I want to thank you for your efforts so far and encourage you to press on. The human race needs all the help it can get,” says Interim EngSci Chair, Professor Will Cluett.

Read how the team’s work is contributing to Canadian COVID-19 research in the Globe & Mail.


Planets in motion: an EngSci summer research story

Naireen Hussain

EngSci student Naireen Hussain (Year 4) spent summers researching a fundamental subject in astronomy.

Chaos theory may seem like a very complex topic, but EngSci student Naireen Hussain is not intimidated. The Year 4 student recently published a research paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on a key question about the role chaos plays in planetary motion. The publication is the result of several years of work with Professor Daniel Tamayo of Princeton University.

Hussain spent two summers and part of two academic years working with Tamayo at U of T’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics. They took on a challenging research topic related to the uncertainty inherent in the movement of solar systems. Their work helps to quantify how stable a planetary system is, and will help guide the assumptions that astronomers make when studying planetary dynamics or formation from afar. Hussain’s research focused heavily on statistical and computational analysis.

“For an undergraduate to produce such high-impact research is very impressive, let alone being first author on a scientific paper before they graduate,” says Professor Aimy Bazylak (MIE), EngSci’s Associate Chair for Research.

Read more about Naireen’s research in The Varsity.

Hussain is one of many EngSci students who spend their summers in university research labs at U of T and around the world. In addition to EngSci’s own Engineering Science Research Opportunities Program (ESROP), the university supports summer research through its Centre for International Experience, the University Toronto Excellence Awards, NSERC USRA, and many department-specific summer research programs. Engineering students who conduct research on campus can present their work at the annual Undergraduate Engineering Research Day (UnERD) conference every August.

“I recommend that all of our students gain research experience. They will learn how to distinguish between research and engineering, which is an asset in industry or academia,” says Bazylak.

We sat down with Naireen Hussain to learn more about her experience.


How did you come to work with Prof. Tamayo?

After Year 1 in EngSci, I participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) jointly hosted by the Canadian Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics and the Dunlap Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Because I enjoyed it a lot, I returned after Year 2 and paired up with Prof. Tamayo. I continued to work with him through Year 3, and then took a break for the Professional Experience Year Co-op Program. In Year 4 we wrapped up our work, and got the research paper out the door and published.

What was it like being part of a research group with grad students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors?

It was a very welcoming environment. The work itself was mostly done in small groups, but during the summers, there were weekly meetings where the larger research group would gather to talk about their progress or about recent papers, which was a great opportunity to learn about other research frontiers.

What did you learn through this experience?

Research is slow hard work! It takes substantial time to have solid evidence to back up your hypothesis, and to ensure that you didn’t miss any details when validating your claim.

From a technical perspective, I definitely learned a lot of transferable technical skills, especially in statistics. These are of use to me even though I ultimately decided to pursue robotics in my studies instead of astrophysics.

Do you have any advice for students about doing research?

Don’t feel intimidated if you’re in your first or second year, as professors are generally enthusiastic and are willing to help mentor you. As long as you demonstrate initiative, you’ll be surprised by how much you’d be able to learn! Also, if possible, it is worthwhile to continue research into the school year. The extended time allows you to examine a problem in more depth.


Lessons from the North – EngSci student travels to Nunavut as youth ambassador

students walking in Iqaluit

Members of the Arctic Youth Ambassador Caucus walk through Iqaluit last month. Two U of T Engineering students were delegates to the four-day conference. (Photo: Sam Lin)

 

Year 3 EngSci student Lia Codgrington has just returned from an exciting trip to Nunavut to attend the Arctic Youth Ambassador Caucus. She was one of 22 young leaders chosen from across Canada to travel to Iqaluit to meet with Inuit Elders and participate in activities designed to foster relationships with communities in the North.

Codrington previously founded the Indigenous Allyship Program as part of U of T’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Discussions with community members in Iqaluit gave her ideas for potential student projects that could help develop solutions for issues like housing and organic food waste management in Arctic communities. She is now collaborating with groups on campus to further develop these ideas.

Read more about the caucus and her work.

Learn about the “Blueprint to Action” created by U of T Engineering’s Eagles’ Longhouse in response to the university’s Truth and Reconciliation report.


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