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A showcase of Northeastern’s research, prototypes, and innovative ideas

Live from RISE:2017

RISE, Northeastern’s Research, Innovation, and Scholarship Expo, is an annual event that showcases the breadth and depth of the university’s research and entrepreneurial spirit. News@Northeastern will have live coverage throughout the day to share the exciting projects, innovations, and stories of this year’s RISE:2017 participants.

Award-winning research

RISE:2017 wrapped up this afternoon with the annual awards ceremony, where undergraduate and graduate researchers were honored in multiple categories.

Tracey Dodenhoff, director of the Center for Research Innovation, underscored that RISE continues to reach new heights each year and that it’s inspiring to witness students’ passion, commitment, and professionalism at the annual research, innovation, and scholarship expo.

“One of the biggest things I notice consistently, but even more so this year, is the real commitment to social impact,” Dodenhoff said. “There are so many research projects that have real objectives that will changes people’s lives.”

Dodenhoff read the names of the winners, as College of Science Dean Kenneth Henderson presented the winners with their awards.

Here are this year’s winners:

Outstanding Student Research Awards

Computer and Information Sciences     

Graduate: Bryan Koch, “Detection and Mitigation of Malicious Modifications on the Minnowboard Turbot”

Undergraduate: Benjamin Trapani, “A Fast Parallel Level Set Segmentation Algorithm for 3-D Images”

Engineering and Technology

Graduate: Harsh Engineer, “Portable Thermoelectricity Generating Kit”

Undergraduate: Justin Hynes-Bruell, “Augmented Reality for Parkinson’s: An Assistive Tool Based on Visual Cues”

Health Sciences

Graduate: Amirah Aly, “Focused Ultrasound Enhancement of an Intranasal Gene Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease”

Undergraduate: Gilbert Yap, “Motion Capture-Based Robotic Interfaces to Enhance Engagement and Adherence In Pediatric Rehabilitation”

Humanities and Arts

Graduate: Cyrus Dahmubed, “Rising with the Tides: Saving Boston from Sea Level Rise with a New Eco-District”

Undergraduate: Evan McEldowney, “Kleo: User-Centered Art Tours”

Interdisciplinary Topics, Centers and Institutes

Graduate: Michael Gargano, “Cancer Publication Portal: Identifying Gene-Cancer Associations from Biomedical Literature”

Undergraduate: Emily Navarrete, “A Student-Designed Curriculum: Developing a Project-Based Introductory Chemistry Laboratory Course”

Physical and Life Sciences

Graduate: John de la Parra, “Discovering Novel Biomarkers for Women’s Health: A Robust Platform for Disease Detection in the Menstrual Blood Proteome”

Undergraduate: Michael Nelson, “Exploring Hydrogel Potential in Football Helmets”

Social Sciences, Business and Law

Graduate: Yian Xu, “Cognitive Bias in Legal Decision-Making: New Evidence from Psychological Studies”

Undergraduate: Alaina Baker, “What’s in a Headline? Framing of Mass Violence Impacts Social Perception”

Best Video Pitch

Elikem Tettey-Tamaklo, “Redesigned Bubble CPAP to Effectively Curtail Preterm Infant Mortality in Low Resource Areas”

Graduate Innvovator Award

Liam Timms, “New Insights into the Brain, Consciousness and More with QUTE-CE MRI-Based Quantitative Vascular Mapping”

RISE AWARDS

Excellence in Research

Alaina Baker, “What’s in a Headline? Framing of Mass Violence Impacts Social Perception”

Excellence in Innovation

John de la Parra, “Discovering Novel Biomarkers for Women’s Health: A Robust Platform for Disease Detection in the Menstrual Blood Proteome”

Excellence in Scholarship

Yian Xu, “Cognitive Bias in Legal Decision-Making: New Evidence from Psychological Studies”

Excellence in Entrepreneurship (People’s Choice)

Brian Phillips, “Sentiment Driven Market Modeling”

 

Ensuring justice through language

When someone’s life is on the line at trial, it’s crucial that the jury members understand what, exactly, is expected of them. All too often, however, the opaque and complex language of the law can cloud that understanding, law student Alexander Jones discovered.

Jones shared his research at RISE:2017, making the case for written, comprehensible jury instructions.

Explains Jones:

What makes a winner?

More than 120 judges from industry and academia circulate among the 400-plus solution-oriented research projects on display at RISE:2017. Intently, they listen to the presenters, ask questions, evaluate the poster contents and designs.

Each carries an iPad with an electronic rubric that rates the displayed innovations in categories from originality to significance and impact to the overall presentation.

We wondered: In addition to the issued guidelines, what drives their decision-making? Here is a sample of responses.

Kevin Papierski, senior designer, National Amusements, Inc.

“I am a graphic designer, and so first and foremost I look for clarity: What are you trying to tell me? I want to see how the researchers take these brilliant ideas and distill them into something that can be communicated clearly, avoiding information overload.”

Greg Dalle-Molle, director of operations, Northeastern University Center for Entrepreneurship Education

“Some researchers have developed specific products, others have a specific value proposition. I am most interested in understanding what is special about the technology and how it applies to people and businesses.”

Michael Draper, senior director, Sanofi, a multinational pharmaceutical company

“I’m probably more focused than some on application-oriented innovations. I want to see something that is not only innovative but that also has a direct application. Sometimes that is a commercial application, other times it is furthering a societal value. In other words: Innovative ideas acted on and implemented.”

Susan Watts, research contracts officer, Office of Research Administration and Finance, Northeastern University

“I am not a technical wizard. I look for passion. I want to be able to see that the presenter can speak in the vernacular and approach those not in the field, translate the significance of the research. I want to see its degree of applicability, what impact it can have.”

 

Building stronger ties by balancing mindfulness and compassion

Mindfulness and compassion: The more you have of each, the better your relationships with others, right?

Not necessarily, according to research being conducted by Dipak Aggarwal, S’20, and Ming Nok Lo, S’19.

The students are investigating the similarities and differences between certain scientific and philosophical ideologies as they relate to mindfulness and compassion. Whereas psychological science views each of those processes as promoting supportive, flourishing relationships, Buddhist philosophy concentrates on the balance between the two: If one outpaces the other, suffering may result.

“Balancing them is more important than having a high level of both,” says Aggarwal. Adds Ming Nok Lo: “For example, being too compassionate in some circumstances could lower the self-esteem of the recipient.”

The researchers are working under the guidance of Paul Condon, a postdoctoral research associate in Northeastern’s Interdisciplinary Affective Science Lab, headed by Lisa Feldman Barrett, University Distinguished Professor. They are in the process of recruiting 100 couples for the study. The couples will complete surveys about their health and the nature of their relationships, participate in phone interviews about their interactions with each other, and then be hooked up to sensors taking physiological measures, for example, their heart and respiration rates, as they discuss positive, negative, and neutral topics.

“Our aim is to gain insight into how relationships can flourish long term,” says Aggarwal. “The couples’ responses, along with the measurements, will enable us to assess their levels of mindfulness and compassion and teach us new ways to cultivate wisdom in our daily interpersonal relationships.”

 

Music marketing, version 2.0

Independent musicians are like small businesses, says Vivian Ma, one of more than 400 students to present projects at RISE. “They don’t have the same capabilities to grow like big corporations do.”

That is, perhaps, until now.

Ma and fellow student Max Conley, both DMSB’17, have prototyped a first-of-its-kind relationship management software to help up-and-coming artists better connect with their fans and grow their brands.

Created in partnership with Green Line Records, Northeastern’s student-run record label, the so-called Fan Relationship Manager acts as a data aggregator that links artists’ existing social media data, concert data, and sales data for music and merchandise.

A sales pipeline allows artists to determine their fans’ life cycles—that is, whether they are casual listeners, influencers, or somewhere in between—improve marketing activities within segmented populations, and gain greater transparency into fan acquisition and retention.

Ma compares the Fan Relationship Manager to HubSpot, the popular inbound marketing and sales platform. The prototype exists, the undergraduate researchers say, “so that careers in music can thrive and be financially sustainable in a highly monopolized industry and so that smaller artists can revitalize the industry from the bottom up.”

Discovering drug treatments for alcohol addiction

Common treatments for alcohol addiction range from 12-step programs advocating abstinence to use of medications including disulfiram, sold as Antabuse, which produces an acute sensitivity to drinking alcohol but is associated with painful side effects.

Northeastern pharmacy students led by Angela Sung are developing new drugs without those side effects to help those who are dependent on alcohol, including the 15.1 million adults in the U.S. alone, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Their most promising drug candidate, named GAT358, has been shown to reduce alcohol craving by 25 percent when tested in rats.

“Alcohol addiction can cause depression, anxiety, hypertension, and increased risk of cancer,” says Sung, BHS’18, PharmD’19. “The fallout is hard not just for the person drinking but also for family and friends.”

Sung and her colleagues have been modifying existing compounds to dampen the sensation of pleasure in the brain’s reward system that reinforces the drinking of alcohol. They have been concentrating on a protein that sits on many cells in the brain and body called the cannibinoid CB1 receptor. Chemicals in alcohol and drugs such as marijuana bind to and activate CB1, producing the high. Drugs that block the receptor have been shown to curb the craving for the high but, as with disulfiram, too often the blocking is imprecise and negative side effects result.

GAT358 avoids many of those side effects. “Think of the receptor as a knob,” says Sung. “GAT358 doesn’t turn the knob off but rather tweaks it.”
Discovering GAT358 has opened doors for Sung. She became fascinated with the research while on co-op with Ganeshsingh Thakur, associate professor in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, who is also the project’s faculty advisor.

“Originally I thought I would want to work in a hospital after graduation,” says Sung. “I didn’t know about this field. Now I am eager to pursue the exciting area of drug discovery and development.”

 

Creating an interactive, personalized meditation experience

If it’s possible to meditate amid the hustle and excitement of RISE:2017, immersing yourself in a personalized visual and auditory experience might be the best way to do it.

Helios, an art experience designed to gently nudge users into a meditative state, is the brainchild of undergraduates Nathan Hulsey, AMD’17, and Nicholas Alekhine, Adrian Bjune, and Charles Perrone, all CIS’17.

Listen to Hulsey explain the invention and the inspiration behind it:

And watch a demonstration for yourself:

Collision avoidance, by land and sea

Two undergraduate research projects being presented at RISE:2017 both feature sensing technology to detect and potentially avoid nearby objects—but these projects’ applications are quite different.

One team of five students in the College of Engineering students designed their senior capstone project for an 18-year-old with cerebral palsy, who has difficulty not only controlling his wheelchair but also perceiving distance between him and objects. This challenge, the students said, is particularly difficult as he navigates the hallways of his high school. “So we tried to design a system to help with that,” says Kyle Jones, E’17.

The students dubbed their project “The Aware-Chair.” They have outfitted a donated wheelchair with an elaborate sensor system that can detect when objects are within inches on the front and sides and that stops the wheelchair to avoid collisions. They also equipped the wheelchair with an LED board that is lit green when there are no objects nearby, yellow when something in its path is close, and red when it needs to stop.

After RISE, in fact, they were scheduled to meet with the teenager to discuss their progress.

Another RISE project grew out of professor Joseph Ayers’ lab, where researchers are developing autonomous robotic lobsters that mimic the animals’ behavior and are designed to locate underwater mines. Jaimie Spahr, S’17, has worked in Ayers’ lab for the past two semesters; her research, which serves as her Honors thesis, focuses on developing an antenna for the robotic lobsters. “The antenna will help the robot investigate the environment and determine if there are objects in its surroundings, and if it can interact with or must avoid certain things,” she says.

Spahr is a behavioral neuroscience major, and says through this project she’s immersed herself in engineering concepts that are entirely new to her—for example, designing a circuit to work with the antenna. Bolstering her skill set, she says, has been very rewarding.

“The engineering skills I was lacking, but I now have a basic understanding of electrical engineering design,” she says.

Daily exercise reduces fat, improves cognitive function in kids

Daily exercise isn’t only good for kids’ physical health, according to Lauren Raine, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Psychology. It’s also good for their cognitive health.

Her study of how physical activity benefits the adolescent brain, led by professor Chuck Hillman, shows that 8- and 9-year-old children who run around for at least 70 minutes per day exhibit improved thinking skills compared to those who aren’t as active.

“The findings demonstrate that participation in a daily physical activity program not only reduces visceral fat but also improves children’s cognitive function,” says Raine, who is presenting her findings on the link between exercise and cognition in kids at RISE:2017.

Visceral fat—that is, body fat that is stored within the abdominal cavity, nearby a number of important internal organs such as the liver and the pancreas—has been linked to increased risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. That makes any research intervention to reduce obesity particularly important, especially when it comes to kids who are carrying a lot of excess weight.

For this study, Raine examined the effects of a nine-month physical activity program on changes in visceral fat and cognition in children. She found that changes in visceral fat were related to changes in cognitive performance, such that the degree of reduction in fat directly related to greater gains in inhibitory control.

“These data speak to the beneficial effects physical activity,” she says, “particularly in obese children.”

Global co-op inspires research

Last year Madeline Seibert worked on co-op at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Beijing, where she led an independent study documenting food losses and waste through Chinese supply chains, a project that included literature reviews and on-the-ground investigations from farms to markets. At RISE, she presented researching stemming from that co-op experience. “The goal was to find out how much food is wasted,” she says.

Her findings reveal that more than 200 million tons of food produced annually in China is lost or wasted—a figure amounting to about 30 percent of all food produced each year. These trends are critical to address and mirror global patterns, says Seibert, SSH’17, a combined major in international affairs and environmental science who was recently named a Schwarzman Scholar.

Seibert says getting hands-on, up-close experience with this issue on co-op was critical to understanding the underlying problems. Leen AlHajjar, SSH’17, would agree with that sentiment.

“If you really want to find a solution, you need to be embedded in the problem and understand the context.”

Leen AlHajjar SSH'17

In 2016 AlHajjar spent six months on co-op in Jordan, where she worked at the United National High Commission for Refugees. Early in her co-op, a program had was announced at the International Donors Conference in London intended to create 200,000 jobs for Syrian refugees in Jordan. As a result, she spent much of her co-op doing outreach to connect with these refugees to explain the ins and outs of issues such as work permits, their labor protections under the law, and working hours and wages.

Following her co-op, she undertook a research project to explore why the work-permit program didn’t meet target expectations; it only led to some 40,000 work permits being issued after one year, she says. Her research leaned on her experiences and the data she gathered on co-op as well as qualitative interviews with 15 refugees.

AlHajjar found some refugees worried they’d lose aid if they started working, and identified other gender, cultural, legal, and structural barriers. She argues that more work needs to be done to engage both employers and Syrian refugees about how to overcome employment obstacles.

She says she gained a much deeper understanding of the problem from living in Jordan and speaking to refugees than she could have from reading about the issue from afar.

“If you really want to find a solution, you need to be embedded in the problem and understand the context,” AlHajjar, SSH’17, a combined major in international affairs and economics. “It’s very worthwhile to be a researcher on the ground.”

Building ‘Common Ground’ among architectural fields

Seeking a way to better disseminate research across disciplines and among faculty and students, Cyrus Dahmubed created a symbiotic colloquium series and publication.

Common Ground, the name for both the speaker series and the publication, is a platform for students and faculty in the School of Architecture to connect with those in related fields, such as engineering, visual art, and photography, among others.

“This is connecting students with schools of ideas that they might not have originally thought were related to architecture,” says Dahmubed, who is a student in the Master of Architecture program. “It’s informing their research in new ways.”

The biannually-published print journal, the inaugural edition of which came out in the fall, features research, photo stories, and contributed essays meant to inspire a critical exchange of ideas and foster new research. The colloquium series the journal complements is intended to do the same, and they’re already working.

Dahmubed offers as an example students who changed the focus of their graduate research after listening to a discussion on Boston’s waterfront among associate professor Dan Adams and Marie Law Adams, lecturer of urban design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Students are becoming more flexible and more engaged in all the different aspects of this field,” Dahmubed says. “A lot of people think of architecture as this concrete, siloed thing, when it’s not at all. This discourse is allowing students to see that, and to be more successful in more varied jobs.”

‘Keeping Parkinson’s patients moving’

In the U.S. alone, approximately 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year. A student team led by Justin Schwartzseid, E’17, who has an uncle with the disease, wants to do something to help them deal with its effects—tremors, stiffness, gait changes, loss of balance, and cognitive impairment

Enter StartGait, a wearable device aimed at, as Schwartzseid puts it, “keeping Parkinson’s patients moving.”

Parkinson’s stems from the loss of brain cells, or neurons, in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra, which is located in the limbic system, a part of the brain that deals with emotions and memories. These neurons produce dopamine, a brain chemical involved in movement control. Hence patients often experience what’s called a “freezing of gait,” or FOG, where they have difficulty initiating movements.

“StartGait provides a visual and rhythmic cue to help people break out of that freezing,” says Schwartseid.

Resembling a large can of tuna measuring 4.5 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches thick, StartGait attaches at the hip with a clip. Packed with sensors, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers, the device uses algorithms to predict FOG episodes. When one registers, it shoots out a laser beam on the ground for the user to walk toward as well as a metronome-like sound to spur his or her forward progress.

“Such external cues have been found helpful in bringing about movement in people with Parkinson’s,” says Schwartzseid. “We want to help those with the disease live as normal a life as possible.”

 

 

‘If you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself’

Presenting your research can be pretty daunting, particularly if your audience is comprised of hundreds of people whom you have never met.

But that’s the challenge for more than 400 students, faculty, and staff who are showcasing their solution-focused innovations at RISE:2017.

When we ask a handful of presenters to dole out some tips for those looking to make their RISE debuts next year, they stress three particular things: be ready to explain your research to people of any age and academic background; practice before colleagues both inside and outside your field of study; and seek the insight of those more knowledgeable than you.

“If you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself,” says Anne Shutt, MS’18, quoting one of Albert Einstein’s most famous phrases.

Shutt, a graduate student in industrial engineering, is presenting her work to apply systems engineering methods to improve opioid prescribing practices in primary care settings. She notes: “You have to make sure you understand your research on a deep level so that you can explain it to anyone.”

Vivian Ma, DMSB’17, advises students to reach out to faculty for guidance. “There are so many faculty with robust professional backgrounds,” says Ma, who  prototyped a first-of-its-kind relationship management software to help up-and-coming musicians better connect with their fans. “Reach out to them, because they have so much knowledge to pass on to you.”

Lauren Raine, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Psychology, recommends future participants give themselves plenty of time to prepare. She spent countless hours practicing her presentation on the link between daily physical activity and cognitive function in kids in front of her peers in psychology and her friends in other academic fields.

“Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need,” she says. “It’s important to fully understand your data and be able to fully explain it from start to finish.”

Saving lives on Massachusetts roadways

Driving can be a jarring and, sometimes, dangerous venture. Is there a way to make it safer? That’s the question three graduate students in the information design and visualization program—each of them new to Massachusetts and inspired by trying to navigate its roadways—tackled this year.

Divya Srinivasan, Zhengyan Yu, and Liuhuaying Yang, all MFA’18, analyzed massive open-source data sets on traffic incidents in Massachusetts to determine that weather, location, and time of day were the three factors that were most influential in causing vehicle accidents.

“So, now that we know this, we thought, ‘How can we reduce the number of accidents in Massachusetts and make it safer to drive?’” Srinivasan says at Thursday’s RISE:2017 expo, where the student researchers presented their work.

They devised a small device that would be placed on a driver’s windshield that, when paired with a mobile application, could warn drivers of impending weather conditions or breaking traffic incidents before and during their commutes.

“Not being from here, I went out in the snow one day without realizing I needed chains on my tires,” Srinivasan says. “This device would warn people of slippery conditions like that.”

The device, still in its infancy, would emit a red, yellow, or green light as a driver travels along his or her route—colors based on the likelihood of dangerous conditions ahead. The warning would give a driver the opportunity to reroute to avoid that danger.

If the driver were to get into an accident, however, impact-detecting software in the device could alert nearby emergency responders as well as the driver’s family and friends.

“You can’t always get to your phone after an accident, so this type of technology could really save lives,” Srinivasan says.

Images from RISE:2017

Our photographers capture all the excitement from the morning of RISE:2017.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University
Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University
Left and Top Right Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University. Bottom Right Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

RISE and shine

Today’s the day—RISE:2017, Northeastern’s Research, Innovation, and Scholarship Expo. The annual event showcases the breadth and depth of the research and entreprenurial spirit of our students and faculty across many disciplines.

We’ll be live blogging throughout the day to share with you participants’ projects, innovations, stories, and much more.

Here’s what you need to know about RISE this year. The expo will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Cabot Cage. Some 2,000 industry leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, and technology enthusiasts will engage with more than 400 of Northeastern’s solution-focused innovations. And, better than 100 industry judges will review the submissions and select award winners.

The expo will be followed by an awards ceremony at 3 p.m. in East Village. Awards will be given to students in seven categories, and there will also be four RISE Awards for showing excellence in each of the following areas: research, innovation, scholarship, and entrepreneurship. There will be a Graduate Innovator award and an award for the best video pitch, as well.

Our blog will also feature a compilation of social media posts about RISE from throughout the day, and you can follow RISE on Twitter using #RISE2017 and #GotResearch.