Summer in the engineering lab

More than 20 undergraduate students from eight colleges and universities throughout the country presented a host of innovative research projects on Thursday afternoon at Northeastern University.

The projects, ranging from improving breast cancer imaging to preventing the progressive collapse of large concrete buildings, represented the culmination of Northeastern’s 10-week Research Experience for Undergraduates Programs, which were supported with funding from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Students participating in the program hailed from Northeastern, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Connecticut, SUNY Buffalo, Lawrence Technological University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, Roxbury Community College and Mass Bay Community College.

Throughout the program students worked on the projects in labs alongside faculty in the College of Engineering’s Bernard M. Gordon Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems (Gordon-CenSSIS) and the ALERT (Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats) Center of Excellence.

The projects, participants said, addressed a range of real-world challenges and helped undergraduate participants hone their critical research skills in many ways.

Jose Martinez, a research assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering affiliated with Gordon-CenSSIS and ALERT, was thrilled at how much students accomplished in such as short time.

For instance, in collaboration with Mehrdad Sasani, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and ALERT researcher, Northeastern students Lisa Hofgensang and Logan Jackson designed sensing systems that can detect progressive collapse of structures using carbon nanotubes and optical fibers.

“Progressive collapse occurs when an initial local failure spreads out and causes an entire structure to collapse,” Hofgensang said. “We want to create a sensing system that can be integrated into the structural network of a building.”

Another Northeastern student, rising sophomore Antonio Basukoski, used programming software to improve a previously developed tissue imaging technique for diagnosing breast cancer as a participant in the BIOSENSE REU Program, a REU Site supported by NSF. Carey Rappaport, deputy director of the ALERT Center, associate director of Gordon-CenSSIS and Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, compared the new technique to the difference between looking at a black-and-white image versus one that also includes various shades of gray. “Do you know how significant that is?” he asked.

Ben Gowaski, also a rising sophomore at Northeastern, worked in collaboration with Ali Abur, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, on a project funded through the Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks, or CURENT.

“Over half the energy that is produced in the U.S. isn’t used,” Gowaski said. “But we can’t store this energy. It’s more efficient to just produce it all and let it go to waste.” As a result, Gowaski spent his summer modeling theoretical power grids in an attempt to identify more efficient approaches.