Research, entrepreneurship at Northeastern celebrated at RISE:2015

Northeastern University students and faculty on Thursday showcased their entrepreneurial spirit and innovative research projects across many disciplines at RISE:2015.

The Office of the Provost and the Center for Research Innovation host the university’s annual research, innovation, and scholarship expo, where students and faculty this year presented more than 400 posters on projects focusing on a score of fields, from marine science and drug delivery to cybersecurity and sustainability.

The event, which was held in the Cabot Center, included Innovation Alley, an area dedicated to innovations with high commercial potential. Many of the research projects featured at RISE:2015 are also working with IDEA, Northeastern’s student-run venture accelerator.

At an awards ceremony following the expo, President Joseph E. Aoun congratulated students for their outstanding achievements. He noted Northeastern’s commitment to use-inspired research that solves global challenges in health, security, and sustainability—the university three programmatic pillars—and suggested that next year’s ceremony feature an award for research that addresses a grand challenge submitted by industry.

“What we are doing here is terrific, because we are thinking about how we can take our research to the application side,” Aoun said.

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Indeed, many of the research projects featured at RISE focused on addressing real-world challenges, particularly in Northeastern’s three key research areas. Daniel Jamison, E/S’16, a fourth-year combined major in electrical engineering and physics, presented his interdisciplinary research group’s work on developing ultra low-cost, sustainable, and commercially viable solar cells. He noted that today’s solar cells are inefficient and the cost for silicon is quite high. The team, guided by associate professor of physics Latika Menon’s work in developing nanomaterials, is working on a solar cell design that incorporates earth-abundant materials such as titanium dioxide and iron oxide and features an arrangement of nanotubes that provide much greater surface area to absorb sunlight than other cells with a planer surface.

The team has a “working model,” and Jamison’s research involves testing the prototypes’ efficiency using a device that simulates solar energy from the sun.

Neel Shah, E’15, and Tushar Swamy, E/S’15, presented their cybersecurity research, which they are conducting in Northeastern’s Energy-Efficient and Secure Systems Lab. In particular, the student researchers are working to identify countermeasures to prevent Web-based attacks that target vulnerabilities when computer systems are running encryption programs.

Several other featured projects derived from Northeastern’s Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats, or ALERT Center, a multi-university Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence. One, presented by first-year engineering student Anthony Bisulco, E’19, focuses on airport security screening using a millimeter wave radar system to detect potential threats from distances between 10 meters and 40 meters. Millimeter waves, Bisulco explained, can penetrate clothing and provide important information for distinguishing potential dielectric threats such as explosives, and his work aims to improve the imaging resolution on this technology in development at ALERT.

Some projects focused on the humanities. History major Martha Pearson’s research was inspired by her co-op at the University Libraries Archives and Special Collections, where she explored the interplay between education civil rights in Boston and busing desegregation. Pearson, SSH’15, is now building an online exhibit on how local communities and organizations used numerous methods, from protests to lawsuits, to desegregate busing in Boston.

Many undergraduate students’ projects were the result of collaborations with graduate students and faculty. Second-year student Heather Sin, E’18, discussed her research project on using handwriting analysis to help with early detection of Parkinson’s disease. Not far from Sin, psychology major Samantha DiChiara, S’16, presented her work on a study in the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory that examines the factors influencing someone’s judgments of another person’s morality.

Elsewhere, students presented research projects in the health sciences ranging from developing new HIV prevention measures in Kenya to studying smartphone apps’ effect on weight loss and exploring the culture of concussion safety in professional lacrosse.

For his research project, architecture major Joseph Pucci, AMD’15, set his sights on Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid, with a particular focus on where the Olympic Aquatic Center might be built. His project, titled “Beacon Yards: De Novo Urbanism Research Studio,” proposed a plan for a temporary swimming and diving facility along the Charles River. Both facilities, he said, would be incorporated into future design plans so the land would be utilized after the Olympics ended.

Environmental sciences major Ethan Edson, S’15, is working on improving the method of collection and analysis of microplastic pollution from the ocean. He’s created a MantaRay sensor that he said would be easier, cheaper, and more efficient to study the ocean’s microplatsic, which is currently collected by dragging a net behind a boat and seeing what comes out. “There is no modern technology behind it,” Edson said of the current method. “This would offer the same methods of testing for everyone and set more standardized results.”

At the awards ceremony, undergraduates and graduate students received Outstanding Student Research Awards in several categories. RISE Awards were also presented in four categories: research, innovation, scholarship, and people’s choice. Other honors included the Graduate Innovator Award, the Best Video Pitch Award, and Best Poster Award.

In his remarks before the winners were announced, Mel Bernstein, senior vice provost for research and graduate education, noted that the RISE event “each year gets more and more exciting, and is a strong indication of the incredible quality of scholarship, research, and entrepreneurial activities at Northeastern.”

Staff writer Joe O'Connell contributed to this story.