Undergraduate Research Fosters Innovation

2/29/2012

Research has been a core value of the Stevens education since its founding. From the Scholars Program to Technogenesis to Senior Design, research serves as a critical foundation of the Stevens experience, where undergraduates are engaged in sophisticated research usually reserved for graduate students at other universities. Stevens students look forward to and thrive on hands-on, practical research and its applications, in many instances seeing their work published, reach the patent stage, and/or presented at conferences.

Each year, students participate in a Research Colloquium, where they are able to share their research and outcomes with their peers, faculty, and industry partners. Projects run the gamut, covering topics in each major discipline.

Jennifer Wehof, an Environmental Engineering major and Cooperative Education student currently in her fourth year at Stevens, is working on a project entitled, “After the Storm: Beach Recovery,” as part of the Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering department. Through the Scholars Program, she has worked with Dr. Jon Miller in the Davidson Laboratory since her freshman year. When this research opportunity became available, Wehof wanted to work on it, but she also knew she wanted to study abroad. Dr. Miller helped her balance both, and Wehof was able to spend this past summer in the Netherlands while continuing her research. The project has since been submitted for inclusion in the International Conference for Coastal Engineering, which will be held in Spain this coming summer. If chosen, her advisor in Holland will present their work at the conference, where Wehof hopes to join him.

“Research is so important because it helps you be innovative and learn to form your own conclusions and ideas. Instead of relying on other people to tell me what’s next, I can research and figure it out on my own,” Wehof said. “Working on this project has opened my mind to other opportunities – I’m now considering a Ph.D. program. I can see myself being a professor and helping students the way my professors have helped me.”

Wehof also credits Study Abroad as a key component of her Stevens experience: “Being able to do research abroad was incredible, but being immersed in another culture while continuing my studies was invaluable.”

Thomas Tritt says he has always been interested in research because his dream is to pursue medical school after graduating from Stevens. Through the Technogenesis Summer Scholars Program, Tritt, a junior Biomedical Engineering student, has been involved with a project – “Development and Evaluation of a Novel, Real-Time Mobile Telesonography System in Management of Abdominal Trauma” – in conjunction with Hackensack Medical Center, working under Dr. Vikki Hazelwood and Ph.D. student Marissa Gray.

“Last summer, I was developing a protocol and collecting data for the project, but this summer I will be able to go even deeper into the project, helping Marissa publish a paper for her Ph.D.,” Tritt said. “It’s partially funded by the Department of Defense, so I will get to do research and data collection for them as well.”

Tritt defines his research experience as allowing him to reach a “higher level of understanding for a particular field.” He hopes to focus on research in medical school and credits Technogenesis with helping him accomplish his goals at Stevens. He is also pursuing an Entrepreneurship minor, which he feels compliments his studies and research by helping provide fundamentals.

“Entrepreneurship is the spirit of Technogenesis,” Tritt said. “Stevens provides an excellent educational background for students and then also affords them the real-life opportunities to do research hands-on.”

On another end of the spectrum, Stevens students are also participating in research that combines science and technology with art and music. Nick Catania, who is set to graduate in May, has a double major in Physics & Engineering Physics and Music & Technology. His project – “Research and Development of an Interactive Learning Display for the Liberty Science Center” – has the potential to go live in the very near future.

Catania knew he wanted to do something unique that would increase his knowledge in sound design and recording but also go a step further to really allow him a chance to conduct innovative research. With the help of his advisor David Musial, he met with the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City and the idea for creating a music video production experience for school children was immediately embraced. Though there are many layers in the development of this project, Catania is proud that he has been able to have a hand in them all. His advice to other researchers: Don’t ever be afraid to explore.

“When I first looked at this project, I was not thinking about the computer science part, but I explored and taught myself the programming language,” he said. “I never thought I’d be where I am today when this started, but I wasn’t afraid to explore. Knowing the potential result continues to drive me.”

Hoping to complete the project before graduation, Catania is excited to be able to give back to a younger generation through this music video display. He hopes that if it is successful at the Liberty Science Center, it will be replicated at other science centers.

“If it has the impact I’m hoping, it will allow children to truly see the transfer of information between science and art. It will give them something to hold onto, and be inspired.”

Another project fusing science and art is “Building Immersive Image-Based Visualization Environments” that Caroline Amaba and Zachary Moy worked on together with advisor Brian Moriarty. Amaba will receive dual degrees in Computer Science and Art & Technology when she graduates in May 2012. The project started as a way to explore new ideas for incorporating research into Art & Technology. Together, they built the foundation for what they’ve nicknamed EVE – Explorable Visual Environs.

“For me, research was learning in a different way. It takes it way further than the classroom; because it is so hands-on, it helps you retain what you’re learning, and I really enjoyed that,” Amaba said. “We had to make our own goals and figure out what needed to be done. That was invaluable.”

In addition, Amaba and Moy co-authored two papers with their advisor that were accepted to two conferences. Moriarty will present the paper, “Utilizing Explorable Visual Environments for Experiential Applications,” at the Conference on Systems Engineering Research in St. Louis this summer and Moy presented, “Implementation of Explorable Visual Environments for Cultural Heritage and Experience Applications,” at the International Conference & Expo on Emerging Technologies for a Smarter World in Hauppauge, N.Y. last year.

“This project gave me so many new ideas for my art & technology final project as well. It has been an incredible resume boost and is helping to guide me to where I want to go in the future,” Amaba said.