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Lehigh-Lafayette enters the domain of engineering research



Symposium winner Steven Henry '09 of Lehigh is congratulated by RCEAS Dean S. David Wu.

The venerable Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry ventured into a new arena last week at the annual symposium for undergraduate researchers of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science (RCEAS).

The Lehigh and Lafayette football teams have played each other 144 times since 1884, more than any other two college football teams in America.

On Wednesday, April 1, top undergraduate engineering researchers from the two schools faced off for the first time in Lehigh’s Packard Laboratory.

The occasion was the annual David and Lorraine Freed Undergraduate Research Symposium, which is endowed by Andrew D. Freed ’83 in honor of his parents. Freed, a member of the RCEAS advisory board, is president and CEO of Medical Device Investment Holdings Corp. in Malvern, Pa.

The research symposium has been held each of the last five years. This year’s event was the first in which Lafayette students were invited to compete.

Steven J. Henry ’09, a bioengineering major from Lehigh, took first place in the symposium for a presentation titled “Understanding Microneedle Penetration Mechanics.” Working with professors Richard P. Vinci and Walter Brown of the department of materials science and engineering, Henry is investigating the amount of force required for microneedles to penetrate the skin. One of the goals of his project is to improve drug delivery.

Second place went to Lafayette’s Sriram Gopalakrishnan, a senior majoring in electrical engineering and also computer science, who is conducting research into ventrical assist devices. His goals are to integrate the devices with the human cardiovascular system and to develop a testing method that does not require animals or human clinical trials.

Third place was awarded to Corey Luthringer ’09, a chemical engineering major, for a project titled “Microvascular Fabrication via Dielectrophoretic Assembly.” Luthringer is advised by James F. Gilchrist, the P.C. Rossin Assistant Professor of chemical engineering. She is investigating how wires form from nanoparticles when exposed to an electric field gradient, and how the characteristics of the wires vary under different conditions. The goal is to use the wires to model microvascular phenomena such as the formation and propagation of tumor tissues.

“Nothing short of amazing”

Fifteen posters were presented at the symposium, 11 by Lehigh students, four by undergraduates from Lafayette. Students were given nine minutes to make their presentations and answer questions from the judges.

“The presentations today were nothing short of amazing,” said S. David Wu, Iacocca Professor and RCEAS dean. “I have heard from many people that this represents a lot of impressive, inspiring work.”

The presentations were graded by six judges for research creativity, significance of the research to an engineering problem, visual quality of the poster, and ability of the student to defend the research.



Lafayette undergraduate Caroline Szczepanski presents her work to judge Edward Blair '96, event benefactor Andrew D. Freed '83, and Lafayette professor David Veshosky '92 Ph.D.

Judges were Edward Blair ’96, vice president and general manager of Lutron Electronics; Deborah Hawkins, director of management engineering for the Lehigh Valley Health Network; Steven Poehlein ’80, vice president for global technological operations for Merck & Co. Inc.; David R. Taschler ’86 MBA, risk and compliance manager for Air Products; Vincent Viscomi ’57 M.S., professor emeritus of civil engineering at Lafayette; and Sunil Widge ’76 M.S., ’85 Ph.D., chief technology officer at Carpenter Technology Corp.

“I think the students today did a great job,” said Poehlein. “I did undergraduate research for two summers when I was a student at Lehigh. I’m not sure I could have put this together as well as these students did. At times, you could almost see careers beginning.”

Henry, who has spent two years working on his project, said the symposium “was a great experience.

“The competitive aspect was definitely secondary to the academic aspect,” said Henry, who will enroll as a doctoral candidate in the University of Pennsylvania’s bioengineering program next fall. “Every one of the contestants deserved the honor that I received.”

Henry particularly appreciated the opportunity to learn about other research being conducted in the engineering college. He also said the challenge of presenting his work to a new audience was valuable.

“As a researcher, you have to be able to communicate your work to a non-technical audience. That’s essential. I always enjoy sharing the work that Dr. Vinci and Dr. Brown and I have been doing.”

Gopalakrishnan said the symposium gave him the chance to network with other students.

“This was a good opportunity to interact with other people and also to find out what’s going on in the research world.”

Luthringer said her participation in Lehigh’s Opportunities for Student Innovation (OSI) program had helped her prepare for the research symposium. OSI, which is run by the chemical engineering department, assigns teams of students to work nine months on research problems with professors and with engineers from industry.

“I’ve done quite a few research presentations before to my advisers and sponsors,” Luthringer said. “Today, it helped to have an audience that represents a variety of backgrounds. They had questions about some things that I had not thought of before. That kind of outside perspective is really helpful.”

Three students received honorable mentions at the symposium. They were Joshua Goldman, a Lehigh senior majoring in electrical engineering; Thomas Nizolek, a Lehigh junior majoring in materials science and engineering; and Caroline Szczepanski, a Lafayette senior majoring in chemical engineering.

Other Lehigh participants (and their majors) were Jeremy Cope ’09 (computer engineering), Kevin Myers ’09 (electrical engineering), Phoebe Zhimei Lai ’10 (information and systems engineering), Scott Pender ’09 (information and systems engineering), Lisa Kobayashi ’09 (mechanical engineering), and Happiness Munedzimwe ’09 (integrated business and engineering), as well as Rebecca Rovner ’09 and Young Suk ’09 (computer science), who presented a project together.

The idea for the RCEAS research symposium was conceived five years ago by professors Himanshu Jain and Wojciech Misiolek of the materials science and engineering department. The two professors organized this year’s symposium and coached the students before the event.

“The quality of the presentations has been improving over the years,” said Misiolek, “and the students’ presentations skills are really quite good.”

-Kurt Pfitzer

Photos by Chris Larkin


Posted on Tuesday, April 07, 2009

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