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04.08.11- Undergrads Experience Multidisciplinary Research

Students get to know each other at the orientation session.
(photo: Joe Harvey, Calit2)


An innovative program launched this spring is giving UC Irvine undergraduate students practical experience with the type of multidisciplinary collaborations they are likely to face after they graduate.
The inaugural Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP), sponsored by Calit2 and UCI’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, kicked off last month with 83 student participants selected from a field of 123 applicants.  The students were asked to pick from a variety of novel design projects related to the areas of energy, environment, healthcare and culture, then were paired with others from different disciplines in three- to eight-member design teams. Each of the 17 teams is co-mentored by at least two professors from different departments.

The wide-ranging list of projects includes: microfabrication techniques for vascularized tissue constructs; assessing injury risk during seismic events; bootstrapping a hackerspace; design, culture and sustainability; eDance for physical rehabilitation, fitness and dance education; and using multimedia and visualization to help English-language learners understand environmental systems.

Other teams are investigating: multimedia feedback systems; fuel cells; interdisciplinary approaches to cultural experiences; stem cells; health and healing among women in Africa; outreach to Latino communities; earthquakes, governments and public attitudes; and obstacles to water recycling.

Faculty mentors are guiding the students as they work together in state-of-the-art facilities – including a specially designed MDP project lab on the second floor of the Calit2 Building. Each team is charged with developing a solid design of its proposed project to present at the UCI Undergraduate Research Symposium in May as well as at additional demonstration events sponsored by Calit2. 

Duc Phan is project leader for a team creating 3D microfabrication techniques for vascularized tissue constructs. The biomedical engineering student says the program meshes perfectly with his research interest in tissue engineering, and his team is making good progress.

“My team members are very responsible and productive, and we're moving forward to achieve our goal,” says Phan, who recently received a school of engineering undergraduate research fellowship.

Jannelle Watson, who is majoring in political science and sociology, wanted to delve deeper into themes that had been introduced in her classes. “I thought the program would be an amazing opportunity for me to further my interest in the topic. The deeper I indulge in the research, the more curious and excited I get about the project,” she says.

In March, back-to-back workshops were held at Calit2 for faculty mentors and student participants. Faculty met each other and discussed program logistics, while students participated in team-building and leadership exercises.

“After attending the orientation meeting, I knew that this would be an exciting experience,” says Phan. “The meeting gave me hope that this program would be different from other research projects.”

Students aren’t alone in their enthusiasm. Calit2 Irvine division director G.P. Li believes the students’ exposure to multidisciplinary collaborations has important implications.

“Calit2 is always looking to support cross-disciplinary collaborations which often fuel significant discoveries,” he says. “We are really pleased with the huge response we’ve gotten to this new program and we are expecting great results.”

-- Anna Lynn Spitzer