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05.15.18 - MDP Fellows Present Research at Symposium

On May 12, student-fellows from the 2017-18 Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP) presented their design projects at a symposium held in the CALIT2 Auditorium.

This is the eighth year CALIT2 and UC Irvine’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) has sponsored the program. The current MDP class includes 80 undergraduates, working on 15 projects that represent a range of disciplines.

MDP fellows were paired with other students from multiple disciplines to create three- to twelve-member teams. Teams conducted research in the areas of energy, environment, healthcare and culture. Each team was guided by two to four faculty mentors and graduate student project leads, also from different disciplines.

On May 12, student-fellows from the 2017-18 Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP) presented their design projects at a symposium held in the CALIT2 Auditorium.

This is the eighth year Calit2 and UC Irvine’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP)has sponsored the program. The current MDP class is made up of 80 undergraduates, working on 15 projects that represent a range of disciplines.

MDP fellows were paired with other students from multiple disciplines to create three- to twelve-member teams. Teams conducted research in the areas of energy, environment, healthcare and culture. Each team was guided by two to four faculty mentors and graduate student project leads, also from different disciplines.

MDP fellows, mentors and projects


Understanding the Experiences of English Language Learners in Higher Education

Fellows: Jenny Chen, Ryan Wang, Caytlin Yoshioka
Mentors: Christopher Stillwell, Dr. Judith H. Sandholtz, Dr. Brian Sato, Dr. Julio R. Torres


As the enrollment of international students and language minority learners increases at colleges and universities throughout the U.S., issues arise regarding ways of meeting the unique needs of this population as they attend classes and face the challenge of understanding complex content via an additional language. Sadly, the literature on this population is notoriously thin (Harklau, 2000), and the population can be hard to reach for research. However, undergraduate researchers are uniquely positioned to access the experience of these ELLs attending classes at UCI, given these researchers’ own understanding of the challenges of higher education and also given their status as peers to the population of interest. To meet the need for research in this area, MDP fellows observed large lecture courses and conducted interviews with international student ELLs of the courses. They then undertook inductive analysis of the data to identify the challenges these students face, as well as the strategies they use to address them.




Miniscope Imaging of the Brain: New Hardware Design and Improved Software Analysis
Fellows: Yonathan Aberra, Ananth Ashok, Stacey Cao, Shivam Dhir, Katelyn Dilley, Nikita Ganeshan, Tho Gonzalez, Dylan Iwata, Stephanie Lee, Nikita Patel, Hai Pham, Kayla Walley    
Mentors:  Profs. Gopi Meenakshisundaram, Zoran Nenadic, Qing Nie, Xiangmin Xu


New and emerging technologies have been applied to neuroscience research. The miniaturized microscope (“miniscope”) is a fluorescent microscope, roughly the height of a Lego brick, which weighs less than 3 grams. Prof. Xiangmin Xu’s laboratory has been using custom designed, head-mounted miniscopes to image hundreds of brain cells in one field of view in freely behaving mice. Miniature microscopic imaging of neural activities in the intact brain allows for studying how neural activities at single-cell resolution are associated with learning and memory, and spatial navigation. Their research aim to understand neural circuit mechanisms underlying neurological disorders including Alzheimer's disease and temporal lobe epilepsy. In this multidisciplinary design project, Profs. Xu, Nie, Nenadic and Meenakshisundaram guides the team to improve the miniscope construction and assembly, and adopt and develop new software for image data analysis. Among our successful outcomes, the students have received an integrated experience combining both hands-on scientific research with interactive educational activities.  They have developed multidisciplinary skills and expertise in miniaturize hardware construction, image data analysis and computer programming.




Children Impacted by Cancer in the Latino Community
Fellows: Ramon Garcia, Sonia Zavala, Beverly Mendoza, Elisa Ornelas
Faculty Mentors: Dr. Michelle A. Fortier, Dr. Belinda Campos        
Lab Mentor: Haydee Cortes


Latino youth in cancer treatment and their families experience a poorer quality of life (QOL) than their White counterparts. Further, healthcare disparities research in this population is sparse. Existing research shows parents of children in cancer treatment endure significant stress that impacts their health and children’s quality of care. We aimed to engage in an equitable collaboration with community partners to identify specific needs of the Latino population that will ultimately form an intervention. We utilized a Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) model to create a taskforce addressing this issue—CBPR studies are valid and reliable in addressing community disparities. Spanish-speaking parents of youth (n = 6) who were in or had previously undergone treatment were recruited. All parents are mothers, reported an annual income of 20,892.67 ± 15,600 dollars, and an average education of 12.75 ± 3.339 years. Meetings focused on generating themes of recurring stressful experiences and barriers to optimal QOL and were continuously evaluated to ensure adherence to the following CBPR principles: 1. Collaborative & equitable, 2. Mutually beneficial, 3. Co-learning process. Significant themes identified included: lack of culturally competent care, difficulty obtaining appropriate health related information, unequal caregiver responsibilities, and linguistic barriers affecting overall quality of communication and information transfer. Parents also identified the importance of experiential knowledge and suggested an intervention providing “what-to-expect” knowledge as beneficial. Continued analysis of thematic elements also identified parental stress as a major factor in treatment, and should thus be a focus of future interventions.




Exploring Boundaries: Interactive Storytelling of Wayang Kulit
Fellows: Apurva Jakhanwal, Dimitri Kaviani, Mingyue Hao, Monserrat Palabrica
Mentor: Dr. Paul Dourish


This design project draws from Malaysian shadow-puppet theater in order to demonstrate how an immersive experience that foregrounds multiplicities of viewpoints and interpretations through storytelling. We speculate a world where there is no master storyteller and the practice is preserve through public interaction. The design project explores how these cultural boundaries could be porous sites, where imaginaries of the past and present, human and machine, hindu and muslim intermingle. Our work will use capacitive touch and collaboration to initiate the storytelling process. Through group collaboration we believe that communities can co-produce narratives and immerse themselves in integrated learning experiences. Presently, the work that we showcase includes the analysis of the Wayang Kulit puppets and how we translate it into a technological fabrication space. This enabled us to consider the changing role of craftsmanship with the introduction of technology. We have built one moving puppet with conductive plates as input. These conductive plates would be linked with various aesthetic elements inspired by Wayang Kulit, such as backlighting, audio and gamelan orchestra music. This work encourages participants to create rich narratives, other rich sensory experiences. The richness and the complexity of the experience is in direct correlation with the number of participants and amount of physical contact that the participants have with the sensor. This is reminiscent of the codependent propagation of oral histories and improvisation that occurs within Wayang Kulit.




A System for Home Energy Audits of Individual Plug Load Devices
Fellows: Sid Kasat, Sunbum(Jake) Lee, Alex Ramirez, Viet Ly, Kim Truong, Nikita Tsvetkov
Mentors: Dr. Michael Klopfer, Dr. Joy Pixley, Dr. Sergio Gago-Masague


Past research has shown that most households could substantially reduce their energy use by eliminating sources of waste, such as always-on plug load devices, unused or poorly calibrated low-power settings, and inefficient appliances.  One barrier is the lack of information about how much energy is being used by specific plug load devices (e.g. office equipment, entertainment devices, or appliances), and how much of that might be waste.  Overall energy usage is available from the users’ utility company but is not broken down by appliance.  It is possible to hire agents to conduct whole-house energy audits to address this issue, but these are very expensive, and only give one-time feedback. In the current project, we designed a prototype system that would allow users to conduct their own more limited, customized energy audits on specific devices for a substantially lower cost.  The system involves installing plug meters, which collect data from the house’s smart meter and also for the specific device plugged into it.  The system uses voice commands to a mobile phone app to ask for a range of energy audit results, including assessment of energy use by one device over time and at night (idle load), overall idle load, and more. We also developed an Augmented Reality app which lets users visualize energy information using graphs and metadata, like number of uses in the past 24 hours, or energy consumption when idle. Through these approaches we aim to allow users to track their energy usage, enabling them to save money!




Development of an Interactive Device for Interpreting Musical Performance Gesture and Expression
Fellows: Emma Anderson, Andy Begey, Alex Lough, Shivani Patel, Nicholas Vong
Mentors: Prof. Mari Kimura, Dr. Michael J. Klopfer


In this project, our team developed a gesture control system for musical performance, comprised of a glove worn sensor, communications system, and software interface that provides unique artistic applications for performance artistry.  The system is implemented as a specialized controller to provide musical processing with gesture control. Our goal was to create a prototype specialized wearable device and to control firmware and interface. A sensor records movements and software analyzes the data. The output of this mapping engine is used to control inputs to commercial music software that allows real time interaction in order to permit relevant and direct gesture control of specific performance parameters while reducing cross-talk from non-intended motions. The system provides the capability to allow dynamic modification of the performance experience by the artist.  The performer may use this device to control the rate or style of pre-recorded accompaniment, add performance audio/visual effects, or even create a new method for expanding artistic and human expression. Our team’s goals were to develop an innovative design, including a physical component based on an integrated printed circuit board and an improved, streamlined network connection and ‘turn-key’ style, user-friendly software control. Our team’s focus was productizing an idea and producing a prototype system - which was accomplished.  In the current version, the developed system is  meant for musical applications but could be applied to other forms of artistic expression, specialized interactive gaming, or other non-electronic actions. The device could also provide superior teaching tools for complicated crafts that require fine movements.




iXercise: An Immersive Platform for Exercise Intervention
Fellows: Greg Duarte, Maheja Chandu, Yunho Huh
Mentors: Magda El-Zarki, PhD,  Shlomit Radom-Aizik, PhD


Less than 50% of American children meet the recommendations for physical activity of 60 min/day and sedentary time <2hr/day. Many of the children spend on average 50 hours of screen time per week with gaming being one of the most popular forms of screen entertainment. Exergaming can leverage the passion for gaming and turn the sedentary behavior into one that is more active and healthy, however, the current exergames do not control well for the exercise intensity and do not have the staying power to bring players back for long-term use. In the iXercise project, we incorporate cloud computing, cloud networking, and physical computing solutions, in conjunction with innovative game design principles, to create the iXercise platform. iXercise (immersive exercise) is based on a virtual environment exergame platform that provides an adjusted physical activity intervention targeted to the pediatric population. To evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of the iXercise, we validate the platform and participant performance/exercise intensity by collecting heart rate and work rate data during the iXercise sessions. In addition, gas exchange is measured to evaluate the metabolic demands of the exercise, and platform usability is being evaluated using a written survey and a semi qualitative interview. Enjoyment and Rating of Perceived Exertion are evaluated using validated Scales. Once the platform will be validated and fully developed, it has the potential to also be implemented in rehabilitation exercise programs for children with clinical conditions who stays at home or in a hospital setting.




Looking at Extreme Water Issues: The Cases of the Virgin Island Floods and California Drought
Fellows: Nathalie Vidal, Truong Xe, Leda Escoto
Mentors: Maura Allaire


Extreme events, such as drought, are expected to become more frequent and severe in the future. Water managers are implementing policies to reduce urban water use and reduce reliance on water imports from the Colorado River and northern California due to variety of challenges in the face of climate change, growing population, and aging infrastructure. These policies help build resilience against future hydrologic variability and extremes. Appropriate water prices are one way to encourage conservation – as water prices increase, customers will reduce wasteful us and low-value use (e.g. car washing, long showers). We use economics to assess how utilities make their decisions about price-setting and how customers respond to new prices. California has been a leader in innovative water pricing schemes, including schemes that increase prices as total usage rises, and schemes that tailor pricing to a household’s specific circumstances. Pricing is a demand management strategy that can be used to reliable water supply in the face of growing population, variable climate, reliance on imports, and limited sources. Using data from the American Water Works Association California-Nevada Section, we look at how different counties in California respond to new pricing schemes and what this means for the future trajectories of southern California water use. This study period (2003-2015) includes two droughts and allows us to explore how drought can shape utility decisions and enhance societal resilience to drought.



PET: A Personal Embodied Trainer to Promote Physical Exercise at Home
Fellows: Catherine Kung, Chen Mo, Christian Morte Corey Vu, Jackson Tsoi, Kavi Mathur, Klint Segarra, Rachel Weber, Rubinderjit Dhillon, Tina Wu
Mentors: Sergio Gago-Masague, John Billimek, G.P. Li


Exercise is an important factor in sustaining and strengthening a person’s health, yet exercise is often neglected due to lack of motivation. PET (Personal Embodied Trainer) is a highly interactive application that helps guide users through physical exercises that can be performed daily, tracks progress throughout every use, and provides constant feedback for improving form. It differs from traditional workout applications by using real-time motion sensor data to provide accurate feedback, providing visual data, guidance and motivation. Although there are hundreds of mobile apps in the online market to exercise, few utilize external sensors, smartphone, and the TV display to provide real-time feedback. PET uses the Chromecast to display guidance on a TV, including an avatar to demonstrate and guide through exercises. Our application utilizes Focus-Motion, a software library that helps analyze the user’s exercise repetitions and critical data from each movement. The feedback is essential for tracking users’ progress as they perform the exercise regimens. We have found that, through the use of Focus-Motion and displays from the Chromecast, we can provide accurate feedback from movement data that may help engaging users in physical exercise. The initial goal of the application is to engage and guide students to increase their daily physical activity amidst busy study schedules, especially during sedentary activities such as studying or sitting in lectures for many hours.




Retina-On-a-Chip: Micro Bioreactor to Study Organoids in Culture
Fellows: Salonee Darbari, Jonathan Lim, Phuc Tran, Yuntian Xue
Mentors: Dr. Andrew Browne, Dr. William Tang


Human pluripotent stem cells will differentiate into a certain type of cells under specific culture conditions. Previous studies have shown that these differentiated cell clusters would further self-organize into biological structures that mimic natural organs. These structures, called organoids, have great potentials for different applications such as disease modeling, drug testing and cell therapy. The goal of this project is to design and create a microfluidic platform to culture an already-created retinal organoid for an extended period of time. One important feature of the bioreactor we are researching is the ability to provide continuous media exchange via diffusion only to avoid any mechanical disturbances on the organoid. The other important feature is that it must be all transparent, which allows real-time optical observation. We are employing CAD tools and COMSOL Multiphysics to simulate different designs for their effectiveness in diffusion transport of media. The finite element simulation showed encouraging results to further develop the platform. With the support of simulation work, we fabricated our first prototypes with two methods: 3D printing and soft lithography of the mold needed to create the finished structure from molding PDMS. In this presentation, we will describe our methods, preliminary results, and on-going research.




Spine-RadTM Brachytherapy Bone Cement
Fellows: Yasmeen Abuzeid, Elizabeth Chung, Parth Desai, Sayeh Feizi, Christina Hanna,
Daniel Wong, Sophia Ynami
Mentors: Dr. Joyce Keyak, Dr. Mikael Nilsson, Dr. Varun Sehgal


Spinal tumors are a painful manifestation of cancers which reduce bone strength, leading to vertebral collapse. Vertebroplasty, followed by external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) is a current treatment for vertebral metastases that alleviates pain while slowing tumor growth. Because EBRT irradiates the spinal cord, the dose delivered to tumors is limited. To address this limitation, researchers developed Spine-RadTM Brachytherapy Bone Cement, bone cement mixed with a radioactive powder, Phosphorous-32-hydroxyapatite (P-32-HA), which allows a higher dose to be directly delivered to tumors while eliminating the harm of radiation to the spinal cord and its surroundings. The team was divided into a dosimetry team and a design team. The dosimetry team worked on synthesizing P-32. A liquid scintillation counter (LSC) was used to measure the activity of P-32 using standard counting and Cherenkov counting. A P-32 standard was purchased and used to calibrate measurements from the LSC and a dose calibrator.
Radiochromic film was calibrated so the dose from P-32 in a vertebra can be measured. A mixture of P-32 and sheep blood was measured with a dose calibrator to determine the minimum detectable activity which is important for determining if radioactivity is present in the blood. The design team designed a device which will score the vial containing P-32-HA from the dosimetry team, so that it can be opened safely and mixed with the bone cement powder during surgery. Since user safety is an essential factor to be considered during the design, appropriate material was used for radiation shielding.




Retina-On-a-Chip: Micro Bioreactor to Study Organoids in Culture
Fellows: Salonee Darbari, Jonathan Lim, Phuc Tran, Yuntian Xue
Mentors: Dr. Andrew Browne, Dr. William Tang


Human pluripotent stem cells will differentiate into a certain type of cells under specific culture conditions. Previous studies have shown that these differentiated cell clusters would further self-organize into biological structures that mimic natural organs. These structures, called organoids, have great potentials for different applications such as disease modeling, drug testing and cell therapy. The goal of this project is to design and create a microfluidic platform to culture an already-created retinal organoid for an extended period of time. One important feature of the bioreactor we are researching is the ability to provide continuous media exchange via diffusion only to avoid any mechanical disturbances on the organoid. The other important feature is that it must be all transparent, which allows real-time optical observation. We are employing CAD tools and COMSOL Multiphysics to simulate different designs for their effectiveness in diffusion transport of media. The finite element simulation showed encouraging results to further develop the platform. With the support of simulation work, we fabricated our first prototypes with two methods: 3D printing and soft lithography of the mold needed to create the finished structure from molding PDMS. In this presentation, we will describe our methods, preliminary results, and on-going research.





Stress, Emotion, and Energy (SEE) Study
Fellows: Marie Cross, Eric Robles Garibay, Mai Makhlouf, Stephanie Palmer, Camille Paran
Mentors: Dr. Shlomit Radom-Aizik, Dr. Sarah D. Pressman, Dr. Brooke Jenkins


Positive affect (PA; e.g., emotions and traits like happiness and excitement) has been shown to have a wide spectrum of health benefits ranging from improved symptom report to an increased life span (Pressman & Cohen, 2005). However, previous research has seldom inquired about how different subcomponents of PA result in variable psychophysiological responses. These fundamental differences between subcomponents of PA lie in varying levels of arousal—high versus low. A second nuance that previous research has yet to directly address is when high arousal positive affect (HAP) and low arousal positive affect (LAP) responses are most adaptive given the type of stressor (active versus passive). We hypothesize that HAP will be most adaptive with active stressors, while LAP will be most adaptive with passive stressors. We also propose that there are important individual differences, both psychological and biological, that may moderate the effects of HAP and LAP. The primary difference we examine in this study will be age differences. As has been established in previous literature, older adults show a clear preference towards LAP while younger adults value both HAP and LAP (Scheibe, English, Tsai, & Carstensen, 2013). We will examine the role of several biological factors that change with age and which may alter our preference or ability to experience HAP. Specifically, we examine how objective physical fitness, physical health, and bioenergetics markers (i.e., mitochondrial function) correlate with the experience and preference for HAP and LAP, as well as their potential role in the PA-stress connection.




Improving Texera’s User Interface for Powerful IoT Data Analytics
Fellows: Wei Han (Henry) Chen, Bolin Chen, Zhaomin Li
Mentors: Dr. Chen Li, Zuozhi Wang, Avinash Kumar


Nowadays, a huge amount of data is generated by the internet of things every second, which experts can conduct deep analysis on, to extract valuable information. Text analysis becomes not only an essential component of Computer Science, but also plays a pivotal role for people of varying disciplines. For instance, social media data is vital to social scientists as they want to analyze it using state-of-the-art machine learning and text processing algorithms. However, many interested researchers have limited computing skills and might be overwhelmed by the challenges of system setup and algorithm implementation. Texera is an open-source system we are building to support cloud-based text analytics using declarative and GUI-based workflows. The goal of Texera is to make text analysis as simple as possible to the IT and non-IT experts by removing all the programming components. Using Texera, users can make an analysis plan effortlessly with easy-to-use, pre-created operators. As one might perceive, an intuitive UI is critical to the acceptance of Texera by non-IT researchers. Over time, we have invested effort in improving Texera’s UI. For instance, to guide new users, a web-based tutorial was added to help them quickly understand the user-interface and begin conducting analysis. Additionally, our team introduced a user console to support loading and managing of previous workflows, which allows users to edit their previously created workflows to facilitate deeper analysis. The result is promising; however, there are still lots to be done as suggestions from our users are pouring in.




Investigating the Link Between Atmospheric Particle Composition and Toxicity
Fellows: Angelo Lorenzo S. Calinga, Arin Boghoz
Mentors: Dr. Celia Faiola, Dr. Mike Kleinman


Many types of organic atmospheric particles are linked to various cardiorespiratory illness. One such type of particles is referred to as secondary organic aerosols (SOAs). The chemical conversion of atmospheric volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to SOAs is one of the many oxidation reactions that occur in the atmosphere. The emission of VOCs can originate from biogenic sources such as plants and anthropogenic sources such as car exhaust. The health effects associated with the emissions of VOCs have been previously studied. However, the interaction between biogenic and anthropogenic VOCs in urban areas and the potential health effects have not been widely studied. To study these interactions, we used Limonene as a model biogenic species and Toluene as a model anthropogenic “combustion” species. We produced oxidation products with Limonene and Toluene alone, and also with a mix of both Limonene and Toluene in a potential aerosol mass (PAM) oxidation flow reactor. The characterization and cytotoxicity of the produced particles were then assessed. The preliminary results indicate that although a combination of biogenic and anthropogenic VOCs produce a higher SOA mass loading under our laboratory conditions, the toxicity of the produced SOAs are less than that of either the biogenic or anthropogenic SOAs alone. These results warrant further studies of mass loadings and toxicity of mixed biogenic-anthropogenic SOAs.