lehigh student expo

Nearly 100 posters were on display at the Second Annual Summer Research Expo held in early August.

Lehigh Summer Research Expo Showcases Student Projects

The expo caps 10 weeks of interdisciplinary summer undergraduate research programs.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

Lehigh students from across disciplines showcased their innovative research Thursday, Aug. 4, at the second annual Summer Research Expo, including research spanning STEM fields, public policy, globalization and social justice. 

The expo, held in Building C on the Mountaintop Campus, capped 10 weeks of the students’ paid summer undergraduate research through several Lehigh programs: Creative Inquiry’s Mountaintop Summer Experience, the STEM Summer Institute (STEM-SI) and the newly established Marcon Institute

Nearly 100 posters were on display, representing the work of 250-plus students under the mentorship of more than 60 faculty members. In addition to celebrating their accomplishments, the expo provided students with the opportunity to network with peers and to gain professional development experience by presenting their projects to visitors.

“The purpose of the expo is to give undergraduates an opportunity to showcase their accomplishments and understand the importance of research in the generation of new knowledge as part of their education,” said Professor Neal Simon, who, along with Professor Vassie Ware, is co-director of Lehigh’s STEM-SI program. 

“The summer research programs prioritize diversity among the participants,” Ware added. “Students who engage in research have higher graduation rates. We know that the Lehigh RARE program, which enrolls underrepresented students interested in STEM and was the model for STEM-SI, produces exceptionally high graduation rates among the participating students. Improving these rates and the pipeline of diverse individuals entering graduate school, professional school, and the workforce is one of our major goals.” 

The expo also provided a window into the breadth of undergraduate research that occurs at Lehigh over the summer. Much of the research will continue throughout the academic year.

Student research expo

The expo provided students with the opportunity to gain professional development experience by presenting their projects to visitors.

In a glass-enclosed room at Building C, Lehigh students Dominic Ammirato ’23, Alex Witt ’23, Michael Fitzgerald ’23 and Karien Li ’24 demonstrated “Flying Swarms,” a project that aims to use autonomous aerial robots to transport life-saving supplies to remote areas and promote social justice throughout the world. 

The students, working with David Saldaña, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, began the project as part of Creative Inquiry’s Mountaintop Summer Experience. Vice Provost for Creative Inquiry Khanjan Mehta and Administrative Director Bill Whitney lead the Mountaintop Summer Experience.

Ammirato said the aerial robots can be used for “delivering goods, resources, anything that might be needed, to communities or locations that are hard to reach by conventional means.” If roads are not fully functional because of a natural disaster, he said for example, and conditions are unsafe for a helicopter drop, the robots could deliver needed supplies without putting any human life at risk. The intent is to not use the robots for commercial purposes, he said.

The team took a conventional quadrotor aerial vehicle and attached a helium-filled envelope to the drone’s top, which, the students said, will increase its stability, flight duration and payload. 

“There are plenty of rural communities around the world where infrastructure is very poor,” Fitzgerald said. “The devices we're creating are meant to be autonomousminimal human control while they're flying and you don't need a constant connection to the ground. … Our big goal is to let these remote communities achieve something that previously was very difficult.”

In another area of Building C, Caroline Pritchard ’22 explained her research on how heterogeneity in protein-making machinery in cells can dramatically impact animal physiology and development. Working with Ware, Pritchard studies the functions of a group of ribosomal proteins (components of the protein-making machinery) in fruit flies and how loss of these proteins affects normal developmental processes. The research is a model for understanding deficiencies in a group of human diseases called ribosomopathies and an array of human conditions arising from a spectrum of signaling pathway defects, Pritchard said. 

Other teams of students, working with Simon, discussed their research into identifying biomarkers and treatments for traumatic brain injuries, which are a major public health problem because the injury can lead to cognitive issues and increase the risk of neurodegenerative disease later in life. These injuries can range from mild to severe, Mia Stevens ’23 and Josh Bellon ’23 explained. The more severe brain injuries are the leading cause of disability and death for people under age 35 and over age 65. In the biomarker study, the student researchers examined whether Neurofilament Light Chain can serve as a reliable plasma biomarker of mild repetitive brain injury. 

Lehigh’s first Marcon fellows, a new initiative at the university that aims to promote social justice, also showcased their projects. Holona Ochs, associate professor of political science, is director of the Marcon Institute.

Marcon Fellow Victoria Isabel Drzymala ’23 is developing an internship program that would help create opportunities for students from traditionally underrepresented communities to intern with local government officials. In its early stages, the partnership between Lehigh and the City of Bethlehem would launch in Spring 2023.

“My motivation for creating this project was drawn a little bit from my own experiences,” said Drzymala, in outlining her project, “Diverse Future Leaders in Government and Politics.” “It is very difficult to get an internship if you don't have connections or a network of some kind, especially for a student from an underrepresented background.” 

The presentations that are part of the expo help students to be better and more effective communicators, an invaluable skill. 

“We think this contributes to their professional maturity and gives them a competitive edge when they graduate,” Simon said.

Marcon Fellow Victoria Isabel Drzymala

Marcon Fellow Victoria Isabel Drzymala ’23 explains the internship program she is developing to create opportunities for students from traditionally underrepresented communities to intern with local government officials.

The projects represented many fields and were in various stages of development. Those judging the posters considered the students’ effectiveness in communicating the project, among other criteria. Here is a list of the poster winners:

First Place

  • Lehigh RiVR Immersive Learning: Rubiat Faisal, Yiting Chen, Robson Junior, Jennifer Nester, Sarah Sechrist, Jessica de Los Santos, E.J. Rovella, Xiangyu Hu and Mayra Arnoat Perez.
  • Factor Models and Portfolio Management: Michael Bukhalo, Chang Wang and Haiwen Su
  • Food Carbon and Water Footprint: Isabella Hudson, Anh Vu, Caroline Shuo, Hayden Ossinger, Wuduo Wu and Jailene Garcia
  • Pollution and Asthma Effects in Kazakhstan: Fabian Chavez Hernandez and Kevin Simons
  • Flying Swarms: Designing, Constructing and Programming Autonomous Robotic Blimps: Dominic Ammirato, Alex Witt, Karen Li and Michael Fitzgerald
  • Development of a pH-dependent epitope to stimulate antibody-mediated cytotoxicity of cancer cells: Alexander Meyer
  • Physiological and functional implications of differentially enriched transcripts on eRpL22-family polysomes during development: Caroline Pritchard
  • Beyond Bars: Nessia Crispe, Julie Van Osdol, Anchen Ma and Xindi Zhang

Second Place

  • STEM Visualizations: Danny Lin, Siyu Chen, Ojashwi Rani Nakarmi, Quan Hoang and Chenkai (Bucky) Yu 
  • A Quantitative Study of the History of Redlining and Trends in Gun Violence: Elianne Daou and Gardyney Deshommes
  • PlasTech Campus: Layan Suleiman, Miki Sakai, Anh Vu, Jailene Garcia, Mayra Arnoat Perez and Alec Jang
  • Zero Hunger College: Maya Neumann and Shreya Chawla
  • Impact of Fooling the Eyes of Autonomous Vehicles: Ahmed Fouad
  • Untangling the Photoisomerization Mechanisms of Sterically Hindered Indole-Based Azo Dyes: Allen Chen and Gabe Masso
  • Investigating Phage Genomic Diversity and Immunity Relationships in Novel Mycobacteriophages Pippi and PBmint and Host-Phage Interactions in Cluster N Mycobacteriophage Kevin1: Dagmara Jakubowska
  • Biomarkers for Traumatic Brain Injury: Mia Stevens, Joshua Bellon, Marion Donoghue, Oluwafunmbi Ojo, Olivia Gusdorff and Giovanna Paone
  • 3D Model of a Concentrically Braced Frame for Real-Time Hybrid  Simulation: Demetra (Jamie) Karras 
Student research expo

Lehigh students from across disciplines showcased their innovative research.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

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