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Undergrads Take Honors in National Competition

Eleven Abstracts Went to Washington

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Students in K-12 are the target end users for new software being developed by one of the research teams that submitted abstracts to the Posters on the Hill competition.

By Sandra Seitz

Eleven research abstracts winged their way from UMass Lowell to Washington, D.C., where they joined 800 others in a national competition sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research. 

Four returned with honorable mention.

“Writing the abstract was just one step in our work,” says Matt Vaughan, computer science major, about the application process. “Our research is going forward all the time.” Vaughan is part of a team developing new software for laptop orchestra applications.

Undergrads at UMass Lowell have exceptional opportunities to work on research teams, side-by-side with advanced graduate students, post-docs and experienced professors. The students make genuine contributions to the process of creating and testing solutions to scientific puzzles. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree, with one’s name on a patent and having authored peer-reviewed journal articles is achievable and encouraged by professors.

The four honored abstracts are:
  • A Laptop Orchestra Platform Based on Scratch: Undergrad computer science majors Brendan Riley, Matt Vaughan and Zach Robichaud do research in the Performamatics Computing+Music Group, directed by Prof. Jesse Heines. The project involves creating laptop orchestra software that young students can use with no previous computer science knowledge. The researchers are adapting open source software developed at MIT and UCal Berkeley. “We’re hoping to replace software that is difficult for students in K-12 to use,” says Riley. “When students use our software, they learn more about music and they learn computational thinking along the way.”
  • Collaboration in Weave also involved computer science students: John Fallon and Patrick Stickney, working with Prof. Georges Grinstein. Weave is an open source web-based analysis and visualization platform developed at UMass Lowell and currently in use by non-profit and government organizations. When end users asked for the ability to collaborate, the team went to work. One complex issue involves how to keep some data private during collaboration. The students have created defined private and public workspaces for shared and private data.  
  • Ultra-fast Fiber Optic Pressure Sensor(s) for Concussion or Traumatic Brain Injury Prevention has implications for soldiers, athletes and all individuals involved in situations where high-impact forces expose them to concussions or traumatic brain injuries. Directed by Assoc. Prof. Xingwei Wang, electrical and computer engineering student Yang Zhang is part of the diverse research team. The team is developing a new, miniature fiber-optic pressure sensor with an ultra-fast response time. The design has been used successfully to measure dynamic pressure changes in the head and brain following high-impact collisions.
  • Greener Routes to Organic Electronics involves researchers ranging from a high school student to senior faculty, including plastics engineering undergraduate Michael Magaletta. Physics Prof. Jayant Kumar, Plastics Engineering Assoc. Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan and Chemistry Prof. Daniel Sandman direct the team. While organic electronics have evolved from being curiosities to being incorporated into touch screens and smart-phone displays, these versatile conducting polymers are still synthesized with the use of toxic materials and harsh solvents. The research team has demonstrated the first synthesis of a conducting polymer with the use of naturally occurring and biologically derived materials — in this case, a waste product of coal processing and an enzyme catalyst isolated from soy hulls.