Research and Community Engagement Event Shifts to Video Format

Exercise physiology students (from left) Kevin Ha, Andreas Himariotis and Stephanie Amico Image by Courtesy
Exercise physiology students, from left, Kevin Ha, Andreas Himariotis and Stephanie Amico were recognized for their project, which tested a wireless heart rate sensor.

By University Relations Staff

Just like classes, the career fair, advising sessions and campus tours, the 23rd annual Student Research and Community Engagement Symposium moved online this spring.

The 2020 version showcased student work in a creative format that closely matched the traditional event. But instead of giving 90-second lightning talks and displaying research posters on easels throughout University Crossing, 106 students submitted 90-second videos that incorporated slides with data, charts and illustrations. The videos were compiled into playlists for each of the colleges and posted on YouTube for three days, during which the audience could watch and vote for “fan favorites.”

More than 20,000 visitors attended part or all of the virtual symposium over the three days, says Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development Julie Chen. Student projects ranged from studying the eating habits of the axolotl (a large salamander) to researching the connection between foreign venture capital investments and the impact on U.S. competitiveness.

Several fan favorites in each college advanced to the finals, and then the faculty judges took over. The winners were announced in a live Zoom presentation that was introduced by Chancellor Jacquie Moloney. Individual winners earned a prize of $250, while teams received $500.

“Congratulations to every one of you. Know that you have now made history as a college student in 2020 during this global pandemic, keeping research alive and keeping our work moving forward,” Moloney told the students.

Below is a look at some of the award-winning projects from each college. For the full list of winners, Student Research Symposium website.

Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences

Exercise science students were recognized for their research into whether a new device could collect heart rate data as reliably and as accurately as industry standard electrocardiogram and heart rate monitor devices. The new small finger-sensor wireless device would make it more affordable and easier for researchers to collect data in the field.

Earlier this year, Stephanie Amico, a senior, junior Kevin Ha and sophomore Andreas Himariotis had gathered data from 21 participants using all three devices in the Health Assessment Lab.

“One thing that surprised me was how hard it can be to explain to a participant what will happen during the testing, while making them feel comfortable,” says Himariotis. “It takes a lot of practice to accomplish this, but once I did, I felt like a true researcher.”

Sarah Reddy, who will be graduating this month from the Doctor of Nursing Practice program and who is an advanced practice registered nurse, was recognized for her project that helped patients with heart failure and low health literacy make healthier food choices.

Using a nutritional infographic, she showed patients images of foods that were color-coded by sodium content. The results showed that patients were able to choose healthier food options.

Francis College of Engineering

Sophomore chemical engineering major Anthony Quartarone
Sophomore chemical engineering major Anthony Quartarone is developing clean, sustainable biofuel to replace petroleum-based fuel.

Chemical engineering major and Immersive Scholar Anthony Quartarone was recognized for his research on propane dehydrogenation, a chemical process that converts propane to propylene using a catalyst.

Quartarone, a sophomore, has been working in the lab of Asst. Prof. Hsi-Wu Wong to develop clean, sustainable biofuel as a replacement for petroleum-based fuel. His project was one of 22 from the College of Engineering that was featured in the Symposium.

“Propylene is an excellent fuel source and is a popular replacement for propane due to its higher combustion performance. It’s often used in the chemical and plastics industries,” he says.

College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Screenshot of UML music education student's winning online karaoke project Image by Courtesy
Music education major Alexis Csicsek’s winning entry was a community education online karaoke project.
Senior music education major Alexis Csicsek’s winning entry involved a plan to take student-musicians to the Chelmsford Senior Center for a karaoke performance. The students would crank out the instrumentals and seniors would be invited to command the microphone to croon the oldies.

Earlier in the semester, Csicsek went to the community center and interviewed visitors about their favorite music. She developed a set list and set a date for the performance: April 27. Then came COVID-19, so she had to adjust her plans.

Csicsek made a video of the song “Jailhouse Rock,” syncing four instrumental parts – bass, drums, guitar and keyboard – with the lyrics projected on the screen. The karaoke video is posted on YouTube and is available to anyone who wants to sing along.

Two students in the Autism Studies Program took top honors in the graduate student category. Cierra Hemp and Rachel Brouillette created a behavioral training program for college students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, teaching them how to perform better on job interviews.

Manning School of Business

Ali Ahmed at UMass Lowell Image by Courtesy
Ali Ahmed, a doctoral student in business administration, won an award for his research into “bug bounty” crowdsourced computer security programs.
The Manning School of Business had 12 projects represented in the symposium, six undergraduate entries and six graduate student entries. Four of the undergraduate projects were through the Manning School’s Business and Entrepreneur Scholar in Training (BEST) program.

Katrina Bien-Aime, a junior marketing and entrepreneurship major, worked with Li Sun, an associate professor of marketing, entrepreneurship and innovation, to research whether companies that adopted a subscription business model (think Netflix or Peloton) saw an effect on their IPO performance.

Roberto Santos, a third-year doctoral student in business administration (entrepreneurship concentration), explored whether foreign venture capital investments in critical U.S. industries lead to intellectual property leaks that could undermine the country’s competitive advantage.

“This is a particularly timely and relevant topic given recent U.S. policy changes that increase the scrutiny of foreign investments in critical U.S. technologies,” says Santos, who worked on the project with his faculty advisor, Prof. Yi Yang.

Kennedy College of Sciences

Sophomore biology major Caitlin Panessiti feeds an axolotl in the lab.
Sophomore biology major Caitlin Panessiti feeds an axolotl in the lab.
For her research project, sophomore biology major Caitlin Panessiti worked with Mateo Rull, a sophomore biology and psychology double major, and Gabriella Rickards, a student at Andover High School, to study the feeding behavior of the axolotl, a large salamander that is indigenous to Mexico and has the ability to regenerate severed limbs.

According to Panessiti, during feeding, the axolotl’s jaw opening and closing may involve both muscle contractions and the stretch and recoil action of elastic structures, including tendons and ligaments. The team wanted to find out if the contribution of elastic recoil varies with temperature.

“We found that jaw opening speed for strikes is marginally affected by temperature, which indicates muscular control, while jaw closing speed for strikes is not significantly affected by temperature, which indicates the contribution of elastic recoil,” says Panessiti.

During chewing, the team noted that both jaw opening and closing speed decreases as the temperature increases. “This may indicate that chewing is ligament-driven at low temperatures and, as the animal warms up, muscle kicks in and slows the entire process down, but this needs to be investigated further,” Panessiti says.

College of Education

Yelenna Rondon, a Ph.D. student, won top honors for the second year in a row for her project, part of the Cool Science research on using student artwork on buses to improve public education about extreme weather and climate science.

Rondon evaluated the student artists’ statements that accompanied their work to find out what they had learned, the intent of their work, their understanding of the science and more. Her work is part of a $3 million National Science Foundation grant to expand Cool Science and study its effectiveness in metropolitan areas in Massachusetts and the Midwest.