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Micromotors. Heart on a chip. Social media epidemiology. A Research Expo recap.

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Dean Albert P. Pisano (first row, last on right) poses with this year's Research Expo winners. 

San Diego, Calif., April 20, 2015 -- Micromotors that zoom through a mouse’s stomach. Heart tissues on a chip. Analysis of social media posts to prevent an increase in HIV infections. These were only a few of more than 200 posters on display at the Jacobs School’s Research Expo 2015 at the Price Center Ballroom on April 16.

The event is an annual showcase of top graduate research projects for the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego.  During a one-hour poster session, students are judged on the quality of their work and how well they articulate the significance of their research to society. This dual challenge is a key component of the Jacobs School’s mission to develop engineers with both the technical knowledge and leadership to drive tomorrow’s innovation economy. The school is ranked highly because of its students’ work and research, said Jacobs School Dean Albert P. Pisano at the event’s awards ceremony.

“There is an important lesson in all of this,“ he said. “You need to communicate your knowledge and wisdom to others. If humanity doesn’t get behind it, it’s not going anywhere.”

Many of the judges that come back to help evaluate posters are alumni. Many others are high-powered industry executives in search for talent. “Each year, I am amazed by the students’ work,” said Mark Ambrose, a site executive at Raytheon and a judge for posters from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering this year. Students also are now more focused on practical applications for their research, he said. “That type of connection between challenging concepts and how they might be used is very important.” Ambrose also encouraged other industry executives to attend the event. “You get to meet some of the best and brightest engineers in the country all in one place and all at one time,” he said.

Judges from industry pick winners for each of the school’s six departments. A panel of faculty judges, this year Professors Hyonny Kim, Ahmed El Gamal and Vlado Lubarda, pick the overall winner for the whole event.

Winning poster: NANOENGINEERING: Artificial micromotors in the mouse’s stomach: a step toward in vivo use of biomedical micro-robots

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Nanoengineering Ph.D. student Jinxing Li took the Rudee Outstanding Poster Award for this poster “Artificial micromotors in the mouse’s stomach: a step toward in vivo use of biomedical micro-robots.”

Nanoengineering Ph.D. student Jinxing Li took the Rudee Outstanding Poster Award for this poster “Artificial micromotors in the mouse’s stomach: a step toward in vivo use of biomedical micro-robots.” Li is part of a research collaboration between nanoengineering professors Joseph Wang and Liangfang Zhang. Li’s research is the first example demonstrating that these tiny motors work both safely and effectively inside a living animal.

The micromotors developed by Li and his coworkers in the Wang Research Group can deliver and release cargo within the stomachs of mice. The key to the movement of these motors lies in their zinc bodies, which react with stomach acid to generate a stream of hydrogen bubbles that propel the motors and enable them to swim around the stomach. In these experiments, the motors traveled at a speed of 60 micrometers per second for up to 3 minutes. As an added bonus, the zinc motors are biodegradable: they gradually dissolve in the stomach acid, enabling them to both release their cargo to the stomach wall and leave no toxic traces behind.

“We have been developing this technology for almost three years and this is the first time we put a nanorobot in a live animal and showed that it could effectively deliver payloads to a particular location,” said Li. “This is a very exciting example showing that nanorobots can really work in vivo and benefit health science.”

For more information, read the research article published in the journal ACS Nano.

The other winners were:

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 Ivneet Singh Bhullar, a master's student, won the best bioengineering poster prize. 

BIOENGINEERING

Three-dimensional cardiac microtissues in a perfusion-based device: an in vitro platform

Students in the research group of bioengineering professor Shyni Varghese developed a heart-on-chip device that includes tissue engineered 3D micro cardiac tissues. The device is designed for the testing of drug toxicity on a more physiologically relevant cardiac tissue model than current state-of-the-art methods. The technology yields other promises as well, said Ivneet Singh Bhullar, a master’s student who was part of a research team that also included Jomkuan Theprungsirikul and Aereas Aung. “We could replicate this with other organs and allow these systems to interact,” he said. “This would help us understand how drugs impact the body as a whole.”  In this device, the tissues are suspended in a protein-based hydrogel. The cardiac microtissues are constantly fed nutrients through a perfusion system, mimicking the way these tissues are fed by blood vessels in the body. After two days, the engineered cardiac microtissues start beating and the cell generated contractile forces are measured by using a far field approach.  Researchers developed a custom designed computer simulation method involving finite element analysis to measure the contractile stresses of the microtissues with great precision. As a proof-of-concept, researchers ran tests with drugs known to have an effect on cardiac tissues and were able to replicate the same results as conventional methods. The research was the result of a collaboration between Prof. Varghese, Prof. Andrew McCulloch, and Prof. Yu-Hwa Lo.

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Narendran Thangarajan, a master’s student advised by research scientist Nadir Weibel, won the prize for best computer science poster. 

COMPUTER SCIENCE

Analyzing social media to characterize HIV at-risk populations among MSM in San Diego

Narendran Thangarajan, a master’s student advised by research scientist Nadir Weibel collected five million tweets from the San Diego county region over a period of five months and used machine learning techniques such as linear classifiers to extract tweets that showed users who were at higher risk of HIV infections. He made these determinations based on keywords supplied by clinicians who work with HIV-infected patients and at-risk populations at the UC San Diego AntiViral Research Center, also known as AVRC. This work, funded by the AVRC, the UC San Diego Center for AIDS Research and the Frontiers of Innovations Scholar Program resulted in the creation of a map showing which geographical regions in San Diego were at higher risk of infection. "The information would allow clinicians to deploy prevention measures more efficiently and accurately", said Thangarajan. He and Weibel were careful to scrub the data of all personal identifiers, such as user names and handles, he added. “The funding for prevention of HIV infections in the United States increases every year, yet new infections remain at about 50,000 a year,” Thangarajan said. “We need to try a new approach.” The next step is to conduct a study that gathers data from patients who are HIV infected and populations at risk of infection and see how it compares to the researchers’ analysis.

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Minu Mariam Jacob, a Ph.D. student working in the research group of electrical and computer engineering professor Daniel Sievenpiper, won the prize for best electrical and computer engineering poster. 

ELECTRICAL AND COMPUTER ENGINEERING

W-band spatial power combiner

Minu Mariam Jacob, a Ph.D. student working in the research group of electrical and computer engineering professor Daniel Sievenpiper, designed a W-band spatial power combiner that amplifies the power output transmitted from a horn antenna. A 3D printed prototype of the W-band spatial power combiner accompanied Jacob’s poster. The design has potential applications in millimeter wave imaging and enabling long distance communications among unmanned vehicles.

MECHANICAL AND AEROSPACE ENGINEERING

Magnetic freeze casting: porous scaffolds bio-inspired by bone

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Michael Frank, a Ph.D. student in the research group of mechanical engineering professor and materials science expert Joanna McKittrick, won for best mechanical and aerospace engineering poster. 

Michael Frank, a Ph.D. student in the research group of mechanical engineering professor and materials science expert Joanna McKittrick, is trying to create better resorbable scaffolds for bone implants. Frank turned to magnetic freeze casting, an innovative two-part process that allows researchers to create strengthened multi-axis porous structures.  Frank had help from a team of undergraduate students: Tsuk Haroush, Sze Hei Siu, Jerry Ng and Ivan Torres. The researchers began with preparation of a slurry, using magnetized ceramic particles. The slurry was then frozen, and water segregated the particles between vertical bands of ice crystals. A magnetic field aligned the particles further along a second axis. After the frozen block was freeze dried and sintered, a porous ceramic scaffold resembling that of bone was left. When tested, it turned out to be two to three times as stiff in the transverse axis where the magnetic field was applied compared with samples where no magnetic field was applied. The next step is to use magnetized bone minerals and to explore the use of electromagnets to align the structure along more than two axes. “This could be an extremely useful biocompatible implant for treatment of osteoporosis,” Frank said.

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Alireza Sarebanha, a Ph.D. student in the research group of professor Gilberto Mosqueda, won the prize for best structural engineering poster. 

STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING

Hybrid simulation of steel building with stiff rocking cores for improved seismic drift distribution

Alireza Sarebanha, a Ph.D. student in the research group of structural engineering professor Gilberto Mosqueda, in collaboration with researchers at Case Western Reserve University, led the testing of a new method to retrofit soft story buildings. Soft story buildings are typically characterized by large openings such as windows or parking on the first floor--increasing the risk of collapse. The retrofit consists of adding a stiff rocking core to redistribute seismic forces along the height of a building, increasing its ability to withstand earthquakes. The tests showed that a deficient building retrofitted using this approach was capable of withstanding what’s called a maximum credible earthquake in the Los Angeles area, which has a two percent change of occurring over the next 50 years. In addition, Mosqueda’s team worked with the Case Western researchers to use what’s called a hybrid simulation method, a cost-effective technique that combines numerical simulations with experimental testing. There are more than 11,000 soft-story buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area and another 20,000 in the Los Angeles area, Sarebanha pointed out. “Soft story buildings also are still being constructed in developing countries and are at risk of collapse in an earthquake,” he said.

Watch a video interview with overall winner Nanoengineering Ph.D. student Jinxing Li:

 

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Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering
Phone: 858-822-0899
ipatrin@ucsd.edu

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