News Release

Hot Posters at Research Expo 2010 at the Jacobs School

San Diego, CA, April  12, 2010 -- The annual Jacobs School Research Expo features research posters by 250 M.S. and Ph.D. engineering students, technical breakouts led by Jacobs School faculty, a plenary session, and a reception where guests can interact with faculty and students who share their research interests.

A sampling of graduate student engineering projects being presented at Jacobs School Research Expo 2010 is below. Learn more at:

New Material: Strong and Tough

strong and tough
Glowing yellow during fabrication, the new composite material will be both strong and tough.

NanoEngineers have created a new class of materials that are both incredibly strong and tough — an attribute combination that has traditionally been difficult to find in the same material. The new structural materials, which could find their way into aerospace and biomedical applications, are lighter than steel and twice as strong. The materials withstand high stress without permanent deformation; and when they do deform, they bend before they break. The materials are relatively inexpensive because they are made from materials already used in titanium alloys. NanoEngineering Ph.D. Hesham Khalifa, working in NanoEngineering Department Chair, Professor Kenneth Vecchio’s research group, helped create the new one-step process for fabricating these “bulk metallic glass composite materials.” The materials were formulated on the computer, using modeling approaches to properly design nanoscale atomic clusters. A next step in the research is to begin customizing bulk metallic glass composites with tailored properties. One possibility: a metallic material with stiffness that begins to approach that of human bone and could be used in bone-implant technologies of the future.


Fighting Pediatric Heart Disease Via Computer Simulations

Kawasaki disease (KD) is a serious pediatric illness affecting the cardiovascular system. One of the most serious complications of KD, occurring in about 25 percent of untreated cases, is the formation of large aneurysms in the coronary arteries, which put patients at risk for myocardial infarction. KD is often misdiagnosed, or not diagnosed at all until it’s too late for treatment. Currently, there are very few guidelines to help clinicians decide a course of treatment for KD. Jacobs School students and faculty have developed computational simulations that are expected to aid pediatricians in treating this disease. In particular, the students, led by mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Dibyendu Sengupta, have developed patient specific computational simulations of blood flow in aneurysmal left and right coronary arteries of a KD patient as part of a larger study to gain an understanding about aneurysm hemodynamics in KD patients. 

heart simulation
Computational simulation expected to aid pediatric doctors in treating Kawasaki disease, a serious pediatric illness.
 “When we solve the computational fluid dynamic equation we can extract various information that cannot be obtain clinically, such as shear stress at a particular location, like the time the blood spans or recirculates, which might be related to the patient having a blood clot,” said Sengupta, who is working with mechanical engineering professor Alison Marsden on the project. “It’s not possible to measure the shear stress clinically. We have to use computer modeling for that.”  Another important aspect of using computational simulation tools to help treat such diseases, he said, is it helps surgeons determine what type of surgery a patient needs. “You can, for example, determine if a patient needs to have a bypass and where the location of that bypass should be,” Sengupta said. “By using simulations you can see which location can be best suited for the patient.”  Sengupta and Marsden are also working with UCSD Medical Center cardiologist Andrew Kahn and UCSD pediatric doctor Jane Burns, one of the foremost experts in treatment and pathophysiology of KD. “The best part of our research is the satisfaction of helping people have a better life,” Sengupta said.

Lightweight Composite Bridge for Military and Emergency Applications

grad student Katherine LaZansky

Structural engineering grad student Katherine LaZansky with preliminary prototype of carbon fiber bridge for the U.S. military.

With a need for increased mobility on the battlefield, the U.S. military is looking for high-strength, lightweight and portable structures such as composite bridges that can transport heavy vehicles. With funding from the Office of Naval Research, structural engineering students are developing a carbon fiber bridge for military applications. The 78-foot long lightweight composite bridge could also come in handy in the event of a natural disaster. The structure, expected to be completed in July, is being built at the UCSD Powell Structures laboratory. Research involves performing an implicit nonlinear finite element analysis of the aluminum tension joints and selecting a design that can carry up to 750,000 pounds. After the bridge is constructed, a full-scale test under loads that will fail the bridge will be conducted in the Powell Structures lab.

“After we test the bridge we will be able to tell how well the aluminum joints perform when integrated into a full-size structure,” said Katharine LaZansky, a structural engineering grad student who is leading the project.  These types of composite bridges, which have been under development at UC San Diego for the past several years, are corrosion resistant and lighter and stronger than current metallic bridges, she said.  “One of the advantages of this composite bridge is the U.S. military can potentially build it in the field,” LaZansky said. “You can fly an oven out that is 20 feet long and have aluminum molds and lay out carbon fiber fabrics. This can save time, space and money.” Structural engineering grad student Katherine LaZansky with preliminary prototype of carbon fiber bridge for the U.S. military.


Hard Core Gaming with Smartphones

gaming with smartphones

Electrical engineers simulated game playing on mobile networks in order to develop and test their cloud-based approach to 3D gaming on smartphones.

Electrical engineering Ph.D. student Shaoxuan Wang wants to be able to play 3D, multiplayer, Internet video games on his smartphone—the kinds of games that today require a PC tethered to the Internet via a DSL or cable link. Exploring the technical innovations that would be required, Wang flipped the traditional client-server architecture for PC-based Internet games on its head and looked to cloud computing. Instead of putting most of the storage and computational burden of the games on the phone or other mobile device (client side), Wang and his collaborators in the Mobile Systems Design Lab at the Jacobs School are creating a system in which computers in the clouds render the graphics and take on the other taxing gaming computations. The smartphone would primarily communicate the users’ gaming commands to the servers. Wang hopes his approach and the Mobile Gaming User Experience model he created will improve graphics-intensive applications for the wireless Web and move them beyond gaming, perhaps into medicine.


Wireless Heart & Brain Sensors

wireless sensor

An ECE graduate student developed new non-contact wireless health monitoring sensors.

Electrical engineering graduate student Yu Mike Chi has been busy designing non-contact, wireless sensors that could make home health monitoring more convenient and less expensive. Chi, along with bioengineering professor Gert Cauwenberghs, has developed two capacitive electrode designs that operate completely without skin contact. The first design is a direct replacement for conventional contact electrodes and provides a signal quality comparable to clinical grade systems. The sensor is built from inexpensive commercially available components on a standard printed circuit board. The second non-contact sensor design is a wireless, self-contained, coin-sized patch which does not require physical connections to other electrodes or a base unit.  Non-contact sensors have applications in wireless health monitoring by giving physicians the ability to monitor the physiological state of patients without interfering in their daily lives. The engineers are focusing their technology on long term cardiac health monitoring. They are also exploring the use of this technology to build better brain-computer interfaces.

“There are a lot of people working in this area, but being able to build everything on a single chip makes it much more robust and affordable,” Chi said.  Beyond medical uses, the devices open up new engineering and science opportunities in mobile brain imaging of subjects freely moving in natural and virtual environments. Projects using this technology are currently underway in Calit2’s StarCAVE, a five-sided virtual reality room; and for the Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience at the Institute for Neural Computation.

Diagnostic Systems for Cars
Computer science Ph.D. students Massimiliano Menarini and Filippo Seracini are analyzing automotive diagnostics with an eye toward improving them. The modern car is a heterogeneous system made up of components from many different suppliers, and implementation of the diagnostic system is often treated as a byproduct of the software implementation. Menarini and Seracini are part of a team looking to remedy this situation. Their service-oriented software architecture approach, which offers solutions for integrating heterogeneous systems, is already being used in disaster response and environmental monitoring projects. One challenge: deploying just enough computer code to identify and report all failures to the driver — while still enabling repair centers to connect testing equipment to the vehicle and identify all details of the failure.

Treat Acne with Coconut Oil and Nano-Bombs

New acne treatment

Ph.D. student Dissaya “Nu” Pornpattananangkul is developing a smart system of drug delivery. Watch a related video on the Jacobs School blog.

A natural product found in both coconut oil and human breast milk shines as a possible new acne treatment thanks to research performed at UC San Diego. Bioengineering Ph.D. student Dissaya “Nu” Pornpattananangkul is developing a smart system to deliver “nano-bombs” carrying this natural product — lauric acid — direcly to the bacteria in the skin thought to cause common acne or “acne vulgaris.” (Watch a related video on the Jacobs School blog.) Common acne afflicts more than 85 percent of teenagers and over 40 million people in the United States, and current treatments have undesirable side effects that lauric acid-based treatments could avoid. The new smart delivery system includes gold nanoparticles attached to the nano-bomb surfaces. These nanoparticles help the nano-bombs locate acne-causing bacteria based on the skin microenvironment. Pornpattananangkul and chemical engineering undergraduate Darren Yang confirmed, in 2009, the antimicrobial activity of nano-scale packets of lauric acid against Propionibacterium acnes.






Solar Concentrator Design

solar concentrator

The new solar concentrator design (right) collects sunlight with thousands of small lenses imprinted on a common sheet. All these lenses couple into a flat “waveguide” which funnels light to a single photovoltaic cell. Older system designs (left) require many photovoltaic cells which each need to be aligned and electrically connected. 

A new solar concentrator designed by electrical engineering Ph.D. student Jason Karp cuts the number of required photovoltaic cells and could lead to less expensive and more environmentally friendly solar installations. Existing high-efficiency solar cells incorporate optics to focus the sun hundreds of times and can deliver twice the power of rigid solar panels. But these systems typically use arrays of individual lenses that focus directly onto independent photovoltaic cells which all need to be aligned and electrically connected. In contrast, the new solar concentrator collects sunlight with thousands of small lenses imprinted on a common sheet. All these lenses couple into a flat “waveguide” which funnels light to a single photovoltaic cell. The engineers from the Photonic Systems Integration Laboratory built a working prototype with just two primary optical components, thus reducing materials, alignment and assembly. This solar concentrator is compatible with high-volume, low-cost manufacturing.


Solar Predictions

sky imager

Engineering students are using several cutting edge tools such as a total sky imager to determine the efficiency of solar power.

Although solar power is a growing alternative energy source, its penetration into the electricity market is currently limited by the ability to accurately assess and predict how much is actually being used and wasted. Mechanical engineering students at UC San Diego are using a variety of techniques — from satellites to ground sensors — to address these issues.

Under the direction of environmental engineering professor Jan Kleissl, the students are using advanced tools and instruments that have already been deployed around campus, including advanced wireless weather station networks; a ceilometer, which measures cloud height and density; and a total sky imager, which tracks cloud movement.

“The biggest problem now is that solar is a variable energy source,” said mechanical engineering grad student Anders Nottrott. “To operate the U.S energy grid efficiently, utilities have to predict demand, i.e. how much power people are going to consume. For supply, traditional power sources produce a consistent output so they can plan a few hours ahead. In the future, for regions like Southern California where photovoltaics are becoming an increasing part of the energy grid, we have to figure out how to mitigate the unpredictability of solar panels through forecasting.”






Media Contacts

Daniel Kane
Jacobs School of Engineering

Andrea Siedsma
Jacobs School of Engineering