2022 – The Best in STEM Research

Sejal Dhaliwal, ’24, applied to work on a summer research project at the College of Science and Engineering because of a passion for and an interest in learning about and solving problems in women’s health.

The Cell and Molecular Biology student conducted hands-on research alongside peer Robel Teshome and Assistant Professor Christopher Whidbey, PhD, on the “Development of a CRISPRi System in Vaginal Lactobacillus.”

“One of the most challenging parts of my research experience was the failure to grow an immortalized vaginal epithelial cell line after multiple attempts,” Dhaliwal explains. “However, from this process I learned that science does not always work out as planned and instead requires improvisation.”

Dhaliwal’s work will be among the featured undergraduate research projects at the STEM Research Showcase, October 21, 3–4:30 pm in the Bannan Atrium, on the first floor of the Bannan Building. The event will spotlight, via poster presentations, 29 projects worked on by nearly 60 students and two dozen faculty in the areas of science, mathematics and engineering.

Mechanical Engineering student Manilyn Cabrera, ’23, worked with peer researchers Joanna Van Liew, Jonathan Fu, Matthew Baysa and Noah Turoski and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Yen-Lin Han, PhD, on the project “Soft Robots for Finger Rehabilitation.”

For Cabrera, this was an opportunity to gain real-world experience in conducting research in a professional setting. It also sparked an interest in continuing to explore this area of ​​research “that will change lives,” she explains.

“The most memorable part of my research experience was the brainstorming and testing part, where we were able to take our ideas into making a tangible work-in-progress prototype,” Cabrera says. “For me, the most challenging part was encountering a problem that was beyond our control or unexpected.”

Cabrera encourages students who want to do research to reach out to professors to gain insights on what opportunities exist that align with an area of ​​study or personal interest.

“Faculty are willing and happy to share this kind of experience with their students. They are excited in seeing your growth in your chosen career and working on something you are passionate about.”

Associate Professor Josh Hamel, PhD, director of the Master of Mechanical Engineering program, was the faculty adviser to the team working on the project, “Experimental Evaluation of Manufactured 2D Lattice Structures.” The research focused on better understanding the performance and capabilities of two different commonly used digital manufacturing processes.

Dr. Hamel explains: “Digital manufacturing technologies, such as computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining and 3D printing, are increasingly the tools of choice for making parts and components for engineered systems due to their accuracy and speed. As a result, today’s engineers need to understand why and when to use a specific manufacturing process based on the relative strengths and weaknesses associated with each particular system or technology that they might be asked to use. Specifically, we were interested in learning about how two parts, produced from the same digital file and made from the same base material, would perform differently if they were manufactured using different technologies.”

Over the summer the team manufactured a set of two-dimensional lattice structures out of ABS plastic, on both the mechanical engineering department’s CNC milling machine and with a benchtop 3D printer. After testing, the goal ultimately is to produce a dataset that clearly shows the relative strengths and weaknesses of CNC machining as compared to 3D printing for producing these parts. “Ideally, this information will then help other engineers to make better, and more informed, design and manufacturing choices,” says Dr. Hamel.

The benefits of students conducting research are manifold, from building confidence and skills to experiencing firsthand the real-world implications of their work, both personally and professionally.

“Young engineers who can design, manufacture and effectively analyze the performance of complex parts using a fully digital process are well prepared to enter the modern workforce and immediately make an impact,” says Dr. Hamel. “Over the course of 10 weeks of this project, (students) learned how to generate lattice structures using advanced computer aided design (CAD) software tools, how to produce digital manufacturing toolpaths for various manufacturing machines, how to operate a CNC milling machine effectively , how to work with 3D printers and how to generate and evaluate material testing data. All these skills are invaluable and represent a step beyond what we teach in our typical undergraduate mechanical engineering courses.”

Learn more about these research projects and register for the event.

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