SEAS R&D Showcase Celebrates Groundbreaking Student Research

university community observes research presentation boards at Research and Development Showcase
GW President Stephen Knapp listens to students explain their research at the SEAS R&D Showcase.
February 29, 2012

Six graduate and two undergraduate students captured prizes worth a total of $14,000 for their research at GW’s School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Sixth Annual Research and Development Showcase on Monday.

The annual event is a chance for students to showcase and receive expert feedback on their research, as well as network with faculty, SEAS alumni and representatives from industry.

The 2012 $5,000 grand prize winners were Anastasia Wengrowski and Rafael Jaimes, for their research on metabolic demands of fast heart rhythms. Ms. Wengrowski and Mr. Jaimes are both Ph.D. students in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Their adviser is Assistant Professor of Engineering and Applied Science Matthew Kay.

Second prize, worth $4,000, went to Ritu Bajpai, a D.Sc. student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering who worked with adviser Mona Zaghlou, professor of engineering and applied science, on a project on UV-assisted alcohol sensors.

Third prize, worth $3,000, went to Paul Moubarak, Zhou Ma and Eric Alvarez, who worked with Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Pinhas Ben-Tzvi, for their research on a reversible docking interface for modular robotics. Mr. Moubarak and Mr. Ma are Ph.D. students in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Mr. Alvarez is a junior mechanical engineering student.

The best undergraduate project award, worth $2,000, went to Nathaniel Diskint and Caitlin Keating for their research on syringe flow regulation. Mr. Diskint is a junior biological anthropology student, and Ms. Keating is a junior psychology student. Their adviser is Michael Plesniak, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Mr. Diskint and Ms. Keating are hoping to develop their research into a marketable product. They have plans for a company, called Imagnus Biomedical, and have reached the second round of the GW Business Plan Competition. Mr. Diskint, who also works as an EMT, explained that the devices currently used to regulate syringe flow rate so medicines can be delivered accurately intravenously are bulky and expensive. He and Ms. Keating’s product is small and inexpensive and could be used easily in emergency situations.

Grand prize winners Ms. Wengrowski and Mr. Jaimes investigated the link between metabolic changes and disturbances in the electrical activity of the heart. In people with coronary heart disease, Ms. Wengrowski explained, periods of ischemia and reperfusion—reduced and then restored blood flow—can cause irregular heartbeats.

“This can sometimes be deadly, which is why we are interested in pinpointing the mechanism,” she said.

She and Mr. Jaimes both said they were thrilled with their win.

“We’d worked very hard and thought we might be in the top three, but we were very surprised [to win],” Mr. Jaimes said. The students started on their research in August, when they began as Ph.D. students, and Ms. Wengrowski called their learning process “fast but dense.”

“There was no luck involved, just hard work,” she said.

President Steven Knapp told the researchers, judges and guests at the showcase that the sophistication of the projects seems to improve every year.

“What’s extraordinary is the range and imagination that goes into these projects I’ve been looking at, in terms of their design, and in terms of envisioning their consequences for real-world applications, but also the excitement the winners always reveal for the theoretical underpinnings their applications are based on,” Dr. Knapp said. “I congratulate all the students and their mentors who are a part of this effort this year.”

David Dolling, dean of SEAS, called the R&D showcase “a wonderful occasion.”

“It really showcases the depth, the breadth and the quality of the work the students and their advisers are doing across the School of Engineering and Applied Science,” he said.

Sid Banerjee, CEO and co-founder of Clarabridge, a company that provides scientific analysis of customer feedback that businesses collect via forms, social media and other venues, served as the event’s keynote speaker. In describing his career trajectory, he explained how he never initially imagined himself as an entrepreneur, but eventually “caught the bug” and became excited to start his own company.

He advised SEAS students to avoid assuming that their research isn’t commercializable, and not to worry about making money right away when starting to develop a new business idea. And the students might be able to learn from his experiences, he said.

“If you are an entrepreneur, go for it. If you’re not, find people who want to be entrepreneurs…. Expect that as you grow, your values and your ambitions will change. Don’t hold onto what you thought at the beginning. Don’t be afraid to grow and learn.”

Learning & Research