Category Archives: Students

Summer scholar profile: Grace Aro

Each year, the Summer Scholars Program awards funding to a select group of rising juniors and seniors from across Tufts academic disciplines, to carry out ten-week independent research projects. This summer, we profiled three engineering students as they worked on their projects.

Grace Aro working in the lab at SciTech. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Grace Aro working in the lab at SciTech. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Name: Grace Aro
Hometown: Denver, CO
Major: Chemical engineering, E18
Faculty mentor: Assistant Professor Ayse Asatekin

Project: There are “a lot of people in the world who don’t have access to clean drinking water,” says Aro, “and that’s a big issue.” Her project investigates an interesting potential solution: a co-polymer membrane that could filter organic materials out of surface water, while resisting getting clogged. The membranes that she made and tested in the lab are zwitterionic, meaning that they were created with zwitterions — ions that have positive charges on one end and negative on the other.  So far, Aro’s research suggests that the zwitterionic membranes seem to have equal the filtering capabilities of commercially-sold membranes, while clogging less. She’s also experimenting with whether the membranes can remove lead from a solution.

Read more: Filtering cleaner drinking water, and Water purification at the molecular level

$1 million grant to support low-income engineering students

Professor Laurie Baise and engineering students visit a construction site.  (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Professor Laurie Baise and engineering students visit a construction site. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

The new FAST-TRAC program will provide scholarships and support to low-income students who are earning a B.S. and an M.S. in Tufts’ five-year combined degree program. Thanks to a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Tufts can fund FAST-TRAC through at least 2020. Engineering undergraduates starting their junior year this fall will be the first class eligible for FAST-TRAC. The program applies to all majors within the School of Engineering.

The effort is led by Associate Dean for Graduate Education Karen Panetta, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Darryl Williams, and Kristin Finch, Associate Director of the Center for STEM Diversity.

“The landscape for entry-level engineering jobs is changing significantly,” Williams says. “The more competitive applicants are those who have master’s degrees.” FAST-TRAC will bring a master’s degree within reach for more engineering students.

Summer scholar profile: Anu Gamage

Each year, the Summer Scholars Program awards funding to a select group of rising juniors and seniors from across Tufts academic disciplines, to carry out ten-week independent research projects. This summer, we profiled three engineering students as they worked on their projects.

Anu Gamage performs research on her inverted pendulum.

Anu Gamage performs research on her inverted pendulum.

Name: Anu Gamage
Hometown: Colombo, Sri Lanka
Major: Electrical engineering, E18
Faculty mentor: Assistant Professor Usman Khan

Project: An inverted pendulum is exactly what it sounds like: a pendulum stood on its head, with its center of mass above its pivot. It requires a constant application of force to keep it balanced. The human body is an inverted pendulum, Gamage points out, with our muscles constricting to act against gravity and keep us upright. There are inverted pendulums in robotics and in aeronautics. They’re monitored by internal sensors that track the pendulum’s position and apply the proper amount of force to maintain its vertical position. Those internal sensors, however, are potentially vulnerable to software bugs or cyberattacks. Gamage seeks to create an external camera system that would capture a running visual feed of the pendulum’s motion, process those images, and use that data to balance it. “It would be robust against attacks or malfunctions,” says Gamage.

Read more: Defying gravity with an inverted pendulum, and Anu’s blogs for Tufts Admissions

Communicating health risks with visualizations

Associate Professor Remco Chang creates visualizations to help communicate health risks to patients.

Associate Professor Remco Chang creates visualizations to help communicate health risks to patients.

Associate Professor Remco Chang, students, and collaborators at Maine Medical Center (MMC) created a project to investigate how older men with prostate cancer use visualizations to better understand their own health risk information. Chang, master’s student Anzu Hakone, E16, recent graduate Nate Winters, E16, doctoral recipient Alvitta Ottley, EG16, postdoctoral researcher Lane Harrison, and MCC collaborators Dr. Paul Han and Caitlin Gutheil have a paper entitled “PROACT: Iterative Design of a Patient-Centered Visualization for Effective Prostate Cancer Health Risk Communication” appearing at the 2016 IEEE InfoVis conference. The web-based visualization prototype, PROACT, supports patients to learn about their cancer risk and the possible side effects of different treatment options.

Combining cloud and internet to support VR

Doctoral student Osama Haq and Assistant Professor Fahad Dogar work on improving virtual reality applications.

Doctoral student Osama Haq and Assistant Professor Fahad Dogar work on improving virtual reality applications.

Assistant Professor Fahad Dogar and doctoral student Osama Haq are working on providing a suitable network support for emerging real-time applications (e.g., virtual reality). They are exploring how the highly reliable, but expensive, cloud network infrastructure could be combined with the best-effort, but cheaper, Internet paths. The goal is to provide guaranteed bandwidth and low-latency for such applications. The preliminary idea and feasibility of this work appeared in ACM HotNets 2015. The ongoing research in this project also involves collaborators from Boston University’s Department of Computer Science.

Driving the Autobahn

Professor Kathleen Fisher, Remy Wang, and Diogenes Nunez worked on a Haskell program called AUTOBAHN.

Professor Kathleen Fisher, Remy Wang, and Diogenes Nunez created a Haskell program called AUTOBAHN.

A paper by doctoral student Diogenes Nunez, senior Remy Wang, and Professor and Chair Kathleen Fisher, entitled “AUTOBAHN: Using Genetic Algorithms to Infer Strictness Annotations,” will appear at the 2016 Haskell Symposium. This work, which started as a project in Associate Professor Norman Ramsey’s functional programming class, tackles the long-standing problem of how to improve the performance of Haskell programs by telling the compiler which program fragments should be evaluated eagerly. Currently, inserting the appropriate annotations is a black art, known only to expert Haskell programmers. The Autobahn tool developed by Nunez and Wang automatically suggests appropriate places to put annotations to improve a number of performance metrics.

Summer scholar profile: Jenny Skerker

Each year, the Summer Scholars Program awards funding to a select group of rising juniors and seniors from across Tufts academic disciplines, to carry out ten-week independent research projects. This summer, we’ll be profiling three engineering students as they work on their projects.

skerker.JPGName: Jenny Skerker
Hometown: Lexington, MA
Major: Environmental engineering, E17
Faculty mentor: Associate Professor John Durant

Project: Over the last several years, you might have seen a Tufts RV driving around Boston. That RV, operated by Tufts CEE graduate students and equipped with fast-response air pollution monitoring equipment, was collecting data on air quality throughout the city. Skerker will bring some of that data into an analysis program called AERMOD to model air dispersal patterns from the northbound and southbound Central Artery Tunnel exits beneath downtown Boston  a particular focus that hasn’t been studied before. “My question that I’ll be trying to answer,” Skerker says, “is: where is this pollution going [when it exits the tunnel]? Does it affect neighboring communities? What’s the downwind direction?”

More information: Modeling air pollution in Boston, and Big road blues

Tufts in Talloires: An uplifting journey’s end

This summer, two students from the Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST) program blogged their experiences from Tufts in Talloires, a six-week summer program that offers students a dynamic group of courses taught by Tufts faculty in Talloires, France. In addition to coursework, a wide variety of optional outdoor activities, weekly hikes into the Alps, field trips, and organized events offer each student the opportunity to explore the unique Haute-Savoie region of France. 

By Michelle Chan

Michelle and Hernan at the base of the mountain, ready to paraglide.

Michelle and Hernan, ready to paraglide.

From the edge of the mountain, the entirety of Lake Annecy stretched before me. I collected all the trust I had in my body for the instructor strapped behind me, to obey his shout, “Don’t sit! Run! Keep running!” So I ran right off the mountain. The ground fell away beneath my feet, or maybe my body was floating. Either one could be correct depending on the reference frame, but neither mattered because I was flying. My eyes followed the cords attached to the harness on my body, up, up, up, to see only a piece of fabric holding me afloat in a vast sky. I started screaming. There was no fear left in me, only exhilaration at life’s possibilities.

In the sky, I located Hernan, my fellow BESTie, soaring alongside me. Exactly a year ago, we were arriving at Tufts for BEST summer session, barely getting to know each other. Just like we entered college together, we supported each other throughout our fall and spring semesters. We traveled to Turkey and Germany together before arriving in France. Just last week, we went paragliding. As I flew higher, breaking into a cloud, I realized that I never would have found so much success and fulfillment without the support of BEST and my amazing community.

France has been a new experience that was made better by friends like Hernan sticking up for each other through challenges, whether or not they were unique to being in a foreign country. After Talloires, when Hernan and I return back to Tufts ground, I want to continue the practice of lifting up others in all contexts of life, even those beyond engineering. We are more than just our professions, but also bodies, minds, and souls that need acknowledgement to reach our highest capabilities.

Michelle Chan is a rising sophomore from Eugene, Oregon, majoring in computer engineering.

Tufts in Talloires: Flying out with determination

This summer, two students from the Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST) program blogged their experiences from Tufts in Talloires, a six-week summer program that offers students a dynamic group of courses taught by Tufts faculty in Talloires, France. In addition to coursework, a wide variety of optional outdoor activities, weekly hikes into the Alps, field trips, and organized events offer each student the opportunity to explore the unique Haute-Savoie region of France. 

By Hernan Gallegos

Ready to step off the mountain.

Ready to step off the mountain

“Trois… Deux… Un… Allez!”

Not even three steps into my walk, I realized I wasn’t walking anymore – I was gliding. Suspended only by a parachute, I did what others always say not to do: I looked down. I could see the trees, Lake Annecy, Talloires, the city of Annecy, and even my own home! While my guide was concentrating on the air currents, I had time to reflect on my experiences.

I have analyzed several things throughout my time in France. Through my courses, excursions, and the many people in the program, I realized there was no way for me to use my engineering mind. Personally, I’m glad that this program enforced more of a liberal arts mentality. In the long run, this mentality affected me big time.

As I felt motion sickness from the air currents, I dwelled on the events that arose from this program. Some were enjoyable, while others were questionable. However, I don’t regret being involved in the program. It showed me the world we actually live in and that I know what I can be working towards as an engineer. Being suspended in the air reinforced my passion to become an aerospace engineer, but with a twist.

As I landed on my butt, I thought, “What if I wasn’t exposed to these experiences in Talloires? Would I be the same?” I realized that I wouldn’t. This exposure showed me that as an engineer, I should still remember the humanities as well, or else things will go corrupt within my mind. This entire experience further emphasizes a quote that I strongly believe and that others should understand as well:

“Engineering without humanities is insanity.”

P.S. I’m very glad to have traveled with my fellow BESTie, Michelle Chan!

Hernan Gallegos is a rising sophomore from Atlanta, Georgia, majoring in mechanical engineering.

Tufts in Talloires: Looking closely

This summer, two students from the Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST) program are blogging their experiences from Tufts in Talloires, a six-week summer program that offers students a dynamic group of courses taught by Tufts faculty in Talloires, France. In addition to coursework, a wide variety of optional outdoor activities, weekly hikes into the Alps, field trips, and organized events offer each student the opportunity to explore the unique Haute-Savoie region of France. 

By Michelle Chan

The view from Michelle's bus stop to Talloires. Napoleon's Hat is visible in the top right.

The view from Michelle’s bus stop to Talloires. Napoleon’s Hat is visible in the top right.

Even in week five of the program, friends here still ask me, “Where is Veyrier-du-Lac?” Talloires is a village and Annecy is a small city. The bus route spans eight nauseatingly bumpy miles between the two, while Veyrier-du-Lac, my home, marks roughly a midpoint. Even though the bus passes Veyrier every day, you might miss it if you blink. Here, everything seems tiny.

Yet small is hardly synonymous with dull. Even though I walked through most of the streets already, each scene is full of rich details worthy of notice. By the lake, glistening water laps the banks of the shore from gravitational pulls. Turning around, a little mountain peak hovers over houses. Locals call it “Napoleon’s Hat,” perhaps because of its triangular shape.

Walking around, plants grow everywhere. Satisfyingly, I can identify some species that were learned on weekly Monday field trips in my Flowers of the Alps class. Many of them look similar at first sight, but spending a few more seconds in observation distinguishes details that set the species apart.

In case I want to look even closer, I can use the loupe hanging on a string around my neck to magnify a flower. The tiny parts reveal information that I typically overlook. The ovary, once pollinated, begins growing into what we may recognize to be fruit. Through the lens, I see fruit so unripe that, well, they aren’t even considered fruit yet.

To be honest, I barely use the loupe on my walks, but I also rarely take it off. Maybe I keep it on when I go to bed for efficiency’s sake, so that I have it when I need it. Or maybe I wear it as a constant reminder to find fascination with the details of my everyday surroundings.

Michelle Chan is a rising sophomore from Eugene, Oregon, majoring in computer engineering.