Engineering Grad Students Present Research to Peers, Judges

April 30, 2009 — Top graduate engineering researchers recently presented their work to peers and judges during the 2009 University of Virginia Engineering Research Symposium in Wilsdorf Hall atrium.

The symposium brought together 20 student researchers from a wide range of disciplines, including biomedical, systems and information, chemical and computer engineering.

Now in its fifth year, the symposium is a flagship event for the Graduate Engineering Student Council and is co-sponsored by the University. The symposium highlights the best graduate research at the School of Engineering and Applied Science and identifies graduate students who demonstrate excellence in relating their research to a broader societal context.

"The high quality of projects and presentations at this year's symposium contributes to the young but strong history of UVERS," said Jenifer Warner, a Ph.D. candidate in materials science and engineering and technical co-chairwoman of the 2009 symposium. "The event allows engineering grad students to share their research with peers and judges who may not be familiar with their given discipline. This ensures that the winners not only have outstanding projects, but that they can communicate their ideas clearly."

Roseanne M. Ford, associate vice president for graduate studies, said the students' creativity and innovation are always exciting to see. "They are such a critical component of the University's research enterprise and UVERS is a wonderful opportunity to give them the recognition they are due."

This year's winners and their projects were:

•    Ankit Tejani,  "Simulated Actin Polymerization May Account for Force Maintenance in Arterial Smooth Muscle";
•    Elizabeth Logsdon, ''Extracellular Matrix Mediated Cell Shape Change and Retinoic Acid Cooperate in Smooth Muscle Differentiation from Embryonic Precursors";
•    Maria Azimova, "Ceramic Proton Conductors for Intermediate Temperature Solid Oxide Fuel Cells."

The projects won $1,500, $1,000 and $750 respectively, with smaller cash prizes being awarded to all of the finalists. The top projects showcased research that could lead to advances in both medicine and alternative energy.

Tejani and fellow biomedical researchers are investigating an improved treatment for cardiovascular disease. Many treatments for the disease target smooth muscle contraction so the researchers are looking at how the polymerization of actin, a subcellular protein, can potentially regulate contractions, produce significant changes in blood flow and ultimately help to prevent and reduce the devastating effects of the disease. 

In another biomedical engineering project, Logsdon's second-place project looked at the connection between smooth muscle cell differentiation and the development and maintenance of a healthy vascular system. She is investigating how tissue structure may prime a stem cell or diseased smooth muscle cell to respond differentially to soluble protein cues during development and also atherosclerosis, a chronic inflammatory response in the walls of the arteries.

This research will inform developmental biology, design of tissue-engineered blood vessels and molecular drug targets for heart disease.

Placing third, Azimova's chemical engineering project focused on research that could lead to the creation of more efficient, proton-conducting fuel cells. Currently, fuel cells are the most efficient way to convert chemical energy into electrical energy. There are several advantages to solid oxide fuel cells over low-temperature fuel cells, including higher efficiencies, fuel flexibility (they are not only limited to hydrogen, but can use hydrocarbons), very inexpensive catalysts and waste-heat utilization.

The operating temperature of these fuel cells, however, is still very high, so research efforts are focused on bringing that temperature down. Proton-conducting fuel cells offer the advantage of significantly lowering operating temperature, while retaining the benefits provided by high-temperature fuel cells.

These and the other finalists represent the high caliber of research being conducted by graduate students at the Engineering School, engineering dean James H. Aylor said – research that will lead to tomorrow's solutions in everything from energy and the environment to health care to information technology.

"The research symposium offers a view of the next leaders of innovation," he said. "These students are honing research skills and beginning work that has the potential to spur the next great breakthroughs in science and technology."

2009 University of Virginia Engineering Research Symposium Results

1) Ankit Tejani – biomedical engineering
2) Elizabeth Logsdon – biomedical engineering
3) Maria Azimova – chemical engineering
4) Wei Qi – chemical engineering
5) Christina Haden – mechanical engineering

Honorable Mention:
Nupur Dutta – chemical engineering
Theresa Bankston – chemical engineering
Mark Hanson – electrical and computer engineering
Smitha Vasudevan – electrical and computer engineering
Wenjing Yin – engineering physics

Certificate of Merit:
Qiugui Zhou – electrical and computer engineering
Satyanand Nalam – electrical and computer engineering
Rupalee Mulay – materials science and engineering
Vipul Gupta – materials science and engineering
Kangyuan Zhu – systems and information engineering
Devin Shields - systems and information engineering
Kanshukan Rajaratnam - systems and information engineering
Erin Kallman – civil and environmental engineering
Joel Coffman – computer science
Scott Bingham – computer engineering