Student poster session at WPI Innovation Center

Undergraduate Research Projects Showcase

Undergraduate Research Projects Showcase at WPI: Innovative Ideas Tackling Real-World Problems

Students at Annual Event Display Research, Design, and Creative Endeavors
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May 4, 2023
Photography
Matt Burgos

A low-cost feeding device for infants, a process to break down “forever chemicals,” and an augmented reality quilt were among more than 500 innovative undergraduate research projects on display April 21 at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) during the university’s annual campus-wide celebration of senior students’ achievements.

The Undergraduate Research Projects Showcase gave about 1,145 senior students, who had worked alone or in teams for months, an opportunity to display their Major Qualifying Projects (MQP), which all students must complete to graduate. Supervised by faculty members and sometimes performed with outside sponsors, MQPs are professional-level research, design, or creative projects that seek solutions to real-world problems and reflect WPI’s leadership in project-based learning.

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Grace Wang

Grace Wang

“It is inspiring to see WPI’s students tackle real-world problems with innovation, creativity, and a great sense of social responsibility,” said Grace Wang, WPI president. “Their extraordinary accomplishments illustrate how project-based learning and WPI’s philosophy of theory and practice prepares critical thinkers, lifelong learners, and leaders who contribute to their fields and positively impact their communities.”

Undergraduate research at WPI enables students to strengthen their knowledge in their majors and work across disciplines. The university’s annual showcase of undergraduate research projects is among events featured on the website of the Council on Undergraduate Research, which supports and promotes high-quality mentored undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative inquiry.

All the research projects, including the following five projects, can be found here:

A low-cost device to feed premature infants

Outside wealthy countries, hospitals may not always have the resources to buy and maintain costly medical equipment. Alexis Compton, Samantha Havel, Kelsey Leach, and Melissa Hauman set out to change that by developing the PreemiePal, a compact device to tube-feed formula, breast milk, or water to premature infants who cannot yet swallow well. The team’s prototype cost about $64 and operates on both electrical and battery power while using common medical components, such as plastic syringes. The PreemiePal received encouraging reviews from clinicians in Ghana, where Leach visited urban and rural hospitals to gather data.

Students hold a prototype PreemiePal

From left, Samantha Havel, Kelsey Leach, Melissa Hauman, and Alexis Compton.

Students present on the PreemiePal

From left, students Samantha Havel, Alexis Compton, Melissa Hauman, and Kelsey Leach speak about their PreemiePal research.

From left, Katherine Lacroix, Alexis Clark, and Shayla Nguyen.

From left, Katherine Lacroix, Alexis Clark, and Shayla Nguyen.

Breaking down “forever chemicals”

Alexis Clark, Katherine Lacroix, and Shayla Nguyen tackled one of the toughest environmental problems with a process to break down “forever chemicals,” a group of potentially toxic man-made substances known by the chemical abbreviation PFAS. Used in industrial and consumer products, PFAS chemicals have been widely detected in the environment, including drinking water, and do not readily degrade over time. The students developed an oxidative process that applied existing concepts in a new manner to break the chemical bonds of PFAS chemicals in water and could lead to new ways of treating drinking water.

Memory quilts get a high-tech makeover with augmented reality

Feeling lonely and cold? Amanda Jones, Megan Letendre, and Elise Nerden used high-tech fabric and an augmented reality headset to develop an interactive “memory quilt” that allows a user to snuggle into an immersive experience. Inspired by quilts pieced together from fabrics such as commemorative T-shirts, the students used a material that contains sensors to create quilt “patches” that, when touched, send related photos, videos, and even music to a user’s headset. The quilt exposes a user to the perceptions linked to a memory, which helps to make a memory more vivid and potentially improves the user’s memory recall. Watch a video about the project here.

From left, Megan Letendre, Amanda Jones, and Elise Nerden.

From left, Megan Letendre, Amanda Jones, and Elise Nerden.

A high-tech memory quilt

Touch-sensitive memory quilt

Students post with Lobster ROL

From left, Trevor Parks, Caylee Butler, Slater Campbell, and Charles Snow.

William Michalson and students aboard a boat.

Professor William Michalson, left, and students Slater Campbell, Charles Snow, Caylee Butler, and Trevor Parks test their ropeless lobster trap in Narragansett Bay.

“Ropeless” trap catches lobsters without hurting whales

Lobster fishing is critical to New England, but the ropes that connect traps to buoys pose a threat to the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale. That problem inspired Caylee Butler, Slater Campbell, Trevor Parks, and Charles Snow to develop the Lobster Resurfacing Oceanic Locator, or Lobster R.O.L., which keeps a buoy and coiled rope submerged with a trap until a designated time set by a user on a smartphone app. At the specific time, the buoy and rope release, allowing lobstermen to find and collect their traps. The students interviewed lobstermen and industry workers to develop an easy-to-use prototype that costs about $200, and they successfully tested it in a swimming pool and in Narragansett Bay. The students are working with WPI to patent the invention, and plan to continue working on the project after they graduate.

Improving kidney stone surgeries

Alexander King, Abhinav Palisetti, Cabot Priestner, and Haohao Yi developed a device that could help surgeons locate and remove kidney stones bigger than 20 millimeters in diameter using minimally invasive instruments. The students’ ultrasound-guided needle insertion system would significantly improve the needle visualization during the needle insertion process, allowing surgeons to have better spatial awareness and precision during the procedure. The team also developed an algorithm to track the needle’s path into a patient’s kidneys. The students’ device could reduce the risk of complications from kidney stone surgery by allowing surgeons to find large stones more quickly and efficiently. The students are working with WPI to patent the concept of the device, and a new team of students will continue to develop the device.

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Students work on a prototype device.

From left, Abhinav Palisetti, Alexander King, Cabot Priestner, and Haohao Yi.

“The projects that WPI’s seniors undertake allow them to conduct meaningful research, experience extended learning, and develop expansive skills that will prepare them for impactful lives beyond WPI,” said Arne Gericke, interim dean of the Office of Undergraduate Studies. “Alumni tell us how much they value their MQP experiences, and it’s inspiring to see how much our students achieved this year.”

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Major Qualifying Project (MQP) Senior Showcase

Undergraduate Research Projects Showcase (URPS)

A celebration of research, design, and creative theses—a requirement of every graduating senior through the Major Qualifying Project—takes place each spring on campus. Student teams representing all academic departments present their work to their faculty advisors, external sponsors, and the community-at-large, and the public is invited.

Gompei

Research, Creativity, and Curiosity on Display

In a sign of spring as iconic as daffodils in bloom, the WPI community took time recently to share and celebrate graduating students’ achievements as every senior presented their completed thesis.