Undergraduate Research Showcase

Students collaborate across continents on research discoveries

Nov 02 2020 | By Jesse Adams | Student Photo Credit: Courtesy of the students | Research Image Credit: Courtesy of the labs

Clockwise, from top left: Anthony Luo, Arielle Feder, Felipe Aleixo dos Santos Couto, Divya Rajasekharan, Boyuan Chen.

From integrating renewables into global energy markets to uncovering the mechanics of pregnancy, a cohort of Columbia Engineering undergrads spent the summer conducting university research from afar. Five reconvened online this fall for the ninth annual Undergraduate Research Showcase to present their work, take questions, and highlight the range of research that continued even under lockdown.

“At a tier-one research university like Columbia, our faculty are at the cutting edge of knowledge—and it’s our privilege to engage with students who are equally passionate about research,” said Barclay Morrison, vice dean for undergraduate programs and professor of biomedical engineering, introducing the gathering October 6. “This event represents our students’ perseverance in adversity, their dedication to research, and their drive to produce new knowledge and discoveries.”

Working from home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, mechanical engineer Felipe dos Santos Couto ’22 partnered with Professor Bolun Xu of Earth and Environmental Engineering on understanding how integrating large-scale energy storage systems important for renewables affects electricity prices. They worked on developing machine learning models analyzing how flows of supply and demand affect price spikes in hope of enabling smarter power grids.

“I’d been interested in techno-economic analysis for a while, especially after a class I took at Columbia,” Santos Couto said. “So when I found out about Dr. Xu’s research it made perfect sense to study the economics of renewable energy in more depth.”

On a more individual scale, fellow mechanical engineers Divya Rajasekharan ’21 and Arielle Feder ’22 have been working in Professor Kristin Myers’ Soft Tissue Lab on modeling the mechanics of the human uterus in the last weeks of pregnancy.

“All the evolving soft tissues of pregnancy are such an interesting mechanical problem,” said Rajasekheran, a Californian now back in New York for her senior year. “Just getting to think day in and day out about how the uterus expands, how tissue properties change, how organs shift and more to support the growing fetus and get ready for delivery was so fascinating, and seeing it all come to light in simulation—watching patterns emerge and getting hints of answers to our questions—is one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever been lucky enough to have.”

While Rajasekheran plans to return to the lab in the spring, Feder has returned to Morningside from her home in Westchester County and is carrying on building a birthing simulation based on the various models they honed over the summer.

Also dealing with delicate details of human health was computer scientist Anthony Luo ’23 of San Diego, California, who collaborated with Professor Andrew F. Laine’s Heffner Biomedical Imaging Lab on automating classification of arteries and veins to streamline medical diagnoses. Plus, chemical engineer Boyuan Chen worked with Professor Chris Boyce exploring the behavior of bubbles from interacting gas jets in liquid.

“I learned a crazy amount,” said Luo, “going from knowing nothing about biomedical imaging and all the formats to developing a software pipeline. I’d highly recommend summer research to anyone interested—it’s a great way to learn new things and work on meaningful projects while helping push the bounds of science just a little bit further.”

Undergraduate Research Showcase