Undergraduate Research Revue

8th annual research symposium showcases a diverse range of projects

Oct 16 2019 | By Jesse Adams | Photo Credit: Timothy Lee Photographers

More than 50 undergraduates presented at the event.

From sequestering CO2 to mapping the Milky Way, a packed symposium this fall showcased the impressive range of Columbia Engineering undergraduates’ research endeavors.

Assembled at Carleton Commons alongside friends, faculty, and industry professionals, over fifty students presented outstanding work at the eighth annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on October 3. Their projects spanned Columbia and beyond, in labs across the university and as far afield as NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“Each year I look forward to sharing my research with everyone at the symposium,” said biomedical engineer Paul A. Spezza ’21, who discussed work conducted at Dartmouth over the summer regulating macrophage polarization in order to better treat skin cancer. “It’s always a great opportunity to practice my presentation skills and engage with others also passionate about scientific innovation.”

It was his second time presenting, having previously highlighted his research on campus last year. Those researchers who spend their summer in Morningside Heights not only work closely with esteemed Columbia faculty, but have access to a rich array of workshops aimed at widening their knowledge base and instilling best practices as scientists and communicators.

This past summer alone, professors Sunil Agrawal, Lauren Marbella, and Allie Obermeyer introduced the students to their work in rehabilitative robots, futuristic batteries, and hybrid materials for biomedical applications, respectively, while Professor Michael Mauel emphasized the importance of maintaining a detailed lab notebook to track every step. Plus, Professor Daniel Esposito led two sessions on navigating often dense journal articles for key takeaways, and Professor John Kymissis talked about the art of fashioning engaging presentations.

“Using the tips and recommendations from Professor Kymissis, I’ve not only been able to capture my audiences’ attention and keep them engaged but also have fun doing it, which I’d not experienced before,” said mechanical engineer Witold Dziekan ’20, who partnered with Hareem Zain ’20 to automate a vintage 1964 milling machine uncovered in the Carleton Lab, as well as bring it up to speed with modern safety standards.

At a session in August, a dozen students practiced breaking down highly technical topics to reach and inspire a broad audience—effort that’s already paying off.

“The symposium was a lot of fun,” said computer scientist Trey Gilliland ’22, who was part of a team who collaborated with Professors Gil Zussman and Ethan Katz-Bassett on a project using machine learning to enable consumer satisfaction in encrypted online traffic. “Both talking with my peers about my summer research and being a resource for those who want to get into research.”

In addition to continuing his research this semester for course credit, Gilliland recently also presented the project at the NYC Media Lab Demo Expo alongside PhD candidate Craig Gutterman MS’13 and Sarthak Arora ’19. Competing against a variety of emerging media and technology prototypes developed by students and faculty from universities across the five boroughs, the team earned the $1,000 top prize in the Enabling Technology category.

The Undergraduate Research Symposium also again featured a highly selective cohort of young women who received summer research stipends as this year’s Johnson & Johnson scholars, as well as two Engineering The Next Generation scholars, local high school students who completed a six-week research program in collaboration with Columbia.

[The symposium is] always a great opportunity to practice my presentation skills and engage with others also passionate about scientific innovation.

Paul A. Spezza ’21

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