Penn Engineering’s Summer Undergraduate Research Programs Deliver Inspired Results


While many students vacationed during the summer months, some on campus at Penn Engineering were conducting extraordinary research. The School offers three programs, which allow undergraduate students the rare opportunity to participate in research with Penn faculty members over the course of 10 weeks.

“Providing undergraduate students with research opportunities adds an extra dimension to their education,” Jan Van der Spiegel, professor in Electrical Systems and Engineering (ESE) and associate dean of Education, said. “It brings the students into a community of scholars who look beyond classwork to do original research and instills a strong passion for scholarly inquiry that prepares them for a graduate career.”

Following a research symposium showcasing the talents of the participants, the winners of these programs have been named by a panel of judges.

Littlejohn Undergraduate Research Program


The Winner: Adrian Lievano (Penn, Senior, MEAM)
Faculty Advisor: Katherine Kuchenbecker
Project Title: “Haptic instrumentation of a human fingertip”

Significance of Research: Brain-computer interfaces may soon enable paraplegic patients to move their own limbs, but no solution yet exists for giving these patients a sense of touch. Touch is vital for performing a variety of tasks that we do on a daily: using keys to open doors and holding utensils to eat are few of many examples. This project sought to engineer a system that can measure a fingertip’s mechanical interactions on par with human mechanoreceptors without interfering with the use of the finger.

Honorable Mentions: Brett Hagberg (Penn, Senior, MSE) advised by Robert Riggleman and Jason Woo (Penn, Junior, MSE) advised by Daniel Gianola

About the Program: Thanks to a generous gift by Angus Littlejohn, Penn Engineering is able to offer this program to rising, sophomores, juniors and seniors. The program intends to provide students the opportunity to get involved in hands-on engineering research under the supervision of a faculty member. Topics of research include all areas covered by the departments in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Rachleff Scholars Program

Dean The Winner: Sarah A. Dean (Penn, Junior, EE)
Faculty Advisor: Daniel D.Lee
Project Title: “Balance control on sloped surfaces with inexpensive tactile sensors”

Significance of Research: Balancing bipedal robots requires many sensors and complex control schemes. Most bipedal robots are not designed to walk on sloped or uneven surfaces, and the ones that can either require previous knowledge of the surface or use expensive force-torque sensors. Inexpensive and durable tactile arrays can be made with mass-produced MEMS barometers. This study investigates the use of these tactile sensors to provide the feedback necessary to balance a system on sloped surfaces. The system used was a one-dimensional inverted pendulum, implemented with a Dynamixel servo motor with an attached metal rod and weights. Each of the tactile sensors was characterized by a sensitivity coefficient, found from a non-negative linear regression on sensor readings vs. center of mass of the system.

Honorable Mentions: Vivek K. Menon (Penn, Junior, BE) advised by Jan Van der Spiegel and Mitchell T. Stern (Penn, Senior, Computer Science) advised by Lyle Ungar

About the Program: Rachleff Scholars participate in this research program typically after completing their sophomore year. During the program’s span, the students enroll in seminar courses for credit in the semester prior to and immediately following their Summer Research Experience. Additionally, as part of the undergraduate degree requirements, Rachleff Scholars also complete two units of honors coursework.

Summer Undergraduate Fellowship in Sensor Technologies (SUNFEST)

Sacks The Winner: Jacob Sacks (The University of Texas at Austin, Senior, BE)
Faculty Advisor: Jan Van der Spiegel
Project Title: “A wireless, real-time embedded system for closed-loop myoelectric control of sedated primates”

Significance of Research: Brain-computer interface (BCI) technology establishes a direct link between the nervous system and external hardware. An important application of such devices is myoelectric control, or the use of the electrical potential generated during muscle contraction as an input signal. This physiological information is heavily used in rehabilitation engineering and novel human-machine interaction. Current commercial systems are limited in their degrees of freedom for control, and are incapable of bidirectional communication with the nervous system. Such restrictions prevent intuitive use of myoelectric devices and closed-loop control with sensory information. This project presents a microcontroller-based, wireless BCI system that recognizes simple hand gestures as input and produces a corresponding output signal.

Honorable Mentions: Jia-En Marcus Pan (Penn, Junior, EE) advised by Daniel D. Lee and Jamie Johnson (Broward College, Junior, EE) advised by A.T. Charlie Johnson

About the Program: The SUNFEST program is open to rising sophomores, juniors and seniors that are studying engineering and the physical sciences. The purpose of this program is to expose students to real, in-depth research in the area of sensor technology and to motivate them to go on to graduate school. The program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation as a REU Site (Research Experience for Undergraduates) and the Center for Sensor Technologies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Interested? Learn more!

View the Undergraduate Research Home Page

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