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Contact Information: Tanya Klein Public Relations 973-596-3433

NJIT Funds a Record Number of Summer Undergraduate Research Projects

Melvin Mathew '15, a biology major from East Hanover, will spend the summer on campus advancing devices that integrate visual and proximity sensors into goggles, augmented canes, and wrist bands to help the visually impaired navigate.

The NJIT campus will be buzzing with undergraduate research teams this summer as students take advantage of the break from lectures and homework to focus on in-depth projects in fields ranging from the life sciences, to biomedical engineering, to mathematical computation. Still others will be advancing their novel business concepts at the NJIT Summer Lean Innovation Accelerator Program held at the Enterprise Development Center (EDC).

The Provost’s Summer Research Program alone is providing more than $100,000 to support 31 research projects over a 10-week period this year. Twice as many students applied for the opportunity to work closely with their professors in laboratories across campus, and many have been urged to try again next year.

“This is the largest number in total that we have ever funded, and there were many other qualified proposals that I wish I could have included. We are hoping to increase support for next summer,” noted Atam Dhawan, distinguished professor of electrical engineering and executive director of NJIT’s Undergraduate Research and Innovation (URI) program.

Josef Mohrenweiser ‘17, a computational math major from West Milford, will be modeling more precise methods for delivering drug therapies to cancer sites through a process called magnetic drug targeting. In his grant proposal, he noted that cancer drugs are typically injected into the blood stream near the tumor, allowing some drug particles to spread throughout the body and potentially cause harm. Such imprecise delivery mechanisms also require significantly higher quantities of a drug to be dispensed than is needed to treat the tumor. According to the method he will model, cancer drugs would be attached to highly magnetic nanoparticles and injected near the cancer site to flow towards the tumor. A magnet of high field strength would trap the nanoparticles near the tumor, allowing them to release the drug only at the cancer site.

'“Magnetic drug targeting seems like it has an incredible amount of potential to improve lives, making it significantly easier for people to live with cancer, and decreasing drug costs for patients,” he says.

Sabrina Raia ‘15, an architecture and civil engineering major and Albert Dorman Honors College scholar from Farmingdale, will be working over the summer with Richard Garber, an associate professor of architecture, and Zeyuan Qiu, an associate professor of chemistry and environmental sciences, on a pilot project to plan and design a sustainable semi-rural community on a newly cleared 60-acre site in a region outside of the Wuhan metropolitan area in Hubei, China. She will be researching sustainable land-use methods such as constructed wetlands, green roofs, and rain gardens, among others. The project is jointly conducted by NJIT and the Wuhan Planning & Design Institute in China and Raia will communicate with Chinese collaborators through Skype meetings. In her grant proposal, she noted that countryside developments will produce new ideas about sustainable living and green infrastructure that can in turn be applied to existing higher density areas of the country.

“This is a great opportunity to combine my three interests of architecture, civil engineering and sustainability. China is urbanizing quickly with more than half of its 1.3 billion people planning to live on the periphery of Chinese cities within 15 to 20 years. Land is essential for the promotion of economic growth. With economic growth, there is an ability to use the land more efficiently. Through efficient land use, water and surface management, and sustainable technology, urban and social sustainability is achieved,” Raia says.

Dhawan noted that the cross-cultural project not only afforded insights into best practices in sustainability and green construction as seen from both sides of the globe, but provided an important window into another culture. “These experiences are critical for our students, helping them learn how to communicate effectively with global partners,” he said.

Among other sources of funding, several students won awards in the TechQuest competition on Innovation Day, which is supported by James Stevenson, a consultant at Stevenson PolyTech LLC, to continue their research over the summer. And seven more NJIT students will be funded by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program to work on developing novel mathematical models, methods and algorithms for quantitative exploration of data for various applications, with David Horntrop, an associate professor of mathematical sciences.

The top finishers in the fifth annual Newark Innovation Acceleration Challenge this past fall received $3,000 in seed funding from Capital One Bank as well as participation over the summer in the 10-week NJIT Summer Lean Innovation Accelerator Program at the EDC to advance their inventions. The first-place team, known as SenVis, is developing a method for integrating visual and proximity sensors in goggles, augmented canes, and wrist bands to help the visually impaired navigate.

“Over the summer we plan to tweak the cane and then field test it at The Seeing Eye, a guide dog school in Morristown. We want to hear how we can improve it,” said Melvin Mathew ’15, a biology major and Albert Dorman Honors College scholar from East Hanover and member of the SenVis team. The team also has funding from TechQuest and URI.

Dhawan said that he and the board are working to increase research opportunities for undergraduates throughout the year. Toward the future expansion of the URI program, additional generous support has been provided by Brian Kiernan, an angel investor and former executive vice president and chief scientist at InterDigital Communications Corp., who serves as the chair of the URI’s external advisory board.

“Our goal is to provide transformative research and innovation opportunities to every NJIT student,” Dhawan says. “Our undergraduates realize how these experiences help them succeed in the competitive global marketplace and assume leadership roles that allow them to make a real impact on our society’s prosperity and quality of life.”

One of the nation’s leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT’s multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of 11,400 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering and cybersecurity, in addition to others. NJIT ranks 5th among U.S. polytechnic universities in research expenditures, topping $121 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to PayScale.com. NJIT has a $1.74 billion annual economic impact on the State of New Jersey.