With hundreds of projects on view, UB Faculty Research Day has become Fairfield County’s premier venue for breakthrough experimentation, discovery, and innovation.
At University of Bridgeport’s (UB) Faculty Research Day in March, a chatty little robot named FURo zipped among the crowds streaming into the Shelfhaudt Gallery to quickly become a selfie magnet. “Everyone liked her, and that made me so happy because there are still many people who are afraid of robots,” said Pritesh Bhavsar, a computer science graduate student, who is developing its software architecture. “We want to make them accessible to everyone, to children to older people.”
In collaboration with Sarosh Patel, assistant professor of computer engineering, and Tarek Sobh, senior vice president for graduate studies and research dean, Bhavsar is working with Advanced Robotic Solutions of Stratford. The team is designing software with specific features for particular locations like airports, where the robot can help passengers access their boarding passes.
By using telerobotics, FURo can connect people across long distances. Collaborating with St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, the team is developing software so the robot can be used by young patients to doodle on its art canvas while their siblings draw along with them from home.
Bhavsar, who is from India, said this part of his research speaks deeply to him. “I am away from my home and miss my family, and I like knowing that a child in a hospital can be comforted, connected to his family and feel less alone.”
“I love my research work,” he added. “I feel very lucky to present our work here at Faculty Research Day.”
More than 300 people turned out for the eighth annual Faculty Research Day (FRD) with 157 research posters presented. It was a busy whirl as faculty, doctoral students, post-doctoral fellows, graduate, undergraduate and high school students from eight UB partner schools shared insights into their research work with visitors and judges.
“UB Faculty Research Day has become firmly established as the premier campus and Fairfield County venue to showcase the diverse array of faculty and student research. The growth over these last eight years has been stunning,” said Dr. Sobh.
This year’s event was bigger than ever. For the first time ever, FRD featured an Undergraduate Student Research Symposium with 30 posters. It also celebrated the future of exploration by showcasing student research from several Fairfield County high schools.
Keynote speaker Bogdan Vernescu, Ph.D., vice provost for research and professor of mathematical sciences at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, called upon faculty and student researchers to think creatively and work beyond disciplines to move “the rapidly changing world” forward.
Without large research divisions, many major companies rely on university research. The Google algorithm, the fetal monitor, Gatorade, rocket fuel, cat scans and GPS were just a few of the products developed on university campuses, he said. He told the crowd he was honored to speak at a University where so much research is going on and where faculty and student researchers “were so excited by their work.”
Student and faculty presenters said their research began because something piqued their curiosity: tiny cells, an endless pile of old mattresses, comics, a startling statistic on crosswalk deaths or the immune response of crickets. Ankit Mehta was inspired by a mattress. More specifically, Mehta, who is a mechanical engineering graduate student, was inspired by the work of Greater Bridgeport Community Enterprises, a non-profit that creates green businesses and jobs for unemployed, low-income residents, deconstructing used mattresses and reusing materials. Mehta used reverse logistics and data analysis to determine how the foam, wood, plastic and metal coils could find new life on the manufacturing floor. He found they could be used in the electronics, building and construction, medical equipment, shipping and home décor industries. “There are so many possibilities,” he said.
Colds and crickets were the impetus for Olivia Wallon’s research. The Fairchild Wheeler Magnet School senior wanted to know if the popular healing herb Echinacea protected against stress-related illnesses. With 106 crickets, she created a bacterial broth, dipped a sponge in Echinacea and simulated stress with gentle breezes blown through small homemade wind tunnels.
Emily Juliano’s and Feissal Djoule’s focus was on something both tiny and vast, as they researched the effects of microgravity on nanoparticle-cellular reaction. As part of the national Student Spaceflight Experiments Program,
the two biology majors competed with engineering and biology students from around the country for the chance to have their experiment conducted on International Space Station. To begin, they were given a small tube. Whatever microgravity experiment they created “had to fit in that really, really small space,” Juliano said.
They got to work, collaborating for hours in the library and hours more in the lab with Dr. Isaac Macwan, a research associate at UB’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. They won the national Student Spaceflight competition and, on Friday closer to home, they took first place in the undergraduate research division.
“This has been the opportunity of a lifetime,” Juliano said.
— By Jackie Hennessey