Undergrads Engineer the Future of Research at the Cullen College
August 2, 2016
Natalie Thayer

At the University of Houston, graduate students aren’t the only ones diving into research this summer.

Undergraduate students are gaining hands on research experience through the UH Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. The full-time, 10-week intensive program provides funding for rising UH sophomores, juniors and seniors to conduct research with UH faculty. Many of the research projects funded by SURF are interdisciplinary, allowing students to work with faculty from a variety of fields and colleges within the University.

This year, nearly 30 students and more than 20 professors from the UH Cullen College of Engineering participated in the SURF program.

The scope of projects within the Cullen College was vast and varied—students steered swarms of micro robots, engineered new technologies to clean contaminated wastewater, tracked brainwave function in response to creative processes and much, much more. 

Brittany Trinh, a chemical engineering student, worked with civil engineering professor Debora Rodrigues to help advance the future of clean water technology. Rodrigues, who has been lauded for her work in clean energy, developed a water filtration system that uses hydrogel nanocomposite beads to remove harmful materials from water sources. Trinh focused on removing heavy metals from water with this technology.

“I’ve enjoyed being immersed in the research world,” she said of her experience in SURF. “Working in a different engineering department has given me the opportunity to observe how other disciplines conduct research.”

But summer isn’t the only time of the year undergraduates can participate in research on the UH campus. During the school year, the Provost's Undergraduate Research Scholarship (PURS) program enables talented juniors and seniors to conduct in-depth research projects. As PURS participants, students work on research projects under the direction of advanced and award-winning faculty for an entire semester, learning to hone their research and experimentation skills.

This year, engineering students tackled several complex engineering challenges with real-world applications.

Minh Do, a biomedical engineering student, also worked with Rodrigues to remove nitrate and phosphate from water sources.

Mechanical engineering student Tam Nguyen studied ways to use graphene, a two-dimensional nanomaterial, as a thermal probe to gain insights on nano-devices that could improve energy conversion, environmental pollution, food production and human health. Nguyen worked with assistant professor of mechanical engineering Hadi Ghasemi, who was recently recognized for his contributions to the world of thermal research.

Kristopher Geeting, a biomedical engineering student, delved into the world of bacterial genetics with Elebeoba May in the May Multiscale Immunobiology Design Algorithms and Simulation (MIDAS) Lab. Geeting’s research focused on understanding the behavior and dynamics of E. coli formation.

“PURS was an incredibly enriching experience,” said Geeting, adding that working in a lab allowed him to grow as a student and a scientist by teaching him about the nature of research.

“PURS was an opportunity to experience how independent research can be, how much more potential it offers than the class environment,” he said. “You’re the one looking for tools. You’re the one looking for relevant papers. You’re the one trying to come up with controls to ensure that you don’t come to biased conclusions. You’re the one, ultimately, holding yourself accountable.”

To encourage even more engineering undergraduates to take advantage of these opportunities, Dean Tedesco and the Cullen College are introducing a new program to complement SURF and PURS. The program, called the Engineering Undergraduate Research Scholarship (EURS) Program, goes into effect this fall and will provide funding for an additional 40 PURS engineering students working with College faculty members during the 2016-2017 academic year and an additional 30 SURF engineering students during the summer of 2017.

Learn more about SURF and PURS online.

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