MOSTEC scholars tackle real-world problems with innovation

A recap of the MOSTEC 2020 Virtual Final Symposium

The first all-virtual MOSTEC 2020 Final Symposium took place over three evenings from August 9-August 11, 2020. Our 231 students worked in teams to share 83 final project presentations in thermodynamics, astrophysics, aerospace engineering, design thinking, neuroscience and connectomics, geospatial tools for social change, biomedical signal processing, image analysis and pattern recognition, computational biology – genomics, embedded systems, machine learning, data visualization, and mobile app development. Each night was opened with remarks from a keynote speaker who shared their perspectives on this year’s OEOP theme “Redefine Possible.” The virtual format allowed students, and more than 40 program staff members to engage with more than 700 guests. With storms hitting the south and east coast during those days, students also learned to manage logistical challenges of an all virtual symposium. Here’s a glimpse into our students’ impressive learnings.


Creating a plan B for biosensing and drug delivery systems

Alejandro Garces, from Miami, FL, together with teammates Sofia Flores from Edinburg, TX, and Anastacia del Rio, from Warner Robins, GA, worked on applying the concepts of closed-loop internal biosensing and drug delivery systems to a variety of health issues. As part of their Biomedical Signal Processing class, they worked on solutions to automate insulin delivery during the menstrual cycle in female diabetes patients, manage opioid levels for pain management, and treat shingles episodes indicated by neural signals with automated pain relief. They reviewed the concepts of autonomous control of pharmacotherapy and their promise of continuous monitoring of biomarker levels and adjustment of the concentration of a given drug in the body. Then, reviewed the mechanics of a generalized closed-loop drug delivery system consisting of a biosensor, controller and infusion pump, and a model of drug pharmacokinetics.

“Thirty minutes before it was time for us to go on, I was listening to the inspirational keynote speakers when I received a slack from Anastacia saying that there was a thunderstorm in her area and her power was coming on and off. Alex and I panicked and started coming up with a back-up plan but I was praying we wouldn’t have to resort to it. Luckily though, mother nature allowed Anastacia’s Wi-Fi to stay on and everything was OK. I learned how to problem solve within a team and make sure everyone was comfortable with the new plan,” Flores shared in her Symposium blog. “Everything leading up to that point was FANTASTICAL. I got to dive further into the biomedical field than I could’ve ever expected and got comfortable with asking questions. I also learned to code!!!”


Helping everyone – and each other – adapt to the online space

Nolan Mungovan, from Worcester, MA, Diego Swaddipong, from Dover, MA and Dani Campuzano from Santa Ana, CA developed an American Sign Language (ASL) to English translator glove as part of their Embedded Systems course. Their prototype was designed to help ASL speakers participate in online meetings during quarantine and online learning. By integrating electronic hardware with an online software, the team demonstrated how their glove could type MOSTEC while following the user’s movements.

“Our presentation went pretty well – we must have practiced at least fifteen times, so by the time we presented I wasn’t too stressed,” said Mungovan. “We got a lot of positive feedback about the project which made the (very, very) late nights getting our ASL to English translator glove to work properly paid off significantly.”

“I’m a little sad that this is the end of the academic phase, because I learned quite a bit … It was really quite fun and I had the absolute best instructors one could ask for,” said Swaddipong.


Learning about healthcare and accessibility

Diana Bishop, from Miami Springs, FL and Jonathan Williams from Boca Raton, FL researched if free universal health care correlates with increased overall public health as part of their Data Visualization course. They compared rates of maternal mortality, infant mortality, life expectancy, average medical debt, and other key healthcare data among countries which have access to free healthcare and those that don’t. They used Tableau to analyze and develop visualizations to answer their research question.

“I loved conducting the project as I learned many facts I never knew (ex: the maternal mortality rate has only been increasing in the US from 2000-2017),” shared Williams. “I learned that teamwork can actually be a positive experience if both members are motivated to produce a quality presentation … and the top skills I learned from this experience are 1) planning is key and 2) practice is key. By planning our workflow and practicing our final presentation, my group was able to deliver a relatively smooth talk.”

“I loved presenting because it let me talk a lot about a subject that I find interesting, which is one of my favorite things to do. I feel like I could’ve researched our subject a bit more, because … we chose a really hot topic (healthcare) so our audience knew more about it than we did!” reflected Bishop. “I’m really glad to have learned data visualization and how to use Tableau. I really found it cool to learn that it’s always important to include accessibility in your presentations. Although our instinct is to use green to represent increase and red to represent decrease, people who are colorblind might not be able to tell the difference. I think it’s so important to remember that, and I’ll always remember how easy it can be to keep other people’s needs in mind.”


Getting support from near and far

Nychole Villa, from Detroit, MI, together with Nicole Onyemeziem, from Chicago, IL, and Timari Claybourne, from Redford, MI presented “Unmasked” a Covid-19 app as part of their Mobile App Development course. The team identified the need for increased mental health support, given the uncertainty and isolation resulting from the pandemic. They developed an app that allows users to stay informed about Covid-19 and get strategies on how to safely navigate mental health challenges.

“Our presentation went great, I usually tend to be very nervous and stutter a lot when speaking in front of people, but somehow the support my team gave me, had given me a lot of confidence and I did a lot better than expected,” said Villa. “What I learned about working in a team is that if I want to make changes or add new ideas I have to speak up, no matter how scary it is for me. Also working together as one instead of working alone on sections is a lot more efficient; it saves time and really brings everyone’s perspectives to the picture.”

The virtual format, added Villa, also allowed her to invite others in her community that have supported her in MOSTEC. “They could see where their support has led me too. I’m really happy that one of my recommenders was able to attend my presentation, along with my best friend and my older sister in Texas, it made me feel more comfortable knowing I knew a few people in the crowd.”