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Nanosponges that Remove Toxins from Blood Take Top Prize at Research Expo 2013

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Chancellor Pradeep Khosla and Interim Dean Juan C. Lasheras present awards to graduate students at a reception for Research Expo 2013. L-R: Amanpreet Kaur, Stephen Foster, Martin Gassman, Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, Scott Ouellette,  Interim Dean Juan C. Lasheras, Sarah Esper, Ronnie Hongbo Fang and Michael Sonnenberg. Photo by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications.

San Diego, Calif., April 23, 2013 -- More than 100 judges representing industry and engineering faculty circled around 200 engineering research posters at the University of California, San Diego April 18, asking the graduate students about their research. The students, representing the six academic departments of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, explained the content of their research to the judges as well as Research Expo attendees from industry, academia, the government and nonprofits.  Judges ranked the students on their research and on how well they articulated their work to judges who may or may not work in their particular engineering sub-field. Students were called to explain the essential findings and why they matter to other researchers, to industry and to society. 

This dual challenge is a key component of the Jacobs School’s mission to develop engineers with both the technical knowledge and leadership to drive tomorrow’s innovation economy. Being able to meet both challenges is also central to winning at Research Expo, the annual graduate student research and networking event of the Jacobs School.

“It’s a commendable challenge for our graduate students to explain their fundamental discoveries in laymen’s terms,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla who presented the awards together with Juan C. Lasheras, interim dean of the Jacobs School of Engineering. “And to convince the judges that ‘I’m the one,’ is quite impressive.”

The judges awarded a top prize for best poster to one student from each department as well as the Rudee Outstanding Poster award to one grand prize winner selected from among the first six.

This year, the grand prize went to Ronnie Hongbo Fang, a second-year, nanoengineering graduate student working under the guidance of Liangfang Zhang, a professor in the Department of NanoEngineering. Fang presented research on nanosponges that can remove a broad class of dangerous toxins from the bloodstream, including toxins produced by MRSA, E. coli and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria and venom from poisonous snakes and bees.

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Second-year nanoengineering graduate student Ronnie Hongbo Fang, working with advisor Liangfang Zhang, a professor in the Department of NanoEngineering, won the grand prize at Research Expo 2013.  Photo by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications. 

“I am very humbled to have been selected for the grand prize. More than anything, I think that it goes a long way towards validating the research that our group is doing as a whole,” said Fang. He cited the emphasis on collaborative research at UC San Diego and Zhang’s mentoring as keys to his success. “It is now more important than ever to be able to communicate your research with others who may not share your knowledge or set of expertise. The emphasis on collaboration at UC San Diego is a strong driver allowing students to hone their communication and presentation skills. I am fortunate enough to work with a passionate advisor who cares greatly about his students and how they will ultimately develop into well-rounded and critically thinking researchers.”

The nanosponges invented by Fang and his colleagues in the Zhang Research Group can neutralize “pore-forming toxins,” which destroy cells by poking holes in their cell membranes. Unlike other anti-toxin platforms that need to be custom-synthesized for individual toxin type, the nanosponges can absorb different pore-forming toxins regardless of their molecular structures. In a study against alpha-haemolysin toxin from MRSA, pre-innoculation with nanosponges enabled 89 percent of mice to survive lethal doses. Administering nanosponges after the lethal dose led to 44 percent survival. Read the recent story on the research published in Nature Nanotechnology and watch a short video illustration about the nanosponges here. Fang’s Research Expo abstract is also available at: A BIOMIMETIC NANOSPONGE AGAINST PORE-FORMING TOXINS

Fang completed his bachelor’s degree in engineering physics, and biochemistry and cell biology at UC San Diego in 2011 and was a Jacobs Scholar. The Jacobs Scholars program selects undergraduate students for their outstanding academic achievement, extraordinary leadership and commitment to their community. It is the highest award the Jacobs School can bestow upon an undergraduate student and was established in 2000 through a generous gift from former Jacobs School professor and Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs and his wife Joan.

The Jacobs School of Engineering thanks its generous Research Expo sponsors: Qualcomm, ViaSat and SAIC. Research Expo is a program of the Jacobs School’s Corporate Affiliates Program.

Von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center Innovation Awards

Research Expo also featured a new award category this year to recognize work that is both innovative and marketable. A separate team of judges composed of industry representatives, who provide mentoring to entrepreneurial faculty and students through the Jacobs School’s von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center, recognized three students whose work is innovative and appears to be ready for commercialization. (See below for von Liebig Innovation Award winners.) The von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center offers pre-seed funding and business advisory services to researchers and students developing innovative technology at universities throughout Southern California.

Remembering alumna Katie Osterday

The awards ceremony also included a touching tribute to UC San Diego alumna Kathryn “Katie” Osterday, who was killed last December in a car accident. Osterday received the top prize in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Research Expo 2012. Juan Carlos del Alamo, Osterday’s advisor and a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, together with Juan C. Lasheras, Jacobs School interim Dean who also advised and worked closely with Osterday, announced that the departmental award has been named in honor of Osterday. “All of us who knew her, knew how joyful, energetic and generous she was,” del Alamo said.

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Amanpreet Kaur received the Katie Osterday Award for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Photo by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

The Katie Osterday Award for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering was presented to Amanpreet Kaur, a Ph.D. student in the research group of Carlos Coimbra, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Kaur is helping the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), the agency in charge of meeting the state’s electricity needs, by developing a substantially more accurate forecasting model than the one currently in use. The model forecasts the amount of energy that Californians will use in hourly increments, looking one hour ahead for each forecast. This research has direct impact on the cost of energy to users and on our ability to integrate more renewable resources such as solar and wind into the power grid.Abstract: HOUR-AHEAD MARKET LOAD FORECAST FOR THE CALIFORNIA INDEPENDENT SYSTEM OPERATOR REGION

The four other departmental awards and three von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center Innovation Award winners are:

 

Computer Science and Engineering

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Sarah Esper and Stephen Foster received the Computer Science and Engineering Best Poster award. Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

Sarah Esper and Stephen Foster have developed an immersive, first-person player video game designed to teach students in elementary to high school how to program in Java, one of the most common programming languages in use today. Esper and Foster are Ph.D. students in the research group of computer science professor William Griswold. They are also advised by Beth Simon, a computer science lecturer and Director of the Center for Teaching Development at UC San Diego, CodeSpells is currently available for free download for Macs and will be soon available for Windows as well. Read more about CodeSpells here. Abstract: CODESPELLS: LEARNING TO PROGRAM THROUGH IMMERSIVE GAMEPLAY

 

Structural Engineering

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Scott Ouellette received the Structural Engineering Best Poster award. Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

Scott Ouellette, a Ph.D. student in the research group of Michael Todd, a professor of structural engineering, has developed a battery powered by the chemical process that causes corrosion. He demonstrated that the battery could be used to power sensors installed on a structure that is being corroded to monitor the structure’s health. The battery can be designed to power up sensors for the entire operational lifetime of the structure – a unique feature. Abstract: CEMENT SEA-WATER BATTERY (C-SWB) POWERED SENSOR NODE FOR MARINE INFRASTRUCTURE MONITORING

 

Bioengineering

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Avery Sonnenberg (R) with his research partner Sareh Manoucherhri. Sonnenberg received the Bioengineering Best Poster award. Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

Avery Sonnenberg, a Ph.D. student working in the lab of Michael Heller, a professor of bioengineering and nanoengineering, has developed a method of isolating DNA from blood samples for cancer diagnostics. Sonnenberg said the technology could eventually replace biopsies as a less invasive way to identify specific mutations in the DNA of the tumor that help doctors decide the best course of treatment. Abstract: ISOLATION OF DNA FROM BLOOD SAMPLES FOR CANCER DIAGNOSTICS

 

 

 

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Martin Gassman received the Electrical and Computer Engineering Best Poster award. Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications.

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Martin Gassman, a Ph.D. student working with Gert Lanckriet, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, as well as professors John Hildebrand and William Hodgkiss of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is studying the impact of man-made noise such as sonar on marine mammals. Using several underwater acoustic recorders placed on the sea floor off the coast of Southern California, Gassman is monitoring how marine mammals respond to man-made noise and gaining new insights about the daily behavior of whales and dolphins. Abstract: PASSIVE ACOUSTIC TRACKING OF TOOTHED WHALES WITH VOLUMETRIC SMALL-APERTURE ARRAYS

 

 

Von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center Innovation Award in Life Sciences

Antimicrobial Nanotherapeutics for the Treatment of H. Pylori Infection
Presenters: Soracha Thamphiwatana | Victoria Fu
Advisor: Liangfang Zhang/NanoEngineering

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Soracha Thamphiwatana and Victoria Fu receieved the Innovation Award in Life Sciences. Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center Innovation Award in Information Technology

SOPRA – A Proactive Service Oriented Self-Adaptive Framework for Data Center Resource Optimization
Presenter: Filippo Seracini
Advisor: Ingolf Krueger/Computer Sciences and Engineering

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Filippo Seracini received the Innovation Award in Information Technology. Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center Innovation Award in Materials, Mechanics or Energy

Advances in Intra-Day Solar Forecasting Technologies
Presenter: Lukas Nonnenmacher
Advisor: Carlos F. Coimbra/Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

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Lukas Nonnenmacher received the Innovation Award in Materials, Mechanics or Energy. Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

View all Research Expo abstracts, and search by industry application area on the Research Expo website.

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Media Contacts

Daniel Kane
Jacobs School of Engineering
Phone: 858-534-3262
dbkane@ucsd.edu Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering
Phone: 858-822-0899
ipatrin@ucsd.edu Catherine Hockmuth
Jacobs School of Engineering
Phone: 858-822-1359
chockmuth@ucsd.edu

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