Contest Recognizes Top Undergrad Research

Michael Lau and Michael Lau won first place in the Undergraduate Research Poster Contest.

Ridwan Haseeb and Michael Lau described their work to Dr. Walter Voit, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Haseeb and Lau took first place in the contest.

A small group of UT Dallas students recently presented months of scientific data and findings, showcasing their work on massive displays at the seventh annual Undergraduate Research Poster Contest Finals.

Each poster not only included descriptions of the methods, analyses and conclusions, but also photos and graphics that helped demonstrate the students’ work.

Supporters, faculty and staff congregated around each of the exhibits to learn how students selected and executed their research, while judges from area companies assessed each project.

The 12 projects touched on topics that ranged from behavioral economics to bacterial antibiotic resistance.

UT Dallas Undergraduate Research Poster Contest

From left: Top student winners and judges included Diane Malunowicz, Ardalan Sharifi, Audrey Kostrzewa, Ridwan Haseeb, Michael Lau, Haris Vakil, Dr. Claudia Riedt, Dr. Wei Chen and Catherine McCauley.

Sophomore Yuying “Abi” Chen set up her poster at the entrance to the second-floor atrium in the Founders Building. Chen, a McDermott Scholar, said her path to the competition began with a simple request to embark on a research project.

“I got in touch with Dr. Karl Ho last summer, and I said I was interested in doing research and asked if there were any projects I could begin,” Chen said. “He told me about this opportunity.”

Chen said she was drawn to a particular suggestion examining the young democracy of Taiwan. She worked under the mentorship of Dr. Harold Clarke during her project.

“I wanted to analyze the political attitudes in Taiwan,” Chen said. “Then I can compare whether those attitudes are similar to voter attitudes in mature democracies.”

Chen, who spent half her life in China, said her experiences made the project more personal. She added that she wants to work in international business with a focus on East Asia and the U.S.

from left, Yuying Chen and Audry Kostrzewa, Raytheon

Yuying Chen (left), with judge Audrey Kostrzewa of Raytheon, examined the democracy in Taiwan with her research project.

This year a duo earned the top spot in the contest. Ridwan Haseeb and Michael Lau worked on a method of delivering antibiotics into the deep tissues of teeth during root canals.

“Basically, when you have a root canal treatment, dead tissue is removed from the tooth, it is treated with various antibiotics, and then the tooth is sealed,” Haseeb said.

“Sometimes, enough bacteria isn’t killed, and reinfection occurs after the treatment. So, we’re developing a method that can penetrate into the anatomy of the tooth and deliver an antibiotic periodically during an extended period of time, preferably two to three weeks,” he said.

This is one of our premier programs we get to do every year, and we’re committed to funding as many of these projects as we can. The goal is to get more students in the labs. Part of the motivation in this is to help some of them figure out they really do want to do research.

Dr. Bruce Gnade,
vice president for research

Haseeb and Lau said they especially enjoyed this project because they got to collaborate from the beginning under the mentorship of Dr. Danieli Rodrigues, assistant professor of bioengineering.

“It was a great process for us because we got to learn a lot on our own,” Lau said.

Neither Lau nor Haseeb is planning for a career as an endodontist just yet, but both would like to pursue graduate degrees.

Students with the top three projects won cash awards.

Scholarly posters are a common way for researchers to share their completed work at professional meetings, conferences and competitions.  

Dr. Bruce Gnade, vice president for research, said the event has come a long way since its inception.

“The first year we did this, we had about 55 or 60 students who applied, and we funded 21 projects,” Gnade said. “This year, we had about 130 applications, and we funded 62 projects.”

The field of 62 was narrowed to 12 finalists by faculty at the Undergraduate Research Scholar Poster Contest held last month as part of the Exhibition of Excellence in Undergraduate Education event, organized by the Office of Undergraduate Education.

That contest focused on the recipients of the Undergraduate Research Award, a competitive program that offers some funding for students’ research.

“This is one of our premier programs we get to do every year, and we’re committed to funding as many of these projects as we can,” Gnade said. “The goal is to get more students in the labs. Part of the motivation in this is to help some of them figure out they really do want to do research.”

Dr. Tomoyasu Mani began his research-driven career path as an undergraduate at UT Dallas, winning the first poster contest in 2008. He  graduated with a biochemistry degree in 2009, and earned his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013.

“The whole process of getting involved in the project as an undergraduate helped me gain insight into how to do research,” Mani said. “The participation aspect of (the contest) gave me confidence because it emphasized how important it is to present my research in an understandable way.”

Mani is a Goldhaber Fellow at Brookhaven National Laboratory where he studies physical phenomena within conjugated polymers. The goal is to establish basic principles of energy and charge transport within those polymers thus paving the way for renewable solar energy.

“I think that all of the work these students put into their projects both this year and in years past is a great tribute to their dedication,” Gnade said. “We want them to pass along their experiences and encourage other students to apply next fall.”

The competition was supported in part by Raytheon.

Michael Lau and Ridwan HaseebUndergraduate Research Poster Contest Finals

First place: Ridwan Haseeb and Michael Lau, Poly(ethylene glycol)-block-poly(L-lactide) (PEG/PLA) Encapsulation of Oral Antibiotics for Drug Delivery into Dentin Tubules

Second place: Haris Vakil,  Characterization of Behavioral Changes in a Developmental Ketamine-Treatment Rodent Model of Schizophrenia

Third place: Ardalan Sharifi Noghabi, Antibiotic Resistance and the Emergence of Immune-deficient Bacteria

Contest Judges

Catherine McCauley, executive architect manager, IBMAudrey Kostrzewa, senior leader in engineering, RaytheonDr. Wei Chen, product safety, Mary KayDr. Claudia Riedt, senior manager, R&D Regulatory & Nutrition Science, Dr Pepper Snapple GroupDiane Malunowicz, MS, senior regulatory analyst, Dr Pepper Snapple Group 

Haris Vakil, who finished second in the contest, discussed his project with judge Catherine McCauley of IBM. 

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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