Incoming freshmen get taste of research through UR@UWM

This summer, four high-achieving, newly graduated high school students got involved in faculty-led research at UWM’s College of Engineering & Applied Science.

They did so through a program called UR@UWM (undergraduate research at UWM), offered through UWM’s Office of Undergraduate Research.

The program, now in its 11th year, pairs each qualified, incoming freshman with a faculty member working on a research project close to his or her academic interests.

In summer 2019, students interested in engineering and applied science paired with three faculty members: Woo Jin Chang, associate professor, mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering; Pradeep Rohatgi, a UWM distinguished professor with appointments in materials science & engineering, biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering; and Brooke Slavens, associate professor, in biomedical engineering and in the College of Health Sciences.

Professors say program expands students’ abilities

Faculty members give UR@UWM a thumbs up, as it gives students a first-hand with research.

“The program enhances students’ interest in research,” says Chang. He says the student who worked on his project supported graduate students in microfluidic device fabrication, sample preparation, conducting experiments, image processing and data analysis. “All the students are high-achieving high-school graduates, ready to start college, and through this program, they develop their capabilities,” he says.

Rohatigi’s lab hosted two UR@UWM students; one worked on self-healing materials and the other on aluminum graphene composites. Both expressed interest in continuing to do research in the foundry lab as SURF students when they begin courses at UWM, Rohatgi says. (Enrolling at UWM is a prerequisite for students to participate in UR@UWM.)

“It’s always a great privilege to expose the young students to STEM and research,” Rohatgi says. “The hope is that some of them, as a result of time spent in our lab, will decide to pursue research as a career.”

About the student opportunities in the College of Engineering & Applied Science

Chang’s project–Electrical Manipulation of Micro-particles and cells in a Lab-On-a-Chip Microfluidic Device–used a novel electrical manipulation technique called dielectrophoresis to trap and separate micron sized particles and biological cells.

Rohatgi’s project on self-healing material looked at developing new self-healing materials and mechanisms to enable autonomous healing in metallic materials, especially in high temperature materials.

His project on metal graphene composites sought to enhance the scientific understanding of synthesis and processing of metal matrix composites incorporating nano-sized SiC, Al2O3, CNT, and graphene in the matrices of aluminum, magnesium and their alloys in order to enable low cost manufacturing of metal matrix nanocomposites by U.S. industry.

Slavens’ clinical and sports-based research project—Biomechanical Evaluation of Overhead Throwing Mechanics in Wheelchair Lacrosse Players—focused on examining upper extremity kinematics and kinetics in wheelchair lacrosse players to better understand throwing mechanics with aims of increasing performance and decreasing the likelihood of injury in the sport. Findings will help Wheelchair Lacrosse USA develop rules and regulations for equality and player safety.

Student researchers assisted with participant recruitment, data collection, data organization and processing, and manuscript preparation.

All UR@UWM students presented posters at the end of the program

How to get involved: faculty and students 

Faculty members who would like to consider hosting a student in the summer of 2020 can contact Kyla Esguerra, associate director, Office of Undergraduate Research at kylam@uwm.edu.

High school students who may be interesting in applying can watch the website for available projects starting in January 2020. Application deadline is March 15.