Undergrads Demonstrate There is No I in Team

By Shellie Nazarenus

Biomedical engineering student Duc Phan.

Irvine, CA, June 12th, 2012 - - Progress was evident as team after team of undergraduate students – 14 teams to be exact – provided research updates to a Calit2 audience in May. The students are part of the Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP), co-supported by Calit2 and UCI’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).  This is the second year for MDP which kicked off in March with 90 UCI undergrads chosen to participate.

The design program teams groups of students from different majors with faculty co-mentors from multiple departments, giving them an opportunity to see how multidisciplinary collaboration can lead to innovative results. 

Duc Phan told the audience MDP was “the most valuable experience I had at UCI because the program allowed me to do semi-independent, hands-on teamwork to move a research project forward.” Phan is helping to develop a 3D microfabrication technique for vascular biology applications in tissue engineering.  In the past, the senior undergraduate student said his research assignments were primarily shadowing graduate students and post-docs as they did the actual work in the lab.

Calvin Tan is one of five MDP team members involved in a pilot study using a computer-based, self-assessment survey for measuring suicidal tendencies in patients visiting emergency rooms. The project is co-mentored by a public health professor and an emergency room doctor. The team has screened 215 patients at UCI Medical Center and more survey work has yet to be accomplished.

“I’ve discovered there is a lot more to medicine than just taking care of people to get them well enough to be discharged,” Tan said. “There are more thorough techniques that can be developed to help the population as a whole.”


The DAT space team (left and the Therabot group (right) are challenged by good audience questions.

During the course of the presentations, many teams discovered similar research interests with potentially complementary collaborative opportunities.

Dance major Brittany Brewer is part of a three member team that also includes students from biological sciences and computer science. Her group, led by engineering and dance professors, is developing a custom art and technology platform for interactive collaborative performance. “We are using technology to push the boundaries of expression to create improvisational collaborations,” Brewer explained.

Two presentations later, Vahan Hartooni, led his six member MDP team presentation about their work on DATspace.net. The virtual, as well as physical space in UCI’s Bren Hall, serves as a Design, Art and Technology (DAT) environment to drive students to innovate imaginative art and technology projects.

“Even though our space is on the fifth floor of a computer science building, we are drawing students from every corner of campus,” Hartooni said. “They bring their creativity and we’ll help them integrate the technology components to make it happen.” The group has held several D.I.Y. workshops this spring and discussed future cross-over opportunities with the group led by Brewer.


Team members from the largest MDP group talk about sustainable building design.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 The largest MDP team this year is comprised of eight students from five different schools: computer science, engineering, business, social sciences and social ecology. The group is tackling architectural design from cultural and sustainability standpoints. Utilizing their varied skills and perspectives, the students have created a model dormitory community that offers the greenest innovations and energy-efficient technologies. When asked how feasible building such a community at UCI would be, the students were eager to share that it was doable but then again, “our model prototype was not limited by any real-cost budgetary constraints!”

Most of the MDP projects will take a break during the summer with some to resume in the fall. A new call for project proposals and participants will be issued when the academic year resumes in September.