Building Bridges

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Justine Chen describes efforts to create high-throughput cell-based assays for detecting immunological diseases.

 Irvine, CA, June 12th, 2012 - - As another academic year draws to a close, so too does a novel program that gives undergraduates the opportunity to collaborate with their peers across disciplines. The Multidisciplinary Design Program, which began its second season in March with 90 students, is co-sponsored by Calit2 and UCI’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).

Supervised by mentors from different disciplines, teams of students worked together to design projects in the fields of energy, the environment, healthcare or culture.
Nineteen undergraduate research teams, mentored by nearly 40 faculty members, presented concluding oral reports last week during a two-day finale in the Calit2 Building.

The students, from diverse academic areas, collaborated on an eclectic group of projects. A sampling: understanding the musculoskeletal impact of dance; creating educational mobile apps; designing microbial fuel cells for desalination; programming cell-based assays for detecting immunological diseases; constructing remote robotic avatars for bed-ridden kids; investigating satellite-based drought monitoring; and producing “do-it-yourself” design, art and technology workshops.

Left: Shawn Hoebeck and Jessia Kao are part of a four member team building an architectural display system from used electronics as a way to repurpose e-waste; Andrew Karmans five-member team is researching fuel cells as a way to desalinate ocean water while generating electricity as  a byproduct.

The creative and socially significant projects shared a common characteristic: innovative outcomes that resulted when students from diverse educational backgrounds connected and collaborated with each other under the supervision of equally diverse mentors.
Graduating senior Mindy Bui is majoring in biological sciences. She and her group, which included students from Earth and environmental studies, public health science, business administration and civil engineering, investigated the obstacles involved in gaining public acceptance of recycled water programs. The team completed its project goals, created an experimental design, presented its findings in the UROP symposium, and plans to write a journal article.

Ivan Check (left), Vahan Hartooni and three collaborators are introducing "maker culture" to UCI through DIY workshops and DAT space, a design, art and technology environment that encourages creativity.

Undeniably, MDP can be the most unique and lucrative opportunity offered to a UCI undergraduate,” said Bui, who also has participated in research projects on schizophrenia, acupuncture and logic.  “The MDP program has transformed my typically, dull undergraduate experience into a noteworthy chapter in my life.”

English and global cultures major Christine Bediones agrees. She collaborated with psychology, studio art, informatics and computer engineering majors to design “Down with the Food,” a mobile game that will help grade school children understand the complex interactions of the digestive system.

“I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to take part in such an amazing project in my undergraduate career,” she said. “This program has broadened my perspective on research by highlighting its collaborative and innovative potential.”

Bediones said that instead of being limited to her major, the program allowed her to pursue her interest in art, education and technology. “This program challenged me to find every way I could contribute to the team.”

Furthermore, by pooling diverse talents and skill sets, she said, participants “creatively accomplish far more than we are capable of achieving alone. We gained a deeper appreciation and understanding of fields outside our own expertise.”

That the students fully experienced and appreciated the program’s objective is music to the ears of UROP Director Said Shokair, who was instrumental in creating it.

“We designed MDP so undergraduates could familiarize themselves with the benefits of multidisciplinary research and actually work with peers in different disciplines to create new ideas,” he said. “This year’s results were productive and exciting, and we look forward to another year of continuing this innovative approach to undergraduate research.”

Media Contacts