Design and Discovery

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Irvine, Ca, January 14th, 2013 -- As winter quarter at UC Irvine begins, 100 undergraduates from diverse majors are embarking on a cross-disciplinary experience that has the potential to benefit them long after the school year ends. They have been selected as Fellows in the Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP), sponsored by Calit2 and UCI’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, where they will work across disciplines with teammates to create and design unique projects.

UROP DIrector Said Shokar leads an orinetation session for 100 MDP Fellows and their mentors. (Photo: Mark Tameta)

Now in its third year, MDP offers a variety of novel design projects in the areas of energy, environment, healthcare and culture. Selected students chose from a list of 22 projects, and then were paired with other students from multiple disciplines in three- to nine-member teams. Each team is guided by two to four faculty mentors, also from different disciplines.

The Calit2 Building offers MDP participants state-of-the-art facilities – including a specially designed project lab on the second floor that includes interactive white boards and custom-built multi-user interactive work stations, computers with video editing and CAD software, analog soldering stations, waveform generators and oscilloscopes.

Each of the 22 team is required to develop a solid design of its proposed project to present at the UCI Undergraduate Research Symposium in May, as well as at additional demonstration events sponsored by Calit2. 

As in years past, this year’s projects span a wide spectrum. They include the design of: a dental blood-flow sensing probe; mobile games for learning; a portable particle counter for in-field emission studies; a microfluidic biopsy chip and a portable, inexpensive HIV diagnostic device.

Among other MDP projects: devising undergraduate workshops in design, art and technology; creating a dual MRI-fluorescence probe for molecular imaging of cancer; launching a pilot program for connecting hospitalized children with their classrooms; designing search-and-rescue robotics; and developing software for teaching science through video games.

One team comprises students from biomedical computing, biological sciences, public health sciences, neurobiology and psychology, who will research nuclear-encoded mitochondrial gene SNPs (DNA sequence variations) relevant to Alzheimer’s and aging for different ethnic backgrounds. The team is mentored by faculty advisors from neurobiology & behavior and informatics.

Another team, which includes students from computer science, biomedical engineering, music, computer engineering and biological sciences, is designing a remote-control robot avatar for bedridden children. The faculty mentors hail from nursing science and studio art.

For G.P. Li, director of the Irvine division of Calit2, the importance of cross-disciplinary participation at the undergraduate level cannot be overstated. “Today more than ever, cross-disciplinary collaboration is a key success factor in research and in the workplace,” he said. “The practical experience and critical-thinking skills gained from engaging in these multidisciplinary collaborations allow students to think more broadly about solving problems and creates more well-rounded employees and researchers.”

This year’s program kicked off at an orientation session on Saturday, Jan. 12 in the Calit2 auditorium. Students got acquainted, learned more about the program’s operations and expectations, and participated in team-building and leadership exercises.