Multidisciplinary Design Program projects

By Sharon Henry

Irvine, June 03, 2015 — 

The innovative Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP) sponsored by Calit2 and UC Irvine’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, kicked off in January with 72 students representing a wide range of disciplines. Since then, the students have worked in small teams co-mentored by at least two professors from different departments. On May 30, the 14 groups presented the results of their research to peers and advisors at a symposium held at Calit2.



Gillian Acedo , Abigail Chin, Desiree De Pace, Kelsey Fallon, Damaris Hernandez, Shuang An Liang, Emily Provenzano, Valentina Valentovich 

Mentors: Wendy Goldberg, Yuqing Guo, Kimberly Lakes


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is typically characterized by impairments in social interactions, communication skills, and cognitive abilities. Emotion plays a significant role in social interactions and children with ASD commonly exhibit maladaptive emotion regulation (ER) strategies. Despite these associations, there is a relative paucity of research examining ER in children with ASD. The development of ER abilities are influenced by parent-child relationships, as shown by, for example, variations in attachment styles. The Strange Situation procedure is the gold standard for assessing attachment security in infants and young children and includes a pre-separation play period, two separation periods, and two reunion periods. Attachment behaviors are activated and ER strategies are employed during the stress-inducing procedure. The present study was conducted to examine emotion co-regulation among mother-child dyads in the context of the Strange Situation. Twelve children (9 males) between the ages of 27-37 months with ASD participated in the Strange Situation procedure. Data were collected at the Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders. ER was assessed during a low-stress context (pre-separation) and a high-stress context (reunion) on two dimensions: emotional expression and regulation strategies. A valid and reliable behavioral coding system was developed to capture positive and negative emotional expression and regulation strategies in mothers and children. The State Space Grid software, a dynamic innovative computer-based approach, was used to describe mother and child ER simultaneously and in real time. The results provide insight into the adaptive and maladaptive dynamic co-regulation processes that may lead to advances in family therapy and interventions for families with children with ASD. 


Aditi Bhatia, Sara Foreman, Christina Garibay, Kevin Liu, Rea Reyes, Tiffany Yu   

 Mentors: Mark Bachman, Yuqing Guo, Wendy Goldberg, Robin Steinberg-Epstein



Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the fastest growing group of developmental disabilities and is considered a major public health concern. Social interaction is one of the main challenges in children with ASD where most have difficulty initiating or maintaining eye contact or reciprocal interaction with parents. Currently, applied behavior analysis (ABA) is widely used to foster social skills between a behavioral analyst and the child with ASD. However, a parent is usually not trained to practice ABA at home and ABA sessions are limited to the child with ASD during weekly behavioral intervention. The lack of parent engagement in the therapy sessions becomes a barrier for interactions with the parent and child with ASD in the home. In addition, children’s social and emotional development are proposed to arise out of repeated socio-emotional experiences in their relationships with their caregiver; hence, parent involvement may increase the impact of an intervention. This project aims to explore the use of interactive toys and innovative technology to promote social interaction by empowering parents as effective therapeutic agents. We hypothesize that fun, interactive technology can enhance parent-child engagement in the home setting which will enhance the quality of the parent and child relationship, ultimately resulting in positive family and child development outcomes. Numerous types of structured social interactive activities have been explored and will be optimized for their effectiveness. 



Edmund Florendo, Shu Kong, Evan Lister, Zhongxuan Mou     

Mentors:  Olivier Cinquin, Charless Fowlkes  

 This project aims to develop a robust system for automatically analyzing images in order to detect, classify and catalog the biological specimens visible in the image. Building such a system will be very useful for enabling quantitative biological research on a variety of problems. This projected is interested in two particular scenarios:

(1) C. elegans Detection and Counting: C. elegans is a microscopic nematode that is used in a wide variety of biological studies and provides one of the single best model systems to study lifespan development. The small size of C. elegans makes it possible to grow them in large number; however, this also provides a challenge as manual observation can be tedious and time-consuming. To fully realize the potential for high-throughput studies with strong statistical power, it is very advantageous to automate the acquisition of important information about worm lifespan and the timing of reproduction under conditions of high population density. To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to build a system to automatically detect the worms and analyze their aging stages.


(2) Pollen Detection and Classification: Detecting and classifying pollen grains in a collected sample allows one to estimate the diversity of plant species in a particular area. This is interesting for ecological monitoring (by placing pollen traps in different areas of the world) as well as in examining fossilized pollen to determine what plant species were present at a particular time in the past. In literature, people have to measure several parts on the grains to identify them. However, pollen samples can be easily collected but identifying and counting by eye the grains can be cumbersome, which this project aims to automate without human intervention.





Nathanial Benjamin, Stephanie M. Chang, Prutha S. Deshpande, Yang Jiao, Zhimin Xiang   

Mentors: Ian Harris, Kimberly Jameson, Sergio Gago Masague  


Our 2014-2015 Multidisciplinary Design Project #6 aimed to develop a rich public-access database as an internet resource to facilitate scholarly research in an interdisciplinary and empirical manner. The database derives from The Robert E. MacLaury Color Categorization Archive – a large corpus of heretofore unpublished cognitive anthropology survey data consisting of irreproducible observations of color categorization behaviors, from a large number of monolingual participants responding in over 116 indigenous languages. This resource will enable cross-cultural color cognition researchers to easily query and manipulate the archive’s data to find linkages necessary for original research. The archive’s information will be accessible to researchers from a wide variety of disciplines, permitting scientists to address questions related to the formation of individual and shared color concepts, including their evolution and dispersion across ethnolinguistic groups. Towards these goals, we explored three aspects of archive development: (1) Optical Character Recognition (OCR) approaches for automatically converting handwritten raw data into computer addressable datafiles, (2) Empirical “crowdsourcing” survey approaches using large informant groups for transcribing handwritten data, and for confirming the correctness of automated OCR transcription results, and (3) development, from the ground up, of an underlying Content Management System and a front-end user-interface for the public-access database website. We summarize advances along these lines of development to illustrate progress achieved towards our goal of creating a free-access research archive of highly valuable data. The archive our MDP research created promises to be a long-lasting and valuable resource for researchers seeking to study cognition and categorization across ethnolinguistic groups.





Bojun Jiao, Katie Khuu, David Massatt, Philip Pachigalla, Jungkyu Park

Mentors: Kimberly Jameson, Natalia Komarova, Louis Narens, Sean Tauber, Dominik Wodarz


This project uses agent-based information processing approaches to create systems that form, evolve, and disperse information across societies of artificial agents. The approaches used create systems in silico, providing a platform for investigating factors that influence information processing in real-world communication scenarios among humans. Core issues our MDP simulations explore include, i. factors influencing how concepts are learned by individuals, and ii. what kinds of communication interactions within a society of learners lead to optimal sharing of information in a population. Towards this goal we investigated three aspects of concept formation and sharing in simulated agent populations: (1) Communication network manipulations exploring the variety of ways agents might interact with other agents in learning and sharing particular concepts; (2) Learning model manipulations that investigated consequences of existing theories of learning and reinforcement structures on how concepts are learned and shared by agents; (3) Generational influences on simulated information sharing by introducing constraints on agents’ “lifespan” and permitting new agents to “emerge” in a population. The results show our procedures for investigating societies of artificial agents are viable for studying factors influencing the learning of concepts by individual agents and the transmission of information across agent communication networks. Advances made extend to applications involving the creation and dispersion of language among societies, and increase understanding of individual and group processing of semantic information, including classification of culturally varying conceptions (such as disease categories and kinship relations), and globally salient concepts (such as global warming, weapons proliferation, and gender and racial equity).






Matthew Guevara, Nina Ozbardakci, Mary Sargious, Lauren Texter  

Mentors: Elizabeth Cauffman, Adam Fine, Benjamin van Rooij


Cheating on tests, papers, and homework is an issue for all classes, from elementary school through college. Previous studies have focused on discovering the reasons why individuals cheat and how the likelihood of getting caught impacts cheating behavior (Nagin et al., 2003; Mazar et al., 2008; Shu et al., 2012). However, few empirical studies provide guidelines for reducing cheating at the college level without relying on excessive punishments. The present study develops an ecologically valid cheating paradigm and systematically tests the effects of academic honesty pledges. Specifically, it examines whether having students sign a pledge in person reduces cheating, compared with only reading the pledge. Three conditions are used to systematically examine the effect of pledges. One group will receive the pledge via email, similar to how academic policies are distributed to students. A second group will also receive the pledge in person, paralleling the provision of academic honesty pledges on syllabi. Finally, a third group will be required to sign the pledge in person. All participants will then take an exam with a confederate. Recognizing that individuals cheat for various reasons, there will also be two testing conditions. In the first, a confederate will provide answers to the participant. This represents cheating for personal gain. In the second, the confederate will prompt the participant to divulge answers, representing cheating to help another student. This study extends our understanding of the personal characteristics associated with cheating, individual motivations to cheat, and the mechanisms though which we can reduce cheating.  







Aaron Chang, Anne-Marie Leiby, Irena Mao, Brianna Tu, Mansi Tyagi, Hongnian Yu

Mentors: Mark Bachman, Kelli Sharp


The overall goal of this study was to address the effect of sleep deprivation on the motor performance of dancers. Lack of sleep is common among many dancers and is suspected of playing a role in lowering quality of motor function, resulting in poor dance performance and higher probability of injury to the dancers. In order to accomplish this study we developed a sleep monitoring system to be used on volunteer dancers, and a motor assessment protocol to be used with the same volunteers. The sleep monitoring system consists of body wearable sensors that monitor movement, heartbeat, and respiration. These sensors are connected to a small computer that collects data for analysis offline. The motor assessment protocol consists of a series of specific movements common to dance routines that are tracked using a 3D camera system and quantified for analysis offline. The tools that we developed aid in the study of sleep-related dance performance and health, but can also be used for other studies such as studies of sleep disorders and precision sports training. This project represented a multidisciplinary project consisting of students from engineering, science, social science, and health backgrounds.







Idda Colcol, Anmol Rajpurohit, Tatiana Sarkhosh, Fe Valencia

Mentors: John Billimek, Rajesh Gulati, Sonali Iyer, Sharad Mehrotra


One of the most promising approaches to reducing healthcare costs and improving outcomes is empowering patients to take charge of their own health. Unfortunately the data and technology to provide patient friendly actionable information is lacking.  The Health 360 Design project addresses this problem by leveraging human-computer interaction and information technology to deliver a simple, customizable dashboard, providing a comprehensive view of a user’s health aspects. A team of undergraduate and graduate students evaluated various monitoring devices to track simulated patient experiences with a newly initiated medication. These included pill bottle monitors, blood pressure (BP) monitors, mobile applications - including activity trackers (FitBit monitor) and symptom diaries. Team members were assigned a simulated medication regimen using inactive tablets to track dosages and monitor their vitals daily for a month. The pill bottle counter simulated three times per day dosing; FitBit tracked the number of steps per day; symptoms were tracked using a smartphone diary; and the BP monitors tracked blood pressure twice a day. By extracting the data from these devices, we provide, in a story-telling manner, a “360” view of recorded critical health information. The patient and physician can view this information during clinic visits for a meaningful discussion to address the benefits and barriers to medication adherence and other health behaviors. The vision of this project is to foster those discussions and empower the patient to take a more active role in self health care.






Nanor Bozoyan, Neil Shane Jaramillo, Victoria Kim, Mirka Murillo, Lauren Stasiak, Carrie Zhao

Mentors: Brandon Brown, Terry Schmidt


Global health plays an increasingly crucial role as the world becomes globalized. Both faculty and students continue to pursue partnerships for global health initiatives, encouraging communication and collaboration among multiple disciplines and institutions. Both parties initiate programs and projects that connect and encourage current and future global health leaders to exchange ideas and best practices, to innovate together, and to build a global understanding. Our MDP team, composed of a team of six undergraduate and graduate students and two mentors, built a powerful and real-time web-based application that connects users to global health funding, news, events/opportunities, and collaboration opportunities. Our solution turns turn big data into awareness and collaboration efforts for faculty, researchers, and students.





Jaruwan Amtawong, Elke Calvert, Jessica Harper, Irishia Hubbard, Nicole Nava, Christina Owens, Gregory Suryn, Valeria Villa-Anzaldo   

Mentors: Kimberly Edwards, Gidget Tay, Sheron Wray


A visual aid teaching tool, the DanceChemistry video series, has been developed to teach fundamental chemistry concepts through dance. These educational videos present chemical interactions at the molecular level using dancers to represent molecules. The DanceChemistry videos help students visualize chemistry ideas in a new and memorable way. These instructional videos are disseminated broadly through the specifically dedicated YouTube channel, DanceChemistry. Videos have been made to teach basic chemistry concepts, such as reaction rate laws, distillation, and acid-base titration, to general and organic chemistry students. The effectiveness of this new teaching tool, through student questionnaires before and after watching the videos, will be discussed.






Hsiang-Yu Chan, Carlos Gomez-Mustafa, Shang-Yu Hung

Mentors: Jaime Landman, G.P. Li, Rongwei Mao, Zhamshid Okhunov


Overactive Bladder (OAB) is urinary bladder condition with or without urgency incontinence affecting a major population in the US and worldwide. The objective of this multidisciplinary project was to design a radiofrequency ablation (RFA) device to treat neurogenic OAB syndrome. RFA has been shown to be effective and safe in other areas of organ denervation. We aimed to develop and test a device to denervate the bladder neck and trigone areas in patients with OAB. Development of the device involved deployment of a dual antenna electrode on the balloon of a standard Foley catheter, which would deliver RF energy directly to the area. The objective is to deliver RF energy to deeper nerve tissue while minimizing damage to bladder wall components such as the urothelium and muscle. A control box is integrated to regulate the ablation algorithm. To test efficacy and safety of the prototype device, porcine survival animal studies were performed and the bladders underwent histopathological evaluation. Additionally, functional response of urinary bladder to RFA was assessed with urodynamic studies (UDS) before and immediately after ablation and at the time of survival period. Our preliminary studies demonstrated that RFA energy showed no evidence of coagulation necrosis on the epithelium or muscle layers, which allowed us to identify safe energy thresholds and duration and number of sequences for RFA to avoid significant tissue damage. Evaluation of mid and long term UDS functional outcomes is currently in progress and will be analyzed as study completes.






Mary (Qi) Chen, Wei-Lung (Jackie) Chen, Roya Madjlessi, Paoyang (Puma) Shen   

Mentors: Sanjoy Mazumdar, Alladi Venkatesh


In 1971, the UN announced the three pillars of sustainability: Social, Economic, and Environmental.  Our project adapts and addresses these pillars as we explore and examine the relationships between safety, visual pleasantness and function of a space. Our project selected a small area on campus (lawn on Ring Road between Schools of Humanities and Bioscience), currently one of the most centrifugal spaces on UCI campus.  We took on the task of redesigned the area to bring liveliness to the space itself and its surroundings. Based on our research we adopt ideas from great architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra to redesign the space to better utilize typical southern California weather with emphasis on outdoor living.  In addition, taking psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond’s idea of “sociopetal” space we orient the furniture in a way to encourage social conversation and interactions among visitors to the space. Additionally, by utilizing organic shapes, we designed a space that tends to welcome pedestrians in rather than distance them from the natural environment. Safety wise, we use LED lights to outline the space.  Illumination will help improve visual pleasantness at nighttime, and reduce opportunities for suspicious/harmful activities. Construction wise, our design incorporates passive elements such as solar orientation, maximizing use of recycled and local-source materials and minimize use of non-renewable materials. We hope to exhibit environmental art and invite visitors to create these.  A temporary exhibition of the structure will be displayed on campus to raise awareness of sustainability and aesthetics of outdoor living.







Ohoud Alharbi, Patricia Cortez, Peter McPartlan, Qi Shi, Joshua Tjokrosurjo, Minerva Wu, Iris Zeng

Mentors: AnneMarie Conley, Katerina Schenke, William Tomlinson, Cathy Tran


Down With Food is an educational tablet game designed to teach upper-elementary school children about causality within human digestion. To avoid the chocolate covered-broccoli problem, a scenario in which the engaging aspects of an educational game do not teach the intended content, designers intentionally chose popular game genres (e.g. tower defense games) to parallel the digestive concepts they wanted to teach; that is, the interactive component (the chocolate) also serves as the educational component (the broccoli). In order to optimize players’ motivations to engage with the game’s educational content, we playtested three mini games and an introduction story from our e-book layer with children ages 7-9. Students were tested in pairs to determine the intuitivity of game functions implemented from previous playtesting. For example, we tailored playtesting protocol questions to determine how the new absorption mechanic in the small intestine mini game and the changed air graphics in the mouth game were received as well as how they contributed to player understanding of the digestive system. Responses to these questions indicated how well students interpreted and understood the material. Conclusions drawn from playtesting research will also inform the context provided by the interactive e-book as well as the content of the mini game objectives, driving future story revision and game design.




 Liyan Chen, Antony Ibrahim, Marlon M. Maducdoc, Jessica Vu

Mentors: Hamid Djalilian, Norman Harris, Crista Lopes  


Dizziness and vertigo are common disorders affecting a significant number of people worldwide. Currently, videonystagmography (VNG) and computer dynamic posturography (CDP) are two popular diagnostic tests to determine the etiology and management plan of the condition. However, both tests are prohibitively expensive and require large spaces for operation. The improvement and popularity of virtual reality in gaming allowed our team to apply these technologies into the evaluation of dizziness and vertigo. Our project involved designing possible diagnostic devices using consumer-ready technologies such as the Oculus virtual reality (VR) goggles and Wii Fit board platform. For example, we modified our VR goggles to fit an eye-tracking system capable of capturing the pupil movements of the user. Furthermore, we used the Wii Fit board to analyze posture while using head-mounted displays. To integrate all these devices, we modified open-source software to capture and analyze the data. Using gaming peripherals, our team created a makeshift VNG that has the potential to differentiate a variety of dizziness and vertiginous pathologies. Our goal is to decrease the cost of diagnostic equipment. Additionally, the portability of such devices may be useful for medical mission trips to remote areas. The next step of our research is to refine the device and increase accuracy. Thereafter, we will test our device on healthy subjects before we recruit patients with dizziness and vertigo. The project is funded by Calit2 through the Multidisciplinary Design Program.