RET Project Descriptions

Past Projects: Descriptions and Principal Investigators

Our program participants chose one of the following projcts to join:

  1. Developing and Assessing Mathematics Skills in Nontraditional Students
    PI: Leigh Abts (, College of Education/A. James Clark School of Engineering
    The participants will work with Dr. Abts to study the effects of different educational approaches on non-traditional STEM students including those under-represented in STEM and transitioning and returning veterans. Emphasis will be on utilizing engineering and mathematics concepts in context of real world energy, sustainability and additive manufacturing problem solving.
  2. Nanopaper Batteries
    PI: Bing Hu, Materials Science and Engineering
    Participants will work on the design, fabrication and evaluation of Na-ion nanopaper batteries for grid-scale storage. The community college faculty team will work with Dr. Hu’s team on nanopaper fabrication, device assembly, and battery testing. These devices will be evaluated in terms of energy density, power density and cycling life time.
  3. Design of Therapeutic Biomaterial Vaccines
    PI: Christopher M. Jewell, Fischell Department of Bioengineering
    Participants will work with Dr. Jewell’s group to design polymer and lipid-based carriers for therapeutic vaccines. These structures allow controlled release of multiple immune signals and could lead to new vaccines that efficiently treat established disease or chronic conditions such as cancer or autoimmunity. The team will design materials-based vaccines and characterize the properties (e.g., size, surface structure, cargo loading) of these structures. Participants will also culture immune cells (e.g., dendritic cells, T cells) and test the ability of biomaterial vaccines to bias the function of these cells. Faculty will gain direct experience with micro- and nano-particle synthesis, fluorescence microscopy, sizing by laser diffraction, measurement of cargo loading and release kinetics, and culture of immune cells. The team will also gain exposure to translational animal work in mouse models of disease.
  4. Vortex Formation on a Flapping Wing
    PI: Anya Jones, Aerospace Engineering
    Participants will perform experiments to study lift force production and vortex formation on flapping and rotating wings. The goal of these experiments is to understand how lift is produced on an insect-like flapping wing, and begin to identify ways to generate high lift values over a wing stroke. Participants will manufacture rigid and flexible wings, perform dye flow visualization in a water tank, and measure the forces produced by their wings.
  5. Dental Composites
    PI: Isabel Lloyd, Materials Science and Engineering
    Participants will conduct experiments aimed at developing and characterizing dental composites that mimic the structure and behavior of natural teeth for posterior (pre-molar and molar) dental fillings. Experiments will utilize current dental resin matrices and new fillers that enhance mechanical function, aesthetics and restoration lifetime. RET participants will make the composites and then evaluate them in terms of color, elastic modulus, hardness, flexural strength and response to cyclic loading.
  6. Computer Simulations of Biological Systems
    PI: Silvina Matysiak, Fischell Department of Bioengineering
    The participants will work with Dr. Matysiak's group to study the molecular driving forces of Huntington's disease. The team will be involved in research on computational simulations and biological modeling of the binding of Huntingtin protein to model membranes. The goal of the simulations is to understand the interactions between Huntingtin protein and membranes of different compositions which would mimic different types of cell membranes. Participants will learn how molecular modeling and simulations can help elucidating the molecular origin of many diseases.
  7. Amyloid Inspired Self-Assembled Nanofibers Made from Biomimetic Peptides
    PI: Joonil Seog, Materials Science and Engineering
    One-dimensional nanostructures are ideal building blocks for functional nanoscale assembly. Peptide based nanofibers have great potential in building smart hierarchical structures due to their tunable structures and their ability to reconfigure themselves in response to environmental stimuli. We observed that pre-adsorbed silk-elastin based protein polymers self-assemble into amyloid nanofibers through conformational changes on a mica substrate. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the rate of self-assembly was significantly enhanced by applying a nanomechanical stimulus using atomic force microscopy (AFM). In this project, participants will conduct experiments by applying this novel method to create 1-dimensional nanofiber patterned substrates with a directional control. The effects of the environments and AFM tip modification on the self-assembly behaviors will be also studied.
  8. Metabolic Engineering of Plant Cells
    PI: Ganesh Sriram, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
    RET participants will conduct experiments investigating the metabolic biology of plants and plant cells. The proposed RET project will focus on quantification of carbon traffic in suspension cells of the model plant Arabidopsis (a homogenous model of compartmented plant metabolism) with regard to how different nutrients can affect carbon fluxes in this plant. This project will provide exposure to cell culture, analytical chemistry and spectroscopy techniques as well as computational techniques to analyze metabolic networks. The project will provide insights toward identifying genetic engineering targets for the plant and has implications on metabolic engineering of plant cells for food and fuel production.
  9. Converting Motion to Electrical Energy Without Moving Parts
    PI: Manfred Wuttig, Materials Science and Engineering
    Conversion of natural mechanical energy to electricity requires induction, i.e. moving parts as exemplified by wind turbines. This project will demonstrate the mechano-electrical conversion of energy by a magnetoelastic technology which does not involve moving parts. RET participants will conduct experiments to measure the ability of a ferromagnetic shape memory alloy to convert motion into electrical energy.
  10. Fly-Ear Inspired Miniature Acoustic Sensors
    PI: Miao Yu, Mechanical Engineering
    The participants will work with Dr. Yu’s group to study miniature acoustic sensors inspired by the tiny ear of the parasitic Fly Ormia, which has remarkable directional hearing and sound localization capability. The team will be involved in multi-disciplinary research on mechanics modeling, MEMS device design and fabrication, signal detection, and experimental characterization of a micro-sized fly-ear inspired sensor.
  11. Curriculum Element in a Box
    PIs: Isabel Lloyd and Leigh Abts
    This project is intended for a returning participant. The participant will work with the project PIs and former participants to convert the previously development curriculum elements into individual packages that can be readily shared via the RET Website.

Additional Program Features

In addition to the six-week team-based research projects with faculty members from the A. James Clark School of Engineering, participants  also took part in:

  1. a workshop on laboratory safety;
  2. weekly lunch seminars such as: ethics in engineering and science; entrepreneurship and intellectual property; teamwork, informed discovery and creative thinking for design; and building student and faculty ties between community colleges and the Clark School; and
  3. a weekly three hour seminar in which they collaboratively develop curriculum elements (lectures, demonstrations, laboratories, assignments) based on their research with their PIs, co-PIs and other participating community college faculty.


Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.