Announcing Spring 2024 PEAK Experiences Student Awardees

A record number of engineering students and science students mentored by COE faculty are recipients of Northeastern’s Spring 2024 PEAK Experiences Awards.

Amanda CinelliUncovering the Microbiome of Northeastern’s Oldest Manuscript
Awardee(s): Amanda Cinelli COE’27
Mentor: Erika Boeckeler, CSSH, English
The Dragon Prayer Book is Northeastern’s oldest medieval manuscript, an embodiment of the past yet a living, breathing document today. Through a biological approach, this study aims to unveil the microbiome that has sustained this relic for centuries, utilizing non-destructive scientific procedures to collect samples, culture bacteria, extract DNA, and identify present species. This project spans many disciplines, pulling together analysis from historical, literary, and bioarchaeological research to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of this document.
Julia InayanInvestigating Cell Culture Coatings and Fluid Properties for Optimizing Flow in Nerve-Artery OoCs
Awardee(s): Julia Inayan COE’26
Mentor: Ryan Koppes, COE, Chemical Engineering
As cardiovascular diseases remain the leading cause of death, it is important to investigate methods and treatments to remedy this issue. In this project, we look to nerve-artery organs-on-chips for developing solutions as they have physiologically relevant and versatile modeling capabilities. To support the utility of nerve-artery organs-on-chips in modeling the cardiovascular environment, the relationship of viscosity and density with temperature will be analyzed. Additionally, three types of gel coatings and an uncoated control will be tested to see which maintains the optimal cell adhesion and viability under vascular flow.
Diego AcostaModal Analysis of Brain Deformation: Investigating Natural Vibration Modes of Brain Mechanics
Awardee(s): Diego Acosta COE’25
Mentor: Rouzbeh Amini, COE, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering
Everyday vibrations arise from common sources such as vehicles, machinery, audio devices, and even footsteps. These unnoticed occurrences form our daily environment and are crucial considerations in fields like biomechanics. Exploring the unknown effects on the brain as a result of surrounding vibrations while considering variables such as age and head size is the focus of my study. Computational tools will be used to uncover how the brain reacts to different vibration frequencies. This research will enhance our understanding of how vibrations impact the brain, for specifics such as injury dynamics but also how vibrations impact the human brain generally.
Dhwani BhattCaleb HagnerInvestigating the Effects of Bioslurry Digestate on Kale Crop Phenology and Soil Fertility
Awardee(s): Dhwani Bhatt COE’27 & Caleb Hagner COE’27
Mentor: Annalisa Onnis-Hayden, COE, Civil & Environmental Engineer
This research will investigate the potential of bioslurry, a product from functional biogas systems, to enhance crop germination and soil fertility for agricultural practices at a rural Ugandan school. The project will continue previous research estimating biomethane potential of the school’s food waste via anaerobic digestion while studying the impact of using bioslurry from the biodigestor to fertilize crops. It will compare the effects of bioslurry applications and commercial compost and fertilizer on kale phenology and soil fertility. Results will provide deeper technical insights into optimizing the utilization of a biogas system at Sadhguru school through the repurposing of its bioslurry.
Nicha BruceExploring the Influence of Glucose Levels on C. Elegans Gut Microbiome Selection
Awardee(s): Nicha Bruce COE’26
Mentor: Erel Levine, COE, Bioengineering
This project will investigate how dietary glucose levels influence the gut microbiome in the model organism C. elegans. Anticipated outcomes include identifying diet-associated changes in microbiome composition, with potential applications in diabetes management. By rearing worms on varying glucose diets and employing a custom microfluidic chip for imaging through fluorescent microscopy, the impact of glucose on microbiome selection can be studied and quantified. Results will be presented at RISE and shared with collaborating labs, fostering broader understanding and future research advancements in host-microbiome interactions.
Iris ChangGelMA and Hyaluronic Acid as a 3D Matrix for Central Nervous System Cell Culture
Awardee(s): Iris Chang COS’26
Mentor: Abigail Koppes, COE, Chemical Engineering
Current methods used to study brainstem behavior in vitro rely on a collagen-Matrigel hydrogel. However, Matrigel varies from batch to batch, which introduces uncertainty and difficulty in replicating results. Hyaluronic acid is known to be a significant molecule found within the brain. This project seeks to assess the feasibility of using methacrylated gelatin plus hyaluronic acid to culture brainstems in 3D with the hopes of getting more physiologically relevant results. This is done in the hopes of modeling Parkinson’s disease through a microphysiological system, or organ-on-a-chip device.
Matteo Couto FrignaniDesert Chroma Quest: Unraveling Pigmentation Genes in Atacama Bacteria through Secondary Metabolite
Awardee(s): Matteo Couto Frignani COE’25
Mentor: Yunrong Chai, COS, Biology
The project aims to unlock the genomic secrets of microorganisms in the Atacama Desert, focusing on metabolite discovery. It involves identifying and characterizing novel pigments expressed by bacteria through DNA purification and sequencing, and determining whether these provide protection within the desert climate. The method employs restriction enzymes to chop up bacterial DNA, and integrate the fragments into control bacteria. If the bacteria become pigmented, this means the insertion of a related gene is successful and can be sequenced for identification. We plan to disseminate our findings through presentations at RISE, as well as the Boston Bacterial Meeting in June.
Nidhi JadhavComputational Modeling of Viral Glycan Shields: A Server-Based Approach for Analysis
Awardee(s): Nidhi Jadhav Khoury’26
Mentor: Srirupa Chakraborty, ChE/COS, Chemistry & Chemical Biology
This project endeavors to create a user-friendly website equipped with cutting-edge computational tools, aiming to model viral glycan shields. This glycan shield or sugar covering envelops viruses, making it difficult for antibodies to bind to viruses and break them down. The website will identify vulnerabilities in these shields, aiding the design of antibodies that target weak points. This project not only advances scientific understanding but also promotes accessibility and collaboration in the broader scientific community. The anticipated outcomes include a powerful web toolset and potential breakthroughs in vaccine development, all shared through presentations, publications, and collaborations with esteemed research institutions.
Stephen LandryOptimization of a High-Throughput Microfluidic Gut-On-A-Chip
Awardee(s): Stephen Landry COE’25
Mentor: Ryan Koppes, COE, Chemical Engineering
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a family of debilitating chronic illnesses that affect more than 2 million people in the US. In order to better understand the causes of IBD, simplified in vitro models of the gastrointestinal tract have been developed. This project aims to address the growing need for high-throughput microfluidic chips to simultaneously evaluate the effects of various inflammatory agents on intestinal epithelial cells. Cell health and monolayer function will be determined by performing various qualitative and quantitative assays, and results will be presented at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers national conference.
Sophia NguyenEffect of Waveform on Corticospinal Response to Controllable Pulse Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Awardee(s): Sophia Nguyen COE’27
Mentor: Mathew Yarossi, COE, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Controllable-pulse Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (cTMS) is a noninvasive brain stimulation technique wherein a localized magnetic field is generated to excite neurons with precise control over the shape of the stimulatory waveform. This study aims to investigate the effects of modulating the cTMS waveform on resting motor threshold (RMT), a common measure of neural excitability. By identifying waveforms that motor neurons preferentially respond to, the project aims to improve the utility of TMS as a research technique in motor neuroscience. The results will be shared at RISE and IEEE EMBC.
Derick OuExploring Host Microbiome Feedback in Response to Peroxide Stress in C Elegans
Awardee(s): Derick Ou COE’25
Mentor: Erel Levine, COE, Bioengineering
Our research explores the protective role of gut bacteria against oxidative stress, hydrogen peroxide, in C. elegans . We focus on how Jub39, a bacterium, may protect these worms from oxidative damage. This project uses advanced microfluidic and microscopy technology to create a controlled environment for observing worm health and bacterial colonization. Our goal is to understand the protective role of bacteria in managing oxidative stress within the gut. If our research proves successful, it could offer significant insights into host-microbiome interactions and broader implications for managing oxidative stress in organisms. I intend to share our findings at RISE expo.
Isabella SelekmanThe Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Specific Biotic Environments on Host Physiology
Awardee(s): Isabella Selekman COS’26
Mentor: Erel Levine, COE, Bioengineering
The Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Specific Biotic Environments on Host Physiology aims to study host-microbe interactions and their effects on animal health and disease prevention. This experiment determines whether C. elegans’ prolonged exposure to different environmental bacteria food conditions over generations will have a correlation with the bacteria’s colonization of the gut, affect the host’s feeding behavior, and impact the host’s ability to survive for longer under pathogenic stress. In association with Northeastern University’s Levine Lab, results are planned to be shared at RISE, the Women’s Research Engagement Network’s Research Conference, and submitted for publishing.
Lucas TangA Comparison of Locomotion Methods in Indoor Environments
Awardee(s): Lucas Tang COE’26
Mentor: Thomas Consi, COE, Electrical and Computer Engineering
An investigation into and experimentation with a method of stabilizing bristle bot locomotion by counter acting the negative effects of angular momentum in the yaw axis such as gyroscopic precession. This could allow for more applications of bristle bots. This is beneficial in the world of robotics because bristle bots are cheap and simple to build. I plan to do this by conducting research to compare wheeled locomotion to this modified bristle bot’s locomotion in diverse environments with filamentous particles. If the motion is superior to wheeled locomotion, it would suggest that bristle bots are better suited for indoor environments .
Shayla TranCurli-dCas9 Complex for Liquid Biopsy Diagnostic
Awardee(s): Shayla Tran COE’24
Mentor: Neel Joshi, COS, Chemistry & Chemical Biology
Cancer diagnosis is traditionally a strenuous and invasive process; therefore, novel genetic engineering technologies have been explored to provide cancer patients with a higher quality of care. On such example is a liquid biopsy that leverages bodily fluids to detect cancer cells. While existing diagnostic methods exist, they lack specificity, accuracy, and affordability. Creating a platform comprised of curli fibers, which are bacteria-derived polymers, in conjunction with dCas9, a derivative form of a CRISPR/Cas9 protein, may address these limitations in detecting sequence specific DNA. This curli-dCas9 platform may also be generalized for other applications, like wastewater surveillance.
David AbrahamyanMagnetoacoustic Device for Power-Efficient, Minimally Perturbative, Compact Control of NV Centers
Awardee(s): David Abrahamyan COS’24
Mentor: Nian Sun, COE, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Nitrogen vacancy (NV) centers in diamonds are a promising candidate for quantum computing and sensing. However, utilizing them practically requires power-efficient and low-noise control of their spin-states. My project consists of fabricating an integrated device utilizing acoustic-magnetic structures in a clean room and testing its ability to control NV centers using a vector network analyzer and confocal microscope. Previous studies showed efficiency/noise advantages and feasibility of this control method. My work will potentially demonstrate breakthrough NV center control capabilities and provide further understanding of noise-reduction avenues. Results will be presented at RISE and an academic paper will be written.
Amada FerranteElucidating the Effects of Cholesterol on the Function of SP-C Using Atomistic Molecular Dynamics
Awardee(s): Amanda Ferrante COE’26
Mentor: Mona Minkara, COE, Bioengineering
The pulmonary surfactant (PS) system is indispensable for the function of the entire body. Within this complex lipoprotein assembly where gas exchange occurs, four primary proteins function in pathogen defense and preventing lung collapse. Of these proteins, Surfactant Protein C (SP-C) plays a pivotal role and recent evidence suggests SP-C has a specific interaction with cholesterol, necessary for oxygen diffusion, although the mechanics of this interaction remain unknown. This study uses atomistic molecular dynamics to understand the biochemical interactions between these molecules necessary for treatment development of various respiratory conditions including COVID-19, acute respiratory distress syndrome, pulmonary hypertension, and COPD.
Zach HoglundSamuel ScroggieKathleen TschoepeTaylor SoukupLow-Cost Hospital Bed to Address Chronic Medical Device Shortages in Ghana
Awardee(s): Zachary Hoglund COE’24, Samuel Scroggie COE’25, Kathleen Tschoepe COE’25, Taylor Soukup COE’26
Mentor: Joshua Hertz, COE, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering
Ghana faces chronic medical supply shortages at every level of care, and current non-profit efforts to address them often rely on unsustainable and inadequate donations. This project is specifically tailored to the needs of a rural community health center, the Akyem Dwenase Health Center, with its goal being to provide them with hospital beds manufactured from local materials, allowing them to be easily repaired or remanufactured without the importation of parts or labor. Therefore, we can sustainably address this clinic’s supply needs, improving healthcare for its community and demonstrating a framework applicable to other shortages across the nation and beyond.
Madhav KapaRachel RakushkinJohn KerrMerrit Coil Cubesat Attitude Test System
Awardee(s): Madhav Kapa COS’27, Rachel Rakushkin COE’26, John Kerr Khoury’25
Mentor: Nicol McGruer, COE, Electrical and Computer Engineering
This project aims to enhance a cost-effective and modular Merritt coil, an apparatus used to generate user-defined magnetic fields. Unlike current industry options, our device is programmable, holistic, easily upgradable, and capable of generating a substantial 275,000 cm³ large uniform magnetic field. We’ll develop current drivers, an editable program for field control, and the apparatus. While originally motivated to provide an in-house method for CubeSat magnetorquer (a magnetic field-based satellite orientation device) calibration, this technology was designed to open doors for calibrating any size permitting instruments, device development, and research involving magnetic field manipulation or cancellation.
Aidan KennyCrawling Origami-Inspired Robots for Underwater Benthic Exploration
Awardee(s): Aidan Kenny COE’24
Mentor: Kris Dorsey, COE, Electrical and Computer Engineering
This project aims to develop an origami-inspired crawling robot optimized for underwater exploration. This strategy minimizes environmental impact in fragile marine ecosystems while collecting valuable data. Furthermore, advancing soft and origami robotics on a broader scale is relevant for a variety fo fields from medical technology to human-robot interaction. This project will investigate pneumatic origami actuation underwater, waterproofing strategies, and crawling locomotion mechanisms. The work will be submitted in a journal article to IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering and presented at Northeastern’s RISE.
Adriana LanzaElizabeth CollinsSoft Robotic Grippers for Underwater Applications
Awardee(s): Adriana Lanza COE’25 & Elizabeth Collins COE25
Mentor: Tom Consi, COE, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Drawing inspiration from origami and aquatic life, our goal is to create grippers capable of efficiently collecting samples like coral in challenging ocean environments. They plan to design, prototype, and test three different gripper models using materials like PET, nylon, and silicone, ensuring waterproofing and adaptability both in dry and underwater conditions. Challenges include meticulous waterproofing and precise fluid pressure control, addressed through extensive testing. With access to Northeastern Robotics lab facilities and collaboration with MIT Sea Grant, they aspire to contribute significantly to the field while advancing their careers in robotics and underwater exploration.
Thomas MichelUser-controlled Land Drones for Autonomous Mapping and 5G Wireless Testing
Awardee(s): Thomas Michel COE’26
Mentor: Stefano Basagni, COE, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Emerging technologies, such as self-driving cars, demand ultra-high network speeds and reliability for safe operation. Testing these technologies can be challenging due to natural variables like interference and fading, as well as vehicle movement during communication. While existing network testbeds, like Northeastern’s Arena, address a wide range of network variables, they lack tools for mobile vehicle testing. My proposed project involves utilizing a Roomba-like robot within the Arena testbed to create an automated tool that enables researchers to effectively test these emerging 5G technologies. In addition to RISE, I aim to present this project at SOURCE and on GitHub.
Karina MillicanExamining the Effect of Knocking Down CD44 on Blood Brain Barrier Integrity
Awardee(s): Karina Millican COE’25
Mentor: Eno Ebong, COE, Chemical Engineering
In Alzheimer’s disease the role of vascular dysfunction is commonly overlooked as a contributing factor to the progression of this disease. This project investigates the role of CD44, a key core protein of the glycocalyx, involvement in blood brain barrier dysfunction. Utilizing a physiologically relevant in vitro model of the blood brain barrier, the effects of CD44 knockdown on tight junction proteins and blood brain barrier permeability will be analyzed. The results of this project could lead to identifying alternative therapeutic targets for Alzheimer s residing outside of the brain parenchyma, which would offer novel approaches to treatment of this disease.
Matthew O'RourkeDesign, Construction, and Use of a Kevlar® Rheo-Raman Flow Cell Facility and Analysis of Poly(para-p
Awardee(s): Matthew O’Rourke COE’26
Mentor: Steve Lustig, COE, Chemical Engineering
Under the guidance of Professor Lustig and in partnership with Du Pont de Nemours, Inc, my work examines Kevlar through the intersection of materials chemistry and polymer physics. Prior to being woven into fiber form, Kevlar exists as a liquid crystal polymer, a substance with a molecular structure arranged in a uniform crystal lattice. The Lustig Lab aims to measure the degree of alignment of the polymer’s internal chains. By correlating the structure history of the polymer to the resultant fiber’s mechanical properties, Kevlar will be altered to increase strength and decrease weight, potentially saving thousands more lives each year.
Julia TreeseCharacterization of STING Agonist Implants for Combination Treatment of BRCA-Mutated Cancers
Awardee(s): Julia Treese COE’24
Mentor: Needa Brown, COS, Physics
Women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation have a 50% chance of developing breast cancer and 30% chance of developing ovarian cancer before turning 70. STING agonists, a class of immune modulators, are a promising cancer therapeutic. This project aims to test the efficacy of STING agonist sustained release implants in combination with PARP inhibitors for treatment of BRCA-mutated cancers. These implants will help overcome STING agonist drug delivery barriers and enhance the immune response to PARP inhibitors. I will present the results of this research at the RISE Expo and the AIChE Northeast Regional Conference.
Oliver TrejoInnate Immune System Response to Acute Cig/E-Cig Exposure
Awardee(s): Oliver Trejo COE’25
Mentor: Chiara Bellini, COE, Bioengineering
The widespread use of cigarettes and electronic cigarettes is a major threat to global public health. These products have simultaneously immunosuppressive, proinflammatory, and autoimmune effects in humans, potentially leading to severe illness or death. This project will quantify the time-based changes to innate immune cell populations and their activity levels due to acute cig/e-cig exposure through flow cytometry, immunohistochemistry, and other cell-based assays. The impairment of natural killer cells, macrophages, and dendritic cells is expected, along with the over-promotion of cytotoxic T and B cells, which will all be shared externally as part of an encompassing publication.

Related Departments:Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering