High tech, high impact: Students' research work aims to make a difference

High tech, high impact: Students' research work aims to make a difference

Student standing in front of skeletal image, holding an xbox controller

A larger-than-life image of a white skeleton accented by blue lungs and intestines weaving lacelike over bones is not a scene from a summer movie blockbuster.

Skeleton, lungs, intestines and other body parts are all part of the summer job for Mark Locuson, who is assisting with medical visualization research for Swedish medical equipment firm Elekta that one day may lead to inroads in disease diagnosis and treatment.

Locuson, 22, of Elmer, N.J., is an electrical and computer engineering graduate student at Rowan University's College of Engineering who spends his days as a research fellow immersed in the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) housed at the South Jersey Technology Park in Mantua Township, N.J., working on the medical visualization research.

The skeleton is actually the compilation of 900 two-dimensional scans an X-ray technician at Cooper University Hospital took of himself. Clustered together, those scans provide a virtual three-dimensional look at the technician’s body in the CAVE, a 100-cubic-foot, fully immersive, navigable and interactive virtual reality system that is one of a kind in New Jersey. The CAVE is capable of displaying sequential medical data, such as CT or X-ray, and creates a three-dimensional display that allows users to navigate a patient's body.

Among other projects — including work for the U.S. Army on technology that can repair damaged equipment such as Humvees and helicopters — Locuson is working with George Lecakes, director of the Rowan Virtual Reality Lab to improve the skeleton’s image resolution and expand it to include EEG data on the brain.

“The ultimate goal of the body scan is to develop a marketable visual product that can be used to train medical students and diagnose patients, including in the ER,” said Locuson, who was part of a team that presented at the Franklin Institute's recent Science After Hours Event to showcase research.

Slated to head a team working in the CAVE in the fall, Locuson —who earned his undergraduate degree in electrical and computer engineering from Rowan in 2014 — sees this summer’s experience as good preparation for his future career, probably in virtual reality or programming or 3D visualization.

Locuson is not the only Rowan student — undergraduate, graduate or medical — who has given up weeks at the Jersey Shore for weeks in the lab.  Dozens of students in multiple disciplines have been working with professors and others on and off campus since the spring semester ended in May.

Keeping vaccines — and children —safe

Rising junior physics major Jesse M. Kosior, 20, of Pennsville N.J., is conducting research this summer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in an agreement with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Kosior is part of a team working to determine a safe method for vaccine transportation for the CDC’s $4 billion program “Vaccines for Children (VFC),” which delivers vaccines to low-income and under-insured children in the U.S.

Vaccines require strict temperature control throughout storage and transport to ensure they remain effective. Improperly stored vaccines lose potency, resulting in waste, accidental administration of ineffective vaccines and the risk of vaccine-preventable outbreaks.

Working with scientists at NIST’s Physical Measurement Laboratory, Sensor Science Division, Thermodynamic Metrology Group in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Kosior is assigned to the project titled “Investigating Methods for Safe Vaccine Transportation.”

For this project, researchers are investigating methods for safe transport and temperature monitoring of vaccines, simulating transportation scenarios using different containers, cold packs, refrigerant conditioning methods and variable ambient conditions to observe the effects on contained vaccine temperature. Their goal is to ensure the safety and effectiveness of commonly used vaccine transport materials in a variety of circumstances, including during emergencies like power outages.

The NIST team is, among other studies, evaluating temperature data logging devices recommended for use inside vaccine storage refrigerators for their ability to track vaccine temperatures during transport. The results of this study will be used to develop improved, research-based transport guidelines for VFC providers, ensuring that vaccines remain safe and effective when delivered to the children who need them. Kosior, who may continue his education and either enter research or teaching, is testing cooler types and cold packs.

“This is an awesome opportunity for me,” he said. “And it’s an interesting project — very applicable to real life.”

Thwarting the bad guys

Another student immersed in research this summer is Anthony Sanchez, who is working with electrical and computer engineering professor Dr. Robi Polikar and other graduate students conducting research in an area of computer engineering called machine learning or computational intelligence.

Their research focuses on developing programs and algorithms to solve hard problems that may include any field in which data is readily available and constantly collected.

Sanchez is part of a team that is working on improving an algorithm called COMPOSE (COMPacted Object Sample Extraction) and improving the algorithm’s ability to make decisions in real time by reducing its computational complexity. The COMPOSE algorithm is used in drifting data environments and is able to track multiple concepts even though the features of those concepts are constantly changing.

Their work can be used to develop algorithms to help doctors with disease diagnosis, assist with spam and malware detection, forecast weather and develop speech and facial recognition, among more applications.

Sanchez, a 2104 Rowan electrical and computer engineering graduate and first-year master’s student from Jefferson Township (Morris County), N.J., said his research one day may be used to study changing climates or detect computer malware when a malware virus changes over time in order to infect more systems.

“The overall goal would be to develop an algorithm that could detect a file is a virus even though it is slightly different than any other virus it has seen previously,” said Sanchez, who presented his research this summer at the World Congress on Computational Intelligence conference in Beijing, China.