The University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Three College of Engineering (CoE) undergraduate students have been chosen for fall semester 2022 Rising Researcher awards, a program that recognizes undergraduate students who excel in research, challenge their intellect, and exercise exceptional creativity. The winning CoE students were Lauren Brown ‘23 of the Biomedical Engineering Department and Commonwealth Honors College, Lauren Kelly ‘23 of the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department and Commonwealth Honors College, and Tergel Molom-Ochir ‘23 of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. See https://www.umass.edu/gateway/rising-researchers.

The UMass Amherst Rising Researcher student acknowledgement program is designed to raise the profile of our most promising undergraduate students and to publicly acknowledge their excellent work. This program is co-supported by University Relations, Research & Engagement, and the Commonwealth Honors College.

Brown, from Medford, Massachusetts, studies Cell and Tissue Engineering to Advance Medicine. More specifically, she does research with implications for improving understanding of wound healing, cancer metastasis, and human brain development and patterning.

During her freshman year at UMass Amherst, Brown joined the Laboratory for Multiscale Bioengineering and Mechanobiology, headed by Assistant Professor Yubing Sun of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department. There she worked on a project using rat embryonic fibroblast cells to study their collective migration and rearrangement, which plays a key role in processes such as wound healing and cancer metastasis.

“My work culminated in a research article published in eLife,” says Brown. “It was inspiring for me to contribute to research and see my name on this published work this early on in my academic career.”

According to Brown, “Currently, I am conducting my honors thesis research in Professor Sun’s lab. I am studying the effects of environmental toxins including di-butyl phthalate — commonly found in paint, shower curtains, and hairspray — on embryonic brain formation [by] using an in vitro drug screening model developed by one of my mentors, Tianfa Xie, who is a recent graduate from Professor Sun’s lab.”

Kelly, from Milton, Massachusetts, is Studying the Spread of COVID-19 Through Wastewater, especially wastewater-based epidemiology and its effectiveness as a public health tool to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on the UMass Amherst campus.

This research was sparked by CEE Professor Caitlyn Butler, whose projects often contain elements of microbiology. Butler offered Kelly a position in her lab, and now she has been working for the past three years on wastewater-based epidemiology.

As Kelly says about her current project, “In our research, we collect wastewater samples from different sewer catchment areas across campus multiple times a week. We bring the samples back to the lab, where we extract any residual RNA and analyze it for concentrations of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 infection. This [information] allows us to track the changes of viral concentrations and determine where COVID-19 is spreading.”

Kelly’s project is part of the university’s COVID-19 response protocol, helping to keep the campus community informed and safe. During the more difficult times of the pandemic, the results of this research were used to inform the campus’s response to the pandemic. Although this research project is most directly beneficial to our UMass Amherst community, it also contributes to global research on the topic and can be applied in other public health contexts.

Molom-Ochir, from Frederick, Maryland, researches Creating Smarter, More Efficient Computing Systems. This project encompasses mobile edge computing – the practice of capturing, storing, processing, and analyzing data near where the data are generated – in order to design energy-efficient systems with improved performance and lower operating costs.

In 2019, as a freshman, Molom-Ochir joined Professor Prashant Shenoy’s Laboratory for Advanced Software in the College of Information and Computer Sciences.

According to Molom-Ochir, “As I learned more about the research process, I became independent with my day-to-day work. I then delved into work with Ph.D. student Walid Hanafy on energy-aware and energy-efficient machine intelligence through algorithm and hardware selection.”

As Molom-Ochir says about the importance of his research, “With recent advances in software and hardware pushing forward the limits of computations, our society faces a complex set of questions when it comes to energy efficiency and performance constraints. This matters because with the help of mobile edge computing, we can reduce operational costs and be smart and efficient with energy usage, all the while improving performance of the device and the application.”

Molom-Ochir concludes that “Through my research, I draw attention to the selection of an energy-efficient hardware accelerator under cost, power, and performance constraints.” (January 2023)

Article posted in Research