By Greg St. Martin
March 30, 2012
A sustainable urban housing prototype, a sensor-laden shirt that tracks exercise effectiveness and an interactive computer game for people with physical disabilities were among the student and faculty research projects showcased Thursday at RISE:2012, the university’s research, innovation and scholarship expo.The event — sponsored by the Center for Research Innovation (CRI) and the Office of the Provost — highlighted the breadth and depth of innovative thinking at Northeastern across many disciplines. Held in the Cabot Physical Education Center, the event featured nearly 400 posters — the most ever for the annual showcase.

At an awards ceremony following the event, Provost Stephen Director called this year’s expo the most successful to date.

“The quality of research has been terrific, and even more impressive is the presentations that you put together to get your ideas across,” Director told the students at the ceremony. “You could solve the world’s most important problem, but if you can’t communicate that to the outside world, it could have no impact.”

Awards were presented to undergraduate and graduate students in seven categories. Four of those awardees were further recognized with RISE (Research, Innovation, Scholarship and Entrepreneurship) Awards — a new honor this year recognizing outstanding research in four categories: research, innovation, scholarship and entrepreneurship.

President Joseph E. Aoun presented the RISE Awards, which were accompanied with $1,000 grants. Aoun lauded the students’ efforts and recognized their faculty and industry mentors who have helped cultivate their innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. “What we are doing here is not only not divorced from reality. It’s going to change reality,” he said.

Many students presenting research said they were inspired to meet emerging challenges of the 21st century, particularly in the university’s top research themes of health, security and sustainability.

Nicholas Trapani, a senior architecture major, designed a modern residential tower for Dudley Square in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood with space dedicated for year-round farming meant, as he put it, “to bring agriculture back to the urban environment.”

Meaghan Hitt, a senior physical therapy major, was part of an undergraduate team that designed an early physical-therapy education and intervention plan for breast-cancer surgical patients. Hitt said the project, which includes an instructional booklet and DVD, addresses a major need for patients who suffer from an impaired range of shoulder motion and increased fatigue after surgery. “We’re looking to steer the research in this direction,” she said.

For his part, PhD candidate Jeffrey Breugelmans took an interdisciplinary approach to tackling a societal challenge. Collaborating with engineering and physical-therapy faculty, he designed an interactive computer game for people with physical disabilities that incorporates eye-tracking technology and a glove embedded with sensors to move the character through the game using finger motions.

The platform, he said, could allow people with arthritis to complete hand exercises in an engaging way, while also allowing their doctors to monitor their progress via the digitally collected data.

“Computer games offer the same virtual abilities to any user. You just need to give someone access to that environment,” said Breugelmans, who took home the RISE Award in research.

Mel Bernstein, senior vice provost for research and graduate education, said RISE:2012 highlighted the university’s “commitment to high-quality scholarship, research, innovation and creativity.”

CRI Director Tracey Dodenhoff said the center was founded last year to foster an innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem across the university. She said CRI is planning several new initiatives including pilot proof-of-concept and commercialization funds and a fair this fall to match start-up companies with students seeking jobs and co-ops.

“Innovation is a catalyst. Entrepreneurship is a mindset. We’re here to connect the two,” Dodenhoff said.

For more information, please contact Greg St. Martin at 617-373-5463 or at g.stmartin@neu.edu.