Undergraduate Research Experience


The Undergraduate Research Experience (URE) program is an opportunity for undergraduate students to get involved with engineering and engineering technology research. Specifically, URE provides engineering and engineering technology students like you an opportunity to closely work with CEET faculty on exciting research projects and expand your domain of knowledge and skills.

Joining URE is a great way to create a roadmap towards graduate research through our integrated B.S.-M.S. degree program.

Projects Currently Seeking Undergraduate Researchers

Department Faculty Project
Electrical Engineering Hasan Ferdowsi

This is an excellent hands-on project for undergraduate students who want to get involved with a variety of sensors and micro-controllers and the interactions between them. In this project, students will start by understanding the basic requirements of an autonomous vehicle and determine required hardware (everything from chassis to sensors and controllers). Some parts are readily available and the rest will be purchased if needed. Then the students will work on assembling all the parts. The interface between various sensors and actuators and the controller board is particularly important. Completed models are already built in the lab but the students are not limited to follow the same configuration.

Autonomous cars with sensors and controllers already assembled are available to students who prefer the algorithm creation and programming. In this project, only the longitudinal movement of the vehicle is controlled, therefore the steering angle is fixed at zero degrees. The autonomous car is supposed to move forward on a straight path and achieve and maintain a desired speed. In addition, algorithms for adaptive cruise control and collision prevention should be developed and implemented. Tests will be done in the lab to verify the effectiveness of the design.

Autonomous cars with sensors and controllers already assembled are available to students who like algorithm design and programming. In this project, longitudinal control is already implemented and the only goal is to design a lateral control. Therefore, only the steering is required to be controlled. A robotic vehicle with various sensors is supposed to move forward while keeping its lane. A lane detection algorithm is needed to detect the lane markings and then lateral control must keep the vehicle at the center of the lane even when the lane is curved. Students will have the option to take this to the next level by designing an algorithm for safe lane changing.

Positioning and localization is key to control of autonomous vehicles. GPS is the device that does the job most of the time, but that is not useful in small scales and especially in an indoor environment. In this project, indoor positioning of a mobile robot inside a specific lab environment is the goal. Many different methods are available among which ultra wide band (UWB) is preferable. Students will configure prebuilt UWB positioning boards and connect them to micro-controllers in order to extract the coordinates of the mobile robot. Moreover, an inertial measurement unit (IMU), which provides acceleration and heading information, should be added to the setup. The information from IMU can then be used to enhance the accuracy of positioning.

An autonomous car needs to continuously know its environment and its relative direction and position with respect to the road and nearby objects. In this project, an assembled autonomous vehicle is available and the students will design algorithms and perform the required programming to create a map of the area within a predefined radius (3-5 times the length of the car) around the vehicle. This map should be frequently updated as the vehicle moves and it should contain the road and detected objects. Obviously, this requires distance measurement sensors like ultrasonic and Lidar. In addition, an occupancy grid can be extracted from the map. The occupancy grid shows all the points on the map that are both on a drivable road and at the same time not occupied by other objects. The information obtained from an occupancy grid is key to a comprehensive vehicle control.

Electrical Engineering Benedito Fonseca

Wireless sensor networks have been considered as a means to sense our environment in order to detect events of interest, such as the detection of a forest fire, detection of an intruder or the detection of a radio transmitter in a region. Various sensors are spread over the region and collect periodic measurements. The problem is that, in many applications, such measurements are corrupted by noise, preventing the reliable detection in a single sensor. A possible solution is to combine or fuse the measurements of various sensors in order to increase the reliability of the detection. The question then becomes: how to combine such measurements? Where to place sensors for best detection? This research project offers students the opportunity of learning how to reach reliable decisions from noisy measurements. (open to undergraduate students at the senior year).

Various wireless communication technologies, such as ZigBee, WiFi and Bluetooth, operate in the unlicensed spectrum and interfere with each other. Systems need to sense and adapt to the presence of other systems. While standards specify medium access and physical layer mechanisms for coexistence, they do not specify procedures for sensing, channel change, link estimation, routing and many others. This research project offers students the opportunity of experimenting with wireless networks and learning about interference among them and ways to mitigate such interference. (open to undergraduate students at the sophomore and above years).

Audio fingerprinting is a technique commonly used to recognize and identify music (e.g., Shazam app). It can also be used in other applications, such as detection of commercials in TV and copyright enforcement. The most common audio fingerprinting algorithms rely on empirical techniques to build fingerprints. Could better detection be reached with more elaborate techniques? Which techniques are more suitable to generate fingerprints for commercials, as opposed to music? This research project allows students to experiment with audio signal processing techniques that they learn in ELE425 or ELE451. (open to undergraduate students at the junior and senior years).

Electrical Engineering Mohammad J. Moghimi

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death globally and impose a significant burden on the United States economy. CVDs are progressive conditions and evolve over time. Therefore, early detection is vital to manage the diseases and reduce the associated risks and costs. The existing wearable systems such as FitBit Tracker and Apple Watch only record limited information about heart (e.g. heart rate and electrocardiograms (ECGs)). Vibration sensors offer a unique solution to continuously monitor mechano-acoustic signals corresponding to cardiovascular activities. These lightweight and ultrathin sensors can be easily worn by users without any discomfort over extended periods of time. In this project, we will design, build and test a wearable device to record acoustic signals and low-frequency vibrations on chest-wall. The data will be continuously transferred to personal electronics including laptops, tablets and smart phones via wireless connections. The information will be available to the individuals for self-awareness and physicians for initial assessment. (Requirement: Experience in wireless communications, sensors and electronic circuits.)

Electrical Engineering Donald S. Zinger

High Frequency LED Lighting Efficiency Measurement

Indirect Tool Wear Measurement

Engineering Technology Abul Azad

Agriculture plays a vital role in our economy. It is difficult to monitor the moisture level of the whole field and supply water accordingly. This project involves the design of an IoT based smart irrigation system that can analyze the moisture of soil and climate condition and regulate the water supply accordingly. Users will be able to check the moisture level, and with the predefined threshold for a moisture level of soil, the water supply will be controlled. In terms of implementation the project needs to identify the sensors and utilize an embedded processors system using Python software. The project also involves the design of a web page and application page that can be used as a user interface for the system.

More and more elderly prefer to live on their own and have some level of independence; however, their physical and mental condition does not always allow them to do so. The projects will utilize emerging technologies to assist the elderly to remain in their own home despite their challenging physical and mental needs. This project will utilize a number of sensors to collect data to identify various household activities by elderly. The collected sensor data will be utilized to learn one’s routine and daily habits and effectively identify any health risks and trigger an alert system. The system will utilize IoT framework while utilizing cloud resources. The project involves identifying the sensors needed and designing and building a model house along with the sensor placements. This will be followed by analyzing the sensor data to come up with an alert system while involving IoT and cloud services.

Smart Home provides an energy efficient, user friendly, and comfortable house where the occupant can rely on technologies without much of effort and involvement. The project involves the design of a model house with a network of sensors and actuators that will be used to control and monitor home appliances, indoor climate and security. Home appliances include lights, refrigerators, stoves, washers, etc) and will be controlled manually and/or automatically while conserving energy. The air-conditioner will be operated intelligently while considering varying solar gain/loss, occupant habit and occupancy period. Safety is another important factor and will be addressed through local safety measures, video surveillance and intelligent notification mechanism. The project will utilize IoT and Cloud technology along with artificial intelligence.

Engineering Technology Theodore Hogan

People naturally avoid contact with chemicals like bleach that smell bad and irritate the skin. But many chemicals cause no immediate symptoms but later result in permanent long-term health problems. These include chemical sensitizers that can cause asthma and skin disease from skin contact alone. Examples include over the counter glues that are used in art projects, labs and shops across the campus. The goal of this project is to develop and provide student peer-to-peer information on these risks and how to protect against these hazards. The methods of communication can be built upon the skills and interests of the URE student participants. This research opportunity is available to any student.

Engineering Technology Dr. Mahdi Vaezi

This research investigates, for the very first time, the application of non-wood (e.g., nylon) fibrous particles in reducing the drag force in internal flow systems, e.g., commercial pipelines, blood vessels, etc. Using fibrous particles as drag reducing additives will reduce pump and power requirements and, therefore, overall cost of pipeline transport. This will include using ultra-high-speed cameras as part of Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) system on the laboratory-scale closed-circuit pipeline facility in the Department of Engineering Technology. Here we will study the pattern of the fiber-water mixture flows as a function of flow velocity, fiber dimension, pipe diameter, etc. Once the mechanisms are known and corresponding governing equation are developed, the knowledge can be applied to replace the current costly and inefficient drag reducing agents in internal flow systems.

The proposed study, for the first time, experimentally investigates the drag coefficient of freely falling wheat straw biomass particles in fluids as a function of particle moisture content. An experimental 3.0 m long set-up is equipped with two high-definition video cameras with a recording rate of 2000 fps to measure self-induced velocity fluctuations, track the changing particle orientation, develop particle trajectory and calculate settling velocities of particles as well as corresponding drag coefficients. The significance of wall effects and particle moisture content on the free settling motion of particles are investigated by carrying out experiments in three fall tubes of different diameters, as well as particles with moisture contents ranging from 0 to 82 percent (fully saturated). The empirical correlation proposed here to calculate the drag coefficient, in addition to classic parameters corresponding to shape of the particle and properties of the liquid, considers the moisture content and the orientation of the particle as well. The results will be widely used in rapidly growing bioenergy industry.

Industrial and Systems Engineering Christine Nguyen

Federal law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) mandates the provision of early intervention services in every state in the United States. In Illinois, a child must show a 30 percent delay in development to be eligible for early intervention services. The percent delay of development is calculated based on age equivalency scores from pre-approved diagnostic tools. While these tools scientifically demonstrate through the use of standard scores whether the child needs early intervention services, the child might not be eligible for the services based on Illinois’ eligibility criteria. The purpose of the project is to use computational analysis to determine the likelihood of a misdiagnosis using the Illinois eligibility criteria. This work is done with Allison Gladfelter, Ph.D., in the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders.

Supply chains of products have gotten smaller due to the increased capabilities of technology and transportation. However, transportation cost continues to dominate companies’ overall logistics spending. Fuel prices can fluctuate dramatically and impact both truck and rail transport. While air transport is fastest, it comes with an even higher cost. Regardless of the long-distance travel, a majority of products are transported by truck to their final destination. This research focuses on developing strategies to minimize the overall transportation cost of time-sensitive products like agriculture or food, and policies that promise delivery to the customer within a few days.

Mechanical Engineering Sachit Butail

Invasive species adversely impact the economy and biodiversity of the regions that they invade, with costs incurred on the order of billions of dollars in the U.S. alone. Given the limited understanding of their distribution, controlling the spread of invasive species remains a pressing challenge. This requires pushing the boundaries of environmental monitoring to track entities in unstructured and dynamic environments. This project in collaboration with faculty in the Department of Biology aims to design and develop an aerial robotics test bed for monitoring complex ecosystems with human assistance. The test bed will comprise multiple aerial robots that can interact directly (via first person perspective) or indirectly (via remote control) with a human to monitor large study sites.

Human-swarm interaction (HSI) is an upcoming field concerned with scenarios where humans solve complex problems in a distributed manner by controlling a swarm of robots. The inclusion of humans significantly increases the capability of a robotic swarm by offloading the challenges associated with situational awareness and security concerns, as the robots stay together and avoid collisions. Testing HSI strategies are however difficult owing to the logistics involved in setting up a full-scale test bed. In this context, virtual reality (VR) provides a viable and safe alternative. The goal of this project is to design scalable virtual environments that can be used in a variety of situations for testing HSI control strategies.

Mechanical Engineering Ji-Chul Ryu

Whole body vibration (WBV) is associated with various adverse health outcomes among professional off-road vehicle operators. Due to rough terrain, they are highly likely exposed to not only a high level of WBV but also significant non-vertical and/or rotational accelerations. For a deeper level of study to reduce the injuries of the operators, we need to estimate the position and orientation of the vehicle accurately. The main objective of this project is to develop an algorithm to estimate global acceleration of a vehicle using an inertial measurement unit (IMU) and magnetometer. Undergraduate students will be welcome to participate in the development of a measurement device set-up using a microcontroller board such as Arduino.

Mechanical Engineering Jifu Tan

Cardiovascular diseases, including heart attack and stroke, are the leading cause of death in the U.S. The reason behind these diseases is that the blood vessel is blocked due to clot growth. As a result, the oxygen supply is decreased, and the functional cells are dying. We are using computational modeling tools to study the blood clot growth process, with the ultimate goal of integrating models for clinic application. Students will learn how to apply principles of mechanics to biomedical engineering. Students will also receive hands-on training on programming, data visualization, and problem formulation and solving skills.

Further information on URE can be obtained by contacting Associate Dean Abul Azad at aazad@niu.edu. You can also contact a faculty member directly with your interest for a specific project.