Three students, three awards, three visions for their future
Three UIC graduate students in mechanical and industrial engineering captured awards for outstanding research.
Unraveling rehabilitation robotics
PhD candidate Ernesto Hernandez-Hinojosa won the American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship, which provides more than $63,000 to cover two years of study.
Hernandez-Hinojosa, who studies with Assistant Professor Pranav Bhounsule in the Robotics and Motion Laboratory, is part of a team developing control algorithms for rehabilitation robots with legs, including exoskeletons, prostheses, and service robots. The team is basing its control concepts on predictions of how human beings balance when they walk.
Hernandez-Hinojosa aims to remove the guesswork from these predictions by performing controlled experiments on humans when they are walking to extract the underlying control structure.
“My goal is to help bridge the gap between rehabilitation and robotics,” he said. “Although there are very intricate paradigms used to control robotics systems, there are very few systems that have learned from the human body.”
He noted that when rehabilitation robotics systems are informed by humans, the result is symbiosis: “the system first learns from the human, and then the human can use the system to learn how to walk again.”
When Hernandez-Hinojosa completes his academic career at UIC, he plans to continue conducting academic research as a post-doctoral researcher, as university professor, or at a clinic such as the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. He also has his sights set on the possibility of working at NASA.
“I worked in the robotic division at the Johnson Space Center for eight months as an intern and really enjoyed the work I was doing,” he said. “With the new generation of spacecraft and upcoming missions to the moon and to Mars, robotics at NASA will continue to make great technological advancements. There might be an opportunity to use robotics to train astronauts in space or simulate microgravity on Earth.”
Seeing the world at nanoscale
PhD candidate Mathius Barua won the Litvin Research and Service Award.
This award, established in 2010 with a gift from the late Distinguished Professor Faydor Litvin, honors excellent graduate students in mechanical engineering. The one-time award of $1,500 is based on research and service to the UIC community.
Barua is researching ways to characterize the mechanical, electrical, and electrochemical properties of nanowire-based cathode materials, which will be beneficial to commercialize new cathode materials for advanced lithium-ion batteries. His mentor is Associate Professor Arunkumar Subramanian in the Laboratory for Integrated Nanosystems.
In the lab, Barua works with the state-of-the-art techniques such as atomic force microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, and scanning transmission electron microscopy.
“My projects involved manipulating nanowires that are about 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of the human hair,” he said. “Seeing them inside these advanced microscopes is fascinating.”
After graduation, Barua would like to work in research and development and apply his training to real-world industry problems.
Stated plainly, extremely valuable research
Sai Siva Kare won first prize for his presentation “Gift of Vision” during the Three-Minute Thesis competition held by the UIC Graduate College. He also captured the People’s Choice Award during the MAGS Three-Minute Thesis competition where more than 48 universities competed.
“The objective of the competition was to convey one’s research to a non-expert audience,” he explained. The secret to his success? “Two things: invaluable support and guidance from my advisors and colleagues, and Toastmasters. There were some techniques I used in my speech that I learned from Toastmasters.”
Kare, who is advised by Assistant Professor John Finan, is investigating ways to miniaturize devices that can be implanted in the human body to deliver therapeutic drugs on demand.
“I hope my research can be used to improve the quality of life of people suffering from various diseases,” he said.
When he completes his degree, Kare plans to bring his knowledge and experience to the biomedical industry.
“I would like to see my research not only get published, but also get implemented in real life and used by people,” he said.