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Mechanical Engineering Laboratories Make Strong Showing at Sigma Xi Student Research Competition

Students working in mechanical engineering laboratories won all engineering awards at the annual Sigma Xi Student Research Competition, held as part of Villanova Research Day on April 27. PhD student Parham Ghorbanian and John McCloskey MSME ’12 tied for first place in the graduate student division, while Sean McManus, a biology major conducting bioengineering research in the Mechanical Engineering Department, took first place in the undergraduate division.

Ghorbanian presented a device capable of performing brainwave analysis, which he is developing alongside Dr. Hashem Ashrafiuon, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics and Control, on behalf of Portable On-Demand Diagnostics, Inc., of Doylestown, Pa. The headset device captures and categorizes EEG signals and predicts abnormalities in brain activity, leveraging the company’s Mindscope software system. Ghorbanian presented a validation of the single-electrode human EEG signal analysis device and the “wavelet transform” methods used for EEG signal analysis.

Current research is focused on diagnosis and prediction of Alzheimer’s disease and concussion from EEG signal analysis by continuous wavelet transform and discrete wavelet transform methods. Dr. Ashrafiuon and Ghorbanian are joined by David Devilbiss of NexStep Biomarkers; Adam Simon of Portable On-Demand Diagnostics; and Allan Bernstein and Terry Hess of Palm Drive Hospital for this portion of the investigation.

McCloskey presented his project, entitled "Dynamics of the Water-Ice Phase Transition at Temperatures Far from Equilibrium," conducted with faculty advisor Dr. Jens Karlsson, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. In this project, McCloskey used a high-speed imaging cryomicroscope, developed by Dr. Karlsson, to study crystallization in highly supercooled water droplets (cooled far below the equilibrium freezing point). They successfully recorded videos of ice formation at freezing temperatures close to the theoretical supercooling limit, which had never been done before, and discovered that the velocity of crystal growth appeared to be constrained by a speed limit at very low temperatures.

According to McCloskey, the knowledge gained in this project will be useful in increasing the chance of survival during the freezing or freeze-drying of cells and biopharmaceuticals for preservation purposes. Supercooled water is present in clouds, so this work will also provide a better understanding of atmospheric conditions and will be helpful in the prevention of icing in aviation.

McManus, who works with Dr. Karlsson in the Biothermal Sciences Laboratory, presented results from his undergraduate thesis research on intracellular ice formation during cryopreservation of human cell lines. McManus also used high-speed video cryomicroscopy techniques to observe the freezing process, the first time this experimental method had been used to detect intracellular crystallization in cell suspensions. The goal of the project was to determine why and how damage to suspended cells occurs during the freezing and thawing processes. This understanding will contribute to the team’s goal of optimizing the viability and function of cells that must be cryopreserved during the manufacture of cellular therapies, vaccines, or antibody drugs.

According to Sigma Xi, the scientific research society, the organization’s mission is “to enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public’s understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition.”