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“Play” = serious learning in Cheryl Bodnar’s engineering classes

February 7, 2017

Students in Dr. Cheryl Bodnar’s freshman engineering clinic at Rowan University are spending some time playing cards and making like Alex Trebek with “Jeopardy” rounds this semester.

Don’t judge.

Inspired learning

What might seem like fun and games to the casual observer are actual creative ways to inspire learning.

The cards? They help the class conquer statistical principles.

Jeopardy? That helps them review course concepts before exams, among other things.

Bodnar’s classes incorporate hands-on activities and games to promote student engagement and immersion.

Viewing problems differently

“The ultimate goal behind a game-based learning curriculum is creativity, to get students to view problems in a different light,” states Bodnar, as assistant professor in the Experiential Engineering Education (ExEEd) Department in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering.”

A recent class for sophomores required groups to travel from one side of the classroom to another without touching the “lava” (the floor), using only one sheet of construction paper. Immediately, groups formed around the room and students discussed the best approach. Each group started out with a unique plan: some split the paper to give everyone a piece, while others tried traveling across two at a time. The groups communicated with each other and observed their classmates and together discovered what they felt was the most efficient way – one person shuffled across, crumbled the paper up and threw it back to the other side for the next team member.

Preparing for the unexpected

After reaching the other side, students high-fived, laughed and returned to their seats, as Bodnar pointed out the importance of learning from others and recognizing the plan in place at the beginning of a project is not necessarily the plan at the end. This activity taught the students to be prepared for the unexpected when approaching problem solving.

Another lesson asked students to decipher a secret message, written in coded symbols. Each student received a card revealing the meaning of one of the symbols. The challenge for the students was to describe to one another what each symbol represented, using only verbal communication.

Friends turned to one another and described the symbols on their cards first, but quickly discovered they would need to travel outside the friend group – and their comfort zones – to discover the meaning behind each symbol. After some time, Bodnar asked if they’d like to give up with two codes remaining to which a resounding “NO!” echoed across the laboratory.

Improving communication

The lesson for the students here was terminology does not always have the same impact with everyone and the importance of knowing an audience when communicating. Bodnar’s lecture reminded her students that in their future careers they will be working with different types of people, from different generations and backgrounds. The goal is to find a way to communicate with everyone. She relates finding successful communication skills to explaining the difficult engineering concepts and terms to non-engineering relatives during the holidays.

While getting across a lava river or decoding a secret message may not seem like typical lessons for an engineering discipline, Bodnar says these games encourage student engagement and hold a lot of value.

“Game-based learning pushes students to think on a different level,” says Bodnar, and it can be applied to any discipline to help students learn teamwork, communication skills and to think and learn outside their comfort zones.

Rowan ranked high for R&D in the region

February 8, 2017

The Greater Philadelphia Region Life Sciences Report ranks Rowan University seventh among 19 colleges and universities in the region in R&D expenditures related to life sciences, third among the public institutions.

The ranking is based on 2014 figures from the National Science Foundation and includes funds spent on biological sciences, chemical engineering, chemistry, medical sciences and other life sciences. Rowan spent $4.9 million, with the largest amount in the medical sciences ($2.5 million). The numbers reflect R&D spending supported by the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies, according to the report.

The report noted, “One of the (Greater Philadelphia Region’s) primary competitive advantages for the Life Sciences sector is the excellence, size, and diversity of its colleges and universities. There are more than 100 post-secondary institutions located in the GPR.” The GPR includes 11 counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and northern Delaware.

Partners involved in the publication are: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, BioAdvance, CEO Council for Growth, The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, EY, IHS-Markit, Life Sciences Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies, Philadelphia Works, Select Greater Philadelphia Council and University City Science Center.

The report focuses on trends and highlights from January 2011 to June 2016.

Dr. Shreekanth Mandayam, vice president for Research, said, “The ranking reflects Rowan’s commitment to the life sciences and funders’ recognition of the exceptional work being done by our faculty and students in these fields.”

  • Rowan engineering prof lands prestigious Science Center grant

Rowan engineering prof lands prestigious Science Center grant

February 16, 2017

Patients with broken legs soon may undergo more successful surgeries thanks to a robot.

That’s the goal of Dr. Mohammad Abedin-Nasab, a research assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering at Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey.

Abedin-Nasab has developed a robotic device that can assist surgeons in treating patients with broken femurs and other bones in a manner that will enable them to heal a little faster with fewer complications.

University City Science Center awards grant

The University City Science Center is helping him reach that goal.

The Philadelphia-based organization recently awarded him one of three QED Program grants of $100,000 to develop proof of concept for “Robossis™: Orthopedic Surgical Robot.” More than 60 researchers applied for funding; the Science Center awarded the other grants to professors from the University of Pennsylvania and Penn State University. The QED Program helps to design projects that are milestone-driven and focused on answering key questions that will help move technologies from the lab into the marketplace, according to the Science Center. The Science Center provides mentors for the researchers and works with university Technology Transfer Offices to help bring products to market.

“Americans suffer more than 350,000 femur fractures a year that require surgery,” said Abedin-Nasab, who is director of the Surgical Robotics Lab in Rowan’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

He noted current surgical protocols require a surgeon to manually align the bones in a femur fracture using a trial-and-error approach, an approach that leads to malalignment of bone fragments 18 percent of the time.

Device helps surgeons

Robossis will assist surgeons with pre-operative planning and actual surgery.

The metal device includes a circular opening to accommodate a broken leg. Using imaging software connected to an X-ray machine and integrated into the robot so that it can provide a 3D image of the leg, Robossis will enable surgeons to get a clear picture of the break and visualize the optimum path of the robot to follow as it exerts pressure to align the broken pieces of bone. Surgeons then can use their preferred technique to perform the procedure.

“We’re not going to replace the surgeon; we’re just going to aid the surgeon,” said the professor, who has been working on Robossis for three years.

He will use the Science Center funding and matching $100,000 from Rowan to continue work on his prototype and assess its functionality and production feasibility. Abedin-Nasab has one international patent  and three pending U.S. patents on Robossis, named for “robot” and “ossis,” Latin for “bone.”

“Robossis will benefit surgeons and hospitals, as well as patients,” said Abedin-Nasab, who earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree in mechanical engineering in his native Iran. “The robot will enable physicians to minimize the time and money spent on the procedures by decreasing surgery times and avoiding repeated operations.”

Improves life for patients

For patients, the added benefits include less exposure to radiation (going from about 80 X-rays to as few as two), less pain and faster recovery, decreased time in the operating room, fewer and shorter hospital stays, a lower risk of infection and less blood loss.

According to Abedin-Nasab, it takes a tremendous amount of force to align broken femur bones, and that increases the danger of soft tissue damage. Complicated cases can lead to greater blood loss, secondary infections and possible longer hospital stays.

“Unfortunately, the potential problems of this trial-and-error approach are widely accepted as limitations of current medical practice, due to the lack of a better alternative,” Abedin-Nasab said.

In the near future, he and his team will develop the software needed to interface between X-ray equipment and the robot and will conduct experiments on artificial bones.

This is the first time the Science Center has awarded QED funding to a Rowan professor. Working with Abedin-Nasab on the project are biomedical engineering undergraduate students Daniel Infusino, Matthew Goldner, Nicholas Silva and Caroline Smith.

About the University City Science Center

Located in the heart of uCity Square, the Science Center is a mission-driven nonprofit organization that catalyzes and connects innovation to entrepreneurship and technology commercialization. For 50+ years, the Science Center has supported startups, research, and economic development in the life sciences, healthcare, physical sciences and emerging technology sectors. As a result, graduate firms and current residents of the Science Center’s incubator support one out of every 100 jobs in the Greater Philadelphia region and drive $13 billion in economic activity in the region annually. By providing resources and programming for any stage of a business’s lifecycle, the Science Center helps scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators take their concepts from idea to IPO – and beyond. For more information about the Science Center, go to www.sciencecenter.org.

About QED

QED is a proof-of-concept program that provides business development support for academic researchers developing early-stage life science and healthcare IT technologies.  The key goal is to reduce the business risk in these early-stage projects, increasing their attractiveness to follow-on investments.  Each of the recent 11 selected finalists were paired with several business partners to further develop their proof of concept and to develop a financial plan moving forward.  Of the 11 finalists, Abedin-Nasab was then selected as one of three awardees who will each receive a $100,000 grant from QED. Rowan will match that $100,000 for him to carry out the proof-of-concept plan and to further validate his research.

About the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering

The nationally recognized and ranked Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering at Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey, offers bachelor’s through doctoral programs to close to 1,500 students. Programs in biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, and mechanical engineering; engineering entrepreneurship; construction management; and engineering management emphasize minds-on, hands-on learning, with extensive research opportunities complementing classroom studies and the College’s hallmark eight-semester Engineering Clinic program. The College, supported by the late Henry and Betty Rowan’s landmark $100-million gift to then-Glassboro State College in 1992, opened in Rowan Hall in 1996 with about 100 students. Today, Rowan Engineering is poised to grow to close to 2,000 students with the recent opening of the adjacent Engineering Hall.

Rowan NSF grant supports students’ physics research in Singapore

February 23, 2017

Five physics students from four regional universities will spend 10 weeks in Singapore this summer through a program coordinated by Dr. Michael Lim, a professor of physics at Rowan University.

The National Science Foundation-International Research Experiences for Students program awarded Lim a $243,756 grant for his project “Philadelphia-Singapore Optics Research Experience for Undergraduates,” which runs 2016-19. The grant funds round-trip transportation and housing in Southeast Asia, where students will conduct research at Nanyang Technological University, more than 9,500 miles from home.

Working under NTU professors Rainer Dumke and Claus-Dieter Ohl, the local students will join students and postdocs from Austria, Azerbaijan, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Myanmar, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore and Vietnam. Some of the students will conduct research on experimental atomic physics, studying quantum information processing that could someday make more powerful computing devices for applications from encryption to drug design; others will study the fluid dynamics of bubble jets and shock wave emission, which can impact biomedical applications such as the treatment of cataracts and kidney stones.

The program also includes an industrial mini-project supported by Edmund Optics, Inc., which has its world headquarters in Barrington, New Jersey, and its flagship production facility in Singapore.

Lim said this is a critical time in American history to champion equitable higher education, free and open scientific inquiry, and friendly cooperation with other societies and cultures.

“Our initiative promotes these goals by providing Philadelphia-area physics majors the opportunity to work and learn in research groups at the forefront of experimental atomic physics and fluid dynamics,” Lim said. “To my knowledge, this is the first time in our region there has been an optics consortium to support international physics research for undergraduates.” Physics department chairpersons at Rowan University, Rutgers University-Camden, Delaware State University, the University of Delaware, Bryn Mawr College and Temple University were invited to nominate eligible undergraduate students as the first step of the application process.

The successful applicants, who also will receive $5,000 in travel support, are:

  • John Griffin, 20, a Rowan University junior physics major from Brick, New Jersey, who hopes to work at a university as a professor studying optics and atomic physics, will be part of the experimental atomic physics team in Singapore. At Rowan, he has worked as a research assistant for two professors in the Department of Physics, a learning assistant in the department and a resident assistant, as well as serving on the executive boards of Rowan’s Residence Hall Association and National Residence Hall Honorary Society.
  • Rahi Patel, 21, a Rowan University junior physics major from Williamstown, New Jersey, will work in the fluid dynamics lab. Patel, who hopes to attend graduate school for astrophysics and teach and conduct research at a university, said, “This opportunity will provide me with research experience in a field of physics that I have not previously explored. I am greatly looking forward to expanding my research horizons as I look to attending graduate school and beyond.”

Also selected were:

  • Samuel Hughes, from Pittsburgh, a University of Delaware student
  • Caroline Kerrigan, from Media, Pennsylvania, a Temple University student
  • Anna Moorhouse, from Marlton, New Jersey, a Rutgers University-Camden student

Lim and Dumke first worked together in 2000 at the National Institute of Standards and Technology-Gaithersburg, in the atomic physics lab of 1997 Physics Nobel Laureate Dr. William Phillips. They have been periodic collaborators since Lim’s 2009-10 sabbatical, when he spent a year as a visiting professor at NTU, exploring possible new platforms for quantum information processing. Lim said taking students with him to NTU was always a goal, but that the expense previously prohibited student travel.

A former Rowan student of Lim’s, Lucas Willis, helped organize the industrial mini-internship at Edmund Optics, where he holds the position of optical research scientist. Willis is based in Barrington and is involved extensively in technical operations at Edmund’s manufacturing facility in Singapore.

Noted the dean of Rowan’s College of Science & Mathematics, Dr. Karen Magee-Sauer, “This opportunity is simply a life-changing experience for this group of students. Of course they will be learning a lot of physics during their stay, but the experience of living and learning abroad will have significant impact on students’ personal growth, intercultural development and ultimate career path. Students will return home a different person and I hope share their experiences back in their home classrooms. Dr. Lim’s exceptional work in bringing this international experience to Philadelphia area college students is core to Rowan’s mission.”