SF State students earn top prizes in CSU Student Research Competition

Two students stand side-by-side holding their awards

From left, SF State Design and Industry student Lamar Pi and civil engineering student Alec Maxwell and take home second and first prizes, respectively, at the California State University Student Research Competition in Cal Poly University, San Luis Obispo.

SF State seniors’ award-winning research projects promote independent living for older adults and enable quake research using smartphones

Two SF State seniors recently took home top prizes at the 31st annual CSU Student Research Competition at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo.

Alec Maxwell won first prize in the Engineering and Computer Science category for his project, Innovative Mobile Remote Shake Table Laboratory, a remote laboratory realized through a mobile app that triggers earthquake experiments. Design student Lamar Pi earned second prize in the Creative Arts and Design category for MODU, a modular tray system created for older adults with mobility issues.

Maxwell, a civil engineering senior, developed a stand-alone mobile laboratory that consists of three interactive mobile apps for civil and mechanical engineering students studying how structures respond to seismic hazards. The most dynamic of the three apps is a remote laboratory where students can conduct experiments using the shake table and a telepresence robot inside SF State’s Intelligent Structural Hazards Mitigation Laboratory. The other two apps focus on theory and practical examples.

What’s unique about the apps is that they are made for mobile phones and tablets and offer both simulation and the ability to conduct remote experiments, Maxwell said, something that not a lot of remote labs offer. “One of the goals of the project was that students could do all these experiments on a bus and not have to pull out a textbook,” he said. “The idea was to make all these resources available in one spot where students can get everything they need  anytime and anywhere.”

Maxwell’s mentor, SF State Assistant Professor of Engineering Zhaoshuo Jiang, had been involved in the development of various remote laboratories and noticed the growing rise in smartphone use, so he wanted to create a mobile app. That’s where Maxwell came in. “With proper guidance, Maxwell developed all the interactive apps. I’m just the guy behind him saying, ‘Give me this. Give me that.’ As a student he has a unique perspective on how to make improvements to adapt to student’s unique learning style,” Jiang said.

Maxwell has already published three papers in the American Society of Engineering Education Journal about the mobile laboratory and its corresponding learning modules. The project recently received a competitive Impact Grant from the nonprofit IDEA Center. The funding will make the mobile laboratory and learning module available to a broader audience.

Maxwell plans to continue studying structural/earthquake engineering as a graduate student at SF State. He’s specifically interested in the performance of skyscrapers during earthquakes. When walking in downtown San Francisco he said he’s in awe of the tall buildings and has always been curious about how they maintain their structure. “There’s something enticing about the idea of trying to keep something standing that Mother Nature doesn’t always want to keep standing,” he said.

Student takes 2nd prize for design

Lamar Pi’s project, MODU, is a modular tray system designed for people with mobility and stability issues. Pi’s 93-year-old grandfather and 87-grandmother served as models for the project. They live independently at their home and have difficulty standing for long periods of time, and their issues compound when they attempt simple tasks like cooking.

MODU, which takes design inspiration from the Japanese bento box, focuses on three living environments, the kitchen, the living room and the bathroom, and can be adapted to walkers and wheelchairs, Pi said. The trays can be customized for each person and can assist with meal prep or personal hygiene. “Creating designs and solving problems that can make it easier for elderly people to stay in their homes rather than going into assisted living is something I’m interested in,” he said.

SF State Design and Industry Professor Ricardo Gomes served as an adviser to Pi’s independent study project. “It’s really meant to be a way of facilitating transferring of tasks or duties that support mobility and stability, because we want to make sure people don’t fall when they have to carry or move things whether it’s from the stove to the sink or the stove to the dining table,” Gomes said. “All of this helps to support independent living at home.”

Earlier this year, MODU took home first prize in the 2016 Morton Keston Universal Design Competition at the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

“We’re very happy that Lamar has been able to advance these types of accomplishments in what we call design for social impact,” Gomes said.

Gomes said Pi collaborated with elderly community members to come up with the design for MODU. “Part of our formula for success is that we’ve always had a cooperation and collaboration with our community partners. We’re trying to make students much more cognizant of the impact of design beyond commercial applications, which tend to be exclusive, versus things that really sustain well-being and independent living,” Gomes added.

Pi plans to create a second iteration of MODU after incorporating all the feedback he received from the competitions and from physicians. He’d like to patent the design and hopes to eventually bring it to market. For now his focus is graduation from SF State. He’d like to enter a graduate program in design and eventually work at a design consultancy.