Student scientists show off their research and inventions

Science and engineering students at SF State had a chance to show off their latest work -- from flying remote control inventions to novel ways to sterilize medical equipment -- at SF State's 14th annual Student Project Showcase on May 4.

A photo of a student demonstrating a Bluetooth enabled bicycle lock.A photo of a student demonstrating a Bluetooth enabled bicycle lock.

The College of Science and Engineering hosted the competition, which featured more than 150 individual and group entries vying for cash prizes and recognition as they shared their projects with visitors including alumni, faculty, friends and judges.

Students competed in the fields of Biological Science and Physical Science, with undergraduate and graduate divisions in each category. But more than awards, students had the chance to gain valuable experience in presenting their research.

"Competing in the showcase looks great on their resume and on applications for graduate programs," said Lisa White, associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering. "Students gain experience talking about their work to people both within and outside their discipline."

A sampling of the projects shows the innovative research that students produced and the diversity of topics they chose to explore:

Undergraduates Hamad Alsubai, Eric Beltran, Mario Coronado, Emmanuel Cruz and Charlie Tang created a locking bicycle rack that is operated by the Bluetooth device in a cyclist's smartphone, eliminating the need to carry keys or a heavy lock. When the cyclist's phone detects the lock's Bluetooth capability, a unique password is entered and the bike is released from the rack. The group spent six months designing the frame of the lock and the technology itself, examining existing locks on the market to ensure the strength of their design. "A lot of people have Bluetooth devices with them that they use all the time," said Cruz. "Since San Francisco is a heavily biker-populated city, we thought it would be a big market."

A photo of Sarah Boles presenting her research.

Graduate student Sarah Boles explains her research about the effects of ocean acidification on oysters.

Graduate student Sara Boles explored the impact that rising acidity in oceans has on sea creatures. She placed oyster larvae into containers with varying temperatures and carbon dioxide levels and monitored them at three stages of development. She found that oysters in more intense environments -- higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels -- needed to create more protein to deal with the environment, expending more energy in the process and making it difficult for them to survive. The results could suggest the effects of climate change on other species. "I've always been interested in human-caused activities and how they affect our environment," Boles said. "Since we're animals too, it's really important to think of any other animals, like oysters, like a canary in a coal mine."

In the undergraduate category, Curtis Lee and Steven Wiryadinata invented a low-cost way for physicians in third world countries to sterilize their equipment. Their device uses plastic lenses to focus energy from the sun onto a series of pipes. Water in the pipes heats up a pressurized pot, resulting in high-pressure steam that cleans scalpels, needles or other equipment. "It's designed to be used in really rural areas where getting fuel is very labor-intensive," said Lee. The system uses simple and readily available materials, meaning doctors could easily build it when they reach the field.

Undergraduates Daniel Catalan, Sam Goldsby, Sonny Lu and Luis Bill created a device that detects when an elderly individual falls and cannot get up, then sends an alert to the cell phone of a loved one. "It seemed like the products already out there used old technology," Golsby said. The students' invention uses an accelerometer that can detect if a person is falling, but also if they do not get back up and therefore need help or emergency services. Using an app programmed by the students, others can receive a text message or phone call if their loved one has a fall. "It was a collaboration -- electrical and computer engineering," said Catalan.

A photo of Mark Gianni holding a tricopter made of foam core board.

Undergraduate Mark Giannani shows of his tricopter made of foam core board.

Mark Giannani, an undergraduate studying mechanical engineering, ended up with a fun toy as a result of his science project. His instructor had built a small tricopter -- a helicopter with three propellers -- out of cardboard. Giannani wanted to see if it could be improved using foam core -- foam sandwiched between two thin layers of cardboard. The foam core tricopter's flight, albeit a bit choppy, was a success. "I just wanted to know, is it better?" Giannani said. "And it is."

For more information about the event, visit: http://www.sfsu.edu/~science/sps.html

-- Philip Riley