Engineering Students Selected to Present at PA State Capitol

Two College of Engineering students — Anthony Trezza and Nathan Deffenbaugh — will present their research at the 12th Annual Undergraduate Research at the Capitol—Pennsylvania Poster Conference in Harrisburg on Tuesday, March 11, 2014.

Nathan Deffenbaugh, biomedical engineering, will present his research project titled High Resolution Tracking of Single-molecule Kinesin Motor Proteins by TIRF Microscopy. Kinesins are intracellular molecular motors and play a critical role in mitotic spindle formation during cell division. Their dysfunction has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and ALS. Additionally, the role of kinesins in mitotic spindle formation makes a relevant target for anti-cancer therapies aiming to inhibit cancer cell division and proliferation. Deffenbaugh’s research uses total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy to image individual kinesin proteins, allowing discovery of different kinesin protein’s molecular mechanisms, which is critical for understanding their diverse cellular roles.

Deffenbaugh is supervised by Dr. William O. Hancock, professor of biomedical engineering.

Anthony Trezza, mechanical engineering, will present Simultaneous Localization and Mapping of Indoor Robots Using Permanent Magnetic Fields. This research is prototyping the use of low-cost, highly sensitive magnetometer technology to develop low-cost guidance systems for wheelchairs with the intent to assist amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, often known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) patients maintain mobility. As stated in Trezza’s submission, there have been long-standing dreams of using robots to provide extra functionality, care, and comfort to our living environments, offices, factories, and warehouses. But this dream is thwarted by the difficulty of a robot to know its position indoors. GPS signals cannot be reliably measured inside buildings; lighting conditions are highly variable; and modifications to the built environment for robot localization can be expensive and intrusive.

Trezza is supervised by Dr. Sean Brennan, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The event serves as a unique opportunity for undergraduate students enrolled in Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities to showcase their research projects to an audience of Pennsylvania legislators. Participants spend the day in the Pennsylvania Capitol Building, share experiences and ideas with counterparts from other schools, and present research posters.

The Office of Undergraduate Education coordinates Penn State’s participation in the event.

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Entrepreneurial Cross-Training – More Questions than Answers

by Dr. Tim Simpson

So what does it really take to get a good idea to market? How much of that can I do as a faculty member and how do I avoid conflicts of interest with my research and my students? How should I be advising my graduate students to take their ideas forward and what should I be teaching undergraduates interested in design innovation?

These are the sorts of questions that I’m investigating by immersing myself in our local entrepreneurial ecosystem during my sabbatical. I’m hoping that this “entrepreneurial cross-training” will provide insight not only into the problems that we encounter (as faculty and as students) in bringing ideas to market but also into the “innovation assets” that are available to help at Penn State and in our local ecosystem.

What I have seen thus far is both exciting and overwhelming. It is exciting because there is considerably more going on now than there was five years ago, let alone last year. At the same time, it is overwhelming because there is so much going on across departments and colleges. While small pockets of activities may be coordinated, there is little to no coordination of these entrepreneurial activities across the university, which is both good and bad. Good because we need to explore many different models for innovation and tech transfer in order to learn what works best within our institutional culture. It’s bad when efforts are duplicated and resources are wasted, or we miss synergies between those with the passion and energy to get things done and those trying to effect change. Like any other large organization that struggles with getting everyone on the same page, we need to find new ways to communicate effectively about something that was on few people’s radar screens last year.

So while I don’t have all the answers, and I never will, I at least know the questions to ask. This is where learning starts—when you realize that you don’t know something, and you can start to ask questions and find the right people to answer them. To share where I am at in my learning, here are the questions you should be asking yourself:

Undergraduate Students

Graduate Students


Finding the solutions is the tough part. It requires work and lots of networking, and then more networking, and more networking, which is what I’m spending most of my time doing on sabbatical. I’m co-working in New Leaf, helping organize events for, advising the development of networking website for State College, HappyValleyStartUps, helping a former graduate student launch and grow DecisionVis, participating in TechCelerator and “triage sessions” to see how Ben Franklin and SBDC work with faculty, sitting in on Cool Blue Mentoring meetings to see how MIT’s Venture Mentoring Services gets adapted to our ecosystem, and attending SCORE workshops to meet others in the community, shadowing local entrepreneurs and start-ups to hear their stories, talking to students about commercializing their ideas, co-developing a product based on what I’ve learned, and figuring out what and how to bring all this back into Penn State to benefit our faculty, students, and tech transfer opportunities because we are lagging behind many other universities.

Why are we behind? It’s not for lack of trying mind you. We have a phenomenal entrepreneurial ecosystem emerging here, and everyone is doing the best they can with the time they have. If this interests you, then get involved and share your ideas and input on ways to improve our ecosystem and help answer the questions you have about getting your ideas to market.

Tim Simpson is a professor in both mechanical engineering and industrial engineering. He holds affiliate appointments in the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP) and the College of Information Sciences & Technology. From 2007-2012, he served as director of the Learning Factory, and now he serves as co-Director of the Center for Innovative Materials Processing through Direct Digital Deposition (CIMP-3D), a DARPA-funded Manufacturing Demonstration Facility for Additive Manufacturing. This is his second sabbatical. 


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Inspired by nature

Penn State electrical engineer Mohsen Kavehrad is one of the experts interviewed for the upcoming book, The Shark's Paintbrush.

Penn State electrical engineer Mohsen Kavehrad is one of the experts interviewed for the upcoming book, The Shark’s Paintbrush.

An upcoming book titled “The Shark’s Paintbrush: Biomimicry and How Nature is Inspiring Innovation” includes an interview with Mohsen Kavehrad, the W.L. Weiss Chair Professor of Electrical Engineering.

Author Jay Harman interviewed Kavehrad on a paper he published through a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency/Air Force Research Laboratory project.

“We had discovered the dolphin chirps look like a wavelet waveforms we used to transmit optical pulses through clouds,” Kavehrad said in an email. “The book is meant to encourage people to get inspirations from nature to imagine and invent.”

Kavehrad is director of the National Science Foundation Industry and University Cooperative Research Center on Optical Wireless Applications and the Center for Information and Communications Technology Research.

The book is due out as a hardcover and audiobook in June.

More on Kavehrad’s work can be found here.

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We want your research!

The College of Engineering Graduate Student Council will host a “Call for Abstracts” event from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 27 in Kunkle Lounge.

The event is designed to give students an opportunity to learn about the 2013 College of Engineering Research Symposium (CERS), scheduled for April 2 at the Nittany Lion Inn.

Michael Alley, associate professor of engineering, will discuss “Making Presentations and Delivering a Poster.”

The annual CERS allows students to present their research to science and engineering faculty, students and industry representatives. Participants will compete for research and travel grants totaling $5,000 for best poster and best paper in undergraduate and graduate categories.

More information on CERS can be found online at

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