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2019 Projects

Project: Small Scale Solar Photo-Voltaic Module
Professor: Ali Abur | abur@ece.neu.edu
Description: Build a small scale solar photo-voltaic module. Learn about the basic circuit principles used in operation of such a module and demonstrate it by building one and testing it in the lab.
Mentors: Arthur Mouco, Ahmet Oner, Pengxiang Ren
REU Students: Jennifer Avellaneda Bravo & Zandria Hughes

Project: Phase Changes in Copper Oxide Cathodes for Low-Cost Grid-Scale Batteries
Professor: Joshua Gallaway | j.gallaway@northeastern.edu
Description: The goal of this project will be to study and quantify the phase changes occurring in a new class of rechargeable battery intended for use in the power grid: alkaline Zn-CuO batteries. The work will be performed on small-scale batteries, approximately one square centimeter in area. We wish to understand how the phase changes that occur during discharge change with cycle life. A perfectly cycleable battery will typically have minimal cycle-to-cycle variation. The experimental technique will be galvanostatic intermittent titration technique otherwise known as GITT. The PI will train the student to program battery testing equipment and analyze GITT data. This project will involve communication with our collaborators at Sandia National Lab.
Mentors: Matthew Kim, Alyssa Stavola
REU Student: Shakti Katheria

Project: Visualizing Infrastructure Dynamics
Professor: Michael Kane | mi.kane@northeastern.edu
Description: Today, we sit on the cusp of the information age and the age of automation, where computations break free of cyberspace–ubiquitously affecting the physical world. This future of closed-loop cyber-physical systems (CPS), moving beyond sensing and analytics, will overcome the barriers to sustainable and resilient infrastructure. The most fundamental concept of CPS are their dynamic nature: roads, buildings, waterways, and power grids are switching, swaying, and swelling: from micro-seconds to decades. This project will conduct a literature review of everyday applications and cutting edge innovations of automation and controls in civil infrastructure to better understand how breakthroughs in automation and machine learning can be generalized to lead to a smarter, more resilient and adaptive built environment.
Mentors: Kunind Sharma, Krissy Govertsen
REU Students: Jonathan Cohen & Jhonatan Londono

Project: Enhancing Photosynthesis for the Production of Useful Chemicals in Plants
Professor: Carolyn Lee-Parsons | ca.lee@northeastern.edu
Description: Depletion of fossil fuel reserves and climate change attributed to greenhouse gases are imminent challenges facing our planet. To address both of these global challenges, my research focuses on engineering plants for the production of useful chemicals previously derived from petroleum. This research project focuses on altering plant development to yield more leaves by which light capture, carbon fixation, and conversion to sugars to useful molecules can occur. In particular, this project involves characterizing the effect of several transcription factors that control plant development and ultimately their ability to capture energy through photosynthesis and conversion of these carbon skeletons to useful chemicals. Role of REU student: The participant will investigate the role of several transcription factors on the development and specialization of leaf cells, including factors involved in regulating the photosynthetic capabilities of leaves. In particular, the participant will: 1) evaluate the effect of silencing specific factors on the extent of chloroplast or leaf development using a transient expression technique known as virus induced gene silencing (VIGS); the researcher will monitor the effect of silencing on phenotype (pictures of the seedlings) and on chlorophyll levels (measurement by spectrophotometry); 2) evaluate the effect of overexpressing these specific factors on the expression of genes involved in the biosynthesis of specific chemicals (by quantitative PCR). The goal is to determine the role of specific transcription factors in improving chloroplast and leaf development, and consequently photosynthesis and the biosynthesis of specific chemicals.
Mentor: Lauren Cole
REU Student: Lily Ha

Project: Smart Solar Energy
Professor: Brad Lehman | lehman@ece.neu.edu
Description: Solar photovoltaic (PV) installations traditionally are stand-alone systems without integrated computation. However, it is possible to utilize real-time processes to adaptively reconfigure solar PV installations while sensing and computing the environmental factors. This research will design and build new types of solar installations that can adapt their performance depending on their environmental conditions. For example, a smart PV installation will include power converters and microprocessors within each panel that enable the solar panels to self-heal and self-optimize to produce higher power. New types of inverters for photovoltaic applications are included that use intermediate voltages on capacitors to have controllable fluctuations on them so that the capacitances can be substantially reduced. Combined with fast switching pulse-width-modulators the goal is to reduce the cost, volume and weight of the entire PV system by up to 50%. Sensor information, weather patterns, and high-performance computational algorithms running machine learning algorithms can rely on statistical analysis with massive amounts of data to predict PV power in large geographical regions. The utility and Independent System Operators can then predict the power produced in regions to better match overall power generations with the needed loads. This information is vital for the future of smart grid operation.
Mentors: Xinmin Zhang, Jonathan Kim
REU Students: Norre Emmanuel & Woomy Michel

Project: Energy-informed Robot Autonomy
Professor: Taskin Padir | t.padir@northeastern.edu
Description: This project will evaluate energy cost for a number of robot algorithms and develop benchmarks for energy efficient robot navigation and manipulation.
REU Students: Carlin Reynolds & Jahsiah Sanders

Project: RF Energy Harvesting Circuit
Professor: Aatmesh Shrivastava | aatmesh@ece.neu.edu
Description: In this project, students are expected to develop an RF energy harvesting system. The project is divided into two parts. In the first part, the student will develop a modeling circuit for RF energy harvesting using diode and capacitors. This will be done using OrCAD/PSPICE software. After developing a robust design, student will be engaged in developing a board/protoboard level circuit to demonstrate the physical energy harvester and its performance.
Mentors: Ankit Mittal, Nikita Mirchandani
REU Student: Juancy Reyes

2018 Projects

Project: Synchronized Phasors and Big Data in Smart Grid Power System
Professor: Ali Abur | abur@ece.neu.edu
Abstract: North American power grid includes multiple Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) or Independent System Operators (ISOs) which coordinate, control and monitor the operation of the entire grid. Coordination of these complex and large volume of power exchanges while maintaining the system security and reliability presents a new and major challenge to the operators of power grids. Traditionally, state estimators (SE) perform real-time monitoring of the entire system state based on the available measurements and network model to help monitor the safety of the grid using the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. However, in the past two decades, new metering devices that are referred as the phasor measurement units (PMU) have been introduced. These devices can provide measurements at high data acquisition rate and more importantly, use global positioning system (GPS) satellites to synchronize the measurements. This research develops improved state estimation functions for the power grid, and also emphasizes the insertion of renewable energy generation such as solar and wind. Advanced power system simulation tools are used to verify the robustness and feasibility of the grid, particularly in contingency cases, such as when there is lost generation or bad data.
Mentors: Arthur Mouco, Ahmet Oner, Pengxiang Ren
REU Student: Gustaf Njei

Project: Smart Solar Energy
Professors: Mahshid Amirabadi & Bradley Lehman | m.amirabadi@northeastern.edu & lehman@ece.neu.edu
Abstract: Solar photovoltaic (PV) installations traditionally are stand-alone systems without integrated computation. However, it is possible to utilize real-time processes to adaptively reconfigure solar PV installations while sensing and computing the environmental factors. This research will design and build new types of solar installations that can adapt their performance depending on their environmental conditions. For example, a smart PV installation will include power converters and microprocessors within each panel that enable the solar panels to self-heal and self- optimize to produce higher power. New types of inverters for photovoltaic applications are included that use intermediate voltages on capacitors to have controllable fluctuations on them so that the capacitances can be substantially reduced. Combined with fast switching pulse-width-modulators the goal is to reduce the cost, volume and weight of the entire PV system by up to 50%. Sensor information, weather patterns, and high-performance computational algorithms running machine learning algorithms can rely on statistical analysis with massive amounts of data to predict PV power in large geographical regions. The utility and Independent System Operators can then predict the power produced in regions to better match overall power generations with the needed loads. This information is vital for the future of smart grid operation.
Mentors: Xinmin Zhang, Jonathan Kim
REU Student: Michaela Harrell

Project: Development and Characterization of An Active Back Brace With Embedded Sensors
Professor: Samuel Felton | s.felton@northeastern.edu
Abstract: According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the back injuries of more than 1 million workers account for nearly 20% of all injuries and illnesses in the workplace.It has been proven that maintaining proper posture throughout the day can reduce work related back injuries. However, the major drawback of most postural back braces is the discomfort of wearing them for long periods of time, this leads users to incorrectly adjust the brace prioritizing comfort over function and leading to continued back injuries.The purpose of this project is to develop variable-stiffness elements for a postural back brace that will be comfortable and functional for long periods of usage to help reduce work related back injuries.
REU Student: Katiso Mabulu

Project: A Hybrid Systems Framework for Human-in-the-Loop Control of HVAC Systems
Professor: Michael Kane | mi.kane@northeastern.edu
Abstract: Building occupants, building physics, HVAC systems, and controls make up a complex dynamical system with continuous and discrete states and interactions, i.e. a hybrid dynamical system. Traditionally, occupant physics and behavior are abstracted from the building engineering through simple room temperature set-points. At most, the interaction between the two systems is captured by changing setpoints based on occupancy. This abstraction neglects the autonomy of users to change setpoints and create over-rides that often forfeit the savings that the control system aimed to achieve. As users increasingly interact with home energy IoT devices, this shared autonomy will grow in significance. This research aims to leverage these interactions to build classes of hybrid-dynamical models of user behavior. Such models will be implemented in model-based estimators of the noisy channel between user desire and the control system reference. This data driven approach will utilize datasets from thousands of occupants from Pecan Street and Ecobee.
Mentor: Kunind Kunind
REU Student: Christian Hardy

Project: Photosynthetic Efficiency for Biomass and Biofuel
Professor: Carolyn Lee-Parsons | ca.lee@northeastern.edu
Abstract: Depletion of fossil fuel reserves and climate change attributed to greenhouse gases are imminent challenges facing our planet. To address both of these global challenges, the research focuses on engineering microalgae and plants for increased biomass production that can be harnessed for biofuel applications. One approach involves improving the efficiency of photosynthesis by improving the enzymes (i.e. reducing photorespiration) in the Calvin Cycle to enhance carbon fixation and its conversion to sugars through photosynthesis. Instead of focusing at the enzymatic level, this research project focuses on altering plant development to yield more leaves by which light capture, carbon fixation, and conversion to sugars can occur. In particular, this project involves characterizing the effect of several transcription factors that control plant development and ultimately their ability to capture energy through photosynthesis.
Mentor: Lauren Cole
REU Student: Jessica Figueroa

Project: Nanomaterials for Energy
Professor: Marilyn Minus | m.minus@northeastern.edu
Abstract: This research area is of relative interest in terms of its focus on lightweight materials formed from polymer-based nano-composite materials with well-controlled structural morphology, for applications such as wind turbine blades, lightweight airplanes, etc. Nano-materials have been studied quite extensively in composites due to their impressive properties and opportunity to provide information regarding nano-scale phenomena and control of materials processing at this level. Typical composites exhibit average properties associated with components A (i.e., matrix) and B (i.e., filler). For a nano-composite, B is able to affect A locally (at the nano-scale) and this can subsequently dictate macroscopic properties. REU research projects s research will contribute toward experimental pathways to build a designer material. In other words, identify the materials: (i) desired properties, (ii) necessary architecture/morphology to exhibit said properties, and (iii) specific processing methods to achieve the desired material morphology and properties.
Mentors: Heng Li, Kenneth Benson, Ying Mu
REU Students: Zandria Hughes & Jahsiah Sanders

Project: Tunable Inductors for Adaptive Power Electronics
Professor: Nian Sun | nian@ece.neu.edu
Abstract: Because portable devices are on-the-move and in unknown environmental conditions, it is necessary to operate the power management devices in wide ranges of operating conditions. This research proposes to investigate novel compact and power efficient adaptive power electronics with voltage tunable magnetoelectric inductors. This is possible by building magnetoelectric magnetic/ferroelectric heterostructures, which allows for voltage control of magnetic permeability and therefore, voltage tunable inductors which are solenoid inductors with a magnetic/ferroelectric heterostructure core. Research will develop these devices and then utilize them in adaptive power supplies to improve the low efficiency of power electronics at low load, such as in the idle states of smartphones, laptops, etc.
Mentor: Yifan He
REU Student: Aaron Essex

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