This year, thirteen teams led by USC PhD students have received $5,000 grants from the Office of the Provost to pursue their projects across a wide spectrum of fields. In all, 27 USC PhD students will partner with USC faculty mentors, USC master’s students, and with students, postdoctoral scholars and faculty from other universities during the 2012 academic year.
Meet the 2012 Cohort
Amniotic Fluid Stem Cells as a novel strategy to repopulate decellurized lung matrix
Orquidea Garcia and Astgik Petrosyan, both PhD students in the Systems Biology & Disease program of the Keck School of Medicine, will work with faculty mentors Laura Perin and David Warburton of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to improve lung transplantation rates by exploring the potential of amniotic fluid stem cells to seed and repopulate de-cellularized lung matrix. The team’s goal is to develop a method for producing transplantable, functional organ units that could one day meet the high demand for transplants from the more than 35 million Americans living with chronic lung disease.
An interactive virtual game to promote gross motor skills in children with autism spectrum disorder
PhD students Hyeshin Park and Na-hyeon Ko from the Division of Biokinesiology & Physical Therapy will partner with Alexander Reyes and Brendan Holt from the PhD program in Biomedical Engineering to design an interactive virtual game that will encourage children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to jump in order to promote the development of gross motor skills. The team hypothesizes that, as children with ASD engage better with interactive devices, this system might provide an effective tool for addressing the postural instabilities and coordination problems typically associated with ASD. The team’s system will detect the frequency and quality of a child’s jumping through an accelerometer attached to the child’s shoe and will communicate the accelerometer data to a video game receiver using Bluetooth technology. Faculty mentor Francisco Valero-Cuevas will oversee the project.
Creating a stress reducing and communication skills training computer game
PhD students Rong Xiao from the School of Social Work and Harshvardhan Vathsangam from the department of Computer Science will work together to translate the research of their project mentor, John Brekke, into practice by creating a communication-based computer game that will coach people to cope with stressful situations – providing a more cost-effective means of individualized intervention than therapy. The program, which Xiao and Vathsangam hope to translate to a smartphone-based platform, will allow users to interact with a stressful scenario while observing objective measures of their stress response through galvanic skin response and heart rate measurements. Users will be taught to practice relaxation and coping skills to reduce stress levels and win rewards within the game.
“Dark Flower” – the complete works of Nadia Anjuman translated into English from Farsi and set to music with an original composition
Diana Arterian, a PhD student from the Literature and Creative Writing program, will work with a PhD student at the University of Virginia and with faculty mentor Carol Muske-Dukes to translate Afghan poet Nadia Anjuman’s works into English. Anjuman wrote poetry that unflinchingly addressed her plight as an Afghan woman; work that helped bring greater attention to the oppression of women in Afghanistan but that is largely unknown to the western world. In addition to the translation, Arterian will work with a composer and vocalist to set a few of Anjuman’s poems to music, in both English and Farsi. These poems will be performed, along with readings of other of Anjuman’s poetry, at an event organized by Arterian and open to the entire university community.
Female youth for social change
Communication PhD students Alexandrina Agloro and Janeane Anderson will work with faculty mentor George Sanchez on a program designed to empower female youth of color to become social change agents in their homes, schools and neighborhoods by teaching them civic engagement and digital media skills. In conjunction with LA Metro Churches and teachers at John C. Fremont High School, Anderson and Agloro will conduct a year-long after-school program that teaches young women digital media skills for reflection and empowerment and to increase self-esteem and perceptions of personal agency while positively influencing their environment. Agloro and Anderson hope this program will become sustainable after their project concludes.
The HE-Book: a haptic electronic book
Clea Waite and Lauren Fenton, PhD candidates in the interdivisional Media Arts and Practice program, will work with project mentor Andreas Kratky to create an HE-Book, a new medium that integrates the hepacity and intimate quality of a book with an immersive, cinematic experience and the dynamic content composition possible with digital media. The team hopes to create a media object that can react in complex ways to the interaction of the user, providing an immersive, personalized experience. Incorporating and extending the set of sensors currently present in many mobile devices, Waite and Fenton intend to explore the potential of technologies such as flexible OLED displays, pico projectors, mobile devices and a variety of physical-computing sensors such as flex sensors, pressure sensors and gyroscopes.
Mobile mesh networks for civic engagement and crisis communication
Communication PhD students Andrew Schrock and Tisha Dejmanee will partner with Adam Liszkiewicz from the Media Arts and Practice PhD program and with faculty mentor Anne Balsamo to prototype, test and integrate mesh network hotspots that can be quickly deployed in urban environments to connect citizens to information and communication technologies in times of local or national crisis. The network connection points will be mobile, capable of being deployed in a solar-powered backpack. The team hopes such a system will prove effective not only during times of crisis, but that their networks might aid in alleviating the “digital divide” of socio-economic class by connecting residents of South Los Angeles.
ParTour: participatory mapping for civic engagement and city government planning
Communication PhD students Benjamin Stokes and George Villaneuva will work with project mentor Francios Bar to develop a crowd-sourcing technology that will maximize citizen engagement in neighborhood development with the goal of creating positive public policy impact. Villaneuva and Stokes will create digital “policy maps” of neighborhoods in City Council District 13 and in South Los Angeles that document what makes each neighborhood distinctive, and that articulate the change priorities of the areas’ residents. Using their phones to submit texts and audio that can be geographically mapped, citizens will be able to document assets and problems in their communities and communicate their concerns to city planners. Villaneuva and Stokes hope this investigation will provide answers to how crowd-sourcing might influence city planning.
Rejecting the vision of “the Well Frog”: tapping, developing, and rewarding innovative capacities through master’s education
Education PhD candidates Ji Zhou, Michelle Castellanos and Sable Manson will work with faculty mentor Darnell Cole to develop a cross-sectional survey to assess the quality of master’s programs regarding their effectiveness in tapping, developing and rewarding students’ innovative capacities. The survey will be developed following an exploratory research phase, and will be piloted using USC master’s students for instrument revision and improvement. After completing the project, the team plans to apply for federal and foundation grants to apply their methods of survey implementation and program assessment nationally.
Robotic collision avoidance using real time input from locust brains
Neuroscience PhD candidate Farhan Baluch will team with a postdoctoral fellow from Baylor College of Medicine, a professor of Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, and USC faculty mentor Laurent Itti to develop a complete system to study responses of the locust visual system to natural stimuli. Locusts possess an anatomically and physiologically unique system for detecting looming stimuli that pose an imminent threat of collision, thus making research on locusts relevant to the field of robotics collision avoidance. Baluch’s team will tether locusts to a mobile robot unit – obtaining responses from the locust’s collision avoidance neuron and using those responses to steer the robot clear of obstacles. They will, for the first time, establish a sensory-motor loop between a living biological system and computer hardware and provide the ability to study the nervous system of an animal outdoors. The data obtained from this experiment will help the team understand the means by which the locust visual system responds to natural stimuli, information that will be important in building hardware sensors that provide robust collision avoidance.
Social networkology: developing a Facebook application to understand on-line social networks, peer relationships, and mental health
Psychology PhD students Ilana Kellerman and Ali Cram will work with Psychology faculty Gayla Margolin and David Schwartz along with project mentor Sonya Negriff from Social Work to study the relations between young people’s on-line communication, face-to-face interaction, and mental health. Aimed at gaining an ecologically valid understanding of the interacting influences on young people’s off- and on-line communication, the team will create a Facebook application that will download and analyze participants’ on-line social exchanges. The data gleaned from the application will be used to investigate the impact that off- and on-line social interactions have on college students’ social satisfaction and mental health.
TrojanFound – a new generation lost and found system for USC campus
Jiangyang Zhang, a PhD candidate in Electrical Engineering, plans to work with Marshal MBA student Serena Lei and Sol Price Public Policy master’s student Ting Yan to ensure no student need follow the same frustrating path Zhang took when he lost his keys on campus. While the Department of Public Safety operates the official USC campus lost and found, there are three other online lost and found databases and over 100 other lost and found services on campus, all located in different USC buildings with little communication between them. It is often the case that items are mistakenly considered “lost” not because they haven’t been found but because they are kept somewhere unknown. The team, mentored by Helena Yli-Renko, will work to create a technologically-based lost and found system that will integrate all lost and found data into one central database, while a mobile application will allow those who have found items to document what they have found and where, while those who lose items can post messages detailing what they are looking for.
Ultrasound imaging and automatic quantification of glottal dynamics during speech
Linguistics PhD candidate Ben Parrell and Computer Science PhD candidate Adam Lammert will team with project mentor Khalil Iskarous to develop a novel, completely noninvasive method for measuring vocal fold movement with ultrasound. Current methods for recording vocal fold movement are highly invasive – a probe is inserted through the nose into the back of the mouth – and even with a local anesthetic, can only be used for about 20 minutes. The team will use noninvasive ultrasonic imaging to examine the relationship between vocal fold movement magnitude and duration in Spanish, testing how these factors relate to the control of vocal fold vibration. The techniques Parrell and Lammert will develop may provide a new tool for research in many areas, including linguistics, speech motor control, speech and voice disorders and clinical analysis.