This week, nearly 50 of the year’s most promising NJIT student-researchers gathered to present their work to the campus community at the university’s annual year-end research competition — the 2019 Dana Knox Showcase “A Glimpse Into the Future.”

At this year’s event, held open to the public on the second floor of the university’s Campus Center, students presented highlights from their research to attendees and more than 20 faculty-judges through poster demonstrations that ran the spectrum of scientific discovery at NJIT — from research exploring the social phenomena of live-stream shopping, to evolutionary study of 20 million-year-old Dominican ants encased in ancient amber, to improved space weather forecasting systems, to unique designs for filtering water efficiently using microwave technology.

Environmental Engineering Ph.D. student, Xiaonan Shi, describes her recent research involving the use of nanobubbles to improve environmental remediation efforts and enhance agricultural growth.

The three-hour event concluded with an award ceremony joined by NJIT Provost and Senior Executive Vice President Fadi P. Deek, who handed out awards for the event’s outstanding graduate and undergraduate research presenters.

“Our collective knowledge increases through contributions made by people in all disciplines and of all ages,” said Provost Deek. “The Dana Knox Student Research Showcase celebrates the achievements of our undergraduate and graduate student researchers.”

In the end, biology student Naira Abou-Ghali '20 took the competition's undergraduate gold medal for the presentation of her research, which involved the use of optogenetics to understand the role of a regulatory protein in neurulation — a stage in embryonic development that gives rise to the neural tube, which is a precursor to brain and spinal cord development. Her project’s use of optogenetics — a technique that changes the behavior of cells by genetically modifying them to express light-sensitive proteins — enabled Abou-Ghali’s team to track and better understand genetic disruptions that can happen during specific timeframes in development.

"I was both surprised and humbled to win, and I am immensely grateful to the McNair Program, my research mentor and the judges for this opportunity," said Abou-Ghali, also a student at Albert Dorman Honors College. 

"We were able to over-activate a key protein in development, namely Rac1, using this technique," Abou-Ghali explained. "By increasing the levels of Rac1 present at neurulation, we learned that it causes defects in development."
The competition’s first-place medal for graduate research went to Huyain Cao '20, a doctoral student in computer science, for her presentation exploring ways to optimize the performance of scientific workflows and data management systems that are increasingly being adopted by businesses and organizations in the “big data” era. Her work was previously featured at the 2018 Cluster, Cloud and Grid Computing (CCGrid) conference in Washington, DC.

“I was here last year and didn’t win, and this year there were so many good presenters again, so I am very happy,” said Cao. “I put a lot of effort in my research to have it published and featured at the CCGrid conference last year. I also worked on my presentation to make sure my slides were clean and easy to understand for people who may not know much about big data. Overall, I think I worked hard for this but at the same time, I also feel lucky.”

Silver medal honors among graduate students went to Viacheslav M. Sadykov, a doctoral student in applied physics, for developing the Intelligent Database of Solar Events and Active Regions — a database designed to improve analysis and forecasts of space weather events.

The silver medal for undergraduate research was awarded to sophomore biology student Geetasravya Vegunta for her work investigating the role of activated microglia cells —known as potent mediators of inflammation — in cases of blast-induced traumatic brain injury, typically suffered by soldiers in combat.

Biology sophomore and student at Albert Dorman Honors College, Geetasravya Vegunta, collects her award alongside NJIT Provost Fadi P. Deek.

The undergraduate bronze medal went to civil engineering student Mohammed Hassan for his presentation on concrete management solutions. Graduate bronze honors were co-awarded to Ryan Allaire, a doctoral student in applied mathematics for his work titled, “Thermal Effects in Nanoscale Liquid Metal Assembly,” and Ogochukwu Yvonne Enekwizu for her presentation, "Vapor supersaturation controls the properties and impacts of atmospheric soot."

This year, the Dana Knox Student Research Showcase — originally called “Provost’s Student Research Day” and later named in honor of its distinguished founder and Master Teacher at NJIT, Dana Knox (1955-2008) — celebrated its 15th consecutive year highlighting the impact of student research. This year's annual showcase is the first held since NJIT was formally recognized for its "high research activity" with an R1 designation by the Carnegie Classification® — a distinction held by only 131 of the top research institutions in the nation. 

For more information about the showcase, visit: https://www.njit.edu/provost/events/studentresearchshowcase/.