SPUR 2021 Projects: Engineering

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SPUR projects are listed in alphabetical order by faculty mentor last name.

Chemical Engineering | College of Engineering
Global Change & Sustainability Center


Kerry Kelly, Assistant Professor

More than 90% of the world’s population lives in areas where air quality does not meet health standards. Indoor and outdoor air pollution cause serious adverse health effects, such as asthma, heart disease, cognitive impairment, and premature mortality. Recently studies have identified an increased risk of mortality due to COVID-19 in regions with elevated particulate air pollution and identified COVID-19 genetic material on air pollution particles. Indoor air quality is particularly important because most individuals spend over 80% of their time indoors. The goals of this project are twofold. First, the students will fabricate and test air quality sensors for measuring indoor air quality in the homes of 10 families living on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. These sensors will include digital and color-coded displays. Second, students will study how hosting sensors changes families’ exposure experiences, including their perceptions and behaviors. The exposure experience encapsulates the nexus between embodied health experiences and scientific understandings of pollutant exposures that influence decision-making regarding the management of risks. Students will: fabricate indoor air pollution sensors; conduct pre- and post-sensor installation interviews with the 10 families; administer surveys to families via a mobile app; analyze indoor air quality data; identify sources of air pollution and barriers to reducing exposures in families’ homes; and advise families on how to mitigate air pollution in their homes. This interdisciplinary research project will provide students with opportunities to construct sensors and conduct social science research and help local families improve indoor air quality.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, it is also part of the HAPPIEST program. THIS MEANS THAT IT IS OPEN ONLY TO UNIVERSITY OF UTAH APPLICANTS FROM RACIAL/ETHNIC MINORITY BACKGROUNDS. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

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Biomedical engineering | College of Engineering

Predicting Recovery in Heart Failure Using Microscopy and Image Processing
Frank Sachse, Associate Professor

Patients with end-stage heart failure (HF) benefit from the implantation of left ventricular assist devices (LVADs). The two primary functions of these devices are first to restore cardiac output by active propulsion of blood from the left ventricle to the aorta and second to produce mechanical unloading of the left ventricle. Several studies demonstrated that a significant number of patients (‘responders’) with end-stage dilated cardiomyopathy and end-stage HF can recover substantial cardiac function following left ventricular unloading.
Patients with chronic HF that rely on implanted LVADs are usually placed on a list of individuals destined to receive heart transplants. This list includes responders as well as non-responders. Clearly it would be desirable that potential responders undergo clinical protocols, which might lead to cardiac recovery and thus help to preserve hearts for other patients.

A critical barrier to the treatment of end-stage HF patients exists because, until now, it has not been possible to predict at time of LVAD implantation if a patient will respond to unloading with sustained cardiac recovery. Our prior studies suggest that we have a criterion that will allow us to decide whether a patient is likely to be a responder. The criterion is derived from microscopic images of cardiac tissue that are analyzed with methods of image processing.

The stipend for this SPUR project is funded by an American Heart Association grant awarded to Dr. Stavros Drakos, MD, PhD. The stipend for this project is $4,000 instead of $5,000 due to grant funding limitations.

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Electrical & Computer Engineering | College of Engineering


Benjamin Sanchez Terrones, Assistant Professor

Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death globally and was responsible for 9.6 million deaths in 2018. From all types of cancer, skin cancer is the most common cancer worldwide with approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. diagnosed every day. Despite the relevance, most dermatologists perform simple visual examination of skin lesions. Literature shows, however, that the accuracy of clinical diagnosis of skin cancer is far from 100%. The consequences of this lack of diagnostic certainty are, on the one hand, life-threatening skin cancer may be missed and, on the other, as a safety precaution, non cancerous lesions are unnecessarily surgically removed. To address this worldwide health challenge, we have created a new objective and quantitative diagnostic tool for non-visual diagnosis of skin cancer with potential to provide immediate impact to patient care, dramatically improve survival and reduce costs to the healthcare system on a global scale. By gathering and analyzing precise and localized electrical measurements in the skin, we can obtain reliable information of the condition of the skin unavailable through any other method. Through this simple and painless procedure, the physician will be able to objectively evaluate suspicious lesions prior to excision.

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Mechanical Engineering | College of Engineering

Roseanne Warren, Assistant Professor

The development of low-cost energy storage technologies is of critical importance for large-scale implementation of renewable energy, including wind and solar power. Batteries are a promising technology for grid-scale energy storage because of their high energy density and ability to be implemented in any location (unlike “site-specific” energy storage options such as pumped hydro). The current price of lithium-ion batteries is approximately $400/kWh, far exceeding the price target of $2-$80/kWh for grid-scale energy storage set by the US Department of Energy. Sodium-ion batteries are a promising, lower-cost alternative to lithium-ion batteries, however widespread implementation of sodium-ion batteries is currently limited by a lack of low cost, high energy density anode materials. The goal of this research is to explore the use of an ultra-low-cost carbon source–coal char–as a novel material for sodium-ion battery anodes. Utah has abundant coal resources that have traditionally been burned for power generation. As alternative energy resources (e.g. natural gas, solar, and wind) replace coal power generation, considerable research efforts are focused on finding alternative uses for Utah coal. Battery anodes made from coal char represent an exceptional high-value opportunity for Utah coal, with coal raw material costing approximately $0.01-$0.03/kg, and commercial carbon battery anodes valued at approximately $12.50/kg. In this research project, we are testing the effects of various post-processing methods on the sodium-ion battery performance of Utah coal char, with the goal of maximizing energy density for coal-derived anodes.

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