Dozens of NYU engineering and science students gathered in Brooklyn Commons Park on Friday to show off innovative projects they have worked on for the last year at the Tandon Research Excellence Exhibit. Breakthroughs in robotics, urban engineering, sustainability and health among others were laid out on MetroTech Walk, where students explained how their inventions worked and ran demonstrations for their science-minded visitors.
From the latest lunar rover from the NASA Robotic Mining Competition to hyperlocal flood sensors to support flood response and urban resilience planning in NYC, the fair was composed of 36 different projects, most of which have been awarded in well recognized science competitions across the country.
“As a scientist, sometimes you can get lost in the deep science of anything, but this time we wanted to focus on designing something people wanted,” said Mira Jagtiani, a senior studying Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Jagtiani’s team designed a home test, “Flutec” that detects viral diseases such as HIV or the flu, inspired by COVID-19 saliva tests which, according to field research, are the preferred way to get tested by many.
Jagtiani’s team, iGem NYU, won second place in the Vertically Integrated Projects category — long-term, large-scale developments that unite education, research, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The first place was awarded to a project dubbed “From Muscle Vibration towards Gesture Prediction,” a wearable human-machine interface developed to help people with sensorimotor disabilities, which affect the way people interpret sensory input and how they react to it. The award-winning project aims to help with motor performance and at-home rehabilitative exercises.
Now that they’ve finished and exhibited Flutec, the iGem team is getting started on a new project, aiming to design something to help to ease menstrual pain.
NYU students and staff hope that the fair, held out in the open so anyone can walk through and engage with the projects and the engineers who built them, will draw more people towards science and engineering — especially the next generation of engineers.
“Every year I look forward to our annual Research Excellence Expo, which allows us to show the community how engineers, including students on our VIP teams, are impacting society in positive ways,” said NYU Tandon Dean Jelena Kovačević, in a release. “Because we are able to resume the expo in-person this year after pivoting virtually for the pandemic, visitors can once again see, touch, hear and interact with many of these technologies and practical solutions to problems we all face, allowing us to inspire others — particularly young people — to join us in becoming inventors and innovators.”
Despite the popular misconception that science and engineering are male-dominated fields, there are just as many women in engineering positions as men — if not more.
Many of the top research institutions in the country have high graduation rates for women —around 93 percent or over. Enrollment between male and females in engineering schools are either evenly split or in many cases, favored toward women. Ranked one of the top engineering schools in the country, 46 percent of Tandon’s 7,000 students are women. Yet, female students still feel they are not given the same treatment their male cohorts get.
“When one of our male teammates is present in a demonstration, the questions go straight to them,” said Nicole Fraynd, chemical and biomolecular engineering student and one of the nine female members of iGem NYU. The team is formed by 11 undergraduate students, of which nine identify as female and two as male. “We have to constantly convince teachers, competitions’ judges and people we demonstrate our projects so that we know exactly what we are doing. It makes it hard to feel empowered.”
After her team was awarded one of the highest recognition at the exhibit, Fraynd reached out to the Brooklyn Paper. “I am thankful that opportunities like NYU iGEM allow us to show our hard work, passion and knowledge to the public and further push women in science forward,” she said.