Research and Development


Undergraduates dig deeper with research


By Ashley R. Smith

Some of the most meaningful undergraduate academic experiences come from research. Not only do students delve into a focused area of interest, they gain hands-on experience applying technical skills while putting their analytical and critical-thinking abilities to practice.

For students in the Watson School, opportunities abound; there are independent projects with faculty or organized programs such as the Research Experience for Undergraduates, the McNair Scholars Program, the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation summer research programs, the Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Research Program funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program offered through the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Highly motivated students are entering the workforce with a jump on their fellow graduates. They’ve worked with leading researchers, co-authored published papers and given conference presentations. Could you ask for better real-world preparation?

This spring, we asked four graduating seniors and a recent alumna about their exciting and unique research experiences as undergraduates.

Jesse ElweelJesse Elweel '11


How did you get into research at Binghamton?

Junior year, I took advanced computer architecture and it piqued my interest in the low-level details of modern computer design. I inquired with Professor Dmitry Ponomarev about his research in secure architecture in modern computing systems, and he offered me a position as project assistant. I was also accepted into Binghamton’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program to continue my research over the summer.

What are you working on?

My two active projects concern security in modern computer architectures. One evaluates performance and use of trusted platform modules and has yielded a paper that was accepted to the Design Automation Conference 2011. The second project is a hardware bounds-checking solution that utilizes multiple cores — we hope to have a paper ready soon.

Outcomes to date?

I’ve co-authored two published papers in the last year. I was very involved in crafting the second, so it was a really great feeling when it was accepted.

Has your experience influenced your plans?

I was inspired to pursue my PhD in hopes of becoming a professor of computer science with an active future in both teaching and research. I never considered a career in academia until I became a project assistant, but now I will be attending Binghamton’s graduate school in the fall.

What advice would you give to other students?

Research is a challenging yet rewarding experience in which you can work on global issues, from computer security to cleaner energy. Remember that research is incremental — a simple idea, when combined with others, can produce beautiful results.

Nick CiaravellaNick Ciaravella ’11


How did you first get into research at Binghamton University?

My interest in information security stemmed from Professor Scott Craver’s courses on cryptography and information security. I participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates program in cyber security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and soon after approached Professor Craver about opportunities with his projects.

What are you working on?

We’re developing a system called AINT (AINT Is Not There) — a steganographic file system that can be installed and run from an ordinary flash drive. While a cryptographic file system will protect your data by making it unreadable to another person, a steganographic file system will be completely hidden, so it appears to be nonexistent. Later, a user interface can be built on top of it to give it a completely hidden operating environment.

What has been your favorite moment?

When I was able to successfully boot and interact with our encrypted server on the flash drive, it was confirmation that our concept could actually work.

Your advisor is well known for his research; what has it been like working with him?

It’s been an excellent experience. Professor Craver and I discuss problems and possible solutions, and then set goals. He gives his input but also encourages me to share mine. We hope to submit a paper on AINT to a conference this year

Advice for others interested in undergraduate research?

Participate in a REU program, especially if you’re planning on attending graduate school. They are held at many universities and are a great way to gain research experience while making money, traveling and meeting people from around the country.

Julian BaldwinJulian Baldwin ’11


How did you get involved in research?

As I continued through the core curriculum, I started talking with my advisor, Professor Jacques Beaumont, about research opportunities within the department.

What are you working on?

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is an abnormal heart rhythm affecting more than two million Americans each year. Effects of preventative healthcare are not immediate and we will never be able to fully switch to preventative measures, so we must continue to hone treatments for patients who have developed the condition.

Our goal is to determine the design specifications for a cardiac stimulator that will detect the presence of AF and deliver the appropriate amount of current at the right time to re-initiate normal electrical activity in the heart.

What has been most rewarding?

Getting accepted to and presenting at the National Undergraduate Conference on Research this semester. Research requires a lot of work that doesn’t always return dividends quickly, so when something good happens it keeps the work interesting and on focus.

What are your future plans?

My research interests have swayed toward public health. I applied to a graduate program in public health microbiology and, if accepted, I want to examine the disease transmission shortcuts introduced to the human network by globalization.

Words of advice for others?

When we’re curious about how something works, we really have two choices and sometimes have no option to choose. We can either Google it to find out what other people have done, or be one of the first to figure it out.

Isaak GhebremicaeIsaak Ghebremicael ’11


How did you get into research at Binghamton?

In 2009, I began working with Professor Daryl Santos though the McNair Scholars Program and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation summer research programs. These programs pair minority students with a faculty research mentor to prepare students for graduate school.

What are you working on?

I’m working with Professor Santos on electronics packaging. We’re conducting a comparative study of different soldering systems used in electronics assembly by looking at the reliability (measured in hours to failure) of a soldering tip and the energy consumption of the different stations.

What has been the most valuable experience so far?

Working in the laboratory and seeing things hands-on instead of just in theory.

Have your experiences affected your plans?

Working with Professor Santos has been a great experience that will prepare me to pursue my master’s and PhD in engineering. After, I would like to get involved and help other minority students graduate from engineering or science fields.

What has come out of your research?

We received third place in the Best Paper category at the 2010 ASEE NCS Spring Conference in March for our paper, “A Comparison of Performance between Distance Learners and On-Campus Learners in a Graduate Level Quality Assurance Course for Engineers.” In July, I also presented our research at the 16th Annual University at Buffalo McNair Research Conference.

Advice for current and future students?

Take advantage of opportunities to work with professors during long breaks. You’ll develop good relationships with your professors and gain valuable experiences that will help you to be successful.

Maureen GundlachMaureen Gundlach ’06


How did you get into research at Binghamton University?

I applied to the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program at NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The Watson School chooses a few students each year who express an interest in research and assists in preparing their applications for the rigorous review process.

What were you researching?

A polymer called PBO – the main material in bulletproof vests. PBO is a very long-chain polymer that is spun into high-tensile strength yarn and woven into sheets of fabric. Many layers are then encased and worn as bulletproof vests. PBO degrades in the presence of heat, moisture, acid and mechanical damage, so the long-term project was to quantify these effects, and then contribute to national life-cycle standards of vests and legal cases regarding failures. I determined the effects of mechanical damage (such as repeated bending at the waist when sitting and standing) on the tensile strength of PBO fibers.

What do you remember most?

Sometimes we would bring our bulletproof vests to the ballistics lab. An intact vest would be strapped to a huge block of clay and shot at. When I stuck my thumb into the indentation and saw that the depth of penetration into an officer’s ribs correlated with the tensile strength of PBO, I had a great moment of, “Wow, my research can really affect people’s lives!”

How did your experiences influence your future plans?

Although I found the subject of my research very interesting, the daily work of research didn’t fit my personality. You learn from every experience and it can be just as helpful to eliminate possibilities as to find them.

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