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Lake Highland Preparatory School remains the preeminent STEM school in Central Florida. We offer an exciting, challenging, and stimulating science program for Pre-K through 12th-grade students both inside and outside the classroom. We prepare our students to lead the next generation as scientists, researchers, physicians, and engineers! Click here for more information on STEM at LHP!



STEM Initiative

LHPS offers vast opportunities in STEM subjects, including exciting field trip opportunities. Our school’s unique STEM Initiative provides hands-on learning experiences for students at scientific facilities throughout Central Florida. Students from all grade levels engage in exciting learning opportunities and learn about scientific career opportunities. Demand for professionals trained in STEM disciplines is high and projected to grow rapidly in the coming decades. LHPS is dedicated to preparing our next generation of scientific leaders. Highlander parents provide or facilitate many of these experiences.

Recent STEM initiative experiences include:

  • Global Robotics Institute (GRI)  
    LHPS Lower, Middle, and Upper School students used training simulators in simulation exercises. Upper School students observed a robotic surgery, and students of all grade levels met GRI surgeons who answered questions and discuss career possibilities.   
  • Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA)
    Lower, Middle, and Upper School students learned about video game design and worked with motion capture technology and Oculus VR (Virtual Reality) glasses.  The students designed “mock” games and met with FIEA graduate students to discuss their projects and future career opportunities in the computer gaming and related businesses.
  • Translational Research Institute
    Juniors and seniors in the Upper School participated in a study using MRI technology to evaluate muscle activity in human legs.  Students learned about MRI use for this application and others.  They worked with TRI staff to collect and analyze MRI data.  

Student comments on STEM field trips

  • FIEA Trip—“I enjoyed the entire field trip, especially the prototyping process we used to create our own games. This process is vital to STEAM (A=arts), and I thought it was a great to get everyone - regardless of their individual focus on robotics, physics, or art - working together.”  
  • GRI Trip-“ I loved using the simulators and watching how surgeons controlled them to take out the prostate during surgery.”

LHPS also offers special programs to build critical-thinking and problems solving skills, which are essential for the next generation.

Future Problem Solvers

Future Problem Solving (FPS) is a critical-thinking and creative problem-solving program that provides challenging, competitive experiences and develops intellectual, creative and interpersonal skills. Participants are 4th - 10th graders who work in teams to address and research multiple problems.  Each year, five topics are presented to the students addressing issues in business/economics, science/technology, and social/political ideas.  Participation in Future Problem Solving empowers students through developing their skills, confidence, and awareness so they can make a difference in the rapidly-changing world. Lake Highland students have qualified to participate in the FPS International Competition the past two years.

Odyssey of the Mind

Odyssey of the Mind is a program for students in grades K – 12th that enriches our curriculum.  Student teams compete to solve real-world situations and problems using higher-order thinking skills such as creative and critical thinking and technical and artistic expression.  The program requires students to combine technology and artistry, competition and cooperation, and risk-taking and research.  Every year, teams choose a long-term problem that requires knowledge in engineering, technology and mathematics.  Odyssey of the Mind is student-driven and helps students develop leadership and cognitive skills.



ASPIRE (Advanced STEM Program emphasizing Internship and Research Experiences)

ASPIRE matches highly motivated science and math students in the Upper School with leading researchers and professionals at research facilities in Central Florida.  Students actively participate in current scientific studies and research under the direction of their professional mentors, gaining first-hand analytical and research skills comparable to those learned by undergraduate and graduate level students.  These in-depth scientific studies have resulted in scientific discoveries, in students listed as co-authors of articles in professional science journals, and in presentations to scientific panels. Lake Highland’s uniquely skilled and highly qualified ASPIRE students win a significant number of top awards each year in local, regional, national, and international competitions.



  • 2018-19 Senior ASPIRE student projects 
    2017-18 Senior ASPIRE student projects 
    2016-17 Senior ASPIRE student projects  
    2015-16 Senior ASPIRE student projects

    2014-15 Senior ASPIRE student projects
  • What ASPIRE students say about the program
    • “Through the privilege of working at the lab, I am able to experience science at a whole new level.  The research is interesting, thought provoking, and a great experience before I pursue college research.”
    • “ASPIRE has been the most eye-opening and mind-opening aspect of my high school experience.  My time in the ASPIRE classroom has provided me with support, guidance, and inspiration for my research endeavors.  My time in the lab has familiarized me with the problem-solving, challenge, and creativity skills implicit in scientific inquiry.  Participating in science fairs and competitions has connected me with peers and mentors from scientific communities all over the world.  I am very lucky to have been a part of this program.”
    • “ASPIRE has greatly enriched my high school experience and has put me on a track for future successes in any STEM career I choose.  I have been exposed to challenging, graduate-level research, which has opened my mind and expanded my base of knowledge.  ASPIRE is an amazing program and anyone who decides to take on the challenge will have his or her life changed for the better.”
  • What ASPIRE scientists and researchers say about the program and their ASPIRE students
    • I have mentored multiple undergraduate students and our current ASPIRE student has been one of my favorite students.  I am very impressed with her understanding of most of the experiments in the lab. I also appreciate how she is able to ask questions when they arise instead of making assumptions and performing experiments incorrectly.  Furthermore, I am very impressed with her independence when it came to constructing her research project. I have multiple undergraduate students expect me to construct their posters for them for various projects and the ASPIRE student actually constructed her project independently and then asked for feedback. Mentoring in ASPIRE has been a pleasure.
    • It has been very rewarding to watch our ASPIRE student become a young scientist and researcher. Helping him understand our project has helped me to become a better presenter and scientist. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to help nurture this young man’s growth in the science field.

Science Fair 

  • Ninth-grade Honors Biology students participate in the annual LHPS Science Fair.  Developing an independent science project teaches students critical-thinking and problem-solving skills needed for success in college and in their careers.   
  • Winners of the school science fair compete in the Dr. Nelson Ying Orange County Science Exposition.  Students who win in the county fair are invited to compete in the Florida Science and Engineering Fair and many go on to compete and often place in the national Intel Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).



Lockheed Martin EWeek Robotics Competition


Each spring to celebrate National Engineers Week, Lockheed Martin hosts a robotic competition for local high schools.  More than twenty of our outstanding engineering students compete and create a robot or participate in a game or challenge.  In preparation, our students work with Lockheed mentors who are excited to share their passion for engineering, science and mathematics. 



FIRST Robotics Competition

FIRST Robotics is here at Lake Highland!  This national robotics competition was created For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST).  All students are welcome to join this exciting team as we prepare for our first Tech Challenges in the spring and work towards Nationals!
I/ITSEC Conference

Each year, LHPS engineering students attend the I/ITSEC conference, the world’s largest Modeling, Simulation and Training conference.  More than 500 exhibiting companies show off the latest technology for many industrial and commercial simulation applications including medical, warfare, tactical, mechanical, 3D printing, flight, motion capture, hologram and virtual reality. 
To learn more about any of these exciting opportunities at Lake Highland, please contact one of our STEM coordinators:

We look forward to hearing from students who want to learn more about STEM opportunities and from parents and community members who want to be involved.  Who knows- you could be our next ASPIRE mentor or help organize our newest STEM experience!



STEM is robust in our Middle School classrooms!   Our main focus in the 7th and 8th grades is to foster in our students a love of learning by engaging them in hands-on, project-based curricula.  A variety of STEM-based projects are offered in our science, math, art and technology classes along with our nationally-recognized robotics club.  Our dedicated teachers engage students in interesting and stimulating lessons.  The Middle School is committed to preparing our students for the challenges and opportunities they have awaiting them in the Upper School.

  • Each February, our Middle School Math Team participates in Mathcounts competition.  We have advanced to the state finals 6 times in the last seven years.  Last year, we placed in the top ten schools at the State Mathcounts tournament.  
  • The Highland Hurricanes (our FIRST FLL Robotics team in the Middle School) compete annually with a robot they design, built, and program.  As part of the competition, the team devises a new technology learning tool to help others while developing problem-solving and cooperative teamwork skills of their own!
  • Middle School students engage in a number of projects throughout the year designed to build their problem-solving skills such as the Rocket Project where students design and build a pressurized rocket that will fly at least 50 feet into the air and return a raw egg in a nose cone back to earth unbroken.  The students also compete to design bridges that are evaluated on their structural strength.
    For more information about STEM programming in the Middle School, please contact Cady Brewer (cbrewer@lhps.org).



Lower School students are actively engaged in science both in their classrooms and through the Science Enrichment program.  Classroom science lessons begin with weekly theme-based units starting in Pre-Kindergarten to daily science classes in later grades.  Lower School students develop understanding and skills needed to become problem-solvers in the scientific and technological world.  Lake Highland has created two Science Enrichment Laboratories for its elementary students—one for primary grades and one for the upper grades.  Our two full-time science enrichment teachers have their doctorates in Science Education, and they focus on inspiring knowledge, curiosity, collaboration and problem solving.  The Lower School offers several science exploration classes during After School Academy and the Summer Spectacular.  Courses include LEGOS, Entomology, Inventions, Zoology and Marine Biology. 

Einstein Girls

Einstein Girls is a unique after-school academy for fifth and sixth grade girls who love science and want to study with classmates who share the same interests.  We explore special STEM topics, conduct experiments, participate in scientific research, investigate potential scientific careers, and meet women who are accomplished in the STEM disciplines.  The academy encourages and directs girls interested in STEM to success in their science and math classes in the Middle and Upper School, college, and later in the real world.

For more information about our Lower School programs, please contact Jill Scott (jscott@lhps.org).



Senior ASPIRE Student Projects for 2018-19.

Exploring a Novel Method of Foveated Rendering in Virtual Reality with an Object Based Approach
By Varun Aggarwal

Rendering virtual environments for simulated reality applications often proves to be a challenge due to the high demands of simulations capable of imparting enough detail to appease the human eye. Traditional simulated environments typically waste processing power rendering entire scenes in high detail, limiting simulations to high-end computers. This reduces the viability of virtual and augmented reality as a technology that can be used to benefit average consumers. Most of this detail is wasted, as human eyes are only capable of perceiving detailed information in a small central field of view. This research attempts to create a rendering system that reduces level of detail of objects in the peripheral region to reduce graphical processing requirements, a method called foveated rendering. The rendering system, designed for the Unity3D platform-using JavaScript, loads objects into an adaptive level of detail reduction tool on startup, and creates copies of each model reduces down to a predetermined minimum level of detail. These secondary models are stored in memory and are retrieved to replace full-detail primary models by the rendering system. In each frame, the renderer tracks the current center of the field of view and the acceleration of the head-mounted display to determine a cone of foveation and calls primary and secondary models based on object location relative to the cone. In initial testing, frame rates of simulations run with foveated rendering are on average 13% higher than the corresponding control simulations, with an average increase in memory use of 17%.

Project Mentor: Denise Nicholson, Ph.D. SoarTech



Adaptation of an Oscillating Reaction for Bioanalytical Application and Colorimetric Biosensing
By Parnika Agrawal

The overarching goal of this project was to develop a novel, easily accessible method for bioanalysis that combines the functions of DNA, an enzymatic reaction, and colorimetric sensing.  If the mediating reactant of a traditional oscillating iodine reaction is adjusted to accommodate hemin, and the acidity of the reaction is reduced to bioanalytical conditions, then the reaction will function via the catalysis of a hemin specific deoxyribozyme aptamer.  To ensure that the results of the experiment arose from the specific intended variations in the oscillating reaction – the adaptations and modifications that the project was studying – the Briggs-Rauscher oscillating reaction was first reproduced in its existing and most standard conditions. Following the success of this initial stage and establishment of a control, a step-wise process was implemented to study the removal and replacement of original reagents. H2O was replaced with a bio analytically compatible buffer. Following this successful development of a buffer, manganese (II) sulfate was replaced with hemin at varying concentrations. Solutions were still prepared similarly to the original reaction, and data was recorded as the visible color of the solutions from start to finish in each reaction. Successful color changes were recorded for the control reactions as well as the first segment of the step-wise replacement. However, a color change was not observed in any of the reactions containing hemin, and thus the data indicates that under the given conditions, hemin cannot be incorporated into the reaction, and we fail to reject the null hypothesis. 

Project Mentor: Dmitry Kolpashchikov, Ph.D., University of Central Florida Department of Chemistry




Evaluating the Validity of Virtual Avatars Based on Their Facial Expressions
By Pooja Kanumalla

Virtual environments are used for an increasing number of applications. It is vital that avatars in these environments be perceived as “realistic” to effectively utilize virtual training for teachers, students, etc. To be perceived as “realistic,” clothing, actions, facial expressions, and other parts of these avatars should closely mirror reality. This study has previously explored positioning and external features of a certain group of avatars. This year, it explored these avatars’ different facial expressions via a survey. The survey was administered to forty-five teachers, since this lab’s main focus is teacher training, about the five avatars being studied. In order to confirm or deny teacher results, the images were tested on a software that evaluates levels of different emotions based on a given picture or face. To validate the effectiveness of this technology, it was tested on images that are commonly agreed upon as full of an emotion. For example, if there was an image of a face that was commonly agreed upon as happy, if the technology confirmed this, it would be considered valid for the purposes of this study. A linear regression t-test for slope was used to detect any differences between adult and software responses. In general, software responses correlated poorly with teacher responses. There was some association (either p-value, slope, or correlation coefficient) between group responses for Sean, Maria, and Ed, and virtually none for Kevin and CJ.

Project Mentor: Darin Hughes, Ph.D., Lake Highland Preparatory School





Analysis of Erythrocyte Poikilocytosis Caused by Environmental Changes in Sickle Cell Anemia
By Priyanka Khushal

Due to "extreme" weather concerns, poikilocytosis counts from sickle cell anemia patients and environmental factors were correlated to try and give advance notice to patients when conditions became "unfavorable," resulting in them going into crisis. In order to do this, the researcher and a hematologist examined blood smears and counted damaged, misshaped cells, called poikilocytes using a Miller Disc reticle. These counts were computed into a poikilocyte percentage, which was compared to the following environmental factors: low and average temperatures, barometric pressure, and humidity. A correlation was found due to a clump of the environmental data found when each factor was plotted against the poikilocyte percentages. All of the percentages were found to be at, slightly below, or above 4% poikilocytosis, which is also significant, since it shows that a significant amount of cells have irreparable damage done to them, spurred by an onset of "bad" weather. Based on this data, the Miller Disc is expected to be a device that could help hematologist’s measure treatment efficiencies through a semi-quantitative evaluation of poikilocytes. In addition, the results of this experiment may help to notify patients with sickle cell anemia when the climate can be detrimental to their health. This is especially important with the onset of "extreme" weather due to climate change, gradually being more apparent with a weakening polar jet stream.

Project Mentor: Jill Smith, MLS (ASCP) SH, Orlando Regional Medical Center



Development of Photoacid Protonated Polyaniline Polymer as a Conductor
By Julia Wu

The goal of this project is to develop a cheap, efficient method of making a polymer conductive. Polyaniline (PANI) polymers have the property of having two forms: a deprotonated, resistive form and a protonated, conductive form. This means that if we can find a cheap way of doping the PANI into the conductive form, then we have found a much cheaper source of conductivity and energy storage and with the expensive metals that are currently being used in the status quo. The norm is that the doping happens with strong acids, which are harmful to use when the PANI coating is on top of another material because the strong acid can easily melt the other materials. This experiment uses photoacids to redope the PANI with protons and make it conductive because photoacids are less harmful and easily triggered with light to donate their protons. The experiments show both how much energy the PANI can store and how conductive it will become with different concentrations of photoacids.  at 5.04 Amps will store the most power and energy in the polymer, and a photoacid at a concentration of 2.5 ul will allow for the greatest conductivity. This shows that it is possible to make the polymer conductive with the photoacid, but the question becomes whether this conductivity could be equivalent to that of a strong acid redope.

Project Mentor: Karin Chumbimuni-Torres, Ph.D., University of Central Florida Department of Chemistry



Senior ASPIRE Student Projects for 2017-18.

Differential Inflammatory Genes Expression Between the Inflamed and the Unaffected Gut Tissues of Inflammatory Bowel Disease Patients
By Radhika Desai 

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory condition of the human gastrointestinal tract with no known cure; periods of subsided inflammation are followed by periods of hyper-inflammation. The two major disease types are Ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn's disease (CD). The disease’s immunology was studied to understand the pathogenesis. Chronic intestinal inflammation is promoted by immune cell-produced cytokines. Gene expression of the cytokines in diseased tissue was compared to that of healthy tissue to determine the role cytokines play in the immune response. IBD surgical patient tissue was obtained and, after tissue processing, Total RNA was extracted. RT-qPCR was conducted to determine the gene expression of various targeted genes and the roles of the cytokines present at the site of the immune response. A Human Inflammation 96-well plate was run to further study the multifactorial pathogenesis of IBD. Data demonstrates that IBD is a multifactorial inflammatory process in which cytokines play a major role, and that the defective negative regulatory mechanism also contributes to the pathogenesis of this disease; it also provides additional insight for the development of IBD therapeutic targets. Future work includes recruiting more cases and further investigating the mechanism of differential cytokine gene expression.

Project Mentor: Sarah Glover, PhD and Jian Li, PhD, University of Florida




Diffusion of Anti-Inflammatory Components of Sesame Seed Oil
Through Biological Membrane Barriers
By Meghana Ganjam

Multiple chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease account for over half the deaths in the United States. Inflammation plays a key role in each of these diseases,and to this day and age there are limited effective therapies that target inflammation. Sesame seed oil, specifically sesame seed oil aqueous extract (SOAE), has been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory properties. The purpose of this project was to test to see if the components of sesame seed oil that are readily diffusible through biological barriers, such as intestines, are similar to SOAE. To test this, mouse intestines were cleaned and incubated with sesame seed oil and placed in beakers of distilled water. After 24 hours, the solution from the beaker that consisted of distilled water and the components of sesame seed oil that diffused through the membrane was lyophilized and analyzed with both spectrophotometry and thin layer chromatography (TLC) tests to show the similarities between the diffusant and SOAE. The similarities shown by these tests through the spectrophotometer graphs and TLC test show that the components that make up the lyophilized solution and the SOAE are similar. This is significant as it indicated that these components are readily diffusible through biological barriers, so if this solution were to beused in medicine it could effectively diffuse into the body.

Project Mentor: Dr. Sampath Parthasarathy, Ph.D, MBA, Chandrakala Aluganti Narasimhulu, Ph. D., UCF Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences





Novel Agarose Processing Techniques: Design and Characterization of a 
Sturdy, Porous Foam for Controlled Topical Drug Delivery
By Hamzah Jhaveri

Rapidly emergent within the scientific community are drug delivery systems, complex amalgamations of medicinals consolidated into a controllable vehicle that seeks to maximize immediacy and efficiency of medical relief. The field of hydrogel drying holds much promise for such a vehicle. This research aimed to design a sturdy agarose foam as a system for controlled topical drug delivery. The first phase of research was dedicated to developing a fundamental processing technique for constructing foam: this was desiccating an agitated agar gel preform in vacuum. Then, the foam’s physical characteristics were analyzed. Finally, the foam was impregnated in two phases. In the first phase, the foam was doped with an aesthetic dopant to demonstrate the foam’s conformity of appearance. In the second phase, a dopant, fluorescein, was released from the foam at controllable rates into deionized water. A novel, light, organic, porous foam was successfully produced and characterized. The visual dopant displayed the foam’s conformity of appearance, while the controlled release of fluorescein basally modeled the foam’s targeted application as a medicinal delivery system geared towards recovery from exhaustive violence, such as after terrorist attacks or combat situations. Preliminary bacterial testing has been initiated to assess antibacterial release from foam samples and efficacy on bacterial cultures. Alternative applications of the foam extend into the field of environmental engineering, demonstrating its versatile potentials.

Project Mentor: Dr. Ayman Abouraddy, Dr. Joshua Kaufman and Mishal Patel, University of Florida CREOL, The College of Optics and Photonics



Intestinal Scaffolding of HL-1 Cardiomyocytes as a Pumping Assist Solution to Heart Failure
By Rithvik Seela

About 5 million Americans suffer from congestive heart failure, which interferes with the heart’s ability to properly pump blood throughout the body. Technological advancements in biomedical sciences have created a risky to this problem: battery driven ventricular assist devices (VADs). They endow an artificial way to allow the heart to continue pumping blood throughout the body, but take hundreds of lives due to complications like infection and mechanical failure, making it evident that a less synthetic solution is needed. It was hypothesized that decellularized intestinal segments could be used as scaffolds to grow beating HL-1 cells, which might beat in unison as a "pump." Intestine was provided from a lab mouse, cut into smaller pieces, removed of cells, then seeded and cultured with HL-1 Cardiac myocytes.  The resulting segment was analyzed for confluence and beating. Culturing methods successfully grew beating heart cells on the intestinal segment. HL-1 cells that attached and grew in clusters on the intestinal
wall had synchronized beat rates that were slower on average than non-clustered cells. However, a few cells lost the beating phenotype. If culturing methods are optimized to yield an entirely beating segment, the result would be ground breaking towards remedying congestive heart failure.

Project Mentor: Dr. Sampath Parthasarathy, Ph.D, MBA, Chandrakala Aluganti Narasimhulu, Ph. D., UCF Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences




Senior ASPIRE Student Projects for 2016-17.

Optimization of Highly Selective and Novel Anti-malarial Compounds
By Vrinda Madan, Regeneron STS Finalist 

Affecting over 500 million people a year, malaria still inflicts a huge toll on humanity. Plasmodium falciparum, the causative agent of malaria, is rapidly gaining resistance against current first-line treatments. This makes it increasingly important to find new and novel anti-malarials. In a previous research study, 24 potent anti-malarial hit compounds were uncovered from a biochemical library of >75,000 compounds. These hits were prioritized based on high selectivity, structural uniqueness, and stage-specific cellular mechanisms of action. This prioritization revealed compound 1401 as a front runner for further hit development. The purpose of this study is to analyze the structural attributes of 1401 to determine which parts contribute most to its anti-malarial activity.
A generic structure of compound 1401 was created and nine analogs were derived based off of it. These analogs were mined for using public chemical databases like PubChem and Hit2Lead. Using a SYBR Green I Assay, the nine scaffolds were then analyzed for their IC50 values—a measure of a compound’s anti-malarial activity. The study revealed important information about how 1401’s structure contributes to its anti-malarial activity. Some trends include: loss of ring system around R2 leads to a loss in anti-malarial activity, increasing the complexity of R4 leads to a general decrease in activity, and increasing the bulk of the structure around R3 increases the activity. This information can allow for the optimization of compound 1401 and can also be a valuable asset to chemical engineers looking to synthesize new anti-malarials.

Project Mentor: Debopam Chakrabarti, PhD and Bracken Roberts, PhD Candidate , UCF Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences




Development of Electrochemical Methods of Cleaning Screen-Printed Gold Electrodes
By Ria Bhaskar

Screen-printed gold electrodes (SPEs) are a common platform for use in electrochemical sensors. However, these commercially manufactured electrodes are relatively expensive and often times can only be used for one experiment. In this project, the development of a method to restore the electrodes to their original surface area and uniformity was created in hopes that the SPEs could be used for additional experiments.  It is predicted that if the electrodes are similar in nature, then the cleaning process should have at least partial effectiveness in restoring the gold surface. The cleaning process developed is based on the traditional method used for gold disc electrodes (a common form used in literature). The process involves using techniques such as cyclic and differential pulse voltammetry in order to remove remnants of the biological sensors used in detection experiments. This method is an integral step, so the electrode can yield effective, efficient, and reliable results for further experimentation.  After initial experiments, it was observed that the techniques used above did accomplish partial restoration of the electrode surface. However, the electrodes were not sufficiently clean to use them in a new detection experiment and expect reliable results. The results suggest that further experimentation is necessary to both potentially improve restoration and confirm that the cleaning process is reliable and reproducible. These electrodes are advantageous for future experimentation, which include detection of microRNAs, RNAs, and DNAs from obtained plant, animal, and fossil samples, thus advancing the fields of pathology, paleontology, biology, and medicine. 

Project Mentor: Karin Chumbimuni-Torres, PhD, Assistant Professor, UCF College of Sciences





Fabrication of a Graphene Based Single Electron Transistor and Determination of the Resistivity Constant for Multilayer Graphene.
By Parker Coye

A Single Electron Transistor (SET) is a device which conducts electrical current through
a pathway and into a nanoparticle in order to study the quantum properties of that particle. The nanowires resemble an hourglass shape, and only after a gap is formed can a particle be placed in the device. The engineering goals of this project are to (1) successfully fabricate a Single Electron Transistor with broken nanowires and (2) determine the resistivity constant for multilayer graphene. The first is accomplished by exfoliating graphene, writing contacts and nanowires, then ramping up current through the system to form the gap. The second is determined using the dimensions and resistance of the nanowires to determine the unknown resistivity constant for multilayer graphene. Presently, there is a cap at which information can be transmitted, as it can only be transcribed through binary code. With quantum computing, information can be transcribed through states other than zero and one, which translates to a
theoretical infinite increase in processing speeds. This experiment yielded a successfully fabricated SET with a 1.74 nm gap. The resistivity constant was calculated to be [3.25x10−5 ,3.84x10−5 ]. This device and its corresponding constant makes crucial movements towards the ideal of quantum computing.

Project Mentor: Enrique DelBarco, PhD and Marta Anguera, PhD candidate.  UCF College Department of Physics.



Formation of Deoxyribozyme Sensors for Biological Marker Detection
By Julia Gallagher

A model biological sensor should be able to detect the presence of a specific analyte while also remaining inexpensive and comprehensible. Having the capability to demonstrate these attributes, a deoxyribozyme sensor contains two DNA binding arms that hybridize to an analyte and produce a detectable fluorescent signal by cleaving a fluorogenic reporter. For this study, the versatility and sensitivity of deoxyribozyme sensors were tested using micro-RNA-122 and AMEL alleles (AMELX and AMELY) as the analytes. Recent studies indicate a correlation between lowered amounts of micro-RNA-122 in the body and hepatocellular carcinoma. Similarly, the AMEL alleles are located on the sex chromosomes and thus can be used for gender identification. For the deoxyribozyme sensors, sensitivity was evaluated by measuring the fluorescence of various concentrations of analyte. Additionally, an analyte of a slight base-pair difference was placed into the miRNA-122 and AMEL assays to test the specificity. Due to being mismatched with the DNA binding arms, this analyte was expected to produce baseline detection. The deoxyribozyme sensors were able to differentiate between small concentrations while also remaining specific to their designated analyte. Therefore, this sensor could be used in a laboratory and field setting to identify a variety of biological markers. 

Project Mentor: Dmitry Kolpashchikov, PhD, UCF College of Sciences; Alexandra Smith, PhD student, Chemistry



Extracting Neem and Epazote Compounds by HPLC Methods 
By Anjeli Nandwani

Citrus Greening, also known as Huanlongbing, is one of the most destructive diseases of citrus worldwide. In Florida, the losses due to Citrus Greening is about 10% of the total profit, resulting in a revenue reduction of $2.7 billion dollars and a reduction of 1.8 billion dollars in economic activities related to citrus work force.  Citrus Greening is spread by the vector the Diaphorina citri, Asian Citrus Pysllid (ACP). The ACP is the host of Candidatus liberibacter asiaticus, the bacteria that causes Citrus Greening. Currently, there is no cure for Citrus Greening.  Azadirachta indica, known as Neem, has 135 compounds, but very few have been studied in detail. Neem is known to contain many anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and insect-repellent properties. Dysphania ambrosioides, known as Epazote, contains Terpene, a compound that shows insecticidal activity.  A methanolic extract of Neem and Epazote leaves was made out of dried and crushed Neem and Epazote leaves. The extracts were diluted to test the amount of Neem and Epazote needed for their insecticidal properties to show. 
The various extracts were tested on Asian Citrus Pysllids and the mortality rate was calculated after 24 hours. The results show that 10% of the original neem leaf extract killed 100% of the Asian Citrus Psyllids (chi-squared, p<.01). The original Epazote Extract killed 90% of the Asian Citrus Psyllids (chi-squared, p<.01). These results show that Neem and Epazote’s insecticidal properties can be used to treat Citrus Greening. 

Project Mentor: Dr. Steven Arthurs, PhD, Texas A&M University Department of Entomology, Dr. Gul Shad Ali, PhD, University of Florida Department of Plant Pathology



Study of the Effects of Air Pressure on Asteroid Regolith
By Nirja Shah

In the 2020’s, NASA will be launching the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). This initiative’s goal is to send a spacecraft to a near-Earth asteroid to manipulate a boulder on its surface and carry it into lunar orbit. The spacecraft may potentially use a rocket to lift from the asteroid’s surface. Yet in a vacuum-like atmosphere, the exhaust plume behavior can disturb soil sitting on the asteroid’s surface, forming a crater. This soil, flying at high velocities, can cause damage to the spacecraft; thus it is imperative to address concerns of soil and machine interaction. This experiment optimized ARM’s thruster intensity and vertical descent height by imitating craters formed by the rocket’s exhaust. It was hypothesized that if a jet of air vertically impinges on the surface of asteroid dust simulant, then its optimal height and force can be traced by the depth of the crater.  Asteroid soil was simulated using glass beads, while the rocket exhaust was replicated by a bell-shaped nozzle connected to a tank of oxygen. Video recordings were taken at various pressures of a vertical stream of air striking a container of beads at variable height. The craters produced were measured and analyzed using a computer program. Results show that the crater depth follows a linear model with the target height at different forces. This model can be applied to better predict the magnitude of exhaust effects in both atmospheric and vacuum surroundings. 

Project Mentor: Joshua Colwell, PhD and Wesley Chambers, Masters MS, UCF Department of Physics







Senior ASPIRE Student Projects for 2015-16.

Genome-Wide Association Studies and the Identification of Markers for the Improvement of Traits in P. deltoides
By Whitney Beamer

With increased environmental degradation due to fossil fuels, it’s important to discover ways to reduce pollutants. P. deltoides could be that solution as they can be utilized as a biofuel. The only drawback in this species is lignin, an organic polymer that prevents access to key sugars. In order to use the tree for this aims genes involved in the lignin synthetic pathway must be selected against. It was hypothesized that a Genome-Wide Association Study (GWAS) of the P. deltoides’ genome could be used to identify genes involved in the pathway. This was shown to be correct, as the analysis detected associations between possible lignin-related genes and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which acted as markers for these genes. It was, then, hypothesized that the selection of appropriate genes in the genome would lead to tree improvements. Through the comparison of protein sequences of the specified genes with homologous sequences collected from bioinformatics databases, the possible impacts of these SNPs were analyzed. The results showed that gene sequences with one changes in their amino acid sequences at a SNP sites were important to lignin expression, as having only one mutation indicates that a gene is resistant to change. Forward and reverse RNAi gene-silencing primers were produced to initiate the cloning of these pliable genes. Those that survived this process can undergo transformations into sterile plants in hopes of lignin content being silenced. This would then support the hypothesis and lead to the adoption of the species as an alternative biofuel source.

Project Mentor: Dr. Matias Kirst, University of Florida, Department of Forest Genomics, Gainesville






An Evaluation of Behavioral Changes in Nursing Best Practices As a Consequence of Structured Simulated Healthcare Environment Scenarios
By MacKenzie Brown and Mehak Batta

            The purpose of this study was to evaluate the behavioral changes in registered nurses (RNs) which occur as a result of implementation of simulated healthcare environment scenarios, as well as to analyze the potential disparity between simulation lab training and applied Nursing Best Practices in the Intensive Care (ICU) and Intensive Cardiac Care Units (ICC).  The further goal was to determine whether Simulation Lab curricula should be revised or augmented to offset any areas in nursing practices which are lacking in providing a high standard of nursing care.  This research is vital, as applied Nursing Best Practices are critical to maintaining quality of patient care, and to reducing length of hospital visits and health-care costs which are incurred from extended hospital stays. Most importantly, this research will potentially assist in reducing morbidity and mortality rates overall.  To conduct this clinical study, researchers attended the Nursing Simulation Lab to observe and document various medical procedures and protocols that are a part of Nursing Best Practices criteria, which are then administered by RNs in the Intensive Care and Intensive Cardiac Care Units.  A detailed evaluation form denoting nursing protocols was compiled and utilized in evaluating applied Nursing Best Practices when providing patient care.  Areas evaluated include hospital Room Exit criteria, installation of Arterial Line  (A-Line) and Central Venous Pressure (CVP) transducers, A-Line and CVP pressure bags, as well as chest tube equipment.  The evaluation form notes whether or not RNs properly followed Nursing Best Practices learned in the Simulation Lab.  Researchers evaluated patient rooms for over a period of three months.  Upon completion of this study, results were compiled and analyzed to determine RN behavior with respect to implementing Simulation Lab learning as it relates to providing quality nursing care in the Intensive Care and Intensive Cardiac Care Units.

Project Mentor: Valerie Danesh, Orlando Regional Medical Center.





Immunofluorescent Assay Analysis of MicroRNA Cluster 17-92 in Prostate Cancer
By Millie Chokshi

Variations in the expression of microRNAs are present in nearly all cancers. Previous studies have shown that an under expression of microRNA 17-92 is one of the leading factors of prostate cancer, found in nearly 80% of prostate cancer patients. This project focused on utilizing an overexpression of miR-17-92 to reduce tumor growth. Immunofluorescence Assay (IFA) was used to analyze these effects. The expression and localization of miR-17-92’s target proteins were quantified through this microscopy technique. These target proteins include LIM Kinase 1, FGD4, and Cyclin D1. These proteins are involved in cell division and are over expressed in prostate cancer tissue. The activity of two intracellular signaling pathways, AKT and MAPK, were also assessed. Increased activity of these pathways is exploited in cancer cells. E-cadherin and β-catenin expression was also measured to determine the cell type: mesenchymal stem cell or epithelial differentiated cell. The results showed that an over expression of miR-17-92 in prostate cancer cells led to a lower target protein expression. This indicates that tumor growth slowed down as cell division was slowed. This intensive research can help formulate a therapeutic approach to combat prostate cancer. This study of an over expression of miR-17-92's effect on tumor growth provides important insight regarding prostate cancer and can potentially be used to help provide a cure for cancer.

Project Mentor: Dr. Ratna Chakrabarti, University of Central Florida, Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences



Global Warming and El Niño-Southern Oscillation Cycles Effect on Sea Turtles
By Cathleen Mestre

The effects of temperature and El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Cycles on Chelonoidea are partially responsible for the decline in the population of the three main species that nest off the east coast of Florida. The purpose of this project is to analyze the full effect of temperature and ENSO Cycles on the health of sea turtle populations worldwide.  This includes the effects of temperature on incubation length, ENSO effects on the percentage of false crawls, percentage of in nest fatalities, and number of eggs per nest. Four conclusions were proven: 1) The ambient temperature on the day the nest was laid has a 95% correlation to the incubation length of the Caretta caretta species eggs.  2) When stronger ENSO are present, there was a greater percent of C. caretta false crawls than the percent of false crawls occurring at weak ENSO. This correlation was statistically proven with 99.5% confidence (t=3.428, P-Value=0.002,n=13). 3) A confidence interval showed that when a stronger ENSO is present a greater percent of C. caretta clutch fatalities occurred compared to weak ENSO Cycles. 4) When C. caretta, Chelonia mydas, or Dermochelys coriacea nests are laid in El Niño years they contain more eggs than clutches laid in La Niña years. This was statistically proven with a p-value of 0.0475 giving us 99.5% confidence in ENSO years as a predictor for egg count per clutch. Through studies of both temperature and ENSO cycles effects on nesting success of sea turtles an accurate predictor was formulated to aid in determining an incubation length within 2 days to enable conservationists a better opportunity to create inexpensive and viable protection plans for these endangered species.

Project Mentor: Nicole Justice, Lake Highland Preparatory School.



Geometric Manipulation in 3D Printed Prosthetics
By Adam Oloufa

This experiment was designed to produce a viable 3D printed polymer prosthetic strong
enough to withstand the compressive the impact forces encountered during every-day use. In order to maximize the survivability and durability of the product, each design will be tested for compressive strength in multiple dimensions. Each design was created using CAD three-dimensional modeling software, allowing for the inner structure of each design to be rearranged, and for the addition of hollow chamber within each sample to redistribute the compressive force in multiple directions. Two designs were created, one being the control and the other being the experimental design. An electric Universal Testing Machine was used to find the maximum compressive force the samples could withstand. The machine applied force until the sample’s outer structure showed any signs of deformation. This deformation would present a catastrophic failure in a prosthetic, as that would void the design’s structural integrity; making for an ineffective product. Three tests were conducted per each geometric plane, otherwise known as the x-, y-, and z-dimensions. This data showed how each design would cope with stresses in a variety of situations.

Project Mentor: Dr. Ali Gordon, University of Central Florida, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering



Platelet Estimation: Semi-Quantitative Method Using the Miller Disc Year II
By Alexa Wheeler and Stephany Bustamante

The research conducted focused on developing a method to perform a semi-quantitative platelet count on abnormal blood smears (Hemaglobinopathy, or sickle cell anemia, and Elevated Mean Platelet Volume) using a Miller Disc inserted in the ocular of a microscope. By using the oil immersion objective on the microscope, the researchers located an appropriate area on pre-prepared blood smears to count platelets. Initially, the researchers and a clinical lab scientist counted normal platelet sizes and levels against the Beckman DXH, the automated cell counter used at Orlando Regional Medical Center, as a control. The statistics conducted on the control group proved that the Miller Disc can be used as a reliable platelet estimation method. This year, the researchers and a clinical lab scientist compared sickle cell anemia counts and elevated Mean Platelet Volume counts to the Beckman DXH. This project is valuable because the Beckman cannot count abnormally sized platelets due to their improper genetic makeup/size, but this manual procedure can. The data collection determines whether or not the Miller Disc was a reliable way to count platelets of abnormal blood smears. This method should expedite the process of verifying platelet counts, which would benefit a patient's clinical care in a cost-effective and quick way. Physicians who treat patients with disorders in oncology, blood clotting, and high or low platelet counts depend on accurate counts to receive further treatment. By using a linear regression t-test for slope, a moderate-strong positive correlation between Beckman and the researchers was proven. This suggested that there was no significant clinical difference between the researchers and Beckman.

Project Mentor: Jill Smith, Orlando Regional Medical Center








Senior ASPIRE Student Projects for 2014-15.

Detection of Copper Contamination in Drinking Water Using Ligand Coated Fluorescent CdS:Mn/ZnS Quantum Dots 
By Rikhav Shah
, 2015 Semifinalist in Seimens Competition in Math, Science and Technology

The objective is to create a user-friendly probe for the detection of heavy metal contaminants (HMC) in drinking water using fluorescent nanoparticles. This research examined whether fluorescent nanoparticles could be used as a probe by exploiting the heavy metal induced quenching process. The metallorganic dye Tris(2,2’-bipyridyl)ruthenium(II) dichloride [Ru(bpy)] embedded within a silica nanoparticle was used initially. Measurements from the fluorescence spectrometer found that insufficient quenching was induced by copper, cadmium, and lead ions at concentrations close to their Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contamination level (MCL) standard. Fluorescent quantum dots (QDs), were then chosen to study based upon their versatility, photo-stability, cost-efficiency, and potential shown in other research studies. To simulate the potential interface of a final probe, tests were conducted with QD-loaded cellulose paper strips, and fluorescence intensity was determined qualitatively using a handheld UV light. CdS:Mn/ZnS, ZnS:Mn/ZnS, and Cu:InS/ZnS QDs were synthesized, washed and embedded onto cellulose strips using multiple techniques. Results revealed that CdS:Mn/ZnS QDs were the most sensitive and that copper ions were the most readily detected. To optimize detection, these QDs were then coated with various ligands hypothesized to increase interactions in solution. Results show that while un-coated (bare) QDs were limited, the coated QDs were quenched by copper at MCL, The QDs were negligibly affected by common non-toxic ions potassium, magnesium, and calcium. The QDs were also shown to exhibit static quenching. This demonstrates the feasibility of QD use as a probe. 

Project Mentor: Dr. Swadeshmukul Santra, University of Central Florida, NanoScience Technology Center.




In-Fiber Emulsification of Biodegradable Polymers for Drug Delivery 
By Catherine Li,
 2015 Intel Talent Search Finalist, 3rd place winner

A falling stream of water exhibits a phenomenon known as Plateau Rayleigh Instability (PRI): initially a fluid column, it eventually breaks up into spherical droplets due to varicose thermodynamic perturbations and surface tension. This study harnesses PRI to synthesize microparticles especially designed for drug delivery by an In-Fiber Emulsification (IFE) process implemented as follows: (1) a cylindrical, core-cladding preform is drawn into fiber using traditional fiber-drawing techniques; (2) the fiber is thermally treated to induce fluid-interface PRI, which emulsifies its core into uniform spheres; (3) particles are extracted through selective dissolution of fiber cladding. Though IFE has previously produced glass and high-temperature (Tmelting>270°C) polymer particles, the use of low-temperature, biodegradable polymers (materials of interest for drug delivery) is unprecedented in both fiber drawing and IFE technologies. Using PEO and PLGA as cladding and core polymers, respectively, low-temperature IFE is pioneered to synthesize PLGA particles doped with a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Drug retention and efficacy are confirmed through E. coli growth inhibition tests and spectroscopy-based drug release profiles. Incorporation of a fluorescing agent into PLGA particles is additionally demonstrated. Thus, IFE is validated as a method of producing drug-delivering particles, with exceptional potential in structured multifunctional integration.

Project Mentor: Dr. Ayman Abouraddy, University of Central Florida, CREOL: The College of Optics and Photonics





Developing an Amplified Spontaneous Emission Source with Thulium for Atmospheric Propagation at 2‐μm

By Sandeep Baskar

Fiber lasers has moved from a strictly telecommunications based device to broader uses such as sensing, medical application, materials processing, and much more. Within the field of fiber optics, Thulium (Tm) is of interest because of its novelty and eye-safe 2-μm region. Because there is both high absorption (from carbon dioxide and water) and high atmospheric transmission in the 2-μm regime, and excellent beam quality, Tm systems are useful for applications in atmospheric sensing and propagation for environmental diagnostics. In this experiment a Tm system is coupled with a 790 nm laser diode to emit a 1.8-2.1 μm spectral broadband ASE source. This ASE source is going to be for atmospheric propagation and sensing at TISTEF in the Kennedy Space Center. A 79x nm diode is used to pump light into an active fiber containing Tm rare earth ions. This is done by splicing the diode fiber laser into a (2+1) x1 pump combiner (PC), splicing the PC to the Tm-fiber and finally splicing the Tm-fiber to a passive (non-Tm) fiber. This will produce a stable 2-micron ASE source to` be utilized for atmospheric propagation and sensing.

Project Mentor: Dr. Lawrence Shah, Dr. Martin Richardson. University of Central Florida, CREOL: The College of Optics and Photonics.






3T Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Post-Processing of Subcutaneous Adipose-Tissue Macrostructure.
By Shareen Patel

The objective of this study was to use a Philips 3-Tesla MRI to produce an image with sufficient contrast in the macrostructure of subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) and create a sequencing protocol in OsiriX imaging software to segment out the macrostructure of femoral SAT in the acquired image.  The image’s protocol can be used in research needing high-resolution images.  The post-processing sequence is an efficient method to locating and analyzing SAT mass and distribution within obese and lean patients.  SAT macrostructure may be used to compare obese patients with Type II diabetes and metabolically normal patients.  The imaging parameters selected after preliminary phantom tests, yielded an image with high contrast in the subcutaneous tissue.  Area of muscle, bone, blood vessels and SAT macrostructure was determined by a sequence of pixel values.  The segmentation process was tested for reproducibility by repeatedly processing images using the sequence.  The difference between areas of muscle, blood vessel, and bone is infinitesimal.  The difference between SAT measurements (x-bar + margin of error): (0.002324 + 0.010702).  There is no statistical difference between the areas (t=1, P=0.374).  The results confirm the repeatability of the sequence.  Future studies include acquiring volumetric data and testing variations of the sequence on different tissues.

Project mentor: Dr. Heather Cornell, Ms. Cheri Shook, Florida Hospital, Translational Research Institute.





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