GTRIC showcases student research

The 2010 Georgia Tech Research and Innovation Conference (gtRIC), formerly known as the Graduate Symposium, took place this past Tuesday, Feb. 8 at the Georgia Tech Hotel. The event allowed the 349 graduate student participants to present their research to their peers and advisors in a competition for roughly $70,000 in total prizes.

Every college, graduate department and major was represented. Graduate students are the primary authors, although teams regularly consist of both graduate and undergraduate student.

“gtRIC seeks to be one of the preeminent university sponsored research conventions at any university in the world,” said to Barauch Feigenbaum, a grad student in City and Regional Planning, and the chair for this year’s event as the Graduate Vice President of Academic Affairs.

According to the goals of the conference include “To showcase the richness of the research conducted by graduate students at Georgia Tech across all disciplines and topics in the form of poster presentations.” and “To stimulate innovation at the graduate student level…”.

The $15,000 Edison Prize, the largest prize of the night, was awarded to Fengtao Wang, a PhD candidate studying electrical engineering. His submission presented a breakthrough in the field of multispectral imagery.

His discovery could allow for the creation of an affordable and portable multispectral imager, whose primary focus would be to help health care professionals prevent pressure ulcers for the elderly and people with restricted mobility.

“People are finding major, unlimited applications for this topic,” Wang said.

According to Wang and his abstract, the imager’s commercial implications extend far beyond clinical screening for bedsores. Other applications could include “produce and agricultural products inspection, military target search, skin diseases and cancers detection, produce sorting, on site quality control in semiconductor, pharmacy industries, etc.”

The $15,000 Edison Prize is awarded to the researcher who developed the project with the “most startup potential.”

“This is an innovation award,” said Dr. Raymond Vito, Vice Provost for Graduate and Undergraduate Studies and the faculty advisor for gtRIC.

The Edison prize money will eventually be invested in a startup company based on Wang’s multispectral imagery innovation.

The night’s other awards included 20 travel grants valued up to $2,000 for travel related to their presentations, two $5,000-per-year fellowships for up to two years, and two one-year $5,000 fellowships. Unlike the travel grants and Edison Prize, which was open to Masters students as well as PhD candidates, only PhD students were eligible for the one or two-year fellowships.

The organizers of this year’s gtRIC touted this year’s conference as its sixth annual installment. However, they, as well as some of the repeating participants, recognized that this year’s gtRIC was vastly different from Tech’s Graduate Symposiums of the past five years.

In the past, the conference was held in the Student Center Ballroom and was an all-day event. This year the event was only for a couple of hours. It generally had about 100 participants.

In contrast, this year’s conference lasted from just 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., offered more prizes than formerly, and hosted more than 300 participants.

This improved, enormous and all-encompassing event was the brainchild of Linda Harley, a grad student in Applied Physiology and the Graduate Student Body President. Faculty sponsor Vito provided funding and faculty judging.

“In the previous years [gtRIC] was more of a training exercise to actually go to other conferences,” said Feigenbaum, “We thought, we’re missing an opportunity here. We have all of this great research at Georgia Tech. We could have a formal event.”

However, the conference’s expanded size lead to some logistical problems.

“We wanted to have three people judging every poster. And for the most part, we did. We had a few judges that didn’t come and so we might have had a couple with two. We actually had four for some. The idea was that it takes three to get a balanced perspective,” Feigenbaum said.

The pool of judges mostly consisted of a wide array of Tech professors. The rest were local entrepreneurs and other researchers from Tech. Judges were given score sheets to grade the content of the participants’ posters, how the posters were laid out, how the contestants presented their information and the substantives of their research and/or entrepreneurial ideas. They were free to review any project they liked, regardless of subject, as long as they weren’t a contestant’s main advisor.

“I tried to pick things I knew something about and things I was interested in based on the description,” said Matt Sanders, a research scientist for OIT.

Although there were judges representing every college at Tech, some of the participants were irked by the lack of judges in their specific disciplines.

“There were not enough professors in my field so I got judged by professors in psychology and structural engineering. They don’t quite get quite what I’m doing and they couldn’t give me good feedback, which is what I was looking for,” said Alex Abdelnour, CE grad student. Abdelnour is studying the effects of clear cutting on water quantity and water quality from a biochemistry point of view.

Nevertheless, official judges weren’t the only people reviewing the participants’ presentations. Presenters were also able to interact with the industry professionals in attendance.

“The good thing is that I was able to connect with some people in the professional industry that were interested in my modeling and they gave me their card and I got a job offer,” Abdelnour said.

President G.P. “Bud” Peterson said of the evening’s events,“Most of us here at Georgia Tech think we have a pretty good understanding of the breadth of research that takes place here. But seeing these 250+ posters really highlights the tremendous array of ideas, topics, and innovative and creative ideas being explored.”