Future of Science and Tech Research Featured at Annual NJIT Showcase


Almost 60 NJIT students presented their research projects on April 4, 2012, at the eighth annual Dana Knox Student Research Showcase.

The showcase, which began in 2005 as Provost’s Student Research Day, is named after its founder, chemical engineering professor Dana Knox, who passed away unexpectedly in 2008.

Its purpose: to highlight research being done at NJIT and bring students to the attention of prospective employers and grant funders.

Nominated by school faculty, each presenter had made a poster explaining his or her research. Almost two dozen NJIT professors and industry experts interviewed and judged the students, awarding three winners each at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

“I’m looking for someone with good communication skills,” judge Robert Rossi said. “If you can’t communicate, it’s a problem.” Rossi, an engineer who serves on several NJIT advisory boards, graduated from the publicly funded university in 1967.

He said he was impressed by the mosaic of projects today’s students are researching. Last year NJIT spent over $100 million on research, placing it in the top 10 among polytechnic universities nationwide.

Though many presentations in the showcase dealt with life sciences like biology, several had a tech slant.

Nkechi Nnadi, a Ph.D. student in the information systems program, presided over her project, “Understanding Consumer Preferences with Multi-Criteria Ratings.”

Nnadi has developed a taste-based recommendation system that uses filtering technology to understand why a consumer likes a particular movie or music type. The system tries to suggest similar products the consumer might not have considered before, especially at the niche level. She provided the example of someone who likes the classic spaghetti westerns popularized in the 1960s by Clint Eastwood. Nnadi’s program might suggest a list of contemporary Korean action films that, while having different settings and plots, are made—to the consumer’s surprise—in a similar style.

“We’re finding the ‘why’ is very important,” Nnadi said. “The idea is to find reasons for those preferences and how those factors interact to find nonobvious choices.”

Theophilus_Blounts_poster_at_NJIT_event_resized_w._captionTheophilus Blount, a senior in the business and information systems program, presented his project, which seeks to enhance the student-professor partnership.

The user interface for Blount’s “participatory learning approach” would make students responsible for creating the questions on their exams. The professor would ask each student to write a question related to the course subject and research the answer. The question would then be sent to other students, who would have to answer it. The students would also provide feedback on the question, furthering discussion.

“Right now a lot of students just regurgitate information on tests, but it doesn’t always stick,” Blount said. “If they’re involved in the process of creating the test, they’re more likely to remember the answers.”

Blount said the website enables professors to supervise the process, and there are mechanisms for rejecting questions if they are irrelevant or poorly structured. He said NJIT is interested in testing the program campuswide. He won the showcase’s silver medal in the undergraduate category.

His fellow winners included juniors Jay Vargas and Ali Mustafa, of the electrical engineering and applied physics programs, respectively, who tied for first place, and Frandy Dort, a senior in the biomedical engineering program, who took the bronze medal.

The graduate-level winners included Susana Addo Ntim (environmental science), first place; Laura Wirpsza (chemistry and environmental science), second place; and Aliasghar Ghadimkhani (environmental engineering), third place.

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