Jordan Makes Research an Integral Part of her Curriculum

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BioE Senior Kesshi Jordan has also put her engineering skills to use as a member of Engineers Without Borders, traveling with the University of Maryland chapter on an implementation trip to Compone, Peru in 2009. In addition to installing a water sanitation system with her team, Jordan ran an educational program for children to promote water sanitation and safety. Photos courtesy of Kesshi Jordan.

Fischell Department of Bioengineering (BioE) senior Kesshi Jordan hasn't waited for graduate school or her first "real world" job to get research experience. In her time as an undergraduate in the A. James Clark School of Engineering, she hasn't just gotten her feet wet—she dove in. Her advice to current and future undergraduates is to do the same, as soon and as much as possible, not only to boost their resumes, but to discover where their passions lie.

For the past three summers, Jordan has been part of the Army Research Laboratory's (ARL) Science Outreach for Army Research (SOAR) program, which invites students from many disciplines and all levels to collaborate on projects with ARL scientists. SOAR's goal is to create an environment in which students gain technical skills and leadership experience, and are given the freedom to explore creative approaches to real problems, by designing and executing a research project from the ground up.

After being accepted into the program, students go through an interview process in which they are assigned to a project based on their interests and where someone with their skills or backgrounds are most needed. Once a project team is established, its members, under the guidance of an ARL mentor, have the same duties as professional researchers, including the ones that take place outside of the lab.

"The students have the responsibility to conduct a literature search and speak with experts in the field to determine the feasibility and value of the project," Jordan explains. "[They] submit a full proposal to a group of senior researchers for feedback before they begin their research, and produce a technical report at the end."

New projects are available each summer. Jordan has previously worked on biomimetic communications mechanisms for millimeter- to centimeter-scale robotics, and the design of flight stabilizers for micro air vehicles inspired by comparable biological systems found in flying insects.

This past summer, Jordan partnered with fellow Clark School senior Cordell Reid, who majors in electrical engineering. Under the guidance of an ARL team of signal processing experts and neuroscientists, they worked to create a filter capable of improving the signal generated by electroencephalography (EEG), a technology used to noninvasively record the brain's electrical activity.

"Electroencephalography is an extremely noisy [signal recording] technology that is generally used in a very restricted laboratory setting," she explains. "The signals [we're] trying to pick out are several orders of magnitude smaller than a lot of the noise that swamps them. Our project is to design a filter that can be tuned to the signal of interest, separating it out from the noise so that EEG data can be viewed with a much higher signal-to-noise ratio in near-real-time."

If the signals can be improved, they could be used to enhance brain-machine interfaces that allow people—such as soldiers—to control robots and prosthetics in dynamic, non-laboratory environments. Jordan will return to the ARL over winter beak to continue her work on the project, and hopes to publish a paper about her results. Jordan credits her BioE coursework experience with MATLAB and one of her electives, a biological sciences course called Neural Systems, with giving her the background and perspective she needed for the project.

During the school year, Jordan keeps her research skills sharp by taking advantage of the on-campus opportunities BioE and the Clark School provide for their students. She is currently completing the research component of the Engineering Honors Program as a member of BioE assistant professor Silvia Muro's research group, which studies targeted drug delivery that takes advantage of natural cellular processes. She is also a member of Gemstone, the Clark School's four-year living-learning community, in which selected honors students design, direct and conduct significant research that explores the interdependence of science, technology and society. Jordan and her Gemstone team have been studying the motion of infants at high-risk for autism compared to a control group of low-risk infants using motion-capture technology.

After graduation, Jordan plans to attend graduate school.

Learn More:

Visit the U.S. Army's College and Gradute Programs web page for information on SOAR »
Visit the Gemstone Program web site »
Visit the Engineering Honors Program web site »

Published November 9, 2011