Media coverage about funded SPARK 2015 projects and SPARK 2016 projects

Funded SPARK Projects

2016


Preparing for the Unfamiliar:  An app for individuals with autism to prepare for doctor’s office visits

Team Leader:  Leah Igdalksy

Individuals with autism often struggle with new or unfamiliar situations, and thus medical care or even a trip to the doctor can be very difficult. Likewise, physicians and other health care providers often struggle to adequately prepare their patients with autism for medical care, and are limited by the short amount of time allocated for most health care visits. With time and support, individuals with autism can be successfully prepared to receive needed health care and interact positively with health care environments. However, due to the many competing demands faced by health care providers, they are often unable to prepare their patients with autism, and consequently needed health care becomes significantly more stressful for both patient and provider.

In order to address this problem, our team will create an iOS app to be used by individuals with autism (including adults, adolescents and children) to prepare for a visit to the doctor’s office and other routine medical procedures they may need. Our app will use a social story to prepare the individual for their appointment and what will happen, imparting information about what to expect, what will happen, and how to interact successfully with the health care team. Social stories have been used since the 1990s to prepare individuals on the autism spectrum for unfamiliar social situations. Our team of experts in medicine for individuals with autism will design the content following a social story format, and collaborate with our coder to create an interactive app that can be personalized to fit the needs of the particular individual, and/or the particular medical practice and environment.

Cleanfield Capital Partners

Team Leader:  Debarshi Nandy

We aim to purchase, re-claim, and re-develop land in the United States previously used for industrial and commercial uses that has been contaminated with hazardous waste or pollution and presently unutilized. Our objective is to use financing obtained through securitization technology common in the real estate industry and re-deploy these “brownfields” into a combination of clean renewable energy, commercial, and residential real estate sites.

Under Federal law, current and past owners of polluted areas maintain liability for cleanup. Using a novel financial model, our proposal is to obtain a number of these properties, pooling them, and thereby reducing the liability risk of the entire portfolio. The resulting structure will then be financed through a real estate investment trust (REIT), which will be supported by cash flows generated through rents, solar energy sales, and ancillary income sources.

Mapping the human eye with Sclervey

Team Leader:  Hermann Wellenstein

Many people suffer from complex corneal diseases that cause severely impaired vision or even blindness. Extreme dryness of the eyes can lead to these problems as well. The vision of these patients cannot be corrected with typical glasses or contact lenses, as the shape of the cornea is no longer a smooth surface. The Boston Foundation for Sight (BFS) has successfully developed a method to restore vision to such patients. PROSE (Prosthetic Replacement of the Ocular Surface) requires custom fitted lenses that form a seal on the sclera, allowing a saline solution to be held between the prosthetic lens and the damaged tissue. This creates a “new cornea” and thus restores vision, but there is a significant flaw in the fitting process. The lens fitting process is done entirely by trial and error in multiple lens-fitting sessions over several days. This causes patient discomfort as well as increasing the time and cost of the process, making PROSE less appealing and accessible to those in need.

Our proposed device will survey the sclera (hence the name Sclervey) without making contact. Sclervey will generate a high-precision map of the sclera non-invasively in a matter of minutes, providing medical professionals with the necessary data to efficiently design custom fitted lenses. With funds from the 2015 SPARK Awards, we will be able to complete the research necessary for building a working prototype. This is a very important step towards implementing this device for use by clinicians and making the vision restoration process significantly faster and easier for everyone.

Biotech Elements

Team Leader:  Tomer Goldstein

Biogas is a product of microbial activity in decomposition of organic waste in oxygen-free environment, it’s generally composed of 60% Methane (CH4 ) and 40% Carbon dioxide (CO2) . After biogas is collected, it can be used directly to generate electricity, however, because of the CO 2 portion, it considered to be a low quality fuel source. Biogas upgrading is a combination of chemical and physical methods that improve gas quality to a 98% CH4 l evel by removing other gas fractions. Our innovative technology uses a biological method to convert CO 2 portion to CH4 , increasing usable gas quality and quantity. As an alternative energy source, our system reduces the exploitation of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases emission, which is highly associated with climate changes. We have built a two stages small scale prototype, in which hydrogen gas is being extracted from low quality water source (effluent) in the first stage. Then, the hydrogen transfers to a new chamber and mixes with the collected biogas. In this second stage chamber, special microorganisms convert the gas (hydrogen and 40% CO 2 ) into CH 4 in their metabolic pathways. We tested the prototype capabilities under series of laboratory experiments, which provided promising results energetically and economically. With the award money, we will scale up our technology and test its performance in real time on our R&D site. It will make our technology more attractive for strategic clients and potential investors.

Developing an integrated medical-social-legal service delivery system

Team Leader:  Rajan Sonik

Health disparities cost the United States approximately one trillion dollars per year. The primary cause of these health disparities are social disparities, which arise in areas such as education, income, housing security, and food insecurity. As the Affordable Care Act and other measures increase access to health care for Americans on the low end of these social yardsticks, the cost of health disparities will only rise if we fail to address their roots—generally referred to as the “social determinants of health.”

This fact is becoming increasingly problematic for health care systems across the country, which are beginning to be held accountable for ever rising costs in health care but which lack the structures to deal with the social determinants of health.

Our project will pilot such a structure and provide a method for developing others. Through the support of a SPARK grant and by leveraging partnerships with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and Vermont Legal Aid, we will design a system that coordinates medical, social service, and legal service providers for one to two communities in Vermont. The system will detect the social and legal needs affecting the health of individual Vermonters in these areas, and it will provide the coordinated services required to address these unmet needs. Both the process of developing this system and the system itself will be replicable, and they will be highly desirable products for health care organizations nationwide.

Discover Deis

Team Leader:  Ziyu Qiu

 Idea:

  • Develop a campus navigation app, which will include detailed information for each step and building on campus

Problem it will solve:

  • Assist people including incoming students, parents, alumni, and visitors who are unaware of where they are,  how to get around on campus and inform them about each building.

Plan:

  • Explore more resources to do marketing research to get better idea about our project
  • Get developer licences of the mobile platforms to test and launch our app

2015


CalcU

Team Leader:  Grady Ward

CalcU is an online web application that serves as a course aid and study tool to students and educators learning and teaching calculus and grade-school mathematics. It uses machine learning models to try to parse apart how different users process information, and tries to deduce the resources that each individual needs to be successful. Additionally, it has core features that incorporate AB testing into the site's functionality, hopefully someday allowing researchers to test their theories on different mechanisms for knowledge acquisition. Currently, the testing mechanism is set up to test whether or not the "learn-alike" algorithm is more effective than a random recommendation engine. It was developed on the Google Web Platform over the summer by five Brandesians, three of whom were funded by our SPARK grant of $5,000. After CalcU's primary tools were implemented, the team focused on acquiring content for the website, and over the summer scraped 12,000 practice problems, questions, and explanations from the web, each tagged and categorized, and placed in our database. The result is a learning platform that is slowly starting to be utilized in the educational community, and one that hopefully can simultaneously contribute to learning, and a greater understanding of how that process takes place.

The Disabled Parenting Project

Team Leader:  Robyn Powell

The Disabled Parenting Project (DPP) is on a mission to leverage technology in order to create opportunities for parents and prospective parents with disabilities to connect and interact, and serve as an information clearinghouse for relevant information about adaptive parenting. Moreover, the DPP seeks to inform social policy through the development of resources, created by and for the disabled parenting community, and to promote social justice for disabled families.

Since receiving the SPARK award, the DPP has had many achievements. During the summer, we conducted an online survey to better understand the needs of our customers. The DPP received 460 responses, including disabled parents (49%), prospective parents with disabilities (12%), spouse or partners of disabled parents (9%), children of disabled parents (11%), family members (7%), advocates and professionals (32%), and others (11%). We have also partnered with a website design and development team who specializes in accessible websites and are preparing to launch the website in December. Simultaneously, we are partnering with a vendor to caption our media content, to ensure full accessibility for all people with disabilities. Meanwhile, we are continuing to conduct outreach through direct contact with organizations, social media, and presentations at conferences. Finally, we just received approval from the Brandeis IRB and will soon begin interviewing parents; these interviews will be publicly available on the DPP website. There is substantial excitement about the DPP among parents and prospective parents with disabilities as well as professionals who support these families!

FashionSnapp

Team Leader:  Jon Nahum


Project DressCode – or with its new name, FashionSnapp – is a mobile application that intends to serve as a platform for fashion advice. On Fashionsnapp, users can upload pictures of their outfits, input the event they are attending, and get votes anonymously and instantly from the crowd. Our research has indicated that many people would appreciate the help of a crowd sourced fashion advice service.
From a commercial perspective, our hope is to reach out to industry participants such as fashion designers, brands, retailers and fashion celebrities to use the application as a platform to reach their customers or followers. Over time, our plan is to get in touch with these participants to understand their needs in the market.
FashionSnapp is a simple to use application available for iOS and Android devices. The generous SPARK Grant has allowed the team to build a working Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that is currently being tested in focus groups. Throughout the school year, the Team will be working to improve the MVP in response to the focus groups. We anticipate the launch to happen early 2016.

Reduction of Dengue Through Non-Pesticide Screening of Private and Public Places

Team Leader:  Dr. Laurence Simon

Little progress has been made in the prevention and control of Dengue and Dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) due to the very special biological characteristics of the causative organism (an arbo virus) as well as the vector (Aedes aegypti and, to a lesser extent, A. albopictus -- day biting mosquitoes breeding largely in household water sources). With a dramatic increase in its incidence, Dengue has emerged as a major and costly public health problem in Sri Lanka. In the absence of an effective drug or vaccine, the only strategic options presently available are case management to prevent death and vector control to reduce viral transmission. Results of vector control programs are often far from ideal. Routine interventions against the immature stages of the vector have proved ineffective for a long time, while the results of vertical interventions are often transient. Several user-friendly Dengue vector control tools and approaches have become available but questions remain as to their effectiveness, alone or in combination, and their cost-effective delivery by public health services and the private health sector. Most research on dengue vectors focuses on the biological and behavioral characteristics of the insect.

In this project we intend to test the efficacy and effectiveness of house and school screening as an intervention to prevent Dengue Fever. The Research will be carried out in 2 phases.  Phase I (6 months) has just begun and will develop a preliminary study to design the scientific trials to investigate the feasibility, cost effectiveness and sustainability of house and school screening as an environmentally friendly method; and Phase II (1-2 years) for the study proper based on the proposal developed in Phase 1. The Phase I Study Area is the Western Province of Sri Lanka (District of Colombo) which has the highest reported incidence of Dengue/DHF in the country. We will select 2 villages in an area where there the prevalence is high and 2 villages where the prevalence is low. The project is being monitored by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health and by the World Health Organization Mission to Sri Lanka.

Women Be Healthy

Team Leader:  Leah Igdalsky

This “Women Be Healthy” project expands on a series of interventions created by The Lurie Institute to educate women with developmental disabilities about the importance of cervical and breast cancer screening. The current project is an intervention for family caregivers of women with developmental disabilities, educating them about the screenings and providing training on how to be an advocate for these essential procedures.

Our team filmed the content for the online interventions with a crew from Imagavision on July 24 at Brandeis. We are currently working with Imagavision to edit the video to its final format. After we have screened the video content with a focus group of caregivers, we will work with our accessible web designer to make the content available to a wide audience.

Extensive research, including ours, shows women with developmental disabilities do not receive cervical and breast cancer screening according to US Preventive Health Services guidelines. No tested interventions target family caregivers despite the reliance of women with developmental disabilities on their caregivers to secure health care. In our prior work, we found that family caregivers lacked important knowledge: they were often unaware that their loved ones with developmental disabilities needed cervical and breast cancer screening.

We have completed the filming of our online content of our intervention. Leah Igdalsky is exploring application of this project in cancer community as well.

Remote Control and Sensing Solutions

Team Leader:  Feodor Hilitski

Remote Control and Sensing Solutions is a hardware technology start-up. We are developing a platform for remote control and sensing that includes both hardware and software components. On the hardware side, we make sensors – devices that measure temperature, humidity, light level and other desired environmental variables. The sensors connect to the local WiFi or wired networks and continuously stream data to the cloud. Our web-based software platform provides users a secure way to access and visualize the recordings from each sensor, perform data analysis, set alerts and notifications, and share information with others.

The software and hardware approaches complement each other and allow us to create highly customizable remote sensors. Being currently based at Brandeis University, we identify academic research centers and labs as potential customers. Additionally, remote monitoring of the complex processes benefits manufacturing and technology industries. We can use connectivity over cellular networks to monitor automobiles, construction and farm equipment or other remote installations (from wind turbines to oil rigs to pipelines) inaccessible via WiFi or wired Internet connection. Finally, our products can be positioned to consumers as parts of the growing Internet of Things (IoT) trend.

Using the SPARK grant funding enabled us to build and deploy several working prototypes in a research lab. We are constantly improving the web-based application used to access the data.  Currently, our efforts are concentrated on the business development: going beyond the prototype stage, developing a business plan, approaching investors and potential partners.

The Waltham High School - Brandeis Research Course

Team Leader:  Vivekanand Pandey Vimal

The objectives of this proposal are 1) to create a focused and sustained collaboration between Brandeis University and Waltham High School and 2) to create STEM inquiry based open-ended research courses at Waltham High School that have students develop a portfolio of practical skills and research projects. 

Over the summer, we hosted 6 very passionate and driven Waltham High School students, who were paired with graduate students and postdocs in various science labs at Brandeis.  The WHS students spent 6 weeks working on open ended cutting edge research.  The SPARK grant gave honorariums to these mentors.  These students also participated in a collaborative and innovative course developed by Dr. Pomeranz Krummel (Assistant Professor of Biochemistry), Dr. Anique Olivier-Mason (Director of MRSEC outreach) and Eduardo Beltrame (undergraduate president of the 3D printing club), in which students were given lectures on topics of biochemistry and then applied those ideas to 3D printing models of molecules.  Honorariums were given to the lecturers. Finally, a different group of students participated in a 6 week long Python programming course taught by Dr. Francesco Pontiggia.

In the next phase, we are making collaborations between various after school clubs at Waltham High School and Brandeis University.  In collaboration with Ian Roy (Head of the Brandeis MakerLab), we purchased many quadcopters for the engineering club.  Within the month, we will also purchase 3D printers.  Then, in collaboration with Brandeis undergraduates, students in the WHS engineering club (and newly formed robotics and 3D printing club) will learn to 3D print and apply that to engineering concepts such as PID control in quadcopter, model rocket design and prosthesis design.  Many WHS students attended and even won 3rd place at the Brandeis 3D printathon.  In addition, in the coming month, in collaboration with the science club, we will start research modules in which Brandeis scientists teach practical lab skills to students and give them an open-ended research problem to solve.  Finally, students from the summer program will re-teach what they learned during science club.