Program Overview & Research Projects

Some high school students are asking: “Where will my passion for science or math lead me? How does engineering help solve key issues we face as a society? Is research my path?” SHINE may help you answer some of these questions for yourself.

As part of a professor’s hands-on team between 6/18 – 8/3/2018, high school students will be immersed in research projects that span the engineering spectrum. Applicants select their top three choices of engineering fields, and the USC Viterbi professors select students from the pool of applicants on a rolling basis once the applicant’s dossier is complete. We pair applicants with an appropriate research team, based on applicant interest, the professor’s needs and lab capacity, and the composition of other summer scholars in the professor’s lab.

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IMPORTANT: The online application asks applicants to rank their top three preferences. Applicants should discuss the appeal of three possible fields of engineering in the personal statement submitted as part of the SHINE application:


  1. Join an ongoing research program to investigate the extraordinary aerodynamic properties of small wings.  The new generation of unmanned flying vehicles will have spans of about 30 cm, and will be able to enter window and doors. Paradoxically, their aerodynamics are very complex, and hugely sensitive to small disturbances. They overlap in size with medium-sized birds, and perhaps we might incorporate some aspects of bird wings, such a flexibility and/or porosity. These basic studies are part of a program supported by the Air Force, and we can be guaranteed a busy summer in contributing to research that informs both military and civilian operations, and playing a part in the new engineering of bio-inspired design. Prof. Geoff Spedding
  2. Research in the fluid-structure interactions lab tackles problems, ranging from the development of flow control techniques for drag reduction on aircraft and ships to the development of bioinspired robots that can crawl, swim, or fly. This work is largely experimental and takes place in a large-scale water channel facility at USC. For the coming summer, we have a number of potential projects. This includes: (i) 3D-printing sharkskin-inspired drag-reducing surfaces, (ii) testing the performance of flexible flapping wings, and (iii) creating novel flow sensors. Prof. Mitul LuharFluid-Structure Interactions Lab


  1. Personalized medicine is the cutting edge of drug delivery innovation. In our lab, we design nanoparticles and biomaterials that can be used to image, treat, and regenerate diseased or damaged tissue. Diseases we study in our lab include atherosclerosis, cancer, and kidney diseases. Over the course of the summer, the SHINE student will assist in designing and synthesizing nanoparticles and biomaterials to target a specific disease, characterizing the material properties, as well as testing their therapeutic or diagnostic potential using diseased cells. Prof. Eun Ji Chung: The Chung Laboratory-Biomaterials and Nanomedicine Research
  2. The vision of our lab is to create biologically inspired in vitro platforms, capture the scale of cell signaling from subcellular to tissue levels, and discover novel therapeutics for human diseases. Currently we focus on creating microfabricated models of tumors and bone marrow. Students will be supervised by graduate students and work on computer assisted design, microdevices, optimization and data analysis, as well as participate in research meetings and project updates. Recommend coursework completed in physics, biology, and geometry. Prof. Keyue ShenLaboratory for Integrative Biosystems Engineering


  1. Cancer and other human diseases involve dysregulation of metabolism and cellular signaling. In our laboratory, we focus on developing a quantitative understanding of how metabolic and signaling networks drive these diseases. This knowledge can be used to design novel therapies that are more effective with fewer side effects. To accomplish this goal, we generate metabolomic and proteomic data using mass spectrometry and then analyze this data to create predictive models of biological phenotypes. To enable translation of these models into the clinic, we actively collaborate with physician scientists and oncologists. Recommend coursework completed in physics and biology. Prof. Nicholas Graham: The Graham Research Lab
  2. Nanoscience and nanotechnology have a wide ranging impact on pharmaceutical and chemical applications. Our research focuses on surfactants (surface active agent, i.e., materials like detergent, shampoo, emulsifier), creation of surfactant-based nanoparticles and their applications such as gene therapy, drug delivery, nanoreactor, etc. We are particularly interested in azobenzene-based surfactants that we use to form light-responsive nanoparticles, which can then be used for DNA delivery into kidney cells, siRNA and chemotherapy drugs co-loaded delivery for breast cancer cells, and much more. The SHINE student will learn how to synthesize light-sensitive surfactant, prepare photo-responsive nanoparticles, measure nanoparticle size by using laser and acquire knowledge of other characterization methods to learn other physical properties of the nanoparticles. Pre-reqs: Chemistry and Biology. Prof. Ted Lee: Lee Research Group
  3. We are a virtual chemistry lab, where we model the interactions between atoms and molecules to address problems associated with utilization of natural resources. In particular, our goal is to develop an economically viable alternative to shale gas flaring, which is not only a waste of precious fuel but also compounds the problem of global warming. Since one way to make shale gas a viable resource is to convert it into liquid fuel such as methanol, we will use ab initio simulations to design catalysts in an attempt to emulate bacterial enzymes that have been successful in converting shale gas to methanol. Pre-reqs: Chemistry. Prof. Shaama Mallikarjun Sharada: Sharada Lab


We will focus on understanding occupants’ decision making when interacting with their buildings using immersive virtual environments and/or augmented reality. Our goal is to understand how people make decisions during regular use of buildings (e.g., use of lighting systems or thermostats) as well as during emergencies (e.g., fires, earthquakes) and studying what could be the impact of understanding this behavior on building design and operations (e.g., sustainable buildings, disaster prepared buildings). The SHINE student will be working with with virtual environments, sensors, run experiments, collect data from human subjects and help analyzing the data. It is recommended the students have some experience in tools like Unity, 3D Max, and programming, preferably python, C++ Prof. Burcin Becerk-GerberInnovation in Integrated Informatics


  1. Neural networks that recognize images or musical melodies using any programming language, including Matlab. Recommend that students have taken courses in algebra, biology, and coding in any language. Prof. Alice Parker: The BioRC Biomimetic Real-Time Cortex Project
  2. As Moore’s Law approaches its physical limit, there is a fundamental interest in the electronics industry to develop novel device and circuit concepts that can mimic the operation of brain neurons for power-efficient computation and for developing novel computing functionalities. In this project, the student will work closely with researchers in the group to test and analyze novel devices based on emerging nanomaterials for mimicking neuron activities and for modeling their interactions, through which the student will gain advanced knowledge in integrated nanoelectronic devices, testing skills and analysis techniques. The multi-disciplinary research project is suitable for students interested in cutting-edge research in electronic devices, circuits and materials science. Prof. Han WangEmerging Nanoscale Materials and Devices
  3. Students will work to fabricate, characterize and model electronic and photonic devices for next-generation high-performance computing and telecommunication systems. Recommended that students have experience in programming and/or a chemistry lab; some algebra is also desirable. Prof. Rehan KapadiaLaboratory for Photons, Electrons, & Materials
  4. We are working on a color reflective display technology (imaging a a color version of the Kindle ebook reader, not the Kindle Fire). The project will focus on building the setup and testing the color modulation mechanism. Prof. Wei WuResearch Group


  1. The SHINE student will aid PhD students on environmental engineering applications focusing on resource recovery (water, energy, and nutrients) from waste streams such as food waste.Environmental engineering is inherently interdisciplinary (engineering, chemistry, and biology) and our research tackles immense societal challenges such as water shortage, energy sustainability, and climate change. The student will gain hands-on experience with analytical chemistry, process engineering, and molecular biology. Prof. Adam Smith: Smith Research Group
  2. The SHINE project will investigate emerging membrane technologies for water treatment applications in wastewater reuse and desalination. Water scarcity is an emerging engineering challenge in California and many other regions worldwide. As a result, alternative sources including seawater, municipal wastewater, and industrial wastewaters are being looked to as potential sources of freshwater. The SHINE student will work with environmental engineering Ph.D. students to research the application of novel membrane technologies for advanced water treatment. The student will gain skills in system design, experimental design, programing, data collection and analysis, and material characterization using advanced tools such as scanning electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, spectroscopy, and contact angle measurement as well as advanced data/image analysis software. Through this research, the SHINE student will gain experience applicable to environmental engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering, and materials science. Prof. Amy ChildressChildress Research Group


One of the most talked-about developments in transportation and logistics has been the proposed use of autonomous drones to deliver packages to houses. The question remains whether this is more efficient than using delivery vehicles, and in what circumstances it is beneficial. This project will use a famous theorem from geometric probability theory, the BEARDWOOD-HALTON-HAMMERSLEY theorem, together with some field work to attempt to calculate this improvement. Prof. John Carlsson: Research Homepage


Our research focuses on understanding novel electrical, thermal, optical, and electrochemical properties of emergent complex semiconductor materials such as oxides and chalcogenides. We study their physical properties for their applications in electronics, thermoelectrics, photovoltaics, photoelectrochemical water splitting etc. Recommend that students have taken courses in physics and chemistry. Prof. Jayakanth RavichandranLaboratory for Complex Materials


We develop socially assistive robots aimed at helping people through social rather than physical interaction; our robots are tested with children with autism, stroke patients, Alzheimer’s patients, healthy elderly, and other real-world beneficiary populations. The robots help people to learn, train, and recover, in order to enhance wellness and quality of life. Recommend that students have some background in computer programming. Prof. Maja Matarić: Interaction Lab

See our FAQ page if you have any questions.
Also see Students’ Posters and Videos for additional information on these research projects.