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 6/19 – 8/4/2017, high school students will be immersed in research projects that span the engineering spectrum — see the list of SHINE research projects, below. 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.

SHINE is designed for high school students (rising sophomores through seniors) who already have a track record of STEM commitment and engagement — this is nothing like summer school! SHINE students should have a history of connecting with math, physics, computer science, and/or chemistry as well as a GPA of 3.4 or better out of 4.0 (unweighted). SHINE students will have specific research projects as their responsibility and one mentor dedicated to them for 20 hours per week; some professors will offer SHINE students the opportunity to spend additional time (up to 40 hours per week) conducting research in the lab, while some students will prefer to use their non-lab time to hold a part-time job or take a summer school course. Additionally, students become part of the SHINE cohort, meeting weekly for fun and for learning about university-level research, building scientific communication skills, and benefiting from another layer of mentoring from undergraduate researchers visiting from top engineering programs across the nation. And now we’re building an awesome network of SHINE alumni.

Students join a professor’s research team in one of these fields of engineering:
* Aerospace  * Biomedical  * Chemical  * Civil  * Computer Science  * Cybersecurity/Information Sciences  * Electrical  * Environmental  * Industrial & Systems  * Materials Science  * Robotics

Applications are now accepted on a rolling basis: the sooner the applications arrive, the sooner they are submitted to the professors listed below. See our FAQ page and APPLY NOW! 
Also see Students’ Posters and Videos for additional information on these research projects.

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. The student will help us develop a low-cost Digital Particle Image Velocimetry (DPIV) system for measuring flow in a water channel. DPIV involves taking high-speed photographs of tiny reflective particles floating in the water, illuminated by a laser sheet (a little like stroboscopic photography). Computer-based image analysis is then used to compute flow speeds. Towards the end of the project, this system will be used to take measurements behind various 3D-printed objects. The student should have taken a physics class, have an interest in photography plus some basic electronics knowledge, and be excited about hands-on experiments. Prof. Mitul LuharFluid-Structure Interactions Lab


  1. Our interdisciplinary research group uses custom biomaterials, microfabrication techniques, and cultured cells to engineer miniature human tissues, known as “Organs on Chips.” We use these tissues to study human diseases and as new platforms for drug testing. We are seeking talented researchers interested in optimizing new biomaterial-based platforms for engineering 3-D Organs on Chips. Students will be mentored by a graduate student, but will be expected to maintain their own laboratory notebook and periodically present research updates at group meetings. Recommended prerequisites: chemistry, biology. Prof. Megan McCainLaboratory for Living Systems Engineering
  2. 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
  3. 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


We seek to recruit a student to work on a project to generate and characterize proteins that bind the mutated form of the Ras protein, one of the most important tumor causing proteins in the human genome. Mutant forms of Ras play a central role in many of the most challenging tumors, particularly pancreatic cancer. We have recently developed new antibody mimetic proteins that recognize these Ras mutants and are interested in producing these proteins and testing the properties of these proteins as cancer diagnostics and potential therapeutics. Students will be exposed to basic recombinant DNA technology as well as expression, purification, and characterization of proteins from bacterial hosts. Prof. Rich Roberts


  1. We will focus on assessing thermal comfort of building occupants using wearable sensors. The primary purpose of Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems is to provide comfortable indoor conditions to occupants, however the buildings systems are not aware of how comfortable the building occupants feel. The goal is to study different physiological changes that occur in the human body using wearable sensors when exposed to different temperatures. This will enable the building systems to be aware of how comfortable occupants are inside the building and adjust the indoor conditions if necessary. The SHINE students will gain experience working with sensors, data collection systems and some machine learning algorithms. It is recommended that the students have some experience in programming, preferably Arduino/C++. Prof. Burcin Becerk-Gerber: Innovation in Integrated Informatics
  2. Our SHINE project will develop ultra-high strength concretes for civil engineering applications. These concretes exhibit 5-7 times higher strength than conventional concretes and are used in exciting civil engineering applications such as super tall structures. Examples include the Burj Dubai and the under construction Jeddah Tower (also known as the Kingdom Tower), which will be tallest building in the world when completed. The project will involve a lot of hands-on work in the laboratory. Prof. Bora Gencturk


Our SHINE project will be focused on analyzing the role of geographic distance in social ties. Online Social Networks are increasingly becoming one of the key media of communication over the Internet. At the same time, users are now willing to share information about their location. The potential of these services as the basis to gather statistics and exploit information about user behavior is appealing. In this project, the SHINE student will analyse this data for structural patterns in human movement and connectivity due to geographic and social constraints. These patterns can be related to different aspects of human mobility: geographic movement (where do we move?), temporal dynamics (how often do we move?) and the social network (how do social ties interact with movement?).


Our research investigates a new way to authenticate users by showing them a rapid series of images, some familiar some not, and registering in “intentional blink.” Prof. Jelena Mirkovic Information Sciences Institute


  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
  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. Our SHINE project will be focused on using 3D printed materials for clean water applications. One key technology barrier of water membranes is that biofilms grow on the membranes during the long-term operation, thus decreasing the membrane porosity and operation efficiency. In this project, the student will be trained on using state-of- the-art 3D printing systems to design new membrane system with high antifouling efficiency. Prof. Qiming Wang: Bioinspired Materials and Structures Laboratory
  3. 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, challenging streams such as industrial wastewaters, naturally occurring brines, and desalination waste brines are increasingly being looked to as potential sources of freshwater and mineral resources. The SHINE student will work with environmental engineering Ph.D. students to research the application of novel membrane technologies to the advanced treatment of high-concentration streams. The project will include system design, experimental design, data collection and analysis, and membrane characterization using advanced tools such as scanning electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, spectroscopy, contact angle measurement, and image analysis software. Through this research, the SHINE student will gain experience applicable to environmental engineering, chemical engineering, and materials science. Prof. Amy ChildressChildress Research Group
  4. The SHINE project will explore the use of engineered systems as a means to reduce the energy demands and environmental impacts associated with desalination. The scarcity of freshwater resources is driving innovation in the field of ocean water desalination. The SHINE student will work with a PhD student to develop a pressure-retarded osmosis (PRO) system being developed as a means to reduce energy consumption and salinity concerns in ocean water desalination. PRO utilizes the natural osmotic pressure difference between a low salinity solution, such as highly treated wastewater, and a high salinity solution, such as desalination brine, to generate energy. This particular system will be used to determine the optimal operating conditions needed to make PRO viable. Through this work, the SHINE student will gain experience in systems design and construction, software for monitoring and control, and data analysis.Prof. Amy ChildressChildress Research Group


  1. 3D Printing of cementitious materials with terrestrial and planetary applications. Recommend that students have taken courses in physics and coding. Prof. Behrokh KhoshnevisCenter for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT)
  2. 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