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 6/17/2019 – 8/2/2019, 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. 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. Note that the regular deadline for applications is March 4, 2019 (fee $5,100), but there is an early decision deadline of Jan. 31, 2019 (fee $4,900), which may provide the applicant with a wider range of lab choices.

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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. (Closed*) 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
  2. (Closed*) 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. Geoffrey SpeddingSpedding Research Group


  1. (Closed*) 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 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
  3. The McCain lab engineers miniature human tissues, known as “Organs on Chips”, for studying human diseases and developing new drug targets. The SHINE student would assist a postdoc or graduate student in fabricating devices, culturing cells, and imaging cells with microscopy. Prof. Megan McCainLaboratory for Living Systems Engineering
  4. The Zavaleta lab helps to make and characterize new nanoparticles that would eventually be used for imaging various types of cancer.  Nanoparticles have a lot of advantages over other small molecule imaging contrast agents and our lab is focused on exploiting these advantages to help doctors detect cancer earlier or help guide them during surgery. Prof. Cristina ZavaletaZavaleta Lab


  1. 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
  2. The Graham Lab is pursuing experimental and computational systems biology approaches to develop quantitative models of the cancer and other human diseases. We draw on biology, statistics and engineering to build data-driven, predictive models of tumor phenotypes using quantitative data generated in-house. Through collaboration with physicians and clinicians, we are applying these approaches to questions that impact clinical care. Prof. Nicholas Graham: Graham Lab
  3. Our research focuses on surfactants (surface active agent, i.e., materials like detergent, shampoo, emulsifier) and creation of surfactant-based nanoparticles and their applications such as gene therapy, drug delivery, nanoreactor, etc. Recommended Courses: Chemistry, Biology. Prof. Ted LeeLee Research Group
  4. We are interested in recruiting students 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 RobertsRoberts Research Lab


  1. The goal of this project is to contribute to the understanding of human-robot interactions in the construction industry, specifically understanding how construction workers work collaboratively or side-by-side with construction robots. Using immersive virtual reality environments, we will model different construction scenarios and systematically collect data on the affordances and hindrances of existing automation and common problems that arise at the individual- and construction site-level when working with robots. The SHINE student will work with virtual environments & 3D modeling tools, contribute to the development of new virtual scenarios, run experiments, collect data from human subjects, and help analyze the data. It is recommended that the students have interest and some experience in tools like Unity, 3ds Max, Maya, and programming, preferably in Java, C++, or Python. Students who are new to this area but have high interest in virtual reality and modeling are also encouraged to apply.  Prof. Burcin Becerik-GerberInnovation in Integrated Informatics


  1. (Closed*) We create and program haptics devices that provide artificial touch sensations to the user. These devices can be used in virtual reality, gaming, medical simulation, communication, or to display simple alerts. Many computer and technology systems lack any touch feedback and provide only vision and sound to the user. However, touch is a very important component of how we interact with the world and with other people. Our lab combines human perception, electronics, mechanical design, and programming to create devices that can recreate the sensations you feel when touching real objects. Recommend that students have some background in computer programming. Prof. Heather Culbertson: HARVI Lab
  2. (Closed*) 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


  1. 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

  2. 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
  3. The inevitable need for foldable and lightweight electronic systems has raised significant interest in flexible semiconductor technologies. Thus, this project is focused on the design of flexible electronic circuits using carbon nanotubes-based transistors. In the first phase of the project, the student will focus on developing a computer-aided design (CAD) flow for this technology. The work encompasses device modeling using Verilog-A, building custom process design kit, along with circuit design and testing. Prof. Dina Reda El-Damak 

  4. (Closed*) Securing Next-Generation Microelectronics Chips: A modern chip combines many components that are designed and integrated by different companies. Moreover, due to the increase in fabrication costs, many chip design companies have outsourced the fabrication of their devices to third-party foundries. Overall, modern computing systems contain modules from potentially untrusted players, which may pose serious security threats and produce irreparable damages. In this project, the SHINE students will work closely with faculty and Ph.D. students to develop, simulate, and test optimized hardware obfuscation methods, i.e., methods that can obfuscate and protect the designs from threats such as piracy, reverse engineering, and hardware Trojans. Prof. Pierluigi NuzzoNuzzo Lab
  5. (Closed*) Design of Safe and Intelligent Self-Driving Vehicles: The goal of this project is to design and test control strategies for self-driving vehicles. Autonomous vehicles use machine learning to achieve certain levels of intelligence and operation in uncertain environments. However, they must also provide performance and safety guarantees to avoid undesired outcomes or incidents. The SHINE students will work closely with faculty and Ph.D. students to simulate realistic driving scenarios, program different driving algorithms, and test them on a testbed including a set of scaled-down autonomous cars and robots. Prof. Pierluigi NuzzoNuzzo Lab
  6. Magnetic field gradient generation for localization and tracking of MRI-inspired miniature medical devices: The function of miniature wireless medical devices such as capsule endoscopes, biosensors, and drug-delivery systems critically depends on their location inside the body. We have recently developed a new class of microchips for localization of microscale devices by mimicking the behavior of nuclear spins in MRI, allowing high resolution localization by application of magnetic field gradients. In this project, the SHINE students will work closely with faculty and Ph.D. students to design, simulate, and test custom electromagnetic systems for the generation of magnetic field gradients. Recommended that students have taken courses in algebra and physics. Prof. Manuel Monge: Integrated Medical Electronics Lab


  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, and/or contact angle measurement. 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
  3. Our lab studies chemical treatment technologies and transformation processes to enable the safe recycling of wastewater. With California and many other parts of the world faced with chronic water shortages due to increasing populations and declining natural supply reliability because of climate change, water reuse will continue to expand. However, wastewater contains a number of microbial and chemical hazards that must be mitigated to ensure public health if it is to be recycled for potable use. The SHINE student will work with a current PhD student on one of several projects in this area. The student will gain experience with basic water treatment techniques (e.g., chlorination) and mass spectrometry instrumentation for measuring chemical concentrations in water. Prof. Daniel McCurryMcCurry Lab


  1. 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


  1. Our lab has studied the role of human learning in technical design, and it has studied the role of machine learning in project completion. Upon a quick look, we observe a similarity between two processes, and are starting a comparison study to prove an actual correlation between the two processes. Requirements include interest in or knowledge of: basic programming, psychology, Excel or Matlab for data analysis, good reading comprehension, and critical thinking. Prof. Yan Jin: IMPACT laboratory

Closed* : These labs filled by students who applied at the early admittance deadline.

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