Lehigh bioengineer awarded $2000 conference travel scholarship for work on point-of-care screening device for sickle cell disease

Rossin College bioengineering student Anjali Shah ’24 took the top honor at the 2023 David and Lorraine Freed Undergraduate Research Symposium held Wednesday in Lehigh’s Health, Science and Technology (HST) Building.

Shah successfully presented her research project "SicklED: Low-Cost, Point-of-Care, Sickle Cell Screening Device for Use in Low-to-Middle Income Countries" to a panel of distinguished judges to earn a $2000 conference travel scholarship. She works with Xuanhong Cheng, a professor of bioengineering and materials science and engineering, on diagnostic devices for sickle cell disease in under-resourced countries.

Shah, who hopes to attend medical school and eventually become a physician, was excited, shocked, and grateful for the award. She said her experience working on the research project gave her a deeper understanding of disparities in healthcare systems around the world.

“I was able to travel to Sierra Leone, and I was surprised by the general lack of knowledge around sickle cell disease,” she said. “It helped me understand the importance of a diagnostic device like this, and how much need there is for medical innovations like this.”  

The daylong symposium features students from Lehigh and Lafayette College who present their engineering research on a wide range of topics and compete for scholarships to attend professional conferences.

Raub students at ATLSS
Students from Raub Middle School toured Lehigh University’s Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems (ATLSS) Engineering Research Center as part of their field trip, which was held in conjunction with the UGRS.

This year, the symposium also incorporated a field trip from Raub Middle School in Allentown, PA. The students, part of the Communities in Schools program that operates within Raub, visited Lehigh’s campus and met up with the college-aged researchers who competed in the symposium. They also toured state-of-the-art research labs around HST and tried out virtual reality technology. The visit included demos and hand-on activities on topics ranging from biomaterials and microbiology to robotics and drones to large-scale structural engineering and more, supported by Rossin College faculty, students, and staff.

A celebration of experiential learning at Lehigh

The symposium highlights research achievement and group collaboration, celebrates experiential learning, and encourages students to use research to develop critical thinking skills and increase their ability to succeed professionally. 

“The quality of the work I saw today reflected an extraordinary degree of creativity across a range of fields, from financial engineering to social science to bioengineering,” said Lehigh University President Joseph J. Helble ’82 during the closing ceremony. “You have done your institutions proud.”

Helble emphasized how research not only teaches critical thinking skills but also sets students up for future success. “Over half of our undergraduates have participated in projects like these, and a substantial number of students who go on to graduate school have had this experience,” he said. “And for those of you who are looking to go to work immediately after you graduate, this independent inquiry experience will serve you equally well.” 

The award for second place went to Fenet Demissie ’24, a Lehigh IDEAS (Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts and Sciences) major for “Spatiotemporal Presentation of Bioactive Peptides on 3D-Printed Scaffolds. Lehigh materials science and engineering major Thomas Theiner ’25 earned third place for “Electronic Band Structure of ALD MoTe2/TiO2 Heterostructures.”

Lehigh mechanical engineering major Evan Dare ’23 was awarded the honorable mention for “Torque and Force-Free Swimming at Low Reynolds Number.” The People’s Choice Award went to materials science and engineering major Metri Zughbi ’25 for “Quantitative Analysis of Crack Propagation in Doped MgAl2O4 Spinel.”

Himanshu Jain and Eva Wolfe
Professor Himanshu Jain, a co-founder of the symposium, listens to senior Eva Wolfe as she discusses her research on "Green Synthesis of Nanostructured Photocatalysts for Solar Hydrogen Production."

The students were evaluated on the quality of their work, its relevance to engineering, and the quality of their presentations, according to Wojciech Z. Misiolek, Loewy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, who co-founded the event with MSE professor Himanshu Jain, the T.L. Diamond Distinguished Chair in Engineering and Applied Science.

The symposium is endowed by Andrew D. Freed ’83 ’17P, a member of the Lehigh Board of Trustees, in honor of his parents. Now retired, Freed most recently served as CEO of Micro-Coax, a manufacturer of electronic transmission devices based in Pottstown, PA. Freed holds a bachelor's degree in metallurgy and materials engineering from Lehigh and a master's degree in industrial administration from Carnegie Mellon University.

In closing, Stephen P. DeWeerth, dean of the Rossin College, said that participants reflect the promise and possibility of undergraduate research.

“There’s not much more that you can do to raise the bar here,” he said. “The students here represent the best of the best, and there’s no question you will all go on to do important work. I’m so excited for what lies ahead for all of you.”

Main image: Rossin College Dean Steve DeWeerth (left) and Lehigh University President Joseph Helble (right) with UGRS top finisher Anjali Shah, a junior bioengineering major. 

Raub Middle School students got an up-close look at a bioengineering lab in Lehigh's Health, Science and Technology Building (above) and participated in activities using virtual reality technology in the Nano | Human Interfaces (NHI) Presidential Initiative Visualization Lab (below). 

Middle school student using VR goggles

Fenet Demissie

Lehigh junior IDEAS major Fenet Demissie finished in second place.

Thomas Theiner

Lehigh sophomore materials science and engineering major Thomas Theiner took third place.

Evan Dare

Lehigh senior mechanical engineering major Evan Dare received the honorable mention.

Metri Zughbi

Lehigh sophomore materials science and engineering major Metri Zughbi received the People’s Choice Award.