The annual David and Lorraine Freed Undergraduate Research Symposium returns to Lehigh’s STEPS Building for 2024

The David and Lorraine Freed Undergraduate Research Symposium, hosted by the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, takes place 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday, April 19, in Lehigh’s STEPS Building (1 West Packer Ave., Bethlehem, PA). The day closes with an awards ceremony, which begins at 4:15 p.m.

The annual event showcases undergraduate research achievement, celebrates experiential learning, and encourages students to use research to enrich their educational experiences.

For the second consecutive year, the UGRS also includes community outreach, with the Allentown School District’s Harrison-Morton Middle School joining the festivities. The group of about 60 promising middle-schoolers who are interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) will spend the morning with the college researchers competing in the UGRS, and later tour Lehigh labs focused on computer science and robotics, bioengineering, and chemical engineering.

Members of the campus and local community are invited to stop in to check out the innovative projects spotlighted during the symposium. The event is a great opportunity for first- and second-year college students to learn first-hand about opportunities on Lehigh’s campus and get a sense if research might be a good fit.

Highlighting research and innovation

The symposium provides an opportunity for undergraduates to share work from a broad spectrum of engineering disciplines. The presenters will interact with faculty, students, visitors, and staff attending the event throughout the day.

This year, competitors’ topics run the gamut from autonomous robotics to solar energy production to the optimization of cancer treatments.

For example, a project presented by Vrushti Patel ’26, a Computer Science and Business major, explores how machine learning can be an important tool in efforts to preserve endangered languages, such as the Cherokee language (of which an estimated 2000 fluent first-language speakers remain). Patel is advised by Maryam Rahnemoonfar, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

According to the project abstract, Patel is a member of a team using translation techniques that employ machine learning and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to expand available language datasets to safeguard invaluable cultural knowledge and history encoded within these languages.

Student-competitors will present their work to a panel of judges, who score the presentations based on the creativity of the research, the significance of results to an engineering problem, the presenter(s) ability to defend the research work, and the quality of their poster.

Winners selected by the judging panel will receive scholarships to attend academic and professional conferences in their field to help them continue to advance their research. 

Again this year, the event features the People’s Choice award, which is determined by the votes UGRS attendees cast for their favorite student research team, with a prize of a $100 bookstore gift card hanging in the balance.

Developed in 2005 by materials science professors Himanshu Jain and Wojciech Misiolek and endowed by alumnus and Lehigh Trustee Andrew Freed '83 in honor of his parents, the symposium encourages Lehigh students to enrich their learning experience through research.

According to Misiolek: “Conducting research as an undergraduate pushes students beyond the classroom. Hands-on research with postdocs and professors can help students decide if they want to do research or not, both being valuable lessons. It pushes students to explore beyond the textbook.”