Program Overview & Research Projects

We will be keeping families updated about the impact of the COVID-19 situation on lab research at USC. Until that time, we are highlighting below labs where research is related to medicine.
Applicants select their top three choices of engineering fields, and the K-12 STEM Center pairs applicants with an appropriate research team, based on applicant interest, the professor’s needs and capacity, etc. Professors are the ones who select SHINE students from the pool of qualified applicants.

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. (LAB Full) 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. Pre-requisite: Physics, Calculus and coding (any language) are helpful but not required. Prof. Mitul LuharFluid-Structure Interactions Lab.


  1. MEDICAL!  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. Pre-requisite: Biology, Chemistry. Prof. Eun Ji Chung: The Chung Laboratory-Biomaterials and Nanomedicine Research
  2. MEDICAL!  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. MEDICAL!  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. MEDICAL!  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. MEDICAL!  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
  2. MEDICAL!  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
  3. MEDICAL!  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. We plan to develop algorithms to enable assistive robotic arms help people with every day tasks, such as cooking and hair brushing! The SHINE students will work with current PhD students on basic data analysis, implementation and testing techniques of software algorithms for assistive robotic arms. There are no formal pre-requisites but some coding experience would be desirable.  Prof. Stefanos NikolaidisInteractive and Collaborative Autonomous Robotic Systems (ICAROS) lab


  1. 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. Pre-requisite: Coding (C,C++ or Python), circuity (a plus, but not required). Prof. Heather Culbertson: HARVI Lab
  2. 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
  3. The Automated Coordination of Teams (ACT) lab is working on a project that takes inspiration from how humans coordinate and applies it to the coordination of robot teams. By studying how humans coordinate, we aim to design novel ways for teams of multiple robots to work on complex tasks. As part of this project, we have developed a multiplayer game that records human coordination data. Part of the work will involve helping us to understand the data collected from this game. An important question in the project is determining when humans decide to take an action and how they decide which action to take; knowing this can help create better policies for robots to complete these tasks.
    Prior experience coding is a plus.
    Prof. Nora Ayanian:  ACT 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. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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, physics and some coding (e.g., in Python or Arduino). Prof. Manuel Monge: Integrated Medical Electronics Lab

  6. Machine Learning for Electromagnetics: In this project, the student will explore applying various machine learning algorithms for designing new electromagnetic devices. They will learn about Deep Neural Networks, specifically Generative Adversarial Networks and Variational Autoencoders, and use them to design antennas and photonic devices. Pre-requisite: Computer programming knowledge is required. Prof. Constantine Sideris: : ACME Lab
  7. Magnetic Biosensing: In this project, the student will learn about Point-of-Care biosensors, how they work, and will help measure and characterize new magnetic biosensor chips that we are designing in our group. Point-of-Care biosensing seeks to achieve personalized healthcare by miniaturizing and bringing diagnostic sensors that only require small biological samples to peoples’ homes. These sensors require only a small biological sample for analysis such as a drop of blood from a finger prick or a saliva sample and will be capable of diagnosing a variety of diseases and health conditions including infections and heart disease. Prof. Constantine Sideris: : ACME Lab
  8. The Hsu Lab studies photonics in complex systems using experimental, numerical and analytical methods. Our lab explores new paradigms for controlling light, overcoming and harnessing light scattering, retrieving information from photons, and beyond. In this project, the SHINE student will work with postdoc and graduate students, and assist in the optical experiment and data analysis for the study of noval imaging method and light wave propagation in complex systems. They can also participate in research meetings and project updates. Prof. Chia Wei Hsu : Photonics in Complex Systems


  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 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. The student will study new materials that my group is exploring for developing next generation solar cells and for developing advanced electronics. Basic knowledge of Physics, and Chemistry. Coding and Math knowledge (calculus) will be an optional bonus. Prof. Jayakanth RavichandranLaboratory for Complex Materials


  1. We plan to use a combination of machine learning and physics-based computational methods to design porous solids with optimal microstructure. This is primarily computational work in machine learning rather than research in a wet lab. Prerequisites: physics and interest in computer programming. Prof. Assad Oberai: Computation and Data Driven Discovery Group

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Also see Students’ Posters and Videos for additional information on these research projects.

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