Injury Science REU Research Projects

The Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute offers the following projects to undergraduates interested in injury science research. 

Areas of Injury Science REU Research Projects:

research

Research Project Engineer Jalaj Maheshwari, MS working with 2018 Injury Science REU alum Sophie Tushak

Aside from these 2021 Injury Science REU Research Projects, there are three other research projects exclusively for Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and Lincoln University - PA students. Please click here to view these projects.

REU Program Update

Please note: Applications for the 2021 REU Program closed on January 18, 2021. Selected applicants were notified in March 2021. We will begin accepting applications for the 2022 REU Program in mid-December 2021. Check back for more information in early December 2021.

Due to the changing situation related to COVID-19, most of the program will be held remotely this summer. Students who applied for positions designated as “remote” will not be required to work on campus. Alternatively, students who applied for positions designated as “in-person” will receive free single unit housing.

If the situation changes to allow for an in-person experience, students working remotely will be given the choice to remain fully remote or to participate in-person. Students who choose an in-person experience will be provided single unit free housing.

Engineering Core

All Engineering Core REU students will learn the design and conduct of laboratory-based and real-world engineering studies and the analysis and interpretation of the data collected. They may have opportunities to submit and present their work at conferences (e.g., the Ohio State University Impact Biomechanics Symposium and the Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society) with support from their mentors and to participate in the preparation of publications. They will be encouraged to work independently with appropriate mentorship and to generate enthusiasm and future career interest in engineering research that incorporates medicine and behavior for injury prevention.

Engineering Research Projects

Project 1: Understanding Driver Behavior Among Risky Drivers Using Naturalistic Driving Data

Mentor: Thomas Seacrist, MS

COVID-19 Status: Remote

Research Description

Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death in the United States and worldwide. Disproportionately represented among motor vehicle crashes are risky drivers, specifically young and older drivers. Previous research has attempted to quantify driving behavior and factors contributing to crashes and near crashes among risky drivers. However, the majority of these studies are based on police-reports and post-crash survey, which do not contain detailed information about the crash events.

Recently, the US Department of Transportation funded a large-scale US naturalistic driving study – the Strategic Highway Research Program 2 (SHRP2) Naturalistic Driving Study – which tracked day-to-day driving, crashes, and near crashes among 3,000 drivers over a two year period. This large dataset offers a unique opportunity to study real-world driver behavior that contributes to crashes and near crashes. At the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP), we are interested in understanding how crash characteristics, driving patterns, and pre-crash factors differ among risky drivers, with a particular emphasis on novice teen drivers. Example research questions include (1) how do crash characteristics differ among risky drivers, (2) what trip characteristics are predictive of crashes, (3) does parental driving behavior differ from non-parent drivers (4) how do non-fault crashes differ from at-fault crashes?

Additionally, CIRP is also interested in understanding how visual scanning behaviors differ among both typically and atypically developing novice drivers. Prior research has indicated that situational awareness, stemming from poor hazard perception and visual scanning deficits, is the primary reason for novice driver crashes. CIRP is currently collecting eye-tracking data among novice drivers using a novel simulated driving assessment. Example research questions include, how does visual scanning behavior (e.g. glance duration, gaze patterns) differ with age and driver experience?

REU applicants will have the opportunity to pursue one or more of these research questions. Notably, both projects can be completed either in-person or remote, depending on the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic come Summer 2021.

REU Project Description

The REU student will become a member of the Engineering Research Core at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention and will receive mentorship from several of the lead investigators. The REU student will be involved in the review and analysis of naturalistic driving data among risky drivers from the SHRP2 dataset. The student will hone his/her skills with data analyses, statistical analysis, and team-based data review. The student will also gain experience in problem solving, data analysis, interpreting findings, and developing new research ideas. There will also be opportunities to submit and present at conferences and to participate in the preparation of journal publications.

To this end, the Engineering Core is seeking a highly motivated, independent applicant with a strong interest in driving research from conceptualization to publication. Students majoring/concentrating in Engineering, Data Science, Biostatistics, Machine Learning, Epidemiology, Public Health, or a related field should apply. Previous experience using MATLAB, SAS, SPSS, Python, R, or other programming language is critical and the student will have opportunity to increase their skills in this area. Prior experience with analyzing large datasets is preferred. Scientific writing experience and an interest in co-authoring publications are also preferred.

Project 2: Social Equity and Spatial Effects On Safe Mobility

Mentor: Megan S. Ryerson, PhD

COVID-19 Status: Remote

Research Description

The field of transportation recognizes that the “after-the-fact” crash-based model of safety is biased, but presently does not have a clear mechanism to test safety in an a priori manner. Earlier attempts to collect such proactive data have been challenging and prohibitively expensive, or, at worst, unsafe. However, a new individual-level data set of virtual driving test scores, merged with real driving test results and traffic infringement and crash records obtained from administrative sources, affords a unique opportunity to begin proactively planning for safe mobility.

At the Center for Safe Mobility at the University of Pennsylvania we are particularly interested in working with these data to measure the social and spatial predictors of safe mobility. In this study we operationalize safe mobility through virtual driving test results, live driving test results, and observed driving behavior. We will then measure the effect of socioeconomic and demographic predictors on these indicators using measures such as: the individual’s socioeconomic and demographic background, roadway typologies around the individual’s residence, intersection characteristics at the location of low-test performance or an observed crash, and more. The Center for Safety Mobility features a diverse and interdisciplinary research team from fields that include Engineering, City Planning, Spatial Science, and more.

REU Project Description

The REU student will be a member of the Research team at the Center for Safe Mobility and will receive direct mentorship from Dr. Ryerson and lead members of her research team. The student will engage in a diverse array of research tasks including, but not limited to, data analysis, data visualization, writing and oral presentation, and spatial analysis. The Center for Safe Mobility conducts almost all analyses using the open-source statistical software R. Previous experience using R is thus desirable. Regardless of the student’s knowledge of R, there will have ample opportunity to increase skills in this platform, given the wide range of uses for which it is currently employed in the Center’s research. The student will also be an active intellectual partner and contribute in regular meetings with research team, actively contribute to project development, and help generate new research questions. There will be possible opportunities for the student to present at conferences and to co-author journal publications.

Project 3: Biomechanical Response During Pre-Crash Maneuvers and Autonomous Driving Scenarios

Mentor: Valentina Graci, PhD

COVID-19 Status: In-person or remote; If in-person free single unit housing provided

Research Description

Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for children, youth, and young adults. Historically, automotive safety research and advancements have focused on the mitigating injuries once the crash has occurred. However, more recently automotive safety research is shifting its focus to studying events prior to the crash. Previous research has shown that more than 60% of crashes involve some form of pre-crash maneuver (braking, swerving, skidding) prior to the crash. This number is likely to increase with the advent of early warning systems and autonomous vehicles.

At the Center for Injury Research and Prevention, we are interested in understanding how pre-crash maneuvers affect child occupant position and motion prior to a crash. We are developing warning systems that could decrease reaction time and body motion outside the optimal position within seat-belt. We are also developing new technology and analytic methods to test seating configuration and automatic emergency braking in critical autonomous scenarios.

REU Project Description

The REU student will become a member of the Engineering Research Core at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention and will receive mentorship from several of the lead investigators of the Core. The student will be involved in various aspects of the research process including designing and machining experimental fixture, data collection on human volunteers, post-processing, data analysis, FE modelling, and interpretation of the results. The student will develop his/her skills with data analyses of a diverse set of data types that could potential be: motion capture and EMG data collection and/or analysis of children and young adults. The student will potentially learn how to model child and crash dummy responses in Madymo.

Previous experience using MATLAB is critical and Madymo and/or FE modelling is desirable. The student will have opportunity to increase their skills in this area. The student will also gain experience in problem solving, data analyses, interpreting findings, and developing new research ideas. There will also be potential opportunities to submit and present their work at conferences and to participate in the preparation of journal publications. This project work can be done remotely with the focus being on data analysis, programming, and post-processing, or can be done in person to allow the student to also participate in data collection or fixture modifications.

Project 4: Understanding the Effect of Varying Seating Conditions on Pediatric Occupant Kinematics, Kinetics, and Injury Metrics

Mentor: Jalaj Maheshwari, MSE

COVID-19 Status: Remote

Research Description

Motor vehicle crashes and incidents are the leading cause of injury for children, youth, and young adults worldwide. By using computational simulations, a variety of crash cases can be tested at a nominal cost, which would otherwise be expensive using physical sled testing or vehicle crash testing. The Engineering team at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention strives to prevent these motor vehicle injuries through a variety of pediatric research projects using computational modeling. Human body models are a great tool to assess the kinematic and kinetic responses of an actual human body under different crash conditions. Additionally, human body models allow investigating internal organ kinematics that is not necessarily possible using anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs) or crash test dummies.

We are analyzing the responses of pediatric human body models in different crash conditions, vehicle restraint parameters, and child restraints. The internal organ kinematics, kinetics, and injury metric data will be analyzed over the crash conditions to better guide passive safety systems (seatbelts, airbags) and child restraint system development.

REU Project Description

The REU student will become a member of the Engineering Research Core at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention and will receive mentorship from several of the lead investigators of the Core. The student will be involved in various aspects of the research process including data extraction from computational simulations, data pre-processing, data analysis, and interpretation of the results. The student will be analyzing kinematic, kinetic, and injury data. Previous experience using MATLAB and/or Python is required. Additional experience with finite element (FE) modeling is desirable, but not required. The student will have the opportunity to increase their skills in these areas. The student will also gain experience in problem-solving, data analyses, interpreting findings, and developing new research ideas. There will also be opportunities to submit and present his/her work at conferences and to participate in the preparation of journal publications.

Project 5: Motor Control in Young Children with Cerebral Palsy

Mentors: Laura Prosser, PT, PhD and Valentina Graci, PhD

COVID-19 Status: In-person; Single unit free housing provided

Research Description

Brain injury is the leading cause of disability in childhood. Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by a brain injury that occurs near the time of birth and interferes with motor development. It affects about 3 babies per 1,000 and 17 million people worldwide. While motor impairment during school-age children with CP has been fairly well characterized, the trajectory of motor impairment from infancy to early school-age has not. This makes it difficult to predict the degree of future disability in young children.

We are addressing this issue by quantifying motor impairment in the early years of life with methods that draw on the multidisciplinary expertise of our groups such as engineering, computer science, physical therapy, brain imaging, and neuroscience. It is difficult to study young children with disabilities because behavioral, cognitive, and physical limitations make rigorous research challenging. We have years of experience testing various protocols in this population.

REU Project Description

The REU student will become a member of our research team based at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention and in the Division of Rehabilitation Medicine, both at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute. The student will contribute to design of novel testing fixtures, programming, pilot testing and data analysis of child-friendly devices and programs to measure motor control in young children with and without CP. Strength and coordination measures from the new device will be collected with clinical measures of motor function, to determine the best battery of tests for this age group.

The student should have an Engineering or Computer Science background to contribute to the testing and data analysis. Programing skills in Java, html, C++, and/or Matlab and ability to learn new programming languages are highly desirable. Machine shop skills would be useful. Good communication skills are also expected in order to effectively coordinate activities in both labs.

Behavioral Science Core

All Behavioral Science Core REU students will be exposed to core behavioral science research methods – quantitative and qualitative – and will apply them in settings involving human subjects. They may have opportunities to submit and present their work at conferences (e.g., the International Study for Traumatic Stress Society Annual Conference, the CHOP LEND Research Day) with support from their mentors and to participate in the preparation of journal publications. They will be encouraged to work independently with appropriate mentorship and to generate enthusiasm and future career interest in behavioral science research that links behavior to medicine and engineering for injury prevention and prevention of traumatic stress among injured children.

Behavioral Science Research Projects

Project 6: Pediatric Outcomes Following Interpersonal Assault Injury

Mentor: Rachel Myers, PhD, MS

COVID-19 Status: Remote

Research Description

The CHOP Violence Intervention Program (VIP) provides hospital-based and community-focused case management services to youth and their families following injury from interpersonal violence. Employing a trauma-informed approach, which considers the impact of prior traumatic experiences on how individuals respond to clinical treatment, VIP supports youth and their families in recovery after violence. As part of the program, Violence Prevention Specialists help youth identify their recovery needs and provide community-focused case management to assist in resolving these needs and reduce the likelihood for retaliation and re-injury.

Despite emerging evidence regarding best practices for hospital-based violence intervention programs, the model of pediatric care and services is not well-defined. We have several ongoing projects to establish the epidemiology of intentional injuries in the pediatric healthcare setting, as well as to define the resources and activities required to effectively support the physical and psychosocial recovery of injured youth and their families. Potential work may include analyzing data extracted from CHOP’s electronic health record, conducting medical record chart abstractions, and participating in qualitative coding of semi-structured interviews with VIP stakeholders including staff, community partners, and youth and their families. Knowledge from this work will help to establish the need for hospital-based services and to develop a program model specialized to the needs of injured youth and their families that can be disseminated and replicated across different settings.

REU Project Description

The REU student will work collaboratively with members of the CHOP VIP team and gain exposure to both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Activities may include: collecting, coding, entering and analyzing data from quantitative and qualitative data sources; developing databases; attending training activities and project team meetings; performing literature searches; retrieving and summarizing pertinent articles; participating in data management and analyses; and preparing documents for dissemination to internal and external partners. Depending on out capacity for in-person activities, this work can be tailored to a remote/virtual experience.

Competitive candidates for this position will have a demonstrated interest in public health, healthcare, and child/adolescent health issues. Prior coursework in Public Health; Psychology; Social Work; Health Policy; Behavioral Health; Nursing; or Health Sciences is required and at least one course in Research Methods is preferred.

Project 7: Helping Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (DBP) Providers Better Screen For, Document, and Manage the Peer Victimization Experiences of Youth Who Have High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (HF-ASD)

Mentors: Stephen Leff, PhD, Sandhyaa Iyengar, MD, MPH, & Tracy Waasdorp, PhD

COVID-19 Status: Remote

Research Description

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition typified by deficits in social communication, social interactions, processing of social and emotional cues, and a restricted range of behaviors and affect. High-functioning children with autism spectrum disorder (HF-ASD) often possess marked social skills deficits in the context of average cognitive abilities. These social difficulties (e.g., trouble accurately understanding social cues, detecting others’ emotional states, and understanding others’ perspectives) are quite pervasive and impact peer relationships, academic functioning, and social adjustment over-time. For instance, as compared to peers without developmental difficulties, youth with HF-ASD report poorer quality friendships and more depression and loneliness as they get older.

Research on the social interactions and conflicts of youth with HF-ASD is scarce. The few studies that have focused on this population suggest that these youths experience physical victimization and/or social ostracism at much higher rates than their typically developing peers and that peer victimization for youth with HF-ASD is associated with negative outcomes such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, and suicidal ideation. A recent meta-analysis suggests that nearly one in two school-aged youth with ASD is at risk of being a victim of physical, verbal, or relational school bullying. These findings specifically highlight the importance for medical providers to identify, understand, and address these at-risk youths’ social challenges so that bullying victimization can be screened for, identified, and ameliorated whenever possible.

Developmental-behavioral pediatricians (DBPs) have specific training and expertise in evaluating and treating children and adolescents who have a range of chronic developmental, learning, and behavioral disabilities, and supporting their families. One of the most common developmental disabilities treated by DBPs is autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Although DBPs receive substantial training in the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of the core deficits and symptoms of ASD, they may be less familiar with how to screen for and address peer victimization experiences that their patients often encounter as a result of their social-communication challenges.

The goal of the proposed quality improvement and research study is to better understand what will impact DBP providers’ usage of peer bullying and victimization screening questions and resources in the context of their follow-up visits for patients age 8 to 16 who have HF-ASD. The stakeholders involved are DBP providers, clinical leadership within the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, youth with HF-ASD, families of youth with HF-ASD, and more generally the ASD research community. We will also attempt to incorporate representatives from the schools.

Based on the series of preliminary studies conducted over the past few years (e.g. qualitative interviews with DBPs, brainstorming sessions with experts, and survey results), we think that the lack of appropriate screening and resources related to bullying and victimization in children with HF-ASD is likely related to a combination of factors including: (1) ASD and HF-ASD characteristics that impede typical social-communication skills and an understanding of usual social conventions and expected play behaviors; (2) Documentation challenges; (3) Limited Tools, and (4) Family/Provider challenges within the context of a follow-up visit. REU trainees will be mentored by Drs. Leff, Iyengar, and Waasdorp.

In addition to this main project, there may also be opportunities to become involved in several other projects being conducted by the research team. These may include better understanding peer, teacher, and parent factors contributing to micro-aggressions and racism among urban youth; and contributing to data organization and analyses related to a school-based bullying prevention project.

REU Project Description

This intern will be involved in a largely qualitative study to better understand how peer bullying impacts youth with high-functioning ASD and how screening questions, resources, and intervention strategies can be developed so that they are most useful for DBP providers caring for youth with ASD. An interest in peer bullying and developmental disabilities is recommended. The intern will learn how to formulate research questions using a combination of extant literature and prior focus groups' results and  will learn basic qualitative and quality improvement research techniques as part of this ongoing initiative.

Epidemiology Core

All Epidemiology Core REU students will be exposed to survey design and administration and data analysis and interpretation. They will have opportunities to submit and present their work at conferences (e.g., the American Public Health Association’s annual conference) with support from their mentors and participate in the preparation of publications. Students will be encouraged to work independently with appropriate mentorship, to generate enthusiasm and future career interest in epidemiology, statistics, demography, and ethnography research that links the fields of medicine and behavior to injury prevention. The preparation of journal publications. Students will be encouraged to work independently with appropriate mentorship, to generate enthusiasm and future career interest in epidemiology, statistics, demography, and ethnography research that links the fields of medicine and behavior to injury prevention.

Epidemiology Research Projects

Project 8: Objective Diagnostic Tools for Youth Concussions

Mentors: Catherine McDonald, PhD, RN, FAAN and Ronni Kessler, MS

COVID-19 Status: Remote

Research Description

Concussion in youth has received heightened attention owing to emerging evidence that this common injury can affect academics and cause behavioral changes and neurocognitive deficits in working memory, concentration, processing speed, and eye and motor function. As the incidence and awareness of sports-related concussions and multiple sub-concussive loads raises concern about long-term effects of repeated exposures, scientific approaches to injury prevention and treatment are hampered by the subjective, non-specific, symptom-based aspects of concussion diagnosis, and a lack of knowledge about the role that age, sex and biomechanics have in exacerbating outcomes. We are addressing this gap by collecting data using an objective suite of diagnostic measurements, both pre- and post-season for high school age athletes as well as for adolescents with concussion seen at CHOP Sports Medicine clinics.

REU Project Description

The student will become a member of our research team based in the Center for Injury Research and Prevention. The student will help analyze baseline neurofunctional data collected pre- and post-season during the previous school year through a partnership with a local high school. Activities will include data management, query resolution, data cleaning, and data analyses focused on specific research questions. Additionally they will assist in developing an annual progress report that will be presented to the school administration.

The ideal candidate will be interested in learning how to use statistical software and developing the skills need to conduct the various elements of data analysis. We are looking for a motivated, detail oriented, confident, and enthusiastic student that is looking to expand their research experience.

Project 9: Examining the Neural and Neuropsychological Factors Underlying Risky Driving Behavior and Crashes in Developing Teen Drivers

*This position has been filled*

Mentor: Elizabeth A. Walshe, PhD

COVID-19 Status: Remote

Research Description

Compared to adults, young novice drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle collision, which remains the leading cause of death and injury among adolescents. While inexperience certainly plays a role, the ongoing neurocognitive development of the frontal lobe of the brain during the adolescent years (and into young adulthood) may also contribute to the disproportionate number of crashes among young drivers. The ability to direct and maintain attention, make decisions and control behavior (related to distractibility, impulsivity, risk-taking) all continue to develop with maturation of the frontal lobe, and each of these cognitive abilities are important for the complex skill of driving. We are currently conducting a number of studies examining the relationship between crashes and the development of the neural and cognitive processes necessary for safe driving in adolescents and young drivers.

REU Project Description

The REU student will join an interdisciplinary research team that uses neuroscience, neuropsychology, cognitive science, and epidemiology approaches to understand risky driving behavior and the increased crash risk among young novice drivers. As part of this quantitative research team, the student may have the opportunity to gain exposure to a wide range of measures and different types of data including: neuroimaging data, neuropsychological tests of brain function, neurophysiological measures (e.g. eye-tracking), on-road licensing exam data, simulated/virtual driving assessment, as well as self-report measures of driving behavior and individual characteristics (e.g. personality).

There may also be opportunities to assist with engineering eye tracking technology and analyzing results in relation to driving behavior and neuroimaging recording. The student may also have an opportunity to develop a number of valuable skills for a career in research by joining research team meetings and scientific discussions, and assisting with a number of stages of the scientific research process, such as: participant recruitment, data management and analyses, literature reviews and manuscript preparation.

We are looking for students who are interested in quantitative research, want to expand their research experience, and are motivated and excited to work on this team’s projects examining the brain and behavior of young drivers. We encourage diverse majors to apply, including (but not limited to): psychology, neuroscience, public health, health sciences, engineering, biomedical engineering, and data science.