Injury Science REU Research Projects

The Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)'s Injury Science Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program offers projects in three areas of research:

CIRP is a leading multidisciplinary center engaged in collaborative cross-discipline research implementing real-world applications, and the Injury Science REU Program includes mentoring from a well-established team of highly trained pediatric researchers as well as peer mentors.

research

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

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: Motor Control in Young Children with Cerebral Palsy

Mentors: Laura Prosser, PT; Valentina Graci, PhD

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 at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The student will contribute to the design of novel testing fixtures, programming, data collection and data analysis of child-friendly devices and programs to measure motor control in young children with and without CP.

The student should have an engineering or computer science background to contribute to the development, testing and data analysis. Programing skills in MATLAB, Java, html, and/or C++ and ability to learn new programming languages are highly desirable. Good communication skills and ability to work independently are also expected in order to effectively coordinate activities in both labs.

Project 2: Analysis of Pediatric Occupant Kinematics and Kinetics in Motor Vehicle Crashes

Mentor: Jalaj Maheshwari, MSE

Research Description

Motor vehicle crashes and incidents are the leading cause of injury for children, youth, and young adults worldwide. 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 and/or sled testing. Human body models and anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs or crash test dummies) are a great tool to assess the kinematic and kinetic responses of an occupant under different crash conditions. We are analyzing the responses of pediatric occupants in different crash conditions, vehicle restraint parameters, and child restraints. The occupant 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, 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 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 the student's work at conferences and to participate in the preparation of journal publications.

Project 3: Analysis of Pediatric Occupant Kinematics and Kinetics in Motor Vehicle Crashes

Mentor: Jalaj Maheshwari, MSE

Research Description

Motor vehicle crashes and incidents are the leading cause of injury for children, youth, and young adults worldwide. 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 and/or sled testing. Human body models and anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs or crash test dummies) are a great tool to assess the kinematic and kinetic responses of an occupant under different crash conditions. We are analyzing the responses of pediatric occupants in different crash conditions, vehicle restraint parameters, and child restraints. The occupant 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, 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 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 the student's work at conferences and to participate in the preparation of journal publications.

Project 4: Social Equity and Spatial Effects on Safe Mobility

Mentor: Megan S. Ryerson, PhD

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 knowledge of R, the student 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 the 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 be a co-author on journal publications.

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 3: Pediatric Outcomes Following Interpersonal Assault Injury

Mentors: Rachel Myers, PhD, MS; Hillary Kappa, MPH

Research Description

CHOP's 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.

We have several ongoing projects to establish the epidemiology of intentional injuries in the pediatric healthcare setting, to define the resources and activities required to effectively support the physical and psychosocial recovery of injured youth and their families, and to support the helping professionals who assist youth and families with this recovery.

Potential work may include:

  • Analyzing data extracted from CHOP’s electronic health record
  • Conducting medical record chart abstractions
  • Analyzing survey data
  • Participating in qualitative coding of semi-structured interviews with program stakeholders including staff, community partners, and youth and their families
  • Supporting collection of implementation and outcome data related to a new intervention to promote the well-being of helping professionals

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. Additionally, this work will advance the understanding and refinement of models to support helping professionals within both hospital-based violence intervention programs (HVIPs) and other settings (e.g., schools).

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, managing, 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; and preparing documents for dissemination to internal and external partners.

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 are required and at least one course in research methods preferred.

Project 4: Child Trauma Data Archives

Mentors: Nancy Kassam-Adams, PhD and Yaara Sadeh, PhD

Research Description

The Child Trauma Data Archives Project is a collaborative effort bringing together and preserving datasets from studies around the world. This unique resource allows these combined data to be used by investigators around the world to answer new research questions – and to better understand how children recover after potentially traumatic experiences.

The project includes:

  • A growing archive of data from more than 30 prospective studies that follow children after acute traumas like injury, disaster, violence, medical events
  • A new archive of data from studies evaluating prevention or treatment for children who have experienced trauma

This project is related to the broader movement toward more open and transparent methods in science and is part of a larger global effort to promote more FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) data practices in the traumatic stress field.

REU Project Description

This is a data-focused project. It offers the REU student the opportunity to learn about data management practices and data sharing / harmonization methods that will be applicable across other behavioral, health, and social science fields. The REU student will work collaboratively with members of the Child Trauma Data Archives team at CHOP and will gain exposure to an international group of researchers working in this area. Activities may include organizing and preparing data from child trauma intervention studies submitted by investigators around the world; participating in data management and analyses; helping to build a database of traumatic stress data resources and publications; attending training activities and project team meetings; performing literature searches; and preparing documents and information to help external researchers use and understand the data archives.

Competitive candidates for this position will have a demonstrated interest in data and research methods, as well as strong organizational and analytical thinking skills. Prior coursework in psychology, public health, health sciences, or data science is required, with at least one prior course in research methods or statistics.

Project 5: Examining Big Data Behind Risky Driving Behavior and Crashes

Mentors: Elizabeth A. Walshe, PhD

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. We are currently conducting a number of studies examining the relationship between driving skills, motor vehicle 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 combines neuroscience, data science, and epidemiology approaches to understand risky driving behavior and increased crash risk among young novice drivers. This team uses a broad variety of analytical and data science methods, such as geocoding, cluster analysis, traditional statistics, and machine learning.

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: state-wide on-road licensing exam outcomes, simulated/virtual driving assessment, police-reported crashes, as well as neuroimaging data, neuropsychological tests of brain function, participant survey data, and more. These include clinical- as well as population-level data. 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): Statistics; Data Science; Public Health; Health Sciences; Engineering; Biomedical Engineering; Psychology; and Neuroscience.

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 to 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. 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 6: New Jersey Safety and Health Outcomes (NJ-SHO) Resource Center

Mentors: Allison Curry, PhD, MPH; Christine Norris, BA; Lauren O’Malley, MPH

Research Description

We are an interdisciplinary and energetic team dedicated to launching the novel New Jersey Safety and Health Outcomes (NJ-SHO) Resource Center. The NJ-SHO Resource Center will meet a critical need among New Jersey’s safety and health communities via (1) creation of a website to disseminate important injury-, safety-, and transportation equity-related information; and (2) development of an online data dashboard that visualizes safety and health outcomes data to guide and evaluate local and statewide solutions to reduce the burden of injuries and deaths across the state.

REU Project Description

This position would be ideal for a student majoring in Communications, Public Health, or a related major. The student will assist the team in a range of activities, which include: creating the Center’s website; disseminating the Center’s research results and educational materials; utilizing digital communication and public relations tactics to stakeholders throughout New Jersey; coordinating effective social media, video, and website content; coordinating logistics, planning, and execution of in-person and online events for stakeholders and the project funder; writing and promoting blog posts; and development of training materials for data dashboard users.

Project 7: Human Subject Studies with Parents and Children to Study Effectiveness of Car Seat and Driver Safety Apps

Mentor: Haley Bishop, PhD; Morgan O’Donald, MPH; Emma Sartin, PhD

Research Description

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of unintentional morbidity and mortality among children and teens in the United States. Researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention are conducting a variety of research studies with our small business partner Minnesota Health Solutions (MHS) to address this issue. Our studies include prospective randomized trials with children and parents to assess the effectiveness of novel car seat technology and teen driver app technology.

REU Project Description

This student will participate in many aspects of a scientific research study and will have the opportunity to gain experience in applying various skills valuable to a future career in public health, health sciences, policy, epidemiology, or scientific research. The student may be involved in and responsible for tasks related to: literature reviews; database creation; data collection and management; and research participant study visits and other interactions. In addition, the student will be able to participate in research meetings, scientific discussions, and CIRP-wide research meetings.

The student should be motivated, enthusiastic, dependable, and detail-oriented. Prior coursework in public health, psychology, social work, health policy, behavioral health, nursing, or health sciences and experience working with policy, scientific data or in a scientific research setting is preferred, but not required.

Project 8: Cognitive and Circuit Impairments Induced by Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Mentor: Akiva Cohen, PhD

Research Description

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of death and disability in children and young adults. A TBI occurs on average every 21 seconds and afflicts approximately two million people annually in the United States. No effective therapy currently exists to treat TBI. A profound obstacle to the diagnosis and treatment of TBI is the absence of an objective, quantitative test for TBI. The difficulty in diagnosing TBI is due in large part to the overlap in symptoms between TBI and other conditions (e.g. stroke, migraine, PTSD, depression and non-convulsive seizures), as well as variability in the initial injury and clinical presentation. Therefore, we are determining the nature of a brain circuitry functional biomarker in mice that have received a mild TBI.

REU Project Description

The REU student will become a member of the Cohen lab at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The student will receive mentorship from the lead investigator, as well as from members of his laboratory. The student will learn various behavioral paradigms, immunohistochemistry as well as cell counting and biochemistry. 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 at conferences and to participate in the preparation of journal publications.