Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Injury Science REU Research Projects

Injury Science REU Research ProgramResearch Project Engineer Jalaj Maheshwari, MS working with 2018 Injury Science REU alum Sophie Tushak
Read Sophie's REU Training Testimonial

Please note, applications for the 2020 Injury Science Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program are now closed. 2021 Injury Science REU Research Projects will be available during Fall 2020.

Below is a list of the 2020 Injury Science REU Research Projects.

Aside from the projects below, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) offers two research projects exclusively to Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and Lincoln University - PA students. Please click here to view these projects.

Areas of Injury Science REU Research Projects:

Engineering

Behavioral Science

Epidemiology

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: BIOMECHANICAL RESPONSE DURING PRE-CRASH MANEUVERS AND AUTONOMOUS DRIVING SCENARIOS

Mentor: Valentina Graci, PhD

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 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 percent 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 CIRP, 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 lead to timely corrective driving actions. 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 CIRP 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 fixtures, data collection on human volunteers, post-processing, data analysis, FE modeling, and interpretation of the results. The student will develop his or her skills with data analyses of a diverse set of data types that could potentially 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 modeling is desirable. The student will have the opportunity to increase his or her 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 his or her work at conferences and to participate in the preparation of journal publications.

PROJECT 2: MOTOR CONTROL IN YOUNG CHILDREN WITH CEREBRAL PALSY

Mentors: Laura Prosser, PT, PhD and 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 CIRP and in the Division of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The student will contribute to the 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 the 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.

PROJECT 3: UNDERSTANDING HEATSTROKE PREVENTION AND TEEN DRIVING CRASH CHARACTERISTICS USING REAL-WORLD DATA

Mentors: Thomas Seacrist, MBE and Jalaj Maheshwari, MS

Research Description: Motor vehicle crashes and incidents are the leading cause of injury for children, youth, and young adults worldwide. The multidisciplinary engineering team at CIRP strives to prevent these motor vehicle injuries through a variety of child and teen driving research projects. CIRP’s current engineering research portfolio consists of two key topic areas:

  1. For child passengers, vehicular heatstroke has been a concern for many years, leading to 39 deaths per year on an average, and several other near-misses. Since heatstroke is a preventable scenario, it is important to investigate technologies that vehicle manufacturers or child seat manufacturers can incorporate within their systems to detect occupant heatstroke and to alert parents/caregivers/authorities. There have been 849 deaths reported due to vehicular heatstroke since 1998. At CIRP, we are interested in understanding the different possible causes that could have led to a vehicular heatstroke-related event. Based on each unique type of case possible, the efficacy of currently available detection and alerting technologies that can prevent the event needs to be analyzed through a series of case reviews. Finally, we would like to make recommendations to vehicle and child restraint manufacturers on which detection and alerting technologies can best address and help prevent these events from occurring.

  2. For teen drivers, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death and are primarily attributed to novice driver skill deficits, such as poor hazard perception, poor decision-making, and distraction. Previous research has studied teen driving through police reports, surveys, and driving simulators. 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 CIRP, we are interested in understanding how crash characteristics differ with increasing age and driving experience. Additionally, we are interested in knowing what trip characteristics are associated with increased risk of crashes and near-crashes. 

REU Project Description: The REU student will become a member of the Engineering Research Core at CIRP and will receive mentorship from several of the lead investigators of the Core. The student will develop his or her skills with data analyses of a diverse set of data types. 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 or her work at conferences and to participate in the preparation of journal publications.

PROJECT 4: SAFE MOBILITY: A USER-BASED APPROACH TO TRANSPORTATION SAFETY

Mentor: Megan Ryerson, PhD

Research Description: From bike lanes to pedestrian plazas, the urban transportation systems of American cities – and Philadelphia specifically – are becoming more multimodal. Yet, the increasing number of cyclists and pedestrians has led to a rise in conflicts and crashes. The research project proposed here is a collaboration between 1) CIRP, a comprehensive pediatric trauma research facility at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia dedicated to addressing injury, the leading cause of death for children and adolescents, and 2) Mobility21, the National University Transportation Research Center on Safety and Mobility housed at the University of Pennsylvania. The centers are seeking highly motivated and innovative undergraduate students majoring in Transportation Engineering/Planning and Public Health to participate in an exciting, innovative new project to measure safe mobility for vulnerable populations.

Understanding the safety and public health impact of infrastructure improvements requires understanding how vulnerable road users -- pedestrians and cyclists -- interact and respond to infrastructure. The REU student will assist with a project that will involve instrumenting pedestrians and cyclists while they are traveling along urban transportation infrastructure in Philadelphia. Eye-tracking technology will capture their moment-by-moment glances, and physiology monitors will capture their physical responses. The combined qualitative and quantitative data will be used to develop and estimate metrics of value to road designers. The REU student's responsibilities may include designing and conducting experiments and collecting data out in the field and image and data analysis using specialized software -- MATLAB and/or MS Excel. Previous coursework in Statistics, Engineering/Design, and Mathematics and experience with MATLAB is preferred.

REU Project Description: The REU student will become a member of the Engineering Research Core at CIRP and will receive mentorship from several of the lead investigators of the Core. The student will develop his or her skills with data analyses of a diverse set of data types. Previous experience using MATLAB is critical, and the student will have the opportunity to increase his or her skills in this area. The student will also gain experience in problem-solving, data analyses, interpreting findings, and developing new research ideas. There may also be opportunities to submit and present his or her work at conferences and to participate in the preparation of 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 5: EXAMINING THE NEURAL AND NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL FACTORS UNDERLYING RISKY DRIVING BEHAVIOR AND CRASHES IN DEVELOPING TEEN DRIVERS

Mentor: 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. 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 the 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, and cognitive science approaches to understand risky driving behavior and the increased crash risk among young novice drivers. As part of this quantitative research team, the student will have the opportunity to gain skills and experience with a wide range of measures and different types of data including: neuroimaging data, neuropsychological tests of brain function, neurophysiological measures (e.g. eye-tracking), simulated/virtual driving assessment as well as self-report measures of driving behavior and individual characteristics (e.g. personality). There are also opportunities to assist with engineering eye-tracking technology and analyzing results in relation to driving behavior and neuroimaging recording.
The student will 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 and in expanding their research experience. We are also looking for students who 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, and Biomedical Engineering.

PROJECT 6: FORMATIVE EVALUATION OF A HOSPITAL-BASED VIOLENCE INTERVENTION PROGRAM FOR ASSAULT-INJURED YOUTH

Mentor: Rachel Myers, PhD, MS

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 of 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 are beginning a new qualitative study to define the resources and activities required to effectively support the physical and psychosocial recovery of victimized youth and their families. We will analyze novel existing program data and conduct semi-structured interviews with stakeholders, including program staff, community partners, and youth and their families to systematically identify the capabilities and resources needed to provide youth-specific trauma-informed services to promote healing and recovery. Knowledge gained from this project will serve as a model for hospital-based and community-focused youth victim service programming that can be generalized across different settings and populations. Further, through this project, we will establish the capacity for and resources necessary to undertake future program evaluation activities, with a particular focus on unobtrusive outcome measurement, efforts to maintain engagement in services, and ensuring continued fidelity to program implementation by staff.

REU Project Description: The REU student will work collaboratively with members of the CHOP VIP team and gain exposure to qualitative research methods, as well as clinical program delivery. 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; and assisting with participant outreach and recruitment. 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 is preferred.

PROJECT 7: EXAMINING PEER AGGRESSION AND BULLYING AMONG SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN

Mentors: Stephen Leff, PhD and Tracy Waasdorp, PhD

Research Description: Peer aggression and bullying occur frequently in schools and have a harmful impact at the student, classroom, and school-wide level. Further, aggression and bullying are associated with poor psychosocial adjustment, feelings of being unsafe at school, lower levels of academic achievement, and school dropout as students reach adolescence. These issues are especially concerning for minority youth living in inner-city, under-resourced communities who are also exposed to stressors including poverty, drug use, and community violence. Dr. Leff and colleagues developed several aggression and bullying prevention programs, many of which were designed in partnership with key stakeholders through a community-based participatory research approach to specifically address the aforementioned concerns for urban minority youth. In addition, the programs are unique in their focus on multiple forms of bullying/aggression (including relational and cyberbullying), focus on unstructured school settings such as the lunchroom and playground, and examination of intervention integrity (i.e., assessment of content & process variables and whether the program was implemented as intended). Dr. Waasdorp collaborates with Dr. Leff on the adaptation of the programs to improve sustainability and the scalability of the programs. 

Specifically, we have 1) a small-group pull-out program for relationally aggressive 3rd-5th grade girls that is school-run and was adapted to include coaching by CHOP staff, 2) a classroom-based program for 3rd-5th grade boys and girls that have been adapted for feasibility and to include coaching and a train-the-trainer model. Drs. Leff and Waasdorp’s newest lines of research include, developing virtual simulations for youth to practice strategies outside of sessions, the development of a relational aggression prevention program for 1st and 2nd grade students, a program to help teachers improve their bullying prevention, detection, and intervention. We also have a new expanded focus on cyberbullying in urban communities.

REU Project Description: The REU student will be able to explore our current datasets (topics such as: self-report of bullying, aggression, problem-solving skills, victimization, and cyberbullying, as well as teacher report and parent data) to choose his or her own research question to be answered. The student must also have basic statistical knowledge and be comfortable using SPSS or STATA. The student will learn how to formulate a research question using existing literature and secondary data, run basic statistical analyses, utilize literature to support findings, and learn to present the research project. 

PROJECT 8: 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, PhDTracy Waasdorp, PhD, and Sandhyaa Iyengar, MD, MPH

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 youth experience physical victimization and/or social ostracism at much higher rates than 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.

REU Project Description: The REU student 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. Interest in peer bullying and developmental disabilities is recommended. The student will learn how to formulate research questions using a combination of existing literature and prior focus groups, and they 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 9: OBJECTIVE DIAGNOSTIC TOOLS FOR YOUTH CONCUSSIONS

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

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 Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Sports Medicine clinics.

REU Project Description: The REU student will become a member of our research team based at CIRP at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 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, the student 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 needed 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 his or her research experience.

PROJECT 10:  HEALTH BEHAVIORS AND TRANSPORTATION OUTCOMES

Mentors: Emma Sartin, PhD and Allison Curry, PhD, MPH

Research Description: Investigators at CIRP are conducting a variety of research studies to examine health behaviors and transportation outcomes for vulnerable populations. Ongoing studies are examining young drivers with and without developmental disabilities, determinants of child restraint system use, and health equity in access to transportation

REU Project Description: The REU 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; data collection and management; qualitative coding; medical records abstraction, and developing project databases. 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. 

Possible projects:

  1. Young Drivers
    1. Scheduling, etc.
    2. REDCap for tracking, outreach, screening
    3. Qualitative coding of interviews
    4. Data management, collection, cleaning
  2. Child Restraint System Use
    1. Literature review
    2. Data management, cleaning (using a large database)
    3. Creating maps and reports using ARC-GIS software (or similar)
  3. Access to transportation
    1. Literature Review
    2. Scheduling, etc.
    3. REDCap for tracking, outreach, screening
    4. Interviewing participants
    5. Qualitative coding of interviews
    6. Data management, collection, cleaning

We will be accepting applications for these positions from December 16, 2019 - January 16, 2020. (Applications submitted after these dates will not be reviewed.)