Freshmen, sophomores among engineers presenting at Show Me Research Week

April 11, 2023

Albert Zhou, a sophomore information technology major, and Helena Verbrugge, a freshman majoring in chemical engineering, will present their respective research projects during Show Me Research Week April 17-21 on campus.

At Mizzou Engineering, the opportunity to conduct and present research isn’t reserved for upperclassmen. Next week, freshmen and sophomores will be among the more than 55 Mizzou Engineering undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows participating in Show Me Research Week.

Helena Verbrugge, a freshman from St. Louis, will present her team’s work around using sensors to assess weather and soil moisture in remote areas. Albert Zhou, a sophomore from Columbia, will show how virtual reality can create new ways to relax.

Show Me Research Week kicks off Monday, with poster presentations being held Tuesday through Thursday in Memorial Union. Lectures, forums and professional development sessions will also be offered throughout the week.

For Zhou and Verbrugge, it’ll be the first time they have the opportunity to present research to the public.

“I’m excited but nervous,” Verbrugge said. “But that’s what college is for — to explore and see what’s out there.”

Zhou and Verbrugge took two different paths to undergraduate research.

Growing up, Verbrugge was encouraged by her parents, both engineers, to explore different aspects of engineering. She attended camps, was involved in robotics and built solar panels from kits. When she came to Mizzou to study chemical engineering, her mom encouraged her to find a faculty member working on an area of interest. Assistant Professor Noel Aloysius’ research using mathematical models to track water flow fit the bill.

“I love math — it comes naturally to me,” Verbrugge said. “And I like the idea of using data to improve communities and the environment.”

Aloysius’ team includes faculty from the School of Natural Resources and collaborators from the Delta Research Center and South Farm Research Center. They’re studying how to leverage sensors to track soil and water conditions in remote areas thousands of miles away. Over spring break, they set up weather and soil moisture sensors at Cocoa Nursery in Liberia through a partnership with the Central Agricultural Research Institute there. They’re now collecting and analyzing that data from MU’s South Farm in hopes of helping to inform decisions around crop growth.

Verbrugge’s work is supported with an engineering undergraduate research fellowship, and the research also is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Lloyd E. Hightower Endowed fund through Chemical and Biomedical Engineering.

Zhou has been tinkering with technology since he was young. He grew up playing video games, built his own computer at the age of 14 and helped family and friends improve servers and networks.

In the engineering and information technology department, Zhou learned of the VR project from Associate Teaching Professor Fang Wang.

The group is designing virtual, three-dimensional environments that can be coupled with massage chairs. Users wear VR goggles while in the chair to experience environments such as space or a beach.

After Show Me Research Week, Zhou plans to work on other research projects and is now considering graduate school.

“Research keeps me motivated and on track,” he said. “It’s helped me get more active. I really enjoy it.”

See the full Show Me Research Week schedule here.

Get involved in research as early as your freshman year! Apply to Mizzou Engineering today.