Wrapping Up 18 Months of Research

5/6/20 Pratt School of Engineering

From measuring tiny forces in cells to analyzing satellite data, 2020 Pratt Research Fellows have pursued in-depth engineering research as undergraduates

Image of cells, selected Pratt Research Fellows of the Class of 2020, a vertical wind turbine
Wrapping Up 18 Months of Research

The research subject was complex vortices of wind; the goal, to find the optimal arrangement of wind turbines.

For this Pratt Research Fellows project, faculty advisor Donald Bliss needed someone in his lab who was good at visualizing how systems work together.  Katie VanderKam brought just the right insights, thanks to her mechanical engineering studies and her other passionate pursuit.

21 members of the Duke Engineering Class of 2020 are Pratt Research Fellows

“I am a dancer and I have choreographed a bunch. So, I was used to picturing formations, such as people moving around together on a stage,” said VanderKam, a Pratt Research Fellow and member of the Class of 2020. “I thought that is kind of how we would picture vortices moving around each other behind a wind turbine. I saw that connection and that’s why this project was interesting to me.”

The Pratt Research Fellows Program is a competitive fellowship that provides opportunities for Duke Engineering undergraduates to do intensive research with faculty during three semesters and a summer.

Typically, Pratt Fellows graduate with departmental distinction and other honors. Many Pratt Research Fellows go on to medical school or PhD programs at Duke and other leading research universities.

Follow the links below to learn more about VanderKam and three other Pratt Research Fellows in the Class of 2020.

To learn more about the fellowship program, and find links to final Pratt Research Fellow presentations, visit pratt.duke.edu/pratt-fellows

Jose Rivera

Jose RiveraMeasuring Forces Inside Cells

Rivera, a biomedical engineering major, was inspired by a course in which he learned how different muscles in the human body control blood flow. As a Pratt Research Fellow, he joined the laboratory of Brenton Hoffman, an associate professor in BME working to develop ways to measure the tiny related forces found inside cells. 

Read Jose’s story »

Tiff Wei

Tiff WeiAnalyzing Satellite Data to Understand Ecosystems

Satellites in orbit over Earth send down precious data about the status of surface ecosystems, including incoming solar radiation, leaf area and vegetation cover. Wei’s research, under the mentorship of CEE professor Ana P. Barros, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, looked at that data to analyze prospects for agriculture in southern Africa.

Read Tiff’s story »

Matthew Salvino

Matthew SalvinoApplying Machine Learning to Health Care

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are powerful tools for engineers looking to solve essential problems in many fields, including medicine. Working with Duke ECE’s Lawrence Carin, a globally recognized AI expert and Duke’s vice president for research, Salvino worked on projects to speed the detection of diabetic retinopathy.

Read Matthew’s story »

Katie VanderKam

Katie VanderKamImproving the Efficiency of Wind Farms

VanderKam’s research focused on vertical-axis turbines, which spin perpendicularly to the ground. Her advisor, Duke MEMS’s Donald Bliss, is an expert in fluid dynamics, particularly vortex wakes.

Read Katie’s story »


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