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25+ Research Ideas in Engineering for High School Students

Engineering is a multifaceted domain that spans a broad spectrum of disciplines for STEM enthusiasts, each offering unique challenges and opportunities. If you’re eager to get into engineering, then one option to consider that can set you apart from the herd is pursuing research. While there’s no shortage of engineering challenges, competitions, and pre-college programs, core engineering research is something less commonly pursued by high schoolers and thus an option you can consider to make your profile stand out. Pursuing research while still in school highlights your initiative and dedication to the discipline, while building your analytical expertise and problem-solving skills.


Here, we present 25+ research ideas across various engineering disciplines that you could consider exploring.


How should you go about pursuing research in engineering as a high schooler?


Embarking on a research journey requires a topic that is both pertinent and achievable. Your chosen subject should address a contemporary challenge or knowledge void in the engineering realm. Aim for innovation, ensuring you have the requisite resources and tools at your disposal. Once you've pinpointed a promising research avenue, figure out the methodology you are going to use, any ethical implications to consider, and how you will be presenting your findings.


Topic 1: Civil Engineering and Sustainable Infrastructure

Civil engineering is pivotal in creating sustainable urban environments. As cities grow, the challenge lies in developing infrastructure that is eco-friendly, durable, and efficient. Dive into the world of sustainable construction, urban planning, and environmental impact assessments to shape the cities of tomorrow.


Good to have before you start:


  • Some knowledge of, or interest in, architecture and material sciences

  • Easy and consistent access to the internet and public knowledge databases - speak to your school library or the nearest public library!


Some potential topics:


1. Recycled Materials in Construction: Assess the viability and benefits of using recycled materials in modern infrastructure.


2. Urbanization and Stormwater Management: Understand how rapid urban growth affects natural water systems and potential mitigation strategies.


3. Earthquake-Resistant Structures: Design and evaluate structures that can endure seismic activities.


4. Environmental Impact of Infrastructure: Investigate the ecological footprint of large-scale construction projects and ways to minimize it.


Ideas contributed by a Lumiere Mentor from Imperial College London.


Topic 2: Biomedical Engineering

The intersection of biology and engineering, biomedical engineering, promises advancements that can revolutionize healthcare. From wearable tech to organ regeneration, the possibilities are endless. This is an especially good field for you to explore if you’re interested in participating in various national or international innovation challenges or STEM competitions, as research in this field is on the cutting edge of medical innovation.


Good to have before you start:


  • Some knowledge of, or interest in, biology and the medical sciences

  • Access to medical literature and databases. Your nearest hospital or school library might be able to help you with this

  • You should absolutely find a mentor if you pursue a topic in this field. Biomedical innovations are quite advanced and require a solid grounding in theory

  • Maybe find a few friends or teammates to pursue these subjects with. You will then be able to divide the workload and research amongst each other and learn from each other


Some potential topics:


5. Wearable Health Devices: Delve into the potential of wearables in real-time health monitoring and early disease detection.


6. Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery: Explore how nanoscale innovations can enhance drug delivery efficiency and precision.


7. Advanced Prosthetics: Research the development of prosthetics that offer enhanced mobility and sensory feedback.


8. Tissue Engineering in Organ Transplants: Investigate the feasibility of lab-grown organs as a solution to donor shortages.


Ideas contributed by Lumiere Mentors from University College London, Brown University, and UC Berkeley.


Topic 3: Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering delves into the study and application of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. With the world becoming increasingly reliant on electrical solutions, research in this field is more relevant than ever, playing a crucial role in powering innovations, from renewable energy solutions to smart grids.


Good to have before you start:


  • Some knowledge of, or interest in, electronics and material sciences

  • Convenient access to an electronics laboratory - a lot of the subjects in this field require experimentation and practical observation

  • Some mentorship - due to the hands-on and experimental nature of these topics, we suggest that you work with a teacher, a mentor, or at the very least a lab assistant who can guide you on the basics


Some potential topics:


9. Efficiency of Solar Cell Materials: Analyze the performance and potential of various materials in solar energy conversion.


10. Energy-Efficient Lighting Systems: Design and evaluate lighting solutions that reduce energy consumption without compromising output.


11. Wireless Power Transmission: Explore the challenges and potential of transmitting power without physical connectors.


12. Integration of Renewable Energy: Study the intricacies of incorporating green energy sources into existing power grids.


Ideas contributed by Lumiere Mentors from Imperial College London and University College London.

Topic 4: Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering is the discipline that applies the principles of physics and materials science for the design, analysis, manufacturing, and maintenance of mechanical systems. It's a field that's constantly evolving with technological advancements. If you want to drive innovations in anything from transportation to robotics, then this is the field for you.


Good to have before you start:


  • Some knowledge of, or interest in, the principles of mechanics and/or manufacturing

  • Convenient access to a mechanical laboratory - a lot of the subjects in this field require experimentation and practical observation

  • Some mentorship - again, due to the hands-on and experimental nature of these topics, we recommend finding yourself an experienced mentor to guide you


Some potential topics:


13. Energy-Efficient HVAC Systems: Investigate designs that optimize heating, ventilation, and air conditioning without escalating energy costs.


14. Aerodynamics of Ground Vehicles: Understand how vehicle design influences air resistance and fuel efficiency.


15. 3D Printing in Manufacturing: Assess the potential of 3D printing in revolutionizing production processes.


16. Soft Robotics Mechanics: Explore the design and functionality of robots that mimic biological systems.


Ideas contributed by Lumiere Mentors from UC Berkeley and Stanford University.


Topic 5: Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineering merges the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to develop processes that turn raw materials into valuable products. It plays a pivotal role in numerous industries, from pharmaceuticals to petrochemicals. Working on topics in this field will familiarize you with the composition of organic and inorganic compounds, how they behave in various conditions, and their impact on our environment.


Good to have before you start:


  • Some knowledge of, or interest in, electronics and material sciences

  • Convenient access to a chemistry laboratory - a lot of the subjects in this field require experimentation and practical observation

  • Some mentorship - once more, practical guidance will go a long way with these topics

  • Safety gear - more than in other fields, you will need to be careful when working on experiments for these projects


Some potential topics:


17. Eco-Friendly Plastic Alternatives: Research the development and viability of biodegradable or recyclable plastic substitutes.


18. Potential of Biofuels: Dive into the production, benefits, and challenges of bio-derived fuels.


19. Efficient Water Purification Systems: Design and evaluate systems that ensure safe drinking water with minimal environmental impact.


20. Synthesis of Novel Materials: Investigate the creation and applications of materials with unique properties.


Ideas contributed by a Lumiere Mentor from the University of Southern California.


Topic 6: Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineering focuses on designing solutions that protect the environment by reducing waste and pollution. With the escalating environmental crises, this field is crucial in steering the world towards a sustainable future. While this subject has a lot of overlap with, say, chemical, material, or electronics engineering, the focus here is on researching, understanding, and mitigating the environmental impact of human actions in various fields. Since much of the work in this field is theoretical, or being pursued at a large scale, it also makes for an easier topic to approach if you’re looking for more secondary research that you can pursue as a beginner.


21. Industrial Impact on Water Quality: Assess how industries affect freshwater sources and potential purification methods.

22. Innovative Wastewater Treatment: Design systems that effectively treat industrial effluents, reducing environmental harm.

23. Phytoremediation in Polluted Sites: Explore the use of plants in cleaning up contaminated sites.

24 . Air Pollution and Human Health: Investigate the direct and indirect effects of various pollutants on human health.


Ideas contributed by a Lumiere Mentor from Carnegie Mellon University and Duke University.


Topic 7: Materials Engineering

Materials engineering delves into the discovery and design of new materials. With advancements in technology, there's a growing demand for materials with specialized properties to meet specific needs.


Good to have before you start:


  • Some knowledge of, or interest in, material sciences

  • Convenient access to a materials laboratory - you will benefit greatly if you’re able to physically work on the listed topics

  • Some mentorship - again, the topics in this field require physical experimentation and hands-on analysis. Your learning will be greatly enhanced if you find a mentor

  • Safety gear - again, working on various materials and their properties requires some potentially dangerous testing, like abrasion and corrosion. Make sure you have some safety gear!


Some potential topics:


25. Graphene Applications: Delve into the properties of graphene and its myriad potential uses.


26. Biomaterials in Medical Devices: Research the development and applications of organic materials in healthcare.


27. Wear and Corrosion Resistant Materials: Investigate materials that can withstand harsh conditions, extending their lifespan.


28. Smart Materials in Tech: Study materials that change properties in response to external stimuli and their potential applications.


Ideas contributed by Lumiere Mentors from University College London and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Pursuing research in engineering is an incredibly engaging and rewarding experience, especially if you pursue research as a high schooler. Not only does this indicate a superior skill set as compared to your peers, but also shows universities that you are ready to take on higher-level academics in a subject that you are passionate about.


If you’re looking to build a project/research paper in the field of AI & ML, consider applying to Veritas AI! 


Veritas AI is founded by Harvard graduate students. Through the programs, you get a chance to work 1-1 with mentors from universities like Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and more to create unique, personalized projects. In the past year, we had over 1000 students learn AI & ML with us. You can apply here!

Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re looking for the opportunity to do in-depth research on the above topics and more, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.


Image Source: Unsplash


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