The Placement of DNA Origami via Microarray Hybridization. System Dynamics Modeling for the Optimization of Health Care Delivery in Resource-Limited Settings. Optical Polymorphic Zoom System with Deformable Mirrors.
While these may sound like the titles of faculty research papers in scientific journals, they’re actually examples of innovative research projects pursued this summer by the first ten College of Engineering juniors and seniors to receive the new Kenneth R. Lutchen Distinguished Fellowships. Funded by annual donations of $100,000 from an anonymous alumnus of the College’s Biomedical Engineering program, the program supports up to ten upper-level undergraduate research projects each summer.
At a luncheon held on Oct. 22, nine of the first ten Lutchen Fellows shared highlights of their projects with Dean Lutchen.
“I always felt it was very important to give undergraduates substantive, hands-on experiences outside the classroom,” Lutchen said. “Classes are necessary, but we’re also pushing the concept of the societal engineer—that engineering is a great foundation for people to have significant impact on society.”
A case in point is Amy Canham (EE ’11), who described her experience this summer in Zambia investigating ways to collaborate with health professionals to design user-friendly medical technologies that address the particular needs of resource-limited countries. For four weeks, Canham worked closely with her advisor, Assistant Professor Muhammad Zaman (BME), and the Boston University Center for Global Health and Development, in an effort to improve public health in Zambia.
“I worked mostly with Center individuals designing training programs for using cell phones to transmit results from the lab where they are determined to the facility where they can be delivered to patients,” said Canham, noting that cell-phone-based transmission of a child’s blood sample data results to the facility can reduce the time it takes for health professionals to determine if that child is HIV positive.
In addition, Canham modeled the health care system dynamics involved in the diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia in Zambian children under five, in an effort to explore what kinds of medical devices or systems might boost treatment efficiency and improve survival rates.
Samuel Hoffman (ME, EE’12) highlighted his efforts to optimize the design of a “polymorphic zoom” system that improves the optical performance of standard zoom lenses. The system uses two electrically actuated “deformable” mirrors developed by Hoffman’s advisor, Professor Thomas Bifano (ME), consisting of hundreds to thousands of optical surfaces controlled to nanoscale precision.
“In a conventional zoom, an optical lens is translated to achieve magnification or demagnification, typically using a motorized translational drive system,” Hoffman explained. “In a polymorphic zoom, the focal lengths of two deformable mirrors are dynamically adjusted by changing the mirrors’ shape. The result is a zoom system with unprecedented speed and inertial stability.”
The mirrors not only compensate for aberrations that would otherwise limit optical performance, but also enable users to zoom in on selected portions of the field of view. Potential applications for the system include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), security systems and microscopy. Hoffman is still collaborating with Bifano on this and related research.
Chantal de Bakker (BME’12) summarized her contributions this summer to the development of a noninvasive method that uses contrast agents to pinpoint the formation of cartilage in bone fractures that does not show up in CT scans.
“The ability to visualize cartilage could lead to the earlier identification of healing problems in complex fractures and also could be very useful in the analysis of fracture healing in animals used in biomedical research,” said de Bakker, who collaborated with her advisor, Professor Elise Morgan (ME) on the project.
This year’s 10 Lutchen Fellows also include Benjamin Weinberg, Craig LaBoda, Genevieve Plant, Joseph Greenspun, Molly Keenan, Nicholas Luzod and Sean DeLeo.
The Lutchen Distinguished Fellowship Program was designed to attract top applicants to the College of Engineering and give them an incentive to complete their studies here. Each fellow must identify a research project working with an engineering faculty mentor, and maintain a minimum 3.0 grade point average. Entering freshmen who win a $10,000 fellowship can use it during the summer after their sophomore or junior year. The program is open to all engineering undergraduates, regardless of major.
After hearing from this year’s fellows, Lutchen described their reports as articulate and passionate. “You really got into the essence of what you were trying to do, and I hope it has an influence on where you’re going,” he said.