Introducing the 2012 Lutchen Fellows


By Mark Dwortzan

Ten rising juniors and seniors are pursuing research with societal impact this summer as winners of this year’s Kenneth R. Lutchen Distinguished Fellowships. Drawing on their engineering knowledge and skills to improve society, their work could lead to advances in everything from energy harvesting to heart disease diagnostics.

“The application process this year was very competitive, with many more applicants with compelling projects than we could support,” said Sol Eisenberg, associate dean for Undergraduate Programs. Each fellow must maintain a minimum 3.0 grade point average and choose a research project working with an engineering faculty mentor.

Five of the 2012 Lutchen Fellows are pursuing projects focused on improving our understanding of biological processes and identifying potential treatments for specific illnesses. Taking aim at cardiovascular disease, Alberto Purwada (BME’13) is investigating how smooth muscle cell behavior within blood vessels is altered by changes in the local environment during the progression of atherosclerosis, and Hyung Jin Sun (ME’13) is studying mechanisms behind the stiffening of blood vessels.

Veronica Faller (BME’13) is probing protein-protein interactions that scientists suspect are involved in controlling the metabolism of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, possibly prolonging its survival in human hosts. Ajay Rajshakar (BME’14) is conducting experiments on bovine lung behavior, with the ultimate goal of identifying new pathways to treat asthma and other respiratory diseases. Catherine Chan-Tse (EE’13) is using a specialized microscope to track fluorescent-tagged molecules. Tracking of proteins and other biomolecules could enable new insights and treatments for cardiac, brain and other diseases.

Two Lutchen fellows are contributing to the development of advanced healthcare technology. Angela Lai (BME’14) is exploring the development of a credit card-sized, microfluidic chip that could be used as a point-of-care diagnostic test for the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea. Robert Lebourdais (BME’14) is mathematically modeling processes that impact the performance of Professor Edward Damiano (BME) and his team’s software-controlled artificial pancreas, which automatically administers insulin and glucagon to maintain desirable blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Finally, three Lutchen Fellow projects entail automating or analyzing complex processes. Gabriel Begun (CE’14) is working on a hardware and software system that combines video and audio to detect certain objects, such as an approaching human being, with greater accuracy than systems that rely on video or audio signals alone. Thomas Howe (ME’13) is modeling and optimizing a miniature energy harvesting system that would mechanically attach to your cell phone or other electronic device and charge the battery as you walk. Lisa Rooker (EE’14) is investigating interactions between a class of low frequency electromagnetic waves and plasma in the ionosphere above Gakona, Alaska. Rooker’s research could lead to a better understanding of the ionosphere and enhanced radio communications and surveillance systems.

The Lutchen Distinguished Fellowship program has been funded since 2010 by annual donations of $100,000 from an anonymous alumnus of the College’s Biomedical Engineering program.