Category Archives: Faculty

M.S. candidate wins student poster competition

M.S. candidate Sam Gaeth receives the award.

M.S. candidate Sam Gaeth receives the award.

Civil and environmental engineering M.S. candidate Sam Gaeth won first place in a student poster competition for his research titled “Syngeristic Effects of Utilizing Abiotic and Biotic Degradation Pathways Simultaneously for Chlorinated Solvents Remediation,” conducted with his advisors, Research Assistant Professor Natalie Cápiro and Professor and Chair Kurt Pennell.

Gaeth presented the research at the Association for Environmental Health and Sciences (AEHS) Foundation’s 32nd Annual International Conference on Soils, Sediments, Water, and Energy, on October 17-20 in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Souvaine elected AAAS Fellow

Professor Diane Souvaine

Diane Souvaine, professor of computer science, has been elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Souvaine was elected as part of the computing and communication section, and cited for her “contributions to the field of computational geometry and for exemplary service on behalf of the computing community, including serving on the National Science Board.”

Read more about Souvaine and her election as an AAAS Fellow.

Tissue healing after a heart attack

Tufts University engineers have developed new, non-destructive techniques to evaluate tissue healing following a heart attack. These techniques, described in a paper recently published in Nature Scientific Reports, could be used to evaluate current treatments for aiding cardiac repair and to provide a basis for evaluating heart disease progression.

Every year, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these cases, 525,000 are a first heart attack.* After a heart attack, or myocardial infarction, the body quickly attempts to replace damaged cardiac tissue with new collagen scaffolding to provide support to withstand the forces associated with a normal heartbeat. The body can sometimes overbuild this scaffolding, or extracellular matrix (ECM), or expand the remodeled ECM into heart tissue not initially adversely affected by the heart attack. The altered heart tissue resulting from ECM remodeling is often responsible for functional deterioration, leading to heart failure.

Though scientists have studied some elements of how remodeled tissue structure affects function following heart attack, little is understood about the relationship between ECM composition of the scar tissue and its mechanical properties in the earliest stages of remodeling. By using a process called decellularization—the removal of cells from the heart tissue structure—and pairing this with 3D multi-photon microscopy, the tissue’s mechanical properties and structure remains intact and can be studied. As a result, the Tufts biomedical engineering team has uniquely identified structure-function relationships specific to the myocardial ECM. Specifically they have found that the ECM that is newly remodeled/deposited, following infarction, is weaker than healthy tissues, most likely due to alterations in the chemical connections within and between fibers called“crosslinks.” This weaker ECM may be contributing to the expanding scar by adversely signaling cells in the remodeling tissue to continue to make more ECM.

The team of Tufts researchers included Kyle Quinn, Kelly Sullivan, Zhiyi Liu, Zachary Ballard, Christos Siokatas, Associate Professor Irene Georgakoudi, and Associate Professor Lauren Black.

Read the full paper in Nature Scientific Reports.

* Source: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2014/12/18/CIR.0000000000000152

Tufts attends Grace Hopper Celebration

The 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration kicks off in Houston. Photo courtesy of Sara Amr Amin.

The 2016 Grace Hopper Celebration kicks off in Houston. Photo courtesy of Sara Amr Amin.

In late October, a group of Tufts students and faculty attended the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) in Houston, Texas. GHC is the world’s largest technical conference for women in computing, where women technologists and leaders in computing convene to highlight the contributions of women to computing. Named in honor of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, GHC is co-presented by the Anita Borg Institute and the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM).

This year, Tufts attendees included 16 undergraduates, two graduate students, and one faculty member. Students were able to make connections across the industry, from engineers at Otto, Uber’s self-driving semi-truck company, to Google X project leads, computer science Ph.D. students, and recruiters hiring for open positions.

“Most valuable was meeting people on specific teams at companies I’m interested in, because that’s how I want to think about potential,” says Alice Lee, a senior who’s interested in programming languages and embedded systems. “I was inspired by the women who are actively breaking glass ceilings and ready to talk about just how they did it.”

Islam wins international prize for water research

Professor Shafiqul Islam

Professor Shafiqul Islam

Professor Shafiqul Islam of Tufts School of Engineering’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and professor of water diplomacy at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, was awarded the Creativity Award for the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water (PSIPW). The award, given to Islam and his team member Rita Colwell, University of Maryland at College Park, was presented at a ceremony held November 2, 2016 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. It was hosted by the U.N. Friends of Water and presided over by the U.N. General Secretary H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and by PSIPW Chairman H.R.H. Prince Khaled Bin Sultan Bin Abdualziz.

Islam and Colwell received the Creativity Award for developing and testing a model that uses chlorophyll information from satellite data to predict cholera outbreaks at least three to six months in advance. Colwell and her team were the first to use remote satellite data to develop a predictive model for cholera outbreaks in East Asia. Islam applied Colwell’s findings to relate chlorophyll information obtained from NASA satellites and cholera outbreaks in the Bay of Bengal. The team is currently working on testing the satellite-based model with ground-based observations.

Islam, who directs the Water Diplomacy program, received his Sc.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also the director of the Boston Water Group, a diverse group of researchers and practitioners from academia, industry, and civil-society, who are based in the Greater Boston region but who work across the United States and around the world to address problems that involve water.

Students participate in annual bridge competition

CEE22 students watch as weights are loaded onto one team's bridge.

CEE22 students watch as weights are loaded onto one team’s bridge.

Every year, Professor Masoud Sanayei‘s class on structural analysis, CEE22, holds a competition. Students are asked to build bridges using rudimentary materials in a short period of time, and then the carrying load of their bridges is tested with weights.

Last week, the class held its 2016 competition in Anderson Hall. Sanayei says, “[The bridges] carried about 800 to 900 times their self weights. This shows the power of good design with accurate structural analysis and good construction.”

Check out a slow-motion video on the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s Facebook page.

Tufts team wins international computational biology competition

A team of Tufts computer scientists and mathematicians won top prize in the Disease Module Identification DREAM Challenge, which is an “open community effort to: (1) Systematically assess module identification methods on a panel of state-of-the-art genomic networks, and (2) discover novel network modules/pathways underlying complex diseases.” The competition is driven by the interconnected nature of multiple genes interacting within molecular pathways to drive physiological and disease processes.

Out of 42 teams from across the globe, Team Tusk won first place with its response, “A Double Spectral Approach to DREAM 11 Subchallenge.” Team members included, from the Department of Computer Science, Professor Lenore Cowen, Professor Donna Slonim, Assistant Professor Ben Hescott, and master’s student Jake Crawford; and, from the Department of Mathematics, Assistant Professor Xiaozhe Hu and Ph.D. student Joanne Lin.

Researchers receive $1 million ONR grant

Sameer Sonkusale, professor of electrical and computer engineering

Engineering faculty Professor Sameer Sonkusale and Associate Professor Qiaobing Xu, working with Assistant Professor Jimmy Crott from the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, have received a $1 million grant from the Office of Naval Research to build biomedical microdevices to investigate the gut microbiome.

Qiaobing Xu, associate professor of biomedical engineering

Current studies of the gut microbiome rely on the metabolic and genomic analysis of fecal matter. That analysis fails to identify which areas of the large or small intestine are colonized by bacterial species, and how those bacterial species interact with one another and with the host. This research project seeks to sample the microbiome at different locations in the gut to obtain a spatial distribution profile. Sonkusale, Xu, and Crott have proposed the use of a biocompatible lab-on-a-pill with integrated sensor, energy source, and electronics, to carry out that sampling.

Heffernan wins national teaching award

Alumnus and CEEO affiliate John Heffernan

Alumnus and CEEO affiliate John Heffernan

John Heffernan is a part-time lecturer at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) and a two-time Tufts alumni, with a B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering. He’s also the technology teacher for pre-kindergarten through sixth grade students at the Anne T. Dunphy School in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

Heffernan was recently honored with the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. The award recognizes outstanding K-12 science and mathematics teachers from across the country.

“We must nurture the natural engineering instincts of young children. We cannot wait until middle and high school to interest students in engineering,” says Heffernan. Read more.

Nair honored with NIH New Innovator Award

Assistant Professor Nikhil Nair of the Tufts Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Nikhil Nair, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, received an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award for his research on engineering bacteria to treat inborn errors of metabolism (IEMs). These rare genetic disorders, like Phenylketonuria and Maple Syrup Urine Disorder, are disorders in which the body converts nutrients from food into harmful toxins. If not treated at birth, IEMs can impede intellectual or physical development and may even lead to death.

Nair and members of his synthetic biology laboratory are modifying lactobacillus bacteria that could produce enzymes that intercept and detoxify amino acids before they can be improperly metabolized to harm patients with IEMs.

The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, established in 2007, supports early career investigators within 10 years of their terminal degree or clinical residency and is part of the NIH Common Fund’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program.

Read more about Nair’s research and the award.