Category Archives: Faculty

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, Assistant Professor Ben Hescott, and master’s student Jake Crawford. They worked alongside Assistant Professor Xiaozhe Hu and Ph.D. student Joanne Lin from the Department of Mathematics.

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.

Rising costs for infections linked to bacteria in water supply

articleBacteriaWaterSupply2016A team led by Tufts researchers has found that healthcare costs are rising for infections linked to bacteria in water supply systems. The costs may now exceed $2 billion for 80,000 cases per year, and antibiotic resistance may be contributing to the trend.

“Premise plumbing pathogens can be found in drinking water, showers, hot tubs, medical instruments, kitchens, swimming pools—almost any premise where people use public water. The observed upward trend in associated infections is likely to continue, and aging water distribution systems might soon be an additional reservoir of costly multidrug resistance,” says lead author Elena Naumova.

The Tufts team included Naumova, professor at the Friedman School and Director of the Initiative for the Forecasting and Modeling of Infectious Disease at Tufts University, and Jeffrey Griffiths, professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. Both Naumova and Griffiths have a secondary appointment in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE).

CEE postdoctoral fellow Alexander Liss was also an author on the paper, alongside Irmgard Behlau, research assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine, and Jyotsna Jagai of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Read the press release and the full paper in the Journal of Public Health Policy.

New technique for generating human neural stem cells

Neuromuscular tissue engineering: hiNSCs (red) grown in co-culture with skeletal muscle (green), with cell nuclei visualized by blue DAPI staining. Credit: Dana M. Cairns, Tufts University.

Neuromuscular tissue engineering: hiNSCs (red) grown in co-culture with skeletal muscle (green), with cell nuclei visualized by blue DAPI staining. Credit: Dana M. Cairns, Tufts University.

A new technique, discovered by Tufts researchers, generates rapidly-differentiating human neural stem cells for use in a variety of tissue engineering applications. The researchers are not the first to generate these stem cells, but their process appears to be simpler, faster, and more reliable than existing protocols. They converted human fibroblasts and adipose-derived stem cells into stable, human induced neural stem cell (hiNSC) lines that acquire the features of active neurons within as few as four days, compared to the typical four weeks.

The work could pave the way for experiments that engineer other innervated tissues, such as the skin and cornea, and for the development of human brain models with diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

Dana Cairns, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, was first author on the paper published in Stem Cell Reports. Paper authors also include corresponding author Professor David Kaplan; Karolina Chwalek, former postdoctoral researcher in biomedical engineering; Rosalyn Abbott, postdoctoral scholar in biomedical engineering; and Professor Stephen Moss, Yvonne Moore, and Matthew Kelley from the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.

Read the full paper in Stem Cell Reports.

Aeron invited to participate in symposium

Assistant Professor Shuchin Aeron

Shuchin Aeron, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been invited to participate in the fourth Arab-American Frontiers of Science, Engineering, and Medicine symposium, hosted by the Masdar Institute of Science Technology on its campus in Abu Dhabi. The symposium is held in partnership with Masdar Institute, New York University Abu Dhabi, Khalifa University and Petroleum Institute. It is also made possible due to the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA. Only a small fraction of applicants are invited to participate.

The Arab-American Frontiers symposium brings together researchers from different disciplines. Sessions of the meeting are designed to explore the frontiers of research in the fields of nanotechnology, water and solar energy, space technologies, neuroscience and oil and gas exploration. The days are designed around scientific oral presentations, poster sessions, professional development and informal networking time over breaks with colleagues from the United States and the Arab region.

Decreasing algal blooms in freshwater

Professor Steven Chapra, Louis Berger Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering

A team of American and Canadian researchers, including Professor Steven Chapra, has demonstrated that reducing phosphorous decreases algae blooms in freshwater. In the past ten years, some scientists have argued that controlling phosphorous alone was not enough, and that nitrogen inputs must also be reduced. The research team found that reducing nitrogen won’t actually help the problem of eutrophication (the proliferation of algal blooms and related changes in lakes), which is one of the leading causes of freshwater pollution and costs an estimated $2.2 billion a year in the U.S. alone.

In many ways, Chapra and colleagues say, this is good news—controlling inputs of phosphorous is much less costly than controlling nitrogen. “It is obvious in retrospect that the reduction of nitrogen would have been largely futile and wastefully expensive,” said Chapra.

The team detailed their research in a recent feature article in Environmental Science & Technology.

Communicating health risks with visualizations

Associate Professor Remco Chang creates visualizations to help communicate health risks to patients.

Associate Professor Remco Chang creates visualizations to help communicate health risks to patients.

Associate Professor Remco Chang, students, and collaborators at Maine Medical Center (MMC) created a project to investigate how older men with prostate cancer use visualizations to better understand their own health risk information. Chang, master’s student Anzu Hakone, E16, recent graduate Nate Winters, E16, doctoral recipient Alvitta Ottley, EG16, postdoctoral researcher Lane Harrison, and MCC collaborators Dr. Paul Han and Caitlin Gutheil have a paper entitled “PROACT: Iterative Design of a Patient-Centered Visualization for Effective Prostate Cancer Health Risk Communication” appearing at the 2016 IEEE InfoVis conference. The web-based visualization prototype, PROACT, supports patients to learn about their cancer risk and the possible side effects of different treatment options.